It's All Bally Lies!
As we all know, there are many "facts" within professional wrestling which aren't quite right. One of the most famous is probably Fabulous Moolah's supposed monumental reign as the Women's Champion. Something that I'm sure we all also know is how title lineages in particular are riddled with inaccuracies.
One such factually hindered tidbit is William Muldoon's reign as the Graeco-Roman Champion (American or World, take your pick one what you want to call it). Sadly his twelve year (varies slightly as not all agree on when his reign "officially" ended) is something that no-one ever questions. People see it and go, "Well, we all know titles didn't change hands as much back then," and thus it gets left to be recorded and re-recorded and re-re-recorded and then copied and pasted onto a thousand different websites.
Part of the reason for the misinformation is due to Muldoon's standing in society. Along with his holier than thou status, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in some aspects he received presidential treatment in the myths surrounding his name and legacy. None of this is meant to take anything away from all he did accomplish. Another part is the biography published of Muldoon where he told his story in his own words.
Whether Muldoon was born in 1845 or 1852 and whether he was merely a soldier boy in the army or a fully fledged soldier, he still walked away with wrestling skills from the camps. Whatever he actually partook in during his time fighting in France as a volunteer for the French army, he most certainly went back to America with a solid knowledge of Graeco-Roman wrestling.
Whether his matches were fixed or legitimate, Muldoon was an impressively built man with a great mind for physical culture as proven by his later work running health farms and the like. Whether he used his chair position in the New York State Athletic Commission to truly try and legitimatize sports or he worked as an inside man on behalf of the sports he once took part in it really does not matter.
All of the above will most likely be up for debate for as long as people research the history of wrestling. After all, there is no way of knowing for certain, William Muldoon and the people of his era are long gone. One thing can be proven to be not true though. The title reign. With total certainty it can be said that William Muldoon was a two time (that I know of) American/World Graeco-Roman Champion.
Originally he won the tile on January 19, 1880 in a match against Professor Thiebaud Bauer. It took place at Madison Square Garden in front of 4,000 fans. Here a slight problem arises. When he lost the title or how he lost it, I'm not sure. It happened between December 23, 1882 and February 17, 1883. There is no mention of a title with Muldoon after the reports of his December 23 match with Professor Thiebaud Bauer were finished being published. Muldoon had won that match and was still champion.
The two men met again on January 27, 1883 and there is no mention of a title belonging to either men or being at stake in the match. Nor was there for the February 4 encounter with Edwin Bibby or in any other article featuring Muldoon that I have found. That's not what my statement of Muldoon having at least two different reigns is based on though, that to me just puts icing on the cake.
For those of you who have looked at the Graeco-Roman title history page in our title histories section you may already have noticed that from March 18, 1883-December 28, 1883 the title was first held by Duncan C. Ross and then for the majority of the time by Professor Thiebaud Bauer, however, I feel there may have been a couple more changes between these two along the way that are still waiting to be discovered.
It was reported back in September 1882 that Muldoon was going to permanently retire from the business of wrestling and focus on running his saloon and gymnasium. And Muldoon had a pretty quiet year following that announcement. No, he did not retire completely and he did have matches and appearances here and there. They were no where near as frequent as before though.
He'd actually face Professor Thiebaud Bauer and defeat him in a handicap match during May of 1883. I must note here that William Muldoon and Clarence Whistler squared off on November 1, 1883 in a match billed as for the "World Graeco-Roman Championship," however it appears to be to crown a new champion as neither man is credited as the champion in the build-up or results. Either way it went to a draw and it does not change the events which we are about to look at.
The match from May proved a prelude to when the two met again on December 29 of the same year. This is why I am so sure Muldoon lost the title in the first place. Plain as can be newspapers state Muldoon has regained the championship. Members of the audience in a collective movement all rushed the ring on the deciding fall. Before the announcement was even made that Muldoon had won, he was up and on the shoulders of many being paraded back to the dressing rooms.
In total 8,000 people had watched the contest in hope of seeing Muldoon win the contest. It's with this single result that we know Muldoon did indeed have to regain the title. He even beat the man he had originally defeated to get it back. From as far as I can tell at present, Muldoon truly did hold onto the title going forward until February 9, 1891 when he handed it over to his pupil, Ernst Roeber.
In closing I just want to re-iterate none of this is to discredit Muldoon as a person, a wrestler or a performer. It's just apart of wrestling. When you're researching a business that is and always has been built on larger than life men who depend on coming across as physically or athletically imposing to an average man, they're bound to exaggerate their feats, their lives in the days when possible, why wouldn't you do everything you can to make your brand (your name) seem the most dominant in history if you can get away with it?
It's for this reason I fail to get mad at the WWE for their re-writing of history. Even though it makes my life as a historian harder at times, I fully support the WWE (or any wrestling company) doing as they see fit to enhance their brand. Just like the National Wrestling Alliance headed by Sam Muchnick managed to patch a road back to Georg Hackenschmidt's World Heavyweight Championship from Lou Thesz's reign in the 1940's and 1950's. All of it is just business and smart business sense. If you can get away with it to the masses.
This article just also serves as a note that just because multiple places...even books...it should not be taken to granted as true. It's always best to double check yourself and see if you can add to the puzzle that has already been started. Because I guarantee you, while I have chose to focus on this look at William Muldoon to get across the importance of taking nothing for granted, there are a hundred if not many, many more instances like this out there just waiting to be squashed.
By Jimmy Wheeler
As unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society