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The Dissecting Room . . . June 1985

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When Holmesamania Was Running Wild

Okay, we're going to say it straight right off so we can get the pencil-necked geeks in the crowd moving on to the rest of PLUGS & DOTTLES -- this month's column is about Sherlock Holmes and wrestling. No, not the play-by-the-rules high school wrestling. Pro wrestling. All-star wrestling. Real wrestling.

(Did somebody say the word "fake"? Take a hike, calabash-nose. Go read this month's groaner).

We've got good reason for talking about Holmes and wrestling this month. It's a slightly belated way of commemorating an important Sherlockian event that took place in the last month. You know the one we mean -- May 4, 1891. Yea, the big one. Before the now-legendary "War to Settle the Score," before the "Fight to Make Things Right," before Junkyard Dog was even a gleam in Mr. and Mrs. Dog's eyes . . . yes, Sherlockian wrestling fans, there was "The Brawl at the Edge of the Falls."

"The Brawl at the Edge of the Falls," the most important match of the last century, has now risen above its basic wrestling framework to assume a place in history . . . in legend. The mention of Reichenbach Falls now evokes images of an apocalyptic confrontation between the avatar of pure goodness and the embodiment of raw evil, but it was not always so. On May 4, 1891, on that famous precipice high above the roar of the falls, it was man against man, steel poker-bending muscle against the dynamic action of a human asteroid. And it was wrestling excitement at its best.

There had been the usual pre-fight interviews, of course, the last one taking place at 221B Baker Street, full of boasts and threats worthy of Nicolai Volkov or Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, modern-day masters of the verbal side of the manly art. It must be remembered, though, that this was pre-television, so the only audience the two opponents had was each other in the purest form of wrestling interview. And when the two men finally met on the Swiss precipice for their bout, the audience was just as exclusive. Not even a ring announcer was present, but two such powerful and well-known combatants needed no one to bellow their names to the winds of time. Their mere presences were fanfare enough.

Sherlock "Master Detective" Holmes against Jim "The Professor" Moriarty. The British champion against a contender who, although of Irish extraction, was reputedly weaned on the same Glasgow industrial wastes that produced such wrestling terrors as Rowdy Roddy Piper. Originally, it appears that the match was to be a tag-team bout, with each of the two men bringing a trusted second to ringside with them. "The Professor," however, used a strategy new to the then-fledgling sport of pro wrestling -- the now cliched "Is there a doctor in the Alps?" ploy. Thus, with the aid of a deluded Swiss messenger boy, Moriarty deprived Holmes of the big man, his partner Doctor "War-Wound" Watson, best known for throwing former wrestling great Big Bob Ferguson over the ropes at the Old Deer Park.

Sherlock Holmes took quick control of the situation, however, and finished Moriarty off before the Professor could tag up with his partner, Shikari Moran. As the referee was apparently knocked off the cliff early in the match, a final decision on the outcome and any other details of the match's finish did not come out until years afterward. Colonel James Moriarty, brother to the Professor and a fine wrestler in his own right, was writing to the newspapers claiming that his brother had knocked Holmes off the Reichenbach cliff with his notorious flying knee-drop, an action later shown to be all but theoretically impossible. The truth, as it finally came out, did not show Moriarty in such a good light. Sherlock Holmes apparently finished him off with what was then called a Baritsu maneuver. That technique, first created by the mountainous Sumo wrestlers of Japan, has survived through the years and has even been perfected by modern wrestlers under another name.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes body-slammed Professor Moriarty off Reichenbach Falls. It surely must have been a glorious sight to see. The only man who did see it, Moriarty's tag-team partner Shikari Moran, made some futile attempt to deck Holmes with a large foreign object, but for all intents and purposes the match was over. Sherlock "Born In The British Isles" Holmes remained champion and would continue to do so for many years to come.

So the next time you see any practioners of the noble art of wrestling, just remember . . . they are carrying on a tradition that has been around since Holmes's day. And if anyone tries to tell you that wrestling isn't real, just reply: "Isn't Sherlock Holmes real?" You'll leave them dumbfounded every time.

(Printed in Plugs & Dottles, June1985)