Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler.

  • Young Abe Lincoln
Young Abe Lincoln
Photo credit: ilbusca/ iStock

Politics and professional wrestling are more alike than most of us care to admit, a connection that traces back to a time before the “professional” part even existed. Case in point: Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler prior to his political career. He spent more than a decade competing in matches as a young man, winning nearly every one — a harbinger of his future electoral success, perhaps. His most famous bout occurred when one Jack Armstrong, leader of a group of tough guys known as the “Clary’s Grove gang,” called out the 6-foot-4 future commander in chief. Lincoln was just 22 at the time, and though accounts differ as to how the conflict went down — some say Honest Abe threw Armstrong and won, while others claim Armstrong emerged victorious — it’s widely accepted that Lincoln earned the respect of everyone involved. 

Lincoln posthumously earned the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Outstanding American award in 1992, and a mural of him can be found in the organization’s lobby. “In the rough and ready style of the frontier, ‘catch as catch can’ wrestling was more hand-to-hand combat than sport,” reads the NWHOF’s biography of Lincoln, which also notes that the 16th President of the United States was “widely known for his wrestling skills and had only one recorded defeat in a dozen years.” His trash-talking skills were on point as well, with Lincoln once egging on an opponent by reportedly proclaiming himself “the big buck of this lick,” and saying, “If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.” It may not have been the Gettysburg Address, but it got the job done.

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