By: Albert Miller – On Monday, the United States will be celebrating its 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence; we’ll be barbecuing, getting together with family & friends, and then we’ll be lighting off fireworks (presumably to the tune of the National Anthem or Metallica) to celebrate the occasion.
It seemed only fitting that this week’s Friday 5ive pay homage to the holiday, in some form or another. This week, we’re counting down five United States Presidents that have competed in combat sports, in one form or another. The Commanders-In-Chief are being ranked by their bad ass exploits (in the realm of combat sports, not during their tenure as president), and to all of them: we salute you.
No. 5: Zachary Taylor (Wrestling) – Kicking off the Friday 5ive is Zachary Taylor. President Taylor isn’t much known for his major impact on policy or American culture; in fact, he died just seventeen months into taking the oath of officer. Taylor died (ironically) after a Fourth of July celebration in which he consumed a bowl of cherries and a glass of milk. The cherries were thought to be contaminated with pretty strong bacteria (so wash your fruits, kids). What does make Zachary Taylor such a bad ass was that he wasn’t afraid to use his hands to put the stamp on kids. Taylor grew up in a backwoods settlement that made Gilligan’s Island look like Silicon Valley. While growing up as a homesteader, Taylor would learn to wrestle. I firmly believe that wrestling is an excellent sport to learn, that it has so many great values to teach. Taylor would take his skill and backwoods grit into the military, becoming a highly respected military officer (including being on the front lines during the conflicts with Mexico over the Texas border). Zachary Taylor wasn’t highly educated or formally groomed; he was a man with a simple upbringing who was willing to get elbows deep in the work and get it done. Those are the kind of things you learn from wrestling.
No. 4: Andrew Jackson (Wrestling, Firearm Dueling) – The book “Professor in the Cage” by Jonathan Gottschall opens up with a great story about Andrew Jackson and how he had a penchant for dueling. President Jackson had something of a hair trigger when it came to defending his honor, the honor of his relatives, or just didn’t like the face of whoever was talking in his direction. In fact, when we think of “combat sports,” I can’t think of one any more “combat” than pistol dueling. As a youth, Jackson worked as a courier for the Colonial forces; he and his brother were captured by the British Army, starved nearly to death, and Jackson got a few scars for refusing to clean a British officer’s boots. During Jackson’s presidency, he faced secession from South Carolina, and a lot of issues regarding the expansion of United States territory. While his military career is full of accolades and honor, his presidency filled with strife and triumph, what got Andrew Jackson on the Friday 5ive is that he liked to shoot people. Sure, back in that day they called it “dueling,” but it was pretty cold blooded. Jackson shot a man during a duel, for insulting his wife. In addition to the Terminator style combat of pistols that he was used to, Jackson also wrestled. I imagine it must have been a little less exciting that dodging bullets.
No. 3: George Washington (Wrestling) – It’s often exaggerated that President George Washington was caught chopping down a cherry tree and immediately fessed up with “I cannot tell a lie.” I’m sure President Washington was an extremely upright citizen and honorable man; I think it’s more accurate to say that George Washington used to chop down grown men like cherry trees with his wrestling ability. As a youth, Washington learned a European style of wrestling known as “Collar and Elbow,” named after the starting position in the contest. The best example of collar and elbow I can think of (and I hate to say it) is in professional wrestling, when they “lock up,” that is a collar and elbow tie. During his wrestling career, Washington became very adept at being able to throw his opponents during a match and earned himself a very strong reputation for being a “tosser,” or one who was able to toss his opponent. Washington would go on to win school championships and earn a reputation as being the best wrestler in Virgina. Of course, after his formal education, he’d go on to lead the Colonial armies against the British in the fight for independence, decline the role of king, but accepting the position as first president of the United States. I can’t say for sure, but I have to think that the country breathed a little easier knowing that our commander in chief could drop someone on their head with a wrestling throw, with no help from the secret service.
No. 2: Abraham Lincoln (Wrestling) – Imagine a kid who lived in a one room cabin with his family in a town that didn’t have a school. If that kid came up to you and said “I’m going to be President one day,” you’d probably give him a dismissive “sure kid, you can be whatever you want to be.” Lil’ Abe Lincoln, who came from that upbringing, educated himself and did just that. Lincoln was opposed to physical labor, and turned to educating himself so that he didn’t have to rely on the toils of frontier life. Part of the romanticized story about Lincoln, is that he wrestled a bully in front of a store. The story goes that the aforementioned bully (more like a gang leader, and supreme douche bag, if you read into it) challenged Lincoln to a match; the rules resembled Greco-Roman rules, having to throw one’s opponent to win. The bully tried to cheat and Lincoln choke-slammed him to the ground. Some elementary school legends would have you believe that it was Lincoln’s only grappling scuffle; but really, Abraham was a prolific wrestler, having lost only once in his career. Lincoln’s style of wrestling could really be understood as “Ultra Freestyle,” “Anything Goes,” or a watered down version of “Catch as Catch Can.” The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) has even gone so far as to include Abraham Lincoln into their title lineage. I firmly believe that wrestlers are tremendous athletes; their dedication to the sport, both on the mat and training for competition, is unparalleled. The presidency is full of wrestlers, but it truly needs to be understood that Abraham Lincoln was a tremendous human being. Lincoln took office during one of the darkest periods in American history, watched our country fall apart only to bring it back together again. Did his frontier upbringing and wrestling ability make him a tough-as-nails human being? Maybe. It could be genetics too.
No. 1: Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (Wrestling, Boxing, Judo) – When I read the Teddy Roosevelt story, I made a few assumptions: 1. Puberty asked his permission to start, 2. His pacifier as a baby was made out of iron, and 3. He’d put on wool socks by shoving his foot through live sheep. Teddy Roosevelt was sickly as a child, with severe asthma. To rid himself of the ailment, he just went out and did extremely manly things. Roosevelt was a war hero, an accomplished writer, taxidermist, and adventurer. Theodore was homeschooled and eventually landed himself in Harvard University; this is where the testosterone bath that is the life and times of Teddy Roosevelt begins. In Harvard, he was a rower, a wrestler, and a boxer (he began learning boxing as a child, after getting roughed up by some other kids for being weak). During a boxing tournament, Roosevelt took second place. It was during his boxing exploits that Roosevelt began to experience a detachment of his retna and would have to retire from the sweet science. In his Presidency, Roosevelt would travel to Japan and begin an affair as a Judoka. At the White House, thee White House, Roosevelt would train in Judo. So, if you’re keeping tabs: he was a wrestler, a boxer, and a third degree brown belt in Judo. …sounds like a Mixed Martial Artist to me, doesn’t it? Teddy Roosevelt is often quoted as saying “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Clearly, the man didn’t even really need a stick, being able to dispatch of an attacker with his bare hands. During Teddy Roosevelt’s term in office, he worked on conserving natural resources, on improving economic conditions, and even tried to keep the US out of World War 1 long after his term was over. He was a soldier, a leader, and a warrior.
It’s important for me to say that we’re not trying to make any political statements, that’s not our place. But, isn’t it worth your time to consider that three out of the four faces on Mt. Rushmore were men who could fight and compete? Getting your kids involved in the combat sports, or even yourself, will surely ingrain some of the extremely precious values of hard work, fair play, and being the best possible person that they can be.
From all of us at Cage Nation TV: we hope you have a happy Independence Day. You should certainly celebrate your freedoms as an American, plenty of your brothers and sisters fought hard for those freedoms.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!