Abraham Lincoln: president ... and wrestler?

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February 16, 2015

Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln in WWE? Picture it: Honest Abe, stovepipe hat and all, storming the ring with a World Championship over his shoulder, pyrotechnics blazing, ready to lay the smackdown on any WWE Superstar. OK, it might not have happened quite like that, but it has long been rumored that America’s very own 16th president was one of the finest professional wrestlers of his day. Noted wrestling historian Mike Chapman once told WWE of Lincoln’s wrestling exploits. (WATCH)

But was it myth? Folklore? Or did the man who united the nation also unite his fists with opponents’ jaws?

“It’s not mythology,” Lincoln expert Ronald C. White Jr. told WWE.com. “Lincoln definitely wrestled.”

White is the author of The New York Times Best Seller, “A. Lincoln: A Biography” and spoke with WWE.com about Honest Abe’s grappling history. “Lincoln had wrestling in his background,” White said. “His Uncle Mord reputably had real talent for it. Lincoln did quite a bit of wrestling during the years he lived in Indiana from ages 9 to 21.”

But Lincoln’s most well-known match occurred after the future president arrived in New Salem, Ill., in 1831. Working as a clerk in Denton Offutt’s general store, Lincoln’s considerable size and strength caught some attention around town. “We know he was 6-foot, 4-inches,” White explained. “And if you know how small people were in the 19th century, today it would be like somebody 6-foot-10 walking into the room.” That’s right: More than 150 years before The Undertaker debuted in WWE, New Salem had its very own "Phenom."

Something of a Captain Lou Albano of his day, Offutt was so proud of his impressive employee that he began to claim Lincoln could easily manhandle anyone in the area. “Jack Armstrong was the leader of a local gang called The Clary’s Grove Boys,” White said. “They took their name from a small village about three miles from New Salem.” Armstrong got wind of Offutt’s claims and challenged Lincoln to a match.

The exact logistics are foggy. “It’s a little unclear as to how this match actually came about, but these boys were ready to challenge any newcomer,” White explained. “And Lincoln was a newcomer.” But Armstrong and his gang weren’t ready for the Hulkamania that Lincoln was prepared to unleash at just 22-years-old.

Hype began to build around the upcoming confrontation between two competitors in their prime, a predecessor to Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. “It may not have been publicized with posters,” White theorized. “But it was publicized by word of mouth 24 to 48 hours in advance of when the match actually took place. Word spread quickly and a lot of people came to watch this match between the champion [Armstrong], who was a few years older than Lincoln, and this new young fellow.”

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