Charley Fox, Cleveland’s Wrestling Cop

During the first half of his career, from approximately 1909 to 1927, Charley Fox was recognized as a middleweight and light-heavyweight champion of the world.  In the second half, in the late twenties and throughout most of the thirties, he became the heavyweight champion of Ohio and a challenger to the world heavyweight crown.

Charley Fox 1926

Charley Fox 1926

Born in Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1891, Fox came to Cleveland, Ohio, by himself, when he was only 13 years old.  His name then wasn’t “Fox” but “Hranilovich,” as he changed it after he started wrestling. Like other professional wrestlers of the period, he traveled with the carnivals for many years, challenging all comers. One early newspaper article reported that he was offering one dollar a minute to anyone who could stay with him in the ring and that there was no limit to a challenger’s weight or size. The same piece claimed that he weighed only 157 pounds at the time. He also wrestled on the stages of burlesque theaters, in sports arenas, city auditoriums and baseball parks.

Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, he wrestled mostly in the Great Lakes region, the Middle West, and the Southern and Eastern states. In the course of his career, Charley also performed as far west as California, as far south as Florida, and as far north as Connecticut  and  Ontario, Canada.  He wrestled as many as 100 times a year, sometimes as often as three or four times a week. He was featured by such well known promoters as Charlie Marotta in Cleveland, Al Haft in Columbus, Francis Stagg in Evansville,  Art and Joe “Toots” Mondt  in Beaumont, Henry Weber in Atlanta, and Charley Rentrop in Little Rock and Chattanooga.

Fox was the middle-weight champion of Ohio from 1916 until 1923.  During his early career he knew Farmer Burns and wrestled several of Burns’ protégés. In 1920 he appeared on the same card with Joe Stecher in Buffalo, N.Y., and in 1923 met William Demitral in Lima, Ohio, for the light-heavyweight championship of the world.  In1923 he also became a patrolman in the Cleveland police department.  Although he stayed on the force for little more than a year, he was soon billed in wrestling circles as “Cleveland’s wrestling cop.”

In 1925 Charley was largely responsible for starting organized scholastic wrestling in the City of Cleveland, coaching as many as six different high-school teams and planning a city tournament.  In 1926 he received a medal from the Cleveland Board of Education for his contributions to the sport.

In 1926 Fox beat Joe Shimkus in Dallas, Texas, to win the title of  light-heavyweight champion of the Southern and Eastern states and, later in the same year, also in Dallas, defeated Hugh Nichols for the world light-heavyweight crown.

Light Heavyweight Champion of the World

Light Heavyweight Champion of the World

Within a year he gave up the light-heavyweight title to compete in the heavyweight division. In 1927 he joined the police force in Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, where he and his family had moved. But he was almost always on leave from the police department, continuing his wrestling excursions across the land.  He tackled Pete Sauer, for instance, in Monroe, Louisiana, and Rudy Dusek in Memphis, Tennessee, for shots at the world heavyweight championship.

Stanley Zybszko vs. Charley FoxFox faced Dick Shikat for the world heavyweight title on Sept. 17, 1929, in Beaumont, Texas, and he met Stanislaus Zbyszko  on January 21, 1930, also in Beaumont.  Fox wrestled many of the heavyweight contenders several times; Pete Sauer, Paul Romano, Rudy Dusek, and John Paul Jones, for example – and traded wins and losses with most of them.  He defeated Rudy Dusek on a number of occasions, but he also lost to him, for they faced each other many times over a period of   six years, from the mid twenties into the early thirties.

Fox’s bouts with Dusek, Whitey Hewette, and Dick Daviscourt were regularlydescribed in the press as the most brutal ever witnessed by wrestling fans.  Fox gained a reputation for his speed and toughness and was frequently billed as “the tiger man” and “the hard-boiled egg.”  Yet he was also described in newspaper accounts as a “clean” or “scientific” wrestler and a wrestler of “the old school.”  Fox’s toughness may have been due partly to the fact that he was a professional boxer as well as a wrestler during his early career, as were other wrestlers of the time.  Among his many opponents in boxing was the famous Young Stribling who in 1931 lost a close 15 round decision to Max Schmeling.

Rudy Dusek vs. Chas Fox

Rudy Dusek vs. Chas Fox

On May 20, l930, Charley Fox met Jim Londos in the main event in Atlanta, Georgia. That was Londos’ last match before facing Dick Shikat for the world heavyweight championship in June.  The Fox-Londos match drew 4,000 fans. On that particular southern trip, in 1930 alone, Charley faced at least 25 different opponents, and most of the outstanding wrestlers of the time.

 

poster of Shikat v. Fox

Shikat v. Fox

After an extended leave of absence from the police department, Fox was back on the force in 1931, but he continued to wrestle in Ohio and nearby states.

Encouraged by his popularity back home, he ran for political office and was elected councilman-at-large in the City of Euclid.  In December, 1931, before taking office, he gained even more popularity by killing a bandit in a gun battle.  Then, after serving as councilman for a year, he was appointed chief of police, a post he held for the next six years.

That didn’t stop him from wrestling, however – or promoting. Fox promoted wrestling shows off and on during his early career and, in the 1930’s,  joined forces with Charlie Marotta, a long-time promoter of wrestling in Cleveland, to conduct  matches at local burlesque theaters, sports arenas,  and the Cleveland Public Hall.  Charley himself appeared in many of these contests, against George Zaharias, for example, Jack Washburn and “Chief” Jim Clinkstock. These two impresarios, Fox and Marotta, succeeded in turning Cleveland into a major wrestling venue, attracting as many as 12,000 fans to the Public  Auditorium.

Wrestling Poster

In the mid-30s Charley spent most of his time in the ring defending his title as heavyweight champion of Ohio, meeting opponents in Elyria, Akron, Toledo, Massillon, and Columbus, Ohio.  He defeated, among others, Theodore Govorchin, Oscar Kohler, Ed Meske, George McCloud,

Charley Fox1930s

Charley Fox 1930s

Harry Johnson, and Bull Smith. In 1936 he also participated in a tournament at the Grand Opera House in Hamilton, Ontario, where he met the Young Frank Gotch, Nino Arnoldi,  and Renato Gardini to qualify for another shot at Dick Shikat, for the world heavyweight crown.  Although there were at that time competing title claims, Shikat was billed as the recognized champion in 31 states.

 

After that Charley Fox again faced Jim McMillen and Marin Plestina in the ring, and on an eastern tour in 1938 defeated Gino Garabaldi in Jersey City, in a show promoted by Ralph Mondt, drew with Mike Masurki in New Haven, and tossed Walter Podolak in Kingston, N.Y.  On that particular excursion, he was beaten only twice in 14 stands, with victories over Ralph Garabaldi and Floyd Marshall.

Bill Fox, Charley's son

Billy Fox

Fox ended his wrestling days by appearing in shows he promoted locally, where he also featured his son Bill. Trained by his dad, Bill followed in his father’s footsteps by making  professional  wrestling his career, working the mats for approximately 30 years, from the late 1930s into the late 1960’s.

As a junior heavyweight, Bill competed in towns across the country, from the state of Florida  to the state of Washington,  but most often in the Midwest and South, out of the Toledo and El  Paso territories. After serving as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, he won the junior-heavyweight championship belt in 1947 awarded by the Lima Ohio Wrestling Commission.

Bill wrestled at the beginning of the television era, facing such opponents as Billy Darnell and Lone Eagle. In 1949 he began to feature in shows across the country Gus the wrestling bear, a black bear he captured as a cub and trained for the ring.  The bear, weighing 660 pounds, was pitted against, among others, Angelo Savoldi and Man Mountain Dean, Jr., who was said to tip the scales at 320. The bear never lost.

Charley Fox retired from the police force as a lieutenant in 1944 and died in 1951 when he was 60 years old. He was later honored at the City of Euclid’ s bicentennial as one of the town’s outstanding citizens. Bill died in 1990 at the age of 75.

Bill's Championship Belt Buckle

Bill's Belt

The book When Professional Wrestling Was a Sport, A Memoir of Charley Fox can be purchased online from LuLu.com for $19.95. Click on the button below.
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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The book When Professional Wrestling Was a Sport, A Memoir of Charley Fox can be purchased online from LuLu.com for $19.95. Click on the button below.
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.