The Legend of the Squared Circle

Chris Jordan is yet another outstanding figure among that exclusive collective of Greek champion wrestlers and notable American-based sports promoters. From the 1880s onward, several waves of Hellenes arrived in North America as strongmen, wrestlers and promoters. Among the first arrivals were those individuals who had already established themselves in Ottoman or Western European sports venues, circuses and international expositions such as George Costaky, Anton Pierre and/or Panagis Koutalianos. Next came champions such as Nicholas Protopapas, George Baptiste, and William Demetral. In the years that followed, dozens of other Greek immigrants and individuals of Greek descent turned to professional wrestling inspired by the successes of these earlier men. It is no exaggeration to say that the fabled careers of these Hellenes forever changed the sport of wrestling in North America.
It is not that when looking at the American sports pages, of the late 1880s or early 1900s, one must hunt to discover some lone Greek athlete–it is quite the reverse. From the 1880s onward, in both American professional an amateur wrestling, it is literally impossible to not find Greek wrestlers listed time and again.
Chris Jordan was born in Erdake, Turkey on January 17, 1885, where he was later to claim his father had been mayor of the town. Jordan arrived in Boston on April 7, 1906. Jordan had brown hair and eyes, was 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighed around 158 lbs. and when asked about “distinctive marks” always acknowledged his cauliflowered left ear. Jordan always claimed he began his wrestling career in Boston after being discharged from the British navy as an able quartermaster. Within less than a year Jordan was wresting professionally.
Jordan’s claim to be middleweight champion of the United States remains a strong one. He wrestled Henry Gehring, acknowledged holder of that title, as early as 1910. While Jordan lost his first contest with Gehring he did beat Mike Yokel by 1913 (who had defeated Gehring for the title belt) and then later beat Gehring as well. This convoluted history needs to be brought up because promoters of wrestlers from the eastern United States never allowed any of their wrestlers to meet Chris Jordan in a title match.
Regional titles, in the early 1900s until World War II, were not unknown in this country. However since Jordan was willing to wrestle anyone anywhere for the middleweight championship title an argument can well be made that he was the nation’s true title holder for this weight class. Confirming this claim, I believe, is the fact that Jordan did lose this title at different points in his career. Only that once lost Jordan was quick to win this title back again and again, never losing it for long.
By 1910 onwards, accounts of Jordan’s various wrestling matches fill sports pages around the nation. Eyewitness reports of Jordan’s matches portray him as an incredibly fast, formidable opponent and when necessary a very dangerous one. Yet, as with every human there were dimensions to this man and his inner life no newspaper account ever fully reported. In 1910, Chris Jordan eloped with Luisa Winch a 17 year old waitress he met at the Eliades Confectionary then located at Ninth Street and Washington Avenues in Monaca, PA. The marriage was successful and the couple even lived with the Winch family for a time. However, for reasons not publicly stated Louisa Jordan passed away sometime before 1920.
Jordan wrestled, gave expositions of his strength on stage and at other venues and he was also associated with a number of carnivals and circuses. Jordan also quickly became a sports promoter and on at least one occasion (and we can suspect others) owned and managed his own circus.
By 1913, Chris Jordan was guiding and wrestling with his brother Steve Jordan. Steve Jordan appeared with his brother and alone under the name Young Jordan. Greek brothers wrestling together or separately was/and has never been unusual. For this early period the Demetral brothers: William and James immediately come to mind and later figures such as the Tolos Brothers: Chris and John. However, just to make things difficult for sports historians, it would seem Jake Pappas, yet another Greek immigrant, also wrestled as the ‘Young Jordan,’ again around 1913 to 1915. Neither Steve Jordan nor Jake Pappas lasted for very long in professional sports. Chris Jordan, on the other hand, continued to wrestle year in and year out.
By the time Chris Jordan settled permanently in Alabama he was a recognized sports promoter throughout the Southern United States. And while Jordan continued as both a promoter and occasionally even a wrestler to appear throughout the south he began to build a wresting dynasty in Alabama. Innumerable accounts attest to Jordan’s systematic establishment and development of wrestling throughout the state of Alabama during the darkest hours of the Great Depression. Jordan formed a circuit out of the one-by-one connections he forged between local theaters, athletic clubs, arenas, sports fields, and ultimately American Legion Halls across the state. While it is not crystal clear from the public record we do know that due to Jordan’s success at presenting wrestling matches at American Legion Halls, he soon became some type of official in this organization.
As in other wrestling circuits or regions, Jordan would sign contracts and arrange wrestling title matches such that his troupe of wrestlers would travel from one hamlet, town or city onto the next. As the interest in wrestling ebbed and flowed so too did Jordan’s presentation of wrestling in Alabama communities such as Anniston, Birmingham, Daphne, Decatur, Florence, Gadsden, Mobile, Montgomery, Sheffield, Tuscaloosa and elsewhere. Jordan was ever alert to bring the best wrestlers to the state.
As but one example the Tuscaloosa News reported: “Wrestling returns to Tuscaloosa Wednesday night, with Chris Jordan, one of the South’s best known promoters, at the helm again. The American Legion announced that it will sponsor weekly shows. Four prominent men have been signed for the first show according to Jordan. James (Kit) Lott, of Birmingham and Earl Smith, a newcomer to Tuscaloosans, are scheduled to tangle in the final match. This match is for two falls out of three, with a time limit of two hours. Tailspin Tommy Tassos, the Detroit Greek, will meet George Hartay, the Hungarian Lion, in the semi-final, best two falls out of three. The time limit is one hour. The matches will start at 8:30 o’clock and will be held at Maynor Field (October 2, 1935).”
These were no small time events. Legion Halls, local theaters, and even outdoor arenas were reported as regularly filled to capacity. Excellent wrestling exhibitions, showmanship and special features all served to help Jordan’s circuit thrive. True Jordan had to sometimes push the locals to accept changes such as allowing escorted ladies to attend the matches. Business was business and Jordan did not stop at merely allowing women in as spectators.
By late-1935, Mildred Burke (nee Bliss, 1915-1989) whom the Police Gazette had dubbed the World Women’s Champion was appearing across Jordan’s circuit in Alabama and other venues in the south he controlled. Not an unattractive woman Burke was no pretty cream puff in the ring. Burke started out in 1935, wrestling men at carnivals. Burke’s professional career lasted well into the mid-1950s. Burke is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
Jordan was also known for seeking out and aiding Greek wrestlers. It can well be claimed that Jordan also directly influenced the history of American wrestling in yet another fashion. Jordan hired as his assistant George N. Gulas and later his son former wrestler Nick Gulas. Around 1947, the Gulas’s moved to Nashville, TN where they eventually established their own wrestling network that spanned 48 southern cities. Wrestling giants such as Lou Thesz, Hulk Hogan Gorgeous George, Randy (Macho Man ) Savage and many others worked with the Gulases.
On April 18, 1940, longtime sports promoter and former wrestling champion Chris Jordan passed away. His funeral was held three days later. Details and extended accounts of Jordan’s career as wrestler and promoter are all over the Internet, newspaper accounts, and the biographies and autobiographies of other professional wrestlers.
Why do we not hear more about the detailed activities of Greek-American sports or entertainment promoters? And let us not restrict ourselves, as the popular media in America does today, on merely celebrity figures. It is a well-established fact of history that Greeks arrived in the United States, in significant numbers, from 1880 onward. Now, after more than 130 years, what little is written about the history of Greeks in the United States focuses virtually exclusively on “the fact” that we are immigrants. When was the last time you read an academic article on Greeks in the United States you found interesting? Are we so fundamentally uninteresting or insignificant as a people (or as individuals) that our collective accomplishments in this country amount to nothing of the least consequence?