Father and son, Emil and Tim Barbola demonstrating a wrestling hold. (Rusty Memories and Rusty Red Wealth)

Emil Barbola- World Welter-Weight Wrestling Champion 1937

From the 1920’s through 1961, the wrestling career of Emil Barbola took him to all 48 continental states. He had started ‘rasslin’ at the age of 19 and joined a Boxing/Wrestling Touring group in 1923 and began touring the country as “The Terrible Turk” and “Champion of the West Coast,” putting on exhibitions and matches. The Stoneman Exposition Shows (the name of the group he belonged to) also sported a bear named “Tootsie” that gained fame as the ‘rasslin’ bear. Sometimes Emil would ‘rassle’ the bear at county fairs. The wrestling show featured a “taking on all comers” concept and Barbola featured a standing offer of $100 to any man who could beat him or stay in the ring for five minutes. He never had a pay out! Wrestling at a solid weight of 175 lbs., Barbola became a top name in the country, wrestling in all venues and arranged matches. His style was brute strength often breaking ribs with a body scissor or a bear hug. Once on the mat, Emil was practically unbeatable. He wrestled from Milwaukee until moving to Berlin in the early 1930’s to become a guard at the Berlin Chapman Co. After Prohibition, he and his brother Edward, established the Barbola Liquor Company. (It is rumored in the family that the two brothers engaged in boot-legging during prohibition). Their business operated on Berlin’s main street in the location of Field’s Card Shop, until the late 1970’s when it was sold to Paul Parsons. Barbola’s was Berlin’s first wholesale and retail liquor store. In 1937 he became the World Welter-weight Wrestling Champion when he defeated Col. Jack Reynolds of Missouri. Reynolds had held the title for 14 years, Emil brought the Championship belt to Berlin where it was proudly displayed in his liquor store. In 1942 Barbola became Assistant Chief of Police in Berlin (a position he held for almost 20 years) and promoted many matches featuring then policeman on the match cards. While in the Police Department, Email had a wrestling mat set up on the third floor of City Hall where policemen and others worked out and trained. He owned his own ring and traveled around the area setting up matches during the wrestling season. Other professional athletes used to join the Boxing/Wrestling circuit during the off seasons to help support their families. Barbola helped arrange matches for out-of-work Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears players among others. Local matches at the Berlin Eagle’s Club (located across the street from the Berlin Bowling Lanes) and were sponsored by the Berlin National Guard. One news article of 1951 states that over 1,000 fans came to see Barbola defeat Gorgeous George Arena while another 600 fans were turned away because there was no more room. On the same card was “Mr. America,” Reggie Lisowski of Milwaukee, a newcomer to the ring. Reggie Lisowski later became known to all Wisconsin wrestling fans as “The Crusher.” He wrestled his very first match in Berlin. Barbola arranged for wrestling matches for the Berlin Mardi Gras celebration held in the 1930’s and the newspapers of the day promoted the events. In later years. Emil’s son, Tom, entered the wrestling profession and appeared in the same show with his dad. Tom earned the title of U.S. Army Wrestling Champion while in the service in Colorado. He later became the Wisconsin Heavy-weight Wrestling Champion. Tom was known to train with Berlin’s high school wrestlers, then coached by Ray Stone. Emil, in later years, also was a trainer for other professional wrestlers. There are many Berlin area names associated with wrestling appearing in the papers in the early days. Bill Merkley was Chief of Police and he wrestled and also served as a referee as did Joe Resop. Other area wrestlers mentioned were Marquette’s Marc Strahota (who also traveled the fair circuit wit Barbola in his early years), Ripon’s Claire Radtke and Oshkosh native, Clarence Rhyner. But the man who brought professional wrestling to Berlin and who helped make it a much watched sport was certainly Emil Barbola.

Bobbie Erdman, author. Berlin Area Historical Society http://berlinareahistoricalsociety.com/


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