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The Commander-in-Collar Ties: American Presidents Who Wrestled

The Commander-in-Collar Ties: American Presidents Who Wrestled


There’s something about wrestling that fosters success. Perhaps it’s the mental strength you need to have to overcome opponents constantly. Maybe it’s the meticulous dedication you put in from the first day of practice to the last. What if it’s the repetitive nature of the sport that leads to establishing routines?

No matter the theory, wrestling has been a part of many successful people’s lives. From movie stars to entrepreneurs, the sport has put people on the mat and taken them off ready to take on the world. Yet not many people realize that some of the most notable names in the Oval Office have grabbed collars for fun. In fact, thirteen U.S. presidents hold the distinction of being former wrestlers. While the research is sparse for a few former presidents, including Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, and Ulysses S. Grant, there is enough to go in-depth at some notable names. These include:

George Washington

The first President of the United States was an avid sportsman, particular those involving combat. This included archery, sword fighting, and, of course, wrestling. His style was collar-and-elbow and at the age of eighteen, he held a county-wide championship. Beyond this, information on his accomplishments is limited.

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Zachary Taylor

While the twelfth president never wrestled against Lincoln while he was in Illinois, historians have pointed out that he too was successful at the collar-and-elbow style of his predecessor Washington. He was said to have enjoyed it while in the Army and the Illinois Volunteers. 

Abraham Lincoln

Arguably one of the most accomplished wrestlers amongst his presidential peers, Lincoln’s stature and strength made him formidable as a grappler. While the truth of his success is still shrouded in urban legends and hearsay, he had an impressive winning streak (rumored to be undefeated until a match with Lorenzo Dow Thompson) and proudly discussed his wrestling heritage while on the campaign trail. He was honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.

Theodore Roosevelt

Despite being born frail and asthmatic, Roosevelt dedicated himself to improving his health through strenuous exercise. Of these pursuits, he took to boxing and wrestling. The 26th president had modest success wrestling at Harvard, but he went out of his way to train with middleweight champion Mike J. Dwyer three times a week as a way to improve personally in Cornish-style.

William Taft

Taft, the heaviest U.S. president, grappled at a lower weight of 225 lbs, at least lower compared to his eventual weight of nearly 340 lbs. He was a standout wrestler at Yale, becoming an intramural heavyweight champion with a preference for the collar-and-elbow style that Taylor and Washington used.

Dwight D. Eisenhour

General (and later President) Eisenhour loved combat sports during his youth. While at West Point, “Ike” took part in boxing and catch wrestling. His coach at the time, Tom Jenkins, was actually a heavyweight catch champion. 

Although not every presidential grappler could be discussed, they all shared one thing in common: they took something tangible from their time wrestling to become leaders in their respective fields before making their way to the head of the United States.

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