Gustave Adolph Sonnenberg was born March 6, 1898 at Ewen, Michigan. He
played football at Marquette High School from 1912 through 1915 and he
attended Dartmouth College in 1916 but dropped out after his first year.
Gus later returned for his sophomore year but spent his junior and senior
years at the University of Detroit, from which he graduated. Some reports
said that he had a law degree but other sources said that Sonnenberg
graduated with an English degree.
Being an excellent college football player, he turned professional in 1923
playing with the Buffalo All Americans and the Columbus Tigers. The
1925-26 seasons were spent with the Detroit Panthers. In 1927, Gus became
a member of the Providence Steam Roller. One Providence team mate was John
Spellman, a former Olympic wrestler. Gus attended a professional show with
Spellman, who was on the card that night as a professional. Sonnenberg soon
asked Spellman to train him in the mat sport.
On January 24, 1928 at the Arcadia Ballroom in Providence, Gus made his pro
wrestling debut by defeating the veteran Ivan Ludlow. His first match in
Boston took place on February 2, 1928. Sonnenberg defeated Charlie Donnell
in ninety seconds at the Grand Opera House and promoter Paul Bowser quickly
saw that a new star was being born. His biggest victory was scored at the
Boston Arena on May 10, 1928 over Wayne Munn. After defeating Karl Sarpolis
for his 38th straight victory, Gus was awarded a contest with the world
heavyweight mat champion, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, on June 30, at the Boston
Area. After winning the first fall, Sonnenberg missed with one of his flying
tackles and knocked himself out on the concrete floor, unable to continue
for his first defeat.
With football season starting, he returned to the Providence Steam Roller.
Jimmy Conzelman guided the team to the National Football League title in
1928. Sonnenberg played tackle, running back and place kicker on that
On January 4, 1929 before 20,000 fans at the Boston Garden, Sonnenberg faced
Ed Lewis in a return match. This time Gus shocked the wrestling fans by
defeating the "Strangler" to win the world's heavyweight championship. More
college football stars entered the mat game and the "flying tackle" was
copied by many. Sonnenberg was in so much demand as a wrestler that football
was forgotten. The Providence Steam Roller did not repeat as NFL champions in
Finally on December 10, 1930 in Los Angeles, he faced Ed Don George, who
competed in the 1928 Olympics. George used Sonnenberg's pet hold, "the flying
tackle" to take the championship.
In 1931, he secretly married Marie Elliott, who later became actress Judith
Allen. Knowledge of their marriage became known when she went out on a date
with actor Gary Cooper. This information also ended their marriage!
Sonnenberg became world champion a second time on March 16, 1939 in Boston.
Gus unmasked Marvin Westenberg as "the Shadow" to win the American Wrestling
Association title. This reign only lasted only to March 29, 1939, when Steve
(Crusher) Casey defeated him in Boston.
Sonnenberg wrestled until the fall of 1942 when he entered the Navy as a
chief specialist. Gus died of leukemia on September 12, 1944 at the Naval
Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He was buried at Marquette, Michigan.
- Don Luce