Abe Coleman, 101; Professional Wrestler Had 25-Year Career

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007

Abe Coleman, 101, a Polish-born professional wrestler promoted as the "Hebrew Hercules" and "Jewish Tarzan" and credited in the 1930s with popularizing the drop-kick move, likened to a flying kick in the jaw, died March 28 at Meadow Park nursing home in Queens, N.Y. He had kidney failure.

Starting in the late 1920s, Mr. Coleman had more than 2,000 fights during a 25-year career. He was among the oldest-living professional wrestlers.

He was a strikingly broad but diminutive man whose 5-foot-3 frame prompted jokes that he appeared to be standing in a ditch. However, at 200 pounds -- not to mention his 18-inch biceps and 18.5-inch neck -- he stood his ground in the ring like an impenetrable fireplug.

And he was amazingly agile. His signature move was the drop kick, in which the wrestler jumps up and boots his opponent with the soles of his feet. He claimed to have introduced the maneuver in 1930 after having toured Australia and seeing kangaroos attack in the same way.

Wrestler and promoter Paul Boesch wrote in his memoir, "Hey, Boy! Where'd You Get Them Ears?": "Coleman liked to leap up and put his feet in his opponent's face and did it frequently. But Abie never learned to use it with the explosive power needed to become a winning weapon."

After beginning his career in New York armories and dingy arenas, he moved on to larger venues, taking on such world champions as Jim Browning and Greek heavyweight Jim Londos.

Later reports show him pitted against a wide range of opponents, including World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Bruno Sammartino; George Zaharias, husband of golfer "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias; and George Temple, the brother of actress Shirley Temple.

During one unfortunate matchup against Man Mountain Dean, who weighed 465 pounds, Mr. Coleman managed to picked up his foe and slam him into the mat. They came crashing through the ring to the hard floor below.

Mr. Coleman played in exhibition matches and appeared twice on "The Jackie Gleason Show" before becoming a promoter and wrestling referee in the late 1950s.

As a referee, he could be excitable. A wrestling fan Web site quoted a review of Mr. Coleman's refereeing work during a 1959 match in Washington between Johnny Valentine and Bola Hawkawa:

"Before he could reach three, Valentine had Hawkawa's [limp] upper body in an upright position again, slugging him over the head," the 1959 story from Boxing Illustrated/Wrestling News reported.

"Finally, in a fit of anger, Coleman grabbed a fistful of Valentine's golden hair and jerked him off [Hawkawa's] lifeless form. Coleman shoved his fist under Valentine's nose, threatened to bash his face in as the angry mob egged him on. But the official restrained himself and did the only thing he could do. Reluctantly, he lifted Valentine's pole-like arm, held it up for a fraction of a second, then tossed it aside as one does with an old shoe."

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