BORN: May 3, 1937 in West Germany
5’11”, 195-230 pounds
AKA: Eric Froelich, Erich Froelich
With his bare feet, acrobatic moves and handsome looks, Erich Froelich was an anomaly in pro wrestling in the 1960s and 1970s — he was a German fan favourite.
In the days of ‘pretend’ Germans like Canadians Waldo von Erich, Kurt von Hess and Skull Murphy, Froelich was also unique because he actually WAS from Germany.
Born in May 1937 in Germany, Froelich left his home country in 1956 to avoid being drafted into the army — his birthyear was scheduled to come up next. Plus, he sought out something more from life.
“Adventure, I just wanted to see something different in the world,” Froelich explained to SLAM! Wrestling recently from his home outside Vancouver.
In Germany, Froelich was always into athletics, and excelled at gymnastics from a young age. When he landed in British Columbia in December 1956, it was natural for him to try to get back into gymnastics.
He sought out gymnastics clubs around Vancouver, and worked out with the gymnastics squad at the University of British Columbia. When one of his gymnastics squads was doing a display in English Bay, he was spotted by wrestling promoter Rod Fenton.
“[Fenton] saw me up there, and asked if I would be interested in wrestling professionally,” explained Froelich. The young German was hesitant, and wanted to keep his amateur status for future competitions in gymnastics.
Eventually, he accepted an invitation to work out with some of the local pro wrestlers, and he saw some matches. Decision made. “I decided to give it a try because I couldn’t eat my medals,” he said with a laugh.
Froelich was a quick study at the pro game, and his background in gymnastics and amateur wrestling helped tremendously.
When he was ready for his first match in 1961, promoter Fenton balked at him using anything close to his long German name, especially his first name, which is Udo. Froelich remembers Fenton saying “you don’t mind if we change your name? That’s Udo, and you don’t know anything about judo. It’s wrestling, right.”
The fans quickly took to Froelich, and he stood out for never wearing wrestling boots. “For me, being light … with the shoes, I didn’t have a big grip on the mat, they were slippery. My toes, they were digging in. I was more balanced, through my gymnastic background, without shoes because the style I had was just like [Edouard] Carpentier.”
In the B.C. All-Star Wrestling promotion, Froelich was one of the wrestlers that the promoter could count on, the one to test out the newcomers. “Through my ability, I could wrestle anybody. Any new guy came in to Vancouver, I was over here on TV, and I was the first one to wrestle them, and to find out, probably the promoter, hey said, if he’s capable of wrestling anybody, to see what the ability of the other guy was in a way.” In short, Froelich established a mark as an opponent that required your very best effort to beat.
Besides B.C., Froelich did two tours of Japan, and went to Australia twice, as well as Hawaii, Fiji, Puerto Rico, and England. He did many stops across North America, and was well-known in Toronto and in Texas. In California, he held the N.W.A. Americas Tag Team Title with Reuben Juarez, beating Kinji Shibuya & Masa Saito in June 1972, and losing the belts two month later to Black Gordman & Goliath.
Vancouver was always Froelich’s home base, a safe place for him to return to after wrestling abroad. He had become a Canadian citizen as soon as was possible, just five years after arriving from Germany.
One opponent stands out above all others for Froelich — it was the wrestling tiger. “All the other boys, they had the opportunity to wrestle it … but nobody wanted to wrestle it. Me, I wrestled it. I wrestled it about 19 times, a real-life tiger,” Froelich said. The tiger would be in the cage intitially, swatting at the people outside. Then the cage was opened up, and the tiger gave chase. The match never lasted long. “The tiger was pretty good and chased you out. It was still a wild animal.”
Finally, 20 years of wrestling proved to be too much for Froelich’s body. “I retired when my last son was born, and that was December 1981.”
Froelich had many injuries, and he found that his legs were always swelling up. Open heart and open lung surgery followed not too long afterwards, and he has been on a disability allowance ever since. Four years ago, Froelich had a hip replacement, followed less than a year later by having both knees replaced.
Does he blame all the injuries on wrestling? “In a way, yeah, but in another way, who knows.”
“My whole life was a highlight when I was wrestling. I loved wrestling and I enjoyed travelling. I enjoyed being a wrestler all the time,” Froelich said. “I probably would do it all over again. I saw a lot of the world.”
I had never heard of Erich Froelich until I was touring British Columbia as a young wrestler with Al Tomko’s promotion. I suffered a bad ankle injury and could barely walk. The crew was short-handed and could not take any time off to rest the injury. The first night wrestling on the bad ankle was pure agony. I was worried about having to wrestle a tough veteran that might take advantage of a hurt youngster. The other wrestlers were letting me know that Froelich was well schooled and in great shape at all times and I was in for the fight of my life.
Erich Froelich proved to be a complete Professional that night. He took a hurt kid that the office was trying to give a push and made him look like a million dollars. He made what little I could do in the ring that night look like a solid wrestling offense.
After the match I could not thank erich Enough for carrying me and taking care of me. The true professional, Erich waved it off saying “no problem kid”. I never ran into Froelich again on the tour but have remembered his example and tried to pass on the favor as I became a veteran and was looked to as “the old man”.
I want to thank Erich again and thank SLAM! Wrestling for the memories and for being one of the BEST wrestling sites on the web.
Dan ( Danny “O” ) Pettiglio
I remember Eric from his many stops in the Portland territory, where he worked for Don Owen not only as a “test” for newcomers to judge their ability, but also as a top-flight warmup wrestler. He could would a great scientific match with another capable journeyman, make a 12-minute draw look good and get the crowd started up. Over the years, I came to appreciate what I didn’t understand at first as a youngster. To put on a good show, you’ve got to start out by grabbing the audience’s attention, and in the pre-WCW/WWF war days, that meant an opening match that typified “catch-as-catch-can” professional wrestling at its basic, even if it meant a “well-earned draw” for both participants. Eric never really headlined in Portland, he wasn’t always able to stay that long at a time. But he was always welcomed by the fans in the Northwest and especially in the old Portland Sports Arena. When Eric came out, you knew you were in for 12 minutes of good solid entertaining wrestling.
Art Nelson, Austin, TX
He certainly had an interesting life (although his health problems constitute one of the worst catalogues of possibly wrestling-related ailments I’ve ever read). You were deft in describing his career, which, to me at least, seems to be that of a classic jobber’s; oddly enough, reading various message boards, I’ve come to realize that it is wrestlers like Froelich whom fans remember with affection, giving the local promotions of the period (pre-WWF) a particular colour and place in their memories.
He had quite a national fan base thanks to CTV broadcasting All Star Wrestling across Canada. I’ve run into people all across the country who remember “that bare foot wrestler.” I used to catch All Star Wrestling on Channel 12 in Montreal, one or two hours before Sur Le Matelas, with the Rougeau brothers as headliners. Although I don’t remember Froelich actually winning a match (although a draw hovers in my memory), he was a great performer, making slow moving opponents look (fairly) brutal. His matches with the Tolos brothers were classics of their kind. He must have made quite an impression on the local fans too, because one of them, an elderly woman, used to cheer any face with the cry “Come on Erich!” even if Froelich was not on the card…
I remember meeting you at the Kitchener Memorial Arena. You were standing off to the side by yourself watching Hans Schmidt wrestle. I was a high school wrestler at the time and my brother encouraged me to go an talk with you. You gave me wise advise as to get as much education as possible and to stay in the best shape that I could. Just before I left you I asked you what you thought of Schmidt and you very diplomatic answered “I just don’t like your style.” I then watched you when you were out in the west coast. I found it very funny that when they used a ‘noise filler’ you could hear some one in the back ground calling out “come on Eric”. My cousin and I use to laugh because if it was a boring match we wished you were there with those flying feet of yours. Thanks again Eric and thanks Greg for bringing back good memories of the wrestling in the Kitchener Waterloo area.
I had always loved watching the “Barefoot Wrestler” when I was a teen in Vancouver in the ’60’s. Eric always had a lot of class. During 1982, shortly after I moved to Lyndon, WA, I got a job as a bouncer at Smugglers in south Surrey, BC, on 176th St. just north of the US border. Lo and behold, who should my boss be but Eric Froelich. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I got to know Eric the man, and more of a gentleman I have never met. He was a heck of a great guy. We would always crack open a case of beer after the last patron left at night, and I would love to hear his stories. The one strange thing I remembered, was that he would always wash his hands before going to the urinal instead of after. He said he never knew where his hands had been, but did know where his little buddy had been and didn’t want to dirty him up.
I remember one night there was a college football player in the bar with a couple of buddies. He was a big boy…real big. I hoped he wouldn’t cause any trouble. Well, he started throwing glasses, and I saw for the first time Eric’s anger as he set his jaw and told the guy if he was a good boy he could stay, but if not he would have to leave. Of course, all this was in a German accent. The guy didn’t know who Eric was and just laughed it off. He threw another glass and one of his buddies stood up. Me and another bouncer grabbed him and then the football player stood up. The next thing I know, the guy is on the ground calling for his mother. He was on his ass, Eric was behind him with his knee in the guy’s back, pulling on his head with an awesome headlock. The guy promised to behave, but acted up again and Eric had to subdue him again. The guy was a good 6 – 8″ taller and 60 lbs heavier. As he was being escorted out, he turned to Eric and said, “You wouldn’t be so tough with all your friends here to help you.” Eric said, “You want to go, right now, you and me, nobody else. But I got you beat already. Look at you, you are shaking already. Me, I’m 20 years a professional. Let’s go.” The guy wouldn’t go out alone with him.
Shortly before I left there, I got to work with Nick Kiniski, and met his dad a few times there. Great people all around.
Shortly thereafter I enlisted in the US Army and got to see the world. I now live in North Carolina. God bless you, Eric. I hope all goes well.
Arthur J. Fisher