• History of Strength Sports

Sandow vs. Saxon

The build up

Having triumphed over Sampson's pupil, Franz Bienkowski (Cyclops), just days before, the stage was set for the two heavyweights of strength to battle.

Sampson was of french descent and had learnt his strongman craft in America and the music halls of England. He reported that his awe inspiring strength came from being struck by a lightening bolt at 14. After 6 months of recovery, he had gained 'superhuman strength'

Sampson was known for outrageous feats of strength and on-stage engineering such as lifting an elephant from a platform and lifting barbells weighing thousands of lbs

Enter stage left...Sandow

Sampson had made the challenge to Sandow after he defeated Cyclops just days earlier. The match up had been highly publicised and tickets sold out with prices as high as 50 guineas.

Sampson started his nightly show with his usual entrance, introducing the show and asking for a contender for his £500 wager.

However, Sandow was no where to be seen. He was caught up in the crowds still trying to get into the theatre, held by a stage door.

Sandow reportedly broke down the door, making one of histories greatest entrances to rapturous cheering.

The contest

1) Sampson bent iron pipes using his chest, arms and legs, bending them back again....Sandow struggled but eventually replicated

2) Sampson broke an iron wire tied round his chest by flexing....again Sandow struggled but with some instructions from the audience, he completed the feat.

3) Sampson placed a chain around his arm and flexed, breaking the chain in one of his signature moves....Sandow takes control of the contest and embarrasses Sampson...

Sandow takes the lead

In an act of genius, prior to the conest, Sandow and Atilla had travelled to Leicester Square, London to find where Sampson had the chains for his show made. Sandow was measured up and the pair paid for the chains, and for the store owner to attend the contest to verify their authenticity.

After breaking the chains by flexing on stage, Sandow had the chains verified by the store owner. He then lifted an audience member overhead for reps and pressed an enormous 150lb dumbbell.

Despite much protest, the judges ruled Sampson had lost and he stormed off stage.

The aftermath

Sampson's contract with the theatre was such that if he lost, his contract became null and void. So, he went to the press reporting that he had been unfairly defeated.

He refused to pay the £500 promised but Sandow was paid by the theatre management anyway. Sampson then took his show on the road to America and Russia, still claiming to be the 'Strongest man on earth'.

Sandow later wrote that after the show, 'The crowd cheered us all the way to my

rooms'. That night, he was then offered a contract with the Alhambra music hall.

Thanks for reading.

Please share if you enjoyed and thank you to David L. Chapman's wonderful book, 'Sandow The Magnificent' for the details of this story that have been adapted for the History of Strength Sports page

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