Yukon Eric
By CAC's Photographer, Mike Lano, DDS
 
 

Bruno Sammartino calls Yukon Eric “the strongest wrestler that I ever stepped into the ring with and that’s covering some ground, and he was always great to work with.  He was very colorful, really unique, a great hand in the ring and a great guy.  I was really very sad at all he suffered, but he was a credit to our business."

Ivan Koloff  said “I watched The Gallagher Brothers, Rocca , The Shire Brothers well before I ever got into wrestling.  Yukon Eric was one of my all-time favorites and he always had great matches on tv. He was incredible in the ring and had just a ton of charisma, very unique style and gimmick for his day.  He related very well with the people who really loved him.”

Besides Bruno,  Yuke faced and teamed with the best of the day in Lou Thesz,  Ed Carpentier, Bobo Brazil, Hans Schmidt, "Killer" Kowalski and the "Flying Frenchman" Edouard Carpentier, Whipper Billy Watson, Dick the Bruiser, Wilbur Snyder, Mitsu Arakawa, Kenji Shibuya, Bearcat Wright, Hans Schmidt, Gorgeous George, Larry Chene, Crusher Lisowski, Sky Hi Lee and many others.


He was one of the few to face both heels and faces regularly, in whatever territories he found himself in.  No matter where he worked, he was always greeted by thunderous cheers, since he appealed to so many demographics at the time.

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He was born Eric Holmback in the small town of Monroe just outside of Seattle, WA and a protective brother to his three sisters later growing up in Aberdeen. He lettered with the varsity football team in 1938 at Washington State University in his sophomore year and always proudly displayed his collegiate trophies. The future and completely unique wrestling legend Yukon Eric is still discussed in hushed, respectful tones since we lost him in 1965.  And loved all over again on those great Marigold Arena and othertraded-tape retrospectives.  Yukon Eric was a giant of a man at the time, sometimes billed at 290 pounds on a 6 foot, one inch frame with a 67 inch chest;  looking a bit like Crusher Verdu tucked into a logging gimmick.

Eric was the Mick Foley of his day, wearing colorful plaid shirts(albeit unbuttoned to show off that chest of his) and also sadly losing a portion of his ear in a well-publicized match still discussed to this day against his main rival, CAC’s Walter “Killer” Kowalski that established Killer as one of the most hated wrestlers by fans and Yuke as one of the best loved(as voted on in “Wrestling As You Like It.”)  “It was an unintentional accident” as Walter has said repeatedly, Yuke’s “cauliflower, calloused ear just cracked off.  When I legitimately went to visit him at the hospital later,  I wasn’t able to get near him, there were so many people around.  But they instead reported that I didn’t bother coming,  which made me an even bigger heel even though it wasn’t true. And they called ours the feud of the century.   Before this, I was Tarzan Kowalski and kind of a quiet babyface. But after that kneedrop,  I can’t tell you how hated I was.  Everybody knew about our feud.  The referee tried handing it back to Eric, but they couldn’t reattach it.  There was blood everywhere.”

Yuke’s strongman character was way ahead of his time. His advertised 67 inch chest made him look like a Crusher Verdu, albeit in a lumberjack gimmick without boots and in jeans. “Rather than a belt, he either used rope or a clothesline and really lived his character,” said Joe Leduc who along with his wrestling “brother” Paul paid homage to Yuke decades later as a successful tag team of strong lumberjacks. “He used the backbreaker and other strongman, weight-lifter type moves before most of us did,” Bruno Sammartino said.  Matt Borne added that his WCW strongman character was also a tribute to Yuke.

Eric was amongst the very first “no-sellers” who’d smile with the fans anytime a wrestler would come off the ropes slamming into his chest, hitting it with a thud and crumpling to the mat.  Few ever took him down and it was only a matter of time before a bearhug or strength-move finisher took the match for Eric.

“And those convertibles of his, caddies and lincolns!” said longtime Yuke friend, CAC and wrestling legend Nick Bockwinkel.  “He always had the hood down to draw attention to himself, always dressed in his character no matter where we were going, or what we were doing.  This was Yukon Eric after all!”

Nick always tells me the story of riding with Eric through a very poor town on the way to a big city show later that night in very bad weather. “And with the top down as usual, of course. This was Yukon Eric after all. What an outdoors person he really was.  Well, we're in Yuke's convertible, that famous car of his in a very pronounced color and he has the hood down to show off to the people while waving at them;  and it begins to rain hard. Maybe to draw them to the show.  Eric never closed it up though and we were of course soaking wet by the end of our ride.  He didn’t even  notice. He had the radio on loudly, and nothing seemed to bother him.  He was also a character in that any time he’d pay for his hotel room, or pay for a new car, or anything with a large price tag,  he’d pay with dollars bills he kept stashed in a paper bag. I always scratched my head at that; but he was unique, genuine and a very nice man.  We always had a good time together.”

But keeping his convertible open all the time didn’t bother him, even when it was hailing golf balls or when there was lightning. When we got out of the car and opened the doors, it was like a flood of water began to rush out of the interior.  He was just a real character doing unexplicable things like that.  Very colorful personality.  And a tragic story."   Fans and old friends verify Nick's tale as Yuke would drive in freezing weather in Canada, Maine, Buffalo, Detroit, wearing only his thin wrestling shirt with the top down in either his infamous caddies or continentals.  The shirt of course unbuttoned down to the waist.  And the incredible stories bordering on glorious fiction, of him taking on and destroying an entire clan of bar drunks who dared make fun of him not smoking or drinking and ordering milk instead.  And of being asked not to return to all-you-can-eat places and smorgies, when he’d down everything in sight.  He’s one of the few to have ever finished those famous multi-pound steaks in Amarillo.  Rather than buy a  home when he’d settle into any territory like many of the boys,  he  had his beloved trailer he kept in Ontario.  Many of the boys have fond memories of visiting him there after the matches earlier in his career.  Later he became more of a quiet loner, but one of the earliest animal rights activists, living with his dogs who much of the time were his family.

He was in demand for appearances at schools for many years, and always remembered for being reliable.  “If he said he was coming, he was there.  He never let anyone down,” his old friend Pepper Gomez told me in 2000.  “So many of the guys who came after him tried to copy his strongman, lumberjack gimmick but he was the first and best.  I remember he loved to go swimming and to barbeque at night outside his trailer.  He really loved being outdoors, and just talking outside by a campfire he’d put together.”

Wrestling sadly lost Yuke in 1965 in a Atlanta suburb after he moved there from Buffalo, but he left behind three loving kids: a son Eric Holmback and two daughters who greatly missed his passing.  He had been depressed over a number of things, but had he known how loved he was by the boys and fans beyond his children,  it might've convinced him to stick around.  Cauliflower Alley Club respectfully honors the one-of-a-kind Yukon Eric.  A real legend and trendsetter.

The Cauliflower Alley club is proud to honor Yukon Eric with the 2007 Posthumous award.