Louis Uni was a strongman born in France in 1862, most popular for his grip strength. Before he became Apollon the Mighty, Louis ran away from home when he was just 14 to perform for Caramagne circus, but a couple of policemen spotted him during a performance and brought him back to his family.
His parents couldn’t stop him from doing what he likes forever and just a couple of years later Louis moved out and joined Pietro Dalmasso and Felix Bernard. By the age of 20 Louis worked with other famous names like August the Butcher and Henrci Pechon; he also managed to finish military service in the meanwhile.
As his good friend, Edmond Desbonnet, used to say – Louis wasn’t much of a businessman. At some point he bought and renovated the Cafe Fountaine in Paris, renaming it “Concert Apollon”. The idea was to present a mix of theatrical programmes and athletic acts to the public, but it never took off and he was forced to relinquish it.
There are many stories about Louis’s strength, so it’s worth mentioning a couple of them.
In the early 1900’s, several students of Professor Desbonnet’s School of Strength gathered for a training session. Amongst them was John Grun Marx, who came with a friend – Apollon the Mighty. Knowing his friend all too well, Marx told Louis that he would perform a lift that no one else could. Marx slowly approached an extraordinary Edmond’s “challenge” thick-handled dumbbell, which weighed 226 lbs. At that time, only three man in the whole world were capable of lifting this dumbbell using one hand, and John Grun Marx was one of them.
After lifting the dumbbell with one hand at a time, Marx reminded Louis that no one else was capable of doing it. Not a second later, Louis grabbed the dumbbell with his right hand and snatched it violently. Since he didn’t really dip under it, Louis lost control of the bell which landed around 10 feet behind him. And that’s exactly what Marx wanted to see, as he knew his friend Louis was capable of amazing feats, but he just had to “motivate” him. The next time he was challenged was in 1889 by Andre Brandelli, who claimed no one else in the world (apart from him) was capable of performing clean & jerk using his 278 lbs barbell. Apollon was conscious of his strength, so he decided to go a step further – and snatch the 278 pound barbell. And so he did.
Three years later, Louis Uni was involved in another challenge during one of his acts, which is pretty legendary. A trio of three German strongmen called “The Rassio Trio” announced they came there to take away Louis title of “World’s Strongest Man”. The biggest one of them, Godfrey Nordmann, stepped onto a stage while Louis told his friend Batta (Charles Estienne) to prepare one of the heaviest barbells to be used for this challenge. More specifically, he instructed him to fill a 143 pound barbell with sand. He did so with a help of Paul Pons, a famous wrestler who also used to help Louis prepare his acts, bringing a barbell to around 200 pounds.
However, this was still too light for Apollon the Mighty, so he asked them to fill two remaining spheres with sand as well. Having faith in his friends, Louis came back on the stage. But Paul Pons and Batta wanted to play a joke on Louis and decided to remove four hollow spheres and put four solid iron balls on the barbell instead. They thought Louis would never know the difference anyway, making the barbell 341 pounds heavy.
They rolled this enormous barbell onto the stage and quickly ran backstage, in case the big guy realizes what happened. They were ready to take off, since Louis was well-known for his dangerous behavior when annoyed. To everyone’s amazement, not only that Apollon didn’t notice the difference, but he cleaned this weight with no trouble and then pressed it overhead. Now comes the legendary part – Louis moved his right hand to the center of the bar, removing his left one in the process and raised his right leg off the floor. That’s when he dropped the bar into the crook of his elbows, only to bring it back up, catch it, and finally put it down on the floor.
Godfrey Nordmann didn’t think much of this, as he believed that the weight was around 200 pounds, as did Louis. But when he tried to replicate this feat of strength, Godfrey was unable to lift the barbell at all. All that was left to do at this point was to congratulate Louis and leave the stage.
But even the great ones make mistakes. During one on his acts in 1913, Louis Uni was trying to hold back two cars from moving with outstretched hands. However, something went wrong and the act was stopped following a violent scream from Louis, who torn his arm muscles and burst a blood vessel as a result of the force produced by two automobiles. The picture below was taken just after the accident.
Louis eventually recovered from this accident and he continued to perform as a strongman until he died in 1928 at the age of 66.
Several interesting facts about Louis Uni, Apollon the Mighty:
- He regularly performed an act called “Escaping Prisoner” in which he would bend iron bars in order to escape from the cage
- Louis performed at the Royal Aquarium in London in 1889
- He married a famous animal trainer Castanet
- Cleaned & jerked 341 lbs barbell in 1892
- He stood at 6″3’and weighed 265 pounds
- Lifted two train wheels (366 pounds) overhead
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