Lou Thesz

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Lou Thesz
Lou Thesz.jpg
Birth name Lajos Tiza
Born (1916-04-24)April 24, 1916[1]
Banat, Michigan[1]
Died April 28, 2002(2002-04-28) (aged 86)[1]
Orlando, Florida[1]
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Lou Thesz
Billed height 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)[2]
Billed weight 225 lb (102 kg)[2]
Billed from St. Louis, Missouri[2]
Trained by Peter Sauer[2]
George Tragos[2]
Ad Santel[2]
Ed Lewis[2]
Warren Bockwinkel
Debut 1932[1]
Retired 1990[1]

Aloysius Martin "Lou" Thesz[1] (born Lajos Tiza[3] April 24, 1916 – April 28, 2002) was an American professional wrestler and six-time[4] world champion, most notably holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times. Combined, he held the NWA Championship for 10 years, three months and nine days (3,749 days total), longer than anyone else in history. Among his many accomplishments, he is credited with inventing a number of professional wrestling techniques such as the belly to back waistlock suplex (later known as the German suplex due to its association with Karl Gotch), the Lou Thesz press, STF and the original powerbomb. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.

Wrestling career[edit]

Lou Thesz against The French Angel on the ring, 1940

Born in Banat, Michigan, Thesz's family moved to St. Louis when he was a young boy.[1] His working-class immigrant parents hailed from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Beginning in Thesz's early youth, his father personally gave him a tough and thorough education in Greco-Roman wrestling, which provided the fundamentals for his later success. While in high school he was a successful freestyle wrestling competitor on his school team; as he recalled many years later, he and a friend once "worked" a dramatic match against each other at a tournament, and were amused when nobody could see how much they were faking. As a teenager, he also trained in amateur wrestling with legendary wrestler Ad Santel. Thesz made his professional wrestling debut in 1932, at the age of 16. He soon met Ed "Strangler" Lewis, the biggest wrestling star of the 1920s, who taught a young Lou the art of "hooking" (the ability to stretch your opponent with painful holds). The two formed a lasting friendship. By 1937, Thesz had become one of the biggest stars in the St. Louis territory, and on December 29 he defeated Everett Marshall for the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Title, the first of many World Heavyweight Championships. Thesz became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history, at the age of 21.[2] Thesz dropped the title to Steve "Crusher" Casey in Boston six weeks later. He won the title again in 1939, once again defeating Marshall, and again in 1948, defeating Bill Longson.

In 1948, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) was formed, the purpose being to create one World Champion for all the various wrestling territories throughout North America. Orville Brown, the reigning Midwest World Heavyweight Title holder, was named the first champion. Thesz, at the time, was head of a promotional combine that included fellow wrestling champions Longson, Bobby Managoff, Canadian promoter Frank Tunney and Eddie Quinn, who promoted in the St. Louis territory where NWA promoter Sam Muchnick was running opposition. Quinn and Muchnick ended their promotional war, and Thesz' promotion was absorbed into the NWA. Part of the deal was a title unification match between Brown and Thesz, who held the National Wrestling Association's World Title. Unfortunately, just weeks before the scheduled bout, Brown was involved in an automobile accident that ended his career. He was forced to vacate the championship and the NWA awarded the title to the #1 contender, Thesz. Thesz was chosen for his skill as a "hooker" to prevent double crosses by would-be shooters who would deviate from the planned finish for personal glory.

Between 1949 and 1956, Thesz set out to unify all the existing World Titles into the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. In 1952 he defeated Baron Michele Leone in Los Angeles for the California World Heavyweight title and became the first undisputed World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion since the days of Frank Gotch and Georg Hackenschmidt. Thesz finally dropped the Title to Whipper Billy Watson in 1956, and took several months off to recuperate from an ankle injury. He regained the title from Watson seven months later.

1957 was an important year for Thesz; on June 14, the first taint to Thesz' claim of undisputed Champion occurred in a match with gymnast-turned-wrestling star, Edouard Carpentier. The match was tied at two falls apiece when Thesz claimed a back injury and forfeit the last fall. Carpentier was declared the winner, but the NWA chose not to recognize the title change, deciding a championship could not change hands due to injury. Despite the NWA's decision, there were some promotions who continued to recognize Carpentier's claim to the World Heavyweight title. That same year, Thesz became the first wrestler to defend the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in Japan, wrestling Rikidōzan in a series of 60 minute draws. Their bouts popularized pro wrestling in Japan, gaining the sport mainstream acceptance. Realizing he could make more money in the land of the rising sun, Thesz petitioned to the NWA promoters to regularly defend the belt in Japan. His request was turned down, and Thesz asked to drop the title to his own hand picked champion, Dick Hutton, rather than Thesz's real-life rival and the more popular choice, Buddy Rogers. Thesz would embark on a tour of Europe and Japan, billing himself as the NWA International Champion; this title is still recognized as a part of All Japan Pro Wrestling's Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship.

In 1963, Thesz came out of semi-retirement to win his sixth World Heavyweight Championship from Buddy Rogers at the age of 46. Legend has it that Rogers was having second thoughts about dropping the title, and Thesz responded by saying, "we could do this the easy way or the hard way". He would hold the title until 1966 when, at the age of 49, he was dethroned by Gene Kiniski.

Thesz wrestled on a part-time basis over the next 13 years, winning his last major Title in 1978, in Mexico, becoming the inaugural Universal Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Champion at the age of 62, before dropping the championship to El Canek a year later. Thesz officially retired in 1979, after a match with Luke Graham. He remained retired for the most part, before wrestling his last match on December 26, 1990 in Hamamatsu, Japan at the age of 74, against his protégé, Masahiro Chono.[2] This made him the only male wrestler to wrestle in seven different decades.[2]

Post-wrestling career[edit]

After retiring, Thesz became a promoter, manager, color commentator, trainer and occasionally, a referee for important matches. Some famous matches he refereed include:

Thesz became the president of the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1992, an organization for retired pro wrestlers; a position he held until 2000. He became a trainer for the Union of Wrestling Force International, and lent the promotion one of his old NWA Title belts, which they recognized as their own World Title. As an announcer, Thesz was the color commentator for International World Class Championship Wrestling's weekly television show. In 1999, his name was given to the Lou Thesz/George Tragos Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for professional wrestling stars with a successful amateur background at the International Wrestling Institute & Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was an inaugural inductee. Thesz was honored by a ceremony at WWF's Badd Blood 1997[2] as being both the youngest and oldest World Heavyweight Champion at ages 21 and 50, respectively (technically, Verne Gagne holds the record for oldest champ, when he held the AWA Championship in 1980 at age 54).

Thesz wrote an autobiography, Hooker. He underwent a triple bypass surgery for an aortic valve replacement on April 9, 2002, but died due to complications on April 28, 2002 in Orlando, Florida.[6]

Legacy[edit]

Lou Thesz is one of the most widely respected wrestlers ever and it is difficult to put his legacy into words. He was the last of the great hookers from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. When he wrestled an exhibition with Ed Lewis in 1936 in St. Louis, "The Strangler" knew this was the future of wrestling. Thesz was a good-looking, sophisticated man, who was always in tip-top shape and could more than handle himself in a shoot. Former NWA World champion, Harley Race, likened Thesz to a leopard as a man with respectable size, who wasted no motion. Lou Thesz became the youngest world champion at the time at twenty-one. This task was unprecidented as it would take about six months to popularize a wrestler and years to make them a world caliber star. Like his mentor, Thesz was a seemingly unbeatable champion, who only ever lost the belt to keep interest. His career is one of wrestling's most colorful, thankfully it was captured in his autobiography "Hooker." His career spanned seven decades and he was a top star for many of them, wrestling everyone: Everett Marshall in the 30s, Buddy Rogers in the 40s, Whipper Watson in the 50s, Rikidozan in the 60s, Antonio Inoki in the 70s and everyone in between. Many who were fans, fellow pro-wrestlers or promoters from those decades and beyond regard Lou Thesz as the greatest pro-wrestler of all-time. [7]

Lou Thesz was born in 1916 in Banat, MI. but moved to St. Louis, MO. At an early age and this is where his fifty-eight year wrestling career would begin. He began his wrestling career in 1932 and retired from full time grappling in 1990. One of the original “hookers”, Thesz relied mainly on submission holds and could cripple a man within seconds of applying a hold, if he so chose to. Hookers were definitely dangerous and pound for pound, probably the best wrestlers around. They would use submission and nerve holds that a lot of people never heard of and some of them were even illegal. When a true hooker applied a hold properly, no one was escaping from it. Thesz was also trained by two of the best “hookers” in the business in George Tragos and Ad Santel.

Tragos had garnered a reputation for crippling people and ending careers if he felt that his opponent needed to be taught a lesson or he felt that he and the sport were being disrespected. His reputation was so much, that when wrestlers came into a gym to train and saw Tragos there, they would turn and leave. Now that wrestling is leaning toward more the “entertainment” aspect and not so much pure grappling, hookers are far and few between as there are no one to train them. There are almost no modern day wrestlers who could be called a “hooker”.

Thesz has held several World championships for the NWA and many other promotions and at one WWE Pay-Per-View was recognized as both the youngest World Champion and the oldest World champion. He was twenty-one when he first won the World title and was fifty when he won his last one. However, later on, Vince McMahon would win the World title at the age of fifty-four. Lou Thesz passed away in April of 2002 and left behind a legacy that will forever be unmatched. Lou Thesz was truly one of the all-time greats and many of the moves that he created such as the Lou Thesz Press, the STF and the Powerbomb are still being used today.[8]

In 1999, a large group of pro wrestling experts, analysts and historians named Thesz the most influential NWA World Heavyweight Champion of all time.[9]

In 2002, Thesz was named the 2nd greatest pro wrestler of all time behind only Ric Flair in the magazine article 100 Wrestlers of All Time by John Molinaro, edited by Dave Meltzer and Jeff Marek.[10]

Many believe that Thesz had the biggest impact in pro wrestling history.[11]

Thesz is an inaugural member of several Professional Wrestling Halls of Fame including, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, the NWA Hall of Fame, WCW Hall of Fame, and the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame which is subsequently named after both one of his trainers along with Thesz himself.

Personal life[edit]

Thesz was married three times. His first marriage to Evelyn Katherine Ernst in March 22, 1937.[12] Thesz was convalescing from a severe knee injury suffered in 1939 and from 1941 to 1944 and worked as a dog breeder and trainer for Dogs for Defense and later as a supervisor for the Todd Houston Shipyard.[12] He divorced his first wife in 1944 and at the shipyard, Thesz met his second wife, Fredda Huddleston Winter with whom he fathered three children, Jeff Thesz, Robert Thesz and Patrick Thesz.[12] Thesz was drafted into the army in 1944 despite a legitimate injury to his knee and multiple medical deferments. He was placed into medic training and eventually teaching hand to hand combat defense for medics and was discharged in 1946.[12] Thesz's 3rd marriage came to an end in 1975.[12] He married Charlie Catherine Thesz and remained with her for the rest of his life.

In wrestling[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • Iron Mike Mazurki Award (1998)
  • TWWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
  • International Wrestling Institute and Museum
  • George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame (1999)
  • Montreal Athletic Commission
  • MAC World Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
  • Class of 2007
  • Legends Battle Royale Winner (1987)[16]
  • Other titles

Notes[edit]

1Records are unclear as to where Thesz first won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and which promotion he was wrestling in when he won it. [17]
2The World Heavyweight Championship of the National Wrestling Association is not the same championship nor does it have any connection to the world championship recognized and used by the National Wrestling Alliance.
3Thesz reigns with the title occurred prior to the NWA assuming control of it. In fact, he won the title before the NWA was created.
4Thesz also has two reigns with the title before the formation of the NWA and the title being renamed the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dave Meltzer & John F. Molinaro (2002). Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of all Time. Winding Stair Press. ISBN 1-55366-305-5. 
  • Mallory Curley (2005). Beatle Pete, Time Traveller. Randy Press (discusses Lou Thesz and wrestling promoter Bill Best at Liverpool Stadium). 

External links[edit]