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A photo of Lou Thesz
|Birth name||Aloysius Martin Thesz|
April 24, 1916|
|Died||April 28, 2002
|Cause of death||Complications from triple bypass|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Lou Thesz|
|Billed height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
|Billed weight||225 lb (102 kg)|
|Billed from||St. Louis, Missouri|
|Trained by||Ad Santel
A six-time world champion, he held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, for a combined total of 10 years, three months and nine days (3,749 days) – longer than anyone else in history. Thesz is regarded as one of, if not the, greatest wrestler of all time. 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, stepover toehold facelock (STF) and the original powerbomb.
Professional wrestling career
Born in Banat, Michigan in 1916, Thesz's family moved to St. Louis when he was a young boy. 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), and 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 American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship, the first of many world heavyweight titles, which also made Thesz became the youngest world heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 21. Thesz dropped the title to Steve "Crusher" Casey in Boston six weeks later. He won the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship 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 Championship 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 Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately, just weeks before the scheduled bout, Brown was involved in an automobile accident that ended his career, and he was forced to vacate the championship and the NWA awarded the title to the No. 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 National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship. In 1952, he defeated Baron Michele Leone in Los Angeles for the California World Heavyweight title and became the closest any wrestler had been to being undisputed world heavyweight wrestling champion since Danno O'Mahony in 1936. 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 legitimate back injury and forfeit the last fall, thus Carpentier was declared the winner; however, 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 NWA World Heavyweight Championship. 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 professional 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 championship belt in Japan, but 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 Heavyweight 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, but 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. This made him the only male professional wrestler to wrestle in seven different decades.
Later life and death
After retiring, Thesz became a promoter, manager, color commentator, trainer and occasionally, a guest referee for important matches. Some of the better-known matches he refereed include the following:
- Ric Flair versus Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, Kansas City Memorial Hall, September 17, 1981
- Antonio Inoki versus Tatsumi Fujinami, Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, September 19, 1985
- Big Van Vader versus Shinya Hashimoto in the tournament finals for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Tokyo Dome, April 24, 1989
- Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi versus Hashimoto and Masahiro Chono, Tokyo Dome, February 10, 1990
In 1992, Thesz became the president of the Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC), an organization recognizing and supporting retired wrestlers and actors who enjoyed an association with wrestling. He served as CAC's president until 2000. He became a trainer for the Union of Wrestling Force International, and lent the promotion one of his old NWA championship 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 and Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was an inaugural inductee. In October 1997, Thesz was honored by a ceremony at World Wrestling Federation's (WWF) Badd Blood 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 World Heavyweight Championship in 1980 at age 54, which was tied by WWF owner Vince McMahon in 1999; Thesz has since been supplanted as the oldest NWA World Heavyweight Champion by current champion Tim Storm (who was born on May 1, 1965), who won the title at age 51 by defeating Jax Dane on October 21, 2016).
Thesz lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia for much of his later life. He wrote an autobiography, Hooker. Undergoing triple bypass surgery for an aortic valve replacement on April 9, 2002, he died due to complications weeks later on April 28 in Orlando, Florida.
Thesz is one of the most widely respected wrestlers ever, as he is recognized as the last of the great hookers from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. When he wrestled an exhibition with Ed "The Strangler" Lewis in 1936 in St. Louis, Lewis knew this was the future of wrestling. Former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race likened Thesz to a leopard as a man with respectable size, who wasted no motion. Thesz became the youngest world heavyweight champion at the time at 21. This task was unprecedented 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 championship belt to keep interest. His career was captured in his autobiography Hooker. His career spanned several decades and he was a top star for many of them, wrestling prolific names: Everett Marshall in the 1930s, Buddy Rogers in the 1940s, Whipper Watson in the 1950s, Rikidōzan in the 1960s, and Antonio Inoki in the 1970s.
Thesz was born in 1916 in Banat, Michigan, but moved to St. Louis, Missouri at an early age, and this is where his 58-year wrestling career would begin. He began his wrestling career in 1932 and retired from full-time professional wrestling 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" would use submission and nerve holds that many people had never heard of and some of them were even illegal. 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.
Thesz has held several world championships for the NWA and many other promotions around the world and at one WWE pay-per-view was recognized as both the youngest and oldest world heavyweight champion, as he was 21 when he first won the world heavyweight championship and he was 50 when he won his last one. However, later on, Vince McMahon would win the world heavyweight title at the age of 54. Thesz died in April 2002. Many of the moves that he created such as the Lou Thesz press, the Stepover toehold facelock (also known as the STF) and the powerbomb are still being used today.
Thesz was the first NWA World Heavyweight Champion to defend the title in Japan and he played a huge factor in helping to make professional wrestling popular there. He was one of the greatest rivals of Rikidōzan who would train future professional wrestling legends Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba to model themselves like Thesz. There has never been another true undisputed world heavyweight champion since Thesz accomplished this feat by unifying all the major titles between the late 1940s and early 1950s. Thesz is strongly considered by many to be the greatest professional wrestler of the 20th Century. Upon Thesz' passing, he was described as a "God" in Japan and the "Babe Ruth" of professional wrestling in America and "perhaps the last pure wrestler to ever exist". In Japan, Thesz was called Tetsujin which means "Ironman" in respect for his speed, conditioning and vast array of amazing wrestling techniques. For a brief period, Thesz also trained Japanese legend Jumbo Tsuruta who would begin using some of the moves that Thesz innovated during his matches starting in the 1980s.
Thesz was the first wrestler to ever hold the NWA International Heavyweight Championship, which became a part of what is now the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship under All Japan Pro Wrestling. Thesz was also the first UWA World Heavyweight Champion for the now defunct Universal Wrestling Association in Mexico, where he won the title after defeating fellow legend Mil Máscaras on July 26, 1976. Thesz was the first ever TWWA World Heavyweight Champion for the now defunct International Wrestling Enterprise as well. Thesz and "The Outlaw" (Dory Funk Sr.) were the first ever NWA Pacific Coast (Vancouver) Tag Team Champions.
In 1999, a large group of professional wrestling experts, analysts and historians named Thesz the most influential NWA World Heavyweight Champion of all time.
In 2002, Thesz was named the 2nd greatest professional 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. Wrestling Observer Newsletter issues out the annual "Lou Thesz/Ric Flair (Wrestler of the Year)" Award named after both Thesz along with fellow all-time professional wrestling great Ric Flair and is given to the most dominant and productive professional wrestler for the year it is being awarded in.
In December 2010, WWE released the 50 Greatest Superstars of All-Time DVD in which Thesz was ranked No. 21.
Late professional wrestling legend and former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco named Thesz his all-time favorite professional wrestler by saying that "Lou Thesz was my idol. He was a great wrestler, a great example, a class man". The WWE tag team known as The Vaudevillains have named Thesz as one of their influences. WWE wrestler Cesaro named Thesz his "dream" tag team partner and said, "He [Thesz] personifies wrestling. He represents everything that I think it should be. He's a class act, and he was a workhorse for the company, while at the same time being a student of the game. He was completely legit. I would have loved a chance to go one-on-one with him or to work alongside him".
Thesz is the only professional wrestler to have been involved with a major world heavyweight championship of any kind over the course of five decades spanning the years 1937–1978 (this also includes the UWA World Heavyweight Championship) and holds the record for the most number of combined days as NWA World Heavyweight Champion (3,749 days) from the years 1949–1966, as well as the distinction of being one of only two male professional wrestlers, along with Abdullah the Butcher, to have wrestled in seven different decades.
Starting in 2004, Cauliflower Alley Club began presenting the annual "Lou Thesz Award" in honor of Thesz after his passing. In 2014, the name of the award was changed to the "Lou Thesz Lifetime Achievement Award". Legendary wrestlers such as Antonio Inoki, Jack Brisco, Verne Gagne, Danny Hodge, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, former NWA World Heavyweight Champion and MMA legend Dan Severn, and Ricky Steamboat have all been recipients of this prestigious award.
Thesz is an inaugural member of several professional wrestling halls of fame, including the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, NWA Hall of Fame, WCW Hall of Fame, and the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame which is subsequently named after both one of his trainers along with Thesz himself. On April 2, 2016, Thesz was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as an inaugural member of the "Legacy" wing.
Thesz was married three times. His first marriage to Evelyn Katherine Ernst in March 22, 1937. 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. 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. 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. Thesz's second marriage came to an end in 1975. He married Charlie Catherine Thesz and remained with her for the rest of his life.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- American Wrestling Association (Boston)
- American Wrestling Alliance (Indiana/Ohio/Colorado)
- AWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Cauliflower Alley Club
- Iron Mike Mazurki Award (1998)
- International Wrestling Enterprise
- TWWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- International Wrestling Institute and Museum
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame (1999)
- Japan Wrestling Association
- Midwest Wrestling Association (Ohio)
- MWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
- Class of 2002
- Montreal Athletic Commission
- MAC World Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA All-Star Wrestling
- NWA Mid-America
- National Wrestling Association
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Stanley Weston Award (1982)
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Pioneer Era (class of 2002)
- Southwest Sports, Inc.
- Stampede Wrestling
- St. Louis Wrestling Club
- St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Class of 2007
- Universal Wrestling Association
- World Championship Wrestling
- Worldwide Wrestling Associates
- World Wrestling Federation/WWE
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Other titles
1 Records are unclear as to where Thesz first won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and which promotion he was wrestling in when he won it.
2 The World Heavyweight Championship of the National Wrestling Association existed from 1929 through 1949, when it was unified with the used by the National Wrestling Alliance.
3 Thesz's reigns with the title occurred prior to the NWA assuming control of it. In fact, he won the title before the NWA was created.
4 Thesz's also has two reigns with the title before the formation of the NWA and the title being renamed the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
- Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
- Litsky, Frank (May 8, 2002). "Lou Thesz, 86, Skilled Pro Wrestler, Dies". nytimes.com. Retrieved February 5, 2012.
- Mooneyham, Mike (March 31, 2013). "Pro wrestling books worth reading; 'The Voice of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling'". The Post and Courier. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
- "Wrestling History: 2002". Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
- "American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Title [Boston]".
- "Title Lineages: AWA (Boston) World Heavyweight Championship".
- The Wrestling Gospel According to Mike Mooneyham
- Alvarez, Bryan: "Figure Four Weekly Newsletter #358", page 1. Cover date May 6, 2002
- Molinaro, John (2003). The Top 100 Wrestlers of All Time. ISBN 1-55366-305-5.
- Kenyon, Lou Thesz with Kit Bauman ; edited by J. Michael (2011). Hooker (3rd ed.). Gallatin, Tenn.: Crowbar Press. ISBN 978-0-9844090-4-4.
- http://www.wwe.com/classics/sports-entertainment-maneuver-innovators Who invented the RKO? The innovators behind sports-entertainment’s best maneuvers
- "Other arena's finishing movelist".
- "Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame (1948-1990)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- N.W.A. World Heavyweight Title
- 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).