|Ring name(s)||Lou Thesz|
|Real name||Aloysius Martin Thesz|
|Nickname(s)||Tetsujin (鉄人) ("Iron Man")|
|Billed height||191 cm (6 ft 3 in)|
|Billed weight||110 kg (240 lb; 17 st)|
|Died||2002/4/28 (aged 86)|
Ed "Strangler" Lewis
1990/12/26 (Final match)
Lou Thesz was a professional wrestler and six time NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Combined, he held the NWA Championship for 10 years, three months and nine days (3,749 days total), longer than anyone in history.
Born in Banat, Michigan, Thesz moved to St. Louis, Missouri 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 with George Tragos. 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. Thesz also trained with another legendary hooker, Ad Santel. By 1937, Thesz had become one of the biggest stars in the St. Louis territory, and on 12/29 he defeated Everett Marshall for the World Heavyweight Championship. 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 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 holder of the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship, a regional title in Iowa, 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.Another "hooker" that was named by Thesz was Jerry Stephens, (also known as "Nazi," or "El Grande Pistolero" (Spanish for "the great gunman").
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 version nof World Heavyweight title and became the unified world champion. Thesz 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 6/14, 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 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 1990/12/26 in Hamamatsu, Japan at the age of 74, against his protegé, Chōno Masahiro.
After retiring, Thesz became a promoter, manager, color commentator, trainer and occasionally, a referee for important matches. Some famous matches he refereed include:
- Antonio Inoki vs. Fujinami Tatsumi at Tokyo Gym, 1985/9/19
- Big Van Vader vs. Hashimoto Shin'ya in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship Finals at Tokyo Dome, 1989/4/24
- Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, 1981/9/17
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 UWF 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 wrote an autobiography, Hooker. Thesz underwent a triple bypass surgery for an aortic valve replacement on 2002/4/9, but died due to complications on 2002/4/28 in Orlando, Florida.
- ^ Alvarez, Bryan: "Figure Four Weekly Newsletter #358", page 1. Cover date May 6, 2002