Wrestling’s Past Gives Present No Future

The Virginian-Pilot – May 30, 1999
By Bob Molinaro

During a pro wrestling career that spanned six decades and at least as many continents, Norfolk’s Lou Thesz figures he must have suffered 200 broken bones and fractures.

Accidents happen, he’ll tell you. Lou just shook off those broken bones.

In the ‘30s, he started out on wrestling’s backroads, not always knowing where his next meal would come from. There were days when he and his partners pulled to the side of the road, hopped a fence and foraged a farmer’s field for the kind of corn they feed horses.

Hunger? Thesz shook it off.

Last week, Thesz learned that Owen Hart, 33, was dead after suffering a 70-foot fall while being lowered in a harness from the ceiling of a Kansas City arena during one of those breathtakingly absurd pay-per-view wrassling shows.

Lou cannot shake this off. The warhorse of wrestling is confused and angry, in part because Hart’s death was personal. As a teenage, Thesz wrestled with Hart’s father, Stu. He’s remained friends with the family. A few years ago, he even trained with Owen Hart.

No one in the world is more serious about professional wrestling or more at a loss to explain what has happened to his beloved sport than the 83-year-old Thesz.

“I don’t think I have ever felt as old or as out of touch as I do today.”

So began the most recent commentary on The Lou Thesz Press, an Internet feature that can be found on scoopcentral.com, a wrestling web site.

In the piece that followed Hart’s death, Thesz expressed personal remorse for ignoring the current state of wrassling. His stomach just couldn’t take the cartoon nonsense the WWF has been pumping out for the get-a-life shut-ins who have made ring burlesque a TV bonanza.

“I don’t mean to be unkind,” Thesz said Friday from his Ocean View home, “but I don’t have to tell you about the audience. They’re not too bright.”

Thesz tuned out long ago, but went real easy on his public criticism of the product. “I have told myself,” he wrote on the website, “they were just making a living and giving the crowd what they wanted.”

Thesz understands the importance of a good show; he wrestled Gorgeous George in the ‘50s. Wrassling without blowhards, villains and campy storylines is gym class. But what Thesz cannot abide is “the language, vulgarity, stupidity and futility of it all.” Can anyone blame him?

He wrote: “It has taken the death of a friend’s son to make me admit how sick the industry I devoted my life to has become.”

In conversation, Thesz calls today’s ring theatrics “choreographed tumbling.” He says, “You can watch professional wrestling for five minutes or five hours and you won’t see one wrestling move.”

He recalls a conversation he had a year or so ago with Vince McMahon, demagogue of the vulgarity currently in vogue.

“He said, ‘Lou, I think you’re going to like this; we’re going back to wrestling,’” Thesz said. “Well, it got worse. He just tells you what you want to hear. Anything to make a buck.”

Before, Lou could shake it off. The buffoonery, he’d tell himself, was none of his business. “But it is my business,” he now writes, anger and frustration bubbling to the surface, “the only business I have ever loved.”

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