St. Louis Post-Dispatch – April 29, 2002
By Keith Schildroth
Lou Thesz, considered by many professional wrestling experts as the last true pure wrestler and perhaps the greatest wrestler ever, died at his home in Winter Garden, Fla., on Sunday (April 29, 2002) from complications of open-heart surgery.
Thesz, a native St. Louisan, was 86. Funeral services are pending.
Born Aloysius Martin Lou Thesz on April 24, 1916, he was raised in St. Louis near Cleveland High. His father, Martin Thesz, was a middleweight amateur wrestling champion in Hungary.
Martin Thesz trained his son early in life, and Lou Thesz took up the sport seriously at 14. Despite his youth, Thesz was an immediate success. Working with trainers George Tragos and Ad Santel, Thesz increased his knowledge and skill and turned pro at 16, working his first match in East St. Louis.
Thesz took his career to the top when he started a long relationship with former champion Ed “Strangler” Lewis near the end of Lewis’ career. With an impressive background, Thesz became the top “hooker” in wrestling. Hooks are painful, potentially crippling moves that date back to the origins of pro wrestling, and only a few wrestlers have the skill and knowledge to use them.
He won his first title, at 21, in 1937 when he defeated Everett Marshall here for the Midwest Wrestling Association world crown. Thesz later captured the American Wrestling Association world title in 1938 and the National Wrestling Association world title in 1938.
“He had it all,” said eight-time world champion Harley Race. “He was one of the greatest if not the greatest in professional wrestling. He could do so many things inside the ring and he always was in perfect condition.”
Thesz often wrestled four or five nights a week during the early years and always stayed in shape. Almost until his death, Thesz worked out with weights. He moved around the ring with speed and quickness.
“I think he was a genetic freak,” Race said. “He did a lot to keep himself in shape. Lou reminded me a lot of a big cat or panther in the ring, the way he would move around with considerable ease.”
Race said Thesz had several favorite moves to use on opponents. Usually, Thesz would begin his attack with a wrist lock.
“He could move you around or throw you in any direction with that wrist lock,” Race said. “You knew Lou was in control during the match. He had so much talent and he was a true wrestler.”
Thesz held the NWA title a record six times and numerous titles during his career. From 1937 until he lost the NWA title in 1966 to Gene Kiniski at Kiel Auditorium, Thesz dominated the sport.
One of his more memorable bouts here was against Pat O’Connor in 1963 at Kiel.
“They went for an hour without kicking and punching,” said former St. Louis Wrestling Club promoter and TV commentator Larry Matysik. “Thesz won and could have gone another hour. It was a true wrestling match. When Thesz grabbed you, it was over.”
Thesz, who wrestled in more than 6,000 matches, worked for various promoters all over the world after he lost the title, but his interests turned to training potential wrestlers and refereeing here and in Japan.
“In Japan he was God and here he was the Babe Ruth of wrestling,” Matysik said. “He had an aura about him when he walked into the ring. He was the real deal.”
Thesz had a long relationship with several groups in Japan. He was in Japan recently, consulting wrestlers and promoters.
His final match was in 1990 in Japan at 74 against champion Masa Chono.
Thesz was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in February and into the International Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999.
He was also the former president of the Cauliflower Alley Club and was involved in several charity organizations. Thesz helped develop a scholarship for amateur wrestlers with the club.