Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, FL – June 28, 1963
By Hubert Mizell
“They should keep those characters who wrestle almost entirely as showmen, rather than athletes, out of wonderful places like the Coliseum here in Jacksonville.”
How many times have you heard the antiwrestling bugs come up with those words? Many times, probably.
Even fans who claim to love bonafide mat work do plenty of yelling about the “actors” of the ring. This time, however, the words seemed to mean more.
They were uttered yesterday by Lou Thesz, the world’s heavyweight wrestling champion, who successfully defended his crown here last night against Don Curtis before 11,085 fans.
This may seem a bit odd since Thesz, a 47-year-old St. Louis product, makes something like $150,000 a year on the mat. But, he has a special reason.
“Wrestling is a wonderful sport that molds a beautiful body,” Thesz said while gobbling up a rich dessert. “Athletes need sugar,” he added when the interviewer looked rather surprised at the strawberry tart.
The fact that wrestling has become associated often with showmen more than with athletes, ires the hulking, 6-2, 228-pound Thesz.
“You will usually find that fellows who are long on showmanship are short on wrestling ability,” he commented. “Don’t get me wrong. All forms of sports need a bit of showmanship. Take Leo Durocher and Jim Piersall of baseball. They break me up, but they’re loaded with ability, too.”
As for the matmen who depend on what he calls “local television hate campaigns,” Thesz said “they belong under a tent with the other clowns.”
Thesz said that financial success of wrestling in Florida is “due to constructive promoting. The promoters who dwell on showmen, and not athletes, stink as far as I’m concerned. None of them are where these fellows in Florida are, moneywise. There are some fine athletes among the wrestlers who appear here regularly. They aren’t all that good, of course.”
It was Lou’s second trip to Jacksonville and, needless to say, the city’s growth impressed the man who now resides in Phoenix, Ariz.
“It’s amazing,” Thesz said while looking at the local skyline. “All these great buildings have replaced the old ones. But the greatest improvement of all lies in the Coliseum over that other place.”
The “other place” referred to by the mat king is the old Arena at Main and Beaver Streets, now an indoor parking garage. “That’s a good thing for that spot,” he added with a grin on his bronzed face.
Thesz recalled his first visit, sometime shortly after World War II, with a laugh:
“When I saw those ropes in the Arena taped with back tape, I knew this was ‘it.’ You’ve seen these movies portraying a small, dim-lighted fight club? That was even worse. I’ll tell you the truth – they had men with .22 rifles between matches who went around to the holes in the floor to look for rats who came up for a bite off the hot dogs and buns.”
The next question was going to be “What is the worst place you ever wrestled before as far as conditions?” That one was scratched for obvious reasons. No use making him repeat himself.
Ed (Strangler) Lewis, a one-time mat great who is now totally blind and lives in Tulsa, Okla., was on that trip with Thesz. “Mr. Lewis coached me in public relations for awhile,” Lou said. “But as far as a manager, I’ve never had one. I like to handle my own money.”
Thesz is an ultrasuccessful businessman outside the ring. His holdings include a resort in Phoenix and several apartment buildings in La Jolla, Calif. “I make as much money off real estate as wrestling,” he said. “I usually get about a dollar a mile when on tour. I make about 150,000 miles and dollars a year.”
Thesz learned wrestling from his father, who performed on the mat in his native Hungary. Lou’s physical condition is amazing from his 50-inch chest to his 32-inch waist. “I don’t follow other sports too much,” he freely admits. “My family and I stick to the sports we can compete in.”
Thesz and wife of 18 years, Fredda, have one son, Jeffrey, 11.
“He wants to be a wrestler,” Thesz says with typical fatherly pride.