He is considered by most the greatest professional wrestling champion to ever step into the ring, not only because of his technical prowess, but for the dignity and realism that he lent to the sport.
Real Name:Aloysius Martin Thesz
Stats: 6′ 2″ 225 lbs.
Born: April 24, 1916
Lou Thesz was born Aloysius Martin Thesz on April 24, 1916, in Banat, Michigan. His early life was marked by his family’s relocation and exposure to wrestling at a young age, which would eventually shape his legendary career.
Thesz was of Hungarian descent, with his parents, Martin and Eva Thesz, immigrating to the United States from Hungary. When Lou was a young child, his family moved from Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri, where Thesz would first become familiar with the world of professional wrestling, as the city had a vibrant wrestling scene during the early 20th century.
Thesz’s father, Martin, was a wrestler and a greco-roman wrestling coach, which played a significant role in Lou’s early interest in the sport. Lou’s fascination with wrestling grew when he started attending wrestling matches at the South Broadway Athletic Club with his father. The exposure to the matches and his father’s guidance fostered a passion for the sport in young man.
By the age of 16, Thesz had already begun training to become a professional wrestler under the tutelage of George Tragos, a former Olympic wrestler and renowned catch wrestler. Tragos taught Thesz the fundamentals of catch wrestling, a style focused on submission holds and grappling techniques. Thesz would later train with another legendary wrestler, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who helped him further develop his skills.
Lou Thesz’s early life set the foundation for a career that would span several decades and earn him a reputation as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. His upbringing in St. Louis, his father’s influence, and his training under renowned wrestlers such as George Tragos and Ed “Strangler” Lewis equipped him with the skills and determination necessary to excel in the world of professional wrestling.
Lou Thesz’s training under Ed “Strangler” Lewis played a crucial role in shaping his wrestling style and career. Ed Lewis was a highly respected wrestler and multiple-time World Heavyweight Champion, known for his expertise in catch wrestling and signature submission hold, the headlock.
Lewis took Thesz’s skills to the next level, sharing his vast knowledge and experience in the wrestling business. The mentorship provided by Lewis not only honed Thesz’s technical wrestling skills but also instilled in him a deep respect for the sport’s traditions and values. Under Lewis’s guidance, Thesz refined his grappling techniques and learned the importance of ring psychology and the art of storytelling during a wrestling match. Lewis also taught Thesz about conditioning and the need for a wrestler to maintain peak physical fitness. These lessons would serve Thesz well throughout his illustrious career, helping him become a dominant force in the wrestling world. Lewis also taught Lou the art of hooking (the ability to stretch an opponent into painful positions when needed to ensure compliance in the ring). This would serve Lou throughout his career, ensuring that he would not be double-crossed and that his opponent would go along with hthe plans for the match or face a painful lesson.
Moreover, Lewis introduced Thesz to other influential figures in the wrestling business, such as promoter and manager Billy Sandow, and wrestler Ray Steele. These connections would prove invaluable for Thesz as he embarked on his professional career.
Thesz’s early career began in the 1930s and was marked by a rapid ascent through the ranks, thanks to his exceptional talent, discipline, and the strong foundation laid by his mentors. He made his professional wrestling debut in 1932 at the age of 16, wrestling in regional promotions and carnivals, often facing more experienced opponents. His technical prowess, combined with his strong work ethic, quickly caught the attention of promoters and fellow wrestlers alike.
By the time he turned 21 in1937, Thesz had become one of the hottest stars in the St. Louis territory. He was set to match up against Everett Marshall on December 29 to battle over the American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship. After three grueling hours, These emerged victorious becoming the youngest world heavyweight champion in history, just 21 years of age. Six weeks later he dropped that title to Steve “Crusher” Casey in Boston, but defeated Marshall again to capture the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship in 1939. Nine years later he captured the same title, defeating Bill Longson.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Thesz continued to wrestle across the United States, honing his skills and building a reputation as a formidable competitor. He faced a variety of opponents, including both regional and national stars, which further expanded his exposure and experience in the ring. But his opportunity to become one of the greats of the sport came about in 1948.
Pinky George led a group of promoters in creating the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948 with the goal of crowning one unified World champion. Orvilled Brown who held the MidWest World Heavyweight champion was named the inaugural champion, but as part of the agreement behind the creation of the Alliance, Brown was scheduled to meet Thesz in a match for the title. Brown, unfortunately, was severely injured in a devastating automobile accident and was forced to retire from wrestling. His title as the National Wrestling Alliance World champion was then bestowed upon Thesz.
Lou Thesz’s National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship reigns were an integral part of his storied career and a testament to his skill and dedication as a professional wrestler. Thesz’s association with the NWA title helped to solidify his status as a legendary figure in the sport.
In 1952, Thesz made history by unifying multiple World Heavyweight Championships into the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He defeated the National Wrestling Association (a separate organization from the NWA) World Heavyweight Champion, Baron Michele Leone, on May 21, 1952, in Los Angeles. Later that year, on July 24, Thesz also defeated the American Wrestling Association (Boston version) World Heavyweight Champion, Gorgeous George, in Chicago. This series of victories led to Thesz being recognized as the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion.
Throughout his career, Lou held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship six times, with his reigns totaling 3,749 days (over 10 years) – a record that still stands today. His connection with the NWA title lasted for nearly two decades, from his first victory in 1948 to his final reign, which ended on January 7, 1966. He had numerous high-profile feuds and matches against some of the top stars of his era. Some of his most famous opponents included Verne Gagne, Buddy Rogers, Rikidozan, Pat O’Connor, and Dick Hutton.
As the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Thesz traveled extensively across the United States and the world, defending his title and promoting professional wrestling. He was known for his sportsmanship and technical skills, which earned him respect from fans and wrestlers alike.
Lou Thesz’s NWA World Heavyweight Championship runs were a defining aspect of his career, showcasing his dominance and mastery of the sport. His association with the title not only solidified his place in wrestling history but also helped to establish the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as one of the most prestigious titles in professional wrestling.
Throughout his illustrious career, Lou Thesz engaged in numerous memorable rivalries that showcased his exceptional wrestling skills and contributed to his legendary status. Thesz had an intense rivalry with Verne Gagne, another highly skilled wrestler known for his technical prowess. Gagne was a two-time NCAA titleholder at the University of Minnesota and was an alternate for the U.S freestyle wrestling team at the 1948 Olympic Games before being drafter by the Chicago are of the National Football League. Gagne challenged Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship multiple times in the 1950s, with Thesz retaining the title. Their matches were praised for their high level of athleticism and competitiveness. Gagne’s inability to take the title off of Thesz and have a reign as NWA champion would lead him to establishing the American Wrestling Association promotion, for which he would headline for three decades.
Buddy Rogers, known as the “Original Nature Boy,” had a heated rivalry with Thesz. Their feud was a classic contrast of styles, with Thesz representing the more traditional, technical wrestling approach while Rogers brought a flashy, charismatic persona to the ring. Personal animosity between the two added to the drama that simmered around their matches and In 1961, Thesz defeated Rogers to win his fifth NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
In the 1950s, Thesz had a significant feud with Rikidozan, a Japanese wrestling icon who is considered the father of Japanese professional wrestling. Their series of matches played a crucial role in establishing professional wrestling in Japan, and their encounters are seen as historically important in the wrestling world. Thesz and Rikidozan’s matches were characterized by their hard-hitting, physical style, which endeared Thesz to the Japanese fans.
Pat O’Connor, a wrestler from New Zealand, had a notable rivalry with Lou Thesz during the late 1950s and early 1960s. They faced each other in a series of matches for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, with Thesz emerging victorious in most of their encounters.
Dick Hutton, a former amateur wrestling standout and skilled professional wrestler, feuded with Thesz over the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. On November 14, 1957, Hutton defeated Thesz for the title, ending Thesz’s fourth reign as champion. Their rivalry showcased two highly skilled technical wrestlers, and their matches were lauded for their intensity and grappling prowess.
These rivalries, among others, helped solidify Lou Thesz’s status as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Thesz’s ability to engage with a variety of opponents, both in terms of style and personality, showcased his versatility and contributed to his enduring legacy in the sport.
Thesz’s impact on professional wrestling extended far beyond the United States, as he became an international ambassador for the sport during his career. His international excursions and title defenses helped spread the popularity of professional wrestling around the world and contributed to the growth of the sport in several countries.
Thesz wrestled extensively in Canada, where he defended the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against various challengers. He competed in promotions like Maple Leaf Wrestling and Stampede Wrestling, facing notable opponents like Whipper Billy Watson and Gene Kiniski. Thesz’s appearances in Canada helped solidify the popularity of professional wrestling in the country.
Lou Thesz traveled to Europe several times during his career, competing in countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Thesz’s international presence in Europe aided in the growth and visibility of professional wrestling across the continent. He faced local and international stars, showcasing his technical wrestling abilities and promoting the sport in these regions.
Thesz also made his presence felt in Australia and New Zealand, where he wrestled for various promotions and defended the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. His matches in these countries helped to popularize professional wrestling and expand the reach of the NWA title.
One of Thesz’s most significant international contributions was his role in the development of professional wrestling in Japan. Thesz first traveled to Japan in the early 1950s and competed against Rikidozan, a former sumo wrestler who would go on to become the father of Japanese professional wrestling. Their highly-publicized matches helped establish professional wrestling as a popular form of entertainment in Japan and laid the foundation for the creation of the Japanese wrestling promotions, such as New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) and All Japan Pro-Wrestling (AJPW).
Thesz’s most notable and influential rivalry in Japan was with Rikidozan, a former sumo wrestler who would go on to become the father of Japanese professional wrestling. Their first encounter took place in 1957, with Thesz putting his NWA World Heavyweight Championship on the line. The match ended in a draw, but it was a pivotal moment for Japanese wrestling, as it put Rikidozan on the map and helped to popularize professional wrestling in Japan. They had a rematch in 1958, which again ended in a draw, further fueling interest in professional wrestling in the country.
Thesz’s visits to Japan and his matches against Rikidozan created a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling, leading to the formation of Japanese wrestling promotions. Rikidozan founded the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA) in 1953, and Thesz’s influence and collaboration with Rikidozan were instrumental in establishing the promotion. In the following years, more promotions emerged, such as New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) and All Japan Pro-Wrestling (AJPW), which became cornerstones of the Japanese wrestling scene.
Thesz’s impact on Japanese wrestling extended beyond his in-ring performances. He also played a role in mentoring and training several Japanese wrestlers, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the next generation of talent. Thesz’s emphasis on technical wrestling and sportsmanship influenced the Japanese wrestling style, which came to be known for its strong grappling and hard-hitting action.
Even after his rivalry with Rikidozan, Thesz continued to visit Japan and compete in the country throughout his career. He faced numerous Japanese wrestling stars, including Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, and Jumbo Tsuruta, further solidifying his status as a legend within Japanese wrestling circles.
Lou Thesz’s retirement from professional wrestling was a gradual process rather than a single, definitive event. Despite having an illustrious career spanning several decades, Thesz never announced a formal retirement from in-ring competition. Instead, he slowly stepped away from active competition while continuing to stay involved in the wrestling world.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Thesz transitioned to a more limited wrestling schedule, taking part in select matches and events. During this period, he focused more on his other interests, such as his involvement in real estate and insurance. However, Thesz continued to make occasional appearances in the ring, competing in various promotions worldwide, including the United States, Japan, and Canada.
Lou Thesz’s final professional wrestling match took place on December 26, 1990, when he was 74 years old. Thesz teamed with fellow wrestling legend Antonio Inoki in a tag team match against Masa Saito and Larry Sharpe in Hamamatsu, Japan. This match marked the end of Thesz’s in-ring career, but he remained active within the wrestling community.
Even after his in-ring career came to an end, Thesz maintained a strong connection to professional wrestling. He served as a mentor, trainer, and adviser to younger wrestlers, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with the next generation. Thesz also attended various wrestling events, conventions, and award ceremonies, often receiving recognition for his contributions to the sport.
In 1995, Thesz was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, and in 1999, he was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Lou Thesz passed away on April 28, 2002, at the age of 86, but his legacy and impact on professional wrestling continue to be felt and celebrated to this day.
Lou Thesz passed away on April 28, 2002, at the age of 86. His death was a result of complications following a triple bypass heart surgery that he had undergone earlier in the month. Thesz had been in declining health for some time before his passing.
The wrestling community mourned the loss of one of its most influential and legendary figures. Thesz’s contributions to the sport, as a wrestler, mentor, and ambassador, left an indelible mark on the history of professional wrestling. His emphasis on technical wrestling, sportsmanship, and respect for the sport continue to inspire and influence wrestlers and fans around the world.
Lou Thesz is remembered not only for his numerous accolades, such as his six NWA World Heavyweight Championship reigns, but also for the lasting impact he had on the wrestling industry as a whole. His legacy lives on through the wrestlers he inspired, the promotions he helped to develop, and the countless memorable matches that defined his illustrious career.
Frequently Asked Questions
Lou Thesz, born Aloysius Martin Thesz, is considered by many as the greatest professional wrestling champion ever. He was admired for his technical skills and the realism and dignity he brought to the sport.
He was born on April 24, 1916, in Banat, Michigan.
Lou’s family relocated to St. Louis, Missouri when he was young. There, he was introduced to the world of professional wrestling. His father, Martin Thesz, was a wrestler and greco-roman wrestling coach, which played a significant role in shaping Lou’s interest in the sport.
Thesz began his training under George Tragos, a former Olympic wrestler. Later, he trained with the legendary Ed “Strangler” Lewis, refining his grappling techniques and learning the importance of ring psychology, conditioning, and the art of hooking.
Lou Thesz made his professional debut in 1932 at the age of 16.
By 21, Thesz became the youngest world heavyweight champion in history. He went on to capture the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship in 1939.
Lou Thesz held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship title six times, with a combined reign of over 10 years – a standing record.
Throughout his career, Thesz faced wrestling legends like Verne Gagne, Buddy Rogers, Rikidozan, Pat O’Connor, and Dick Hutton.
Lou Thesz’s unmatched technical skills, sportsmanship, and respect for the sport made him a revered figure in the world of professional wrestling. His contributions helped elevate the status of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and set high standards for the wrestling industry.