Name: Lou Thesz
Year Inducted: 2002
Induction Category: Pioneer Era
One of the most recognizable competitors to be inducted into the inaugural PWHF class is Lou Thesz. As a well-accomplished amateur wrestling champion in St.Louis, Thesz entered the world of professional wrestling in 1936 after training with Ad Santel and Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Considered to have the perfect body, mind, and temperament for professional wrestling, Thesz had an unparalleled career.
Thesz's roots in wrestling stemmed from his father, who competed in his native country of Hungary. Born in Michigan in 1916, Thesz and his family moved to St. Louis in 1919. Standing six-foot-one-inch tall and weighing 225 pounds, Thesz quickly earned his first heavyweight championship in 1936 by winning the Midwest Wrestling Association (MWA) Title in December 1937. He also briefly held the AWA Title in January of 1938. Soon after, Thesz claimed the NWA Heavyweight Title on February 23, 1939 by defeating Everett Marshal in St. Louis. He held the NWA title six times, which was a record at the time of his retirement.
Thesz was recognized as champion by the combined National Wrestling Alliance and National Wrestling Association in November of 1949. He then unified that title with the AWA Championship by defeating Gorgeous George in Chicago in July of 1950. In March of 1956, Thesz lost the belt to Whipper Billy Watson in Toronto but would soon re-capture his prize and hold the title until June of 1957.
During his career, Thesz also became an elite tag-team wrestler and, teaming with Dory "The Outlaw" Funk, won The Pacific Coast Tag Team Title in Vancouver, Canada in 1961. Two years later, Thesz would again become NWA Heavyweight Champion by defeating Buddy Rogers in Toronto, Canada on January 24, 1963.
Thesz defeated professional boxer "Jersey" Joe Wolcott in a special wrestler vs. boxer match in April of 1963. After an illustrious run in the NWA, Thesz held the Southern Heavyweight Championship in 1973. At age 73, Lou wrestled his last match in Japan on December 26, 1990 against Masahiro Chono. His career was so influential that World Wrestling Entertainment star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin adopted the "Lou Thesz Press" as one of his trademark victory maneuvers.
Thesz' autobiography "Hooker" is a compelling look into both his life and the world of professional wrestling in the twentieth century. Lou continued to look remarkably fit until his death in 2002 at age 86. A true pioneer of professional wrestling, Thesz's legacy will be difficult to duplicate in the industry.