Throughout wrestling history, there has not been a man with as many contributions to its livelihood than Lou Thesz. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Lou Thesz revolutionized wrestling as we know it today. His accomplishments include being a fourteen-time world champion, holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times for a combined total of 10 years three months and nine days, longer than anyone else in history and inventing a number of professional wrestling moves and holds that are still used today. The German suplex, the Stepover Toehold Facelock, or the STF, the original powerbomb, and of course Stone Cold’s Lou Thesz press, were all introduced by him.
Thesz made his professional wrestling debut in 1932, at the age of 16, being taught by the biggest wrestling star of the 1920’s, Ed “The Strangler” Lewis. By 1937, Thesz had become one of the biggest stars in the St. Louis territory, and on December 29 he defeated Everett Marshall for the American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the youngest world heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 21. When the National Wrestling Alliance was formed in 1948, Thesz set out to unify all the existing world titles into the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship. He soon became undisputed champion, going on to be the first wrestler to defend the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in Japan in 1957. He wrestled the legendary Rikidōzan in a series of 60-minute draws. Their bouts popularized professional wrestling in Japan, gaining the sport mainstream acceptance. Thesz wanted to continue defending the belt in Japan, due to the amazing result of the previous match, but NWA turned down his request, leading to Thesz dropping the belt and embarking on a tour of Europe and Japan.
Even at the age of 46, he fought the original “Nature Boy”, Buddy Rogers, to win his sixth heavyweight championship, that he carried for 3 years. Thesz would wrestle part-time over the next 13 years, winning his last major title at the age of 62. Thesz retired officially a year later, in 1979, wrestling his last match in 1990 in Japan at the age of 74. This made him the only male professional wrestler to fight in seven different decades. Thesz didn’t stop however, as he continued his career as a promoter, manager, color commentator, trainer and guest referee, although occasionally. He died on April 9, 2002, at the age of 86, leaving behind a legacy fit for a legend like him.
There has never been another true undisputed world heavyweight champion since Thesz accomplished this feat by unifying all the major titles between the late 1940s and early 1950s. Thesz is strongly considered by many to be the greatest professional wrestler of the 20th Century, described as a “God” in Japan and the “Babe Ruth” of professional wrestling in America and “perhaps the last pure wrestler to ever exist”. Thesz is an inaugural member of several professional wrestling halls of fame, including the WWE Hall of Fame as an inaugural member of the “Legacy” wing in 2016.