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Lou Thesz, Dead at 86...
And Other News
April 29, 2002

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


The news and views round-up for Monday:
  • Lou Thesz, perhaps pro wrestling's biggest drawing card during the 1940s and 50s, passed away Sunday morning.  He had recently undergone heart by-pass surgery, from which he had seemed to have been recovering.  He had remained hospitalized though, in the two weeks since the surgery.
    On Sunday morning, he passed away at age 86.  
    Thesz was a six time NWA Champion, winning his first title in 1937 at the age of 21.  His final title win came in 1963, and Thesz held the belt for three years, when he dropped the title at the age of 50.  Thesz's title reigns totaled almost 13 years, and in addition to his final three-year reign, Thesz was also the NWA Champion for 8 straight years between 1948 and 1956.
    Thesz's final title win is remarkable for a reason other than the fact that he held the belt while in his upper 40s...  it is also the title match that directly spawned what became the WWF World Title.  In 1963, the Northeast territory (the WWWF, controlled by Vince McMahon's dad) was a supporting member of the NWA, and acknowledged their champion as the World Champion.  However, the WWWF did not agree with the decision to switch the World Title onto Lou Thesz in '63.  The WWWF continued to acknowledge Buddy Rogers (the previous NWA Champ) as the new WWWF Champion  [A fictitious "tournament" was invented, and the story goes that Rogers beat Antonino Rocca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to become the first WWWF Champ...  but in reality, he was acknowledged as the frist WWWF Champ because of the Federation's refusal to accept Thesz's sixth title victory.]
    As NWA Champ, Thesz traveled all over the world defending his belt.  He was so revered in Japan that, at the age of 73, he was coaxed back into the ring for a final match.  He wrestled and lost to one of his students, Masahiro Chono, back in 1990.
    Thesz always championed the idea of "real" wrestling, and took pride in the fact that when he competed, the grappling took precedence over the entertainment side of things.  Of today's current crop of stars, Thesz had singled out Kurt Angle as the absolute best of the bunch on more than one occasion.
    If nothing else, the name of Lou Thesz should be firmly established in today's fans' minds because of Stone Cold Steve Austin's use of the Thesz Press as part of his everyday arsenal.  [Thesz, however -- ever the wrestling technician -- was quick to point out that the way Austin does the move, it's really more of a flying body scissors!]
    Our thoughts are with Lou Thesz's family and friends on this sad occasion.  And here at OO, we will also attempt to further pay tribute to Thesz and bring his legacy to the attention of today's fans as best we can.  Look for Denny Burkholder's extensive interview with Thesz and other features in the next several days...
  • Hopefully, tonight's RAW will feature a fitting tribute to Thesz, as well...  though he was never a WWF fixture, and at times was quite outspoken about the entertainment-based direction that the WWF was heading in, Thesz is so important a figure in the history of this industry that he deserves to be remembered on tonight's broadcast.
    And once the Fed takes care of that business, they can get on with the usual:  trash talking and fightin'!  
    It seems clear that Priority #1 on tonight's show will be a confrontation between Steve Austin and Ric Flair.  First, Flair cost Austin a shot at the WWF Title on Backlash.  Then on RAW, Flair's attempt to "make it up" to Austin involved putting Austin in a tag match with the Big Show as his partner.  The Big Show promptly turned heel and joined the nWo in beating down Austin.
    So what the hell is Flair up to?  Is he somehow co-ordinating with the nWo?  Or is this just an incredible string of coincidences that appear to incriminate an otherwise innocent Flair?  I'm confident that Austin will probably go for the former explanation, which can only lead to trouble.  
    In the mean time, you had Undertaker and Triple H breaking out of their shackles and appearing on BOTH RAW and SD! last week...  Taker's the recognized #1 Contender, now, even though his more pressing issue is with HHH.  On top of that Hulk Hogan seems more pre-occupied with Chris Jericho (on SD!) than with Taker (on RAW), so we've got what's shaping up as a four-way tussle for the WWF Title.  If that's the direction the Fed is going, they're gonna have to do some inventive cross-brand storytelling (probably centered on Hogan, since he's the only one who SHOULD be going between the two shows).
    And all the while, Austin's shut out of the Title picture, as he's got his hands full with Flair and with the now Big-Show-led nWo...
    Other stuff to look for:  the continued push of Brock Lesnar...  Booker T and Goldust's bizarrely entertaining tag team schtick will continue...  RVD/Eddie for the IC belt is set for another go 'round...  and hopefully, somebody will realize that Dancin' Bubba Ray Dudley is not as entertaining as it was seven years ago in ECW, and get the Hardcore Division righted.
    Check out the show tonight, or come on back to OO for CRZ's detailed RAW Recap on Tuesday.  [I am also assured that no manner of technical difficulties will keep Lee Filas from filing a Square Circle Jerk this week!]
  • "The Scorpion King" remained #1 at the box office this weekend, pulling in another $18 million, and just about doubling up the #2 film.  It's probably not surprising that the movie stayed at #1, as the weekend's only 2 new movies were both films with niche appeal ("Life of Something Like It" filling a romantic comedy spot, and "Jason X" for you slasher-pic fans) rather than a bona fide Summer Blockbuster vibe.
    The Rock's reign over the box office charts will end this coming weekend, however, when "Spider-man" opens.  The expectation, now, however, is that "The Scorpion King" will have enough legs to reach $100 million even after it begins facing stiff blockbuster competition from Spidey and "Star Wars: Episode II".
  • Speaking of the Rock, his appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" last Friday was really cool.  Like I'd theorized, Dave let his guard down and revealed his oft-concealed status as an old time Big Time Pro Wrestling fan.  Dick the Bruiser hasn't had that much publicity since... well...  ever, probably! [As a fellow Indianapolis native, I loved every second of it, though... even if Dick the Bruiser was about 20 years before my time!]
    And Whipper Billy Watson?  Well, everybody thought Paul was making a joke, but truth is, in preparing to write this column, I discovered that Whipper Billy was a 2-time NWA Champion back in the 40s and 50s.  Both times he lost the title, he lost it to...  you guessed it, Lou Thesz.
    Anyway, it was probably the most entertaining of the interviews I saw the Rock do in support of the movie.  In no small part because the movie was barely -- if at all -- mentioned...  and the Rock playing classical guitar?  That, I'll believe only when I see it...
  • The final broadcast rating for last week's SmackDown! was a 3.4, which is one of the show's weaker performances, and was only good enough for fifth place out of the six broadcast networks.
    Pre-emptions for baseball in some markets, and stiffer than usual competition from FOX (which did way better than it usually does on Thursdays with a broadcast of "The Empire Strikes Back") are possible reasons for the low rating.
  • Some notes from last week's WWF.com Ross Report:
    Bubba Ray Dudley will not be joining the rest of the RAW crew for the four-night Europe tour later this week due to unspecified "family issues" to deal with.  Also, Matt Hardy will miss tonight's live RAW and the early part of the Europe tour to stick with Lita during her surgery.  To help make up for their absences, Ric Flair is now expected to wrestle matches on the tour (more than just the one contest he'd been scheduled for).  Jerry Lawler will also be pressed into in-ring duty, and Tommy Dreamer is now making the trip across the pond, too.
    Also:  Ken Shamrock and the WWF are in the early stages of talking about a possible return for Shamrock...  Rey Misterio Jr. was expected to officially sign his WWF contract over the weekend...  all events on the Europe tour except the show in Germany are sold out...  
    The usual injury update included no major surprises:  Lita, as was already known, will be out 6-9 months after neck surgery...  Scotty 2 Hotty also has surgery with Dr. Youngblood scheduled, and could miss up to a year...  Mike Awesome and Kanyon are both gonna be ready to go in about 4-6 weeks...  Kevin Nash should be good to go in 6 weeks...  Chris Benoit's targeting late June for his TV return...  and after taking a vicious kick from Steven Richards, Raven gums have turned black and blue, and he could lose some teeth.
  • Eddie Guerrero, although the current WWF InterContinental Champion, fulfilled his final indie commitment over the weekend, wrestling the latest Ring of Honor show in Philadelphia, PA.
    Guerrero actually wrestled twice, winning his scheduled tag match (with "Red" against the Maximos), and then defeating Brian XL in the final match of the night.
  • Final announcement:  the OO Forums are working again!  You should be able to jump right back in where you left off before the 10 day outage.  Well, not RIGHT back in, if you were part of whatever flamewar had people so pissed off, but you get the idea...
    No need to re-register or anything like that.  Just hop back into action!
  • That's it for today...  remember, anyone attending SmackDown! tapings on Tuesday should definitely send along a recap, so that we can get spoilers up as quickly as possible on Wednesday!
    And also this week:  I'd love to hear from any folks attending the WWF shows in Europe.  Let me know how the experience is for you, especially fans in Germany and Scotland who haven't had any recent live events!



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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