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I like wrestling better as a sport than a business
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By Lou Thesz
Six-time World heavyweight champion

Note: Lou Thesz has a Message Board on his Web site, the Lou Thesz Message Board Forum. You can ask Thesz questions directly. You can see photos and listen to an interview with Thesz on the official Lou Thesz Web site. You can also get information about Thesz' biography Hooker, one of the definitive histories of professional wrestling. He also has a Collector's Edition Photo Biography available. 

By way of an introduction, I would like to give you an overview of what is happening in my life and the wrestling world I know. It may not be of interest to all of you, but I feel WrestlingClassics.com is the best chance I have of finding people of like minds.

In his biography, "Hooker", Lou Thesz talks about the evolution of professional wrestling from the 20s to the present day. Click here for more information.

When I became a professional wrestler, I had high hopes of professional wrestling becoming just that. Professional wrestling did not rise from the amateur sports as most professional sports have done. It evolved from con artists and carnivals. However, in the 30s, there were so many great wrestlers around - Ed Lewis, Joe Stecher, Ray Steele, George Tragos, Jim Londos, Ad Santel, Hans Steinke, John Pesek, George Sauer, Joe Sanderson, Hans Bauer, Warren Bockwinkel, Joe Malciewicz and so many more.

I never had any illusions that it was anything but a business. As I said in my book, anytime you sell tickets, it is a business. However, I preferred to see professional wrestling as it was in the gym and in public workouts. I was naive enough to believe it could be that exciting and still involve the audience....and still sell tickets.

One theory is WWII as the turning point. When so many of the wrestlers were in the Armed Services, and the country was hungry for entertainment, the promoters took guys off the street who looked good and sold them to a hungry public as "rasslers." This started the trend toward the entertainment form we have today. Responsibility is shared, but it is also irrelevant. It doesn't matter that what the Buddy Rogers of this world did in the ring was unrelated to wrestling. Or that the hundreds of promoters  presented a product totally unrelated to wrestling. Or that Ted Turner and Vince McMahon continue to do something totally unrelated to wrestling. The reality is still the same: it sells tickets.

I often think: if I had saved my money and promoted a different product, or had not sold my talent to the wrong promoters, or had helped more of the really great wrestlers make it into pro wrestling, or stayed in the shoe repair shop with my father, or........... The bottom line is still the same and probably would still be.

I do know pro wrestling has been used to promote a product that is unhealthy, or maybe the world has become something too strange for me to make myself notice. I know some fairly nice kids who are interested in pro wrestling, but I know a hell of a lot of kids who will be the leaders of a healthy society because they are wrestlers - amateur wrestlers. I know of no other sport which cultivates the best in each individual. Wrestling cultivates self reliance and eliminates the tendency to misplace responsibility for failure. Wrestling builds physical strength and strength of character. It builds tenacity and endurance. It is the original and most basic and even primitive sport. Wrestling goes to the core of our competitive spirit without being destructive - except, maybe, to ones ears.

So many people write to me and lament the passing of an era in pro wrestling. I appreciate their sentiment, but I know most of them shell out their money for the pay per views. It isn't a matter of "selling out" the old timers. It is a matter of buying a product you want, and it is the basis for capitalism. After becoming a professional wrestler, I don't ever remember buying a ticket to a wrestling match, (with the exception of charity matches where we wrestled for free and bought our tickets), and I certainly would not start now. However, the course of this society has been charted, and each ticket purchased to pro wrestling moves it ultra-minutely closer to the foundation on which pro wrestling stands today. Pro wrestling is a fantasy of vulgarity and violence and incorporates all the negatives in our society today - gangs, concern only for number one, sex for individual pleasure, and death. On occasion I watch it, and always with the hope I will see some redeeming character, one positive role model for my grandchildren, one hint of common courtesy or concern for anyone other than self.

Although boxing is a very destructive and violent sport, its athletes have retained self-respect. Mike Tyson is a bold example of how boxing governs its own. I don't think even Mike will stomach wrestling for long. What does that tell you?

I know some of the boys today are good people who are making a living, just like I did. I don't feel they are any more responsible, as individuals, as I was for the decline of pro wrestling. I think there is enough recrimination to go around. As a wrestler, though, I was the one in the ring, and I am responsible for the outcome of my matches. I don't have any long-term regrets. I, also, never hesitated to take my sons to the matches. I wonder if the boys today take their children to the matches with them?

I wonder if the parents of the children attending the matches today are happy with the messages. It is no longer good guys and bad guys, but I am not sure what they are.

I am sure the scene will get much darker before the dawning of a true professional wrestling. I promise you wrestling fans that dawn is coming...look toward Iowa!

Lou Thesz is arguably the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He held the World heavyweight championship six times in four different decades. He is the only wrestler to ever compete in seven different decades. His book, Hooker details the history of professional wrestling through his perspective as the top wrestler in the business. He has just released a Collector’s Edition Photo Biography. You can also visit the Lou Thesz Web site.

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1998 Wrestling Classics: Frank Dusek, Mark Nulty
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Created: September 1999