Tagged in: lou thesz

Lou Thesz vs. Gorgeous George

The Champ vs. the Human Orchid… it happened in Louisville. Thesz and George met on November 27, 1954 at the Jefferson County Armory (now the Louisville Gardens).

Thesz and George split the first two falls, but George refused to come out for the third fall while a “physician” examined George’s injuries. The unidentified medic said he believed George could go on, but George was reluctant. He finally decided to go to the ring, but as he was making his way to the ring, referee (and LPD homicide detective) Ellis Joseph was already raising Thesz’s hand, declaring him the winner.

Earlier in the evening, “The Mask”  defeated New Albany native Stu Gibson via DQ, Sonny Meyers drew with Johnny Valentine, and Billy Blassie defeated Sgt. Buck Moore. 4200 attendance.

Below is the Saturday newspaper ad for the big event, plus a page from a notebook kept by then-teenage fan Jim Oetkins, recording the results from the night.

A Fan Remembers the Allen Athletic Club

I had the privilege of meeting a man named Jim Oetkins today. Jim was just a kid when the Allen Club was running on Tuesday nights at the Columbia Gym in Louisville, Kentucky, and he still has the scrapbook he used to record the weekly results. It’s an incredible treasure trove of big names and priceless memories. I’m looking forward to reading through it in the next few weeks.

Jim had some great stories about that era, including a road trip he took with two local stars, Mel Meiners and Sgt. Buck Moore of the Louisville Police Department. Mel (the father of WHAS host Terry Meiners) delivered milk to Jim’s home when he was a kid, and one day, Mel stopped to invite Jim on a road trip. “He was going to Owensboro with Buck Moore and some young guy they were training,” says Oetkins. “My father wasn’t too keen on me going, but he knew Mel, and everyone knew Buck.  He was as clean-cut, All-American as you can get.”

Jim rode with Meiners, Moore, and the trainee to Owensboro for a show promoted by former wrestler and Louisville favorite, “Kid Scotty” Williams. On their way into town, Meiners decided to have some fun. “He put on a wrestling mask, and he started to mess with the other drivers,” says Oetkins. “He would roll down the windows, get their attention, and grunt at them! I was afraid we’d all be arrested or something.”

Scotty Williams was on hand at the venue when they arrived along with his wife. “They were wonderful people,” Oetkins remembers. “They also had a joke waiting for Buck. Buck had some rather large breasts for a man, so his wife handed him a gift – a huge bra! ‘I thought you might need this tonight,’ she told him.”

Jim was able to confirm several things I had not been able to fully prove in my research. First and foremost was Scotty Williams’ promotion in Owensboro. I found mention that he was planning to move that way in the old newspaper clippings, but a friend in Owensboro was never able to find anything in their local papers to corroborate the story. Jim also confirmed that in the Lou Thesz-Buddy Rogers rivalry, the majority of local fans actually preferred Rogers over the champion Thesz.

Jim told me that Wild Bill Longson was also a big favorite, despite working as heel much of the time. “He was around for so many years, he was the guy to many people.” He also said there was only one true queen of the ring in that era. “There was something about Mildred Burke that stood out. You could tell she was different than the others.”

Jim was a teenager at the time, and he was old enough to know that something was not on the level with the wrestling he enjoyed every Tuesday night. He put the question to Mel while they were in the car. “Is it really fake?”

Mel thought a moment and answered.  “Let me put it this way. I’ve got a wife and several kids at home. And most of the guys I work with, they have kids at home. I’m out here doing a job to help put food in their mouths, and so is the guy I’m wrestling. I don’t want to ruin that guys’ chances to provide for his family, and I hope he doesn’t want to do that for mine. We’re out there to wrestle, but we’re also out there to do a job. And we want to keep on doing that job so we can keep taking care of out families. You know what I’m saying?”

“He didn’t need to say any more,” said Jim. “I thought it was a wonderful way to put it.”

If you’d like to know more about Louisville’s golden age of wrestling, the era of Mel Meiners, Buck Moore, Scotty Williams (not to mention Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Bill Longson, Jim Mitchell, and Mildred Burke, you can find it all in Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club, now available in paperback and on Kindle.

Why You Need to Visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Waterloo, Iowa might just be the center of the wrestling universe. The city lives and breathes wrestling. The President’s Hotel, now an apartment complex, was the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Waterloo. This city loves wrestling at all stages: high school, college, Olympic, and pro. Waterloo is the hometown of Dan Gable, a man considered by many to be the greatest wrestler of all time and one of the greatest sportsmen of the 20th century. It is also home to the museum that bears Gable’s name: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.

The name is quite a mouthful, but the museum, which doesn’t look all that big from the outside, is just as jam packed as the name it bears. Located just up the street from the old President’s Hotel, the Dan Gable Museum is a shrine to wrestling’s past and present. The museum pays homage to the champions of NCAA wrestling and Olympic wrestling (including Indiana University’s Billy Thom) as well as the legends and icons of professional wrestling. It is dedicated to preserving the past while inspiring wrestlers at all levels for the future.

The pro wrestling wing of the museum features an impressive number of rare artifacts going back to the days of Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. A trunk belonging to Gotch is on display in the gallery near Lou Thesz’s robe and title belt.

You’ll see robes belonging the multiple generations of the Henning family and the legendary Tiger Man, Joe Pesek. A marble statue with a fascinating backstory that once belonged to Thesz sits in the same gallery as does one of three death masks made of the original French Angel, Maurice Tillet. Modern fans will also find a spinner belt signed by John Cena, the singlet worn by Kurt Angle when he won a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck,” and the signature black and pink jacket once worn by Bret Hart.

The Dan Gable Museum has exhibit areas devoted to Olympic wrestling, NCAA wrestling, and the history of wrestling itself, starting with one wall dedicated to the legendary confrontation between Jacob and an angel in the book of Genesis. Other highlights included several posters for the Barnum and Bailey “At Show” wrestling exhibitions, some beautiful original art work paying tribute to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees, and this unique artifact from Brock Lesnar’s pre-WWE days as an NCAA champion in Minnesota.

The Dan Gable Museum is more than just a place to learn about wrestling. They also host clinics on a weekly basis in the Dan Gable Teaching Center, an area they plan to expand in the coming year. The museum has $1.7 million dollars in planned renovations now starting, including interactive exhibits in the pro wrestling wing. Museum director Kyle Klingman gave me a quick tour of the storage area where even more amazing wrestling artifacts are waiting their turn to be put on display in the galleries above.

If your summer plans are still flexible, here’s another reason to plan a quick trip to Waterloo: the museum is hosting their second annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in less than two weeks. Special guests for the July 20-22 festivities include Jim Ross, Shelton Benjamin, Chuck Taylor, B. Brian Blair, American Alpha, Sabu, Paul Orndorff, Magnum T.A., Larry Henning, Baron von Raschke, J.J. Dillon, Gerry Briscoe, and the museum’s namesake himself, Dan Gable.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is located in Waterloo, Iowa, and is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information visit their website or find them on Facebook.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path. Yes, it’s out of the way. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the effort. I know I’ll be back again soon.

Louisville Wrestling Talk on the 6:05 Superpodcast!

Episode 67 of the 6:05 Superpodcast is now available for download. It was my pleasure to do an interview with The Great Brian Last this week about the lost history of Louisville wrestling covered in the new book, Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club. Brian and I cover everything from promoters Heywood Allen and Francis McDonogh to Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers, Bill Longson, Elvira Snodgrass, and more. We cover tag teams, midgets, masked men, bears, alligators, and even weddings.

The 6:05 Superpodcast is a must-listen for die hards, and Brian Last does a phenomenal job bringing the stories of yesteryear to life through a variety of guests and regular segments. Download the 6:05 Superpodcast on iTunes or visit 605pod.com and listen today.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is now available on Amazon.com

Louisville’s Greatest Show – Coming Soon!

Coming Soon!!

For 22 years, the Allen Athletic Club’s weekly wrestling show at the Columbia Gym was the place to be on Tuesday night. Promoters Heywood Allen and his successors Francis and Betty McDonogh overcame the Great Depression, the 1937 flood, a World War, and a “crooked” athletic commissioner to bring the best of the golden age of wrestling to Louisville.

Now for the first time, author John Cosper (Bluegrass Brawlers) presents the full story of “That Gang of Allen’s,” the wrestlers, referees, announcers, and others who made Tuesday Louisville’s favorite night of the week. This is the story of the true golden age of wrestling, when men and women wore their Sunday best to see hometown heroes like Blacksmith Pedigo, Kid Scotty Williams, Stu Gibson, Mel Meiners, Sgt. Buck Moore, and “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell mix it up with Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, the French Angel, Buddy Rogers, Freddie Blassie, Johnny Valentine, Mildred Burke, Mae Young, Bobo Brazil, and Ginger the Wrestling Bear.

From mud matches to masked men; from Wild Bill Cantrell to Wild Bill Longson; from live TV to live alligators, the Allen Athletic Club was Louisville’s Greatest Show. This is the story of Louisville’s first great wrestling promotion and the families that made wrestling a vital part of the city they loved.

Louisville’s Greatest Show will be released in March!

One Road Ends, Another Begins

One year and a day ago, I sat in a coffee house in New Albany, doing research on the Allen Athletic Club, the wrestling promotion that entertained Louisville for 22 years from 1935-1957. It was there that I finally stumbled upon an article I had searched nearly two years to find: Heywood Allen’s obituary. The article told me that Allen was buried in Jeffersonville, just fifteen minutes away. I raced out in the rain and found the final resting place of the promoter, his wife, and his ill-fated son Heywood, Jr.

Today the story of Allen and his partners Francis S. McDonogh and Betty McDonogh is nearly complete. Louisville’s Greatest Show  is stacked with stories and photos that haven’t been seen in decades from the era of Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Gorgeous George, Wild Bill Longson, Bobo Brazil, and Buddy Rodgers, as well as local heroes like Mel Meiners, Wild Bill Cantrell, Stu Gibson, and more. There’s some proofreading and fact checking to do, plus a book cover to finish, but the book will be ready to read in March.

Fifteen minutes ago, sitting in a Dunkin Donuts in Louisville, I opened a new file on my laptop and began work on my next book. There’s a new story to tell, a new autobiography, and this one’s going to be a ton of fun. If you want to know who it is, give the video below a look.

Crowbar Press: A gold mine of golden age wrestling

Just passing on a quick plug for my friends at Crowbar Press. They currently have 25 wrestling titles available with four new ones on the way. Hooker and Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George? are two of my personal favorites, books I highly recommend to any wrestling fan. Visit them at www.crowbarpress.com to see what else they have to offer.

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Brother’s Keepers

13321899_10204634102251031_7530363067376011121_nIf you don’t know, the two men in the photo at left are Hy Zaya and Shane Mercer, two of the very best wrestlers in the Midwest.

These two men have been bitter rivals. They have fought, they have bled, they have waged war with one another.

They have also shared locker rooms, cars, and hotel rooms with one another. They have traveled the country side by side in pursuit of a dream they share in common.

Are they rivals? Of course they are. But they are also brothers in the truest sense of the word.

“Sure we’ve discussed racial overtones as a topic,” says mercer, “But I don’t think we honestly thought much of color when it came to each other and sharing the road life. Life’s about so much more than color.
Enjoy it man.”

This is the way it has always been in wrestling, at least among “the boys.” While the seats and the card out front may have divided along color, the boys rarely were. They shared locker rooms. They shared rides. They shared tables at dinner. They shared hotel rooms – even if that meant one sneaking the other in when the manager wasn’t looking.

When the opportunity finally came, many white wrestlers were happy to put black wrestlers over. Even the great Lou Thesz, who would never, ever allow Buddy Rogers to go over him in the ring, put the legendary Seelie Samara over when given the chance.

Why didn’t these men see color? For one thing, they shared a common enemy. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, they were all united against the unscrupulous promoters who didn’t want to pay any of them fair compensation. But that wasn’t the only reason for the difference.

Wrestlers judge other wrestlers on just one thing – how you work in the ring. If you know your craft, if you treat others with respect, if you give as well as you take, you are welcome. It’s the color of your character, not your skin, that matters most.

Whatever you think of pro wrestling inside the ring, we can all take a lesson from how they do business outside the arena. It’s time to look past what’s on the outside. We all need to overcome our prejudices and look a little deeper.

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Lord Carlton: Now available on Amazon

lord carlton cover-3From the author of Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville and the woman who co-founded Kranken Welpen, the world’s only heavy metal polka band, comes the story of a budding young athlete who went from sailor to royalty to artist by way of the wrestling ring.

Lord Carlton: Wrestler, Artist, My Father tells the story of Leo Whippern, a promising young artist from California who became one of the top stars of the golden age of wrestling. Whippern made a name for himself during the 1940s as Sailor Tug Carlson, but when he realized he was just another strapping young war veteran in black trunks, he traded in his sailor’s cap for a monocle.

Inspired by Lord Lansdowne, the same man whose gimmick inspired Gorgeous George, Whippern transformed himself into the British heel Lord Leslie Carlton. His new heel persona made him a rich man as he created drama in and out of the ring, but his family life after wrestling proved to be even wilder than any wrestling storyline.

Lord Leslie Carlton’s tale is a story of triumph and heartbreak. It’s the story of a stellar athlete and a talented artist, an eclectic migrant family, a tragic murder, a vengeful wife, and the daughter who somehow found the God her father never believed in.

Lord Carlton: Wrestler, Artist, My Father is available now in paperback on Amazon.com.

The Pro Wrestling Iowa Podcast

Iowa is the high school wrestling capital of the world. Travel to Iowa in the middle of winter and you’ll find arenas packed with fans watching high school grapplers compete in the world’s second oldest sport.

Iowa is home to the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Des Moines was the home of legendary promoter Pinkie George and the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance. Iowa holds a central place in the history of professional wrestling, so it should come as no surprise that Iowa is home to one of the best commentary podcasts on pro wrestling.

The Pro Wrestling Iowa Podcast is a weekly program covering the national wrestling promotions as well as the local independent scene. Each week they discuss the current storylines on WWE, current events involving professional wrestlers and promotions, and independents wrestling in the Des Moines area and beyond.

This is not a rambling, ranting program made up of old timers lamenting how things used to be. This is solid, insightful discussion about what’s happening on TV and on the local scene in Des Moines from guys who know their stuff. Brad LaFratte, Dustin Smothers, and Kevin Wilder are true wrestling enthusiasts who bring a wide range of experiences and knowledge to the program as well as the Pro Wrestling Iowa website. New contributor Darnell Mitchell brings a fresh take to the program as well as a huge passion for women’s wrestling.

If you’re in or near the Des Moines area and call yourself a wrestling fan, Pro Wrestling Iowa is a must-add to your iTunes podcast subscription, but fans outside the Midwest should give it a listen as well. The Pro Wrestling Iowa team consistently gives great insight on the WWE, and independent wrestling enthusiasts will enjoy discovering what’s happening at 3X Wrestling, Impact Pro Wrestling, and others in the region.

Pro Wrestling Iowa can be heard on iTunes. You can also follow them on Twitter and read more on their website.