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T: Lou Thesz

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A Legend in Our Midst


The Event


Lou Thesz was the most illustrious visitor to British shores for many years, and his eagerly awaited debut in the country's premier wrestling venue, the Royal Albert Hall, was followed by an intensive tour of the country in which he wrestled many of the heavyweight stars of the British scene.


Unsurprisingly Thesz left our shores remaining undefeated, though a few of our top stars were able to boast of holding possibly the greatest heavyweight of all time to a draw.




The Man


Lou Thesz


The most eagerly anticipated wrestling visitor to British shores during the post war years Lou Thesz was six times NWA World Heavyweight Champion and considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight wrestler of all time.


He arrived in Britain to face his first challenger on 11th December, 1957, and was to stay the best part of three months. His tour was shortened in February, 1958, when it was announced that the illness of his wife meant that he had to return home. 


The Opponents


Ernie Baldwin

Yorkshire’s Ernie Baldwin was one of the most skilful of Thesz’s opponents during his British tour. He turned professional in 1939, when he lost to the Farmer (George Broadfield) in Leeds, and took up wrestling full time in 1947. Three times during his career Baldwin was recognised as British heavyweight champion. He wrestled the best on offer, including an unsuccessful championship tilt against world title holder Lou Thesz at Grimsby.


Mike Marino

Not the most colourful or most exciting wrestler in post war British wrestling Mike Marino must be recognised as one of the all time greats. Here was a wrestler’s wrestler, a man who we don’t recall any other wrestler doing anything but praise. He was World Mid Heavyweight Champion, had the distinction of topping the bill at the Royal Albert Hall more times than anyone else and had the truly amazing distinction of defeating Mick McManus and Big Daddy on the same night. His death in 1981 came as a shock to UK wrestling fans, but his reputation is still intact well over twenty years later. Marino held Thesz to a draw when the two met at Hanley on 23rd December.





Sandy Orford

A tough as nails Welsh heavyweight who turned professional in the 1940s, though he later moved to Yorkshire where he owned a farm.  He had two spans as a masked wrestler, first as the Black Angel and latterly as The Mask. He wrestled all over the world, including the United States,and, like so many, seemed to just fade away. His son, Tony, continued the grand tradition of Orford wrestling. Sandy seems to have had more “goes” at Thesz, than any other Brit, managing one draw and two losses against the American.


Geoff Portz

The powerful heavyweight from Shipley, Yorkshire, was a champion at both Mid Heavyweigt and Heavyweight and then went on to gain even greater success in the United States. A gentleman of the ring we remember Portz as a purist wrestler who combined technical skill, enormous strength and submission style to make his mark as one of the most successful post war Mid heavies. Had it not been for the over indulgence of talent in that weight class, with Marino, Howes, Walsh and Allan all competing for the top spot, Portz would certainly have received even greater recognition. He held Thesz to a draw in their first encounter in Leicester, but lost the return matching in Middlesbrough.  


 Dirty Jack Pye

Jack Pye, the Doncaster Panther, was the blueprint of British wrestling villains. He was a man who was in at the start of the British all-in wrestling era which began in 1930 and later transformed himself into the big name villain of the post war era. He was a master of the blind side of the referee moves and no one strutted around the ring taunting the crowd like Dirty Jack. He had two attempts at Lou Thesz, one of them at the world famous Liverpool Stadium, where he was almost a weekly feature, and the second was in Hull.. 


Dara Singh

Dara Singh was rated by wrestling historian Charles Mascall as the tenth greatest heavyweight wrestler of all time. This heavyweight champion from Amristar had arrived in the UK during the autumn of 1957 and his British record was littered with drawn results before his famed draw against Lou Thesz at the Royal Albert Hall on 11th December. He later went on to gain fame in Indian films and television, and played the part of Hanuman in the television adaptation of the epic Ramayana. 





Dai Sullivan

Here was a skilful wrestler who could hold his own with the best, including World heavyweight champion, Lou Thesz, when the papi

r met in Leeds, Yorkshire. Born in Tonypandy Dai left his Welsh home during the 1926 General Strike when, just four years old, he was sent to live with a family in Doncaster, and stayed there for the rest of his life. Having turned professional aged 22 he went on to hold the British heavyweight title for a year or so, and continued to battle the best until retiring in the late 1960s.


Big Bill Verna

When he came to the UK from Australia in 1950 Bill Verna weighed just sixteen stones, but our memories of him as a 1960s wrestler are of a 21 strong villain. Bill Verna was born in Perth, in 1929, and made his professional wrestling debut aged eighteen. Following a short period in England in 1950 Bill wrestled in the Far East and returned to the UK in 1954. Over the next fifteen years he wrestled all over the world but always returned to the UK. Bill tackled Thesz at the south coast resort of Brighton. 






Norman Walsh

Another of those wrestlers who combined their careers with farming. Middlesborough’s Norman Walsh was a rough, tough, mid heavyweight who was a long time holder of the British mid Heavyweight title. Like other Northerners he had an aggressive style that fans sometimes confused with villainy, and a villain he was not. A car crash in 1963 put Walsh out of action for many months but he returned to establish his supremacy once again until retiring in the mid 1960s. Career highlights must include Royal Albert Hall wins over Ricky Waldo and Felix Gregor and losses to Lou Thesz in Nottingham and his home town of Middlesborough.












The Mystery of the Title


Lou Thesz came to Britain and defended a World Heavyweight Title, but mystery surrounds the origins of that belt.


Thesz had lost to Edourado Carpentier the previous June, the 14th to be precise. The NWA ruled that the title could not changed hands as a result of a disqualification, and continued to recognise Thesz. Carpentier’s victory was recognised by the states of Omaha and Nebrasaka, the city of Boston and the World Wrestling Association, which was based in Los Angeles.


Thesz defeated Carpentier (by a disqualification) in the return contest on 24th July, 1957, in Montreal, to again legitimately claim the title.


On November 14th Dick Hutton beat Thesz, inToronto, and was recognised by the NWA as their new world champion. This meant that Thesz did not hold any US recognised version of the World Heavyweight Championship when he started his world tour which included the United Kingdom. The belt that he produced on British soil was known as the International Belt, and Thesz took the title back to the United States.




In 1967 Lou Thesz and Dara Singh returned to Britain, working for the independent promoters. They wrestled each other on three occasions for promoters Tony Scarlo and Gordon Corbett, with Tony refereeing each contest.

The first venue was at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand, and many of the big named British Wrestlers paid to see both these wrestling greats, amongst them Mike Marino, Judo Al Hayes, Rebel Ray Hunter, Sky Hi Lee, and Wayne Bridges. The second contest was at Bradford, with a capacity partisan crowd backing Dara. The 3rd matching was at Southall in Middlesex, and all three dates were sellouts.

We would welcome further information about these and any other Lou Thesz British contests. We are also seeking copies of posters or handbills.