Former World Champion Lou Thesz joined SLAM! Wrestling on Tuesday, February 27, 2001, at 7 pm ET to talk about his storied career, his thoughts on the current wrestling business, and about the newly-released trade paperback of his autobiography, Hooker.

Jay Jones: Who’s the best wrestler today?

Lou Thesz: That’s the toughest question of all. It’s a tough call. There’s a young man in the WWF, Kurt Angle. He’s a very good representative of what wrestling should be, not ‘rasslin. He’s a sophisticated wrestler, and I met him in New York, and we spent several hours together. He’s a very, very nice young man. He’s really concerned about wrestling, not himself.

John Pollock: What inspired you to write Hooker? What current wrestling books have you read/enjoyed?

Lou Thesz: It was a labour of love for me. I wanted to tell the world what it was like to go up and down the road doing wrestling. During the Depression it was really hard. I devoted my young years to that. When TV came along, I had a lot of visibility. As for writing, I ran into Kit Bauman, in Fort Worth Texas, and we talked, developed a relationship. He wanted to do a book, and finally I agreed. We did about 500 hours of tapes.

Randy McElligott: What is your view on the way wrestling schools are teaching up and coming pros? Any different than when you were starting out?

Lou Thesz: What they are teaching is choreographed tumbling. It’s certainly entertainment, most people know that by now. In my opinion, if you are going to make a living wrestling, you should know how to do it. Some of them today are really great athletes, but few of them have sophisticated wrestling knowledge.

Kory Wielenga: Hello Mr. Lou Thesz. I was just interested in what you think about Stone Cold Steve Austin using a move you invented and modifying it a little bit: The “Lou Thesz Press”.

Lou Thesz: I met him and he’s a nice guy. I’m pleased that he’s making a living. We have mutual respect. I respect him for his abilities, but as far as the quality of his wrestling, I really don’t know. I am flattered that he uses the Lou Thesz press, but it’s actually a flying body scissors.

Claude Leduc, LUTTE PRO QUEBEC, Montreal: Mr. Thesz, I am writing from Montreal, once a capital of Pro Wrestling, in the 40’s and the 50’s. You wrestled Quebec Wrestling legend Yvon Robert.. what did you think of those matches in Montreal against him?

Lou Thesz: Yvon Robert was a very good athlete. He’s probably the best French-Canadian wrestler we ever had. I won the title from him up there a couple times. He was a good wrestler. His counterpart in Toronto was Whipper Watson. A competent wrestler, but maybe not as swift as Robert. Very popular in Toronto. He had a great image, and so did Robert. They would sell-out people. We made a lot of business at Maple Leaf Gardens and the Forum.

Anonymous: Hi Lou, I’m from the Maritimes up in Canada and I’m an Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling Legends fan. I’ve read your web site page which I must say is very good. My question is what was your experience like when you were up here a few years back and who did you wrestle? My sources tell me it was Leo Burke. Is this correct? Thank You “Scrap Iron”

Lou Thesz: I wrestled Leo Burke and a few other people. I enjoyed it. I did a lot of fishing with my teenaged boys. I loaded up on fish and lobster and had a ball. And did some wrestling, too.

Bijan: Did you ever face Mark Lewin and what are your thoughts on him?

Lou Thesz: Yes, I did. He was a little bit off the wall. He wasn’t a sophisticated wrestler, but he has entertaining. Personally, I liked him a lot. We had a lot of fun together in the dressing rooms.

Tommy: Do you think professional wrestlers should unionize?

Lou Thesz: That was entertained many years ago. I tried to do that in Tennessee. After I talked to the union people, I realized it was nefarious promoters of nefarious union people. I didn’t like what I heard. The climate hasn’t changed. You are going to be under someone’s thumb either way.

Bijan: What are your feelings on Wrestlers carrying on past their prime?

Lou Thesz: I wrestled when I was 74. I was over the hill, of course. Ego is a crazy thing. A fellow I trained, Chono, we just went out there and did it. He’s a very good wrestler. I weighed about 225, he was 29. He won the match. When you get to a point, and you are over-booking yourself, and you can’t compete, it’s time to get out.

Hopey!: Wow, you are the greatest. How did you come up with the Lou Thesz press move?

Lou Thesz: I was with a wrestler Carl Sarpolis, and I saw him do it. I worked it out to be competitive. Some finishing holds can be a disaster. It served me very well. I liked the step-over toe hold, combined with a crossface. Under the right conditions you could break his back.

Dr Smooth: Lou, even though you have been retired for decades your name is synonymous with wrestling, besides many others can be out of the ring as long as you have and still have name recognition???? and do you think Gene Kiniski is one.

Lou Thesz: My mentor and friend Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis. He wrestled until 65. He taught me how to control myself in business as well as in the ring. He had tremendous name recognition worldwide, before plane travel. He died quite a few years ago. I don’t know who else who is around who has visibility. I’m surprised that I have the visibility that I do, to be honest. When I said wrestle, that’s what I did. I took the title around the world. I’m really flattered by the recognition. Sometimes it’s even better than money. I did the best that I could with the tools that I had. Farmer Burns coached Karl Gotch. I met Farmer Burns when I was 17, it was like meeting the President of the United States. I tried to emulate what these people did.

Brian: A question from the Tidewater area. How long have you lived in Norfolk and what brought you here?

Lou Thesz: I lived in Norfolk for about 10 years. I just enjoyed the water, I lived right on Chesapeake Bay. I lived on the beach, I’m a beach bum. But now I’m in Florida, beach bumming here.

Devin ( Lou, what was the funniest thing to ever happen to you on a wrestling tour?

Lou Thesz: I don’t know. Most of the things weren’t too funny. We had some guys who were great comedians, with great senses of humour. Some were great to be around. I wish I could answer that intelligently. I can’t come up with it. I enjoyed the wrestling part, and there was no substitute for winning. I learned how to control people and how to beat people. It was a great adventure.

Tommy: What’s was your worst run-in with a fan?

Lou Thesz: In England, I defeated one of their champs in London. One person at ringside grabbed my leg, he was resentful of my win. I parked one right on his kisser. He spent a little time on the floor before they brought him around.

Scott Brown: Is it true that Johnny Valentine was going to beat you for the title at the time of his crash?

Lou Thesz: No, that isn’t true at all. I coached Johnny, he’s a tough guy. He was a great guy, a competitive guy. Don’t misunderstand me, but he wasn’t in the same league.

Ranj Samra: Hello Lou. Nick Bockwinkel stated that a great world champion is one who makes his challenger seem invincible even in defeat. I’d like to get your thoughts on what makes a great world champion. You’re a credit to this sport.

Lou Thesz: I trained with Warren Bockwinkel. Nick was a very good competitive wrestler. For a world champion, he should be a wrestler, some expertise, have devoted his life to it. Like a boxer, should develop a reputation over time.

John Sylvester : Did you know Tiny & Al Mills ? They are my Great Uncles.

Lou Thesz: I knew them both. Al Mills was the tougher of the two. I met them in Western Canada.

Terry Sullivan: Lou, I had the pleasure of meeting you many years ago when you worked the Michigan-Ohio circuit for a few weeks. The boys were in awe of you and some of the fans who did know you couldn’t believe you were there. Did you get along with The Sheik? Did you ever wrestle him? What happened?

Lou Thesz: I wrestled him, but he wasn’t a wrestler. He was a show person. He had a lot of publicity. I wrestled him two or three times. He got into getting DQ’d. There was very little wrestling, I just defended myself.

Brian: Are you still involved in the “Cauliflower Alley Club” and could you explain what it is?

Lou Thesz: Well I gave up the presidency a year ago. I was great friends with Mike Mazurski, who was the president. My schedule is so darn busy, I retired. It’s a wonderful club. They have a fantastic banquet every year. I really enjoyed being a part of it, and I’ll keep going to the meetings. I couldn’t keep up with the paper work.

Tommy: How would you rate Buddy Rogers as a wrestler and performer?

Lou Thesz: Not a wrestler. A great show person. As far as real wrestling, forget it.

Jeremy: Did you ever get to know Andre the Giant well? And if so what was he like?

Lou Thesz: I knew him well. A wonderful man, a nice guy. We were in Japan together a couple times. He had one of the nicest restaurants ever in Montreal, gourmet heaven. We had a great relationship. Loved him, he was a wonderful man.

Jeremy: Who was the most accomplished wrestler that you ever faced?

Lou Thesz: Ray Steele, Everest Marshall, Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis. Most of today’s fans wouldn’t remember. They devoted their lives to it. George Triegas, he was my coach in St. Louis. Some wonderful, magnanimous people who would only help youngsters if they wanted to.

Bijan: Are you a fan of Lucha Libre?

Lou Thesz: Charlie [his wife] and myself went down this year and had a wonderful time. I coached a few of them. I didn’t like the flying. It’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it.

jojobobo: What do you think of the whole UFC/ professional grappling organizations.

Lou Thesz: I think there are 45-50 types of wrestling in the world. Some are competitive grappling some are now. Every time I pick up a newsletter, there’s a new organization. Some of them are very good, some of them are so-so. I really don’t know. I have not watched it.

Devin ( Lou, what are your best memories of wrestling in Canada?

Lou Thesz: I loved Canada. I spent a lot of time up there. I went to Montreal for two-week contract and stayed eight months. Fishing, training, cottage near Ottawa. I had a ball. I still wish I could do that again.

Tommy: Did you ever wrestle Gorgeous George?

Lou Thesz: Twice, yes. He actually was a wrestler, people think he was just a showman. Once in Chicago, once in St. Louis. We had sellouts of course, and the money was great, but it was not what you’d call wrestling. He was colorful and a pretty bright guy. We went to a Bob Hope – Lucille Ball movie to go to, and I brought George, and I didn’t know that Hope was a wrestling fan. And Bob Hope asked whether George could wrestle. And I said yes.

Devin ( Lou, do you have plans to write more books?

Lou Thesz: No, I have one and sales were very good. We might to a hardback with lots of photographs. Hooker is moving very well.

Tommy: When Ed Santel injured Frank Gotch in their training session, was he black-balled?

Lou Thesz: No he was not black-balled. Santel went to Japan and beat everyone in free style. They booked him in a judo match and he won the title within two weeks! He was an unbelievable athlete. He was on the board of the Atlas club. He took care of me, and was a great, great guy.

Mike Rubin: Lou, what do you think about the dysfunctions that have permeated the business, such as drugs back stage, real life fights, sex scandals. Did any of this exist in the old days?

Lou Thesz: Not to the degree that it does today, with the porno stuff. Some of the guys did some drinking. Drugs were not on the scene at all, we weren’t even aware of them. The guys doing the drinking weren’t on the top, that’s for sure. We had a few sex scandals. Some of the girls, waiting to say hello to the athletes, they were available to whomever wanted them. That was always around. We used to call them arena rats, though that isn’t very nice. They were just hanging around as party girls.

Bijan: Hi Lou. Enjoyed the book and thanks for being here. Can you tell us about Sailor Art Thomas?

Lou Thesz: He was before his time, a bodybuilder, weight lifter. At that time, the best black wrestler. While we’re on the subject, Luther Lindsay out of the Carolinas. He was a stud, and could really wrestle. Art Thomas worked in a packing house or something in Wisconsin and was very well thought of in the wrestling game. A good guy, great great body.

Costa: Have you ever wrestled in Australia against the Great Mario Milano or Spiros Arion? Have you ever heard of Mike Pappas as well?

Lou Thesz: Milano was a preliminary boy when I was there. He actually stayed with some good wrestlers and learned a lot. He was a nice guy. As for Arion, I didn’t wrestle him. He had a good track record.

John Pollock: What is your advice to up and coming wrestlers?

Lou Thesz: Learn to wrestle. Go to where they have some wrestling clubs. I don’t know of any around now, but I’m sure they are around.

Jason Patrick: When you were in wrestling, how much of a match was pre-determined? Obviously, the winner was pre-determined, but were any “spots” or moves practiced with your opponent beforehand?

Lou Thesz: Never did that. This sounds like a fabrication, but I have never rehearsed anything in a match. What an off-the-wall question. How could you rehearse a swim meet or horse race?

Jer: Lou did you ever fight Stu Hart or any of his stable of wrasslers in Calgary?

Lou Thesz: I wrestled Stu when both he and I were 17 years old in Minnesota somewhere. Later, we became very good friends when he was a promoter. As for Owen, we were in Japan together years ago.

Barry Gradwell: Who would have won in a shoot, you or Ed “Stranger” Lewis?

Lou Thesz: Ohh, I’d have to say Lewis. He was the daddy of the all. he was the boss. I would have to bow to him.

Bryce McNeil: Thanks for participating in this chat. You were wrestling as TV began to make an impact on the business. What are your impressions of the amount of programming in wrestling today? There’s an awful lot on TV and storylines seem rushed.

Lou Thesz: There’s so many people that control the TV portion of wrestling today. They are TV people, but wrestling illiterate. But that’s showbiz and that’s what happens.

Tommy: Who’s the worst promoter you ever worked for?

Lou Thesz: Ohh, God. (laughs) There were several. One that had some visibility: Nick Gulas out of Nashville, Tennessee. Ed Strangler Lewis tutored me to cultivate the friendship of the Athletic Commissioners so that you could get the actual houses and money drawn. It’s unbelievable how much money I got back that way.

John Molinaro: Did you ever wrestle Rikidozan and what was he like?

Lou Thesz: I wrestled him in Hawaii and beat him. That earned me a living in Japan for 30 years after that. He was good, but not that good.

Tommy: Who was the strangest celebrity you ever met?

Lou Thesz: Not too many. I’ll probably think of it later. I was an Alan Ladd fan, and we got to be very dear friends. I spent a lot of time on his ranch. A little guy, maybe 5-8, a very nice.

Moderator: We want to thank Lou Thesz for participating in this chat. The last word goes to Lou.

Lou Thesz: I want to thank you for having me on today, and the questions were great because they related to wrestling. I appreciate that. I love that you are in Canada, I loved Canada and I wish you all the best. Thank you for including me.

Moderator: Thanks again to Lou Thesz for taking part in this chat.