Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tough Hooker

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Wrestler Lou Thesz's AZ connection.

Back when professional wrestling was considered more sport than theatrics, the man to beat was six-time world champion Lou Thesz. A strong, lightning-quick athlete who learned wrestling from his Hungarian father, Thesz made his professional debut as a teenager in St. Louis in 1932. Five years later, he became world champion and was famous for "hooking," or stretching his opponent with painful holds. Sensing the sport's evolution, he tweaked his grappling style for television but kept his dignity. "My gimmick is wrestling," Thesz wrote in his autobiography, Hooker.

Thesz moved to Phoenix in 1961 after purchasing the six-acre Casa Siesta Lodge on 36th Street north of Camelback Road. He ran the resort with his wife, Fredda, and also started a local company, Champion Carpets. "Lou lived close by and would stop in from time to time to see me at [my] lounge," boxer Tony DeMarco recalls. "He was very congenial and a popular guy in town." Thesz occasionally grappled with opponents at Madison Square Garden in Downtown Phoenix, but usually traveled the world capitalizing on his wrestling fame to earn bigger paychecks. The wrestling legend took the mat for the last time in 1990 at age 74, and died in Florida in 2002.

 

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