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1958: Lou Thesz vs Buddy Rogers in Los Angeles

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Steve Yohe

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2021 7:42 pm    Post subject: 1958: Lou Thesz vs Buddy Rogers in Los Angeles Reply with quote

Lou Thesz vs Buddy Rogers
in Los Angeles
(from the “Time Line Project”)
By Steve Yohe

I'm a Los Angeles wrestling fan. We are a major sports city, and we have an army of sports fans. At The Olympic Auditorium sellouts (10,400) rule. The major matches were given special nights (Fridays starting in 1961), and they were set up to fill the building, or they would do the match. So 6,500, in most places, is good in some cities....maybe even great …. but in LA with an arena not big in size .. the goal was sellouts. It's not Omaha or Kansas City.

In 1958, Jules Strongbow was attempting to build LA wrestling back into what was before 1938 (and between 1947 & 1952). He made a bold move and brought in the two biggest names in pro wrestling with the hope of setting the territory on fire. It didn't happen. Why is a mystery. But I'm going to present, using my “Time Line” project, a theory to explain the events.

I've been involved in the history of Los Angeles for 25 years. Tim Hornbaker isn't into LA history as much as I. Tim is a good friend of mine, and I think he is best researcher, writer we had covering pro wrestling history. His new book on Buddy Rogers is just one of a number of projects that are are the top of the food chain of wrestling history books.

I was hoping to find his side of the events of 1958 in the Rogers book. Going through the book last night to add information to my Rogers file. Tim writes about these matches, but kind of skips over what I was interested in. LA probably isn 't that big a deal to Tim. So I've decided to go over these events using my “time line”.

To set this up, in 1957, Thesz has decided to drop his NWA world title. Sam Muchnick, and just about everyone in the NWA, wanted the title on Buddy Rogers. Thesz refused to drop the title to Rogers. So I think people have to understand that Rogers had spent a good part of 1957 to get ready for the new job. He had to dropped his titles and done jobs on the way out of Ohio & get his wife ready for the change & everything people do. So is it reasonable for Rogers to be upset over Thesz screwing him? Is it reasonable, when the decision was completely personal coming from Thesz? Is it logical?

I've been working on this project for like 5 years, so some of what follows may seem disjointed because parts were written years apart. Also, I'm serious, but only some of it may be true. It's the nature of the beast. We don't know everything, & we never will.

So here it goes:

Nov. 12 --- Minneapolis, MN: Lou Thesz drew with Buddy Rogers with a fall each after 1:00:00 to defend the NWA World Title. Also Johnny Valentine & Chet Wallich defeated Dino Bravo & Jesse James, Don Curtis defeated Joe Christie, and Al Kashey defeated Rip Hawk. Attendance was 3,289. Promoters were Wally Karbo & Dennis Stecher. Rogers had not been working regular in Minneapolis, and seems to have been brought in just as a build up for this match. It's possible that this was meant to be Thesz's last chance to drop the title to Rogers, but he still refused. It was Thesz first match on the main land, after the Japanese trip. Rogers worked on November 16 in St Paul, then took 13 days off before showing up in Ohio. There was plenty of time for Rogers to take over Thesz or Hutton's schedule, if Thesz hadn't dumped on the plan. It seems from the Rogers' record in 1957, that Buddy had planned most of 1957 to get ready for his NWA Title reign, so he might have been upset over the events, but Rogers was too professional to ever say anything in public. If he hadn't left Al Haft before this, he did by the end of 1957, and ends up in Los Angeles with Jules Strongbow in 1958 …. with Thesz. His agreement with Haft were most likely verbal. Rogers always called himself a free agent, and that's most likely what he was. This decision, forced on the NWA by Thesz, put the alliance into a major slump for 3 1/2 years that had them near bankruptcy …. and they were only saved by making Buddy Rogers world champion.

Nov. 14 -- Maple Leaf Garden, Toronto, Canada: Dick Hutton defeated Lou Thesz in a one fall match to win the NWA World Title. The story-line had Hutton offering Thesz $2,000 if he was beaten. The match was straight scientific wrestling with headlocks, hammerlocks, scissor holds and toe holds. After 35:15, Thesz blew up, but had enough left to try a flying leg scissors (some reports say a flying tackle). Hutton reversed the move into a Abdominal Stretch (Cobra Twist), and Thesz submitted. The match was one fall with no time limit. So the great Lou Thesz was an ex- champion, and this time the NWA wanted to make it permitted. Also Al Costello & Roy Heffernan defeated The Mighty Ursus & Tiger Tasker. Attendance was 9,099. Promoter was Frank Tunney. Sam Muchnick was in the building. Dick Hutton was managed by Ed “Strangler” Lewis. Hutton was 32 years old, but green as a pro wrestler. In training for the match, he had trained down to 235 pounds from 245 working with Fred Atkins. Hutton was a big powerful man, who could move, and could mat wrestle better than anyone in the sport. But he wasn't built like Rocca, Rogers, or Carpentier. To be the NWA champion, he had to switch from being a heel into some type of face. I saw Hutton wrestling in 1962, and I thought he was very good physical worker, and everyone else seems to agree on that. But he had a pure wrestling style, and hadn't developed a strong personality, so it was a tough, almost impossible task, turning him semi-babyface. To most pro wrestling fans, he was almost a complete unknown. He had been forced on the NWA members, by Thesz, and Lewis; and the promoters had to resent him. He wasn't going to get a lot of help. These were businessmen, who had everything to lose, on someone else's idea. Following the FBI investigations, the NWA was in a weaken position, and it's members were down to 31. It wasn't fair, but Dick Hutton was doomed to fail as the NWA Champion. It wasn't fun following the great Lou Thesz. Thesz owned his championship belt, so Hutton didn't even get the “Thesz Belt”. He had to use one on his old amateur belts for a year. In interviews given in the 1990's, Hutton claims he was told he was winning the title by Thesz in a Toronto hotel room. That doesn't work, untless it took place the day of the match. Hutton said Muchnick didn't talk to him before winning, and, during his title reign, the two had little contact. He only talked to Sam over the phone to get his bookings. He said the NWA wanted Buddy Rogers as champ, and they did nothing to promote him.

Jan. 7 ----- Ector County Coliseum, Odessa, TX: Dick Hutton defeated Buddy Rogers two falls to one by DQ in defending the NWA World Title. Also Wee Willie Davis defeated Country Boy Calhoun in straight falls, Dory Funk Sr defeated the Great Bolo in 9 seconds, and Leo Garibaldi drew with Rip Rogers (Eddie Graham). Promoters were Dory Funk Sr, and Karl Sarpolis. To start 1958, Buddy Rogers moved to Amarillo Texas territory. I wonder why, if the NWA was so against Hutton, why didn't they just switch the world title to Rogers once Thesz was out of the picture. Perhaps because they had a tradition of long title reigns, or because it took longer for a group to make a decision, that with one boss doing the thinking? They could have done the switch to Rogers this night. Perhaps an angry Rogers, after a run around in 1957, wasn't seen as a perfect choice anymore. Also Hutton seemed like a good choice for Toronto, and the South West, so they wanted to see if he'd work out as champion.

March 31 --- Phoenix Madison Square Garden, AZ: Dick Hutton defeated Buddy Rogers to defend the NWA World Title. Rogers was friends with Hutton, but he had a reputation of hurting people, Hutton told Buddy that if he ever hurt him, he'd break his arm. During this match, Rogers missed up a flying leg scissors attempt, and broke Hutton's nose. Dick didn't like it, but because he knew it was a mistake nothing happened. Promoter was Rod Fenton.

April 9 --- The Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA: (TV) Dave Levin defeated Billy Varga by DQ. Buddy Rogers defeated Sky Hi Lee, Billy Darnell & Frank Fuller defeated Lord James Blears & Henry Lenz, Jack Terry defeated Hardy Kruskamp, Sandor Szabo defeated Pancho Zapata, Country Boy Calhoun defeated Vic Christy, and Ricki Starr defeated The Broadway Venus. Promoter Jules Strongbow had made big ideas for 1958, having made a deal to be the booking agent for Lou Thesz. He also signed Buddy Rogers for a long stay, and plans were for major matches between the two at The Olympic Auditorium. Both were free agents, and Thesz was looking to get away from the NWA. Rogers brought a lot of his old friends like Darnell, Levin, Goering, and Johnny Valentine would follow. Country Boy Calhoun, the future Haystack, was also one of Buddy's gang. He was limited as a worker, but weighted 601 pounds, and became a major star, mostly in tag matches. He was known as the heaviest wrestler in the sport. Rogers liked to use him, because he knew how to work with him. The secret was to sell like crazy, do his spots, and don't left him fall on you. It was kind of an easy night for Rogers. It seems that Rogers wrestled Calhoun more than any other wrestler, and, for sure, pinned him more than anyone else in history. During this stay in Los Angeles, Buddy got together with a champion bodybuilder from Camden named Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski. LA was the center of the bodybuilding world, and it seems Rogers changed his training of mostly swimming, to lifting weights and bodybuilding. He always had a great body, but after 1958, he got bigger and better cut. It also took away some of his agility, and made him more prone to injuries. Going into the 1960's, Rogers work in the ring changed & he didn't move as well, and his body looked more like a major bodybuilder. Rogers popularity takes off to new levels in 1959, and I've always wondered if it had something to do with his change in training.

May 6 --- San Diego Coliseum, CA: Lou Thesz drew with Buddy Rogers in a no contest after both won a fall. A free-for-all involving members of the audience ended the match. Also Sander Szabo defeated Fritz Von Goering via a referee's decision, Herb Freeman defeated Hardy Kruskamp, and Reggie Parks drew with Lord Blears. Promoter was Ernie Fuentes.

May 20 --- San Diego Coliseum, CA: Lou Thesz defeated Buddy Rogers two falls to one in defending the International Title. Also Billy Varga defeated Sandor Szabo two falls to one, and Fritz Von Goering defeated Reggie Parks. Attendance was 1,800. Promoter was Ernie Fuentes.

May 24 --- San Bernardino Arena, CA: Lou Thesz drew with Buddy Rogers when they were both KQ'ed in the third fall. Thesz defended the International Title. Also Fritz Von Goering defeated Country Boy Calhoun. Promoter was Jules Strongbow.

May 28 --- The Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA: Buddy Rogers defeated Sandor Szabo two falls to one. Also Lord James Blears drew with Fritz Von Gorning, and Ricki Starr defeated Mat Murphy. Promoter was Jules Strongbow. After the match, Rogers drove to UCLA Medical Center where his wife, Terry, gave birth to a daughter. It was Buddy's only biological child. It was named Frieda Alberto Rogers, so she was named after Rogers' mother. The family lived in a apartment located at 10330 Wilshire BL, near Beverly Hills.

June 5 --- Strelich Stadium, Bakersfield, CA: Lou Thesz defeated Buddy Rogers two falls to one in defending the International Title. Rogers won the 1st fall with a dropkick and body slam in 14:31. Thesz then won the 2nd with the Thesz's Press in 2:23. Fritz Von Goering interfered in the 3rd fall, by throwing a punch at Thesz, which missed to hit Rogers, and Lou then pinned Buddy in 8:33. Also Fritz Von Goering defeated Johnny Demchuk in straight falls by unable to continue.

June 7 --- San Bernardino Arena, CA: Lou Thesz defeated Buddy Rogers two falls to one. Also Fritz Von Goering defeated Pat Fraley in straight falls. It would seem that Rogers and Thesz were brought to Los Angeles to feud and create a super match. I grew up in Los Angeles, and the system was that all the local small cities were secondary to the story-lines created on Olympic Auditorium TV. I don't believe any of the other small arenas, were big enough to draw over 3,000, some a lot smaller, while The Olympic could hold 10,400. Also all the local promoters worked for the Olympic (The Eatons, and Jules Strongbow). Just about in every situation, the big match being worked on by The Olympic, didn't happen first at the local level. There were always tag matches between the guys getting the build up, but it would be very rare for the big match to first take place outside of the Olympic. Also the small arenas cards were not pushed on Olympic TV. As fans, we knew there was wrestling around but we didn't think it was true main events going on. I never went to one of the local arenas, and I've only met one person who ever went to one of the small card. Turns out I was wrong, there was good stuff going on six nights a week in Southern California, but most fans didn't go. By 1958, Thesz and Rogers were the two top guys in wrestling, and their matches seem to rank with the special matches in history. But in this situation, the Thesz/Rogers matches were being held in the small town before they were pushed on TV. I've never understood this. It's like the worst booking of two national stars I've been able to think of. The major promoter in Los Angeles was Jules Strongbow, who worked for Cal Eaton, but was the true power. I liked Strongbow, he was a good person and smart. Los Angeles had just been sitting around for years. Looking at results, sometime I can't tell what they are doing, but that can be explained by the territory being a promotion with national TV, and they were just producing TV shows. But by 1958, they just had local TV. Strongbow came in around 1956. First thing in power, he didn't sign the NWA consent degree, so he wasn't part of the Alliance. Strongbow was a popular decent guy in wrestling, so that didn't shake up the wrestling world like Jim Barnett, Johnny Doyle, Vince McMahon or Fred Kohler. But the next step for Julies was to sign both Rogers, and Thesz for the Olympic. He may have had other plans to create a super promotion on the West Coast, and he later signed Carpentier, and then the great Freddie Blassie. But the Thesz/Roger plan didn't work. It failed because of some strange booking....which no one understands (or really thinks about) today, but I will try to create a theory or two as the events are listed.

June 11 --- The Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA: (TV) Lou Thesz drew with Buddy Rogers. Thesz suffered a injured back after Rogers jumped on the back from the top rope, and Lou was carried out of the ring, and then to a California hospital. This was a TV match. Also, in a off TV main event, Fritz Von Goering defeated Lord James Blears two falls to one. Plus Seymour Koening & Herb Freeman defeated Billy Varga & Hardy Kruskamp to win the International Tv Tag Title. Attendance was 2,500. Promoter was Jules Strongbow. The Thesz injury seemed to be an angle to set up a rematch, but everything done to start, what seemed like a super feud between the top two wrestlers of their era, seems weird. So the match had already been in the major small arenas in Southern California and Arizona. None of them seemed to draw much. So now they work an injury angle, but the super match, is three weeks away so Thesz is booked for a major tour of Canada. Thesz only works once between June 11 and June 24, plus Rogers had a long standing reputation of liking to hurt opponents. I know nothing, and Thesz I can't ask because he is gone, but it seems possible that Rogers hurt Lou. In the book Hooker, Thesz goes out of his way to create the idea of a real life feud between the two. But in interviews threw the years with Rogers, he never saws anything negative about Lou.... or Ed Lewis. In fact, he come off as the champion of the old style, and actual wrestling. We know that Rogers called Thesz all the time over the years asking for advice on different wrestling matters. Rogers also never passed up the chance to work with the champion, and did a lot of jobs for Lou.... knowing that Thesz wouldn't never do the same favor for him. This problem between them seems one sided, and it disappears when the two are together in the 1990's at the Califlower Alley Club. I'm wondering if it was this Los Angeles match that set off the “heat” between the two superstars. Did Rogers screw up the big series of matches, that Thesz was counting on to get him started in his big post-NWA championship years by hurting him? Rogers straight out gets pushed out of the NWA World Title spot by Thesz in 1957, as we supposed to think that didn't upset Buddy? Then Buddy come to Los Angeles looking for a place to get over big, and all he does is put over always. He could understand that Thesz, as NWA champion, couldn't do jobs, but that title was gone, and Thesz still refused to help Rogers get over. Rogers was burnt out in Ohio after being there for years. He needed a major territory to be the top guy. He lost the NWA spot, Rocca was in NYC, Gagne in Chicago, Kowalski & Carpentier were in Montreal, and Watson had Toronto. He had done Texas, and the South wasn't big money. Los Angeles seemed like a good idea, but he gets there, and he runs into Lou Thesz.....again. Thesz was a powerful force in wrestling, that no one wanted to cross, as least to his face. But he had sold his territory, gave up his title, and he was old and used up. He had come to LA for pretty much for the same reason as Buddy. He had intimidated people all his career, and the biggest people in wrestling were used to such treatment, but maybe it was coming to an end. If there was someone in pro wrestling who could stand up to the powerful Thesz …. it was Buddy Rogers.

July 2 --- The Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA: (TV) Buddy Rogers defeated Fritz Von Goering, Also Lou Thesz defeated Pete Petterson, Herb Freeman over Hardy Kruskamp, Mr. Moto defeated Pat Fraley, and Sandor Szabo defeated Oyama Kato. Attendance was 6,347. Promoter was Jules Strongbow. My thinking is that this was a match to set up a big Thesz/Rogers card, and interviews building up the match were high-lighted.. The timing for the big rematch was off, because Thesz had been signed for a Canadian tour, in support of champion Hutton.

July 9 --- Alberta Gardens, Edmonton, Canada: Dick Hutton defeated Lou Thesz to defend the NWA World Title. Also Whipper Billy Watson defeated Big Bill Miller, and George Gordienko drew with Luther Lindsay. If Thesz did do a clean job for Hutton, and I have no details & I'm not sure, it would be the only time he put the champion over in rematches. Promoter was Stu Hart.

July 23 --- The Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA: Lou Thesz drew with Buddy Rogers in the non-TV main event. It was a non-title match. Also Count Billy Varga defeated Country Boy Calhoun to defend the American Title, Billy Darnell drew with Hardy Kruskamp, and Fritz Von Goering defeated The Great Kato. Attendance for the big blow off between pro wrestling's biggest stars was 4,200. Promoter was Jules Strongbow. When Thesz was the national world champion, there was a good reason for Rogers to never win. Maybe....yes maybe...Buddy realized this night that Thesz had no intention to ever put him over. So the fans got a draw in Lou's big revenge match, and the two never wrestled in Los Angeles again.

July 28 --- Hollywood Legion Stadium, Los Angeles, CA: Buddy Rogers defeated Lord James Blears two falls to one.

July 28 --- Madison Square Garden, Phoenix, AZ: Lou Thesz defeated Mike Mazurki. Buddy Rogers no showed this match, and Mazurki replaced him. Rogers claimed he was stuck in Los Angeles, which was true, but he was wrestling on another card. Was Rogers playing games with Lou? The match was reset for the next week, with Rogers having to post a $1,000 appearance bond.

Aug. 4 --- Madison Square Garden, Phoenix, AZ: The rematch between Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers didn't start until well past mid-night. First Thesz had to take his wife to a San Diego hospital in a emergency, which was followed by fight switches at the airport, and then bad weather (rain). The promoter added a tag team match to the under card of three matches, and it was claimed that none of the fans left. Thesz got there after mid-night, and the match started. Rogers ran across the ring, and pined Thesz after a drop kick in 18 seconds to win the first fall. The 2nd fall lasted over 30:00, and after 1 AM, they collided heads in the middle of the ring. Rogers had a bad cut over his forehead, and the referee stopped the match with Thesz winning...again. Attendance was 1,700. One wonders what was going on that night? Was Thesz playing around with Rogers after what Buddy pulled the week before? Rogers stayed in Los Angeles until the end of September, and then left for San Francisco until the end of the year.
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