One of the first things my first hands-on wrestling trainer, T.J. Phillips, asked me was,”Do you ever watch old wrestling?”
“Yeah, I have a Crockett Cup tape I like.” I answered with pride.
“Uh…” He looked at me like he was wondering if I was messing with him, before continuing, “...Yeah, that’s good stuff, but not really what I meant by ‘old’.”
I was embarrassed and confused; you mean wrestling from the 1980’s wasn’t “old”?
It was certainly old to me, but in the history of professional wrestling, it definitely wasn’t very old.
Eager to add depth to my shamefully shallow knowledge of the history of the craft I had chosen to dedicate my young life to mastering, I began seeking out truly classic wrestling.
One of my first steps was to buy “The Encyclopedia Of Professional Wrestling”. I read it cover to cover, over and over. It became well read and well worn. Recently, after finding and browsing my traveling-preacherman grandfather’s bible, it somehow brought me back to this book in my associative memory.
It taught me a lot and, moreover, it ignited an inferno of desire inside me, with it’s trumpeting descriptions and glorious to mine eyes pictures, to find and watch some of these champions and matches of yore; especially this Lou Thesz guy who had been written about with an almost religious fervor, and had ample images of his likeness, in this particular publication.
The first bit of footage I could get ahold of was “Greatest Grappler’s Of The Golden Age”, or some suchness, from the (referred-to-in-part-four) Scotty McKeever Library of Bootlegged Bouts.
As soon as the VCR greedily absorbed the VHS cassette into itself and started sending an electronic signal into the TV, the TV sent me back into absorbingly strange time; where wrestling fans wore suits and dresses, and hold-by-hold commentators sounded like the narrators on the Looney Tunes newsreel parodies that I grew up watching.
The first match I ever watched from the 1950s made me fall braids over shin-and-instep guards in love with wrestling’s first “golden age”, and the man that made me fall so hard was: not Lou Thesz. Thesz wasn’t in it, it was actually Antonino “Argentina” Rocca; who was like a Rey Mysterio of way back when, with his unique, exciting, acrobatic style and magnetic energy.
“Moarrr!” I growled out to McKeever, in my mind, but asked politely for more, in reality.
Good ol’ Scotty produced more contests featuring the barefoot badass, Rocca, from his extensive catalog.
Eventually, I lucked upon a match that made my mat-classic-hungry mouth water: Rocca vs NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz!
I pressed play on my first viewing of that match in a rage of anticipatory excitement, I pressed stop in a rage of anticlimactic disappointment. Thesz effectively and systematically smothered the frenetic fighting style, of which I was so fond, of Rocca.
I watched again, and again. I got madder, and madder.
How dare he! How dare Lou Thesz take the foot-slapping fun out of a Rocca match!
My reality-circumventing thoughts almost put me into a paranoid schizophrenic state; it was as if he was trying to antagonize me. As if he was purposely being an...an...antagonist…
All great stories do have villains, don’t they?
With this revelation in mind, I rewatched the match. This time, I was not disappointed. This time, I soaked in the subtle elegance of ill-mannered movements. This time, I finally understood the previously irking-to-me appreciation and appeal of ill intention.
I have to confess: I wasn’t one of the cool kid wrestling fans. When other children wore their NWO shirts to school, I genuinely thought that they had to be bad people. When Bret Hart spoke ill of the bad-guy-appreciating wrestling fans in the Mid-Nineties, he was speaking to my hero worshiping heart.
Over the years, I had learned to act like I thought badness was cool, but it was always playing pretend.
As I watched more Thesz, though, a subconscious shift began. The long reigning World Champ was the perfect professor for the perfection of the the all, for me. His villainy was very nuanced and justifiable; understandable.
I wasn’t ready to put it in words, yet, but this Austro-Hungarian American icon had opened up my philosophical heartmind to the incoming idea that the dual nature of reality and morality are held together by a grand play of opposing forces; a horrific-beautiful balance being maintained by players, but beyond the kinky role playing intercourse of forms there lies…
Well, my Loves, I’ll let you figure that one out for yourselves.
Thank you, Lou, so much!