A Moment in Time: Lou Thesz Wins a WWF Battle Royal

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Craig Wilson

Other than the occasional memorable moment, the majority of wrestling house shows yield little of interest. However, the WWF show in New Jersey on Monday 16 November 1987 did feature a memorable moment: namely wrestling legend Lou Thesz winning a battle royal. That’s the focus of this latest ‘A Moment in Time’ piece.

Aloysius Martin Thesz, known to the world of wrestling as Lou Thesz, is one of the most respected performers in the history of the sport. Upon his final match in 1990, he became the first – and likely only – wrestler to compete in seven different decades.

Debuting aged 16 in 1932, Thesz would become a six time world champion including carrying the NWA title three times and for a combined 10 years, three months and nine days – longer than anyone else in history. Furthermore, he is credited with inventing a number of wrestling moves including the belly to back waistlock suplex – later known as the German suplex, the Lou Thesz press, the STF and the original powerbomb.

What is less known, however – and a suggestion from one of our readers for ‘A Moment in Time’ article, is his WWF Battle Royal victory from 1987. And here it is.

The fans that paid in to the Meadowlands on Monday 16 November 1987 probably had fairly low expectations of the house show ahead of them. In total, around 5,000 attended compared to the circa 1,000 that paid in to see the other WWF show that night – in Wharton Fieldhouse – headlined by the tag team champions Tito Santana and Rick Martel (Strike Force) defending, and retaining, their gold against The Islanders.

Those WWF fans in New Jersey, instead, had a card featuring Ricky Steamboat, Ted Dibiase, Demolition, Randy Savage and others in a show featuring two Battle Royals. What wasn’t hyped all that well ahead of the show was that one of them featured a host of legends from the world of wrestling.

Amongst those taking part, along with Lou Thesz, were a host of other American Wrestling Association (AWA) luminaries such as The Crusher, Sailor Art Thomas, Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Kangaroo Al Costello, Pat O’Connor, Rene Goulet, Gene Kiniski and Bobo Brazil. Also competing were other wrestlers in their twilight years including Dominic DeNucci, Tony Garea, Gene Kiniski, Killer Kowalski, Pedro Morales, Arnold Skaaland and Chief Jay Strongbow – who was, by this time, overweight, bald, clad in none of his gimmick attire and wrestled in a Hulk Hogan t-shirt.

At the 11 minute mark, a 71 year old Lou Thesz backdropped – that’s right, backdropped – a 63 year old Pat O’Connor to win the match. Afterwards, in a show of mutual respect, the two old timers embraced in the ring. Ultimately, for some in attendance the sight of all these old wrestlers in the ring and Thesz and O’Connor embracing afterwards would have meant very little. But it was a match packed full of hugely influential members of the wrestling world.

As an aside, this was the match that started the bad blood between Vince McMahon and Macho Man Randy Savage due to McMahon not inviting Savage’s father Angelo Poffo to participate in the ‘legends’ battle royal.

Sadly, however, only fan recorded footage exists of this match and I was unable to source any online to link to. Instead, we can only wonder what it must have been like to see such an array of wrestling legends compete for the 5000 fans in attendance. For those in the Meadowlands, it was a once-in-a-lifetime list of participants in the match that is unlikely to be bettered any time soon, if not again.

You can read all previous ‘A Moment in Time’ pieces here.

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