Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Thesz Belt, Awarded in 1937

Image from Japanese magazine. Courtesy Bill Murdock.

Above: St. Louis promoter Tom Packs (at right) presents new World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz with a new championship belt the morning after Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the title in December 1937.

The following is an edited excerpt from the book Crown Jewel by Dick Bourne (available via the Gateway Book Store.)

The belt that Lou Thesz wore as World champion until 1957 (when the first NWA-owned World Championship belt was put into service) was a belt Thesz personally owned that came with his purchase of Tom Packs’ St. Louis promotional office in 1949.

That belt is commonly known today as the “Thesz Belt,” named for the man who held the World Championship longer than any other. The belt was presented to him in 1937 by Packs after Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the World Heavyweight Championship in St. Louis. When Thesz was made champion of the year-old National Wrestling Alliance in 1949, that belt became the NWA’s recognized World Championship title belt, and was so until the Alliance finally purchased and presented a belt of their own in 1957.

The Thesz belt was as much jewelry as it was championship belt. A series of plates held together only by chains, with only short leather attachments at each end to secure the belt around the champion’s waist. It was adorned with jewels. The center plate featured an imperial crown up top, a ring with two wrestlers in the center, and a large oval with a star at the bottom. The belt read “Worlds Heavyweight Wrestling Champion” and had his name “Louis Thesz” made right into the plate. There were three side plates on either side of the center buckle (total of six) that depicted wrestlers in various move combinations.

A 1937 article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporting on the new belt declared that the belt was “studded with 456 diamonds, 176 rubies, and 144 sapphires with six large diamonds in the centerpiece of the seven links.” According to Lou’s friend Koji Miyamoto, it was crafted by a jeweler in St. Louis, who likely made other belts during that era, as Marshall had a similarly designed belt of his own.

Prior to the formation of the NWA in 1948, there were a number of championships around the country recognized as “world championships” going back to 1905 and the days of the legendary George Hackenschmidt, who brought world title recognition with him from various European championships. Several of these U.S. titles were based out of states in the Midwest over these years, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, but also in cities like Boston and Los Angeles.

The title Thesz won from Everett Marshall in 1937 was the Midwest Wrestling Association title, originally based out of Ohio in 1931 and promoted by Al Haft, but by 1937 basically controlled by St. Louis promoter Tom Packs and partner Billy Sandow.

Thesz’s victory over Marshall took place on December 29, 1937 at the Municipal Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri. The original plan was simply for Thesz to go to a time limit draw or some other disputed finish to allow him to continue his climb in the ranks as a top contender. Promoter Tom Packs saw stardom and box office potential in Thesz and was grooming him to eventually take the top spot. But as Thesz described in his autobiography, when the show nearly sold out in advance weeks ahead of the match, Packs and Sandow re-evaluated their plans. Marshall had not been drawing huge crowds of late as champion, so when the title match with Thesz popped the box office, the plan was changed to put the title on Thesz.

“Deciding the champion was a strictly cold-blooded business decision,” wrote Thesz. “The wrestler who could draw the most money at the gate was the one who got the belt.”

By the time he first became NWA World Champion twelve years later in 1949, he was already a three-time world champion having held different versions of the title around the country. During the next several years Thesz would defeat a number of these other champions to effectively unify wrestling’s World Championship under the National Wrestling Alliance banner.


Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store

Lou Thesz, Dick Hutton, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Gene Kiniski,
Dory Funk, Jr., Harley Race.

The storied history of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from 1959-1973,
and a look at the belt itself, the "crown jewel" of championship belts.