As soon as the Lou Thesz-Sam Muchnick
hostilities ended in St. Louis during the summer
of 1949, there was talk of unifying the many
different strands to the World Heavyweight
championship. The National Wrestling Alliance
recognized Orville Brown, while the
National Wrestling Association held Thesz as
the top heavyweight. In addition, there were
other heavyweight champions in Minnesota,
Boston, Montreal, and Los Angeles. For the
National Wrestling Alliance to really benefit the
sport, its members had to wither down the
claims. But doing so, even if the promoters of
those other champions were members, was
going to be difficult.
The easiest resolution was in Minneapolis when
Tony Stecher allowed champion Cliff Gustafson
to retire as world champion in 1949. Although
it had been tricky between the time in which Stecher joined the Alliance and the time in
which Gustafson retired, Stecher maintained things in a respectable manner. Then he
transitioned to the Brown bandwagon without much hubbub.
In a bulletin to NWA members on January 2, 1950, Muchnick explained that at the last
annual convention, the organization "voted unanimously to recognize Lou Thesz as the
heavyweight champion." He reminded all that it was "up to everyone" to publicize Thesz
as the titleholder in the individual territories. Muchnick claimed that the title belonged to
the organization, and that "we will all benefit if the title is established."
More of the same was offered by Muchnick in his January 16, 1950 correspondence to
the organization. He repeated that the NWA agreed to back Thesz and Leroy McGuirk as
the heavyweight and junior heavyweight champions, respectively. He wrote, "some of us
have been recognizing other men and naturally cannot renounce these claims
immediately," but he wanted members to publicize the NWA champions in addition to the
local claimants. In bold lettering, Muchnick stated: "Remember Thesz and McGuirk do
not belong to anyone of us individually. No one of us is getting any share of their
money." Muchnick reaffirmed that the champions belonged to the NWA as a whole.
In Bulletin #7 to the NWA Membership dated May 17, 1950, Muchnick explained that Paul
Bowser recently paid his initiation fee to join the organization, but was withholding signing
the official NWA agreement because of his recognition of Frank Sexton as World
Heavyweight Champion. The situation was going to be discussed at length at the 1950
annual convention in Dallas.
At the September 1951 NWA convention in Tulsa, a measure to straighten out the World
Heavyweight championship situation was unanimously approved by the membership.
Members had until February 1, 1952 to deal with their locally recognized titleholders.
After that date, all members had to recognize and promote the officially sanctioned NWA
champions in the heavyweight and junior heavyweight classes. Muchnick stated in a
bulletin that "after much decision, all members present felt that for the prestige and the
dignity of the Alliance and for wrestling, it would be best for all to recognize the same
heavyweight and the same junior heavyweight champion."
Muchnick stated that the booking of champions Lou Thesz (heavyweight) and Verne
Gagne (junior heavyweight) were being kept "open so suitable arrangements can be
made for them to appear in the few territories where other men have been advertised as
champions so that the situation can be clarified." That meant, Thesz and Gagne going
over local champs in unification matches.
More specifics about the booking of the heavyweight champion was outlined in a letter
from Muchnick to members on December 26, 1951. He wrote that he wanted to book the
heavyweight and junior heavyweight champions into an individual territory "for a week or
more" at a time. "If we definitely go through with the decision of recognizing only one
champion in each division," he wrote, "it will make it much more difficult for some of the
smaller territories and cities to get the champions." That being said, the NWA President
claimed the "smaller cities might not get the champions as often," but "they will be helped
by the prestige wrestling" was bound to get by the recognition of a singular champion in
In a bulletin to the membership on June 23, 1952, Muchnick stated that the "heavyweight
champion is now booked solid until the annual meeting." He claimed that since
September 1951, Thesz had "appeared in about 25 territories under Alliance jurisdiction
and has participated in more than 100 matches." He explained that one member called
recently to obtain Thesz for a future date, and Muchnick asked the member why he didn't
ask for him previously. The booker answered by saying that Thesz didn't matter to him
before. Muchnick said that had the member followed the NWA bulletins and advertised
Thesz as the titleholder as others had, Thesz would've meant something in his territory.
Muchnick stated that the "present champions are universally recognized and if they
should be defeated their conquerors will inherit considerable presitge." He urged all
members to publicize the NWA champions, regardless if they booked the champions or
not. Some members hadn't done a single thing to prop up the Alliance in their local
publicity, and Muchnick wondered why they joined the organization in the first place.
A special meeting was held in Chicago in November 1953 to deal with the Verne Gagne
situation. Gagne had been dubbed the United States Heavyweight Champion by Fred
Kohler and featured across the expansive DuMont Network. Some fans confused
Gagne's championship with Thesz, and wondered when the former had beaten the latter.
That, in addition to the huge rise in popularity for Gagne due to his television
appearances, drew the ire of Muchnick and Thesz, and a feud began. Muchnick and
Thesz wanted Kohler to drop Gagne's recognition, but Kohler defended his actions, and
pushed forward. The intensity of the conflict was going to damage and Alliance, and the
November meeting solved the issues by a straight-forward compromise. In all future
billing, Gagne would be known as the United States Heavyweight Television Champion.
In a bulletin to the membership dated November 10, 1953, Muchnick went over the recent
meeting and explained that "it has taken us almost 5 years to gain undisputed recognition
for the title holders recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance." He wanted members to
advertise champions Thesz, Baron Michele Leone (junior heavyweight) and Frank
Stojack (light heavyweight), saying it was their "duty" to do so.
Copyright 2010 Tim Hornbaker
|NWA Creating A Unified World Heavyweight Champion