WWE Hidden Gems – 1951

Looking through the Network, I found lots of interesting stuff in the Hidden Gems section, so I thought I’d do those as well. I don’t know if I’ll break them into shows or by year, since some of the stuff is shorter, but for the first section there is only one match. From May 30, 1951 it’s Lou Thesz v. Ray Gunkel in a two out of three match for the NWA World Title. This is the very definition of both a Hidden Gem and Old School as we journey back some sixty eight years ago to some classic black and white footage. Lou Thesz is a fifteen time World Champion and held the belt for a combined ten years plus. He’s also credited with the creation of the German Suplex, Powerbomb, STF and of course the Thesz Press, popularized in the Attitude Era by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ray Gunkel held championships in Texas and the Mid-South regions in the fifties and sixties. Gunkel died in 1972 from a hematoma that was believed to have been caused by Ox Baker’s infamous heart punch. Two legends in their prime in a match that clocks in at almost an hour, this should be interesting, let’s go to the ring.

1. Ray Gunkel v. Lou Thesz 2/3 Falls

Impressive quality for near seventy year old video, amazing! Strange seeing people in the crowd all dressed up like they’re going to the opera and not pro wrestling. No barricades either, as we are welcomed to the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas. Ed Lewis is the manager of Lou Thesz, and is a legend and former World Champion as well. A lock up and into the ropes, with both men jockeying for position. Thesz gets a headlock but forced to break due to ropes, and neither guy can get an advantage, until Gunkel grabs the leg and locks on a toe hold on Thesz. Thesz counters to an arm bar but gets slammed in the middle of the ring and the ref checks on him. Gunkel gets him in the ropes and we get a break, but Thesz is struggling to get to his feet. Thesz finally gets a shot in the gut of Gunkel and the crowd is not happy with Thesz. Gunkel keeps locking up with Thesz, but Thesz keeps getting the ropes. Finally Gunkel gets him in the center of the ring with a headlock takeover, transitioning into a side headlock. Every time Thesz tries to fight up Gunkel powers him back down. We get the ten minute notification from the time keeper, as Gunkel maintains the side headlock. Thesz finally makes the ropes and pops Gunkel as he breaks the hold and that angers this crowd. Gunkel quickly goes back to the side headlock and Thesz to the ropes, Gunkel releases but Thesz slams a forearm across his chest. Thesz slow to lock up and when they do back to the headlock and Gunkel nails him in the head. Thesz cowers in the corner, but catches Thesz in a front facelock, which the ref calls a choke. Thesz changes to shoulder scissor hold, and Gunkel tries to turn the hold into a pin but Thesz rolls back on his side. Why does the referee look like he’s on shore leave, he’s dressed like a sailor? Thesz gets rolled up but keeps rolling to maintain the hold as we get the fifteen minute announcement. Gunkel still trying to break the scissor hold as he keep rolling into pin attempts but Thesz able to keep countering and keeping the hold locked in. Gunkel finally powers out of the hold and drops Thesz on his head as the crowd roars it’s approval. Thesz ties Gunkel in the ropes and connects with a series of elbows, but one from Gunkel takes him down. Gunkel off the ropes with a Thesz Press and gets a near fall, as the crowd explodes. Twenty minute announcement as we have a test of strength happening, which Thesz is winning but Gunkel releases the hold and sends Thesz down with a side body scissor and into the arm lock. The ref spots Lou’s feet on the ropes and breaks the hold, Thesz staggers slowly to his feet and gets caught in a side headlock and a big slam for another near fall. A third slam and again the near fall, four slams as we see who Ahmed Johnson patterned his moves after, make that five and that gets the first fall for Ray Gunkel. Fall two beings and Thesz slow to leave the corner. Both men fight over a wristlock and Gunkel powers him down while keeping the wristlock applied. Thesz makes it to his feet as they continue to challenge each other’s strength. Gunkel into the side headlock and Thesz makes the ropes for the break. Back to the side headlock from Gunkel powers Thesz down and the ref checks the shoulders. Gunkel cranks the pressure on Thesz with the side headlock, as we get the five minute announcement, as Thesz fires him to the ropes. Thesz catches Gunkel in an airplane spin and both men land in the ropes. Back to the center of the ring and Gunkel goes back to his side headlock, as Thesz fights his way to the ropes and we gets a very slow break. Gunkel seems to be getting frustrated as he charges and Thesz and back to the headlock with Thesz in the ropes. Thesz gets Gunkel in the corner and pops him multiple times as we get the ten minute announcement. Thesz snapmares Gunkel down twice, but Gunkel with a body scissors stops any momentum Thesz might have had. In the ropes and Thesz pops Gunkel with series of fists, and then tosses him across the ring. Gunkel with a back body drop gets two but Thesz bridges out and Gunkel backdrops him again. Thesz with a vicious powerbomb, called a slam, and gets the fall. Gunkel is being carried to the ringside area by a couple people and then to the back, as the way they carry him looks like a Three Stooges skit. Third fall about to begin as Gunkel struggles to get in the ring and the ringside doctor follows him in and they talk to the ref. Gunkel wants to fight as he holds his shoulder, but the announcement is made that Gunkel cannot continue and the match is over. The doctor says he injured a vertebrae and risks permanent injury.

1. Lou Thesz wins over Ray Gunkel two falls to one ***1/2

That was a very good match, taking into account the era. Lots of submission style moves and mat grappling, which would be hated nowadays but the crowd back then was loud and loved it. Not something everyone would like, but was a very interesting match. The powerbomb finish was just a brutal looking move, especially almost seven decades ago, as Gunkel came down hard on his neck. Just looked impressive and painful, unlike most powerbomb moves now. We move next into 1952 which has three matches.

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