The Curious Case of Mr. Szabo (transcript of podcast episodes)

The following is a transcript of all four episodes of my "Wrestling History Mysteries" podcast. They are taken from the 'scripts' I prepared for each episode. I have also included numerous original-source materials where relevant to provide documentation.

PART I

On February 4th, 1963, a new masked wrestler made his first appearance in the Leroy McGuirk wrestling territory. Billed as “Mr. Szabo”, he quickly worked his way up the cards, becoming a main-eventer and taking on most of the top babyfaces in the territory. His push culminated with two title matches with then-NWA World Heavyweight champion Lou Thesz. In the second of these bouts, it was reported that Szabo broke his hand and could not continue in the third fall. Due to this injury, Mr. Szabo then disappeared from the territory less than two months after he had arrived. Who was this masked man? What originally began as a simple test of my research methods and powers of deduction soon became an obsession. My quest to unmask Mr. Szabo took me from Oklahoma to Argentina and all points in between. I called on some of the world’s most well-respected wrestling historians for assistance, some of whom had differing opinions. Eventually, I had colleagues speak to the only two wrestlers still alive that were in the territory at the same time as Mr. Szabo. With all this manpower working together, would I be able to get beyond-a-reasonable-doubt proof as to the identity of this man? Listen on as I attempt to solve another Wrestling History Mystery.

Listen to Part I:

Wrestling history, such as it is, is an interesting animal. The current historical narrative was crafted from a combination of sources. A large part of that narrative came directly from the wrestlers themselves. In normal circumstances, getting historical information from those that took part in said history would be a good thing. But let’s not forget that professional wrestling is an entity that, at its core, teaches and rewards embellishment. Wrestling promoters crafted their own narratives, weaved their own tales, and as such were the gatekeepers of historical information. Dory Funk Sr. is credited as the ‘inventor’ of the Texas death match. However, there are more than a handful of examples of matches with the exact same stipulations as a Texas death match having taken place prior to Funk’s supposed “invention” of it in 1952. Sticking with the Funks, for years the “company line” was that Terry Funk’s first pro match was on December 9th, 1965 in Amarillo against Sputnik Monroe. It wasn’t until many years later, when historians uncovered evidence of Terry having at least one match prior to that, that Terry admitted his actual “first match” was several days earlier in a smaller town. The co-host of my Charting the Territories podcast, Jon Boucher, once told a story about Tarzan Tyler, long after his career was over, still claiming that an injury suffered during a match with Andre the Giant kept him out of action for over a year, when in reality he was only out for two months and them claiming he was 'out of action for over a year' was done to write him out of the territory while he spent some time competing in various territories in the US. In this case, it’s quite possible that Tyler had become so accustomed to toeing the company line when talking about the angle that it became “fact” to him. And let’s not forget the numerous mainstream media interviews of Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan in the late 80s, where they would admit to the reporter that wrestling was predetermined art as opposed to legitimate sport. And the interviewer would be so impressed by their honesty that they then didn’t question the litany of exaggerations and outright lies that followed in the remainder of the interview.

As such, I have found that it is often better to use other sources in my quest of “wrestling history”. Only as a last resort will I call on the wrestlers themselves. My approach to historical research is based in forensics. In essence, it is using the things that we know to try and solve what we don’t know. A perfect example of this as it relates to wrestling is the identity of the Infernos. Often managed by J.C. Dykes, the Infernos were a main event level tag team in numerous territories for about a decade. The original version of this masked team consisted of wrestlers Frankie Cain and Rocky Smith. At some point, Frankie left the team (going on to singles stardom as the Great Mephisto) and Rocky’s brother Curtis took his place in the team. Let’s say that I’m researching the career of the Infernos, and I’m not 100% sure exactly when the switch from Frankie to Curtis took place. And the Infernos show up in a new territory on a certain date. The way I would attempt to figure out which version of the team it was would be to attempt to “find” Frankie, or Curtis, and place them in another territory at the same time as the Infernos were in the other territory. If I can confirm that Frankie is working as the Great Mephisto, say in Florida, at the same time as a version of the Infernos are in Tennessee, then I can be reasonably sure that it was Rocky & Curtis under the hoods at that time.

So when I stumbled upon the masked wrestler billed as Mr. Szabo in early 1963, my original plan was to take the same approach. I didn’t think I’d be able to unequivocally determine his identity, but I thought that perhaps by using research, logic, and deduction, I could narrow it down to a small number of possibilities, perhaps even with one prime suspect.

How did I go about doing this? Step 1 was to scour newspaper articles and any other information I could get my hands on and look for clues. In essence, I wanted to build a profile of characteristics about this wrestler. From there, I would try and compile a list of as many wrestlers as I could that fit one or more of the criteria. And maybe there would be one wrestler who checked off many of the boxes in the profile I had built, and they would emerge as the most likely candidate. I honestly thought that the end result would be somebody like Don Fargo or Billy Garrett, veteran wrestlers known for frequent travel and a history of using numerous different ring names and/or masked gimmicks. And that would be the end of it. But boy, was I wrong.

So what do we know about Mr. Szabo. The first and most important thing to note is that this was a full-time wrestler in the McGuirk territory for the entirety of his stay. It was not a part-timer, or someone who could have been working in another territory and going back-and-forth. It was a contiguous character. Thus, the first part of the profile was that whoever this wrestler was, he could NOT have been wrestling in another territory at the same time, thus excluding every wrestler that was active in other territories between February 4th and March 25th, 1963.


It’s also worth noting that this was not the famous Hungarian-born wrestler Sandor Szabo. This absolutely positively was a masked wrestler billed as Mr. Szabo. Sandor Szabo was in the waning days of his career in 1963. He had a handful of appearances in California as a special referee and wrestled at least twice in Albuquerque in the first two months of the year. There are a couple of dates where Sandor is positively booked for an appearance in the western part of the US on the same night as “Mr. Szabo” is wrestling for Leroy McGuirk, and at least one instance where I can confirm that Sandor was indeed in a different place on the same night that Mr. Szabo was wrestling for McGuirk. And on March 25th, the night of Mr. Szabo’s second shot at Lou Thesz and last appearance in the territory, Sandor is in the midst of a tour of Japan wrestling for the JWA (technically he wrestled on the 24th and 26th with JWA not running on the 25th, but I've done the math and there's no way he could have flown back to Oklahoma and then back to Japan in time accounting for flight times and time zone differences). So it literally is impossible for it to have been Sandor Szabo.

In promoting Mr. Szabo’s first appearance in the territory, an article in the Tulsa World billed him as a “highly rated masked wrestler from New York”. Several other newspaper clippings in various cities in the territory similarly billed him as being from New York. I found it somewhat interesting that they would bill a masked wrestler as being from a specific town or state. Thus, I felt that whoever this wrestler was, he almost certainly was billed from New York at other times during his career. So I added “billed as being from New York” to the profile.

Further mentions of Szabo mention that he had been “mowing them down in eastern mat circles”. Now of course, this doesn’t necessarily have to have been true. But in my experience, when newcomers would start in a territory, if their previous whereabouts were listed (“he came here after a successful tour of California," or Texas, or what-have-you) it was often accurate. Not always, but enough so that I added “was in an eastern-based territory shortly before February 1963” to the profile.

Going back to the fact that a masked wrestler was given a home town (or home state), I had a hunch that this meant the wrestler had wrestled for Leroy McGuirk before. It just reads like the long-term plan (had he not been injured) was to eventually unmask the wrestler and have it be someone that the local fans were already familiar with. So I added “wrestled for Leroy at some point in the several years prior to 1963” to the profile. And since I just mentioned the injury, let’s cover that. If we assume the injury was legit and not a cover story for the wrestler being fired or quitting, then not only could this person not have been in another territory in February and March, but he probably wouldn’t have been wrestling anywhere else for about 6-8 weeks after the injury. We don’t technically know if the broken hand was indeed a broken hand, or fingers, or forearm, or wrist, or something else, but if we assume the wrestler was injured enough to have to leave this territory then he wouldn’t have shown up the following week somewhere else. 6-8 weeks is as reasonable an estimate of down time as I could make.

Before I continue building the profile, three brief asides. First, the more research I did into “Mr. Szabo”, the more I found wrestlers with similar names popping up in different places at different times. There was a “Young Szabo” wrestling for Nick Gulas earlier in the year. A small promotion in Louisiana used a “Mr. Szabo” later in the year, as did Dick Beattie, a former Olympic wrestler who wrestled for Leroy briefly before promoting his own shows in Oklahoma using himself and a fake “Great Bolo” among others. And a few years later, a wrestler billed as “Mr. Szabo” makes a handful of appearances as a part-timer for McGuirk. While it’s always possible these were the same person, we really can’t prove that it was, or for that matter that it wasn’t. For all intents and purposes, my only goal is to identify the wrestler billed as “Mr. Szabo” that worked for Leroy McGuirk in February & March of 1963.
The second side note is that we can’t be 100% sure that there was one and only one wrestler under the mask during this two-month run. I can say that having multiple wrestlers alternate working under one masked gimmick is not normally how things worked in this era, certainly not in the case of a pushed entity like Mr. Szabo was. While anything is possible, it is a very reasonable assumption that the same person was under the mask the whole time.
And for the third and final aside, there is significant evidence that Szabo’s disappearance from the territory was not “part of the plan”. The week before his final appearance, he defeated main-eventer Mike Clancy in both Little Rock and Springfield. They wouldn’t have had him beat a top star like Clancy (a former NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion) if they weren’t planning on keeping him around. And he was advertised for several matches that would take place after the match where he got injured, and didn’t appear on any of them. So it sure seems that his leaving the territory was an unplanned occurrence, furthering the belief that the injury suffered on March 25th was legitimate.

Back to the profile. As I read through more newspaper articles promoting shows in various McGuirk cities, additional clues came to light. At one point it was written that he “could really move into the forefront of contenders for Danny Hodge’s championship”. Hodge, of course, was the NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion at the time, and the top babyface for McGuirk. It’s also worth noting here that Szabo never wrestled against Hodge; he wrestled against all the other top babyfaces there, but was never on opposite sides of the ring from Hodge in singles or tag bouts. But given that he’s billed as a potential contender for Danny, this means that whoever was under the mask was probably a junior heavyweight, or at the very least not a particularly big heavyweight wrestler. So I added “Junior heavyweight” to the profile.

In looking at the recaps of his matches, he wins a significant number of his bouts in the same manner. He would deliver repeated piledrivers to his opponent, who would eventually be “knocked out” and/or “unable to continue”. On occasion, the victim would be taken out on a stretcher. So I added “used the piledriver as a finisher at some point” to the profile.

Considering the significant push that Mr. Szabo got, moving up to main events within a few weeks of starting here, facing virtually all of the top babyfaces, and getting two World title shots at Lou Thesz, I felt it a reasonable assumption that this was somebody of note. He’s not a random guy thrown under a hood; he’s somebody with experience, and his real identity would likely be a familiar name to wrestling historians. But by that very same token, the fact that he was wrestling under a mask here, and using a gimmick that he doesn’t appear to have used elsewhere prior, mean that he wasn’t a major, well-known, top shelf superstar. So he’s somebody of note, but he's not somebody super-famous.

I added one more item to the profile. Any perfunctory study into wrestling history shows that cronyism was prevalent throughout. Promoters had their favorites. Bookers had their favorites. One man’s “stooge” was another man’s trusted ally. If you want to know which territory Gary Hart was booking for in the 70s or early 80s, step one should always be to find out where the Spoiler was wrestling. Because where Gary went, Don Jardine usually followed. It’s been said that Leroy McGuirk did not use a rotating cast of bookers like many other territories did. I don’t know this for a fact, but Tim Hornbaker once told me that Leroy didn’t use “outside” bookers in the 60s. However, I noted that Al Lovelock, who was wrestling as the Great Bolo at this time, is working as the top heel in the territory in early 1963. Lovelock had numerous stints for Leroy dating back to 1946. Most of the time he’s here, he’s pushed at or near the top of the cards. But there are other times that he isn’t pushed as hard. I made an assumption that when he is at the top of the cards, he may at the very least has some “sway” with Leroy; he may not necessarily be the booker, but he’s got some stroke. So I felt it at least possible that whoever was wrestling under the mask as Mr. Szabo was a “running buddy” of Lovelock’s, and had some history of being in the same place at the same time as Lovelock.

So let’s recap the profile that I had built for this Mr. Szabo.
1) Billed as being from New York for at least some portion of his career
2) Was in an eastern-based territory shortly before February 1963
3) Had wrestled for McGuirk at some point in the several year period prior to 1963
4) Can’t be confirmed in another territory between February 4th and March 25th, 1963 AND for about 6-8 weeks after
5) Is a junior heavyweight; or at the very least, not a large heavyweight
6) Used the piledriver as a finisher; in particular, the sequence of several piledrivers in a row leading to the opponent being unable to continue
7) Was somebody with a moderate amount of name recognition; not a nobody, but also not a mega-star
8) Had some history of being in the same place at the same time as Al “Bolo” Lovelock

Now that the profile was built, it was time to compile a list of wrestlers who fit any of the above criteria. As names came up, the overwhelming majority of them could be excluded by confirming their presence in another territory. I looked through the career records of literally hundreds of men active in the early 60s. I was able to eliminate most of them. A small number of wrestlers may have checked one or two boxes in the profile and could have been considered as possibilities. But one man quickly and clearly emerged as a strong possibility. In fact, he was the only person that fit at least half of the profile. Actually, he checked every single box on it.
-Billed from New York. Check
-Last known whereabouts prior to Feb 63 were on the east coast. A very minor check, as his one and only documented match in the second half of 1962 was in Boston, but a check nonetheless.
-Had wrestled for McGuirk prior to 1963. Check.
-Could not be placed anywhere else in Feb/Mar 63 AND for 6-8 weeks after. Check.
-Was a junior heavyweight. Check.
-Had used the piledriver. Check. Just a few years earlier when wrestling for the Funks, this man on at least one occasion won a match by delivering three consecutive piledrivers, rendering his opponent unable to continue. So yeah, that’s a big check.
-Was somebody but not SOMEBODY. Check.
-Had a history with Al Lovelock, being in the same place as him at the same time. He had been an occasional partner of Lovelock’s, and on some occasions an opponent of his, on numerous occasions in this territory and in Texas dating back to the late 1940s. Check.

As you can imagine, I was pretty stoked to have found one candidate that seemed to fit the profile to a T. And the fact that I had been unable to find anyone else who checked more than 2 or 3 boxes in the profile made me think I had solved this wrestling history mystery. This man was someone whose name I had certainly seen before, but truth be told I wasn’t all that familiar with the body of his career work. I did some digging, and the things I learned made it very clear that, if it was him, this may end up being a bigger story than I thought. In particular, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Szabo’s last match in the territory, which ended when he suffered a broken hand during a match with the World Heavyweight champion, could take on a whole new meaning. It was at this point that I realized I couldn’t just say, “well, here’s my research and I think it might have been ……”. I needed to be absolutely positively sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was the man my research had pointed to.

At this point, it was time to call in the big guns. I brought in my podcast co-host, Jon Boucher, as well as Brian Last. They doggedly assisted me in tracking down leads and helping confirm or eliminate other possibilities. Brian even dug up a picture of Mr. Szabo, which while not too much help since he’s wearing a mask, helped eliminate one of the suspects. Brian also connected me to historian Tom Burke, who in turn spoke with McGuirk historian Diane Devine. I reached out to Tim Hornbaker, and Tim reached out to the man who literally wrote the book on Lou Thesz. Perhaps answers could be found in Thesz’ recollections of his opponents from the time period. I also spoke with David Baker, who bills himself as a Mid-Atlantic historian but knows much more about other territories than he lets on. The one and only Scott Teal was brought into the fray as well. Through some of these connections, the subject of Mr. Szabo was brought up to the only two wrestlers still alive that worked with him in early 1963. Yes folks, first we called the Cowboy, and then after that we found out what Frankie says. Were they able to remember the identity of a man they shared a locker room with almost 60 years ago? Between all these various sources and new information, will I be able to unmask Mr. Szabo and solve a WRESTLING HISTORY MYSTERY?


PART II

Welcome to the Part 2 of “The Curious Case of Mr. Szabo”, presented by Wrestling History Mysteries. My name is Al Getz, the rogue wrestling historian behind Charting the Territories and lead detective on this case! Part 1, released last month, introduced the masked wrestler billed as Mr. Szabo and covered his appearances in Leroy McGuirk’s wrestling territory in February and March of 1963 as well as his sudden departure from the territory after being injured in a match with Lou Thesz. It also detailed some possible “clues” as to the man’s identity. Those clues led me to focus on one particular wrestler as a potential suspect. In learning more about this wrestler and his career prior to 1963, it made me realize that if he indeed was the masked Mr/ Szabo, this story may have been bigger than I originally thought. This month, on Wrestling History Mysteries, we take a close look into the life and wrestling career of Antone “Ripper” Leone…


Antone Leone was born in Oyster Bay, New York, in September 1916. His earliest documented wrestling matches came in 1938 under the name Angelo Leone working for Jack Pfefer and Ray Fabiani in the northeast. He continued to use the name Angelo in that part of the country, but would use Antone Leone as his ring name in other areas. By the mid-1940s Leone was wrestling for a number of different promoters all across the U.S. and Canada, like so many other wrestlers of that era.

Antone Leone is mentioned in Don Fargo’s autobiography, The Hard Way, written by Don and Scott Teal. Don tells a story of Antone taking a dead bug out of his coat pocket and sneaking it into his food at a restaurant in order to get the meal comped. We’ve probably all heard stories like this before, and as someone who spent several years in wrestling as a manager on the independent circuit, I can tell you this is absolutely positively a thing that wrestlers did. But Don tells an even better story about Leone and another wrestler (who goes unnamed) going to a restaurant and Leone pretending to be blind, wearing dark sunglasses and carrying a cane. As the story goes, the other wrestler asked a young lady to join them in their motel room after dinner. Sure enough she did, and when this unnamed wrestler convinced her to spend some … quality time  ... with Leone, he threw off his glasses mid-coitus and proclaimed “I can see! Praise the Lord! You’re so good that I can see!” Needless to say, Leone was an oddball character, standing out even in a business filled with them.

Back to the masked wrestler known as Mr. Szabo. Last month, I explained how I built a profile using information obtained from reading newspaper articles and press clippings about this wrestler. The idea was then to see if I could identify any wrestlers who checked off a reasonable number of boxes from this profile. So, let’s review the profile and see how Leone fits:

1) Billed as being from New York for at least some portion of his career. As I mentioned earlier on, Leone was from Oyster Bay, New York and was pretty much always billed as being from there. Check.

2) Was in an eastern-based territory shortly before February 1963
Leone’s last-known whereabouts were in Boston working for Tony Santos in the fall of 1962. It doesn’t appear he was wrestling full-time in the second half of that year, so it’s a minor check but a check nonetheless.

3) Had wrestled for Leroy McGuirk at some point in the several year period prior to 1963
Leone had numerous stints for Leroy in the years before 1963 and had stints in the territory when it was owned by Sam Avey dating all the way back to the mid-40s. Check.

4) Can’t be confirmed in another territory between February 4th and March 25th, 1963 AND for about 6-8 weeks after
As mentioned earlier, his last known whereabouts had been in the fall of 1962. After March 25, 1963, when Mr. Szabo was injured and then disappeared, Leone’s next confirmed appearances are in June of 1963 when he’s wrestling for Leroy (as Antone Leone). It’s perfectly logical that after recovering from a broken hand suffered on Leroy’s watch that Leroy would use him again, this time scrapping the masked gimmick. Check.

5) Is a junior heavyweight; or at the very least, not a large heavyweight
Leone definitely fits this, in fact he had several title bouts against Danny Hodge for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title in early 1964. Check. 

6) Used the piledriver as a finisher; in particular, the sequence of several piledrivers in a row leading to the opponent being unable to continue
While it is pretty difficult to get detailed information about the finishers every single wrestler used at various times, while searching through newspapers.com using various combinations of Leone’s name and the term piledriver, I found a clipping from November 1960 in Lubbock, Texas. During a match between Leone and Alex Perez, Leone “hit Perez with three piledrivers, knocking Perez cold. He was unable to continue and the match went to Leone.” This is an exact replica of the finisher that Mr. Szabo was using to win many of his matches in early 1963. Check.

7) Was somebody with a moderate amount of name recognition; not a nobody, but also not a mega-star
Leone pretty much checks this box. He had notable runs at or near the top of the cards in a few places but was often used in the middle of the cards in others. So it’s fair to say that he was somebody, but not SOMEBODY. Check.

8) Had some history of being in the same place at the same time as Al “Bolo” Lovelock
Leone had worked as both a partner and opponent of Lovelock’s a handful of times over the years, both here and in Amarillo. So again, check.

Seeing that Leone basically checked every single box on the profile, I was now convinced that I had my man. So I decided to dig deeper into the wrestling career of Antone “Ripper” Leone, and that’s when things started to take an interesting turn.

While Leone travelled the country throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, wrestling for dozens of promoters and promotions, it seems that as we get into the latter half of the ‘50s, he’s wrestling for a limited number of territories. For the next several years, he bounces back and forth between Leroy McGuirk’s territory, Amarillo, East Texas, Arizona, and Vancouver. With the exception of one territory in western Canada, he’s confined to a fairly small geographical region in the southwest. Was there a reason for this? Perhaps…

In March 1957, Antone Leone wrote a letter to the United States Department of Justice claiming he had been ‘blacklisted’ by the National Wrestling Alliance earlier in the decade. In this letter and others that followed, Leone made grandiose claims with little in the way of actual evidence to back them up. Tim Hornbaker’s book “National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wresting” goes into more detail, but the Justice Department basically couldn’t move forward on any claims made by Leone because he was unable to provide actual documentation.

But the Department of Justice wasn’t the only recipient of Leone’s scathing, often crude, letters. As documented on Hornbaker’s web site, legacoyofwrestling.com, Leone wrote a letter to NWA President Sam Muchnick in January 1957, expressing great glee upon hearing the news of Hollywood, California wrestling promoter Hugh Nichols taking his own life. The letter goes on to express Leone’s hope that other NWA affiliated promoters would also die in the near future, and offers colorful terminology in describing many of them, calling Jim Crockett Sr a “big fat slob”, Jules Strongbow a “no good bloated bum” and referring to Sandor Szabo as “that Hungarian bastard.”

While it cannot be proven that Leone was officially blacklisted by the National Wrestling Alliance (if they even maintained such a list), there is some evidence that many of the Alliance’s promoters weren’t too keen on booking him. So he stuck with the promoters that would still use him, such as Leroy McGuirk in Oklahoma, Doc Sarpolis in West Texas, and a handful of others.

This brings us all back around to the possibility that Antone Leone was the masked Mr. Szabo, and raises several questions about the circumstances. First off, if Leone was firing off nasty letters to Sam Muchnick and claiming all sorts of ills perpetrated against him by the NWA, how in the hell would he have been able to secure not just one, but two, NWA World Heavyweight title matches against Lou Thesz? And more importantly, given all we know about Leone and about the lengths the NWA, and Thesz, might go to protect their business, do we need to re-examine the circumstances surrounding the second match with Thesz, where Mr. Szabo had to forfeit the match after suffering a broken hand in the third fall?

Call me na├»ve, but when I first came across Mr. Szabo, I didn’t think anything suspicious about the injury. I just figured that the wrestler, whoever it may have been, got hurt during a match, as happens often, and had to be written out of the company’s storylines. But now, with this new information, it’s easy to envision a scenario in our heads where Thesz "sent a message" to Leone. But if Antone was on any sort of no-no list, official or otherwise, how could he have gotten the World title shots in the first place?

And this is where I started to make deductive leaps. Working on the assumption that Antone Leone was indeed Mr. Szabo, we can now create more than one plausible narrative to explain this. Firstly, let’s look at the name Mr. Szabo. While I’m not 100% sure of how the process of requesting & approving World title defenses worked in the early 60s, I can see a situation where Leroy McGuirk sent a list of names to the NWA, including, let’s say, Danny Hodge and Mr. Szabo. The NWA, looking this list over, assumes that it is referring to Sandor Szabo, and they certainly would have no issues approving a match between Lou and Sandor. And, taking it a step further, given Leone’s apparent hatred of Sandor (calling him a "Hungarian bastard" in a letter to Muchnick), perhaps this was also the ultimate inside joke for Leone, in addition to being a way of getting a World title shot with Thesz. Recall that there were two matches between Lou and Mr. Szabo, one on March 11th and one on March 25th, both in Tulsa. I can easily picture in my head Lou showing up in the dressing room on the 11th, discovering that he was not going to be wrestling his old friend Sandor, but instead Antone Leone, but not really having any lead time to process it. So he goes through with the first match, which ended with Thesz winning the third fall. And sometime between the 11th and 25th, perhaps after talking with Sam Muchnick, they realize that Leone is persona non grata, or an ‘enemy of the state’, and Lou decides to teach him a lesson in their rematch on the 25th. Keep in mind we are just a few months past the famous Lou Thesz vs Buddy Rogers match where Thesz may or may not have expressly given an ultimatum to Buddy on how the match was going to go, and at the very least there were safeguards in place to ensure that Buddy would do business the right way. So it is very possible, and even understandable, that Thesz may have taken this opportunity to send a message to Antone Leone on March 25th, 1963 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, if indeed Leone was the man under the mask. And let’s not forget that Thesz’s father was of German and Hungarian descent, and Lou surely would not have taken too kindly to Leone calling Sandor Szabo a “Hungarian bastard”.

There’s one important footnote to this wild theory that I had now constructed in my head … Sam Muchnick was NOT the President of the NWA in early 1963. After serving as President for a decade, Sam stepped aside in 1960 for a few years before being re-installed later in 1963. In the first part of '63, however, the President of the National Wrestling Alliance was Doc Sarpolis. And if you recall, Doc was one of the few promoters who was still booking Antone Leone. With that in mind, it’s far more feasible that he would have approved Leone for the title matches, whereas Muchnick likely would NOT have without the subterfuge I laid out earlier.

Going back to the beginnings of this story, the original goal for me was to use facts and logic to see if I could determine the identity of Mr. Szabo. Now, excited by the possibility that I stumbled onto a fascinating footnote in wrestling history, the possible heretofore unknown story of Lou Thesz “shooting" on somebody in the ring, all of that logic and reason went out the window. I was convinced I had uncovered something, and desperately hoped I was right. The problem with this is that you then tend to become less objective in the face of new evidence. Any single nugget of information that supported my theory would automatically be given more weight, whereas evidence that seemed to disprove Leone would be tossed aside or given less weight. This was my fatal flaw. Because, as of right now as I am recording Part 1 of this podcast, on Saturday October 9th, 2021, I am virtually certain that Antone “Ripper” Leone was NOT the masked Mr. Szabo.

But earlier this year as I was working on this story, I was convinced I was right. Luckily, I’m just smart enough to know that before I could go public with this story, I needed more proof. A lot more proof. And I also needed to consult with as many established and respected wrestling historians as I could to see what they thought. And, perhaps if I was indeed right, they could help me gather up more evidence.

It was at this point that I started reaching out to a virtual all-star team of wrestling historians. The first step was to bring in Jon Boucher, the co-host of Charting the Territories, and Brian Last. Brian referred me to Tom Burke, who not only offered his assistance but also reached out to Diane Devine, a noted historian who attended tons of Leroy McGuirk shows for many many years, including in 1963. I reached out to Scott Teal, in particular because he had helped write Frankie Cain’s autobiography. Frankie, along with Bill Watts, are the only two wrestlers still alive today who wrestled for Leroy at the time that Mr. Szabo was there.  And while my original plan was to attempt to solve this mystery without asking Frankie or Bill, given where the story took me, it became clear that I needed to do whatever I could to get absolute proof. So I asked Scott to see if any of his past conversations with Frankie had mentioned Mr. Szabo; they had not. I posted a message on The Clawmaster’s Archives, a forum where many noted historians post old results and lots of other historical wrestling information. I also reached out to Tim Hornbaker and told him my wild theory. I was particularly wanting to see if he had any correspondence to or from the NWA regarding Thesz’ schedule in early 1963. Perhaps we could find a “booking calendar”. Tim graciously offered to help, and while he didn’t have any actual documentation from the NWA regarding Lou’s schedule, he did have access to what is believed to be the most comprehensive and accurate source of Lou Thesz match information. And this is where everything came crashing down.

While I had previously explored various versions of “Lou Thesz record books” online, many of which were likely copied and pasted from the original source and some of which were not, they all had what I felt to be incorrect information regarding Lou’s opponents on March 11th and March 25th of 1963. They listed his opponent for the 11th as Argentina Zuma and for the 25th as Sandor Szabo. As I mentioned last month, Sandor Szabo was absolutely positively in Japan at the time of that second match; it could not have been him. That being said, I can understand how it came to be part of the record. If someone stumbled across a match result that said “Lou Thesz defeated Mr. Szabo”, it is perfectly reasonable for that someone to assume it was Sandor. It is an understandable mistake. So when Tim Hornbaker came back to me with his information that it was Zuma on the 11th and Sandor on the 25th, I explained to him that the listing for the 25th had to be wrong, but I really couldn’t disprove the listing for the 11th, where Lou’s opponent was said to be Argentina Zuma. Tim offered to speak to Koji Miyamoto, the man who literally wrote the book on Lou Thesz, to see if he could offer any insight.

One of many examples of incorrect information regarding Thesz' opponents on 3/11/63 and 3/25/63 being copied and pasted everywhere, this from slamwrestling.net

At the same time, I was talking with David Baker, who is a self-proclaimed Mid-Atlantic Wrestling historian but in reality knows quite a bit about other territories as well. I had asked him what he knew about Thesz’ schedule in 1963, and he mentioned the post I had made on The Clawmaster’s Archives about Mr. Szabo.

In his words: "I've been watching the thread you posted with some amusement.  I can't believe no one has responded to your inquiry with who Mr. Szabo really was under the mask.  Going through my research, I had it narrowed down in about 5 minutes..."

Well now I was pretty excited. Because if David came to the same conclusion that I did, I at least I now have someone else corroborating my belief, and that would certainly bolster my case. So I told him I thought it was Antone Leone, and asked if that was who he thought it was. And his response blew me away.
David told me he believed it was Danny Hodge.

Right around this same time, I heard back from Tim Hornbaker. He spoke to Koji, and copied and pasted Koji’s exact words in an e-mail to me. They read:

“Mr. Szabo was Amazing Zuma. I have checked about it long time ago. No doubt, Zuma. Zuma was using name of “Mr. Szabo” at this time.”

Needless to say, I was deflated. And stubborn. I responded to Tim, and thanked for him for going above and beyond by reaching out to Koji. But I also asked him if we would be able to get more in the way of documentation as to how Koji came to this conclusion. Koji’s statement as it reads to me, sure seems like he did his own research and found conclusive proof that the wrestler who competed under a mask for two months in early 1963 in Oklahoma was indeed Manuel Chaij aka Argentina Zuma. So I wanted to see what specific documentation or evidence Koji had come across.

And something still stuck in my craw. Because that doesn’t explain why Koji still has the March 25th opponent listed as Sandor Szabo. And there was David Baker’s theory that it was Danny Hodge. And, to further add to all of this, Brian Last notified me that he had been able to secure an interview with Bill Watts for one of his other podcasts, and if I could put together a question or series of questions, Brian would do his best to ask Bill about Mr. Szabo.

Meanwhile, I decided to focus my energy on Zuma and Hodge. If I couldn’t get any more proof that it was (or wasn’t) Leone, perhaps I could find corroborating evidence that supported either Hodge or Zuma as suspects. Or that perhaps could eliminate them as suspects. I also wanted to see if I could trace my way back to the original source of the two Lou Thesz match results that I believe to be incorrect. Certainly, Koji must have started with info he got from another source. Perhaps if I could find that, I could see how or why it came to be that what I believe to be incorrect info made it into the historical record of Lou Thesz.

Was it Argentina Zuma?
Was it Danny Hodge?
And if not, in the words of Conor McGregor: "Who the fook is that guy?"

Next month on Wrestling History Mysteries, I reveal everything I know about Danny Hodge and Argentina Zuma’s whereabouts in early 1963. It’s a journey that took me from an Oklahoma hospital all the way to Argentina and then to the University of Notre Dame with numerous stops in between.


PART III

Welcome to Part 3 of “The Curious Case of Mr. Szabo”, presented by Wrestling History Mysteries. My name is Al Getz, the rogue wrestling historian behind Charting the Territories and lead detective on the case!
Part 1, released in September, introduced us to the masked wrestler billed as Mr. Szabo, who wrestled for Leroy McGuirk in February and March of 1963, then disappeared suddenly after suffering a broken hand in a match with Lou Thesz. I discussed everything we know about this masked wrestler and formed a profile to try and identify potential suspects. One subject in particular stood out, Antone “Ripper” Leone. Part 2, released in October, went into detail about Riper Leone and why, if he was indeed Mr. Szabo, this story becomes way more fascinating. Be sure to listen to both Part 1 and Part 2 to get up to speed on how this wrestling history mystery has developed so far.

In Part 3, we will discuss two more ‘suspects’ in the case, both of whom were presented to me by respected wrestling historians. While I believed all along that neither of them could be seriously considered, part of my process in solving this mystery was not just determining who it WAS, but also determining who it WASN’T. One of the ways we can narrow down the field is to eliminate as many potential candidates as possible, and this month I will explain why it absolutely positively could not have been Danny Hodge or Argentina Zuma.


Wrestling historian David Baker had a theory, and it was a pretty wild one. But given that the world of professional wrestling is pretty wild in and of itself, no theory is too wild as to be impossible. So let’s discuss why David thought it may have been Hodge and then we will dig deeper and prove that it could not have been him.

In the 1990s, when I followed professional wrestling obsessively through magazines, newsletters, and the message forums in the early days of the Internet, I learned something shocking. Sometimes wrestlers would work a show TWICE, once under a mask and then once as a completely different character, without the mask (or even perhaps as two different masked gimmicks). In independent promotions in the Carolinas, wrestlers might work as a masked Thunderfoot early in the show and then come back later as themselves. A few years later in the northeast, Tom Brandi would wrestle twice, once as himself and once as the masked Patriot. How commonplace was this, and if so, does it means that Mr. Szabo could have been a wrestler who was also wrestling for Leroy McGuirk at the time AS HIMSELF?

The most honest answer I can give you is this: while anything is possible, it’s unlikely. As a general rule of thumb, in the territorial era, the main wrestling promotions would not employ a wrestler to work two different gimmicks at the same time. But there are exceptions, including two in Leroy McGuirk’s territory: Treach Phillips wrestled as a masked wrestler billed as El Diablo in some towns, while at the same time in other towns he would wrestle as himself. This only lasted for a couple of weeks before he started using the Diablo gimmick throughout the territory. A few years later, after Vic Muehler lost a couple of loser leave town matches in two or three cities in the territory, he returned as The Masked Rossitani (Muehler’s real name was Vic Rossetani) while still wrestling unmasked as Vic Muehler in the rest of the territory. Now in that particular case, fans were ‘supposed to know’ that Rossitani was Muehler, it was similar to Junkyard Dog as Stagger Lee or Dusty as the Midnight Rider. But again, it’s at least evidence that it might be possible for a wrestler to portray two different gimmicks in the same territory at the same time. However, there is no evidence that a wrestler in a major territory in the 60s or 70s portrayed two different characters ON THE SAME SHOWS for an extended period of time.

If Danny Hodge was indeed the masked Mr. Szabo, that would mean he regularly wrestled twice on the same night in the same town, once as one of the top babyface stars in the promotion, and once as a masked heel wrestler who was being pushed as a main-eventer. It’s interesting to note that Hodge and Szabo NEVER wrestled against one another, which could lend credence to this theory.

Another interesting part of David’s theory is this…when Lou Thesz came to the territory in early March for a week, he wrestled Danny Hodge every single night EXCEPT the final night, March 11th in Tulsa, when Lou wrestled Mr. Szabo. And after the last Thesz-Hodge match on March 9th in Joplin, Missouri, Hodge disappears and can’t be placed anywhere until late April. Recall that the reason Mr. Szabo left the territory was because he suffered a broken hand in his second match with Thesz on March 25th. I originally speculated that whoever Mr. Szabo was, he couldn’t have been able to wrestle anywhere for at least a month after this injury, so the fact that Hodge doesn’t show up anywhere for about a month after the 25th is either a coincidence, or evidence.

The first question I asked myself is this…does it make sense that Danny Hodge would work as a masked heel in this territory? Honestly, it doesn’t make sense on the surface. But you can always convince yourself of an explanation. Much in the same way I was able to build a narrative around the possibility that Mr. Szabo was Antone Leone that would explain how he was able to get a World title shot despite not being in the good graces of the NWA, we can envision a scenario here. Hodge had been the top babyface star of the territory dating back to early 1960; with a few exceptions where he left the area to go somewhere else for a couple of months at a time, he had been here constantly since his pro debut in October 1959. Perhaps the idea was to do something different with him simply to change things up. We can also see how they may have wanted him to gain some experience working a ‘rougher’ style; when traveling World champions go to other territories, they often play the role of subtle heel. So perhaps this was done to give Hodge a reason to try out a new ring style for some of his traveling defenses of the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title. But let’s be clear, Mr. Szabo was a true heel, not a subtle heel. So it doesn’t really make sense, but again, we’re just trying to see if it was plausible.

So at face value, without digging too deep, it’s at least possible, though unlikely, that Hodge was the masked Mr. Szabo. So how can we prove it wasn’t him? There are two possible ways, and I set out on both paths. The first was to see if I could find specific dates where Hodge wrestled in one town and Mr. Szabo wrestled in another. While we can certainly explain him wrestling twice in the same town on the same night, it would be virtually impossible for him to be in two places at the same time. Hodge was good, but not THAT good. The other path would be to see if I could uncover Hodge’s whereabouts between March 10th and late April. The historical record of wrestling is incomplete, and in particular there are a few ‘black holes’ where not a lot of info is known. Could he have been in Gulf Coast? Or New Zealand? Or feuding with the Great Power Uti in Nigeria? Yes, I know Uti was born in 1962, but if you asked him, he would probably tell you that he started wrestling before he even learned how to crawl.

One thing to keep in mind is that prior to my work with Charting the Territories, house show records for the McGuirk territory in the 1960s were incomplete. Over the last couple of years, I’ve uncovered thousands of house shows that weren’t already part of the historical record. So digging deep through my records, I attempted to find instances of Hodge and Szabo wrestling in different towns on the same night. For the most part, they were booked in the same towns on the same night. But there are three confirmed exceptions. On February 25th Hodge wrestled in Shreveport while Szabo wrestled in Tulsa. The next night, Hodge was in Monroe Louisiana while Szabo was in Little Rock. Six nights later on March 5th, Hodge was again in Shreveport and Szabo was in Tulsa. In all three cases, newspaper recaps of the shows confirm that Hodge and Szabo did indeed appear as advertised in the respective towns.

Danny Hodge was in Shreveport on 2/25/63 while Mr. Szabo was in Tulsa on the same night

So is this proof that Hodge could not have been Szabo? Maybe, maybe not. Is it possible that Hodge wrestled under the mask EVERY OTHER NIGHT except for these three, where they put somebody else under the hood? If we’re already accepting of the fact that Hodge was working double duty most every night, then we certainly can’t exclude the possibility that they pulled a switcheroo for just those three nights. Again, it’s highly unlikely but not impossible.

So we don’t have a smoking gun just yet. Time to see if we can find Danny Hodge’s whereabouts between March 10th and April 27th, which was Hodge’s first match back after the absence.

Hodge was born in the small town of Perry, Oklahoma. Hodge is probably the most ‘famous’ person born in Perry, whose population has hovered at right around 5,000 for the last eight decades. It’s interesting to note that he’s not the only professional wrestler to come from Perry. Current All Elite Wrestling star and MMA fighter Jake Hager grew up in Perry as well, and Jake wrestled in high school with Hodge’s grandson while living two blocks away from Danny.

On Monday, March 11th, the Perry Daily Journal reported that Hodge had been admitted to St Francis hospital in Tulsa for treatment and further examination of a liver ailment. He was dismissed from the hospital a week later, but an April 3rd article in the same paper said he had been idle since being released and was hopeful of getting back in action in about two weeks. It further states that he had been hospitalized for an attack of hepatitis. When he did return to the ring later, several articles promoting upcoming wrestling events mentioned this ailment as well. In Little Rock, the newspaper stated that Hodge’s match against Mario Galento on May 14th would not be for Hodge’s title, as he had ‘just recovered from hepatitis’ and Leroy McGuirk said he will not defend it until it is certain he has regained his peak. In Springfield Missouri, it was again stated his match in the town on May 15th would be non-title, with Leroy stating it would not be fair to have Hodge risk his title so soon after recovering from a serious 7-week siege of hepatitis.

So there is our smoking gun. Hodge was in the hospital and recovering at home in the two week period after his March 9th match against Lou Thesz. It’s important to note that the articles in the Perry newspaper were not about upcoming pro wrestling shows, these were news items regarding a local resident. This was not an angle, not a storyline. This is proof that it could not have been Hodge. Though if we want to be specific, it only proves that it could not have been Hodge after March 10th. But again, it was a wild theory to begin with, and there are enough holes in it that I can confidently cross Danny Hodge’s name off the list of potential suspects.

Now let’s move on to Argentina Zuma. Recall that in the closest thing to an ‘official’ Lou Thesz record book, which was compiled through the incredibly detailed research of Koji Miyamoto, lists Lou’s opponent on March 11th as Argentina Zuma. And when I was discussing this mystery with Tim Hornbaker, he asked Koji about it and Koji was pretty firm in his belief that he had it right. Let’s discuss why I was skeptical, and then we’ll dig in to the months long process of attempting to irrefutably prove it could NOT have been Zuma.

Argentina Zuma, real name Manuel Chaij, was a Jack Pfefer creation. In late 1959, Pfefer got him booked in a program with Antonino ‘Argentina’ Rocca, and the two drew over 20,000 fans on two consecutive shows in Madison Square Garden, with a third match drawing over 15,000. Zuma was, as best as we can tell, a career babyface, a small but athletic product of Argentina. Just a few months after the third MSG match against Rocca, Zuma left Mid-Atlantic in late April 1960, and his career record is completely blank until July of 1965.

It is possible that he was wrestling as Mr. Szabo during this time. However, while there are other examples of a wrestler using the name “Mister Szabo” in some smaller outlaw territories at times, the only appearance of him in a major territory is the brief 1963 run. It’s possible, however, that Zuma used a number of different masked gimmicks over that several year period, and if that was the case it that would be almost impossible to prove.

There are a couple of common sense reasons it may not have been him. Zuma had been a big draw as a babyface, putting him under a mask and having him wrestling as a heel doesn’t seem right. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it just seems like if you had a babyface that sold out Madison Square Garden, you’d want to make sure the fans in Springfield Missouri and Wichita Falls Texas knew that they were going to get to see a “NEW YORK STAR”. Further, Koji’s records on Lou Thesz have his opponent on March 25th as Sandor Szabo. As I’ve mentioned previously, Sandor is 100% in Japan at that time and it cannot be him. So if the method by which Koji verified the March 11th record was the same by which he verified the March 25th record, then it must be considered suspect at best. I want to be very clear, Koji Miyamoto is one of the most respected wrestling historians in the world, and with good reason. If he got 99.5% of Lou Thesz’ match listings right, he should be celebrated, rewarded, and commended (and he has been). But that also means that of Thesz’ thousands of matches, one-half of one percent of them, numbering somewhere around a few dozen, are incorrect.

The first clue I had as to Zuma’s whereabouts came from some clippings when he wrestled for Leroy McGuirk in the summer of 1965. On more than one occasion, there was a reference to Zuma having been retired in Argentina for a few years before returning to the ring. Now just because an article in a newspaper says that, it doesn’t mean it’s true. But it’s a clue. And if it was true, perhaps we can somehow find proof that Zuma was indeed retired in Argentina in early 1963, thus meaning he could not have been the masked Mr. Szabo. It’s also worth noting that these same press clippings in 1965 mentioned his two Madison Square Garden sellouts from over five years earlier. This adds a little further substance to my belief that they wouldn’t have had him wrestling as a masked heel in 1963; if they felt it was worth noting in 1965 that he had sold out the Garden several years earlier, they would have wanted to do the same thing if they had him wrestling in 1963.

Zuma passed away in December of 2012 in Rancho Cucamonga California. His obituary states he was married in 1961 and had three sons. Perhaps there was some way I could get my hands on a marriage license and/or birth certificates for one or more of his children, and depending on the dates and locations, we could get some clarity.

Jon Boucher, my co-host on the Charting the Territories podcast, did some digging on ancestry.com. We found a record for an Elias Chaij, Elias being the name of one of Zuma’s three children. Elias had several known addresses in California over the last 25 years, and his most recent known address is in … Rancho Cucamonga, where Argentina Zuma passed away. It also lists many of his known relatives, including his father Manuel Chaij. So it’s a virtual certainly that this was indeed Zuma’s son.

Jon also found a Petition for Naturalization for Elias, where he requested to become a citizen of the United States in June of 1989. On this Petition, Elias listed his date of birth as May 2nd, 1963 and his place of birth as Argentina. So, knowing that he was born in Argentina in May of 1963, is this “proof” that his father couldn’t have been in the US a couple of months earlier? Honestly, no. It’s always possible Zuma went back-and-forth between Argentina and the U.S., or that the family had been in the U.S. and returned to Argentina shortly before Zuma’s wife gave birth. But at the very least, it makes it MORE LIKELY that Zuma was indeed in Argentina during this time. So time to move on to another source to try and get proof.


With Zuma being a Jack Pfefer creation, that gave me my next direction to go. Pfefer was notorious for saving all of his files, records, and correspondence as it related to pro wrestling, and one of the largest collections of Pfefer materials is currently stored at the University of Notre Dame in their Rare Books & Special Collections department. Wrestling journalist David Bixenspan had previously sent me some materials he had gotten from Notre Dame relating to Leroy McGuirk, so I did two things: first, I went back through the McGuirk materials with a fine-tooth comb, and second, I requested copies of all materials relating to Zuma in the Notre Dame collection. The University will scan documents for researchers, and they have an incredibly thorough index and finding aid. So I was able to specify the parts of the collection that I wanted to look at.

Starting with what David Bixenspan had sent, there were two items of interest. Both were letters sent from Leroy to Jack in 1960. Argentina Zuma had wrestled for Leroy on a couple of occasions by that point in time, and it appears that Leroy was quite fond of him. On June 11th, Leroy wrote a letter to Jack and wrote “Zuma is a nice little fellow, we were sure sorry to hear of his mother passing on.” Three months later, in a letter dated September 14, 1960, Leroy wrote “I haven’t heard whether Argentina Zuma has returned to you from South America yet or not.” So now we know that Zuma was in South American in 1960, which is when his career record begins a 5-year blank period. And the impetus for him to go to South America likely was the passing of his mother. Can we speculate that these factors led to him indeed “retiring” for a few years? Sure. But is it proof? It is not. But again, it ever-so-incrementally supports my theory that Zuma was not in the US in early 1963.


The University of Notre Dame eventually provided me with all the materials I requested, so I eagerly pored through them hoping to find anything that would offer proof of his whereabouts between 1960 and 1965. Pages and pages of press clippings of Zuma over the years were included in the Pfefer collection, as he seemed to relish in keeping records for all of Zuma’s exploits, even when he was wrestling for other promoters. These clippings stop in 1960, which is in line with what’s already out there regarding Zuma’s career. And if Zuma had indeed been wrestling under a mask, as Mr. Szabo or even any other gimmick, it seems likely to me that Jack would have wanted records of that. And there are none. So again, this isn’t proof of anything, but it’s another teeny tiny little notch in the column of evidence supporting Zuma NOT being Mr. Szabo. And in looking through the hundreds of Zuma's press clippings contained in the Pfefer files at Notre Dame, the only two dated after 1960 are two ads from July 1965, when he wrestled for Leroy. The two ads, one from Tulsa and one from Oklahoma City, are taped to a sheet of paper and on the top of the paper someone wrote “Zuma back 1965”.


Also included in the files were pages from a notebook Zuma kept of his booking schedule. For every day he is booked to wrestle somewhere, it lists the name of the city, who he was wrestling against (and who he teamed with), and the amount of his payoff. The week of April 25th to the 30th has him working Monday night in Charlotte, and then the next few nights have the name of the town crossed out and a note that says “Mother died”. So this seems to corroborate that Zuma left the U.S. due to the passing of his mother. and his leaving was done on short notice.









In addition to the press clippings and the notebook, there was a folder containing correspondence between Zuma and Jack. Two letters written in Spanish were sent from Zuma to Jack, and both of them were sent via Air Mail, with the envelope from one of them having stamps from Argentina. One was sent in May 1960 and the other in June. Twitter user John Lee translated the letters for me. They confirm that Zuma’s mother had passed away. In addition, they mention that one of Zuma’s brothers passed away shortly after their mother. The second letter ends with Zuma telling Jack that he doesn’t know when he will return to the USA. Also included with the correspondence is a remembrance card, listing his mother as having passed on April 26, 1960 and his brother Elias having passed on May 19th. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall that Zuma named one of his sons Elias; now we find that there was perhaps additional meaning to that name.

We’re slowly but surely getting more and more information about Zuma’s life and the circumstances that led to him leaving the U.S. in April 1960. But we still haven’t found anything that offers up proof that Zuma was NOT in the United States in early 1963, wrestling as the masked Mr. Szabo. At the same time I requested documents from the Pfefer collection at Notre Dame, I also made a request to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting their files on Manuel Chaij aka Argentina Zuma.

Those files were sent to me on Friday, November 5th, just a day after the files from the Pfefer collection came in. Needless to say, I spent most of the next few days poring over everything.

There’s a lot in Zuma’s file from Immigration Services, but there is one document in particular that is as close to a smoking gun as we’re going to find.
In November 1986, Manuel Chaij aka Argentina Zuma, applied for an Immigrant Visa. The application included a section asking Zuma to list all the places he resided for 6 months or more since his 18th birthday. He lived in Argentina from his 18th birthday in 1943 through 1952. He then lived in Boston in 52-53 (when he first came to the States and wrestled for Tony Santos). He returned to Argentina briefly in 53-54 and again in 55-56, then lived in Dallas Texas from 1956-1959, which lines up with the time he was wrestling mostly out of East Texas. The next line states that he lived in Cordoba Argentina from 1960 to 1965. The line after that lists his residence as Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1965 to 1968.

So, in Argentina Zuma’s own words, on an official document submitted to a US government entity, he was living in Argentina between 1960 and 1965.
Now, if we really want to play devil’s advocate here, we could ask “is it possible that he came to the US for two months in 1963 to wrestle as Mr. Szabo?” And the answer would be yes. However, in looking through all of the files sent to me from Immigration Services, there are records of his entries into the US at various times, including when he first came to the US in 1952, when he returned from Argentina in the mid-50s, and when he returned in 1965. There are no records of him having entered the US in 1963.

With all of this information, I can now state, to a virtual certainty, that Argentina Zuma was not the masked Mr. Szabo.
The questions remains, how did his name come up in the first place? Did Koji come up with this information himself, or did he find it somewhere else. I had asked Tim Hornbaker to ask Koji these questions, but unfortunately the two haven’t communicated since earlier this year. But in my never ending quest to obtain as much information as possible on this mystery, I did some digging on my own. And I found a newsletter published by Burt Ray.

Burt published the Matmania newsletter in the mid-60s, and this appears to have been a special edition of that newsletter, titled the “Life History of Lou Thesz”. It lists all of Lou’s known matches at the time, stretching from February 1935 to January of 1966. So we can speculate it was published shortly thereafter. In this newsletter, Lou’s opponents for the two matches in Tulsa are indeed listed as Argentina Zuma on March 11th and Sandor Szabo on March 25th.
So that is almost certainly where it originated, and where Koji first got the information (Koji would have been 9 in 1966 and in his own words he first “fell in love with wrestling” when he was 10 and he first saw Lou Thesz wrestle in 1968). In my conversations with Tim, he mentioned that in many cases, Koji and Lou went over a list of dates & opponents with Lou doing his best to recall if the info was accurate. What we don’t know is how exactly this process worked, particularly as it relates to Zuma. Did Koji have access to records listing Argentina Zuma AND Mr. Szabo as possible opponents for Lou on that date, and did he ask Lou if it was Zuma under the mask? Or did he merely ask if it was Zuma? At this point, we may never know the answer. But we can speculate; if we understand how the Sandor Szabo mistake was made for the March 25th match by assuming that a wrestler listed as Mr. Szabo was actually Sandor, can we assume something similar happened with March 11th? Did someone handwrite results from Tulsa and send them to Burt Ray in 1966; and did they simply write the name “Szabo” in script, perhaps without the S, and could Burt have looked at it and seen the word “Zuma”? While anything is possible, this is at least a plausible scenario. And if Lou's memory was such that he couldn't recall every specific opponent from a decades-long career, if he was asked a leading question such as "did you wrestle Argentina Zuma on March 11, 1963?", he may have been inclined to agree due to being prompted.

And just like today where people copy & paste inaccurate info and don’t properly vet it, we have a situation where incorrect info lived on for over 50 years.

Until now.

We know that Mr. Szabo was not Danny Hodge. We know that Mr. Szabo was not Argentina Zuma. And despite my initial research efforts, we are fairly certain that Mr. Szabo was not Antone Ripper Leone.

Next month on Wrestling History Mysteries, in Part 4 of the Curious Case of Mr. Szabo, I will reveal conversations with the only two men still alive that shared a wrestling ring with Mr. Szabo in 1963, and I will unequivocally reveal his identity to the world.


PART IV

My name is Al Getz, rogue wrestling historian. Today, in Part IV of The Curious Case of Mr. Szabo, I will reveal the identity of the masked wrestler Mr. Szabo, who wrestled for Leroy McGuirk in February and March of 1963, for the first time ever. Listen on as I solve a WRESTLING HISTORY MYSTERY!

Lou Kipilman from Arcadian Vanguard interviewed Bill Watts earlier in 2021 and asked him about Mr. Szabo. Bill brought up the name Ray Villmer as a possibility. This was a name that hadn’t previously popped up on my radar. At the time, I had certainly heard of Ray, but wasn’t very familiar with his career, other than knowing that the bulk of it took place in the 1940s and 1950s. So based off this conversation with Bill, which I will play in its’ entirety in a little bit, I went in a new direction. Learn everything I could about Ray Villmer. Much in the way we were trying to find evidence supporting the notion that Antone Leone, Danny Hodge, or Argentina Zuma could have been Mr Szabo while simultaneously trying to find evidence to ELIMINATE them as suspects, it was now time to do the same for Ray. In actuality, all these paths were being pursued simultaneously. It took us months to get enough additional evidence to be positive we had our man, and we were still months away from the smoking gun evidence that ELIMINATED Argentina Zuma as a possibility.

When I first found out that Lou was going to talk to Watts, I put together a ‘script’ of sorts of how I wanted the subject to be brought up. Remember, I believe that part of the reason that Lou Thesz apparently told Koji Miyamoto it was Zuma was because he may have been prompted with Zuma’s name. I wanted to ask Bill about Mr Szabo in such a way that if we could get Bill to ID him without feeding him a name or names, that would be ideal. So I prepared a brief description of Mr Szabo, that he was a masked wrestler billed from New York in early 1963, used the piledriver, had two title shots against Thesz, that Watts worked against him in some tag matches where Al Lovelock was Szabo’s partner, and that Watts may have been a special referee for one of Mr Szabo’s matches against Thesz. If Bill was able to come up with a name just from that info, that was the ideal scenario. But if he didn’t, I wanted to propose a few names. Remember, we still hadn’t eliminated Antone Leone or Argentina Zuma, and I was still open to the possibility that it could have been one of them. So if Bill couldn’t come up with a name, I wrote that we suggest three names: Antone Leone, Argentina Zuma, and Don Fargo. And give Bill time after suggesting each name to respond, all the while giving him time to continue to think about it and see if his memory was jarred.

Part IV of this podcast (see above) contains the full conversation between Lou Kipilman and Bill Watts. You’ll also hear Ron Fuller briefly on a couple of occasions as I believe this conversation occurred just prior to a Fuller/Watts segment for another podcast.

So now we not only have Watts unprompted, naming Ray Villmer, but several other things worth noting. First, he seemed pretty sure that it WASN’T Leone or Zuma, or Fargo, though I threw in Fargo’s name just to have three choices instead of one or two. But his reasoning on why it wasn’t Zuma lines up with what I have believed all along, that Zuma was a career babyface and putting him under a mask and making him a heel in 1963 makes little sense. And as for Leone, he knew Antone very well; in his book, he mentions a story of the two of them quitting the Vancouver territory and driving back to Oklahoma together on the spot; that happened in December of 1963 so it’s apparent Bill’s memories of Leone around that time were clear. Additionally, when he first mentions Ray’s name, he strongly implies that there were some issues between Ray and Lou. So that may leave some unanswered questions about the circumstances of the ‘injury’ suffered during the second Thesz-Szabo match. Now, not only do I need to learn everything I can about Ray, I need to see if there’s anything to what Watts implied, if I can find any evidence of ‘heat’ or other issues between them.

Meanwhile, I reached out once again to Scott Teal. If you recall, I had previously asked Scott if Frankie Cain had ever mentioned Mr Szabo during their many conversations, which are recapped in Scott’s book about Frankie called Raising Cain: From Jimmy Ault to Kid McCoy. I gave Scott a brief background of Mr Szabo and asked him if he had the opportunity to talk with Frankie in the future, to bring it up. I even laid out a ‘script’ similar to what I had prepped for Bill Watts, giving some info on the character, noting a specific match that Frankie had with Mr Szabo, and if Frankie’s memory wasn’t jarred yet, bringing up Antone Leone, Argentina Zuma, and ... Ray Villmer, and see if any of them stood out. Again, I didn’t just want to say “we think it was Ray Villmer. Does that sound right?” I wanted to get his thoughts in as impartial a way as possible.

While I was waiting to hear back from Scott, it was time to learn everything I could about Ray Villmer. Ray was born in 1912 and according to Tim Hornbaker’s 2017 book Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers, Ray grew up in De Soto, Missouri but eventually was based out of St Louis. While working in a warehouse and playing baseball, he took up wrestling to keep in condition during the winters. He began to work out with Ray Steele and Strangler Lewis at a gym and turned pro in 1935. In the 1940s he won singles titles in California, Florida, and Georgia. In the 1950s he won more singles titles in Gulf Coast and Central States, plus held tag team titles in Calgary with Luther Lindsay and in Mid-Atlantic with Jack Curtis. With numerous main-event runs in various territories, he emerged as a contender for the NWA World Heavyweight title. He had at least 20 singles bouts with Lou Thesz between 1938 and 1963, with at least 10 of them being World title shots (including a couple pre-1948 title matches which were for Lou’s National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight title). Thesz and Villmer wrestled each other in numerous different territories, with bouts in Kansas City and St Joseph, Nashville and Evansville, Atlanta, San Francisco and Fresno, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Petersburg, and Niagara Falls between 1938 and 1957. And, if we’re right on all this, we can now add two bouts in Tulsa in 1963 to that impressive list.

At this time, I should say that Ray passed away in 2005, so going directly to the source was not an option. I made a half-hearted attempt to contact Ray’s son’s ex-wife on Facebook, but that didn’t pan out.

Back to Ray, Milo Steinborn referred to Villmer, Ray Eckert and Warren Bockwinkel as “The Three Shooters”. There is also quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that Ray and Lou Thesz were at the very least friendly if not outright friends in the late 30s and 40s. Not only could I not find anything regarding ‘issues’ between Lou and Ray, what I did find indicated that they were on good terms for many, many years.

The most interesting thing I learned about Ray Villmer, as it pertains to the mystery of Mr Szabo, was this: on two separate occasions, he had runs in Gulf Coast under a mask as The Mighty Yankee.
Recall that Mr Szabo was billed from New York, and in the original profile I had put together listing known characteristics of Szabo, being billed from New York was one of them. I am unsure if they gave the Mighty Yankee in Gulf Coast a hometown, but if they did, I’m pretty sure it would have been New York.
This brought my mind back to that profile I had put together. Now that Ray Villmer is a suspect, does he fit any, or many, parts of that profile. And why had he not been on any short list of suspects I had compiled? Keep in mind that at one point I had looked through the career records of a few hundred wrestlers who were active in January 1963 to see if any then disappeared for at least 2 months beginning in February. Was Ray actually wrestling somewhere else at the time?

Let’s start with the profile. This was put together using all the available press clippings and articles I could find from the McGuirk territory when Mr Szabo was there. For each individual piece of information, we’ll see whether or not Ray fits.
Item 1: Billed as being from New York for at least some portion of his career. Knowing that he worked as the Mighty Yankee in Gulf Coast, there is a history of Villmer working a masked gimmick that at the very least was inferred to be from New York (or perhaps the northeast, but the term Yankee has much more strongly associated with New York dating back to 1913, when the New York Highlanders baseball team changed their name to the New York Yankees). Check.
Item 2: Was in an eastern based territory shortly before February 1963. Villmer’s last known whereabouts were in Mid-Atlantic, where he finished up in December 1962. Check.
Item 3: Had wrestled for McGuirk at some point in the several year period prior to 1963. Ray did not wrestle for Leroy, or for Sam Avey, the promoter who preceded Leroy as promoter of the Oklahoma-based territory, at any point in time before 1963. So this one is a no.
Item 4: Can’t be confirmed in another territory between February 4th and March 25th 1963 and for about 6-8 weeks after. Ray’s next known whereabouts in 1963 are in Florida, with his first documented appearance being on April 30th. So it’s a little less than 6-8 weeks, but the fact that he’s not anywhere else in all of February, March, and the first 29 days of April is good enough for me to give him a ‘check’ on this one.
Item 5: Is a junior heavyweight; or at the very least, not a large heavyweight. Based on all the pictures I’ve seen of Ray, he fits this mold. Despite his numerous World Heavyweight title shots and several runs as a territory’s “Heavyweight” champion, he seems to be on the smaller side. In fact, wrestlingdata.com lists his ‘ring weight’ as 220 pounds, which matches exactly that of Danny Hodge. So check.
Item 6: Used the piledriver as a finisher; in particular, the sequence of several piledrivers in a row leading to the opponent being unable to continue. You’d be surprised to learn how many wrestlers used the piledriver as a finisher at some point during their careers. When I started looking into this mystery, I thought the number would be small. In fact, when I came across a newspaper article stating that Antone Leone had not only used the piledriver as a finisher during a match in the Amarillo territory, but he specifically used the ‘several piledrivers in a row rendering his opponent unable to continue’ sequence, I was convinced I had my man. I did not have my man. But do I have him now? I did a search on newspapers.com and what should appear but an article from Tampa in February 1962 where Villmer defeated Tojo Yamamoto after giving him “a pair of pile-drivers”. Check.
Item 7: Was somebody with a moderate amount of name recognition; not a nobody, but also not a mega-star. This description fits Ray to a “t”. While he definitely was remembered as a star in some circles and in the mid-1940’s was one of the top draws in wrestling, main-eventing shows that drew over 10,000 fans on 5 occasions, I still think he is a significant step or two below what we consider mega-stars. Check.
 Item 8: Had a history of being in the same place at the same time as Al “Bolo” Lovelock. While Ray had definitely crossed paths with Al over the years, and wrestled against him on at least 3 occasions in the 1940s, I wouldn’t say they had a “history” of being in the same place at the same time. No check.
So out of the 8 items in the profile, Ray checks ‘yes’ on 6 of them. Which is pretty damn impressive.

If you’ve been listening, you probably know that “pretty darn impressive” isn’t good enough for me. Especially since at the time I put all this together, I was still trying to get proof on Argentina Zuma’s whereabouts. I felt pretty confident that Ray was the answer I had been looking for all this time, but I wanted undeniable proof. Or as close as I could get to it.

Over the summer I recorded an interview with Gil Culkin, son of wrestler & promoter George Culkin. As Gil and I were talking, Frankie Cain’s name came up a few times. Frankie had been the booker for George & Gil when they ran their own outlaw territory from 1977 to 1979 after splitting from Leroy McGuirk. After the interview, as Gil and I were shooting the breeze, he mentioned Frankie again, saying that they still talked regularly. And a light bulb went off in my head. So I quickly filled Gil in on the Mr. Szabo saga, and sent him a brief synopsis of the ‘script’ I had already given to Scott Teal. Instead of waiting to hear back from Scott Teal, maybe Gil could ask Frankie the question I’d been wanting to ask for months.

Twenty-two minutes later, Gil sent me a two word message on Facebook that *literally* floored me. I mean that, I actually and truly fell down after reading it.

Ray Villmer.

Not only did Frankie Cain name the same person that Bill Watts had suggested, but he apparently did it very quickly. Gil told me that Frankie said it was Ray right away! I was extremely happy, honestly I was overjoyed. Frankie’s instantaneous response, coupled with his reputation for having an incredible memory, had me convinced that I solved a mystery that had eluded wrestling historians for almost 60 years.

The truth about the conversation Gil had with Frankie, like most everything else surrounding this wrestling history mystery, was not what it seemed.

After I got the response from Gil, I messaged Scott Teal to tell him we got our answer and that he didn’t need to ask Frankie. Scott responded, saying he had spoken with Frankie a few days earlier, and was catching up on some other things before getting back to me. Frankie’s super-quick, unprompted response to Gil was *only* because he and Scott had already talked about it just days earlier. Poor Frankie Cain probably thinks an army of researchers were all racing to solve this mystery; in reality, it was just one very determined researcher.

Then, Scott gave me the details of their conversation. After briefing Frankie on some specifics, Frankie was unable to come up with a name. As I had written it out for Scott, he then brought up the names Antone Leone, Argentina Zuma, and Ray Villmer. Frankie said he was pretty sure it wasn’t Leone but couldn’t offer up any more info. Scott said they moved on to talk about other things, and about a half hour later, Frankie said that he remembered it was Villmer. In Scott’s own words to me, ‘Frankie told him that Villmer wasn’t being figured into much (as far as angles and programs) anywhere, so he decided to do that because it gave him better matches. He said it didn't last long.’

While it wasn’t the instantaneous, unprompted response I thought it was after talking with Gil, I still was positive that this case was closed. Bill Watts suggested it was Ray Villmer, he fit most of the items on the profile I had previously built, Frankie Cain corroborated Bill’s belief that it was Ray and offered up some specific details he remembered about how Ray came up with the idea, and right around this time was when he had compiled pretty strong evidence eliminating Argentina Zuma as a suspect. It was at this point that I started plotting out this series of podcasts. Part I was recorded in early September, and now on the first weekend in December, I am recording Part 4 and am about to say the thing I have been wanting to say for months out loud, publicly, for the first time.

Ray Villmer was Mr Szabo.
There are no more twists. No more turns. This wrestling history mystery has been solved to what is clearly a reasonable degree of certainty.

But….there were two more things on my mind. First, where was Ray in January of 1963? We know he left Mid-Atlantic right before Christmas in 1962. And we know he didn’t start working for Leroy McGuirk until February 4th, 1963. I wanted to be able to explain that gap. If you recall, while learning about Ray, I learned that he wrestled under a mask before he did it as Mr Szabo, competing in Gulf Coast as the Mighty Yankee. There have been numerous wrestlers who have billed themselves as the Mighty Yankee over the years. I wondered if there was a Mighty Yankee working anywhere in January of 1963, and if so, was he using that name BEFORE Christmas 1962 or AFTER February 4th, 1963? Because if there was a Mighty Yankee who only worked somewhere for that brief period of time, there’s a good chance it was Villmer.

After doing some research, I did find a wrestler working as the Mighty Yankee on a couple of shows using talent booked out of the Gulas/Welch office. He was booked on shows in east Tennessee and northeastern Alabama. Keep in mind that Gulas/Welch were running several shows each and every night, many of which are not part of the current historical record. I honestly did not find enough to know that this Mighty Yankee was wrestling full-time, but his earliest appearance is in January of 1963. It is worth noting that his latest booking was for a show on February 15th, which would have been after Mr Szabo started for McGuirk. And Mr Szabo is confirmed to have wrestled in Oklahoma City on that night. We don’t have results for the Gulas show on that night, so it is possible that Mighty Yankee didn’t appear; and if we’re to be honest, it’s possible that even if Villmer had been this particular Yankee, when he left for McGuirk they very well could have thrown somebody else out there under a mask as the Mighty Yankee. So it may have been Villmer, but it may not have.

Wrestlingdata.com credits these appearances of the Mighty Yankee to a wrestler named Jack Dillon. Dillon apparently had used the Mighty Yankee gimmick there in the spring of 1962. So perhaps someone just made an assumption that the same wrestler who used the gimmick in that territory less than a year earlier was using it again. Or perhaps they do have more info than I do that confirmed it was Dillon. Honestly, we may never know. But if Ray Villmer was indeed wrestling as the Mighty Yankee for Gulas/Welch in January of 1963, then he probably shared a dressing room with a young preliminary wrestler by the name of … Young Szabo.

Back in Part I of this series, I mentioned that one of the difficulties in tracking down the identity of Mr Szabo was that there were a handful of other wrestlers with similar names that popped up briefly in various places at various times. One of those wrestlers was Young Szabo. Not much is known about him, press clippings bill him as Hungarian, and in at least one case he is billed as a relative of the famous Sandor Szabo (though by all accounts this was not true). In fact, in some ads he was even billed as Sandor Szabo (though we’ve already pinpointed the “real” Sandor’s whereabouts at this time, so it can’t be him; plus this is definitely a young [pause] preliminary wrestler, and the real Sandor was neither of those things in 1963). So … if Ray Villmer was wrestling under a mask in January 1963 in towns on the outskirts of the Gulas territory, upset that he’s not being used to what he feels is the best of his abilities, and he’s looking for a new gimmick that might convince a promoter to give him a push (since the Mighty Yankee gimmick was so commonplace over the years) and he runs into a “Young Szabo”, does this give him the idea to take on the ring name of “Mr. Szabo”? Again, we may never know. But it is definitely possible.

That wraps up the first thing still on my mind after solving this mystery. And the other thing was the possibility that there were issues between Villmer and Thesz, and the circumstances surrounding the broken hand suffered by Villmer/Szabo in the second Thesz match may be an interesting story. I’d love to tell you I solved that aspect of the mystery, but as of yet, I have not.

OR HAVE I?

We mentioned earlier that Thesz and Villmer had at least 20 singles matches over the years. The last such match occurred in August of 1963 in Orlando. Newspaper articles promoting the match said “two old friends who are masters of the art of wrestling will be opposing each other”, and discusses Thesz, Villmer, Ray Eckert, and Warren Bockwinkel all turning pro at around the same time in the St. Louis area. In fact, the article stated, “many fans are looking forward to a fine exhibition of scientific wrestling between Thesz and Villmer.” What they got, however, for at least a brief period of time in the early stages of the bout, seems to have been something very different.


The following day, the headline of a recap of the show read “World Champ Thesz Booed At Legion Arena”. It went on to say that this had been the first time Lou Thesz had *ever* been booed in Orlando. Five minutes or so into the match, Thesz “slugged Villmer in the kidneys” and then “rapped knuckles sharply into Villmer’s face repeatedly while he held him in a headlock”. Thesz went on to win the match, taking the first and third falls and it seems no further incidents warranted mentioning in the newspaper. Of course we all know that when the World champion would come to town, he would often play the role of ‘subtle heel’ in an attempt to get the fans firmly behind the challenger. Thesz certainly did this on numerous occasions all across the NWA. But the fact that his actions were so roundly booed by the fans so as to warrant a mention in the next day’s newspaper, and that it seemingly never happened before when Lou would wrestle in Orlando (and there were at least 7 Thesz matches in Orlando before this one), is of interest if we’re trying to put all the pieces together. Remember that Bill Watts was pretty sure there were issues between the two, mentioning a match he had with Lou in either Dallas or Fort Worth (according to my research, this would have to have been June 1963 in Dallas) where he jokingly said something about what “Ray said about Lou” and Lou got a little hot under the collar briefly. So there *was* something. Unless there was nothing.

As for Ray Villmer, his wrestling career ended in 1965. His obituary mentioned that he worked for the GAF Corp until he retired. It is very possible that Ray was working for GAF when they were the manufacturer of one of my favorite childhood possessions, the View-Master.
Ray also served in the US Navy during World War II, his career record lists a mere handful of matches from the summer of 1943 through the fall of 1945, and he was almost certainly stationed in the South Pacific during that time. While we don’t know everything there is to know about the life of Ray Villmer, we do know quite a bit. And know, we know one more thing about him.

Ray Villmer was Mr. Szabo.

Thanks for listening to Wrestling History Mysteries. You can reach me on Twitter @AlGetzWrestling with any questions you have about Mr. Szabo or anything else discussed on the podcast. Wrestling History Mysteries, part of the Charting the Territories podcast feed, can be found wherever you get your favorite podcasts and at chartingtheterritories.com.