The Curious Case of Mr. Szabo: Epilogue

In 2021, I spent a significant number of man-hours confirming the identity of a masked wrestler who worked for Leroy McGuirk in 1963 and disappeared suddenly after suffering an injury during a match with Lou Thesz. Shocking new details about that match *may* have been uncovered!

If you are unfamiliar with this story, please check out this link

It contains a complete transcript of the four-part podcast series, with links to each individual episode.

While the result of my research was the definitive "unmasking" of Mr. Szabo, revealing his identity as Ray Villmer, some questions still remained. In particular, the circumstances of the injury that Villmer suffered during the match with Lou Thesz on March 25th, 1963 in Tulsa. Newspaper reports indicated that the match was stopped after Villmer suffered a broken hand during the third fall. Of course, injuries happen all the time in professional wrestling, so there may have been nothing to the story. Newly uncovered information, however, seems to contradict that and may provide a first-hand account of what *really* happened during that match.

While doing research on wrestler "Irish" Mike Clancy for the Charting the Territories podcast, my co-host Jon Boucher found a 2015 article from the Tulsa World newspaper about a man named Billy Jack. Billy is a former Tulsa police officer who worked security for wrestling events in Tulsa in the 1960s.

Billy Jack told a couple of stories about his time working these wrestling events. It's important to note that he was telling these stories around 50 years after they happened. In particular, in the story he tells involving Mike Clancy, Billy mentioned that Clancy's opponent was Mr. Moto (Masaru "Charlie" Iwamoto). Moto never worked for Leroy McGuirk. Billy referred to the wrestler as having been born in Hawaii but billed as being from Japan. The only wrestler who worked for McGuirk in the 1960s I can think of that would fit this description would be Tojo Yamamoto, who wrestled for McGuirk under the name P.Y. Chung in 1963. So let's accept that Billy's memory after all this time wasn't 100%.

He also told a story about Lou Thesz. In the story, he says Lou's opponent was Bolo (Al "Great Bolo" Lovelock). But based on the details, I am almost certain that the opponent was Mr. Szabo. Bolo & Szabo were in the territory at the same time and teamed up on several occasions. Plus Bolo was a long-time mainstay in the area, so it's easy to understand how 50 years after the fact Billy could have mistakenly recalled it being Bolo.

Now, the juicy part:

If you've followed this story, you know that I have always gone above and beyond to attempt to confirm or disprove various parts of the story. So I took a similar view here.

Firstly, it's possible that this story was indeed referring to a match between Thesz and Bolo. It would be an incredible coincidence that two separate matches involving Thesz in the same city would both involve his opponent suffering a broken hand, but we can't rule it out. So I went through my records to see if Thesz had ever wrestled Bolo in Tulsa. And they did. Twice. Once in May 1956 and once in January 1963. Here are the results from those matches:

Results from May 14, 1956 Tulsa card:

Results from January 7, 1963 card:

There is no indication in either of these recaps that the match was stopped due to an injury suffered by Bolo. If anything, it indicates that such a scenario did not happen in either match. So while we still can't completely rule it out, I think it's very reasonable to say that that neither of these matches was the one Billy Jack was referring to. Also, Billy's age in 2015 was listed as 75 per the article; he would have been either 16 or 17 years in May 1956 and he likely would not have been a police officer tasked with working security at such a young age, so it definitely wouldn't have been the first match.

Which leaves the March 25th match against Mr. Szabo as the most likely candidate. Here is what the newspaper reported happened during that match:

Again, we can't prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the match described by Billy Jack, but it very likely is. What little we know about the outcome of the match lines up perfectly with what was described by Billy Jack.

Now, in continuing to be realistic about things, I will bring up the following points:

-Billy Jack probably wasn't as "smart" to the business as he thought he was. He may have viewed the actions taken by Villmer and Thesz as "real", but we truly don't know if that was the case. There is always the teeny-tiny possibility that the match seemingly breaking down in this manner was "part of the plan". It is very unlikely, but it's worth noting.

-We've already established Billy's recall wasn't 100%, given that he clearly misidentified one wrestler as Mr. Moto when it absolutely could not have been Moto. So we also need to take his comment about the bone in Thesz' opponent's hand "sticking up an inch and a half" with at least a grain of salt. This could have been Billy's memory playing tricks on him, and honestly it even could have been him knowingly exaggerating the story to make it more interesting.

What we do know is that Szabo/Villmer did not work the remainder of his advertised bookings the rest of that week (with them acknowledging his injury in at least one town when explaining his absence). Villmer's next documented whereabouts are about 5 weeks later, when he returns to Florida and begins wrestling there full-time. A 5-week recovery from broken bones in the hand is definitely possible, though it's probably a quicker-than-average turnaround time. Of course, if bones were sticking straight up out of Villmer's hand, as Billy Jack suggests, a 5-week turnaround time is less likely.

If we accept that we will never be able to 100% know exactly what happened in a match between two wrestlers almost sixty years ago when both participants are now deceased (Thesz passed away in 2002; Villmer in 2005), all we can do is try and get as close as possible to figuring out what happened in degrees of likelihood:
-At this point, I am almost certain that Billy Jack was indeed referring to the match between Thesz and Szabo/Villmer in the Tulsa World article. I'll never be 100% sure, but honestly I'm pretty darn close to that.
-As to whether or not Thesz accidentally injured Villmer's hand, leading to Villmer legitimately slapping Thesz twice, which then led to Thesz intentionally doing significant damage to Villmer's hand... this is probably a reasonably accurate description of what happened. Am I as sure of it as I am of the other parts of this story? No. But it's the most likely scenario given everything that we know about the situation.

If I really wanted to continue to pursue this, to see if I could get even more confirmation about what happened, there are two paths I could take. Perhaps Billy Jack is still alive, and I could somehow track him down and interview him.
But Billy Jack is not the only person still alive who may have been there. "Cowboy" Bill Watts, the man who originally brought up Villmer's name when I first tried to figure out Szabo's identity, was in the territory at the time of Szabo's injury. In fact, he may have been the referee for the match!

In the initial interview with Watts, conducted by Lou Kipilman, it took a while to jog his memory about Mr. Szabo. Perhaps now that we're armed with what appears to be a first-hand account of what happened during the match, a follow-up interview with Watts could further jog his memory. He very clearly implied that there were issues between Thesz and Villmer in the initial interview, so it is possible that we could get more details from him.

This also may provide further context to analyze what happened five months later, when Thesz and Villmer met once more in a match in Orlando:

The description of this match sure seems to indicate that, for a brief moment early in the match, things between Lou and Ray broke down. Could this have been due to what happened in Tulsa earlier that year? Again, we may never be 100% sure, but at this point my Magic 8 Ball says "all signs point to yes".

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