February 23, 2005
Les Thornton - What you DIDN'T know!
By TERRY TAYLOR - For SLAM! Wrestling
My name is Terry Taylor and I had the privilege of wrestling Les Thornton for the Light Heavyweight Championship of the World. Of course, this was in 1980 -- long before a lot of you reading this were born! I was a baby in the wrestling business with only six months of experience. I never had a wrestling lesson, never attended a wrestling school, or had a "mentor.' I tell you this to explain how much of a "baby" I really was.
First of all, I must admit this -- 10 years ago I would have NEVER written this article. While I never went to a wrestling school, I knew the code of the wrestlers was to protect the business. That encompassed not associating in public with your opponent, playing up storylines at all times, and making our in-ring work as believable as possible. No one ever admitted wrestling was anything other than real. If one did, the other wrestlers would have dealt with him very harshly. Wrestling was the way we made our living -- the only way we made our living -- so we took it very seriously.
Now, the reason I went into those details was to illustrate how monumental Les letting me win the Light Heavyweight Championship was. At the time, I didn't understand what was going on, but was excited to win my FIRST world wrestling championship. Okay, it was my ONLY world title, but I was excited none the less. When I look back on how huge this event was in my life -- it means so much more to me now. I wish I would have been more aware of that in 1981.
Les had been around for a while -- he was in his fifties when I worked with him -- and this was the first run I had with him. He could have really resented the 25-year-old kid across the ring from him, and probably had every reason to resent me, but he didn't. Les treated me with respect and taught me a lot. He worked the English style which back in 1980 was completely foreign (no pun intended) to not only the fans, but to me as well. There was so much for me to learn. I very easily could have stunk the joint out and a lesser veteran might have even enjoyed that, but Les wasn't that kind of man.
Les did such a good job leading me through quality matches that he would put HIMSELF in holds and submissions! All I had to do was hang on! I remember him having me in a hammerlock and as I was screaming in agony -- Les wriggled his body and then whispered to me, "Excuse me, but you have me now!" He had he had reversed the move and put himself in a hammerlock! I was so oblivious -- I kept selling a move that was now on him! Would anyone have blamed him for beating me up?
I've told you how good Les was to me, but let's be honest -- everybody wants to hear the 'dirt' on people. There really isn't any. I could tell you a few isolated incidents that may be misconstrued as Les "taking liberties" with me, but it just didn't happen. Now, don't you assume he didn't lay a few things in! Remember when I said we protected the business in the ring? Les certainly laid those European uppercuts in! Anyone who watches any English wrestler knows what "lifters" are. Lifters are what European uppercuts are called in the business. The reason they're called "lifters" is because if you don't close your mouth and lean forward -- they'll lift you right out of your boots. And yes, he lifted me out of my boots a few times!
The one thing I must say about Les is that he's polite. What do I mean by that? Well, right before Les would hit me with a solid "lifter", he would always say, "Excuse me!" The first time he said it, I didn't understand so I said, "What?" Les was already into his motion, so imagine my surprise when he hit me and I saw the end of my tongue flying by! It was entirely my fault, but do you think my mouth was open ever again? It's been said that my career would have followed a completely different path if I'd have kept my mouth shut. Maybe this was a lesson that should have stuck!
I hope Les doesn't mind me telling another intimate detail about him, but I think it's important for you -- the reader -- to know. Les didn't call 'spots' or moves in the ring -- he sang them! Les sang the entire match! I tried to cover his mouth, or tried to make noise, or do something to cover up his singing. I just knew the audience could hear him and that horrified me. Here we are beating the crap out of each other and in the middle of this life and death struggle -- Les is calmly SINGING!!! It took me a while to get over that, but when I did, good things happened.
I've thought about this article a lot, and it's taken me twice as long as it should to turn it in. I wanted to honor Les with this and to let you know that I respect him and thank him for what he did for me. He could have really roughed me up sometimes and probably should have, but he never did. I had no idea what was going on when he lost the title to me. I was a green kid who would have wrestled for free (and with some of my performances that would have been over payment!), but for Les it was his livelihood. He had many years in the business already and should have been wrestling the top light-heavyweights in every territory, but here he was in Roanoke, Virginia wrestling me.
I've never had the opportunity to say this before and I won't miss this chance to do it now. I want to publicly thank Les and tell him that now -- after 25 years in the wrestling business with all the highs and all the terrible lows, I truly understand what you did for me so many years ago. Now, I get it.
Terry Taylor is a veteran of the wrestling wars, who succeeded in the WWE, WCW, NWA, UWF, Florida, Georgia, Memphis and numerous other territories over the years.