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Sailor Art Thomas (1924-2004)


Real NameArthur Thomas

Lifespan - 1/30/1924 - 3/20/2003

6’4” 250 lbs. - Madison, WI

Athletic BackgroundBodybuilding

Teacher(s)Jimmy Demetral

Aliases - none

Peak Years`61-`68

Place in HistoryEven in the racially tumultuous 1960s, there were black pro-wrestlers who got over strongly with black and white fans alike.  There were legit athletes like Luther Lindsay and Bobo Brazil, charismatic showman like Sweet Daddy Siki and Thunderbolt Patterson and athletic workers like Dory Dixon and Bearcat Wright, but none fit the bodybuilder role as well as Sailor Art Thomas.  After being orphaned in Madison, Wisconsin as a youth, Thomas eventually found his way to the Merchant Marines.  His natural strength was soon directed into bodybuilding and he had one of the most impressive physiques of the pre-steroid era.  Such a build caught the eye of a local promoter and he found himself in the wild world of wrestling.  His career took a turn when he crossed paths with Buddy Rogers who became one of his biggest advocates outside of the ring and rivals in the ring.  After some additional training, he was brought East to work on top with Rogers.  His muscles might have excited the fans, but the man who built them was met with resistance from his fair share of white opponents.  His time at sea was played up, billed as “Sailor” or “Seaman” Art Thomas, he walked to the ring with his white cap and seabag.  There was a generation of men who had served in the military and an easy-going type like Thomas was able to get over with these fans easily.  For all his star power, Art Thomas was never a gifted talent in the ring.  He was often kept in tag teams with wrestlers like Abe Jacobs, Johnny Weaver or George Becker who could carry the workload.  Paired with ring generals like Rip Hawk & Swede Hanson or the Andersons, Art Thomas was able to be successful when used in the right context.  Outside of the ring, he was a devoted family man, although he and his Caucasian wife certainly had their hard times, particularly in the South.  By the mid-70s, Thomas he returned to the Midwest.  He continued to work up and down the cards for the Verne Gagne, Dick the Bruiser and Sam Muchnick into the 1980s.  While his pleasant demeanor and sailor persona certainly took him far in the business, it was his 21-inch arms and thickly muscled build that made Art Thomas into the top star that he was for much of his career.  He was a trailblazer as a bodybuilder-turned-wrestler and, of course, as a black pro-wrestler.