In the first of a new series, Will Burns takes a look at the iconic cities in the history of professional wrestling that link perfectly into our story and chronological journey. First up – Detroit.
Professional wrestling shows began running in Detroit in the 1920s but it really started to gain attention when promoter Nick Londos started booking the Detroit Olympia (pictured above) for his grappling events in 1928. Although this was relatively new to the area, it quickly became a popular staple of entertainment for the city.
By the 1930s, after starring in the ring on many Londos shows himself, local star Adam Weissmuller noticed the success wrestling was experiencing and he created his own company labelled ‘Weissmuller Wrestling Enterprises’. He forged links with other promoters, Fred Kohler of Chicago and Al Haft of Ohio, to bring the country’s best talent to the area with great success.
Weissmuller’s accomplishments had surpassed anything the city had seen previously and business was booming. However, Weissmuller suddenly passed away on 8th March 1937. Kohler and Haft, who had become very close with Weissmuller, acted as pallbearers at his funeral.
A former professional boxer with 60 bouts under his belt, Harry Light had started working with Weissmuller and his business partner Louis Markowitz shortly before Weissmuller’s death. Light moved to the area in 1919 after time in the Canadian Navy. He met Weissmuller while working as an usher at the Madison Ballroom when the promoter handed him $30 to collect some change at a local shop for the box office. He returned with the money and the friendship began.
In 1939, Light founded the Harry Light Wrestling Office and began promoting his own shows at Detroit’s Fairview Gardens under the banner of Big Time Wrestling. By 1947, tickets sales were deteriorating in Detroit and Light moved on to nearby Flint, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Michigan to promote shows. Light had gained a television time slot on Channel 7, and once TV sets were being purchased, this gave him a major advantage over the other promoters in the state.
Come 1948, the National Wrestling Alliance was formed and Light signed up to its policies. The NWA agreed to split into regional territories and decided they would not compete with one another. With his NWA membership, Light was able to book the one true World Heavyweight Champion and improve his business further. Light held an important role in the NWA – organising schedules of the midget wrestlers for the territories.
His right-hand man Bert Ruby broke off from Light in the 1950s and created Motor City Wrestling which also became popular. Ruby was also a wrestler and a trainer, but when he promoted shows, he refrained from booking venues in Detroit to impede on Light’s business.
Meanwhile, with the TV audience snapping up tickets, Light’s NWA Detroit promotion held a stronghold in the territory, which did come under threat in 1959. Two men who could not gain membership into the Alliance were Jim Barnett and John Doyle, promoters from Indiana and New York respectively.
They created an outlaw promotion (The Barnett-Doyle Corporation) and started to run shows at Cobo Hall promoting bouts with Verne Gagne, Fritz von Erich, Bobo Brazil and Dick the Bruiser. They made great headway and drew an attendance of over 16,000 fans on their debut in April 1959 at the Olympic.
Light would combat this using his NWA contacts to book North Eastern stars Bruno Sammartino, Haystacks Calhoun and Argentina Rocca from Toots Mondt and Vincent J. McMahon, and promoted “The Greatest Card Ever Presented In Detroit” on 7th October 1961.
Harry Light (front left) signs a lease to bring his wrestling show to the new Cobo Arena (1961)
The city became a hotbed for wrestling throughout the sixties, however, the pressure impacted Harry and he got out of the business as The Corporation took over control. Nevertheless, Barnett and Doyle had cashed enough money to take their product elsewhere. So the NWA rights to Detroit and the state of Michigan were bought out by World Wide Sports for $50,000 in 1964. The company was owned by businessman Francis Fleser and his brother-in-law Ed Farhat and the deal included the TV contract that had three years remaining and a lease on Cobo Hall and the Cobo Arena.
World Wide Sports was filling houses at the Cobo Arena and broadcasting at least two of the Big Time Wrestling TV programs on Channel 7 every week with The Sheik at the top of the card. The man billed from the Syrian Desert was actually co-owner Farhat, a Michigan-born wrestler who had made a name as The Sheik in Chicago, New York and Texas since the fifties.
The Sheik returned home and became a huge draw. Due to his demented hardcore style and the use of weapons on his foes, he quickly became the most hated in the territory. Besides every great heel, there is a great babyface and the ever-popular Bobo Brazil was his counterpart. The pair feuded for decades in bloody battles over the Detroit version of the NWA United States Heavyweight belt.
Outside the ring, competition ascended from Dick the Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder, who had been wrestling for Barnett and Doyle previously in the area. They looked to take advantage of the previous popularity of the grappling game. So in 1971, they created All-Star Championship Wrestling, which operated with stars from their Indianapolis-based World Wrestling Association company – until they gave up promoting in Detroit in 1975.
As the city of Detroit was changing, things started to take a bad turn in the late 1970s for Farhat and Fleser. As people were out of work, the crime rate in the city rose and the crowds started to dwindle. Consequently, The Sheik, Brazil, and others had no option but to take their expertise to other territories to earn a decent payday.
Although Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation sent talent to the region to try and help its diminishing attendances, Fleser and Farhat closed their doors in late of 1980. It was a sign of things to come, as the WWF landed a TV spot in the area, took over the Detroit bookings and readied itself for national expansion.
The Sheik and Brazil continued to wrestle for other territories and we will profile their historic careers closer in upcoming articles. For Harry Light, he retired in the area, was married with six children until he sadly passed away on October 29th 1971.
Detroit became an important city in the history of professional wrestling and if you were fortunate enough to live through the 1960s until mid-70s in the area, you were incredibly privileged to witness the stories unfold. The fans in the area can be thankful for the likes of Light, Barnett, Doyle, Sheik and Brazil for the memories they created and the paths they paved for the generations to come.
Holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for 1,131 days, former Canadian football star Gene Kiniski was one of the most successful champions in the record books. In a time when champions were known as squeaky clean good guy wrestlers, with his aggressive nature and natural charisma, “Big Thunder” broke that precedent.
Kiniski was born on 23rd November 1928 in Lamont, Alberta, Canada before moving onto the nearby town of Chipman at an early age. Times were hard financially for his family after the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and they moved to Edmonton by the time that Gene was 11. By the time he was a teenager, At six feet tall with a robust build, Kiniski was a promising athlete practising amateur wrestling and football at St. Joseph’s High School.
By the time he was 20, Gene was recruited by the Edmonton Eskimos, sporting the number 50 and played defensive lineman in the Western Interprovincial Football Union, which was the predecessor of the Canadian Football League. Quoted as making a paltry $200 a year with the Eskimos, Kiniski moved onto college at the University of Arizona and played lineman for the Wildcats and became a strong NFL prospect. His aggression was highlighted after being chucked out of three games for unnecessary roughness.
While staying in Tucson, Gene and close friend Steve Paproski needed jobs and became working for wrestling promoter and Edmonton native Rod Fenton as ushers and selling programs at his events. Kiniski became an asset at the events due to his size protecting the wrestlers from over-excited fans and began to start to work out at the local gyms with fellow wrestlers and Fenton and got involved in the basics of wrestling training.
It is rumoured that Kiniski and Paproski started wrestling in different towns under pseudo names so that the University would not find out, but eventually, their cover was blown and the Wildcat coach Robert Winslow demanded they immediately stop. Later that year, although it was against the wishes of his family back in Edmonton, Kiniski decided to trade in the football pads for wrestling boots and was set to make his debut on Fenton show.
So, on February 13th 1952, donning the cover of the programs he used to sell, Kiniski made his in-ring debut at the Sports Center in Tucson defeating Curly Hughes in around 12 minutes. Gene went on to gain in-ring experience in Tucson, El Paso and Albuquerque working a few times per week. Kiniski began working out with Dory Funk Sr. and Dory Jr.in a friendship that would work out well for both parties in the future.
By 1954, Kiniski was plying his trade in Los Angeles working NWA Hollywood TV shows frequently against a young Bobo Brazil before moving onto Hawaii to form a tag team with Lord Blears to face Japanese duo Kokichi Endo andRikidozan. Moving onto Dallas, Kiniski and his aggressive nature became a great draw, he was ruthless with sharp wit and possessed a mean streak. With the vicious back-breaker as his signature move, fans were buying tickets to see Gene get beat up but much to the crowd’s dismay, Kiniski usually came out on top.
At the age of 29, Gene returned to Canada and received his first NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title shot against Lou Theszand managed to hold the champ to a draw in front of thousands packed inside the Maple Leaf Gardens. Kiniski started to get massively over proclaiming himself as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” and grappling with former world champions Bill Longson, Pat O’ Connor and “Whipper” Billy Watson. His trash-talking rogue persona started to turn promoter’s heads and he was booked across the States and Canada. Come 1960, Minneapolis promoters Wally Karbo and Verne Gagne broke away from the NWA and created the American Wrestling Association and they contacted Kiniski to headline their events.
Gene alternated between AWA and NWA promoted events and on 11th July 1961, Kiniski dethroned Gagne to win his first world championship, the AWA World Title. Although the reign did not last long and less than a month later, inside the confines of a Steel Cage, Gagne regained the title. Gene’s career went from strength to strength winning singles titles in various territories and received a WWWF title shot against top draw Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden in November 1964 with over 18,000 in attendance. Kiniski believed he had pinned Bruno and left ringside with the title belt, but he was counted out. Gene kept the belt until a rematch a month later in which Bruno regained possession of his championship.
St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnick booked Kiniski to wrestle Fritz von Erich, Johnny Valentine and Dick the Bruiser. After clinching a win over former champ Pat O’Connor, Gene was awarded another shot at Lou Thesz’s NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship. The bout, booked by Muchnick was set to take place at the Kiel Auditorium on 7th January 1966 in front of a packed house and the NWA board voted to give “Big Thunder” a run with the strap.
In a best of three falls match, history was made. Thesz went ahead with the first fall but was disqualified for throwing Gene over the top rope tying up the bout at 1-1. After less than two minutes inside the third fall, Kiniski pinned Thesz and referee Joe Scheonberger slammed his hand on the canvas three times and Gene had become the world champion. Kiniski was the first man in history to hold the AWA and NWA World titles.
In a true contrast to Lou Thesz, Kiniski was a natural bad guy and his heel behaviour made him a very successful touring champion. He drew big crowds in all the NWA territories including the JWA in Japan where he faced Antonio Inoki and Shohei (Giant) Baba, even challenging the latter for his NWA International Heavyweight belt. However, like many champions, the schedule became exhausting to Gene and at the NWA convention in November 1968, he told the Alliance members that he wished to drop the title. Being a close friend to the Funk family, Gene ended his three-year reign to Dory Funk Jr. via spinning toe-hold on 11th February 1969 in Tampa, Florida.
After resting up, Gene travelled back to Japan to win the International Heavyweight championship from Baba in Osaka for a short 16-day reign before failing to the big man in Los Angeles in a rematch. Throughout the 1970s, Gene was still a profitable draw for the NWA promoters and received many title shots against Dory, Harley Race, Jack Brisco and Terry Funk but failed to clinch that second reign. He started to book his own shows with Vancouver All-Star Wrestling promoter Sandor Kovacs, buying out his trainer Rod Fenton’s share, and he brought many World title matches to the British Columbia area.
He vastly eased up his schedule by 1976 and climbed into the ring intermittently in the early 1980s until quietly heading into retirement come 1985. Always being the athlete for all his life, Kiniski stayed fit later in life training daily. However, in early 2010, congestive heart failure hospitalised Gene and his weight massively decreased. He had been secretly battling cancer for years and it had grown to his brain. He passed away with family at his bedside on April 14th 2010. He was 81 years old.
Kiniski was a true champion, a true athlete and to fill his bank account, a true heel. Fans paid to see Gene get beat and he didn’t. For over three years he was World Heavyweight Champion and in his own words, Gene made sure that even if the fan went home sulking, they got their money’s worth.
It is July 1980 and this was a huge month for professional wrestling. We have news on two huge upcoming shows in Florida and New York, numerous title switches and we follow the World Champions’ progress as the summer continues in the NWA affiliated territories.
NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race defended the World Heavyweight Championship coast to coast this past month, taking on all comers.
Stampede Wrestling – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Harley Race beat Hercules Ayala to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Georgia Championship Wrestling – The Omni, Atlanta, GA
Harley Race and Tommy Rich went to a no contest. Race retains the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Stampede Wrestling – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Harley Race beat Archie Gouldie to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Central States Wrestling – Memorial Hall, Kansas City, MS
Rufus R. Jones beat Harley Race via disqualification. Race retained the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Georgia Championship Wrestling – The Omni, Atlanta, GA
Harley Race defeated Tommy Rich to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Former NWA champion Lou Thesz was the special guest referee.
Georgia Championship Wrestling – William Bell Auditorium, Augusta, GA
Tommy Rich defeated Harley Race via DQ. Race retains the NWA World Heavyweight Title. Former NWA champion Lou Thesz was the special guest referee.
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling – Dorton Arena, Raleigh, NC
Harley Race defeated Ric Flair via count-out to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Georgia Championship Wrestling – Municipal Auditorium, Columbus, GA
Harley Race defeated Tommy Rich to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Georgia Championship Wrestling – Chilhowee Park, Chattanooga, TN
Harley Race defeated Tommy Rich to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title. Former NWA champion Lou Thesz was the special guest referee.
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling – Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
Harley Race defeated Sweet Ebony Diamond to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling – Memorial Coliseum, Spartanburg, NC
Ric Flair and Sweet Ebony Diamond beat Greg Valentine and Harley Race.
Big Time Wrestling (Texas) – Dallas, TX
Harley Race beat El Halcon to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
Big Time Wrestling (Texas) – Fort Worth, TX
Kerry von Erich defeated Harley Race in a special challenge match.
Big Time Wrestling (Texas) – Fort Worth, TX
Harley Race and Fritz von Erich went to a double count out. Race retains the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
World Wrestling Federation – Agricultural Hall, Allentown, PA
Harley Race defeated Paul Figueroa in a non-title match.
World Wrestling Federation – Agricultural Hall, Allentown, PA
Harley Race beat Kid Sharkey in a non-title match.
World Wrestling Federation – Agricultural Hall, Allentown, PA
Harley Race defeated Rick McGraw in a non-title match.
ALL-JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
The Summer Action Series 1980 got underway at City Center in Tsushima, Aichi (11/7) with Bruiser Brody, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Pampero Firpo, Don DeNucci, Prince Tonga, The Davidson Brothers and David Sammartino joining the Japanese regulars on the tour. Tonga (pictured above) is a youngster from NWA Polynesian Wrestling and has been tag-teaming with Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta in tag and six-man action against Brody, Ladd and Firpo and has been impressive being successful in all matches bar one against The Davidsons when tagging with Rocky Hata.
The tour is set to conclude on 7th August at Korakuen Hall with Tsuruta defending his NWA United National title against Bruiser Brody and Giant Baba will meet Ernie Ladd one-on-one in a double main event.
BIG TIME WRESTLING (TEXAS)
The NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race stopped by in Dallas (27/7) and Fort Worth (28/7) and defend the belt against El Halcon and Fritz Von Erich respectively. Race was also defeated by young Kerry Von Erich in a special challenge match on the Fort Worth show.
CENTRAL STATES WRESTLING
The big monthly show at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City nearly saw a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion as Harley Race lost via disqualification to Rufus R. Jones in a tight contest. Also at the event, Takachiho and Killer Karl Kox retained the Central States Tag Team titles against Ted DiBiase and Dick Murdoch.
CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING FROM FLORIDA
Eddie Graham is promoting “the greatest show in the history of Tampa” on August 3rd at Tampa Stadium, Tampa, Florida. It is billed as “The Last Tangle in Tampa” and will feature Dusty Rhodes looking to regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Harley Race with Fritz von Erich signed on as the special referee. It will be a best of three falls encounter with no disqualifications and Dusty has vowed he will never wrestle Race again if he fails to regain the belt. Bob Backlund will defend the WWF Title against NWA Florida Heavyweight champion Don Muraco and in a battle of the giants, Andre the Giant clashes with “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd.
Graham also promoted “Star Wars ’80 II” on 4th July at the Hollywood Sportatorium which hosted a one-night eight-team tournament for the NWA Florida United States Tag Team titles and $50,000 Challenge Cup. In a shock result, Bugsy McGraw and Dusty Rhodes defeated Dory & Terry Funk to win the championships, the money and the trophy. They defeated Mr. Saito and Dick Slater and Ivan Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff on the way to the finals.
GEORGIA CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING
The ever-popular Tommy Rich has been chasing Harley Race’s World Heavyweight Title throughout the year and has come close on various occasions to become the new titleholder. The youngster may never be as close as at the Omni on 20th July. Although the bout only went just over 15 minutes, in front of a packed crowd and the legendary former NWA champion Lou Thesz as special referee, Rich went close many times and had the champion in a bloody mess.
Rich has also challenged Ole Anderson and here is the reason why…
The Omni 20/7 show also featured one of the most shocking angles in the history of Georgia wrestling. A tag team cage match took place with The Assassins putting the Georgia Tag Team Titles on the line against Dusty Rhodes and Ole. Two referees were assigned with Gene Anderson representing Ole and Dusty and Ivan Koloff for The Assassins. Blood was flowing early on from Dusty’s forehead and he began wildly swinging and accidentally punched Gene. Ole was tagged in and Dusty ended up taking a beating off all five men inside the cage.
The Omni crowd littered the ring with food, drinks and additionally a chair was thrown into the ring. Lars Anderson scaled the cage and ended up helping Dusty but he also ended up being outnumbered. A truly odious act by Ole and Dusty vows to gain revenge on him, Gene, Koloff and the Assassins. On August 1st at the Omni, he will get the chance to gain some retribution as he will face Ole and Gene Anderson – his partner will be Andre the Giant!
The Assassins lost the Georgia Tag Team titles ten days later by the team of Steve Keirn and Mr. Wrestling. The bout took place at the Municipal Auditorium in Columbus (30/7) again inside the confines of a steel cage.
Tony Atlas has secured another shot at the NWA World Title after a pinfall victory over the man holding the NWA American Heavyweight title, “Gorgeous” Gino Hernandez at the Sam Houston Coliseum on 18/7. Promoter Paul Boesch has managed to secure Harley Race to appear in Houston on August 1st and Atlas will go one-on-one with the champion in a three falls encounter.
MAPLE LEAF WRESTLING
NWA United States Champion Ric Flair met in the ring with his adversary Greg Valentine at the Maple Leaf Gardens on the 20th July. Valentine dominated the bout and repeatedly targeted Flair’s broken nose, but the champion retained after Valentine attempted to suplex the Nature Boy into the ring from the apron, however, Flair landed on Valentine and hold him down for the three. After the bell, they had to be pulled apart by members of the locker room on the ramp – the feud continues.
On the same night, the NWA Canadian Heavyweight Champion The Great Hossein Arab dropped his title to veteran Angelo Mosca. Arab will get a rematch on the next Gardens show on the 10th August.
MID-ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING
The crowds have been flocking and the tickets sales have been through the roof due to the arrival of Andre the Giant to the territory. The Frenchman has been teaming up with Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan in six-man tag team matches and typically, winning battle royals.
On the 1st at Dorton Arena, Raleigh, former NWA World Tag Team Champions Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood aimed to regain the belts from Ray Stevens and Jimmy Snuka but once Gene Anderson got involved, Steamboat and Youngblood lost their discipline and were disqualified. There were numerous rematches across the month but Anderson’s Army is still in possession of the titles.
The war between Ric Flair and Greg Valentine has escalated this past month accumulating into the situation that Valentine is now the NWA United States Champion.
These two battled throughout the month, with matches at the Richmond Coliseum (4/7), Greensboro Coliseum (6/7) and at Greenville Memorial Auditorium on 7th July. Flair held the title until he was in front of his hometown fans on a big show at the Charlotte Coliseum on the 26th July. Flair tried to plant the Figure Four leglock on Valentine, but Greg kicked Flair into the turnbuckle. Flair rebounded and Valentine rolled Flair up for the 1-2-3. The Coliseum crowd were far from happy from the ending of this one.
Flair started the chase to claim the title back on 28th back to Memorial Auditorium, Greenville and next night at the Columbia Township Auditorium, however, although he won both bouts by disqualification, the frustrated Nature Boy left without regaining his title.
NEW-JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
Antonio Inoki and Tatsumi Fujinami are set to travel to the States to appear on the WWF’s Showdown at Shea show next month. Fujinami will defend his WWF Junior Heavyweight Title against Mexican superstar Chavo Guerrero.
The Summer Fight Series continued with the strong Stampede Wrestling contingent providing a great showing. One guy that really impressed was Bret Hart who was joined by his brother Keith on the tour, which they had some success also. Meanwhile, Bret nearly took gold back to Canada but was narrowly beaten by Kengo Kimura in a match for the vacant NWA International Junior Heavyweight belt (23/7 – Kitakyushu, Fukuoka). Despite that defeat, Bret gained some good victories against Kimura (2/7), George Takano (4/7, 13/7 and 19/7), Yoshiaki Fujiwara (8/7 and 21/7), Kantaro Hoshino (9/7) and Junji Hawata (14/7).
PACIFIC NORTHWEST WRESTLING
Huge news emerged out of the Portland Wrestling TV show on 26th July, that the current PNW Tag Team champions The Sheepherders, Luke Williams and Butch Miller, have announced they are leaving the territory.
After wrestling Ivan Volkoff and Fidel Castro to retain the titles, the New Zealanders announced they are leaving and wished to hand the tag titles to Roddy Piper and Rick Martel. Their rivals Buddy Rose and Ed Wiskowski appear and disputed the decision and protested that they should receive the belts. Piper and Martel stated they did not want any titles that they did not earn and suggest they face Rose and Wiskowski for the vacant straps on 2nd August.
The Sheepherders had a tough last month in Portland especially as they are embroiled in the feud with Rose and Wiskowski. They took their feud into a steel cage on the 22nd in a Steel Cage Hair vs Hair bout. Rose and Williams ended up climbing over the top of the cage and brawled outside. The Playboy gained an advantage and climbed back in to attack Miller to allow Wiskowski to get the pin. Miller and Williams, who had their heads shaved last year after losing single bouts against Piper, were made to have their heads shaved again.
Jonathan Boyd has returned to the area to team up with the Sheepherders on the 19th but then faced Piper in a one-on-one contest on the 26th. The match finished as a time-limit draw and Boyd offered to be Piper’s tag partner anytime after the match. Rick Martel is still the PNW champion.
Harley Race travelled up to Calgary this past month to defend the NWA World Championship against Hercules Ayala (4/7) and Archie Gouldie (11/7).
VANCOUVER ALL STAR WRESTLING
The Sheepherders-Buddy Rose and Ed Wiskowski war travelled north to Vancouver this past month in a Steel Cage Coal Miners Glove match on 16th July which the New Zealanders won, however, at the end of the month it was a different story. Rose and Wiskowski defeated Miller and Williams in a Loser Leaves Town match (28/7) and the Sheepherders are now gone from All-Star Wrestling.
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION
The big Showdown at Shea supershow scheduled to take place next month (9th) at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets, is really starting to take shape. Matches signed so far Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko in a Steel Cage match in a bout that should finally settle that feud. Due to his actions in Japan last month, Hulk Hogan is set to face Andre the Giant. Hogan attacked Andre in a New Japan Pro Wrestling MSG Series bout to cost the Giant his match against Stan Hansen, and now he must face Andre one-on-one. In a WWF Intercontinental Title match, champion Ken Patera will meet the tough challenge of Tony Atlas. WWF Junior Heavyweight title will be on the line as Chavo Guerrero challenges Tatsumi Fujinami. New Japan president Antonio Inoki will meet “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe for NWF Heavyweight Title and former IC champion Pat Patterson will go against the vicious Tor Kamata. There are an estimated 30,000 fans due to attend this mega event.
WWF Champion Bob Backlund has been involved in a series of title defenses against Hogan, Zbyszko and Patera but is currently still the champion. He faced the undefeated Hogan twice and lost both times via count out so retained the belt.
NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION
NWA WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS
RAY STEVENS AND JIMMY SNUKA
1. Antonio Inoki
1. Ricky Steamboat/Jay Youngblood
2. Greg Valentine
2. Giant Baba/Jumbo Tsuruta
3. Ric Flair
3. The Wild Samoans
4. Tony Atlas
4. Matt Borne/Buzz Sawyer
5. Dusty Rhodes
5. The Assassins
6. Tommy Rich
6. The Sheepherders
7. David Von Erich
7. Bugsy McGraw/Dusty Rhodes
8. Bob Backlund
8. Roddy Piper/Rick Martel
9. Stan Hansen
9. Bret and Keith Hart
10. Kerry Von Erich
10. Mr. Wrestling/Steve Keirn
We don’t have a match of the month of sorts, but an angle. Here is in full a clip from Georgia Championship Wrestling – July 26th 1980 edition with the footage of Ole Anderson’s shocking heel turn. In addition, we hear an interview from Ole explaining his actions and a promo response from Dusty Rhodes. Enjoy.
All Japan: The Summer Action Series concludes and Harley Race is in the land of the rising sun for a series of NWA World Heavyweight title defenses.
Georgia: Ole Anderson has turned his back on Dusty Rhodes, his brother Lars and the fans. All three will be hoping for some retribution.
Florida: Can Dusty Rhodes dethrone Harley Race at the ‘Last Tangle of Tampa’?
New Japan: The 30-day Bloody Fight Series 1980 tour begins where Stan Hansen and Antonio Inoki will continue their feud in a series of bouts.
Portland: Now that the Sheepherders have left the territory, will it be Piper and Martel or Rose and Wiskowski that become the new PNW tag team champions?
WWF: We will extensively cover the huge ‘Showdown at Shea’ show with the truly epic Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko Steel Cage main event. Keep an eye out for a full preview article in the next few days.
Paul Boesch left a legacy in Houston and Texas in general, as the heart and soul of professional wrestling to the thousands of fans that had witnessed his product. Through his efforts, Boesch had turned Houston into one of the best promotions in the territories era.
Boesch was born in Brooklyn, New York until him and his family moved twenty miles to Long Beach. He went on to graduate from Long Beach High School in the summer of 1929 and Boesch was a natural athlete. To earn money, he got a job as a lifeguard on the Long Island beaches and during this time, he was lured by Jack Pfefer’s wrestling shows in New York.
Although he is build was athletic, he was never the biggest of guys but he started to train and he stepped into the ring himself on 25th October 1932 in Staten Island for a Pfefer show. He continued to build a good living and wrestled throughout the northeast and travelled to St. Louis on occasion. Although never a headliner, Boesch was regularly booked and toured through Canada, California and the South Pacific. During this time, he became good friends of Calgary wrestler and promoter Stu Hart, and Boesch had the privilege of introducing Stu to his future wife Helen, while the Canadian was wrestling in the New York area.
Once World War II broke out in 1939, his career came to a halt as he enlisted to fight in Germany. Boesch was deployed over to Europe and serve for the States in the one of the fiercest conflicts of the war – “The Battle of Hürtgen Forest”. Although he received some injuries, he returned home a hero and was awarded many medals including the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Distinguished Unit Citation. Boesch wrote and released Road to Huertgen: Forest In Hell later in 1962, which was his memoirs of the battle.
Missouri wrestling promoter Tom Packs invited members from Boesch’s Regiment to the wrestling program labelled “The GI Night” on 5th October 1945 at the Kiel Auditorium. It was a tremendous tribute and honour for Boesch, who climbed into the ropes to defeat Dick Lever using judo holds in front of over 8,000 in attendance. In the crowd were 118 members of the Gray Bonnet Regiment and 26 convalescents from the Jefferson Barracks who had served with Boesch throughout his military career.
Paul “Bombshell” Boesch settled in Houston wrestling full-time for the Gulf Athletic Club under the leadership of promoter called Morris Sigel. Just after the first World War, Morris’ brother Julius had started promoting wrestling shows at the City Auditorium, weekly on Friday nights to great success. By 1929, Julius left Texas to promote shows in New Orleans and Shreveport in Louisiana, leaving the promotion in the hands of his brother.
Although Morris was inexperienced in the wrestling business, he steered the promotion though good times with his robust business wisdom and the likes of Jim Londos, Orville Brown, Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, Buddy Rogers and Womens’ Champion Mildred Burke on his cards. Sigel would surround himself with people capable of running wrestling shows and during this time, due to a horrific car accident, Boesch would ultimately become one of Morris’ employees.
On 22nd October 1947, Paul was travelling to Corpus Christi for a show with two other wrestlers, Frank Vallois and Miguel Guzman. They did not make the show that night. A trailer truck had failed to break at a stop sign and crashed into Boesch’s vehicle on Highway 66 and Military Drive in San Antonio – all three were injured. Boesch suffered a break in his right leg and numerous cuts on his head and face. The injury to his leg was fatal to his wrestling career as doctors advised him never to compete in the ring again.
Paul reached out to Morris and Boesch took up administrative duties in the office and trained young wrestlers – he even taught Verne Gagne how to apply the sleeper hold. This would then escalate into commentating on Sigel’s wrestling bouts on radio station KLEE and in January 1949, Boesch would present the first-ever televised wrestling show in Houston simply named “Houston Wrestling with Paul Boesch” – a show that aired for nearly forty years!
Boesch would also occasionally step back in the ring throughout the early 1960s and this spiralled into eventually booking his own shows when Morris sadly passed away on Boxing Day in 1966. In early 1967, he purchased the promotion from Morris’ wife and held good relationships with both the National Wrestling Alliance and Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association, so he had a wealth of talent at his disposal. Bringing the very best wrestlers to the Sam Houston Coliseum would elevate the venue as the home of Houston Wrestling.
This was the biggest arena in the area and for Boesch’s shows, the Coliseum would sell-out to nearly 10,000 fans. The venue held some big championship matches, but it was never acknowledged by nationwide wrestling fans as a legendary arena in comparison to the likes of Madison Square Garden, the Kiel Auditorium and the Greensboro Coliseum.
Boesch caught the attention of the NWA which declared Houston “The Wrestling City of the Seventies” at their annual convention and it became home to many World Heavyweight title bouts but only one title switch happened at the Coliseum – Jack Brisco defeating Harley Race on July 20th 1973.
Throughout the years, Boesch formed relationships with many affiliates of the NWA with the likes of Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Wrestling but one of the most profitable connections was with Fritz von Erich’s Big Time Wrestling. The Texan Fritz and his sons were huge draws for Boesch and this continued until they severed ties in 1981 as Fritz looked to expand his promotion.
In 1981, NWA world champion Harley Race failed to attend an event despite being heavily promoted, Boesch was dismayed that he felt he had let the Houston fans down. He took action and immediately informed the NWA that he was withdrawing his membership.
Boesch forged a relationship with Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling. Stars like Magnum T.A., Butch Reed, Steve Williams, Jim Duggan and tag teams like the Midnight Express and the Rock N’ Roll Express all ventured into the Coliseum and did tremendous business.
A young Tom Pritchard with Paul circa 1982As 1984 emerged, Boesch and Watts was forced into competition with Vincent K. McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation as the McMahon-owned Titan Sports invaded Texas and secured TV time on two independent stations KTXH (Houston) and KTXA (Dallas and Fort Worth). The fans, that had only ever known Boesch’s product, took to the WWF programming well and Boesch, Watts and Von Erich merged to compete with Titan’s shows.
In early 1987, Watts sold his promotion to Jim Crockett Promotions and Boesch was forced to arrange a deal with the Vince McMahon to hold WWF shows in Houston. This was a huge transformation from the city’s longstanding run with the NWA and Watts. Professional wrestling was experiencing a transitional period and WWF was implementing a different style of the sport – a huge contrast to Boesch and his predecessors’ product. The deal only lasted four months and Boesch eventually shut down his Friday night shows at the Coliseum. The end of Houston Wrestling.
Due to failing health, after 55 years of contributions to the sport as a wrestler, a referee, a radio commentator, a TV announcer and a promoter, Boesch decided to call it a day on 28th August 1987. On that night, McMahons’ WWF hosted his retirement show at the Coliseum in his honour. He had drawn a sell-out crowd one last time.
Boesch did temporarily return and made a deal with Crockett in 1988, so JCP’s stars would wrestle at the Sam Houston Coliseum and they agreed that Boesch would also have an on-air role. However, like the WWF deal, this did not last long Crockett sold his promotion to Ted Turner in November of that year.
Aged 76 years, Paul sadly passed away on March 7th 1989, after suffering a heart attack at his home in Sugarland, Texas.
Boesch was not only a war hero for his country. Due to his lifelong commitment to the industry, he was a hero in many eyes in professional wrestling.