Paul Boesch started his life as a professional wrestler in the 1930’s, but after World War 2 derailed his career and a car crash in 1947 ended it, he went to work in the office of Houston Wrestling promoter Morris Sigel and would eventually go on to own the promotion after Sigel’s death in 1966. Under the auspices of Boesch, Houston became a premier destination on the touring circuit and Boesch earned a reputation as a fair businessman and a good pay day for the wrestlers, who would come from all over to work for him. During his tenure as a promoter he partnered with a number of promotions in order to keep his business fresh, including Mid-South, WCCW, SCW, the AWA and eventually the WWF.
His Saturday night TV show drew big ratings for the fledgling independent station upon which it aired and drummed up great business for the live shows the following week, which would be held every Friday at the Sam Houston Coliseum. After a strained relationship with Bill Watts’ UWF promotion ended when Watts sold up to Crocket Promotions (his territory under increasing pressure from Vince McMahon Jr’s WWF), Boesch opted to partner with Vince but this proved to be short lived and in 1987 Boesch sold the Houston office to the WWF after hosting one last event at the Sam Houston Colisseum, in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,000 fans.
Boesch’s name was synonymous with wrestling in Houston for over 30 years and his legacy lives on through the Houston Wrestling tape library, one of the most extensive surviving territory wrestling tape libraries not in the possession of WWE. With matches spanning four decades and featuring a huge resume of top wrestling talent, Boesch’s library is a veritable treasure trove for fans of wrestling’s bygone era and can now be accessed through the National Wrestling Alliance’s ‘NWA Classics 24/7’ streaming service. There’s currently just over 150 videos available, with more added each week as the tape reels are laboriously converted and digitally restored. With that in mind, I thought I’d dive in and take look at some of the classic matches on offer, starting with;
Harley Race (c) vs ‘Gorgeous’ Gino Hernandez – NWA World Heavyweight Title, 2/3 Falls – December 11th, 1980
Getting his start in Houston at eighteen years old, Gino Hernandez was a true star in the making and was a mainstay of the Texas territory throughout his career. Many people had compared him to Ric Flair, not only for his good looks and ability in the ring but also for his lifestyle, the excesses of which led to his untimely death in 1986. At this point, however, Gino was entering the seventh year of his career and had earned a huge opportunity to face the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, the incomparable Harley Race. This match, like all good 2/3 falls matches, was a story of three distinct parts and it was a match type that Harley was a master of. The crowd were split fairly evenly which Paul Boesch noted on commentary, talking about how respected Race was in Texas as a rough and tumble, no-nonsense sort of competitor.
Gino, realising he had his work cut out for him, took the fight to the champion right from the bell and left him groggy enough after a piledriver on the floor to make the pin for the first fall. A jubilant Hernandez was perhaps too over-zealous in his celebrations, as when the second fall got under way the champion wasted little time in punishing his young challenger. Race worked methodically on Gino, cutting short his attempted comebacks and beating the fight out of him. When Harley sent Gino crashing into the ring post and he rose up wearing a crimson mask, the crowd went wild. Harley further subdued Hernandez with headbutts, before scoring the second fall with a diving headbutt off the second rope.
The third fall began with Race stalking the challenger. He peppered him with southpaw jabs and Hernandez was left wobbly legged, but as Harley went for a knee-lift Gino stepped smartly out of the way and Harley was sent crashing out to the floor! As the referee made the count, Gino could clearly feel the adrenaline rushing and implored the crowd to get behind him. Harley made his way to the apron, only to be suplexed into the ring by Hernandez. A minute later and Harley tried a suplex of his own, but Gino floated over and reversed the move for a big near-fall. Harley tried one more time but Gino reversed it again, however his back was to the ropes and Race was sent flying to the floor. Gino, disqualified for violating the over the top-rope rule, had lost his opportunity to win the NWA World Heavyweight Title.
This was a good example of the sort of match the NWA World Heavyweight Champion was expected to wrestle multiple times a week. Any NWA affiliated town that could pay the champion’s rate could book the champion, no matter how small the market, so often the champion would be travelling all over the country to defend the title, add prestige to the belt and elevate competitors with his very presence. Harley did such a great job with Gino here and gave a lot to his young challenger, especially in the first fall. But while Harley won the second and third falls, they were all about showing Gino’s resilience, his guts and his determination. Gino lost the match through inexperience, but came away looking like he could hang with the very best. Harley, meanwhile, looked every bit the crafty veteran and while Gino had indeed tested him, the fans knew that his back was never really against the wall.
The Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey & Bobby Eaton) vs The Fantastics (Bobby Fulton & Tommy Rogers) – Non-Title Match – August 31st, 1984
After a white hot feud that saw The Midnight Express tar and feather rising Mid-South superstar Magnum T.A., the duo of ‘Loverboy’ Dennis Condrey and ‘Beautiful’ Bobby Eaton (always accompanied by their manager, Jim Cornette) were considered public enemy no.1 in the region and they parlayed that heat into a feud with The Rock n’ Roll Express that would define tag team wrestling in the 80’s. But in 1984 another duo was making their mark on the scene and, with the indirect help of The MX, would become one of the most popular tag teams of their day. They were The Fantastics of Tommy Rogers and young up-and-comer Bobby Fulton and feuding with Condrey & Eaton immediately put them on the map.
This match is presented without commentary but the sound is excellent, so crank the volume up and get a feel for what it would’ve been like sitting in the crowd of a packed out Sam Houston Coliseum. Right from the off Cornette is causing a distraction. You always get a sense that Cornette was giving it his all as a manager, everything he did was designed to help out his team beyond the simple encouragement and usual nefarious tactics employed by other managers of his ilk. The two Bobby’s (the less experienced members of their respective pairings) got things started and it was a confidant Bobby Fulton that gained the early advantage. Cornette goaded Fulton from ringside, calling him a chicken until Bobby unexpectedly slid out of the ring and sent Cornette running for his life.
Cornette was steaming mad and Bobby invited him into the ring, the fans loudly chanting “WE WANT CORNETTE!”. He made a big show of it, Dennis & Eaton having to hold him back, before retreating to the floor and allowing the match to resume. The tactic paid off, however, as Condrey tripped Fulton into the ropes and distracted the referee long enough to allow Cornette to get a bunch of cheap shots in, which sent the crowd wild with anger. Rogers came in like a steam roller, but again the distraction tactics from Cornette put pay to his momentum. The MX did a real number on Rogers, the crowd booing loudly as they punished him on the apron and refused to allow him back into the ring.
Eventually Rogers got the hot-tag after scoring an awesome dropkick on Eaton. The crowd in the Sam Houston Colisseum errupted and did so again when a moment later (after Eaton inadvertently hit Condrey with a knee-drop) Rogers rolled up Condrey for the three count. This was such a satisfying match to watch, the crowd were electric throughout and it told a great story. The Midnight Express, for all their ingenuity as a tag team, were in the end undone by the same little tricks that saw them in control for the majority of the bout. Tommy Rogers was the real star here, playing both the role of veteran and the face in peril as he brilliantly teased his big comeback against the well-oiled machine of Eaton & Condrey.
Ted DiBiase (c) vs ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan – Mid-South North American Heavyweight Title, No-DQ Taped Fists Match – March 8th, 1985
This match came about in the midst of a very long feud that ultimately stemmed from DiBiase’s distaste of Hacksaw, the fact that the fans showed such support for him and perceived slights against DiBiase from the powers that be in Mid-South Wrestling (such as forcing DiBiase to defend his title with a stipulation that greatly favoured Duggan). Before the match begins we’re shown promos from the previous week’s TV to hype up the bout, DiBiase showing his confidence on the mic but without none of the manic flair of his WWF run. Hacksaw, meanwhile, stumbles over his words but manages to get his point across and it’s because he always came over as a very earnest character that the crowd could genuinely get behind him, whereas in later years the character was more comic and larger than life than in Mid-South.
As the ring announcements were being made, DiBiase got on the mic to confirm that “anything goes” in this No-DQ Tapes Fists Match before throwing powder in the eyes of Hacksaw to get the match under way. DiBiase took full advantage and beat Duggan from pillar to post, wasting no time to acknowledge the crowd’s jeers. The fight spilled to the floor and, after a collision with the ring post, Hacksaw was left bleeding buckets from a deep gash on his forehead. Between the blood streaming down his face, the powder and DiBiase’s continued attempts to aggravate the wound, Hacksaw was swinging wild and connecting with nothing but air. DiBiase methodically tearing him apart to a chorus of boos. Although the big man was clearly struggling he still had some fight left in him and, as DiBiase went for a suplex, Hacksaw reversed it for one of his own.
DiBiase retreated up the ropes and came at Hacksaw with a double-axehandle, but was only met with a solid fist to the gut. Hacksaw set himself in the three point stance and waited for DiBiase to get to his feet, before sending him flying with a huge tackle. The referee made the count, only for DiBiase’s manager Skandor Akbar to break up the pin with his cane. Hacksaw again floored DiBiase with a big elbow smash, but collided with the referee as well. Steve Williams ran down to ringside and supplied DiBiase with a loaded glove, which Ted hit Duggan with just as the referee revived to make the three count. Huge heat from the audience as DiBiase and co. made a hurried exit. This was a wild brawl and led entirely by DiBiase’s ability. He was rarely a flashy wrestler, but everything he did was solid, believable and considered. Meanwhile, Duggan provided the perfect foil for DiBiase, both in the ring and out of it.
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