by Stephen Von Slagle
Houston Wrestling/Gulf Athletic Club (a.k.a. “Houston”)
Julius Sigel (1925-1929)
Morris Sigel (1929-1966)
Paul Boesch (1967-1987)
STATES & PRIMARY CITIES:
Throughout a majority of professional wrestling’s long history, the state of Texas has been home to some of the toughest brawlers, wildest personalities and most entertaining action that a wrestling fan could hope to find. Although there are records of pro bouts taking place in Houston as early as 1915, the rich tradition of professional wrestling in Texas essentially began in 1922, when promoter Julius Sigel first began holding events at Houston’s new City Auditorium. From the beginning, Sigel made sure that his events featured the best performers that the sport had to offer. Meanwhile, his business acumen and promotional techniques soon resulted in a large and loyal following for pro wrestling in the city of Houston. In 1925, Sigel brought his brother Morris into the business and wrestling’s popularity in the city continued to grow. With the Houston operation prospering, Julius Sigel eventually left to try his hand at promoting markets in Louisiana and Northern Texas. Upon his departure, he placed the Houston promotion in the capable hands of his younger brother Morris who, by 1929, had taken full control of the parent company for Houston wrestling, the Gulf Athletic Club.
Professional wrestling in Houston continued to thrive under the leadership of Morris Sigel, and over the course of the following three decades it maintained a position of one of the top ten markets in the country for the sport. While he did not have a background in wrestling, Sigel was an astute businessman and a creative thinker who simply compensated for any shortcomings in specific product knowledge by surrounding himself with men who were highly capable in all facets of the wrestling business. A prime example of this philosophy came in 1948, when Sigel hired former wrestler Paul Boesch. Having had his career in the ring cut short due to an auto accident, Boesch became a very popular TV announcer for Sigel, a position Boesch maintained for decades. However, unbeknownst to the large Houston fanbase, the majority of Boesch’s duties at the Gulf Athletic Club took place behind the scenes, where he worked as a matchmaker, trainer and promotional consultant. When Morris Sigel passed away in December 26, 1966, Boesch bought the Gulf Coast Athletic Club from his mentor’s widow and proceeded to take the promotion to even greater heights of popularity in “Space City.” Known to the public as a popular TV personality and local civic leader, Paul Boesch was regarded by those within the industry as a fair boss, a generous payoff man, and a highly respected promoter. Similar to Sam Muchnick’s business model in St. Louis, the Houston promotion did not meet the standard definition of a “territory.” Paul Boesch (and his predecessors) promoted only in the city of Houston and the company did not maintain its own roster of athletes. Furthermore, while there were countless championship matches that took place in Houston. including an NWA World title switch between Harley Race and Jack Brisco in 1973, the Gulf Athletic Club did not recognize its own championship titles. Instead, Houston’s promoters enlisted the aid of various booking offices within Texas while also supplementing their cards with cherry-picked talent from across the country.
Over the course of a twenty-year time period, Paul Boesch worked with Fritz Von Erich’s Dallas promotion, Joe Blanchard’s San Antonio group, Bill Watts’ Mid South/UWF and, finally, Vince McMahon’s WWF to provide talent for his cards at the Sam Houston Coliseum. By using an individual booking office while also negotiating on his own with in the biggest stars from promotions around the country, Boesch offered his fans “dream matches” on a regular basis and events that could be seen nowhere else but Houston. Whether he was affiliated with the NWA or, later, the AWA, it was not uncommon for Houston fans to be treated to a night of wrestling that featured the World champions from two or more leagues on the same card, as well as special appearances and rare inter-promotional matches between the biggest stars of the day. It was a formula that worked extremely well for more than two decades and Boesch’s popular KHTV program, Houston Wrestling, remained in its highly-rated timeslot for nearly forty years. Yet, despite the benefits, by depending on an outside booking office to supply the bulk of his talent, Boesch also set himself up for inevitable conflicts with that supplier, be it Adkisson, Blanchard, Watts or McMahon. Although the time he spent working with Bill Watts during the 1980s proved to be the most financially profitable years for Boesch’s promotion, his relationship with Watts eventually soured and when the UWF was purchased by Jim Crockett’s NWA group, Boesch instead made the unexpected choice of partnering with the World Wrestling Federation. However, his relationship with Vince McMahon and the WWF was plagued with issues nearly from the beginning. Believing that McMahon had broken multiple promises and feeling frustrated due to numerous no-shows by WWF performers, Boesch ended his partnership with Titan Sports after just four months. Following more than 20 years of promoting in Houston, Boesch announced his retirement and held his final card, a star-studded farewell show on August 28, 1987 before a sold-out crowd of over 12,000. Approximately a year later Boesch made a brief return to wrestling, helping Jim Crockett promote Houston and serving as a figurehead NWA Board member when Crockett’s company began holding events in the city. However, crowds were not large and the NWA quickly ceased running shows there. Paul Boesch retired once more, permanently this time, and the unique relationship that the city of Houston shared with professional wrestling was forever ended.