Paul Boesch, a name synonymous with the term "Houston Wrestling," passed away late Tuesday night (March 7) at his home in Sugarland TX after a sudden heart attack at the age of 76.
Boesch, whose career in wrestling included lengthy stints as a wrestler, television announcer and promoter, was involved with pro wrestling for more than 55 years. Both inside and outside the wrestling fraternity he was recognized as, with the possible exception of Sam Muchnick, the most popular promoter of the modern era of wrestling.
A native of the Bronx in New York, Boesch began wrestling in 1932 and had his first main event three months later. His career as an active pro wrestler lasted through the late 1940s, with an interruption for World War II where he was a decorated war hero, before he settled down in Houston and became the television announcer for Morris Siegel's promotion. When Siegel passed away in 1967, Boesch bought the promotion from Siegel's widow and remained the promoter in Houston until his retirement on August 28, 1987, after a short, but bitter relationship with the World Wrestling Federation after the sale of the Universal Wrestling Federation to Jim Crockett Promotions.
Boesch made a brief return to wrestling as a figurehead member of the Board of Governors of the NWA last year, and helped with the NWA's promotion of wrestling in Houston, but his association ended late last summer when the NWA pulled out of running regular cards in Houston due to dwindling crowds.
Boesch played basketball in high school, but left school after two years to help with family bills due to the Depression and was a lifeguard in the summer and worked as a gym instructor in the winter before breaking into pro wrestling two years later. He also played pro basketball and semi-pro basketball before his wrestling debut and placed third in the North Atlantic Coast lifeguard competition in 1932.
While he never held a major wrestling championship during his active career, he received several world title shots, particularly while in Texas when "Wild Bill" Longson held the title. He wrestled most of the major names in the 1930s and '40s such as Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, Gus Sonnenberg, the Dusek brothers, Dirty Dick Raines, etc. While wrestling in Portland in 1935, he occasionally worked as a color commentator on the radio broadcasts with Rollie Truitt.
Boesch's career was interrupted in 1942 when he volunteered for service in the Army during World War II and during his army tenure was awarded a silver star and cluster; bronze star and cluster; purple heart and cluster; French Croix de Guerre with star; a Combat Infantryman's Badge, a Distinguished Unit Citation and three battle stars and was later awarded the distinguished citizen award by the 121st Infantry Association.
After the war, Boesch wrestled in New Zealand, and then to Texas, where he achieved his greatest success as the controversial master of the "sleep" (now called sleeper) hold. His career was cut short in 1947 by an automobile accident, and while recuperating, became Siegel's promotional assistant and in 1948 started doing wrestling play-by-play on radio station KLEE in Houston. When KLEE received a television license in 1949, the wrestling shows moved to TV and Boesch became best known for his work as the host of the show, a position he maintained uninterrupted for 39 years, mainly with KHTV (Ch. 39).
Boesch's 21 years of promotion in Houston included affiliations with Southwest Sports (now World Class Wrestling), Southwest Championship Wrestling, independent affiliation, Mid South (later UWF) Wrestling and finally a brief affiliation with the WWF. The early 1980s, while promoting in combination with Bill Watts' Mid South Sports, were the high point and most profitable years for the sport under Boesch's auspices.
When Mid South became the UWF, and eventually was sold to the NWA in April of 1987, Boesch, whose relationship with Watts turned quite bitter at the end, instead of joining up with the NWA, opened the door to negotiations with Vince McMahon, and McMahon closed the surprising deal in record time. The four-month affiliation with Titan proved to be an even more bitter pill to swallow than the last months with Watts. Claiming McMahon reneged on every promise made in their deal and believing McMahon was trying to get him out of the picture, Boesch announced he was retiring from promoting and had a farewell show on August 28, 1987 in Houston before a sellout 12,000 fans.
Boesch also wrote three books, a hardback called "Road to Hurtgen," in 1962, about his experiences during World War II, a poetry book called "Much of Me in These" in 1966, and just before his death completed a book called "Hey Boy! Where'd You Get Them Ears?" -- a very informative book about the history of pro wrestling.
A telegram reprinted from the program on the final card he promoted:
To All Houston Wrestling Fans,
I'm sorry to miss the gala event in honor of my friend Paul Boesch. Paul has made a fantastic contribution to American sports. Through his leadership and foresight, wrestling is now enjoyed by millions of Americans. I treasure my friendship with Paul Boesch. We have know each other for many years. He is a great guy and wrestling will never be quite the same without his firm, principled leadership.
Provided by J Michael Kenyon through WRESTLING AS WE LIKED IT.