Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Back to the Territories – Houston Wrestling w/ Bruce Prichard and Jim Cornette!

Bruce Prichard takes us through the history of Houston Wrasslin’ with many backstage stories and in ring angles being recalled!

Presented by Kayfabe Commentaries

Hosted by Sean Oliver 

We start with the always awesome Jim Cornette historical rundown for the territory. Houston was a powerhouse wrestling town from 1913 until 1987.

Bruce was born in El Paso. His family moved to Houston when he was 5. Amarillo Wrestling with the Funk family as the stars were running El Paso.

Kayfabe died early in Bruce’s life as switching towns allowed him to see Grizzly Smith run the same injury angle with Harley Race in El Paso as he did with Johnny Valentine in Houston.

“Chief” Wahoo McDaniel was the king of Houston. He and Valentine battled many times in brutal classics for the locals. Bruce’s first live show was Valentine clashing with Fritz Von Erich in another war between legendary tough guys.

The fans came show after show and largely got their regular seats. Bruce and his brother Tom would sometimes get the chance to get front row seats when someone would be out of town and that proved to be the thrill of thrills for the youngsters.

Promoter Paul Boesch met the Prichard kids while their mother delivered his mail. This developed into frequent visits. The brothers both ended up getting gigs working for Boesch. Tom took pictures and Bruce sold posters. By the time he was 12, Bruce was helping to time out the TV shows. He served as ring announcer at the age of 14 when Boyd Pierce missed a show.

Boesch served in World War 2 and eventually wrote a book on his experiences. He then moved on to wrestling, TV announcing and ultimately promoting. Boesch was beloved in Houston as he was active in the community and clean cut.

Houston had a barter system built into selling his TV show’s ads. The local businesses lined up to get the rub from Boesch’s reputation and the big ratings the wrasslin’ drew on TV.

The heels could get easy heat from dueling with Boesch during interviews due to how beloved he was.

Houston would bring in the AWA, WWF and NWA talent into his shows. This was rare as few promoters had the stroke to get talent from everywhere.

Bruno Sammartino made a run with Houston that went poorly as the fans didn’t buy into his slower, power style. The Italian community was pretty small for him to draw from as well.

Ivan Putski drew big money as a big fat Pollock. When he went to the WWF, he lost his fat and used English in his promos. When he brought that schtick to Houston, it no longer translated with fans.

Tommy Rich was brought in cold, with only WTBS national TV appearances giving the fans a chance to get see him before his debut. He got a huge reaction, and Boesch suddenly bought into the power of cable TV.

Top Dallas talent was used for the Friday night local shows. Business was so good that those guys made more for one night’s work on Houston than what they earned the rest of the week in their “home” territory.

Boesch, Joe Blanchard, Gory Guerrero, the Funks, Fritz Von Erich and others were running towns and territories in Texas simultaneously.

Gary Hart and Paul Boesch did not get along. Hart had a strong personality and wasn’t quiet when he believed in something.

Hart was one of the first talents to take young Bruce under his wing and teach him the ins and outs of the wrestling business.

World Class was booked by Hart, so his loyalties were to Fritz instead of Boesch, which probably served to cause friction between the men as well.

Bruiser Brody was a brilliant man, he liked to read, smoke pot and saved every dime he could.

Gino Hernandez was a star in San Antonio as a youngster, and he ended up drawing big in Houston early in his career as well.

Payoffs in the late 70’s and early 80s were a minimum of 125 dollars for the lower guys (75 dollars more per shot than Fritz offered in World Class.) The main eventers made more in one night than most guys made elsewhere in a week.

The rumors of Gino Hernandez being Paul Boesch’s “secret” love child are not true as best as Bruce knows. He never even heard the rumors of such a thing until he went to the WWF in 1987.  There he heard Fred Blassie spouting off about it.

Gino was headlining by the time he was 19 thanks to Boesch pushing and protecting him. This included trips to Canada and other territories.

When Hernandez died suddenly from drugs in 1986, Boesch was visibly shocked. He left the office and went home for the day.

The office staff was Bruce and one other person aiding Boesch. Corny and Bruce make fun of the over production of modern wrestling compared to the simple and effective ways of the old days. The wrestlers were in charge of their own promos and most of the wrestling layout.

Bookers would have to go to each locker room and tell the individuals the planned finishes. Sometimes things would be lost in transition. Dick Murdoch would give the promoters guff over finishes sometimes – perhaps just for his own jollies.

Danny McShane was one of the old timers who popularized blading.

Before cage matches, netting was used to keep guys in the ring during this blow off matches. This evolved into the steel structure eventually.

The wrestlers used to make everything count. Punches were sold more and with dramatic flare. The “punch a guy 10 times in the corner” spot is pretty fake and hokey compared to how the selling used to put over blows.

Buddy Rogers first became a star in Texas. Lou Thesz battled him for Texas’ top titles, and Antonio Rocca followed soon after as a big draw in Texas before the WWWF got a hold of him and made him their top star.

Ernie Ladd was usually a heel, but Boesch used him as a babyface because he was from Texas, played in the NFL in Texas and was just too suited to be popular in the area.

Houston was able to consistently draw, even when other Texas areas struggled. Wahoo McDaniel was booking in the early 80’s when things went sour after Tully Blanchard gave him too many headaches. Wahoo quit and went to JCP. Tully ended up taking over as booker, then Dick Slater followed him briefly. Slater ended up hurt in a car wreck and Tully took back over. The roster didn’t like Blanchard, and even Boesch was down on him because Tully wasn’t big on getting to the office early and working with Paul. Buck Robley was then brought in to take over booking.

Robley brought in a young Ricky Morton and Ken Lucas to work on top with Blanchard and Gino Hernandez. Boesch knew Houston fans didn’t want to see small guys on top. Boesch called Joe Blanchard and asked how Robley’s booking and talent was doing in San Antonio, and was told it was so-so. That gave Boesch even more fuel to push for change.

Bruiser Brody and Jim Duggan came in soon after to feud. Brody was “blinded” by Duggan to set him up to take a tour of Japan. When he returned for the blow off, Brody didn’t want to work and sat in the middle of the ring as Duggan stormed around him. Buck Robley was working at ringside as a manager for Duggan, and was screaming at Brody to please work the match and we’ll talk money afterwards. Brody no sold Duggan’s kicks and then laid down and allowed himself to be pinned. Boesch was furious and fired Brody and Robley both after the show. Blanchard took back over as booker.

Bill Watts’ talent was then used to replace Joe Blanchard’s crew. JYD was red hot and quickly built up for an AWA world title match with Nick Bockwinkel. Tommy Rich and Gino Hernandez had a hot feud that served as the top undercard match. Hernandez was pissed at his pay off and wanted the same pay as the main eventers. Boesch ultimately cut him a check. Boesch was 70 by then and sick of dealing with wrestler’s issues, so he gave Watts control of the talent.

Ernie Ladd booked Mid-South at the time, and Bill Dundee took over in 1984.

We jump around timelines and go back to the early 70s when Jack Brisco was scheduled to beat Dory Funk Jr in Houston for the NWA title. Funk was in a car wreck that may or may not have really happened. Plans changed and Harley Race ended up besting Funk for the title before transitioning it to Brisco in Houston. Pat O’ Conner and other NWA officials were in attendance to make sure it came off because Brisco was the golden child of Eddie Graham, who groomed Brisco for greatness. Brisco was built up in Houston for months by having top talent come in and lose clean to Brisco to set up his big win. It was a huge deal for Boesch to “earn” an NWA title switch for his territory.

The Sheik was brought in and given a big push as a heel. Sheik told Boesch he wanted to work a feud with Abdullah the Butcher, and even said he’d put him over in the blow off. When the time came, Sheik balked at losing, so Boesch brought him in the ring and announced to the fans he refused to compete. Sheik was sent back home and was never welcomed back.

Wahoo McDaniel worked Dory Funk Jr. 9 times for the NWA title in Houston. When Dory came in to work Ernie Ladd, Wahoo bitched that he wasn’t getting the shot.

Corny breaks into a rant about Joey Ryan’s penis while talking about the simple but effective finishes that would be worked in NWA title matches.

Texas was the home of one of the WWF’s referee’s kids. When he made his yearly visits to his youngster, he’d work the local wrestling shows with the gimmick that he followed “New York” rules and not Texas’.

Boesch booked the AWA champ, NWA champ, and WWF champ for one mega show. NWA champ Harley Race showed up as the fans were leaving, as he didn’t know the gig was an afternoon show. Nick Bockwinkel ended up working with Jose Lothario, then wrestled an hour draw with Terry Funk. Boesch loved Bockwinkel for saving the show, and this started the process of Bockwinkel buying a piece of the territory.

Harley no showed again in 1981 after missing a flight. Boesch rebooked the whole card into a tournament for the “World title”. Wahoo won, then relinquished the title in order to be named the number one contender to the AWA championship. Boesch never booked Race again.

Houston previously built up a Wahoo McDaniel vs. Harley Race NWA title match under strap match rules. Race sent in promos for the match, but then showed up the night of the show with Pat ‘O Conner. They told Boesch that NWA title matches can’t be held with stipulations, and then O’Conner ordered Boesch to make him the ref to make sure Wahoo didn’t screw Race out of the win. The ring ended up breaking after a series of stiff suplexes from Wahoo on Race. McDaniel was visibly verbally fighting with O’Conner as the match was unfolding. Once Race was “down” McDaniel tied Race to a post and started throwing very real punches at O’Conner, who responded in kind. Boesch came to ringside and broke things up. This led to a rematch with Race vs. Wahoo where Race no showed as mentioned above.

Ken Mantel’s booking is debated. Corny thought he offered very little, but Bruce enjoyed his work.

Bill Watts came out of retirement to team with JYD to face the Midnight Express in Houston in 1984. They drew a sell out. Corny did the math and figured the promoters snookered 30-40 grand of the house into their own pockets before paying the boys their percentage.

The WWF struggled to draw money in the areas Watts was booking. Watts decided to expand his promotion, and it ended up sinking his territory as he lost money in syndication, without making it up by drawing money in the new areas.

Watts and Boesch ended up getting into some squabbles over using Bruce as an interviewer instead of Boesch. Watts wanted the younger guy who the fans were familiar with to do the bits and not the aging Bosch. Boesch ended up taping Houston-exclusive bits and Bruce was cut from the TV in the area.

When Watts sold out to JCP, Boesch wasn’t even told of the switch it was announced. Supposedly, very few were privy to the deal, as even Watts son Joel claimed to be surprised when the news came out. Jim Ross brokered the sale.

Jim Crockett came into a restaurant around the time the deal went down. Joel and Bruce were dining there and the Crocketts ignored him. Bruce convinced Joel to go confront him, and that was how they found out about the deal. Bruce went and called Boesch, then called the WWF looking for a new job. Bosch wasn’t sure if Houston wrestling was even part of the deal for sure.

The Crockett’s promised no changes were to be made, but within a short amount of time Jim Ross was burying talent while putting TV together with Bruce and basically alerted Prichard who was going to be fired or jobbed out.

Jim Crockett had rubbed Bruce the wrong way when they met at some joint shows, so Bruce felt the WWF would potentially be the best landing spot for him. Boesch ended up calling Jim Barnett (who was connected to the WWF) and getting himself a gig as the local Houston promoter.

The WWF took over Houston wrestling, and the local fans were no longer being catered to as the WWF was a cartoon, and Texas wrestling was blood and guts. An early Houston show the WWF booked saw 7 guys be subbed due to travel and personal issues. This went against everything Boesch believed in as a promoter.

The first main event of the WWF in Houston under the new regime was Intercontinental champ Ricky Steamboat against “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Vince gave Boesch permission to air their Wrestlemania 3 encounter to strum up business. Boesch ended up running the match for 3 straight weeks. Bruce took heat from Vince McMahon for doing this and called Boesch in order to tell him that Bruce was going to be formatting the TV from now on. Jim Barnett went to Boesch and (falsely) told him Prichard had buried Boesch in the meeting. Boesch went off on Bruce during their next meeting, which led to Vince having to step in and straighten Boesch out.

Boesch ended up being given a salary, along with his nephew, to serve as the local promoter and help sell tickets, etc. Boesch then told Bruce they weren’t doing anything extra without being paid. Bruce told them they are being paid. Boesch took the salary as his “payment” for the WWF running in Houston. Vince was livid as the WWF had already been running Houston (as competition) before this and was only paying Boesch because of the credibility he had with the local fans.

Vince declared this couldn’t work and Boesch was given a retirement show. McMahon spent a ton of money bringing in talent from across the US and even some from other parts of the world. (Mil Mascaras was filming a movie in Europe.) He even paid for a separate private party, a live band and other frivolities. McMahon went to Houston for a meeting before the show and learned Boesch and his nephew expected to keep all the profits from the show instead of the previously agreed 30%.   Vince was pissed but agreed out of respect for Boesch. McMahon smashed some glasses in the limo and told Bruce he didn’t have to fear catching any heat for this mess.

Surprisingly, they do not touch on Boesch coming back a few months later and working with JCP for a new version of “Houston Wrestling”. That didn’t last too long either.

They end on a funny note as Corny blames Bruce for booking the “Attitude Era”, so Bruce pokes the bear and blames Cornette for writing it with his good buddy Vince Russo. The men then do a mock fight while joking about their age.

Final thoughts: Bruce was smiling and passionate about the subject matter throughout this shoot. His first hand stories as a fan and office worker made for some very interesting listening. At two and a half hours. this felt like they did a good job covering the big picture of Houston’s wrasslin’ history overall.

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

Leave a Reply