Houston Matters

Houston Wrestling In The 70s Was A Spectacle — Both In The Ring And The Stands

Geoff Winningham reflects on his 1971 book of photography, Friday Night in the Coliseum.

Wrestlers Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel
Wrestlers Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel from a match in the Houston Coliseum.

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For many Houstonians in the 1970s, Friday night wrestling matches were a staple at the now-demolished Sam Houston Coliseum downtown.

And broadcasts of those matches were staples of Sunday morning television, featuring the voice of wrestling promoter and announcer Paul Boesch, himself a former wrestler.

Young photographer Geoff Winningham took in a match in 1970 and was amazed by the spectacle he saw — both in the ring and out of it.

The rowdy, loyal fans were almost as colorful as the flamboyant wrestlers they cheered on each week.

Wrestling Crowd Inside the Houston Coliseum
A Friday night wrestling crowd inside the Houston Coliseum in the 1970s.

So Winningham decided to spend the next eight months attending matches and documenting them with his camera.

His work was published in a critically acclaimed book, Friday Night in the Coliseum, which was originally published in 1971.

Friday Night in the Coliseum Book

Now, nearly 50 years later, a new edition is out with a corresponding photo exhibit by the same name, which is on display through March 20 at the Rice Media Center.

In the audio above, Winningham discusses the bygone days of Houston Wrestling with Houston Matters host Craig Cohen and reflects on his work documenting it.

  • An empty wrestling ring inside the Sam Houston Coliseum as shown in Geoff Winningham's photography book, Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
    An empty wrestling ring inside the Sam Houston Coliseum as shown in Geoff Winningham's photography book, Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
  • Masked wrestler Mil Mascaras finishes off Toru Tanaka with the flying body press in a match at the Houston Coliseum in the 1970s. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
    Masked wrestler Mil Mascaras finishes off Toru Tanaka with the flying body press in a match at the Houston Coliseum in the 1970s. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
  • Photographer Geoff Winningham documented professional wrestling in the 1970s in his book Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
    Photographer Geoff Winningham documented professional wrestling in the 1970s in his book Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
  • A photo by Geoff Winningham of wrestlers Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel in the Houston Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
    A photo by Geoff Winningham of wrestlers Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel in the Houston Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
  • Houston wrestling promoter and announcer Paul Boesch in a 1978 broadcast of professional wrestling matches that took place every Friday night at the Sam Houston Coliseum and were later aired on Sunday morning TV. (Photo Credit: YouTube/Screen Capture)
    Houston wrestling promoter and announcer Paul Boesch in a 1978 broadcast of professional wrestling matches that took place every Friday night at the Sam Houston Coliseum and were later aired on Sunday morning TV. (Photo Credit: YouTube/Screen Capture)
  • A Friday night wrestling crowd inside the Houston Coliseum in the 1970s. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
    A Friday night wrestling crowd inside the Houston Coliseum in the 1970s. (Photo Credit: Geoff Winningham)
  • Geoff Winningham, photographer and professor of visual arts at Rice University documented professional wrestling in Houston in the 1970s with his book Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)
    Geoff Winningham, photographer and professor of visual arts at Rice University documented professional wrestling in Houston in the 1970s with his book Friday Night in the Coliseum. (Photo Credit: Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media)

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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