Dan McLeod defeated Tom Jenkins in Worcester on December 25, 1902 when Jenkins was
forced to quit in the third fall when a sore on his right leg became too much for him to
continue. Jenkins had won the initial fall and McLeod won the second. The bout was for
the catch-as-catch-can wrestling championship. The referee was Dowd.
In Worcester on December 19, 1906, Hjalmar Lundin beat Pietro in two-straight falls,
catch-as-catch-can style. Pietro, after the loss, wanted a rematch under Greco-Roman
A private wrestling match occurred on Monday, February 27, 1911 in Boston between Jack
Leon and the "young Turk" Nouralah and Leon won in two-straight falls before about 20
people, Emil Klank included. With the win, Leon won a side bet of $1,000. The match was
called "one of the fiercest events of its kind in the history of modern wrestling." The winner
also was said to be in place to wrestle Frank Gotch in the near future. Leon was reportedly
under indictment for the death of Billy Dunning in a boxing match in Bangor. Klank,
Gotch's manager, was going to negotiate a future match between Gotch and Leon, but it
was going to be when they were ready. While Boston wanted the important match, Leon
instead went to Salt Lake City and wrestled Gotch on March 27. Leon was managed by
George Tuohey, Boston promoter.
In early 1928, the New England territory was consumed by the sensation that was Gus
Sonnenberg. The Boston Globe, in covering the February 2, 1928 show at the Grand
Opera House, spelled his name, "Gus Sonenburg," and admitted that the latter had
employed a range of football-like maneuvers on the mat to include "rushing and tackling
low." After a minute thirty, Sonnenberg beat his opponent, policeman Charlie Donnell. This
was reportedly Gus's second professional match. Five nights later in Providence,
Sonnenberg won his third match over Al Thomas in 1:10. After six matches, Sonnenberg
was undefeated, and had won all six in under a combined 18-minutes.
With prime booking, amazing maneuvers, and an audience ready to support, Sonnenberg
rose to the top of the ranks like a rocket. Another considerable factor was the amazing
press Sonnenberg received. David F. Egan of the Boston Globe (5/11/28) wrote that the
Sonnenberg-Wayne Munn affair the night before was "one of the most amazing matches in
the modern history of wrestling," and Sonnenberg's "cyclonic victory over the former
champion of the world elevates him overnight to a place among the leaders in the wrestling
sport." Sonnenberg's two-fall victory over Munn in 1:44 (that's right, one-minute and forty
four seconds) made him a "dangerous contender for championship honors."
It was a crushing victory over Munn, who had almost a foot on Sonnenberg and a 70 pound
advantage, and made Sonnenberg appear much larger than he was in stature. He was a
quick, giant killer, with flashy moves and a personality that people appreciated. The timing
for his successful jaunt to the peaks of the wrestling business was perfect, and Bowser saw
nothing but dollar signs.
Gaining victories over Karl Sarpolis, John Freberg, and Charles Hansen, Sonnenberg
earned the right to challenge Ed "Strangler" Lewis for the World Heavyweight Title on June
29, 1928 at the Boston Arena. Before 12,000 fans expecting to see their hero annex the
crown, Sonnenberg captured the initial fall, then missed a flying tackle in the second, sailed
from the ring, and was injured. The match ended there, and Lewis retained his title.
Egan, at the Globe, who was well known for talking up Sonnenberg and Bowser's
operations, wrote that Sonnenberg displayed the "finest bit of offensive" wrestling a Boston
mat had seen in years, and that it appeared throughout the opening stanza that Gus was
on his way to capturing the title. Egan expressed that if anything, Sonnenberg achieved a
"moral victory" over Lewis, and was destined to eventually win the heavyweight
Sonnenberg was defeated, not because of Lewis's superior grappling, but because of an
error in his flying tackle calculations. His momentum was still strong, and another nice
push would capitalize on his popularity just prior to pitting him against Lewis again for all
The Boston Garden, a modern and luxurious facility, opened on November 17, 1928 with a
special carnival featuring politicians, bands, a color guard, various dignitaries, and a
special tribute to John L. Sullivan. The "Boston Madison Square Garden Club" had been
recently formed with president Tex Rickard, and it had a 25 year lease on the property.
John Barry of the Boston Globe reported that never before had such a spectacle taken
place before in Boston. The first major sports event at the Garden was going to be the
Johnny Risko-Jim Maloney fight on November 30.
The Garden was also going to be the site of the Sonnenberg-Lewis rematch on January 4,
1929. In terms fixed in a meeting on December 17, 1928 in the Garden office of Sheldon
Fairbanks, Sonnenberg was to receive 12 1/2% of the gate receipts, while Lewis was
getting a flat fee of $50,000, the largest amount for a wrestling champion to defend their
title. Bowser believed there would be a gate of $75,000 and a crowd of 20,000. All eyes of
the professional wrestling world were on Boston as the calender switched from 1928 to
The numbers weren't too far off. The January 4th crowd was at 20,000 and the gate was
approximately $72,000. Other prognosticators who had Sonnenberg going over were
correct as well because the man from Dartmouth took two-straight falls and captured the
World Heavyweight Title. Sonnenberg's rise to the top was now complete. In many ways,
he had already influenced and changed the wrestling business - amazing because he'd
only been active for a short period of time. Some wrestlers went decades without making
the dent Sonnenberg did in a year or so.
Before anyone realized it, other wrestlers like Pat McGill, Jim McMillen, Howard Cantonwine,
Joe Stecher, and Joe Malcewicz also began to use the flying tackle. It was now fashionable
for wrestlers to adopt football-like tactics, as it was becoming more important to perform
colorful maneuvers instead of exhibiting any real knowledge of catch-as-catch-can
Following Sonnenberg's ascension to the throne, Bowser was crafty in his effort to build
reputable challengers that fans appreciated. There was constantly a pecking order in the
promotions in Boston, with some wrestlers on the up slope, and others falling fast.
Malcewicz was given a strong push and Bowser benefited greatly from the results. On
March 15, 1929 at the Garden, an estimated 18,000 fans paid $52,000 to see Malcewicz
challenge Sonnenberg. Instead of even allowing Malcewicz to get a fall, Sonnenberg's
dominance prevailed, scoring two-straight with flying tackles, and the second was
accomplished in only 25 seconds. Modern pundits might have complained about such a
non-dramatic finish, but Sonnenberg was the unbeatable hero at this point, and Bowser
wasn't letting anyone punch a hole in his armor - just yet.
Joe DeVito of Providence was another wrestler getting a push in New England, and was the
man on deck after Malcewicz. In his quest, DeVito beat Stanislaus Zbyszko, Jack Ganson,
George McLeod, and Stanley Stasiak. His match against McLeod at the Arena (4/25/29)
drew more than 8,000 fans, and DeVito's reverse head scissors and occasional flying
tackle were building a solid fan base.
One of the aspects that made Sonnenberg an interesting historical figure is that he
diversified his wrestling skillset a great deal within his first two years in the business. He
didn't strictly rely on his flying tackle. While on the road as champion during the first half of
1929, he was also learning how to work different styles of matches. Instead of just going in
and holding court over his opponent, launching a flying tackle, and taking the winner's
share, he was actually going on the defensive at times, and by May 1929, he was
appearing more beatable. That was an important cog in the wrestling wheel, and
Sonnenberg was implementing different tactics to liven up his matches.
The DeVito bout on May 16, 1929 was an example of Sonnenberg's new style. Egan in the
Boston Globe commented that the champion displayed "intricate" new holds during the
bout, and wasn't the "impetuous, dashing Sonnenberg who slashed Lewis and Malcewicz."
Sonnenberg was also on the defensive for more than 30 minutes of the bout, even being
"pretty close" to defeat at times. When he finally did use his flying tackle, the crowd roared
in approval, and Sonnenberg beat his challenger in two straight falls.
Bowser's next challenger to Sonnenberg was Marin Plestina, the "chaser of champions," as
Egan called him. Plestina actually went out to the ring after Sonnenberg and DeVito,
issued a challenge, and had to be returned to the dressing room area by two Boston
policemen. In his bout, Plestina beat three opponents in less than ten minutes,
establishing his place as the top contender. Bowser didn't wait to get the two in the ring,
and on May 28, 1929, the bout occurred at the Arena before 10,000 fans. Egan was
exceedingly complimentary of Sonnenberg, proclaiming him, "the greatest living wrestler,"
and although he lacked polish and the skill of some of the veterans, he "makes up in
ferocity and speed which makes him as invincible as Dempsey in his prime." Also, as a
gesture to the promotions of the "Tex Rickard of wrestling," Bowser, Egan said the
preliminary bill was "brilliant."
Ed "Strangler" Lewis was Bowser's next main adversary for Sonnenberg, and his return
was highly anticipated. A $100,000 purse was guaranteed with Sonnenberg receiving
$75,000 and Lewis getting $25,000, and Bowser believed the July 9 bout at Fenway Park
was going to have a $150,000 house. Instead, it was a $90,000 gate, $10,000 less than
the purse going to the main event wrestlers, if the guarantees were legit. 25,000 fans saw
Sonnenberg take two-of-three-falls, and retain his championship.
Wrestling in Boston was quiet for a majority of the summer, and once things heated back
up around October 1929, Pat McGill was getting the push toward a title match. Fans had
to be surprised that on October 3, before 1,500 members of the Boston City Club,
Sonnenberg announced that he planned to retire from professional wrestling in six
months. Maybe it was a gimmick to get fans out to see him while they still could.
Nevertheless, Sonnenberg didn't retire prematurely despite his statement.
The professional wrestling world fractured in 1929 when promoters in Pennsylvania,
Missouri, and New York branched off and recognized Dick Shikat as the heavyweight
champion. Ray Fabiani, Tom Packs, and Jack Curley, in those respective states, were
leery of having to rely on Bowser for dates on the undisputed heavyweight titleholder.
Instead, they pushed their own champion, and began a new lineage. What this did was
define two separate wrestling syndicates with different championship recognition and their
own talent pools.
Bowser and Curley had engaged in wrestling wars before, and basically, this was a
continuation of their loathing for one another. Read more about wrestling wars here.
The Curley-Fabiani combine found an affiliate in Boston to run opposition to Bowser in Billy
Avery, and on November 13, 1929, Shikat appeared at the Mechanics Building to defend
his championship against George Manich. David Egan covered the show for the Boston
Globe, but he was a lot less complimentary in his report (11/14/1929, Boston Globe) than
he'd been for Bowser's programs. The headline of his article stated "Shikat Fails to
Impress Fans Here," and that it was a "drab debut." Egan continued by writing that
spectators had been used to seeing the "brilliant, whirlwind offense" of Sonnenberg, and
with Shikat, they got a "careful, methodical and defensive wrestler." Fans booed at times,
and left the building disappointed.
Regardless, 3,500 fans saw Shikat and were exposed to new performers and a new brand
of wrestling. On December 19, 1929, both promotions ran on the same evening, but the
Boston Globe didn't indicate who drew a larger audience. Shikat appeared again on
December 27 at the Mechanics Building for Avery, and the Boston Globe (12/28/29)
(unnamed writer) noted that it had been his best appearance "by far" in local rings. The
paper stated, "his work was that of a high class showman and he introduced several new
On Bowser's side of things, Sonnenberg returned on November 21, 1929 for his first local
appearance since his July bout versus Ed Lewis. In terms of pushes, Bowser was giving
Pat McGill, Bob "Bibber" McCoy, and young Ed George successful runs. McGill, over a
several week period, beat John Grandovich, Freddie Meyers, Jack Jansen, August
Benkert, and Abe Kaplan. Ed George was billed as a football star from the University of
Michigan, but he was, more importantly, an Olympic caliber grappler. Speaking of Olympic
wrestlers, Bowser had another featured star who was on his way up the heavyweight ladder.
He was Henri DeGlane, the 1924 Gold Medallist in Graeco-Roman wrestling representing
Unlike Sonnenberg, both George and DeGlane was capable shooters, and during a time of
war and potential double-crosses, the latter duo were good to have onboard. On
December 30, 1929, Billy Avery offered Sonnenberg $50,000 to wrestle Shikat for the
heavyweight championship in Boston within 90 days. The offer included $10,000 when
Sonnenberg signed the contract and the other $40,000 to be given over 48 hours before
the match. Shikat would also receive $50,000. Jimmy Brown, the manager of Sonnenberg,
reportedly "laughed at the offer," explaining that Shikat had to first beat Dan Koloff or Ed
"Strangler" Lewis "or any of the dozens" of others Sonnenberg had defeated before getting
a match with the latter.
All sides were posturing for position, telling lies in the press, and using political
maneuvering to get one over on their adversaries. In return for Sonnenberg being
suspended in Pennsylvania and New York, Bowser's allies had Shikat banned in Rhode
Island. Why? The same reason. Shikat was reportedly not facing worthy challengers.
There were some indicators that Sonnenberg's run at the top was experiencing some
friction. David Egan of the Boston Globe, who had been one of his truest supporters,
explained in his January 31, 1930 article about the big show the night before in which
Sonnenberg successfully defended his title against Joe Stecher, that Stecher had been the
"master." Sonnenberg "looked like a doughty little school boy when lined up against the
scissors king," Egan wrote. It was uncharacteristic of Egan to write anything but glowing
comments about Sonnenberg.
Also, there seemed to be a hastened push of DeGlane. Instead of occasional semifinal or
prelim bouts, DeGlane was a headliner, and his February 20, 1930 Boston bout against
Jack Sherry was called "one of the most sensational mat battles ever held in this city," by
the Boston Globe. Following a rematch victory over Sherry and against Wladek Zbyszko,
DeGlane was ushered into a bout against Sonnenberg on March 20, 1930 at the Arena. A
capacity house of 12,500 paid about $25,000 to see the touted affair, and Sonnenberg
retained his title after DeGlane smashed against the floor and was injured following a flying
tackle by the champion. The unsatisfactory ending left room for a second match, and
there was growing hope that DeGlane would end Sonnenberg's reign.
On the afternoon of February 6, 1930, Boston University wrestling coach Frank Dellamanio
gave an exhibition with "Edward George" at Boston University gymnasium on St. Botolph
Street. It began at 3:30. Over the last four months, George had won 16-straight matches
and would soon be known as "Ed Don George."
The members of the Massachusetts Legislative Committee met in Boston on February 27,
1930 to discuss professional wrestling. Since boxing was under state supervision,
legislators wanted to possibly regulate grappling as well. It was claimed that promoters and
athletes were making "suckers" out of paying fans and that an investigation was needed to
look into faked fights, prearranged "flops," and gambling influences. There was also a call
for the resignation of Boxing Commissioner Eugene Buckley. Ex. Lieutenant Governor
Barry, a longtime supporter of grappling, said he didn't think wrestling was fake.
Side Notes: Joe Alvarez was the chief of Bowser's ticket staff in 1929. Alex MacLean
promoted boxing at Boston Garden in 1930.
Boston was consumed by a professional wrestling war in 1931 between the Bowser outfit
and the renegade Ray Fabiani syndicate led by heavyweight champion Jim Londos.
Displaying former football stars, using creative booking finishes, and sometimes hostile
publicity, the two promotional entities fought for superiority and basically the hearts and
minds of local wrestling fans. It seems that there was enough support for both
organizations, and at times, Bowser and Fabiani were able to draw 10,000 or more fans to
a big program.
An insider fact about the Bowser syndicate was actually revealed during the Seattle Athletic
Commission investigation into professional wrestling on April 1, 1931. The lead
investigator, Jack Sullivan, explained that Ted Tonneman was introduced to him initially as
the manager of World Heavyweight Champion Gus Sonnenberg, probably sometime in
1929. However, Tonneman refereed the match Sonnenberg had with Karl Sarpolis in
Seattle, clearly violating ethical rules. Later, Tonneman also traveled with Ed Don George
as champion, and refereed a bout George had in Portland. Catching on, the commission
did block him from refereeing a match in Seattle between Sonnenberg and Ed Lewis.
Yvon Robert's jump into heavyweight title contention was hastened by a January 8, 1936
incident at the Valley Arena in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Robert was apparently feeling
bold, and challenged the World Heavyweight Champion Danno O'Mahoney prior to the
latter's match with Frank Judson. After winning, O'Mahoney had some words of his own for
Robert, and Robert quickly revealed that he had his wrestling gear on underneath his
street clothes. A brawl in the ring ensued, and Robert reportedly threw the champion from
the ring. The story was covered by the Associated Press in papers across the country,
and gave Robert credibility in his ascension to the top of the ranks.
The members of the alliance known as the "Trust" were considering a replacement for
O'Mahoney, and there were a few leading candidates. Among them were Robert, Ernie
Dusek, and Dean Detton, who, in February 1936, won a major international tournament in
Philadelphia. The smooth transition to a prepared championship replacement would not
occur because Dick Shikat double-crossed O'Mahoney in a New York ring and stole the
title. The incident sent shock waves throughout the industry, leaving Bowser and his
cohorts in other cities to quickly devise alternate plans to keep business hot in their cities.
Excuses for the loss were made public, including that referee George Bothner misheard
O'Mahoney in the ring that night and that Danno never really gave up. There were claims
that "they" stole the title from O'Mahoney because he was going back to Ireland in June,
and "they" didn't want him leaving the country with the championship.
Bowser told the press that O'Mahoney had been running a fever prior to the Shikat bout
and the New York Commission forced him to wrestle in spite of his condition. He said that
"Anybody could have beaten him last night."
On March 3, 1936, Bowser made the following announcement: "The American Wrestling
Association and the St. Louis Commission still recognize Danno O'Mahoney as
heavyweight wrestling champion, despite referee George Bothner's decision declaring
Richard Shikat a winner over the Irishman in New York Monday night."
So, as far as Bowser was concerned, O'Mahoney never lost the title. But as an indication
of how far O'Mahoney had fallen in terms of popularity, when the announcement that he'd
lost his title in New York was made at an Irish-American A.C. amateur boxing show at the
Boston Arena, the crowd cheered in approval. It seemed that even his previously loyal
Irish fan-base was crumbling.
O'Mahoney reportedly had made promoters upward of $250,000 since his first American
match, and Bowser had committed endless resources to his run as champion. If Danno
was going to lose the title, it was going to be Bowser who determined when and to whom.
By June 1936, it was more clear to sportswriters that Yvon Robert would succeed
O'Mahoney. It was anticipated that the title switch would happen on June 23, 1936 at the
Boston Garden and 11,000 "howling spectators" turned out to see it happen.
However, it didn't happen. O'Mahoney beat Robert in three-falls to remain champion.
According to the Boston Globe, he was "presented with the advertised $10,000
diamond-studded belt and another belt from the American Wrestling Association."
O'Mahoney went back to his native country still as a claimant to the world title. While
Robert hadn't annexed the championship on this occasion, his big day was coming.
In 1944, Sammy Smith was said to be the president of the New England Boxing and
Wrestling Association, which was a separate entity from the American Wrestling
Wrestler Buzz Orio (Italo Orio of Boston) paid a $20 fine for attacking a spectator at a
wrestling show in Fall River on March 9, 1954. The wrestler told the judge that the
62-year-old fan "kept calling me a bum," according to the Associated Press report
(3/10/1954, Newark Evening News, Newark, NJ), and said that the fan "even called me
Sam Muchnick, in a letter to Jack Pfefer dated May 23, 1958, mentioned that Bowser drew
$15,000 in Boston recently. He wrote, "They have a new studio show there. I feel quite
sure that, because of that, they will be able to revive the town."
Bowser's studio show was reportedly being featured on an 8-station network.
In my Bowser biography and on page 279 of my book on the National Wrestling Alliance, I
clearly stated that Bowser's final wrestling program occurred on July 15, 1960 at Boston
Garden. I was wrong - completely wrong. Bowser's last wrestling program was actually
three months earlier on March 11. 1960. The July 15 show was promoted by Eddie Quinn,
who had crowbarred his way into the city and opposed his longtime business partner and
friend. Quinn attacked when Bowser was the most vulnerable. Allow me to elaborate.
Sometime in the September-October 1959 time-frame, Bowser lost his vital Saturday TV
outlet on WBZ. This was the show he relied on for promotion leading up to his live Garden
programs, and it had been quite successful. Earlier in 1959, Bowser was selling his
venues out, and had many over 10,000 crowds. Following his October 2, 1959 show,
Bowser closed up shop - a highly unusual move. The darkness of his wrestling promotion
indicated one of the harshest downfalls in wrestling history. Little do people understand
just how far Bowser fell in such a short period of time.
In the January 30, 1960 edition of the Boston Globe, writer Jerry Nason quoted Bowser as
saying that he was looking to restart his operations in March, and that he first needed a
television arrangement. The March 11, 1960 Globe reported that it was the first winter in
"40 years" that Bowser's promotion was quiet during the winter. Through this time,
sportswriters touched on the news that Eddie Quinn was going to pounce on the Boston
market. The Boston Globe (2/18/60) stated that "It's War" with Quinn and his Armory A.A.
troupe coming in.
In the February 20, 1960 edition of the Globe, Quinn denied there was a war in Boston. He
said: "If there was, what's Pat O'Connor doing on Bowser's March 11 show? I manage
O'Connor! He's under five year contract to me." This was a debatable statement,
especially when it came to the National Wrestling Alliance and NWA President Sam
Muchnick. But Quinn firmly believed he held the rights to the NWA Titleholder, O'Connor.
This story will be elaborated on elsewhere.
Quinn rallied his troops - and like he was doing in Chicago - attacked with an offensive that
meant to eliminate the established promoter. On the opposite side, Bowser was physically
ill, and in no place to retaliate or defend his city. Quinn turned up the heat with the likes of
Killer Kowalski, Bearcat Wright, Bobby Managoff, Lou Thesz, Johnny Valentine, and even
Bruno Sammartino. It was no contest. Bowser was not holding wrestling shows, and Quinn
was claiming a vacant market. In July 1960, Bowser passed away, and Quinn assumed the
role as kingpin of the city.
In 1960-'61, another transition took place in Boston. While the exact date/month of the
switchover isn't now known, Quinn departed the city, leaving Tony Santos to operate in
Boston under the "Big Time Wrestling" banner. Santos had previously worked for Bowser,
and was known for running the city's second tier promotion with many journeymen and
Pfefer-like knockoffs. Promoting programs at the Arena and at the Garden with veteran
Frank Scarpa as his star, Santos attained a stable following in the early 1960s, and had
television into Boston on Manchester's (NH) WMUR (channel 9). He may have also had a
Boston program. Santos' public relations manager was Walter Lipson.
Former wrestler and Boston College football alumni Dom Papaleo tried to capitalize on the
void left by Bowser/Quinn, and used a combination of local and national talent. Papaleo
brought in Verne Gagne, Dick the Bruiser, and Hans Schmidt for two shows in September
and October 1962, but then faded out, again leaving the town to Santos. Among the
highlights of Papaleo's run was the use of heavyweight boxer Tom McNeeley as a referee,
and even coaxing the latter to train to be a wrestler - which never materialized.
Santos remained the main promoter in Boston until the emergence of Abe Ford, who
represented the interests of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), in 1965.
Besides Scarpa, Santos used wrestlers Hobo Brazil, Bull Curry, Hans Schmidt, Don Eagle,
Mighty Ursus, and Bruno Samnartino.
Samnartino (Pancho Rosario Valdez ... aka Isaac Rosario) was out-shined by the real
Bruno Sammartino during the summer of 1965, as the WWWF World Champion appeared
under Ford's "Worlds Championship Wrestling" banner. Facing opponents The Golden
Terror and Dr. Bill Miller, Sammartino displayed his brute strength and bolstered his
popularity. In December 1966, Scarpa reportedly challenged Sammartino to a match with
all the proceeds going to charity. The challenge fell on deaf ears.
Interestingly, Sammartino wouldn't return to Boston until April 1967, and at that time, he
received great press by Boston Globe writers Bob Sales and Bud Collins. Ford's wrestling
promotion had stronger legs, and was ready for the long haul. The WWWF was now a
mainstay in Boston.
Boston Wrestling Offices:
In 1928, Bowser's office was at 333 Washington Street, room 830.
In 1929, Bowser's office was at 115 Chauncey Street.
Paul Bowser Enterprises (1933)
115 Chauncy Street, Suites 202-208
President: Paul Bowser
Matchmaker: Joseph Alvarez
Publicity Director: Frank M. Smith
Assistant Matchmaker: Captain John Albright
Secretary: Evelyn Spellman
Auditor: C.W. Moore
Treasurer: Thomas Parle
Assistant: J.A. Hacker
For an in-depth look at Boston's amazing wrestling history, read the Paul Bowser
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Massachusetts Wrestling Territory