Universal Wrestling Federation (Bill Watts)

The Universal Wrestling Federation was a 1986 re-branding of wrestler-turned-owner Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling promotion. Watts' goal was to elevate his promotion from a relatively smaller, regional-level business, to a national-level rival of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE). However, Watts' business strategy quickly swung from "overnight" success to catastrophic failure, resulting in the 1987 sale of the UWF to another rival: Jim Crockett Promotions (owner of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA)'s most important championships, and the forerunner to World Championship Wrestling). The promotion began as an NWA Territory, NWA Tri-State, founded by Leroy McGuirk in the 1950s. Tri-State promoted in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi until its 1987 collapse as the UWF.

Universal Wrestling Federation
AcronymUWF
Founded1950s NWA Tri-State
1979 (Mid-South)
1986 (UWF)
Defunct1987
StyleAmerican wrestling
HeadquartersBixby, Oklahoma
Founder(s)Bill Watts (UWF)
Leroy McGuirk (NWA Tri-State)
Owner(s)Leroy McGuirk (1950s-1979)
Bill Watts (1979-1987)
Jim Crockett, Jr. (1987)
ParentNational Wrestling Alliance (1950s-1979)
Jim Crockett Promotions (1987)
SisterHouston Wrestling
FormerlyNWA Tri-State (1950s-1979)
Mid-South Wrestling (1979-1986)
Websitehttp://www.universalwrestling.com

Because Watts did not register the Universal Wrestling Federation name with the United States Copyright Office, businessman Herb Abrams was able to use it to launch an unrelated wrestling promotion of the same name in 1990.

HistoryEdit

NWA Tri-State (1950s - 1979)Edit

A former territory[1] wrestler who was blinded in a 1950 auto accident, Leroy McGuirk eventually took over promoting a wrestling circuit covering Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. Until 1973, "Cowboy" Bill Watts had been one of Tri-State's most popular wrestlers. After leaving Tri-State for Eddie Graham's Championship Wrestling from Florida, Watts returned to Tri-State in 1975.

Mid-South Wrestling (1979–1986)Edit

In 1979, Bill Watts bought the Tri-State Wrestling territory from Leroy McGuirk, and re-branded it "Mid-South Wrestling" (MSW; officially, the Mid-South Wrestling Association). One of Watts' first acts as owner was to withdraw the company from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). However, MSW would remain loosely aligned with the NWA, continuing to have the NWA World Heavyweight Champion defend the title on MSW shows, which spiked live event sales. (During the "territory" system [1940s-1980s], the NWA World Heavyweight Champion would travel to each NWA-affiliated territory to defend the title against its top-drawing local star.) MSW then added Arkansas to its circuit. In 1982, MSW expanded to Oklahoma when McGuirk closed his personal, Oklahoma-based promotion. McGuirk also formed an alliance with Houston promoter Paul Boesch to feature Mid-South talent on shows at the Sam Houston Coliseum (one of the most famous arenas in professional wrestling), and other parts of southeastern Texas.

Instead of the cartoon-ish characters and interviews common to the Hulkamania-era WWF, Mid-South Wrestling's content focused on: energetic matches performed before raucous and packed crowds; characters whose personas blurred the line between good and evil; an intensely physical, athletic wrestling style; and an episodic TV show format.[2] The promotion ran shows in a mix of small venues and gigantic arenas. In 1980, a card pitting a "blinded" Junkyard Dog against Freebird Michael Hayes in the main event drew nearly 30,000 fans for a show presented by a promotion less than one year old. In 1984, Watts came out of retirement to team with a masked Junkyard Dog (under the name Stagger Lee) to face the Midnight Express to cap an angle in which the Express and manager Jim Cornette beat Watts on TV. Its undercard featured a showdown between Magnum T.A. and Mr. Wrestling II. The 1984 show drew 22,000 fans—an unimaginably large crowd for a regional territory show.

In the mid 1980s, MSW began to expand nationally.[2] In 1985, Ted Turner invited Watts to air MSW's weekly TV show on Turner's SuperStation TBS, as an alternative to the World Wrestling Federation show then airing in TBS' coveted Saturday-evening timeslot (which Georgia Championship Wrestling vacated by allowing its longtime TBS deal to expire). Turner was angered by the WWF show because McMahon reportedly had promised Turner a show with in-studio matches (a'la Georgia Championship Wrestling); instead, the show presented clips and highlights from other WWF TV shows, throughout the 2-hour TBS timeslot (see: Black Saturday (1984)). (Eventually, the WWF would have infrequent, in-studio squash matches.) MSW quickly became TBS' highest-rated show, so Watts positioned MSW to take over the two-hour, Saturday timeslot occupied by the WWF. Watts' luck ran out, however, when former Georgia promoter Jim Barnett helped broker a deal allowing Jim Crockett Promotions' Jim Crockett, Jr. to buy the TBS timeslot from McMahon, and be TBS' exclusive pro wrestling show. Watts made one more attempt at going national the following year. As part of that plan, Watts replaced Mid-South Wrestling's parochial brandname with a more corporate, geographically ambitious (and WWF-like) one: the Universal Wrestling Federation.

Universal Wrestling Federation (1986-1987)Edit

In March 1986, MSW "went national" (the goal of the most ambitious regional promotions), re-launching as the UWF, and securing a syndication deal airing their 1-hour, weekly TV show in major markets across the United States.[2] New wrestlers (mostly from World Class Championship Wrestling) (WCCW) joined the company, as did former WCCW co-promoter Ken Mantell. Despite the UWF's strong early ratings and critical praise, it could not compete nationally with Jim Crockett Promotions' and the WWF's much larger and more formidable broadcasting, live event, pay-per-view (and in the WWF's case, vast merchandising) operations. Watts was also harmed when the oil-based economy of Mid-South's most lucrative local market—Oklahoma—fell into a severe recession in the fall of 1986. This left the core of the UWF's fanbase with far less disposable income to spend on attending wrestling shows.[2] Watts sold the UWF to Crockett on April 9, 1987,[3] and many of the UWF's top acts were either retained by Jim Crockett Promotions, or immediately jumped to the WWF or WCCW.[4] Unlike the other NWA-affiliated promotions Crockett, Jr. had bought out during the mid-1980s, the UWF did not immediately end; Crockett kept its brand—and its 3 championships—alive in TV storylines until December 1987, when Crockett's NWA-affiliated characters defeated all of the UWF characters in a series of "title vs. title" unification matches, among others. Only a few UWF wrestlers were well-received by Crockett's fanbase; they included: the Fabulous Freebirds, Shane Douglas,[5] Rick Steiner, Eddie Gilbert, and UWF centerpiece "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Most UWF imports were gone from Crockett's roster within a year; however, one wrestler would go from UWF midcard/tag team act, to breakout star and Next Big Thing in Crockett's promotion, and the wrestling industry: Sting.

In 1989, Jim Crockett, Jr. -- one of the biggest and final casualties of the "going national" war with the WWF—sold his collection of territories and NWA-branded titles to Ted Turner. Crockett had never established a strong, single brand name for his wrestling properties. As a result, fans commonly referred to Jim Crockett Promotions by any one of several incorrect names: that of whichever Crockett territory they were most familiar with (e.g., Mid-Atlantic Wrestling; "Georgia"; "NWA Georgia"; "Georgia National"; and often, "the NWA" (a 1940s-2001 brandname/world championship franchisor/sanctioning body that didn't become an actual wrestling promotion until the late-2010s). Turner re-branded the promotion by simply naming it after its TBS show: "World Championship Wrestling".[3] Still, "Cowboy" Bill Watts ended up running the same business that had swallowed his own: Three years after Turner's 1989 acquisition of the Crockett property, Watts was hired as WCW's Executive Vice President. A position he held for a year.

WWE (f.k.a., the WWF) acquired most of the Mid-South/UWF video archive, absorbing it into its WWE Libraries collection in 2012.[6] The exception: Mid-South/UWF matches filmed for Houston Wrestling, the TV show of Houston wrestling promoter Paul Boesch's territory, for local independent station KHTV. That archive passed to Boesch's estate.[7] Select episodes of Mid-South are available for viewing on the WWE Network.

StorylinesEdit

The Battle of New Orleans was a long-playing brawl between Eddie Gilbert, Terry Taylor, Chris Adams and Sting, which began in the ring and spilled out into the concession area. Beer kegs, chairs, tables, popcorn machine and anything the four wrestlers could get their hands on were used in the brawl which lasted nearly 15 minutes. Sting and Gilbert fought outside the ring, when Rick Steiner came in and piledrived Shane Douglas. With Taylor on top, referee Randy Anderson made the pinfall. Later, Adams came out and told Anderson what had happened, which prompted Gilbert and Taylor to gang-up on Adams. Sting came in to even the sides, and that resulted in an all-out brawl outside the ring. Gilbert was the mastermind of this famous angle and received huge praise from fellow promoters and wrestlers.

Adams was engaged in a storyline involving Iceman King Parsons and Taylor, which evolved out of the UWF Tag Team Championship tournament in February 1987. Originally, Adams and Iceman were one of the eight teams participating, and Taylor was teamed with Sam Houston. In a semi-finals match, Adams and Iceman wrestled against "Dr Death" Steve Williams and Ted DiBiase until Skandor Akbar's Devastation Inc. charged the ring to attack Williams and DiBiase. The match ended when Williams and DiBiase were counted out, and Adams and Parsons won the match. Adams, who was helping Williams and DiBiase fight off Akbar and his army, wanted the match to continue, but Parsons wanted the win. After a lengthy argument, Adams and Parsons split, and Chris chose Savannah Jack as his new tag team partner. Iceman sucker-punched Savannah during a match and injured him, thus Adams had to choose another tag partner. He chose Terry Taylor, whose team lost a semi-final match to Rick Steiner and Sting. Taylor and Adams eventually won the UWF tag team titles, and held the belts for two months.

Meanwhile, Adams and Parsons engaged in a lengthy feud, which lasted for more than a decade (the two had feuded earlier in WCCW when Adams was the heel and Parsons was the babyface), with Parsons frequently referring to Adams as "Jailbird," a reference to Adams serving jail time in 1986 on an assault conviction. Taylor and Adams, who dominated the UWF tag team scene, lost a match to Steiner and Sting when Taylor kicked Adams foot off the rope as he was being pinned by Sting. A face-vs-face bout between Adams and Taylor marked Taylor's heel turn as he piledrived Adams on the floor. The Taylor-Adams war proved to be one of the most violent feuds in the UWF, with an equal intensity to the feud Adams had with the Von Erichs in World Class. The feud did have a short interruption when Taylor was injured in an automobile accident, but picked up again by the summer and carried over to World Class by 1988. Taylor and Adams promoted a famous angle in August which involved a press conference, where Taylor spoke about his situation with Adams and then left. Chris later took questions, which prompted Taylor to attack Adams with a chair. The following week, Adams conducted an interview vowing revenge against both Taylor and Eddie Gilbert.

Other famous UWF angles included promoter Bill Watts being attacked and having a USSR flag draped on him by Eddie Gilbert, Missy Hyatt cold-cocking John Tatum after joining forces with Gilbert, Skandor Akbar throwing a fireball at Hacksaw Jim Duggan ("blinding" him temporarily), and the Freebirds breaking Steve Williams' arm. Williams recruited Oklahoma Sooners (and future Dallas Cowboys head coach) Barry Switzer into training and getting back into the ring. It paid off on July 11, 1987 when Dr. Death defeated Big Bubba Rogers (Ray Traylor) to win the UWF Heavyweight Championship. The Freebirds became faces around that time, as they began feuding with Skandor Akbar's army as well as The Angel of Death.

A prelim wrestler, Mike Boyette, wrestled in the UWF and is believed to be one of the very few wrestlers to never win a match. Video editors for the show even put together a music video of his various losses in the ring, set to the Little River Band song "Lonesome Loser". "Gorgeous" Gary Young also competed in the UWF, claiming that he was a rookie. He actually had five years experience under his belt. Young's claims prompted Jim Ross to begin referring to him as a "five-time rookie of the year."

As the UWF's merge with "the NWA" was taking place, Terry Taylor, who held the UWF Television Championship, began an angle with the NWA World Television Champion, Nikita Koloff. Taylor stole the NWA TV title belt during an NWA show, but Koloff (with help from Dusty Rhodes) reclaimed it before their official in-ring encounter. They met at Starrcade 1987, and Nikita unified the two titles as the final leg of the NWA-UWF merger was finished. Williams would successfully defend the UWF Heavyweight Title on the same show versus Barry Windham. Williams immediately left to do a series of lucrative performances in Japan; the title was retired while he was in Asia.

Sting, Rick Steiner, Eddie Gilbert, Missy Hyatt, announcer Jim Ross, Brad Armstrong and the aforementioned Taylor became permanent NWA roster members, among others. The Freebirds, Savannah Jack, Iceman King Parsons, matchmaker Frank Dusek, and promoter Ken Mantell joined the new Wild West Wrestling promotion, which later merged with World Class Championship Wrestling. "Gentleman" Chris Adams, who initially stayed with Jim Crockett Promotions post-UWF, left due to a money dispute and returned to World Class in November 1987. DiBiase, Big Bubba Rogers, One Man Gang, and Sam Houston joined the WWF, joining fellow UWF alumnus "Hacksaw Jim Duggan", who the WWF had signed in February 1987. The Sheepherders, who originally joined Crockett after the merger, left in mid-1988 for the WWF, where they were renamed the Bushwhackers. Terry Taylor also departed, appearing in World Class for a few months (feuding with Chris Adams and Kevin Von Erich), then the WWF in mid-1988 as The Red Rooster. Taylor would go on to have a long WWF/WWE career behind-the-scenes, holding various management and creative team roles.

Former personnelEdit

AnnouncersEdit

Boyd Pierce, Reisor Bowden, Joel Watts and Jim Ross are the most famous announcers identified with the Mid-South/UWF. By the time the UWF began, Ross was the main announcer, with Bill Watts and later Michael Hayes assisting him. Ross was known for getting over-excited during the match, and in 1986, Ross received the unofficial I can scream the loudest during a match award from Pro Wrestling Illustrated (he shared the honor with the NWA's David Crockett). Frank Dusek and Toni Adams also served as ringside commentators during the course of its UWF tenure; both of whom moved on to World Class.

Wrestlers of NWA Tri-State/Mid-South/UWFEdit

Tag teams and stablesEdit

ChampionshipsEdit

NWA Tri-StateEdit

Championship: Last Champion(s): Date Active: Date Retired: Notes:
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Nick Aldis 1948 Still active As a member of the National Wrestling Alliance NWA Tri-State recognized the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as the highest title in the organization
NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship Barrett Brown 1945 Still active As a member of the National Wrestling Alliance NWA Mid-America recognized the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship as the highest ranking junior heavyweight title in the organization
NWA Tri State North American Championship Mr. Wrestling II 1969 1979 The title was renamed the Mid-South North American Championship when Bill Watts bought out most of the NWA Tri-State territory in 1979[9]
NWA United States Tag Team Championship (Tri-State version) Tommy Gilbert and Eddie Gilbert September 22, 1963 1980 Was renamed the Tri-State Tag Team Championship in 1980 after Watts bought out most of the NWA Tri-State territory.[9]
NWA United States Junior Heavyweight Championship (Tri-State version) Jack Donovan May 5, 1958 1960s [9]
NWA Tri-State Louisiana Championship Mike George 1972 1979 The title was renamed the Mid-South Louisiana Championship when Bill Watts bought out most of the NWA Tri-State territory in 1979. Before 1972 the title was promoted by NWA Gulfcoast Louisiana until the 1960s[9]
NWA Tri-State Heavyweight Championship Bob Sweetan September 7, 1980 1982 Title created after Bill Watts bought most of the NWA Tri-State territory, abandoned when Watts bought out the remaining Tri-State territory in 1982[9]
NWA Tri-State Tag Team Championship Turk Ali and El Toro 1980 1982 Title created after Bill Watts bought most of the NWA Tri-State territory, abandoned when Watts bought out the remaining Tri-State territory in 1982[9]
NWA Tri-State Brass Knuckles Championship Don Fargo 1970 1982 Title renamed after Bill Watts bought most of the NWA Tri-State territory, abandoned when Watts bought out the remaining Tri-State territory in 1982[9]
NWA Louisiana Heavyweight Championship Mike George April 1978 August 1979 Tri-State recognized the Louisiana Heavyweight Championship between April, 1978 and August 1979 Title existed from 1964 until 1983[9]
NWA Louisiana Tag Team Championship Bill Watts and Buck Robley 1978 1979 Title existed while Tri-State recognized the NWA Louisiana Heavyweight Championship[9]

Mid-South WrestlingEdit

Championship: Last Champion(s): Active From: Active Till: Notes:
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Nick Aldis 1948 Still active Despite not being a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, Mid-South recognized the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as the highest title in the organization
Mid-South North American Championship "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan 1969 May 1986 Title was originally named the NWA Tri-State North American Championship but renamed when Bill Watts bought out most of the NWA Tri-State territory in 1979[9]
Mid-South Television Championship Dick Slater May 2, 1984 1986 Title renamed "UWF Television Championship" in 1986[9]
Mid-South Tag Team Championship Ted DiBiase and Steve Williams September 28, 1979 1986 Title renamed "UWF Tag Team Championship" in 1986[9]
Mid-South Louisiana Championship "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan October 16, 1964 1983 Originally called the "NWA Tri-State Louisiana Heavyweight Championship", renamed after Bill Watts bought most of the NWA Tri-State territory [9]

Universal Wrestling FederationEdit

Championship: Last Champion(s): Active From: Active Till: Notes:
UWF Heavyweight Championship "Dr. Death" Steve Williams May 30, 1986 December 1987 Title replaced the "Mid-South North American Heavyweight Championship" when the promotion changed name[9]
UWF Television Championship Nikita Koloff May 2, 1984 November 26, 1987 The "Mid-South Television Championship" was renamed when the promotion changed names[9]
UWF Tag Team Championship The Sheepherders September 28, 1979 November 1987 The "Mid-South Tag Team Championship" was renamed when the promotion changed names[9]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "WrestlingTerritories.png". Freakin' Awesome Network Forums :: Freakin' Awesome Wrestling Forum :: (w)Rest of Wrestling. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Mick Foley (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 91. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
  3. ^ a b Mick Foley (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 93. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
  4. ^ Starrcade vs. Survivor Series: The Fight for Thanksgiving That Changed Wrestling
  5. ^ WrestlingEpicenter.com - The NEW Online Home of The Interactive Interview
  6. ^ WWE Purchases Mid-South Wrestling Video Collection
  7. ^ Corrigan's Corner: Bruce Tharpe Talks NWA - Then and Now (Part 1)
  8. ^ a b Hornbaker, Tim (2007). National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. pp. 351–352. ISBN 978-1-55022-741-3.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Royal Duncan & Gary Will (2006). Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.

External linksEdit