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The Universal Wrestling Federation was owner Bill Watts' attempt at taking his Mid-South Wrestling promotion to a national level in 1986. The attempt failed and in 1987, Watts sold the promotion to Jim Crockett Promotions and became part of what would later be known as World Championship Wrestling. The promotion had started out as an NWA Territory known as NWA Tri-State founded by Leroy McGuirk in the 1950s. Tri-State would promote in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, the same area that Watts' Mid-South wrestling ran in before attempting to go national. In 1990, Herb Abrams started an unrelated wrestling promotion with the same name.
A former territory wrestler who was blinded in a 1950 auto accident, Leroy McGuirk eventually took over promoting a wrestling circuit that covered Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
In 1979, Bill Watts bought out the Tri-State Wrestling circuit from McGuirk, and renamed the circuit Mid-South Wrestling (known officially as the Mid-South Wrestling Association). One of his first acts as owner was to withdraw from the NWA, though MSW would still remain loosely aligned with the organization and continue to have the NWA World Champion defend his title on MSW shows. MSW began adding shows in Arkansas to its circuit. In 1982, the promotion grew to include Oklahoma when Leroy McGuirk shut down his Oklahoma-based promotion. He also formed an alliance with Houston, Texas promoter Paul Boesch to feature Mid-South talent on the cards at the Sam Houston Coliseum, one of the largest cities in America and one of the most fabled arenas in professional wrestling, as well as other parts of southeastern Texas.
At the time, Bill Watts was seen as one of the best promoters in America, and his show garnered high ratings. Instead of focusing on cartoonish characters and cheesy interviews, Mid-South Wrestling focused on energetic matches and characters whose personas blurred the lines between good and evil. Moreover, unlike the WWF, Watts focused more on a physical style and episodic format. The promotion ran shows in a mix of small venues and gigantic arenas. Its finest hours came during the shows at the Louisiana Superdome. 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. The latter card also featured a showdown between Magnum T.A. and Mr. Wrestling II in one of the hottest feuds of the early 1980s. The 1984 show drew 22,000 fans.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, the MSW began to expand nationally. In 1985, Ted Turner invited Watts to air his Mid-South Wrestling program on SuperStation TBS as an alternative to the World Wrestling Federation programing that ran on Saturday nights. Turner was angered with Vince McMahon and the WWF because McMahon reportedly promised Turner a studio-produced program, but he instead presented a two hours of highlights from other WWF programming (See: Black Saturday). MSW quickly became the highest-rated program on TBS, and Watts positioned himself to take over the two-hour Saturday block occupied by the WWF. His luck ran out when former Georgia promoter Jim Barnett helped broker a deal that allowed NWA promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. to buy the slot from McMahon and become the exclusive wrestling promotion for TBS. The deal, however, forced the elimination of the Mid-South Wrestling program from the TBS schedule. Watts made one more attempt at going national the following year under the auspices of the Universal Wrestling Federation.
The Mid-South/UWF tape library is one of the last historical wrestling libraries which has not been acquired by WWE. The Mid-South Wrestling/UWF library is owned by Ene Sooro Watts (Bill Watts' ex-wife) and operated by their youngest son Micah. The library is now known as UWA (Universal Wrestling Archives), which offers the footage for sale or syndication and sells tapes and DVDs online.
Universal Wrestling FederationIn March 1986, MSW went national and was relaunched as the Universal Wrestling Federation so it wasn't stigmatized as a southern group. From that point, many newcomers (mostly from World Class Championship Wrestling) joined the federation, as did former WCCW co-promoter Ken Mantell. However, despite the federation's success, it could not compete against Jim Crockett Promotions and the WWF. In addition, the WWF also reached the pinnacle of its success through WrestleMania III. Watts was also harmed when the oil-based Oklahoma economy went into a severe recession in the fall of 1987, affecting all businesses and cutting down on fans able to pay to see the shows. Watts would end up selling the UWF to Crockett on April 9, 1987, and many of the federation's top names went on either to the NWA, WWF, or WCCW. Unlike the other NWA promotions JCP purchased, the UWF didn't immediately end; it was kept alive until December 1987. Despite promises at the time, Crockett buried the UWF, letting its various titles die out and, with the prime exceptions of Sting, the Fabulous Freebirds, Shane Douglas, Rick Steiner, and for a while Steve Williams, none of its various stars made headway into Crockett's promotion.
Famous UWF angles
One of the most famous of all UWF angles was the so-called Battle of New Orleans, 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 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 chose 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 face), 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 all-star 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 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 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. "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 Television Champion, Nikita Koloff. Taylor stole the NWA TV title belt during an NWA show, but Koloff (with help from Dusty Rhodes) reclaimed it prior to their official in-ring encounter. They met in 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 and then left on a tour of Japan, only to have the title retired while he was still overseas.
Sting, Rick Steiner, Eddie Gilbert, Missy Hyatt, announcer Jim Ross, Brad Armstrong and the aforementioned Taylor became permanent NWA 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 into World Class. Chris Adams, who stayed with the NWA after the merger with the 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 after its fall, joining fellow UWF alumnus Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who had been signed by the WWF in February 1987. The Sheepherders, who originally joined the NWA after the merger, left in mid-1988 to join the WWF, where they were renamed The Bushwhackers. Around the same time, Taylor also left for the WWF.
Boyd Pierce, Reeser 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).
Stars of the UWF & Mid-South
|Championship:||Last Champion(s):||Active From:||Active Till:||Notes:|
|NWA World Heavyweight Championship||Adam Pearce||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||Mike Quackenbush||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|
|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.|
|NWA United States Junior Heavyweight Championship (Tri-State version)||Jack Donovan||May 5, 1958||1960s|
|NWA Tri-State Louisiana Championshi||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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|NWA Louisiana Tag Team Championship||Bill Watts and Buck Robley||1978||1979||Title existed whil Tri-State recognized the NWA Louisiana Heavyweight Championship|
|Championship:||Last Champion(s):||Active From:||Active Till:||Notes:|
|NWA World Heavyweight Championship||Adam Pearce||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|
|Mid-South Television Championship||Dick Slater||May 2, 1984||1986||Title renamed “UWF Television Championship” in 1986|
|Mid-South Tag Team Championship||Ted DiBiase and Steve Williams||September 28, 1979||1986||Title renamed “UWF Tag Team Championship” in 1986|
|Mid-South Mississippi Heavyweight Championship||Mr. Wrestling II||July 3, 1958||August, 1983||Originally called the “NWA Tri-State Mississippi Heavyweight Championship”, renamed after Bill Watts bought most of the NWA Tri-State territory|
|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|
Universal Wrestling Federation
|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|
|UWF Television Championship||Nikita Koloff||May 2, 1984||November 26, 1987||The “Mid-South Television Championship” was renamed when the promotion changed names|
|UWF Tag Team Championship||The Sheepherders||September 28, 1979||November, 1987||The “Mid-South Tag Team Championship” was renamed when the promotion changed names|