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Universal Wrestling Federation (Bill Watts)

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Universal Wrestling Federation
Founded1950s (NWA Tri-State)
1979 (Mid-South)
1986 (UWF)
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)
ParentJim Crockett Promotions (1987)
SisterHouston Wrestling
FormerlyNWA Tri-State (1950s–1979)
Mid-South Wrestling (1979–1986)

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 predecessor of World Championship Wrestling). The promotion began as an NWA territory, NWA Tri-State, founded by Leroy McGuirk in the 1950s. Tri-State/Mid-South/UWF promoted in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi until 1987.

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


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. NWA Tri-State fought a two-year promotional war against International Championship Wrestling that included the "outlaw" promotion filing an antitrust lawsuit against McGuirk and Watts.[2]

Mid-South Wrestling (1979–1986)[edit]

In 1979, Bill Watts acquired 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. Mid-South used Shreveport, Louisiana as the base for its television tapings, which were first housed in the studios of KTBS-TV until they were moved around 1982 to the Irish McNeel Sports for Boys club, located on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds.

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.[3] 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.[3] In 1985, longtime wrestling fan Ted Turner invited Watts to air MSW's weekly TV show on Turner's SuperStation TBS network. Turner wanted an alternative to the World Wrestling Federation show airing in the coveted 2-hour, Saturday-evening timeslot, which the WWF had acquired when it bought out the majority ownership of Georgia Championship Wrestling. (see: Black Saturday) Turner was angered by the WWF show because McMahon had promised him it would feature matches and promos taped in TBS' Atlanta studios (as Georgia Championship Wrestling had done for years).[4] But instead of fresh, locally-produced content, the WWF's TBS show only presented clips and highlights from other WWF TV shows – some, depending on TV market, airing at the same time the TBS show did. (Eventually, the WWF would shoot local, in-studio matches, but only infrequently, and they were usually predictable squash matches.) MSW quickly became TBS' highest-rated show, so Watts positioned MSW to take over once Turner could force the WWF off his network. Watts' luck ran out, however, when former Georgia Championship Wrestling co-owner Jim Barnett helped broker a deal enabling North Carolina-based Jim Crockett Promotions' (led by Jim Crockett, Jr.) to buy the Saturday timeslot from McMahon, and become TBS' sole 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, 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 of this era), re-launching as the Universal Wrestling Federation, and securing a syndication deal airing their two one-hour, weekly TV programs (the lesser show, Power Pro Wrestling debuted in 1984) in major markets across the United States.[3] The TV tapings were also taken out of Shreveport and moved on location at various live shows throughout the Mid-South/UWF territory. 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 (JCP) and the WWF, as both had stronger TV distribution and larger live event, pay-per-view (and, in the WWF's case, merchandise licensing) revenue streams. The UWF was further hurt when the oil-based economy of its richest local market—Oklahoma—fell into a severe recession in late 1986. This left the blue collar core of the UWF's fanbase with far less disposable income to spend on things like attending wrestling shows.[3]

Watts sold the UWF to JCP on April 9, 1987,[5] and many of the UWF's top stars were either retained by JCP, or immediately left for the WWF or WCCW.[6] Unlike the other NWA-affiliated promotions JCP had bought out in the mid-1980s, the UWF did not immediately end; JCP kept its brand—and its three championships—alive in TV storylines until December 1987, when JCP'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 JCP's fanbase; they included: the Fabulous Freebirds, Shane Douglas,[7] Rick Steiner, Eddie Gilbert, and UWF centerpiece "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. Most UWF imports were gone from JCP's roster within a year; however, one wrestler would go from UWF midcarder/tag team act, to breakout star in JCP, and the wrestling industry as a whole: Sting. Sting's UWF tag team (as The Blade Runners) partner would later become a WWF wrestling legend, too: The Ultimate Warrior.

In October 1988, JCP, one of the biggest and late stage casualties of the "going national" war with the WWF, sold its collection of territories and titles to Ted Turner's TBS. Turner re-branded JCP "World Championship Wrestling," naming the new company after its TBS TV show.[5] Ironically, "Cowboy" Bill Watts ended up running the same business that had swallowed his own: In spring of 1992, WCW hired Watts as its latest Executive Vice President; he held the role less than a year.[8]

World Wrestling Entertainment acquired most of the Mid-South/UWF video archive, absorbing it into its WWE Libraries collection in 2012[9] -- with a notable exception: Mid-South/UWF matches taped for Houston Wrestling which aired on KHTV in Houston. Those rights are held by the estate of Paul Boesch, who was the Houston territory's promoter.[10] Select episodes of Mid-South are available for viewing on the WWE Network and on the NBCUniversal-owned Peacock streaming service in the United States.


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 the flag of the Soviet Union 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 personnel[edit]


Mid-South's main television broadcasting team included Bill Watts and Boyd Pierce, with KTBS-TV staff announcer Reisor Bowden serving as ring announcer. Jim Ross joined Mid-South after the closure of Leroy McGuirk's Tri-State promotion in Oklahoma, and remained through the transition to UWF. Bill Watts's son Joel Watts was later added to the Mid-South/UWF broadcasting team, and also worked behind-the-scenes as a producer of the TV program.

Following Jim Crockett Promotions' purchase of the UWF, both Bill and Joel Watts exited the promotion and Jim Ross was joined by various partners including Magnum T. A., Michael P.S. Hayes and Missy Hyatt. Veteran JCP announcer Bob Caudle became Ross's permanent partner near the closure of UWF. 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/UWF[edit]

Tag Teams and Stables[edit]


NWA Tri-State[edit]

Championship: Last Champion(s): Date Active: Date Retired: Notes:
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Tyrus 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 Homicide 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[12]
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.[12]
NWA United States Junior Heavyweight Championship (Tri-State version) Jack Donovan May 5, 1958 1960s [12]
NWA Tri-State Louisiana Championship Mike George 1946 (NWA-Gulf Coast Wrestling)/1972 (NWA Tri-State Wrestling) 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[12]
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[12]
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[12]
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[12]
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[12]
NWA Louisiana Tag Team Championship Bill Watts and Buck Robley April 14, 1959 1979 Title existed while Tri-State recognized the NWA Louisiana Heavyweight Championship[12]

Mid-South Wrestling[edit]

Championship: Last Champion(s): Active From: Active Till: Notes:
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Ethan Carter III 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[12]
Mid-South Television Championship Dick Slater May 2, 1984 1986 Title renamed "UWF Television Championship" in 1986[12]
Mid-South Tag Team Championship Ted DiBiase and Steve Williams September 28, 1979 1986 Title renamed "UWF Tag Team Championship" in 1986[12]
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 [12]

Universal Wrestling Federation[edit]

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[12]
UWF Television Championship Nikita Koloff May 2, 1984 November 26, 1987 The "Mid-South Television Championship" was renamed when the promotion changed names[12]
UWF Tag Team Championship The Sheepherders September 28, 1979 November 1987 The "Mid-South Tag Team Championship" was renamed when the promotion changed names[12]


  1. ^ "WrestlingTerritories.png". Freakin' Awesome Network Forums :: Freakin' Awesome Wrestling Forum :: (w)Rest of Wrestling. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  2. ^ Langmead, Jon (October 19, 2020). "Culkin shares legendary Mississippi wrestling stories". SLAM! Wrestling.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Foley, Mick (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 91. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
  4. ^ "(Encore) WWF vs WCW: Bulking Up". wondery.com. Wondery. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Foley, Mick (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. p. 93. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
  6. ^ Starrcade vs. Survivor Series: The Fight for Thanksgiving That Changed Wrestling
  7. ^ WrestlingEpicenter.com - The NEW Online Home of The Interactive Interview
  8. ^ Bixenspan, David (February 16, 2018). "Hank Aaron Sparked Pro Wrestling's First Major Racism Story 25 Years Ago". Deadspin.com. Deadspin. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  9. ^ WWE Purchases Mid-South Wrestling Video Collection
  10. ^ Corrigan's Corner: Bruce Tharpe Talks NWA - Then and Now (Part 1)
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary (2006). Wrestling Title Histories (4th ed.). Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.

External links[edit]