Name: Cowboy Bill Watts
Year Inducted: 2013

Cowboy Bill Watts

“Cowboy” Bill Watts left an impact on the pro wrestling business with both his relentless, hard-hitting ring style and with his determined promoting style in the Mid-South territory, made up of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Eastern Texas and Southern Missouri.

Watts’ story begins in Oklahoma City, where he was christened William F. Watts Jr. on May 5, 1939. He grew into a big kid, and weighed 210 pounds by Grade 8. He naturally got into football and, with some urging, wrestling at Putnam City High. Watts chose Oklahoma University and in his sophomore season, in November 1959, Watts was in a car-train accident. During the recovery process, Watts started lifting weights. His bodyweight shot up to 315 pounds and had difficulty fitting in because he outweighed his wrestling opponents by upwards of 60 pounds. Watts signed a pro football contract with the Houston Oilers and when that plan didn’t pan out, he accepted the suggestion of fellow OU alum Wahoo McDaniel to try pro wrestling.

“Without a doubt, if I hadn’t gotten into wrestling, I’d have ended up in the penitentiary or dead because of the environment I had created for myself,” Watts wrote in his confessional autobiography.

In October 1962, he started as a pro wrestler in Indianapolis, while concurrently playing semi-pro football with the Warriors. Within a year, he had beaten out a wrestling name for himself in Texas and in the Tri-States territory, which he would later run.

It was Wild Red Berry who saw something in Watts and recommended him to New York promoters Vince J. McMahon and Toots Mondt. He bought his first cowboy hat to debut in the territory as “Cowboy” Bill Watts. He started as a babyface and got a big break working with Killer Kowalski. “I’m the kind of babyface that liked the heel to stay on me,” said Watts. “It was so simple with Kowalski. He was going to attack me viciously.” Then he teamed with Gorilla Monsoon and they won the area’s tag titles.

Watts would follow a long line of partners who turned on WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino, seeing no other way into the World title picture. The foes would meet at Madison Square Garden in “The Most Talked About Match in Wrestling History” on February 22, 1965, followed by another sellout a month later and a third bout in May.

The San Francisco, Minneapolis and Florida territories followed and Watts learned from the promoters and bookers in each area. From 1976 forward, Watts concentrated his attention on the Tri-States territory, buying into the Leroy McGuirk-run promotion, and eventually assuming complete control. As the hometown hero, he was a different Watts than the Cowboy that had been elsewhere. Portrayed as a no-nonsense tough guy, Watts conserved his energy for management headaches while booking himself strongly, doing color commentary, and coming out as the savior into the mid-’80s by beating down foes almost half his age.

Watts sold his Universal Wrestling Federation (the re-named Mid-South territory) to Jim Crockett Promotions, as he moved into positions of power in WCW, and, briefly, the WWF. He helped propel the careers of everyone from Dusty Rhodes to Ernie Ladd to Junkyard Dog to Ted DiBiase to Sting to Ron Simmons; it’s hard to imagine the world of professional wrestling today without Bill Watts’ contributions.


- Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver

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