When Jim Ross phoned “Cowboy” Bill Watts to inform him of his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, Watts knew there was no one he wanted to induct him more than Ross himself.
“He and I have stayed close, and correspond. I had the choice of who would do the induction speech. Jim would be the only one that I could put there because of all of the things he and I went through together. I hired him out of college and he came up through the ranks, so it had to be Jim Ross.”
SLAM! Wrestling spoke to Watts over the phone about his induction. He joins a class this year that is loaded with legends. Joining Watts will be Terry and Dory Funk Jr., The Von Erich family, Koko B. Ware, Ricky Steamboat, Howard Finkel, and Steve Austin.
“Dory and Terry Funk have impacted the business. I knew their dad and he was quite the character and formed a lot of people’s lives in Amarillo. I have always had a great deal of respect for Rick Steamboat. Steve Austin, I had the opportunity to work with him when he was young and upcoming in WCW and could see the brilliance. Dusty Rhodes was the first person to say he was going to be special, which got my attention and I started watching him and he was. He was so open to learning. The Von Erichs, I knew them when they were kids. That family is one of the all-time great tragedies in our business. It showed things were coming into our culture that was so deceptive in the substance abuse area. They were wonderful kids — David and Kerry and Mike. I didn’t know Chris well. Fritz von Erich, and their mother Doris was a phenomenal lady. We have lost so many great ones to this subtle deadly thing called substance abuse.”
For the first time, Watts will attend Wrestlemania. He is excited to be part of this year’s festivities.
“I am going to enjoy it. My daughter and one of my grandsons are coming. I plan to see everybody there and I am so looking forward to it. I remember Vince told me that if Wrestlemania hadn’t hit for him, he was going down the tubes, that is how close it was when he first launched his vision. This will be the first Wrestlemania I have been to, so I will be there as a spectator, but I will also have a very special position to watch it, feel it and see it. I am just excited about it,” he said. “It is a fun thing, and reconnects you for a moment to a business that you put a lot of your life in. You get to see people you haven’t seen in awhile and be celebrated. When I start thinking about the few things I want to say, it helps me go back and reflect on so many people who came into my life and dramatically impacted it. Nobody gets there on their own, even though when we are young in our ego we think it is all us. You realize there are a lot of great people you came in contact with and each one of them had an impact on you.”
Love him or hate him, no one can question that Bill Watts had a major influence on professional wrestling. The Mid-South/UWF promotion in the 1980s was the launching pad for many stars including Junkyard Dog, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and many more. He had a brief stint as head of WCW in the early ’90s and also spent a few months with the WWE.
“I don’t know that I dwell on (what my influence is) a lot. I dwell on it more now that I will have to say a few words, and naturally they are hoping I will keep the few words brief, because I have never been known for briefness. It is so fantastic when you go down memory lane, I thought back to the first three matches. There are a lot of people who impacted my life, some for just a moment and some stayed in my life for a long time. There are a lot of guys who understood what I did and felt they benefited from it, others really didn’t like and understand the way I ran my business.”
Many have contacted him to reaffirm this belief.
“I have had guys who we parted in strange situations who have since called and said, ‘I just realized all that you were teaching me and I want to thank you.’ One guy became a huge megastar for Vince and said, ‘If you hadn’t intervened I wouldn’t even still be in the business.’ So I have had some really rewarding calls from people who have acknowledged I had an impact on their lives. Wrestling is a people industry, a unique industry, and there were so many talented people in there. You don’t go around anybody without getting some imprint. I learned things from the promoters I worked for, some things I agreed with and some I didn’t but they formed me. Life is like an anvil, we are formed on this anvil of life and it has been an interesting one.”
Watts is credited by many as an innovator in the sort of episodic television that continues today.
One history that McMahon does not own is Mid-South/UWF. His ex-wife, who is rumored to be negotiating to sell the library to the WWE, owns the footage.”I loved what we had in Mid-South. We had tough athletes. Not that the athletes were better, they are bigger and stronger and can do so much more now. Vince has a different philosophy than I have and Vince’s is the controlling one because he educated the public and that is all they really know, except for the aficionados of the sport who’ve got old tapes. He is a genius, a workaholic, and he has a long-range vision. He and I worked together for three months and really clicked when we would sit down and book. He looked at the business the same way I did, where do you want to go and how to get there. The flow between us was just awesome. Do I always agree with all of his philosophy? No, naturally I don’t. He and I disagreed on things but we could look each other in the eye, talk about our disagreements, and then sit down and work. Vince is also now the custodian of the history, and I think he realizes how important that is.”
“I don’t have any input on that. My family had some legal things and they ended up acquiring the library when I had no idea it would ever have any value. They control it and they cut me out of it completely. I really would rather not get into my feelings about it either, whatever happens, happens. I was the guy who created it, it was my mind implemented by the people I brought in to contribute and work into it. Whatever it is, that is the statement I have gotten to make on my 25-plus year career,” he said. Despite not having the footage, Watts is a man without regrets.
“When I think about it, I wouldn’t have missed the ride. I think about people today who sometimes never get the opportunities I did, I think how fortunate I was. I was a kid from a middle class family who never had a lot of money, and I got to rub shoulders with some of the all time greats in all areas. It is just breathtaking when you stop and think about it. Also I got pulled and understood and close to god. To me life has been a journey. The longer you live the more understanding you hopefully get. Me saying that Jesus Christ is my hero, I am not saying I am holier than thou or better than anybody because I am certainly not. I understand that what he did for me is what’s important. My 25-year career is in everybody’s mind. Eternity is forever and it is a big step and we all want to hope there is something for us, and I believe there is, where are we going to spend it? I am very thankful for everything I have been exposed to.”