Bill Watts, also known as ‘Cowboy Bill Watts,’ a former professional wrestler, ranked in the top ten worldwide for over 25 years.
Headlining events at Madison Square Garden in New York City, The Cow Palace in San Francisco, The HIC in Honolulu, The Sports Palace in Tokyo, The Omni in Atlanta, The Bayfront in St. Petersburg, Florida, The Miami Civic Center, St Louis Keel Auditorium, along with key events in Chicago, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Indianapolis, and many other major cities as well as many smaller cities and towns all over the US and Canada. He became known ‘world-wide’ as a true wrestling superstar—whose reign as The North American Champion made that title one of the most sought after championships in the industry.
Bill has 5 children, William III (Biff), Joel, Erik, Micah, and his daughter, Ene.
The youngest 4 went to Bixby and Metro Christian schools.
He moved to Bixby, Ok. in 1970 when he became involved as a headliner and a full partner in Leroy McGuirk’s Championship Wrestling Promotion.
Later, he ‘branched out on his own’ and formed Mid-South Sports, Inc., eventually ‘buying out’ McGuirk’s company in full, which later became The Universal Wrestling Federation, the 3rd largest professional wrestling ‘booking office in the US’ producing nationwide wrestling TV shows that garnered the highest viewer ratings in every market they appeared or competed with other wrestling TV shows.
Some of the top wrestling stars in the world worked for his company, such as: Dick Murdock, Ernie Ladd, Andre the Giant, Killer Karl Kox, Harley Race, Gary Hart and the Spoiler—and later Hart with Kabuki, Danny Hodge, Bad Leroy Brown, Waldo Von Erich, Ken Patera, Rick Flair, Dory Funk, Terry Funk, The Missing Link, David, Kevin, Kerry, and Mike von Erich, Bruiser Bob Sweetan, Dr. X, Pat O Conner, Hulk Hogan, Dick the Bruiser, Tarzan Tyler, Jack Brisco, Wahoo McDaniels, Dale Lewis, and many, many others—-even having Muhammed Ali on one of his Super Dome promotions.
He also personally developed such ‘super-stars’ as: The Junk Yard Dog, Dr. Death Steve Williams, Ted Dibiase, Dusty Rhodes—The American Dream, Ivan Putski, The Freebirds, The Mid-Night Express with Jim Cornett, The Rock and Roll Express, Magnum TA, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Rick Steiner, Paul Orndorff, Butch Reed, The One Man Gang, Scandar Akbar, Ray Candy, and even was instrumental in helping the Road Warriors develop their ‘ring personae’ in Atlanta.
During his national syndication expansion, every other Monday following his national taping at the Tulsa Convention Center or Fairgrounds Pavilion, many of these stars would be in Bixby to do contract negotiations or TV promos at his office studio on Breckenridge, and also the larger studio room he had built at his home on 141st.
When he took the 7′ 4″ 500 lb. Andre the Giant to Bixby schools to be introduced to his daughter’s class, it caused quite a stir. Often, local residents and business people not only got to meet these stars but would occasionally get to pose for pictures with them.
Since Watts’ promotion was one of the ‘trend-setters in musical videos featuring certain wrestlers,’ many of them were taped in Bixby locales.
Red Stevenson’s helicopter was used in one that became widely used and recognized when Watts took on the persona of the Midnight Rider.
In his latter ‘wrestling years’ (early ’90’s) as a Vice President of Wrestling for Turner Broadcasting’s WCW, he developed Ron Simmons as the first black World’s Champion in one of the top wrestling promotions then in the world. He is proud of his contributions to ‘black wrestlers’ become the true superstars in pro-wrestling they ‘deserved to be’ with Ernie Ladd—an All-American football star from Grambling, and also a pro-football star with the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers, and Kansas City Chiefs, Junk Yard Dog—his biggest box office success, Thunderbolt Patterson, Ray Candy, Kimala,—-and Ron Simmons, who was also an All-American football player for Florida State.
Watts was also personally responsible for the development of Jim Ross, whom he considers one of the best play-by-play wrestling announcers ever, and also an extremely important ‘inner circle person’ who in these latter years has been JR on WWE.
Bill also owned part of Georgia Championship Wrestling which appeared on Ted Turner’s SuperStation in Atlanta.
He ran such successful events in such venues as The New Orleans Superdome four times a year, The Omni in Atlanta, and of course the Oklahoma City Myriad, The Tulsa Civic Center, and Fairgrounds Pavilion where he taped his weekly syndicated TV show, and his second weekly syndicated show was taped at the Ft. Worth Fairgrounds Coliseum. All of this produced by Mid-South Sports with offices at 116 West Breckenridge in Bixby.
Bill was born May 5, 1939 in Oklahoma City, and played football and wrestled for Putnam City High School, and was the Oklahoman and Times Outstanding Lineman in football and All-State—-where he played in the first All-State Football Game in Tulsa in 1957.
He also was the first Wig-Wam Wisemen All American in football in his high school, and in 1975 was inducted into the Jim Thorpe Team of outstanding high school football players of the decade for the 1950’s.
He was recruited by Bud Wilkinson to play football at OU, where he also wrestled for Port Robertson and Tommy Evans, along with his long-time friend Stan Abel, who later became OU’s coach.
This was also during ‘an era’ (1957 to 1960’s) where OU coaches felt their football players should be ‘small and quick’ (ignoring the fact that kids were growing bigger and bigger.)
Bill was constantly under pressure to ‘make a weight’ they set, and was the heaviest player on the team his junior year at 229 (while he wrestled at about 250.)
He felt this ‘concept’ was ‘not healthy’ nor productive.
His junior year, he was in a serious, near-fatal car-train wreck on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, (his mother hit the second engine at a Rock Island train crossing) and in and out of a coma for the next two weeks, where the medical prognosis was considered ‘not good.’
Coming out of the hospital under 200 pounds, and in the rehab process, he got ‘reacquainted’ with Lynn Hickey (later of car dealership fame) a friend of his from Bethany High School, who had ‘gone into the Marine Corps at 138 lbs., and when he came out he weighed 218 lbs. of solid muscle due to ‘weight training.’
(At this time, weight training at OU was ‘discouraged’ and misunderstood.’)
Bill started working out with Lynn at a body-weight of 250, and nine months later weighed 297—and had been transformed in strength and size—-which at that time, the OU coaches did not know what to do with him since he decided no longer to make their assigned weight.
So, from almost dying in a horrible car-train wreck, having doctors say ‘if he lives, he will never walk again,’ Bill became a ‘superman’ and eventually a ‘superstar.’ Thus he says, the doctors make the diagnosis, but God the prognosis.
He did not play his senior year at OU, instead signing a football contract with The Houston Oilers in the second year of the AFL.
That was a short-lived career, and soon after that, Wahoo McDaniels, who played with Bill at OU, and was playing professional football plus wrestling in the off-season, got Bill introduced to pro-wrestling.
Danny Hodge, one of the all-time greatest amateur wrestlers at OU, and then the World’s Junior Heavyweight Champion, and Dale Lewis, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at OU also encouraged Bill to start wrestling professionally—as did Jack Brisco, who was an All-America wrestler at OSU, and became another true superstar in pro-wrestling.
October 1962 was Bill’s first professional wrestling match, while at the same time; he was anchoring the Indianapolis Warriors (an NFL farm-team concept) pro-football team’s defensive line.
The Minnesota Vikings of the NFL also signed Bill to a football contract during his third year of pro-wrestling. However, their business manager forbid any of their football players to participate in pro-wrestling.
When you take into consideration that back then (the ’60’s) a lineman in pro-football earned about $7-12,000 a season (Bill’s contract was for $7,000)—-but he was already earning in the $100,000 range in pro-wrestling—he and the Vikings parted company—which proved to be the right decision for him—though he has fond memories of several of the players he met there.
In the early 60’s, Bill was not only featured in the major wrestling magazines, but also in a huge spread in the Saturday Evening Post, a main stream publication, in a story entitled, The Rich Full Life of a Bad Guy, written by Myron Cope. (Bill at that time was wrestling on the East coast, and was considered a ‘villain’ to the fans.)
So, his career was tremendously successful as a wrestler, a wrestling promoter, and television producer and syndicator. He was earning close to $2 million per year in the ’80’s, had expanded his Bixby home on 40 acres to an estate, plus bought and completely remodeled a place on Breckenridge for his office (where he now lives), and had his own airplanes, which he also flew, as well as even owned a business at Riverside Airport with his friend, Dr. Dick Scott.
But in 1984, ‘on top of his game’ ‘something was missing’ and his life started going through a change—-he had a spiritual experience with His Savior, Jesus Christ.
Bill, being headstrong, arrogant, and so full of pride, fought this new ‘spiritual relationship’—-‘obedience’ had never been in his personality, which created a real ‘roller-coaster of emotion,’ cost him his marriage, and eventually also caused him to decide to sell his wrestling business, and then get out of wrestling, which he did for the highest amount paid then for a wrestling company, ending up in Ted Turner’s WCW empire.
Bill in the early ’90’s was enticed back into wrestling by Ted Turner, as the Exec.V.P. of Wrestling at Turner Broadcasting, but only stayed 11 months, and then, after a 3-month contract with Vince McMahon as part of his personal creative team at the then WWF, Bill decided to get out of wrestling for good.
He felt it had ‘gone beyond the pale’ as to having any ‘moral responsibility’ as ‘family entertainment’ which it calls itself—and thus, he had ‘no peace of mind’ participating in this business which he used to love.
Bill’s personal relationship with His Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, finally had become the most important thing for his life. He still has great pride in the accomplishments during his wrestling career, but hopes in this, the autumn of his life, he can better contribute by sharing his life experiences and how ‘his choices in life’ had consequences that affected many, both good and bad, and how now ‘his hero’ is Jesus Christ, and that he is joined to Him by love and His merciful grace—-forever! And that ‘love’ is what survives.
After spending the last 42 years in Bixby, Oklahoma, my darling wife, Charlotte and I have now moved to ‘The Emerald Coast’ in the Florida Panhandle, and live in Miramar Beach, in a beautiful community just 300 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. My book, The Cowboy and the Cross: The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling, and Redemption can also be purchased now directly from me — instructions are on our ‘Cowboy’s Book Page.’