Introduction by Jim Ross (trusted VP of WWE, and JR on Vince’s TV)
The “Big Cowboy” is one of a kind. His life has been as unpredictable and controversial as that of any figure I have known in the wrestling business.
I met Bill Watts over thirty years ago, and at times I loved him like a brother, while at other times I hated the ground he walked on. Bill’s people skills at one time were unique, to say the least. Bill could be bombastic, intimidating and totally overbearing at times. He could also teach the fundamental skills of the wrestling business as well as anyone I have ever met to anyone who could accept his teaching methods and listen to his message.
Bill was a brilliant individual whose contributions to this wild and crazy business will live on for generations to come. Bill was my mentor in the wrestling business. Consequently, I have been blessed to have had over a thirty-year career in this business, with a fair amount of success, some say, and I owe the vast majority of it to “Cowboy” Bill Watts.
From being a super high school athlete, to playing football at the University of Oklahoma for the legendary coach Bud Wilkinson, to becoming a regaled street fighter, to playing pro football, main-eventing every major wrestling territory in the world and upsetting the “establishment” virtually everywhere he went along the way before becoming a “player/owner” and eventually becoming one of the most respected television producers of wrestling of all time. Watts, as the late “Dean of Wrestling Broadcasters” Gordon Solie used to say (in his gravelly voice), “is indeed a strange enigma.”
Bill’s life journey has not been a smooth, bump-free ride, but it certainly is the stuff of which legends are made. His story is amazing. How the Big Cowboy survived it is a miracle. You will have a hard time putting this book down once you start it. Enjoy.
- Jim Ross
Introduction by Emile “Peppi” Bruneau, State Representative and former Speaker of the House, Louisiana.
In the mid-1960s, a young warrior named William F. “Cowboy Bill” Watts came charging out of the University of Oklahoma. A renowned college athlete, he played professional football for a short time. Along the way, he developed a fondness for professional wrestling, and he had a lot more to offer in this venue, which at that time provided him with more earning potential than pro football did.
Bill embarked upon a great career in 1962. New Orleans had always been a good venue for wrestling, and the young warrior charged into Louisiana in 1970. My father, the late Emile Bruneau, was the chairman of the Louisiana State Athletic Commission. He had served as president of the World Boxing Council and as president of the National Wrestling Association.
He immediately noticed Bill, whom he described as a cordial and bright young man with good business sense. My dad shared his wisdom of the wrestling business with Bill. He introduced me to him, and we became fast friends.
Wrestling in the late 1960s was somewhat dull. “Cowboy” Bill Watts revolutionized the world of professional wrestling. He had a rare combination of physical ability, athletic prowess and showmanship that made wrestling exhibitions exciting once again. His favorite move was the Oklahoma Stampede. He would pick his opponent up, hold him across his shoulder in one corner, then charge across the ring full speed and dive, landing on top of his opponent with all his force, plus his 297 pounds of muscle mass. He’d usually trample his opponent, to the utter delight of the fans.
It wasn’t long before Bill entered the management aspect of professional wrestling too. He was a super promoter, pioneering the use of progressive television concepts to create fan enthusiasm. His booking business, Mid-South Sports, expanded in this area to cover Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and parts of Arkansas and Texas.
Bill had a true genius in developing talent, marketing such favorites as Andre the Giant, The Junkyard Dog, Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd, Ted DiBiase, Jim “Hacksaw” Duggan, Steve “Dr. Death” Williams and many other wrestling stars. He pioneered the concept of the supershow, holding major events in the Louisiana Superdome.
I have many fond memories of these times with Bill. I remember Andre the Giant holding one of my sons in one hand. Bill would often visit my dad at his home to discuss wrestling matters. To this day, I still chuckle at my late mother serving Bill a demitasse of tea while he and my father were discussing business. Picture that, and you can’t help but smile.
He gave my sons a sense of business by having them tape the TV shows and sending them to a national wrestling magazine for review. After my dad passed away, I began to represent Bill as his attorney.
Wrestling in America had always been a regional business, but trends seemed to counter this. Mid-South continued to grow and was poised to go national. Unfortunately, interests from New York decided that they were going to control wrestling nationally, and they persuaded the governor at the time (now in federal prison) to direct the Boxing and Wrestling Commission to allow them to commence promotions in Louisiana. They also proceeded with a wholesale raid of talent. Soon buffoonery became the mainstay of professional wrestling. The business had changed — and not for the better. Bill sold his interests and retired from the wrestling business. He applied his talents in other areas and remains a highly successful businessman.
Although we don’t see each other very often anymore, we are still in communication and remain close friends. Bill was and continues to be a person of the highest integrity who applies the Christian ethic to every aspect of his life. Today the warrior, no longer young, has some gray around his temples. Yet he remains the embodiment of the saying “The code of the warrior does not know the word surrender.” He never has; he never will.
- Emile “Peppi” Bruneau, January 16, 2005
Introduction by Jim Cornette
When I was asked to write this foreword, I was faced with a problem I’d never encountered before — I didn’t know what to say. Or, more precisely, how to say it. What direction should I take in writing a foreword to the story of a man who had such a tremendous influence on my career? I could put him over, but he’ll do enough of that in the next few hundred pages.
Then I realized that the story is my story. If not for “Cowboy” Bill Watts, I wouldn’t have been asked to write a foreword to this book — or anything else anyone would read. This is not to slight any of the other great promoters and bookers whom I have had the good fortune to work with and learn from — Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Kevin Sullivan, Dutch Mantel, Jim Ross and so many more — but Bill gave me the chance to be a “star.” As he often did for others.
Look at the early 1980s headliners in Mid-South Sports: The Fabulous Freebirds, The Junkyard Dog, The Rock & Roll Express, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, The Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, Terry Taylor, Magnum T.A., Ted DiBiase — all big names, and all got their first chances to headline the cards in a major territory from Bill Watts.
Working for Bill was like going to a military school for pro wrestling — brutal road trips, violent fans, strict discipline — but those who paid attention also got a college course in how to book and present pro wrestling in a logical, credible and exciting manner that sold lots of tickets at prices people in that part of the country weren’t used to paying for wrestling.
When Bill first saw me, I was twenty-two years old, had been managing for all of fourteen months and had never sold a ticket in my career. He took a chance and made me his top manager. He teamed me up with two men who had been friends of mine in Memphis, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey, and gave me the team I would become synonymous with: The Midnight Express.
Bill was the first to promote The Midnight Express — The Rock & Roll Express rivalry that would define tag-team wrestling in the decade and that would make such an impression that independent promoters would still be booking the match twenty years later.
Working for Bill Watts also introduced me to Jim Ross, who twenty years later, is still a highly respected friend and adviser. It allowed me to observe the structure of television shows and angles, building to big events, playing to talents’ strong points and other aspects of booking I would sorely need in later years when booking my own territories.
And working with Bill gave me career highlights — his “Last Stampede” coming-out-of-retirement tour in 1984, when he teamed with Junk Yard Dog versus the Express, with yours truly. We set a record $1.2 million at the gate in fourteen dates, and we provoked some of the most rabid fan reactions I have ever witnessed.
After a year in Mid-South, I could get booked with any promotion I chose. Summing it up, Bill Watts gave me the knowledge and opportunity to make a very nice living in the wrestling business for the past twenty years. He knew how to get talent over, so I think it’s only fitting that I write this foreword on behalf of all the young talent he was able to mentor. I only wish he hadn’t fined me for delivering the copy late.
- Jim Cornette