Your mileage may vary when it comes to Bill Watts as on-screen talent in Mid-South.
Some liked an outspoken, no-nonsense arbiter of what is right and wrong when it came to the hourly window of wrestling. Others, like me, found his work to occasionally be too heavy-handed for someone who was always acknowledged as the guy who ran the place. Vince McMahon at the same time was the commentator on WWF Championship Wrestling, helping to shape our opinions on certain wrestlers, but in a way that never outstayed its welcome. Watts, on the other hand, often went as far as to offer up diatribes against the heels in the territory, if not offer up to slap them around himself if he got the chance, a chance he got when he teamed with the Junkyard Dog to take on the Midnight Express at ‘The Last Stampede’.
There was a sad irony that it would be the Dog that Watts chose to wrestle alongside in what was purported to be the owner’s final match. There was an air of finality to the contest as well, with Dog and Watts rising above the Express and the shenanigans of Jim Cornette to finally put the loudmouth manager in his place. If this was the way that Watts chose to end his career, he went out on a high with a worker who had helped him to build one of the most successful territories at this point in time. Things looked rosey…
…until the Junkyard Dog upped and left the promotion mere months later.
Sensing the bright lights and the potential for remuneration that a stint up North offered, Dog walked in the middle of a feud with Butch Reed, leaving Watts completely in the lurch. A raft of bookings had been made for a feud that was designed to help carry the promotion forward; the two fought only twice before Dog left for greener pastures.
Watts wasn’t going to let things go that easily though. Using his window of time that being one of the commentators on Mid-South Television allowed him, Watts derided Dog for being a coward, running away from Reed, and in comments that were clearly a shoot, not turning up to bookings. Not just once, but multiple times Watts took a couple of minutes out of the show to complain about Dog’s choices, whilst also often talking down about the quality of the product that awaited the Dog in the WWF. The bitterness was palpable, perhaps rightfully so. A man who built up an aura of doing things right by people had been right royally stiffed.
Alongside broadside shots at the Dog, Watts spent time looking for the next black wrestler who could fill the spot that had now been left open. Dog’s popularity in areas like New Orleans had been what helped Mid-South rise to prominence, and Watts wanted to find his next ‘Great Black Hope’ that could continue to draw crowds in predominantly black areas of the territory.
To suggest that Watts threw things at the wall in order to see what stuck is perhaps an understatement. Within weeks, Sonny King had returned, whilst the arrivals of Master Gee and Brickhouse Brown were also treated with the reverence that belied their eventual impact. Indeed, it was a booked match between Reed and Brown that saw the debut of Gee as he wandered down to ringside instead of Brickhouse and lacerated Reed with several taped fist punches. Positionally, he was effectively placed straight into the gap left by Dog’s departure.
Though Brown and Gee managed to get reasonable responses from the fans in attendance at the television tapings, it was soon clear that Watts wasn’t quite sold on either man as being the next big babyface. Something was missing, and he saw a chance to shuffle the pack once more in order to hopefully reap the benefits.
With the new heel influx that followed the return of Skandar Akbar, Ted Dibiase and Kamala were positioned at the top of the card, as well as being joined by Sheik Hercules Hernandez. In a neat piece of foreshadowing, Jim Cornette sold the rights to Hernandez (who had been acting as Cornette’s bodyguard) to Akbar in an open and honest transaction.
Things weren’t so open and honest when it came to Buddy Landell.
Landell had formed a loose alliance with Butch Reed, one that often saw him using Reed’s imposing physicality as a means to avoid too much conflict himself. Seeing dollar signs in his future, Landell joined Akbar’s Army within weeks of their arrival. However, the underlying message was that Landell was being used to hook a bigger fish that Akbar desired. Over the following weeks, Landell blithered and blustered as it was clear that he didn’t quite have the power that he needed to land the catch that Skandar so wanted. To sweeten the deal, Akbar gave Landell a Rolex watch as further enticement to join.
All the while this played out, the man who Akbar required was never made clear until Butch Reed was scheduled to fight Jim Horton on an episode of Mid-South Wrestling. Interrupting the announcements prior to the contest, Landell made it clear that he wanted to talk to ‘my man’. Whispers to Reed gave way to raised voices from Hacksaw as he spelled out the people he had vanquished, from Junkyard Dog to Master Gee.
Most importantly, he made it clear that he stood alone.
The Rolex watch was ground to dust beneath his feet as Landell feebly tried to offer it up to Reed. Akbar arrived to apologize for trying to work through Landell, offering a position in the Army straight from the horse’s mouth, with Ted DiBiase and Hercules Hernandez by his side as support in this endeavor. Reed was emphatic in his rejection; he attacked Akbar, leading to a four-on-one beating that was only halted when Jim Duggan returned following injuries sustained by DiBiase in order to run the heels off.
Watts was never going to replace Junkyard Dog. Dog represented the proverbial ‘lightning in a bottle’ that could never truly be replaced. However, Reed was much better positioned to be ‘the guy’ that Watts wanted. Athletic, powerful and charismatic, Reed was a cut above Master Gee and Brickhouse Brown. Accompanied by wrestlers like Duggan, whilst surrounded by heels like Dibiase, Hernandez, Kamala and Landell, the turn of Reed steadied the ship for Watts as they headed into a new year.
In an interesting parallel, considering the people who were most prominent in this angle, Hercules and DiBiase played out a similar storyline in the WWF in 1989. Now the Million Dollar Man, DiBiase tried to buy Hercules off of Bobby Heenan, leading to a feud that briefly re-ignited a Hercules character that had been flagging as a heel.
Unfortunately, the explicit references to slavery, probably not helped by the involvement of a black ‘manservant’ in the Dibiase entourage, hurt this angle before it really had a chance to take off.