The calls had been persistent since the beginning.
“The company is a disaster.”
“They need to bring in a more experienced booker.”
A particular selection of fans wanted to see a non-Vince McMahon-controlled product succeed. Fans not only wanted the company to succeed, but they wanted to see the voices they trusted running things, not these people. After all, wrestling was so much better when those voices had their say, not like today. Today is a disaster.
Those fans got their wish in May 1992 when WCW hired Bill Watts to run the struggling company.
Oh, I’m sorry… did you think I was referencing the recent NoDQ.com op-ed about AEW’s need to re-staff with names like Dutch Mantell, Jim Cornette, and Al Snow?
As ridiculous as that premise reads, it’s not unprecedented. In the early ’90s, a selection of newsletter fans clamored for WCW, a company with its own struggles, to hire the former owner of Mid-South Sports/Universal Wrestling Federation, Cowboy Bill Watts.
Watts’ run as the impresario of the Tulsa-based Mid-South began in the late ’70s. The territory was based on Watts’s ideal of pro wrestling. Tough, burly guys with legitimate sports backgrounds fighting for money, championships, and pride. Watts, a college football player, wanted athletes in his mold. The recipe was successful.
Watts turned another former college football player, Sylvester Ritter, into a star when he re-christened him The Junkyard Dog. The Mid-South territory saw a resurgence with the Dog as the top star.
A feud with the Freebirds culminated in a steel cage-dog collar match between Dog and Michael Hayes that sold 26,000 tickets to the New Orleans Superdome.
But Watts wasn’t the booker.
That was Ernie Ladd.
Later in the decade, when the Dog’s drawing power began to wane before he defected to the WWF, Watts worked out a deal with Jerry Jarrett and Memphis, which brought a host of talent into the promotion.
In 1984, Mid-South became the home to two tag teams who’d ignite a feud defining tag team wrestling for a generation: The Midnight Express (w/Jim Cornette) and the Rock n Roll Express.
With up-and-comers like Magnum TA, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Terry Taylor helping lead the charge, Watts’ program found a new home on Superstation TBS in 1984 and for a time became the number one program on cable television during the WWF’s national expansion.
During this era, Watts wasn’t the booker.
That was Bill Dundee.
Watts was surprised when Jim Crockett purchased the WWF’s World Championship Wrestling timeslot on TBS, which forced Watts off the network. Undeterred, Watts created his own national syndication network and eventually rebranded his promotion to the UWF. By early 1987, thanks partially to the economic collapse of the Oklahoma oil industry, Watts’ promotion lost steam and sold to Jim Crockett.
Though Watts employed multiple bookers during his tenure atop Mid-South UWF, his DNA defined the promotion. Though it ended with a whimper, fans fondly remembered the episodic television programming that would come to define the genre.
By 1992, fans had grown tired of the lack of cohesion that permeated WCW.
Under Jim Herd, the company employed three head bookers and a committee. With Kip Frey in charge, Dusty Rhodes (Herd’s final move as WCW head) remained as booker, but spending went out of control. To right the ship financially and creatively, Watts was hired, and smart fans rejoiced until they discovered that Watts hadn’t kept up with the business during his time away.
1987 and 1992 were vastly different years in the pro wrestling landscape. The Watts hiring highlighted those changes as Watts implemented a series of changes both in and out of the ring that frustrated fans and performers. The business had changed, but Bill Watts hadn’t moved with it. Those memories of 1984 and the Superstation were replaced by Erik Watts’ confounding push.
The Watts experiment ended in early 1993 after racist remarks in an interview with Mark Madden resurfaced.
Bringing in former names whose time has passed is a lesson that should have been learned by WCW audiences when George Scott (the booker of the WrestleMania I-era WWF) floundered in 1989.
Christopher Connor’s NoDQ op-ed recalls similar sentiments with statements discussing how AEW leader Tony Khan is “laughably out of his element.”
The writer suggests that Khan be replaced by older men who have actually achieved far less than Khan has during his four-plus years running AEW.
The writer’s comments can and should be dismissed not only from his suggestions of who should replace Khan (Dutch Mantell? Jim Cornette?) and who he thinks should be fired (Danhausen, a major merchandise mover, and “Action Brunson,” a person who doesn’t exist). However, Connor’s statements are nothing new in pro wrestling. The writer’s calls to bring back people from bygone eras is a common refrain, but it’s also never been successful.
From George Scott and Bill Watts in WCW to TNA’s constantly rotating cavalcade of creatives, recycling former executives seems like an easy answer, but one that has never worked. And for all of AEW’s issues, all of the aforementioned “better options” have simply not been as successful as Tony Khan.
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