Barry Windham Page 2
Speaking of gold, one man who strutted through Florida on a regular basis with twenty pounds of it was NWA World Titlist Ric Flair. In an effort to show the unruly Florida fans what a "real wrestler" is capable of, Flair put on an exhibition in which he tossed some rookies about like rag dolls. Barry Windham was curious enough to stand at ringside. Feeling very proud of himself, Flair then challenged the Windham to give it a try. Windham shocked everyone when he pinned the champion in the middle of the ring! The cautious Flair agreed to a non-title match with Windham, and he won again. After Flair lost to Harley Race, Windham was still in line for title shots. Once again, Windham showed us what he's made of, but the cagey Race won in the end.
In addition to Sullivan and Roberts, Barry's Florida enemies included the monstrous Angelo Mosca (Senior) and double-tough Dick Slater. Although he lost to Slater at The Last Tangle In Tampa, Windham made Slater croon in agony as he wrenched his arm en route to a victory in an "I Quit" match. His worst enemy ever, though, would have to be Ron Bass. Bass had been a loyal ally to Dusty Rhodes and Blackjack Mulligan and even shared ownership of a (fictitious) ranch with them. However, jealousy and greed caused Bass to turn against Rhodes when acting as a guest referee for Rhodes' title shot at Harley Race. The friendship between Bass and the other Texans promptly ended.
The match between Windham and Bass saw Windham wager his Florida Heavyweight Title against a treasured horse saddle given to Bass by Rhodes' mother. Although Windham won the match, Bass and the enormous One Man Gang attacked him. They put the saddle on his back and "rode" him around the ring. Windham was utterly devastated. Dealing with this shame might have been too much for him, but a masked wrestler called The Dirty Yellow Dog soon arrived in Florida and brutalized Bass in a series of chain matches. No one ever saw the Yellow Dog without the mask, but he was a slender young man, about six-foot-six, and had long blond hair. Hmmmmmm....
After winning the Florida Title two more times in 1983, Barry Windham traveled to Japan and further enriched his mat knowledge. Upon his return, he was ready to begin the most successful stint of his career up that point. He formed a partnership with the talented Mike Rotundo (his future brother-in-law) who was already competing in Florida. On March 14, 1984, they captured the Florida version of the United States Tag Team Title (which was temporarily replacing the original Florida Tag Title.)
The titles passed between themselves and the duo of Black Bart & Ron Bass several times, but it was obvious that the Windham & Rotundo tandem was a cut above the rest. They traveled to the Mid-Atlantic and defeated the likes of the Koloffs in that area. On their "home turf," they even withstood the almighty Road Warriors at Lords Of The Ring. Windham was invited to take part in a tournament to crown the new United States Heavyweight Champion (and some say he was scheduled to win it), but he and Rotundo decided to take their act to the Big Apple.
When they arrived in the WWF, they were almost immediately heralded as the top contenders to the tag team championship. Since winning the title, the reigning champions, Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis, were generally having their way with the competition. While Murdoch and Adonis were engaging in individual matches, the new team in town, Windham & Rotundo, was skyrocketing to success. Despite the fact that the match was held in Hartford, Connecticut, the "insurance capital of the world," nothing could prevent Windham and Rotundo from winning the WWF World Tag Team Title in January.
Early in 1985, the WWF was building in excitement as the time for Wrestlemania grew near. In a prelude to the big event, The U.S. Express (the new name for the Windham and Rotundo team) took part in the War To Settle The Score event, defeating The Spoiler and The Assassin. (Portions of the event were aired live in MTV, which was the hippest thing in 1980's media at the time!)
Speaking of Wrestlemania, it wouldn't be complete without a WWF World Tag Team Title match, pitting The U.S. Express against the foreign forces of Nikolai Volkoff and former WWF World Champion The Iron Sheik. Despite the speed and teamwork of the Express, the challengers had an ace up their sleeve - "Classy" Freddie Blassie. Windham's bulldog headlock should have put Volkoff away for the three-count, but The Sheik broke Blassie's cane over the champ's head, making him an easy pin. In a dressing room interview, the guilty Blassie vehemently denied ever having a cane in the first place!
Good teams make it to the top, but only the great ones return there. In the summer of 1985, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo chased the champions with all their might. It's a good thing they did, because new tag team talent, namely The Hart Foundation, The Killer Bees, and The British Bulldogs poured into the WWF at the same time. Luckily, the Express' persistence kept them at the top of the contenders' list, and they cornered the new champs in Poughkeepsie, New York, to become two-time WWF World Tag Team Champions.
Unlike the uncoordinated duo of Sheik & Volkoff, the new set of challengers for Windham & Rotundo appeared to be some of the most talented and synchronized teams in WWF history. Scientific fans were anxious to see them defend against The Bulldogs and The Bees as soon as possible. Unfortunately, an opposing manager was to be the undoing of the Express again. It was the team of rookie Brutus Beefcake and veteran Greg Valentine that captured the gold in Philadelphia. The only difference between this loss and Wrestlemania was that the manager's weapon of choice was Johnny Valiant's lit cigar, which found its way into Windham's face. (Ouch!)
As 1985 came to a close, Barry Windham was becoming depressed. Seeing as how his relationship with wrestling went back as far as he could remember, he was a little unhappy with the unconventional presentation of the WWF. Windham still felt that he was a competitor, not a character. Instead of getting title shots, he found himself appearing in the "Land Of 1,000 Dances" video for MTV. This sort of nonsense, combined with his discomfort with a very heavy travel schedule, caused him to leave the WWF and return to Florida.
When came "home," not only was his father an occasional competitor, but he was also wrestling alongside his younger brother Kendall. In Barry's absence, Kendall had to endure the brunt of his older brother's enemies and their grudges. With the family reunited, the Windham clan battled the likes of rookie sensation Lex Luger, The Zambuie Express, The Sheepherders, and a whole new bunch of Sullivan's disciples. Not only did Barry force some of Florida's villains out of the state, but he also cultivated a friendship with Luger, a man whose career would be intertwined with Windham's for years to come.
Persistence paid off for Barry Windham, who received a great homecoming present: an NWA World Title Match at Battle Of The Belts II. As usual, he matched up with Ric Flair so evenly that the match was perpetually swinging from one man to the other. Per the saying, Flair showed us that it's better to be lucky than to be good as he edged out Barry in a forty-minute classic that could have gone either way.
His old enemy Ron Bass came back to Florida from Georgia with a chip on his shoulder. He never forgot about his feud with the Windhams. In July, Bass defeated Kendall Windham for the Florida Title. Although the "little brother" was beaten, Barry stepped up to the plate to defend the family. At Battle Of The Belts III, he won his fourth Florida Title. Bass regained the title in Tampa later that month, but Windham won it back a week later in Fort Lauderdale. Bass used desperate measures (and some chloroform!) to win it back, but the title was held up due to Bass' illegal methods. On October 8, Barry Windham won the title for the sixth and final time.
The Florida wrestling scene was dwindling by this time. After dropping the Florida Title to the huge Kareem Muhammed, Barry Windham headed to the NWA's World Championship Wrestling area. Windham was proud to be a thorn in the Horsemen's side. Whenever the "4-H" Club would try something devious, Windham would get on the case and straighten things out. He also picked up right where he left off by immediately trying to get shots at Ric Flair. In the meantime, he received title matches with another Horseman, TV Champion Tully Blanchard. Although he didn't win Tully's belt, his performances in those matches put him higher on the list of Flair's challengers. Gold came to Windham's waist soon enough, as he and hard-hitting Ron Garvin won the United States tag Team Championship from Ivan Koloff and Krusher Krushchev in December of 1986.
Not long after Windham's arrival, another Florida phenom named Lex Luger made his first appearance in Horseman Country. Unlike Windham, who wanted to prove himself by defeating the established royalty of wrestling in the ring, Luger was inspired by the money, glamour, and overall attention that the Horsemen had culminated in their glorious reign. Their year-long friendship was strained by this philosophical difference. Despite spending weeks trying to talk Luger out of it, Windham was quickly losing one of his best friends. Heartbreak for Windham continued when he and Garvin lost the US Tag belts to Ivan Koloff and Dick Murdoch. After one last attempt to lure him away from James J Dillon's lucrative offer, Luger spat in Barry Windham's face and joined the Horsemen in March of 1987.
By now, though, Windham had the experience and discipline needed in order to take the more difficult path as the Horsemen's enemy. His challenges to Ric Flair became even more vocal. Flair was used to scoffing at Windham's threats in the past. He would joke that Windham was "Mulligan's little kid" and not yet worthy of consideration. However, as Windham's ring skills increased, it was becoming more and more obvious that Flair was ducking Windham for a reason. No longer could Flair silence the critics with interviews; he had to prove he could beat Windham in the ring. But could he? When they met in a nationally syndicated TV program, Windham kept up with "The Man" for nearly an hour. In one of his greatest achievements, Barry Windham was awarded a World Title opportunity at the Second Annual Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tournament.
The match was the very definition of "A Classic." Flair pulled out his usual bag of tricks, but Windham's tenacity forced the champion to dig deep into his vast repertoire of legal maneuvers. On this occasion, it was Flair at his scientific best. Windham, of course, dazzled the crowd with his assortment of power moves and aerial tactics. Although Dillon tried to interfere throughout the battle, it can be said that Flair and Windham pretty much met fair and square. Sadly, Flair used a handful of tights to pin Windham's shoulders. Nonetheless, the final image right after the pinfall told an interesting story: Flair was spent, crawling on his stomach out of the ring and gasping for air. Windham stood tall, disappointed but ready to fight all over again if necessary. Even in defeat, this match showed the world that Barry Windham had finally "made it."
Call it a consolation prize, but Barry Windham became one of the entrants in the first Western States Heritage Title Tournament. He beat Black Bart in the finals on June 20 and became the first Western States Heritage champion. He was successful in title defenses against Arn Anderson and Big Bubba Rogers during the summer's Great American Bash tour. At Bash '87, Windham pinned Rick Steiner.
The Western States Title was also recognized by the UWF promotion in the Mid-South. Windham was climbing the UWF rankings quite well. If Ric Flair (who was firmly bound in a long series of bouts with both Ronnie and Jimmy Garvin) was going to avoid him, Windham set his eyes on the UWF Heavyweight Title, held by the powerful and popular Steve "Doctor Death" Williams.
With the UWF Title (but not the Western States Title) on the line, Windham and Williams clashed at Starrcade '87. The two shook hands and began what appeared to be a great scientific match. Despite Williams' amateur background, Windham seemed fully capable of out-wrestling the big Doctor. When the match got a little rough and Windham miscued a leapfrog, Williams wasted no time in pouncing on his injured foe. Windham was surprised -- and immediately beaten. Another nice guy had just finished last.
At around this same time, Windham found himself defending the Western States Title against Tully Blanchard. The match went rather long and the bell rang for a time limit draw -- or did it? Lex Luger (who had just recently left the Horsemen) ordered referee Tommy Young to watch some "instant replay" footage on the ringside commentators' monitors. James J Dillon had rung the bell himself! When the match was re-started, Tully ambushed Barry Windham to win the title -- almost! Luger rushed the ring, causing Windham to be disqualified. As Ric Flair and Arn Anderson helped Tully triple-team Luger, Flair helped Windham to his feet and invited him to take a shot on Luger. Windham immediately fought off the Horsemen to rescue Luger. For nearly a year, Luger had been on bad terms with Barry Windham. That night, they made ammends.
Although Barry Windham regained a friend, he lost his title soon afterward. Veteran Larry Zbyszko had entered the NWA. He battled Windham to some no-contests which led to a rematch at 1988's Bunkhouse Stampede. With some help from his manager Baby Doll (and her high-heeled shoe!), Larry Zbyszko won the Western States Heritage Title.
Meanwhile, Windham had grown annoyed by Steve Williams' increasingly aggressive behavior. Williams was given the opportunity to explain his attitude while doing ringside commentary for one of Kendall Windham's matches. As Williams explained that nothing was wrong, Kendall was tossed out of the ring by his opponent. Doctor Death then took the liberty to grab Windham and hurl him back into the ring, where he was beaten. When Barry Windham came down to protest, Williams just walked away.
In the face of all of this trouble, Windham fell back upon the friendship of Lex Luger, who had vowed to be at Windham's side in atonement for his shady past. The blond duo formed a tag team (briefly called "The Twin Towers" even though the same name was used for a WWF team at around the same time), and they quickly racked up impressive wins over the top contenders. This put them in line for one title shot - but they only needed one.
On March 27, 1988, fans watched the very first Clash Of The Champions on WTBS. In fact, a survey showed that more of them watched that program than Wrestlemania 4 which aired at the same time! Tully and Arn battled Lex and Barry for the tag straps, but there was more on the line that just that. It was revenge for Luger. It was a chance for Windham to overcome a post-title slump. Tully and Arn wanted to show that Luger's departure meant nothing to the Horsemen in the long run. Rather than sit down, Dillon decided to bring his (steel) chair to the ring apron. Arn aimed Luger's head at the furniture, but Luger reversed it and put his opponent into it face-first. Luger pinned Anderson to crown new NWA World Tag Team Champions.
Windham was a champion again, but did anyone notice? In the fans' eyes, it was Luger's win and he was Luger's partner, in spite of having twice the experience and fighting against (not alongside) The Four Horsemen since day one.
On April 20, Windham and Luger were defending against Tully and Arn again. Windham was getting double-teamed by the challengers and the fans wanted him to make the hot tag to Luger (of course). Luger was briefly involved, but he was tossed to the floor and had his forehead rammed into the ringpost. Again, Windham fought off two men, but now he found that his partner, on the floor and bleeding, was far from the corner. Oddly, Dillon sounded as if he was coaching Windham for a few moments. Dillon called out, "I told you he wouldn't be there." When Luger finally crawled onto the ring apron, Windham dragged him to his feet, tagged his lifeless hand -- and slammed him into the ring! Windham connected with his lariat clothesline and left Luger to be pinned.
While Blanchard and Anderson celebrated their championship in the ring, Windham followed Dillon to one of the locker rooms. The Midnight Rider (a masked Dusty Rhodes, who was under suspension) entered the room as well. The room was filled with Windham's old enemies such as Flair, Ivan Koloff, and The Midnight Express. Facing him, under the mask, was a man who was as much a father to him as his very own. A hush fell over the rowdy scene as Rhodes demanded an explanation. This was the moment which would define Windham's place in the world. Along with these new allies, he pounded Rhodes and tried (unsuccessfully) to reveal his identity to the TV cameras. Windham's choice was clear. Instead of being one-half of the tag team champions, Barry Windham had chosen to become one-fourth of The Four Horsemen!
Part II coming soon!
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