I’ve written articles where I’ve spoken about some of my favorite workers growing up, I’ve also done articles about new generation workers who I enjoy, and what the future may hold for them. In recent weeks, I’ve been reminded of one of my favorites from back in the day, somehow the name would drift in and out of my memory just as he drifted in and out of stints in WCW and WWF back in the day. The one thing I’ve hyped a ton in recent weeks is The Steve Austin Show, it’s not only a great show because the host knows his stuff but the interviews with past and present workers have been amazing. Having heard the name I suddenly snapped into that “oh yeah, how did I forget about him” mode. While Barry Windham wasn’t known for a big flashy gimmick, the man could work his ass off, and from everything that’s been said about the man by Steve and his guests he was a hell of a man outside the ring as well.
A member of the Windham/Rotunda family of wrestling Barry was trained by his father, the one and only Blackjack Mulligan; a name that’s very familiar to those of us in the south. Barry’s first success in the business was when he got teamed with his brother-in-law, Mike Rotunda, capturing tag titles during their time together in both NWA and WWF; I didn’t get to watch too much of this as it happened when I was 2 or 3 years old. Barry went back to NWA working the Championship Wrestling from Florida after the WWF run and started working on his own. I remember getting to watch this as my father watched wrestling and I still remember listening to the great Gordon Solie calling matches as a kid. At the end of ’86 Barry went over to Jim Crockett Promotions, during this time he worked some of the greatest matches you could hope to see against Ric Flair. People have made a big deal about the Iron Man matches today, but Flair and Windham did 60 minutes regularly back then, keep in mind that Barry wasn’t a little guy either. Do yourself a favor, if you have some time, go back and check out some of these matches, you will be amazed at the work put in by these two men.
You can’t possibly talk about Barry Windham without mentioning that he was part of the greatest stable in the history of pro wrestling, The Four Horsemen. A shocking moment for the time, a very popular babyface Barry Windham turned his back on Lex Luger (with whom he had won the tag titles from Anderson and Blanchard of The Horsemen) and aligned with The Horsemen, allowing Anderson and Blanchard to take back the tag titles. During this run Windham wound up winning the US title, becoming one hell of a US champion and holding the title for nine months, eventually losing it to Lex Luger. While carrying the United States Championship he beat the likes of Sting, Dusty Rhodes, Bam Bam Bigelow, and the incredibly talented Brad Armstrong. When he took on the heel persona Barry started wearing a black glove and using one of his father’s signature moves as a finish, The Claw. Once he lost the title to Lex, his contract lapsed and he headed back up for a short run in the WWF as The Widowmaker. After about 4 months in WWF, he left for “personal reasons” which eventually led him back to The Horsemen.
After going back and forth between face and heel, Windham was able to win the elusive NWA Heavyweight title from The Great Muta. Ric Flair, having returned to WCW the same night, was trying to strap the belt on Barry when he realized this he took the belt and walked away. He carried the belt until Beach Blast, where he dropped it to Flair and disappeared from wrestling for a year. Leading up to Slamboree the next year WCW hyped up a “6’7”, 300 lbs., blonde, former World Champion” coming in to face Flair, trying to trick people into believing they had lured away Hogan. Windham challenged Flair for the WCW title, unsuccessfully, and then disappeared from wrestling again for about two years. Windham eventually returned to WWF, this was one of those moments where the “hey, I remember this guy” moment went off in my head, The Stalker vignettes started airing and I had one of my favorites back. Unfortunately the steam this gimmick had going was killed by Marc Mero’s refusal to do business because the character was supposed to “stalk” Sable and “slit her throat.” This could have led to a MASSIVE heel run for Windham; instead he had a short babyface run, luckily, brighter days were ahead for Barry.
After the conclusion of the Stalker gimmick Windham teamed up with a future legend named Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, they formed the New Blackjacks. The team saw Windham and Layfield donning jet-black hair and thick black mustaches. While the team didn’t last too long, it did help set up a new look for the Bradshaw character, something that was seriously needed. Barry eventually turned his back on Bradshaw in order to join up with Jim Cornette and his “NWA” faction. A couple months later, that gimmick was dropped and Barry headed back to WCW again, he turning on Ric Flair to become loosely connected to the NWO’s “Hollywood” faction. This makes him a part of two of the biggest factions in wrestling history, a distinction held by the likes of Sting and Luger as men who had been in the two biggest groups in WCW (an possibly wrestling as a whole) history. His return came led him to teaming up with Curt Hennig during his association with the NWO, the two men eventually won the tag titles in the finals of a tournament after beating Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. This union led to the formation of an unintentionally popular faction in WCW, the West Texas Rednecks. The group was supposed to be heels against the No Limit Soldiers faction, but the wresting audience loved the group and fell for the gimmick, this wound up being Barry’s last meaningful run in pro wrestling.
Listening to Austin and Hall talk about Windham, he was a hell of a guy to work with and a great person to know in general. Austin spoke about how he worked with Barry and would beat the hell out of him while trying to hit clotheslines on him, when he mentioned it Windham just said “don’t worry about it kid.” Aside from letting Steve know that he held no grudge over being mangled with the attempted clotheslines, Austin also mentioned that he never once received a receipt for the abuse he put on Barry, the man was a true professional. Much like Brad Armstrong, Windham doesn’t get near enough credit for being a great worker. He even did one of my favorite finishes of all time, not the Lariat even though that’s high on the list; I’m talking about his float over Superplex, an absolutely beautiful finishing maneuver. I may be in a minority here, but I honestly think that Windham deserves a spot on his own in the WWE Hall of Fame, looking at his titles, his time in the ring, and his overall respect from the boys, the man deserves his place among the immortals.