By Mike Mooneyham
Sept. 5, 2004
A few years ago “Dr. Death” Steve Williams told me that he wasn’t going to be one of those wrestlers who hung around long past his glory days had ended. He had done well in the business, made plenty of money and saved well. He wanted to enjoy life without the constant pressures that revolved around pro wrestling.
“One day I’m going to have my own fishing show,” he chuckled.
Doc enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as being one of the toughest guys in the wrestling ring as well as on the football field. An All-Big Eight selection while playing for Barry Switzer at the University of Oklahoma and a four-time All-American as an NCAA wrestler (the only pro since Dick Hutton to accomplish the feat), Williams parlayed his collegiate success into a lucrative 20-year career in pro wrestling.
More than two decades after turning pro, however, the 44-year-old wrestler will need to muster all that toughness and more as he faces his most formidable foe to date. Diagnosed with throat cancer, the former UWF world champion is fighting for his life. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments have not worked, and the ongoing chemo sessions have taken a physical toll on Williams, whose fighting weight of 285 has dropped to 214.
According to former Mid-South promoter Cowboy Bill Watts, who recruited Williams into the wrestling business 22 years ago, Williams has had a difficult time merely breathing, necessitating an emergency tracheotomy. Doctors are now recommending a surgical removal of the larynx in an attempt to eradicate the cancer there.
But anyone who knows him knows Doc’s a fighter, and giving up has never been an option.BOOMER SOONER
The Lakewood, Colo., native was one of the country’s most recruited football stars coming out of high school in 1978. It was during his prep days that he earned the nickname “Dr. Death” for his toughness on the football field, and the moniker stuck with him throughout his career.
An All-American selection at offensive guard in football his senior year at Oklahoma and a four-time All-American in wrestling, Williams led the Sooners to two Big 8 titles in both wrestling and football, competing in three Orange Bowls, one Fiesta Bowl and one Sun Bowl.
Watts offered Williams a pro wrestling contract in 1982, even though many still felt that his future was in pro football. After trying out with the New Jersey Generals and the Denver Gold of the United States Football League and wrestling part-time during the summer, he returned to the Mid-South promotion and became one of the company’s top stars.
In addition to winning Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation world title, Williams formed successful teams with such stars as Ted DiBiase (with whom he won the Mid-South tag-team title from The Rock ‘N Roll Express in 1985 and became the first UWF world tag-team champs in 1986) and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and later in Japan with Johnny Ace, Gary Albright and Vader.
Williams was a perfect fit for Watts, another ex-OU football player and wrestler, who respected legitimate athletes and toughness even more. Wiliams had a reputation as a street fighter, and along with his strong amateur credentials, was a feared opponent inside the ring.
Williams’ wrestling coach at OU, Stan Abel, was a college teammate of Watts and alerted the promoter to the fact that he had a great pro prospect on his squad.
If there was an ultimate litmus test for Watts, Williams passed with flying colors when he needed 108 stitches after taking an elbow in the eye during a match with Brad Armstrong, yet insisted on wrestling the next night. At 6-1 and 285 pounds of brute force, Williams was regarded as one of the most rugged of the rugged. And he had the scars to prove it.
“I always had the greatest respect for Doc,” Watts said Friday. “He was a tough kid with an amazing heart to match.”
To this day, says Watts, Williams has an “indomitable spirit.” It will hold him in good stead now more than ever.
There were days when Williams acted like there was no tomorrow. He and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, whom he met while working in the World Class territory, were as legendary for their late-night partying as they were for their run as one of wrestling’s greatest tag teams. Williams immediately took a liking to Gordy, he said, because he had “a smile of a Southern boy and the look of a redneck.”
The former Freebird was his running buddy, and the two held numerous tag-team crowns, including titles in Japan along with NWA and WCW championships. Their bruising, stiff style of wrestling was tailor-made for Giant Baba’s hard-hitting All Japan promotion where Williams would achieve legendary status.
In 1990 and 1991, Gordy and Williams become the first Americans to win the All Japan tag-team title tournament in consecutive years. In 1992, Gordy and Williams captured the NWA/WCW world tag-team titles. Williams later would win All Japan’s coveted Triple Crown. To Williams, it was like winning the gold medal in the Olympics.
The “Freebird life,” though, would have a tragic end for Gordy, who broke into the business at the age of 15, burning the candle at both ends. His career came to a virtual standstill in 1993 when, at the age of 32 and already a 17-year veteran in the business, he suffered a drug-induced stroke during a flight to Japan that left him in a coma. Unable to exorcise his demons, Gordy was never the same wrestler again, a series of strokes having rendered him a shell of the dynamic performer he had once been. In 2001, the 40-year-old Gordy died of heart problems exacerbated by too many years of fast living.
Williams had his own drug issues, including arrests at airports in Texas and Michigan, and another when he was detained at a Japanese airport in 1994. In one of the low points of his career, he was banned from Japan for one year before being reinstated with the assistance of longtime friend and boss Baba.
While Williams seemed to age quickly – the result of a hard-living lifestyle – his toughness never seemed to go away. Just three years ago he broke seven ribs and punctured a lung. He didn’t miss a tour.
A NEW BEGINNING
For a period during the early ’90s, Williams was considered by many to be one of the top 10 wrestlers in the world. What he lacked in technique and finesse, he more than made up for with amazing toughness and determination.
“He could break through people,” recalls Watts. “He wouldn’t necessarily use great technique in the amateurs. He could just tie up and take a guy all the way to his back and pin him. He was so damn tough. He wasn’t like a Danny Hodge, someone just so overpoweringly strong, he just had a sense of himself. It was a force of will.”
Williams had become a changed man in recent years. Crediting God with pulling him out of his lifestyle and taking him off his dead-end road, he turned his efforts to talking to youth and giving inspirational speeches at local schools. Williams also had operated a couple of businesses, a tanning salon in Hawaii and a health drink shop called Doctor Smoothies in his hometown of Shreveport, La.
Still working occasional independent shows, Williams competed as recently as March, where he took part in a highly publicized shoot fight and one of his biggest paydays against Alexey Ignashov at a K-1 event in Japan. On Dec. 30, 2003, in Guangzhou, China, Williams defeated Terry Taylor to capture the NWA Mid-Atlantic title. But for Williams, an old-school traditionalist, wrestling had lost most of its allure. Indeed, the business was much different when he debuted in the pro ranks in 1982 as one of the most heralded grapplers to come down the pike in years. In his senior season at Oklahoma, he was narrowly beaten, 4-3, by future Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Baumgartner.
“Doc had beaten the returning national champion that year,” recalls Watts. “He had injured his sternum in the Nebraska game and hadn’t been able to work much at all on the mat. For a heavyweight, though, he liked to run and do the road work, and he kept himself in shape. He had Baumgartner so tightened up that the referee started calling him for stalling on top. Doc could have just as easily won that one as well.”
Steve Williams never forgot his alma mater. He would still get chills just listening to the Oklahoma fight song. He fondly remembers his last year at OU going up the Texas ramp after beating the hated Longhorns
“It was just such a high to go out there, with 85,000-plus in all red and white, and go down that ramp. And you look up at that board and see ‘Oklahoma – National Champion.’ It’s a heck of a feeling.”
“I went down to OU a number of years ago and presented him an award at halftime,” says Watts. “OU already was 40 or 50 points up on Missouri, and Barry asked Doc and I to give the team a ‘pep talk’ at halftime ‘to get them going.’ Barry just loved Doc. You couldn’t help but not like the kid.” His old friend noted the “silver lining” was that Williams has been a practicing Christian for some time now.
“He found the Lord. He knows where he will spend eternity – forever with his Lord and Savior,” says Watts. “What an additional empowerment to encourage him in this fight for his life here.”
WWE has set up an e-mail for fans to send get well wishes and letters to Williams. You can send your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The local wrestling community potentially loses a solid friend to the business with the impending departure of sportscaster Warren Peper from WCSC-TV. Warren featured a number of wrestling personalities on his Talkback segments throughout the years, as well as giving coverage to shows whenever they hit town. Here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of him.
– Karl Stern puts out the fine, history-based DragonKing Press wrestling newsletter. A recent issue dealt with “one of the greatest wrestlers you probably never heard of – Nat Pendleton,” who had a legitimate shoot with one of the most feared hookers of his era, along with a story on wrestling legend Frank Gotch. Check out the Web sites at www.dragonkingwrestling.com or www.karlstern.com for special subscription rates.
– Brock Lesnar won’t be the next big thing in the NFL. The former WWE champ Brock Lesnar was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last week.
“He’s a lot better than we thought,” Vikings head coach Mike Tice told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “We didn’t think he’d be able to pick it up so quickly. He showed us that he was going to have the right work ethic and the right attention to detail. We’re very proud of what he has accomplished. Hopefully it will work out for him, and hopefully it will work out for him here.”
“He gave me a hug,” Tice added. “He was very happy for the chance.” Although Lesnar worked very hard in training camp on the defensive line, the speed of the game had blown past him, and his nine-year layoff from football and lack of college experience proved impossible to overcome in one training camp.
Tice declined to speculate about whether Lesnar would be added to the Vikings’ practice squad, but said the club would be “proud” to allocate him to the NFL’s developmental league next spring.
“I suggest to him that he should at some point end up in NFL Europe this year and play,” Tice said. “Hopefully, that will be as a Viking.”
Lesnar, 27, also could end up playing in the Canadian Football League, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have placed Lesnar on their confidential negotiation list.
– Longtime trainer and talent scout Dr. Tom Prichard has been released by WWE. Tommy Dreamer has taken over his duties with the company.
– The New York Daily News reported on Hulk Hogan’s appearance at a recent P. Diddy party. According to the News, “Sean (Puffy) Combs gave a few too many shout-outs at Mansion on Friday. After hailing guests, including Jessica Simpson and Scott Stapp, he challenged Hulk Hogan to a wrestling match, for ‘$1 million to the winner.’ When Hogan rushed toward the stage, his Diddyness rescinded the offer.”
Hogan, who has been busy promoting his 15-year-old daughter’s burgeoning singing career, recently addressed the state of pro wrestling and its increased emphasis on hot-shot angles. Calling it a “bad Jerry Springer show,” Hogan said he believed the art form was lost.
“TV moves so fast trying to keep up with the Joneses because there’s so many choices with satellite and also the reality shows. People surf so much that they’re afraid to lose the quarter hour. They live by the numbers. If you have a bad quarter hour there’s all kinds of meetings, people panicking. They don’t let things ride. People are job scared. It’s a whole different business now. I think that if you really gave them something with some meat on the bones and really got back to the art form of creating emotion and good vs. evil … it’s real easy stuff. It’s the KISS theory: Keep it simple stupid. And they’re just over-thinking things.”
– A Cleveland radio station reported that WWE diva hopeful Carmella DeCesare was involved in a skirmish at a Cleveland nightclub. According to police reports, the reigning Playboy Playmate of the Year verbally abused, pushed and slapped 32-year-old Christin Hine over an incident that revolved around DeCesare’s boyfriend, Cleveland Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia. The report said DeCesare had to be restrained by bouncers and friends.
Hine told police that the 5-5, 110-pound DeCesare also kicked her in the head as she was leaving the bar. No medical attention was required, nor were any charges immediately filed.
DeCesare looms as the favorite to win the WWE’s diva contest and $250,000 grand prize.
– Matt Hardy, recovering from recent knee surgery, is expected to be sidelined for six to eight months. He has returned home to Cameron, N.C., and has begun physical therapy in nearby Pinehurst.
– Kurt Angle, who looked to be Smackdown’s savior a year ago, is now working a more relaxed style in an attempt to prolong his career. His time away from the ring while serving as the show’s figurehead general manager seems to have hurt him more than it helped the company.
Angle’s Smackdown counterpart, Eddie Guerrero, certainly deserves no blame for the show’s plunge this year as he was asked to carry the world title without a real money-drawing opponent. Guerrero, who has been nursing a hamstring injury for the past six weeks, is said to be despondent over the way his title reign played out. Sometimes, though, it’s the luck of the draw, and in this case Guerrero just happened to be on the wrong side of the fence (Smackdown) at the wrong time.
– WWE is putting more teeth into its dress code for wrestlers, fining performers $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense and suspension after a third offense.
Several WWE wrestlers, including Bob Holly, Molly Holly and Chris Jericho, have been vocal in their disdain for the new code.
– Total Nonstop Action Wrestling’s last live Wednesday night pay-per-view show will air Sept. 8. The Nashville-based promotion will begin running monthly Sunday night pay-per-views Nov. 7.
– Yet another wrestling convention is being organized by former WCW champ Diamond Dallas Page and longtime magazine editor and photographer Bill Apter on Jan. 28-30, 2005, in Tampa.
The Wrestle Reunion convention’s Web site lists a star-studded group that includes Mick Foley, Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Ricky Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino, Bobby Heenan, Kevin Nash, Diamond Dallas Page, Kimberly Page, Ted DiBiase, Jimmy Valiant, Paul Jones, Kevin Von Erich, Abdullah The Butcher, Magnum TA, Jim Cornette and the original Midnight Express of Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey, Jimmy Garvin and Precious, Bob Orton Jr., The Masked Superstar, The Fantastics, Kamala, The Missing Link, Oliver Humperdink, Rocky Johnson, Tully Blanchard, J.J. Dillon, Vampire Warrior (Gangrel), Luna Vachon, Mike Rotunda, Mike Graham, George South, Col. DeBeers, Buddy Rose and Malia Hosaka.
A live event Jan. 28 will be headlined by NWA champion Jeff Jarrett defending the NWA title against Tully Blanchard, with Blanchard managed by J.J. Dillon, and Ricky Steamboat as the special guest referee. Also scheduled for the show is The Fantastics vs. The Original Midnight Express, AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels, Mick Foley as the commissioner of the show, and five more bouts to be announced.
– “Sting: Moment of Truth,” the new Christian-based movie about the life of Steve “Sting” Borden, will be released Oct. 12. The film features special appearances by Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Jeff Jarrett, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
– Jimmy Valiant will conclude his 40-year pro wrestling career with his final match Christmas night in Spartanburg. The Boogie Woogie Man will team with Jay Eagle against The Assassin (Bruiser Graham) and George South in his swan song.