Tuesday, 29th December, 2009. This date will now forever be known amongst wrestling fans as the day when the Oklahoma Stampede reached the end of it’s tracks. For five years ?Dr. Death? Steve Williams treated throat cancer in much the same way as he did each and every one of his opponents over his storied 27 year career. Quite simply, he kicked it’s arse. Sadly though, as 2009 drew to a close, so did Williams? ability to keep his fiercest opponent at bay. With that, not only did the world of pro wrestling lose a bona fide legend, it also lost one of the last remaining bona fide bad asses.
Being an All American in college football and having only lost out on an NCAA Championship to eventual multi time Freestyle Wrestling Olympic Champion Bruce Baumgartner, Williams already knew how to handle himself before stepping into the squared circle in 1982. So it was perhaps no great surprise that the Oklahoma native broke into Bill Watts? Mid South Wrestling, a territory renowned for it’s no nonsense style and where even the slaps were manly.
When you study Williams? career throughout the 80’s, you?d be forgiven for thinking he had a death wish. Whereas most guys of Williams? build nowadays are fed cruiserweights to bully in their formative phases, ?Dr.Death? went headlong into feuds with the likes of Eddie Gilbert, Big Bubba Rogers, Barry Windham and Kevin Sullivan’s Varsity Club (whom he would later join), and that was just on American soil. On Japanese turf, Williams was busy trading blows with Stan Hansen and dropping Kenta Kobashi on his head. This was all whilst he teamed with Terry ?Bam Bam? Gordy as The Miracle Violence Connection (I know, how great?) and swept aside every team and Tag Team Title laid before them in a blur of black eyes and broken teeth.
If only wrestling had a few more Steve Williams? emanating from within it’s developmental and independent ranks. Unfortunately it seems that the rookies of today would rather focus on how many moves they can cram into 10 minutes before they?ve even grasped the basics.
Yes it seems that the time of the badass is all but dead. Finlay and William Regal may be keeping the old school flag flying high on ECW and Smackdown but the physicality and manliness appears to have ceased with the old guard. The road weary warriors who have done the much publicized years on the road, sleeping in the back of cars, living of raw potatoes and peanut butter sandwiches and working for little more than a pittance each night in front of one man and his dog must not know whether to laugh or cry at the youth of today’s attitude towards the wrestling world.
Now, being only 21 years old I?m in no position to get on my soap box and hark on about ?the good ol? days? because my good ol? days reside in the late 90’s/early 00’s, but having enjoyed a wealth of 80’s wrestling over the years, I?ve come to appreciate the simpler things in the ring. Mainly because, the simple things were always the best. And the simple things were what Steve Williams also did best.
When the Doc was warring with the Hansen’s and Kobashi’s of the world, what he did to them may not have been pretty but it was more than effective. Everything had a point, every move served it’s purpose. Lariats, powerslams and backdrop drivers were not just dished out for the sake of it. There was no smarky chain wrestling to appease the pretentious minority. Yet today you can see finisher’s being kicked out of on even TV matches (here’s looking at you Kurt Angle) and signature moves and spots are just as commonplace as an Irish whip or a collar elbow tie up. That’s not impressive or bad ass, it’s just plain stupid.
Despite how athletically awe inspiring some of the junior heavyweights of the world may be, their sizzle is far outweighed by the steak of a Steve Williams. Even Rey Mysterio, one of the original proprietors of lucha libre in the United States has grounded his style over the last decade, partly due to injuries of course, but also due to the fact that he knows as and when to use his big moves. He’s the badass of the cruiserweight universe.
Now I know not every worker in the world can be a tough guy. You?ve got to have your brash hipsters with their big mouths, stupid haircuts and ability to stooge around, and you?ve got to have your jobbers and your mat wrestlers, of course you have, variety is the spice of life after all. But even in the 80’s, you looked at these guys who were portrayed as weasels and nerds and thought that they could handle themselves in the real world.
Nowadays I look at some of the guys on the ROH, TNA and WWE rosters and actually think ?I could probably take him?. Their strikes look terrible and their offence in general looks like they?re trying to tickle their opponent rather than hurt him. Yet even if the Doc on the off chance happened to actually be quite friendly with his opponent, he?d still punch him as if he wanted the poor bastard to actually swallow his fist whole.
Taking a retrospective look at Steve Williams? career, not only have I spent a tremendous few hours enjoying some of the best work I?ve ever seen, but I?ve also come to appreciate the simple things in wrestling. A guy like Williams could make you emotionally invest in a headlock or an armbar, let alone a powerslam or spinebuster. He was a talent the likes of which we?re unlikely to see for a long time, if ever again. He was a man so tough that even cancer had to have a rematch with him. If you?ve not already, do yourselves a favour and youtube as much of Steve Williams? career as you can. Even badasses called him a badass. He?ll be sorely missed.
Until next time,