Who is the single most underappreciated wrestler of all time? For my money, there can be few considered greater candidates for this position than Barry Windham. Although an ex-Four Horsemen member, ex-NWA champion, and a WWE Hall Of Famer, the 6’6 grappler from Sweetwater, Texas has never been gifted the recognition that his talents should have earnt. Although best-known for his time in the NWA, Windham also had memorable stints in the WWF – the latter of which ultimately failed in trying to create a solid mid-card or top-level star in a time when the WWF really needed one. Barry Windham could have capitalized on NWA success during his return to Connecticut but instead left fans super(per)plexed.
Previous WWF Run
Windham had a brief WWF run in 1984-5, which was short but not forgettable. In January 1985, just a few months after his debut, he and US Express tag partner Mike Rotunda won the WWF World Tag Team championships.
The duo lost the straps to Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff at the first WrestleMania; they won them back a few months later. After losing the belts to The Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine).
After a brief stint in the AWA, Windham jumped to Jim Crockett Promotions for the best run of his career.
By 1986, Windham was one of the most popular and acclaimed wrestlers in the world, wrestling Ric Flair to 60-minute time-limit draws between stints as NWA Florida Heavyweight champion. Windham then became a stalwart of the tag scene winning the US tag belts with Ronnie Garvin and World Tag Team titles with Lex Luger before turning on “The Total Package” to join the Four Horsemen. He won the US belt in his time in the faction when all members held NWA gold.
By the 1990s, Windham had cemented himself again in the tag division, forming tandems with Arn Anderson, Brian Pillman, and Dustin Rhodes. In 1993, Windham beat The Great Muta in a rather surprising title change to become NWA World Heavyweight champion; the match itself was overshadowed by a returning Ric Flair, who eventually won the belt off Windham.
After a knee injury, Windham returned at Slamboree in 1994 (teased as Hulk Hogan), only to re-aggravate his knee issues, after which he disappeared for two years.
Barry Windham had a brief WWF return in 1989 as The Widowmaker. Windham went undefeated, often beating preliminary talent outside of a time limit draw with Tito Santana. He was supposed to wrestle on Randy Savage’s team at Survivor Series but was forced out of the company due to a counterfeiting scandal in the Windham household. In Windham’s own words, this led to a situation in which “The Secret Service and the FBI made my life difficult for 10 years after that…it was brutal.”
When Barry Windham returned to WWF screens in 1996, it was under a very different capacity. Big Baz was now repackaged as an unnerving camouflaged hunter, luring in the forests and blending in with the natural scenery. He was actually billed from “The Environment”.
Friend of Windham and booking committee member Jim Cornette stated on his Drive-Thru podcast, “The Stalker gimmick came from when Vince [McMahon] interviews…you about your interests and what you do and what experiences you’ve had in your life or whatever and Barry Windham at the time he was living in South Georgia in a fucking swamp and he liked to go hunting and gator hunting and all the things The Stalker liked doing, right? Guns and bows and arrows and shit, so they made that a gimmick out of a guy that had been, what – just a few years beforehand – presented as a top talent on their only national competition.”
Things started shaky after a program with Marc Mero was shot down by the ex-Johnny B. Badd. Plans for Windham to stalk Sable were vetoed and so Windham debuted as famous instead…naturally(!)
He debuted in a Raw dark match against Justin Hawk Bradshaw, prior to getting televised victories over ‘dream opponents’ such as TL Hopper and The Goon. It was truly a dark timeline. He did notably get house show wins over Jerry Lawler.
A PPV debut at In Your House: Mind Games too did not occur. At IYH: Buried Alive, The Stalker won a dark match over Justin Bradshaw again.
Windham had a brief feud with ex-tag partner Dustin Rhodes (now Goldust). This led to Windham’s only PPV match at Survivor Series. The Stalker wrestled without face paint and was the first on his team out, eliminated by “The Bizarre One”. Nobody remembers that because a certain “People’s Champion” debuted in that same match. Wonder what he is doing today…
Barry Windham was set to wrestle Flash Funk at In Your House: Revenge Of The Taker in the Free For All. He was replaced by The Sultan, aka future arse-man, Rikishi dressed like a pervert Bane. Somehow in one match with only two wrestled, the WWF proved their booking incompetency with three once-popular workers.
When The Stalker ran its course, Windham joined Bradshaw in The New Blackjacks, in homage to his father: the great Blackjack Mulligan. The duo had dyed-black everything from mustaches to hair to hats to jackets as bad-ass cowboys. It has to be said that it was a brilliant look.
They competed in a four-way elimination number one contenders match at WrestleMania, eliminated first. Although challenging the likes of Owen Hart and The British Bulldog for the World Tag Team titles, the team never won the belts.
Soon enough, they were losing to The Truth Commission and Los Buricuas. “Oof”, as I believe the kids would say.
At Survivor Series, the team alongside The Headbangers lost to The Godwinns and The New Age Outlaws. A match rated a DUD by Dave Meltzer.
In the first Raw aired in 1998, Windham was the impromptu opponent for Jeff Jarrett to determine the new champion of the vacant NWA North American belt. This was during the NWA invasion during the Attitude Era. If you want to know how much care this was given, it lasted under four minutes, and immediately after winning the title, Jarrett was immediately shit-canned by Steve Austin for no reason. Jarrett called wrestling Windham, as brief as it may have been “a great opportunity” on his My World podcast.
Despite losing – actually aided in being screwed out of the win by Jim Cornette and Dennis Coralluzzo, Windham joined the NWA group anyway, turning on Bradshaw. It made no sense.
Bruce Prichard reasoned the break-up was due to Vince McMahon having “a lack of confidence” in the idea,
Windham teamed with NWA allies for a short period. Although getting some wins. The team was so irrelevant Windham and The Rock’n’Roll Express even lost on Raw to the comedy team of The Headbangers and Taka Michinoku in less than two minutes.
Barry’s final match of note was a sub-minute squash loss to The Undertaker, which drew a ludicrously high 6.06 rating. For comparison, WWF – still not dominant in the ratings war with WCW – saw a 6.00 rating for the main event WWF title match featuring the industry’s hottest star: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Windham left in May 1998 after a string of house show losses to Bradshaw.
He left to work for WCW, introduced back on Nitro by Ric Flair, eventually joining The West Texas Rednecks; it was pretty good for what it was.
Barry Windham WWF Return Evaluated
It has been said by many wrestling commenters that Windham was a great and underrated hand in the ring but never really reached his potential in part due to his malaise. Windham seemed uninspired, unmotivated, uncaring, disinterested, and every other word for despondency towards the wrestling business. Simply, he was good enough but was never enthusiastic enough nor even wanted to be a top guy due to his responsibilities and commitments if he were to be at the very top. These lower-card, outlandish gimmicks which Windham himself has stated his dislike towards were simply a pay cheque and not something Windham would have put support fully behind with an open mind.
That is not to insult Barry for a lack of effort, they would not have gotten off the ground anyway but it may have contributed to their failure.
Another factor in Windham’s return flop is the alluded to poor booking. The WWF could have aided out a weak roster with Windham as a top performer but instead filled their already limitless black hole of poor characters. How could Windham really thrive as a good guy stalker or outlive his family’s shadow when cosplaying off of his father, copying his whole gimmick?
Remember The Four Horsemen, not this.