What do you think of when I say the Universal Wrestling Federation? Do you think of Bill Watts? Mid-South? Sting? Jim Ross? Do you think of a promotion that wanted to compete nationally with the WWF and WCW?
The promotion I speak of, did not emanate from Oklahoma or Louisiana but rather Marina del Ray, California (A hot bed for pro wrestling) *insert sarcasm* It was owned and operated by a man named Herb Abrams. To really understand the UWF…you must first know about the man who founded it….
When we think of other promotions like the WWE, WCW, ECW, TNA etc…we know the people behind the scenes. Whether it’s Vince McMahon, Paul Heyman, Dixie Carter, Ted Turner/Eric Bischoff…we pretty much know who they are and how they handle business. Herb Abrams on the other hand…is a bit shrouded in mystery. Who was he? Where did he make his money? No one really knows for sure…not even most of the wrestlers employed by him.
What we do know was he was wildly ambitious, yet unstable. A dangerous combination in any walk of life…but especially for a wrestling promoter. He did many things on a whim…such as create a wrestling promotion intended to go head to head with the WWF and WCW. A man smart enough to trademark a very marketable name in the Universal Wrestling Federation….something that the original UWF promoter Bill Watts never considered doing. He somehow secured a television deal with Sports Channel and a pay per view deal. He was able to book the large MGM Grand in Las Vegas as a venue for the UWF as well.
He marketed items like T-Shirts and cookies (yes cookies) and even held a live event on free TV. He also brought in several WCW and WWF misfits and rejects like Sid Vicious, B. Brian Blair, David Sammartino, Cactus Jack, Lou Albano, Gene Okerlund, Danny Spivey…even Andre The Giant. Herb Abrams was convinced he had a top notch wrestling promotion that would bring wrestling back to the basics and as an alternative to the big two…WWF and WCW.
It all may have looked good on paper…but the UWF was just as unstable as the man behind the scenes calling the shots. The production values looked like they were done at a community college for extra credit. The shows were not filmed with any consistency and the attendance and ratings suffered. That brings us back to Herb Abrams.
Despite being a man of mystery, it was well known that Abrams liked to party. Partying perhaps too much. For example, his paranoia led Abrams to pay one wrestler to legitimately hurt another wrestler. An old UWF stalwart Steve “Dr Death” Williams was paid an extra $100 dollars to injure fellow wrestler Steve Ray. (Not to be confused with Stevie Ray of Harlem Heat fame) Why you ask? Herb Abrams was convinced that Steve Ray stole cocaine and money from him and slept with his girlfriend. So Abrams orchestrated a match between Steve Williams and Steve Ray where Williams would “Shoot” on Ray and injure him.
Another example was Herb Abrams interviewing midget wrestler Little Tokyo while visibly drunk on live TV. Abrams went as far as slurring to Little Tokyo that he (Abrams) understands the Japanese culture because he was at one time…”married to a Jap.”
When legendary wrestling writer Dave Meltzer publicly criticized Abrams and the UWF in his newsletters…Abrams decided to get back at Meltzer by naming a jobber after him. Davey Meltzer was born to be beat up by various talent.
The UWF’s one and only pay per view named “Beach Brawl” has the distinction of having the lowest buy rate in wrestling history at 0.1 (roughly 17,970 buys) In comparison, the lowest WWE pay per view buy rate was December to Dismember which generated 90,000 buys. Additionally, Beach Brawl was held at a 4,000 seat arena and had an attendance of a little over 500 fans. Bad…bad…bad!
The end of the UWF came ironically when Herb Abrams died of a cocaine fueled heart attack while in police custody. He was arrested after being found naked, high, drenched in Vaseline and being chased around his office by prostitutes. Once Abrams was dead…the UWF closed its doors forever. Overall, it lasted 6 tumultuous years from 1990 to 1996. Pretty amazing when you think about it. Bill Watts UWF this was not.