Barry Windham is, for me, a superstar that I would have loved to have seen in his prime. Sadly much of his best early work has not even been saved on tape let alone widely available. What there is on tape is largely very good, particularly his run with NWA/WCW.
After all, it was with the NWA, in its many forms, that he achieved much of his success. That’s not to say he didn’t have success in the WWE – he did, he’s a former two time tag champion with his brother-in-law Mike Rotunda – but the majority of his time with McMahon’s promotion saw him saddled with poor gimmicks or hampered by creative difficulties and that’s exactly what we will look at today.
Barry was trained by his father Robert Jack Windham – better known by his in-ring name Blackjack Mulligan, himself a former WWF tag team champion and Harley Race. At the age of 19 he made his debut against JJ Dillon in late November 1979. The bulk of the early stages of his career was spent wrestling in the NWA’s Championship Wrestling from Florida territory.
He would achieve success both in singles and tag action competing as a babyface and had notable feuds with Kevin Sullivan and his Army of Darkness which included, amongst others “Maniac” Mark Lewin (Purple Haze), Bob Roop, The Lock and Luna Vachon. His tag success came in 1984 when he teamed with his brother-in-law Mike Rotunda. The duo captured the NWA Florida United States Tag Team Championship three times between March and May 1984.
In October of that year the pair joined the WWF and made their debut the following month on an episode of Maple Leaf Wrestling where they defeated Mohammed Saad and Bobby Bass. The pair soon picked up the name “U.S. Express” and it wasn’t long until the achieved tag team success for the ever expanding WWF. At a house show in Hartford on 21 January 1985 the pair defeated the North South Connection (Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis) to win their first WWF Tag Team Championship.
They would hold the tag belts until Wrestlemania 1 where they dropped them to The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. A few months later, on the 13 July edition of Championship Wrestling, they won the belts back for their second, and last, run with the tag gold. The pair would drop the belts to Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) in Philadelphia at The Spectrum on August 24 and Windham would depart the WWF for the NWA soon after. He would have two further runs with the WWE – with three different gimmicks – but failed to match the success of this run.
1989 – The Widowmaker
After four years Windham returned to the WWF at a 6 June 1989 TV taping where he defeated Frankie DeFalco with a superplex at 1:39. Despite the new ring name, his gimmick was much the same as before – a heel cowboy figure.
He managed to remain undefeated for four months with victories over wrestlers such as Paul Roma, Koko B. Ware and Jim Powers and was set to be part of Randy Savage’s “King’s Court” team at Survivor Series 1989 alongside Greg Valentine and Dino Bravo but left the promotion before then and was replaced by the Canadian Earthquake.
Windam asked for his release after his brother Kendell and his father were getting ready to go to jail on counterfeiting charges.
1996 – The Stalker
After another stint in the WCW, which included a victory over The Great Muta at SuperBrawl III for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, Windham again returned to the WWF in 1996 as The Stalker.
Ahead of his debut the WWF aired a series of vignettes where Windham portrayed his character as a deranged and dangerous former military man clad in face paint.
He was scheduled to feud with Marc Mero but any chance of success that the gimmick had was hampered by behind the scenes changes. Windham was supposed to stalk Sable and appear to cut her throat but Mero balked at the idea. As a result he debuted as a babyface, with very little fanfare, and made his sole appearance at the 1996 Survivor Series where he was eliminated by Goldust.
1997 – Blackjack Windham
In 1997 the WWF combined two mid-card talents with little to do to form a tag team.
Windham and Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw were paired together to form The New Blackjacks. This was a tribute to the original Blackjacks made up of Windham’s father Mulligan and Bradshaw’s uncle Lanza.
The duo were afforded a title shot against the tag team champions but were unable to defeat Owen Hart and The British Bulldog for the belts in a four-way tag team match. In January 1998 the team split when Windham turned on Bradshaw and joined Jim Cornette’s NWA faction. The NWA faction had little success and was short lived with Windham once again leaving the WWF with the WCW again being the destination.
Upon his return to the WCW he would win the tag titles firstly with the late Curt Hennig and also with Kendall but both Windham’s were released in 1999.
A final one off appearance in the WWE ring happened on the 13 March 2008 episode of Raw when he teamed with Mike Rotunda to take on Iron Sheik and Nikolia Volkoff in a rematch of their Wrestlemania 1 encounter.
In October 2011 Windham was rushed to hospital and it was announced that he had suffered a heart attack. Thankfully he was able to make a recovery and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of The Four Horsemen alongside Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and their legendary manager JJ Dillon.
Without doubt Windham was an in-ring great. It’s just sad, as a WWE fan, that little of that greatness happened in a WWE ring.