In 1998, the World Wrestling Federation was looking for their next top level, main event star. On the recommendation of Jim Ross, he suggested they keep an eye on a former football player turned pro wrestler nicknamed “Doctor Death.” Steve Williams and JR had been friends since Williams’ days playing for the University of Oklahoma Sooners. While Williams had some success as a pro wrestler in the United States, his biggest achievements were competing in Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling. In Japan, Dr. Death was a bonafide superstar. The WWF saw how popular he was and figured that popularity would translate here in the States.
According to Williams, Vince McMahon and the WWF came calling, trying to get him to sign with the company on three separate occasions. Twice, Steve Williams turned down the WWF’s offers, feeling content with his career in Japan. The third time, however, McMahon and company offered Williams a “reasonable” contract to become a WWF superstar. Williams felt that the money was just too good to pass up and agreed to join the promotion. Ross asked Williams to wrestle a dark match for Vince McMahon to review. Williams said he was initially insulted by the request citing his experience in All Japan, but agreed to the dark match against 2 Cold Scorpio in April of 1998. Williams eventually signed on the dotted line in May of that year.
The WWF immediately went to work in conjuring up ideas to help Williams get over with WWF fans who may not have been familiar with his work. Steve Williams was entered into the ill fated Brawl For All tough man competition with WWF management thinking Williams’ tough guy reputation would play well in it. While Dr. Death won his first fight, he would shockingly get knocked out in the second fight by Bart Gunn and in the process, tore his hamstring.
After the Brawl for All debacle, Williams was sidelined for a few months to nurse his injury. The initial plan to have Dr. Death be this tough, badass was scrapped and it was back to the creative drawing board for Steve Williams WWF character. Williams began wrestling a series of dark matches against Hardcore Holly to shake off the ring rust. The matches were said to be far from impressive to WWF management. Feeling that Dr. Death was very bland, Vince McMahon came up with a gimmick that he felt would help him get over.
Steve Williams would wear a mask and be dressed in a Japanese gi. The gimmick was Steve Williams embracing the Japanese lifestyle because he felt that the American fans turned their backs on him. Because Williams wasn’t a great promo guy, McMahon wanted to have Bruce Prichard act as his manager. Prichard was asked to wear face paint and act as if he was Japanese and speak for Williams during interviews. Prichard said he was dead set against the idea saying it sounded completely stupid.
Despite having both Prichard and Jim Ross trying and failing to talk Vince out of the idea…McMahon went ahead with the gimmick. On the February 22nd, 1999 episode of Monday Night Raw, Williams debuted the masked gimmick by attacking Bart Gunn (The man who legitimately knocked Williams out) during a match against Hardcore Holly. The mysterious masked man threw Gunn off the stage area “down 15 feet” into a table. The masked man then disappeared into the backstage area.
That would be the first and last time we would see Steve Williams in that gimmick. Vince realized that Ross and Prichard were right all along and made the decision to drop the pro Japanese gimmick. The very next week on Raw, Jim Ross returned to television after being off due to his battle with Bell’s Palsy. During his interview segment, Ross pulled out the mask and outfit Williams wore the previous week and denounced the gimmick. In that same interview, JR turned heel by kicking Michael Cole in the groin.
That would lead into Dr. Death’s newest storyline as being the bodyguard to Ross during Raw telecasts and being managed by his longtime fiend in a feud with Bart Gunn. Not so surprisingly, the idea of the very popular JR as a heel just because his face was affected by Bell’s Palsy didn’t work at all. The popularity of Jim Ross was supposedly going to work in Williams’ advantage as he claimed in his autobiography that he was booked to turn against JR and begin a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Once again, those plans were tossed away because Williams was still nursing the hamstring injury from the Brawl for All and refused to go to Japan and work for the promotion FMW (which had a working agreement with WWF.) Steve Williams said he refused to work FMW out of loyalty to the Baba family in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Williams suspected that the WWF knew this and set him up by asking him to work FMW knowing the answer would be no and the company could fire him. That’s exactly what happened as the WWF cited a breach of contract for refusal to work.
Dr. Death Steve Williams was released from the company in April of 1999. The release caused a strain on the friendship Williams had with Jim Ross and the two stopped speaking for a while. It also led Williams to join WCW and participate in an angle with Ed Ferrara parodying Ross and his Bell’s Palsy. Ultimately, Ross and Steve Williams did patch up their differences before Williams death in 2009 of cancer.