Steve Williams
"Dr. Death" Steve Williams.jpg
Birth nameSteven Williams
Born(1960-05-14)May 14, 1960
Lakewood, Colorado, U.S.
DiedDecember 29, 2009(2009-12-29) (aged 49)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Cause of deathThroat cancer
Alma materUniversity of Oklahoma
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Steve Williams[1]
Billed height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)[1]
Billed weight285 lb (129 kg)[1]
Billed fromLakewood, Colorado
Norman, Oklahoma[2]
Nagoya, Japan
Shreveport, Louisiana
Trained byBill Watts[3]
Buddy Landel
Debut1982
Retired2009

Steven Williams (May 14, 1960 – December 29, 2009), better known by his ring name “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, was an American professional wrestler, collegiate football player, and amateur wrestler. He was best known for his time in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Williams was a three-time professional wrestling world heavyweight champion, having won the UWF World Heavyweight Championship twice and in 1994, the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship once. In addition to his singles success, Williams achieved notoriety in Japan in tag team competition, winning the World Tag Team Championship eight times with notable tag team partners Terry Gordy, Gary Albright and Vader. His tag team success continued in North America, winning tag team titles in the Mid-South (UWF), World Championship Wrestling, and NWA United States Tag Team Championship as well as winning the World's Strongest Tag Determination League twice with Gordy and Mike Rotunda.[1][4]

In 2004, Williams was diagnosed with throat cancer, and underwent successful surgery the following year. He continued to wrestle on the independent circuit until his cancer returned in 2009, dying that year at the age of 49. Williams was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2021 as part of the Legacy Wing.

Early life

Williams was born and raised in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colorado. Williams attended Lakewood High School, graduating in 1978. He was the youngest of four children born to Gerald (died 1985) and Dottie Williams (died 2016). He grew up in Lakewood where he also was living at time of his death with his mother. He was on the track & field team, played football, and wrestled all four years. Williams graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1981 where he played football and also competed as an amateur wrestler, where he was a four time All American,[5] finishing 6th as a freshman, 5th as a sophomore, 3rd as a junior and 2nd as a senior. His senior year, he lost in the finals of an NCAA tournament to future 2x Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner. Already interested in professional wrestling, Williams had a ready-made nickname that dated back to an incident in junior high wherein he had to wrestle in a hockey goalie's mask due to shattering his nose and was jokingly labeled "Dr. Death" by one of his school's coaches and his sister.

Football career

College

Williams started every game in 1982 for the Oklahoma Sooners at right guard. He was named to the UPI All-Big Eight first team and played in the 1983 Fiesta Bowl. He was also a member of the Sooners 1980 Orange Bowl and 1981 Sun Bowl squads. Williams played both guard positions while at OU.

Professional

Williams was selected by the New Jersey Generals in the 1983 USFL Territorial Draft on January 3, 1983. He signed with the Generals on January 31, just prior to the opening of training camp. Williams was converted to a defensive tackle in training camp and was a teammate of RB Herschel Walker. During camp, Williams suffered a bruised knee and was placed on injured reserve for the first six games of the Generals 1983 season.

After being activated for week #10 vs. the Birmingham Stallions on May 9, Williams was the starting nose tackle for the Generals in a 22–7 loss at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. The game was telecast live on ESPN. Williams started at nose tackle the following week on May 16, in a 31–24 loss to the Michigan Panthers at the Silverdome in Pontiac, MI – a game also shown on ESPN.

Professional wrestling career

Early years (1982–1987)

Williams, trained for professional wrestling by Bill Watts and Buddy Landel, started wrestling in 1982 in Watts' Mid-South Wrestling. In 1985, he formed a team with Ted DiBiase and feuded with Eddie Gilbert and The Nightmare. In 1986, Mid-South was renamed the Universal Wrestling Federation and Williams went on to win the UWF Heavyweight Championship from Big Bubba Rogers. When Jim Crockett Promotions bought the UWF in late 1987, he was one of the few UWF wrestlers to receive an initial push in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). During this time he also worked for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

World Championship Wrestling (1987–1990, 1992)

Williams became involved with Jimmy Garvin's war with Kevin Sullivan's Varsity Club in 1988, often teaming with Jimmy and Ron Garvin or Ron Simmons in various matches, including a Triple Cage "Tower of Doom" match at The Great American Bash in 1988. Williams, however, turned heel and joined the Varsity Club in late 1988. He and Sullivan won the NWA United States Tag Team Championship at Starrcade. They feuded with The Road Warriors and he and Mike Rotunda won the NWA World Tag Team Championship in the process.

In May 1989, Williams and Rotunda were stripped of the title, and the Varsity Club disbanded. Not long after, Williams turned face again and had a short feud with Rotunda over who was responsible for the Varsity Club's breakup, before entering a feud with Lex Luger for the NWA United States Championship. Williams was scheduled to face Luger for the title at WrestleWar '90 on February 25, 1990. When Sting, who was scheduled to face Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, suffered a legitimate knee injury, Luger turned face and was moved from the US title match to the World Title match in Sting's place. He then departed the company.

Following a one-time appearance for New Japan Pro Wrestling on February 10, 1990 at their Super Fight In Tokyo Dome card where he defeated Salman Hashimikov,[6] he then went to All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1990 where he found success with Terry Gordy in a tag-team called The Miracle Violence Connection, which they formed prior in 1987 in Jim Crockett Promotions. On February 29, 1992 at SuperBrawl II, then WCW Executive Vice President Kip Frey announced that he was negotiating to bring Williams and Gordy back to World Championship Wrestling. On March 9, the duo defeated three enhancement teams at a television taping for The Main Event in Anderson, SC in contests that would not air until May. On the April 18th edition of WCW Saturday Night it was announced that Williams and Gordy would be part of the upcoming tournament for the vacant NWA Tag-Team Championship that summer.

At Clash of the Champions XIX on June 16, the duo defeated the Australian representatives Larry O'Day & Jeff O'Day in the opening round of the NWA Tournament. As a bonus for the Clash, it was announced by new WCW Executive Vice President Bill Watts that the quarter-finals would begin later that night; as a result in a non-title match Williams and Gordy defeated WCW World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers. While waiting for the next round to begin following the Clash, the duo would face and defeat Marcus Bagwell and Tom Zenk in house show matches. At Beach Blast, Williams and Gordy again faced The Steiner Brothers, this time going to a thirty minute draw. On July 5, 1992 at a house show at the Omni in Atlanta, GA, Williams and Gordy won the WCW World Tag Team Championship from The Steiner Brothers[7] Shortly afterwards at The Great American Bash, the final two rounds of the NWA Tag-Team Championship Tournament were run. Gordy and Williams defeated Ricky Steamboat and Nikita Koloff in the semi-finals, and then beat Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham in the tournament final. Their NWA title win, however, went unrecognized by the NWA.

Steve Williams and Terry Gordy then began feuding with the Dangerous Alliance, defeating Bobby Eaton and Arn Anderson in house show matches. On the September 26th edition of the Main Event, the duo sustained their first televised defeat when they were beaten by The Steiner Brothers in a non-title matchup. On the October 3rd edition of WCW Saturday Night, they were then upset by Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham and lost both titles. Williams and Gordy received a rematch at Halloween Havoc 92 but Gordy quit the company and was replace by Steve Austin and they were only able to wrestle Rhodes and Windham to a time limit draw. On December 12, Williams teamed with Big Van Vader in an unsuccessful challenge to Windham & Rhodes in Columbus, OH. On December 28 he participated in the Battle Bowl event at Starrcade and teamed with Sting to defeat Eric Watts and Jushin Liger. At the start of the event it was announced that he would be substituting for an injured Rick Rude to challenge Ron Simmons for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, but lost by disqualification. He left WCW shortly thereafter.[8]

All Japan Pro Wrestling (1990–1998)

In February 1990,[9] Williams began to work for All Japan Pro Wrestling with Terry Gordy, initially as part of The Miracle Violence Connection team. They established themselves on the card and had matches against the likes of Giant Baba, Stan Hansen and André The Giant.

Over time Williams gradually got traction and fanfare from the Japanese audience. Baba booked him to be a main eventer for the company. After, Williams became one of the most successful foreign athletes in Japanese wrestling history, especially in reference to the 90s and early 2000s. On July 28, 1994, he defeated Mitsuharu Misawa for the AJPW Triple Crown Championship, holding it for three months before dropping it to Toshiaki Kawada. Williams became a mainstay gaijin on AJPW television along with Stan Hansen, Terry Gordy, Johnny Ace and Gary Albright. He would either team with them or fight them in singles from 1994 to 1998 in a variety of feuds during a wrestling boom in Japan, comparable to that of WWF's Attitude Era.

On August 31, 1997 Williams won the World Tag Team Championship titles with Gary Albright.[10] Williams' last TV appearance for his first All Japan run was on the June 28, 1998 edition of AJPW TV. He and Wolf Hawkfield defeated Masao Inoue and Takao Omori before Williams to the WWF, giving a symbolic farewell to Giant Baba and the Japanese audience after the match.[11]

Extreme Championship Wrestling (1997)

He also sporadically wrestled in the U.S. on the independent circuit. That run was brought to an end during one of his appearances in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). After defeating Axl Rotten in approximately 2 minutes, Williams had an impromptu ECW World Heavyweight Championship match, but lost after being pinned by then-champion Raven. The loss happened in February 1997 at Crossing the Line Again, thus ending his unpinned streak in North America, which lasted since March 26, 1987.

World Wrestling Federation (1998–1999)

In May 1998, Williams was signed by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) prior to the "Brawl for All" competition, which was set up in legitimate fights. WWF took interest in signing him due to his success in All Japan. Before entering the Brawl for All and signing a contract, he had only one in-ring match with the WWF, which was against 2 Cold Scorpio on a WWF Shotgun taping dark match (April 28, 1998). According to house show cards and recaps, Vince McMahon introduced him to the ring for this dark match.[12]

On the July 20 edition of Raw is War, Williams entered the Brawl for All tournament, making his first WWF television appearance with many expecting him to win. However, after beating Pierre Carl Ouellet in the first round, he faced Bart Gunn in the second round. Gunn took Williams down, tearing his hamstring, then knocked Williams out. Williams missed several months following the injury. Upon healing in January 1999, Williams worked dark matches on Heat/Shotgun/Raw is War tapings, mainly against Bob Holly (then still a part of the J.O.B. Squad) to open up the tapings. His first match after rehabilitating his hamstring was defeating Holly on January 12, 1999 in Beaumont, TX.

Williams was involved in a brief angle where he was managed by Jim Ross in early 1999 before Williams was released. During his time with Ross, he would attack people with suplexes, debuting on the February 22, 1999 edition of Raw is War. He wore a kabuki mask and threw Bart Gunn off a stage during a match of his. On the March 1 episode of Raw, Jim Ross announced that Bart Gunn would fight Butterbean at WrestleMania XV, and Gunn and Ross argued over the Brawl For All in a worked shoot. During the segment, Williams attacked Gunn with the backdrop driver, revealing himself to be the masked man. This story was played-off on WWF television as Williams getting revenge against Gunn for his Brawl for All loss.

After, Williams was involved in two storylines as a babyface, one where he was pursuing the WWF Hardcore Championship from Hardcore Holly, and another where he sought to get even with Tiger Ali Singh for making fun of Ross on live television. On the March 15, 1999 edition of Sunday Night Heat, Tiger Ali Singh paid a fan (Ed Ferrara) to impersonate Jim Ross, who had a bout Bell's palsy at the time. Out of anger, Williams attacked Ferrara with a backdrop driver and Singh with his signature "Dr. Bomb" slam, and Ross would procede to conduct a promo before Vince McMahon sent Big Show out to clear the ring. Williams would stare at Big Show, but would later leave the ring with Ross. On the March 21, 1999 edition of Sunday Night Heat, Williams defeated The Hardy Boys in a handicap match.[13] He next appeared on the March 22 edition of Raw is War, where he and WWF Hardcore Champion, Hardcore Holly, brawled in a fraternity house in Albany, New York. At WresleMania XV on the HSN version of WWF Free For All, Williams cut a backstage promo on Bart Gunn, saying how "Bart deserved what he got" after Bart lost to Butterbean. The day after on March 29 Raw episode, Williams and Hardcore Holly fought in a hardcore match, which Williams lost because Al Snow interfered. On the April 5 Raw episode, Williams attacked both Snow and Holly with suplexes in the ring. Later in the week on the April 10 episode of WWF Shotgun, Williams defeated Tiger Ali Singh in what would be his final match for the company.

While injured with a bad hamstring Williams decided to wrestle at the Giant Baba Memorial Show on May 2, 1999.[14] Despite wrestling injured he didn't want to miss out at this event due to not wanting to let his friend and mentor Giant Baba down, who died at the beginning of the year.

In Williams' autobiography, as well as in his RF Video shoot interview in 2001, these midcard storylines were meant as a way to build his character up on television before entering a main event feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Williams was released in mid-April for needing further time to rehab his injury and for refusing to work for FMW, a Japanese promotion with which the WWF had talent exchanges. He was scheduled to compete against Snow and Holly at Backlash: In Your House for the WWF Hardcore Championship, but he did not appear due to his release.

According to a radio interview from November 1999,[15] Williams was originally planned to have some of Triple H's storylines before his release. Most notably, the segment on the October 4, 1999 episode of Raw is War when Triple H attacked Jim Ross was the moment when Williams was going to start his feud with Austin. Because the angle was originally planned for Williams, this storyline was supposed to be how he would become a heel, as Ross was going to manage him as a babyface until that point later in the year. Williams stated in his book that his main event push was going to start after the debut of WWF Smackdown! on UPN.

Return to WCW (1999)

In November 1999, Williams healed from his hamstring injury and appeared briefly in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) again, with Oklahoma as his manager in a feud with Vampiro. As a result of this feud, he wrestled against Jerry Only from the Misfits on the November 29 edition of WCW Monday Nitro in a steel cage match. On December 2 on Thunder in Topeka, KS, Williams rebounded to defeat Silver King, Villano IV and Villano V in a three on one match. On the following Nitro in Milwaukee, WI, Williams teamed with Oklahoma to defeat Vampiro and Jerry Only. On December 13, 1999 he then faced Sid Vicious in New Orleans, LA, but was pinned. At Starrcade 99 on December 19, Williams faced Vampiro in a one-on-one encounter and was defeated via disqualification after he shoved referee Charles Robinson.[16]

Very shortly after, the announcement that he would return to All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) was on December 26, 1999.[17]

Steve Williams in early 2002
Steve Williams in early 2002

Return to AJPW (2000–2003)

He went back to AJPW and had a second full-time run from 2000 to 2003. He held a tag-team title reign with Big Van Vader when they captured the World Tag Team Championship titles in February 2000. They split in early April when Vader left the company. Williams then feuded with success in singles against Akira Taue in the spring,[18] Jinsei Shinzaki in the summer,[19] Scott Norton in the fall at NJPW Do Judge!!, and Mike Barton again at the beginning of 2001 in a revenge match.[20] On the December 9, 2000 pay-per-view Steve Williams and Mike Rotunda won the World's Strongest Tag Determination League in the main event and honored Giant Baba after the match.[21]

Williams had a main event pay-per-view match against Keiji Muto on July 14, 2001 for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship, which Williams lost. After leaving the backstage area Williams would then going on a huge swearing tirade, where he kicked a trash can, was about to cry in tears, and then throwing his armpads to the ground while swearing again.[22] Such scenes never happened in the traditional All Japan and was characteristic to the "crash TV" style of Vince Russo's writing. This would be an early sign of what would become the Pro Wrestling Love era, ultimately leading Williams into a grudge feud with Muto into 2002.

In later 2001, 2002 and early 2003 Williams often teamed with Mike Rotundo and Mike Barton. He would have sporadic singles feuds against Keiji Muto (defeating him in a singles match once out of revenge in March 2022) and George Hines,[23] as with his wearing hamstring he couldn't compete in singles like he used to. Staying in the tag division was safer for Williams' longevity in AJPW's upper-midcard and main events, as well as the popularity of tag-teams in Japanese wrestling at this time.

William's last appearance during his second All Japan run was on the January 13, 2003 pay-per-view of AJPW. On this show, Williams, Mike Rotunda, and Shigeo Okumura defeated George Hines, Hideki Hosaka and Johnny Smith.[24]

Cancer, return to wrestling, and retirement (2003–2009)

After leaving AJPW full-time, he wrestled a couple of matches for WWE in 2003 against Lance Storm. In late 2003, he was involved with the independent promotion Major League Wrestling (MLW) and also wrestled for the new NWA Mid-Atlantic, where he won their title in one of the first professional wrestling events in China. On March 14, 2004, Williams faced Belarusian kickboxer Alexey Ignashov in a mixed martial arts bout in the K-1 promotion and was knocked out 22 seconds into the fight. According to Williams he was tested positive with throat cancer a couple days before the match. This was his first and only professional fight.[25]

In March 2004, Williams underwent surgery for throat cancer, the tumor developing and remaining undetected since September 2003. Williams made a surprise appearance on the July 22, 2004 pay-per-view while he was undergoing surgery. He and Genichiro Tenryu defeated Arashi and Nobukazu Hirai on the show.

Williams and was declared cancer-free in 2005. His return match was against King Kaluha, who he defeated on August 27, 2005 at WrestleReunion 2.[26] According to promoter Sal Corrente, Williams was initially hesitant to work with King Kaluha but was ultimately appreciative about the choice of opponent.[27]

Williams made an appearance at a SmackDown! brand house show on March 11, 2006, in Alexandria, Louisiana, after which he was signed to help train up-and-coming WWE wrestlers in its Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) developmental territory. While acting in that capacity, he made a few appearances on OVW television, where he helped fellow Oklahoma wrestler Jake Hager and briefly working as his tag team partner. He also made an appearance at an August 30 Raw house show, during which he addressed the crowd and announced how happy he was to be cancer free for four years.

Later, he made appearances for Oklahoma-based independent federation Sooner World Class Wrestling (SWCW).[28] He also worked for Southwest Airlines in Colorado.[29]

After the death of longtime rival and friend Mitsuharu Misawa in June 2009, Williams made the decision to retire from wrestling after 27 years. Williams's final match took place August 15 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Asylum Championship Wrestling. He defeated Franco D'Angelo for the ACW Heavyweight Championship, which he vacated after the match.[30]

Death

The throat cancer eventually returned and Williams's health gradually worsened. His last public appearance was at the K&S Wrestlefest Wrestling Convention on December 12, 2009, in Carteret, New Jersey. On December 29, 2009, Williams died at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver from throat cancer.[31] He was 49 years old.

Personal life

Williams was of German descent and grew up in a Protestant background. He became a Born Again Christian early in his first AJPW run, and prior was a Christian believer who in general lacked interest in organized religion. He stated in his book that before becoming closer to God than he already was, he used to "skim the Bible" and also had a diffcult time fitting in with more dogmatic and ritualistic churches. Williams also took interest in East Asian religions, having attended Japanese temples while on tour in Japan.[32]

Beginning in late 1990, not long after he debuted in AJPW, Williams was known for praying backstage before each match.

Williams was known for his Christian motivational speaking in personal interviews both before and after being diagnosed with throat cancer, comparable in personality to Marc Mero, who he was also a friend of during their time in WCW and WWF.

During the time of the Chris Benoit double-murder/suicide case in the summer of 2007, Williams was highly critical of Benoit's actions, posting on his website that he found it "very distubing" considering that Benoit and Williams were close friends. After the details of the case became known, Williams wrote that he "felt no sorrow for Chris Benoit", where he wrote how he has "always asked God to give me life so that I could LIVE for my son". He also stated that he has "no idea how someone can murder their family and then stick a Bible next to them." Williams also criticized the mainstream media's disparaging reports on Vince McMahon and the wrestling business over the Benoit incident.[33]

Mixed martial arts record

Professional record breakdown
1 match 0 wins 1 loss
By knockout 0 1
By submission 0 0
By decision 0 0
Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
Loss 0–1 Belarus Alexey Ignashov KO (knees) K-1 Beast 2004 in Niigata March 14, 2004 1 0:22 Niigata, Japan

Championships and accomplishments

See also

Notes

  1. ^ This promotion, while operating out of the same area and using some of the same regional championships, is not the same promotion once owned by Jim Crockett Jr. and did not begin operating until the mid-1990s.
  2. ^ Gordy and Williams unified the WCW World Tag Team Championship with the NWA World Tag Team Championship after winning the NWA title in a tag team tournament. This happened nearly four years after Ted Turner's purchase of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling from Jim Crockett Jr. He renamed the promotion World Championship Wrestling, but it remained an NWA affiliate until September 1993. As a result, the two titles were separated once more and Gordy and Williams were then recognized as having two separate title reigns with two different titles rather than one unified reign.

References

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  2. ^ "King Kaluha Profile". Online World of Wrestling.
  3. ^ Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
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  5. ^ "Williams dies; was 4-time All-American". ESPN.com. ESPN. 31 December 2009. Retrieved October 21, 2020.
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  13. ^ "1999". thehistoryofwwe.com.
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Further reading