Barry Windham: An All-Time Great (and What Might Have Been)

Barry Windham was as naturally gifted a wrestler as ever set foot in a ring. But with a checkered career of starts, stops, and frequent jumps to and from the NWA and WWE (then-WWF), there’s always that nagging thought: should the former NWA champ have been an even bigger star?

Barry Windham over the years.
Barry Windham over the years.

Barry Windham: The Early Years

The legendary, brawling, bleeding main eventer Blackjack Mulligan and his wife Julia gave birth to a son named Barry Clinton Windham on July 4th, 1960.

Trained by his father Mulligan and Harley Race, Barry debuted in late 1979 at the tender age of 19 against JJ Dillon in Texas.

Ex-footballer Barry took a different road as a tremendous technician capable of great matches on any given night. For a big man, he was unusually quick and made it all look ever so easy.

He would spend much of his early career in Florida, a territory known for magnificent mat wrestlers with the Funks and Briscos, Hiro Matsuda, Race, and other all-time grapplers having runs in the Sunshine State. You only grow when you work with the best, and he did that and more.

Windham was a main eventer there, holding a plethora of regional belts, and was a highly credible world title challenger, delivering classics with the touring NWA world champs. Windham cites Ric Flair and Dick Murdoch as his favorite opponents.

He later had a running feud with Kevin Sullivan’s wild and notorious army featuring Mark Lewin, Bob Roop, Luna Vachon, and other notables.

It was there where he also formed a top-notch tag team with brother-in-law Mike Rotunda in 1984. They reigned as Florida United States Tag Team Champions three times.

The U.S. Express

In Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda, you had a good-looking, well-built, charismatic team who were also great workers. The WWF saw money in them when they made their debut in the Fall of 1984.

The U.S. Express: Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda.
The U.S. Express: Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda.

It wasn’t long before they bested wily veterans Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis for their first of two WWF Tag Team Championships– belts they would soon lose at the historic first WrestleMania to The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.

However, six months later, the U.S. Express got the belts back from Sheik and Nikolai before dropping them a mere month later to Johnny Valiant’s Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake.

Barry is often criticized for not staying long enough in an area to achieve his full potential, but Windham lamented that they were on the road for ninety-six consecutive days while with World Wrestling Federation.

They were crisscrossing the country to boot with WWF’s massive expansion getting their sleep on an endless barrage of plane flights. It was utterly exhausting, and interestingly, Mike left WWF first.

Barry Windham often bounced back and forth between WWF and NWA/WCW.
Barry Windham often bounced back and forth between WWF and NWA/WCW. [Photo: Wrestling 86 Magazine, Spring 1986 issue]

Barry Windham in WCW

Barry Windham went to WCW and was pushed to the top quickly, having a series of classic bouts with Ric Flair in 1986.

As superb as these matches were, though, Flair’s series from that era with Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk are, possibly unfairly, discussed more often and with greater affection today.

Meanwhile, Barry attained gold with Ron Garvin in a brief run with the U.S. Tag Team belts and also reigned as the NWA Western States Heritage Champion, a name more impressive than the mid-level belt it was treated as.

With his contract expiring in 1989, Barry was again off for another run with WWF.

As The Widowmaker in WWF

Vince McMahon, who just loved silly gimmicks, morphed Barry Windham into the Widowmaker, an ill-defined heel cowboy role. He went unbeaten for four months, but when Barry’s family met with legal issues (which you can learn more about here), he left once again.

He would soon have what would arguably be his greatest run.

Barry Windham as The Widowmaker in the WWF.
Barry Windham as The Widowmaker in the WWF. [Photo: 1990 Classic WWF Wrestling Card]

Barry Windham in the Four Horsemen and as NWA Champ

When discussing Windham, many fans best know him from his Four Horseman and NWA Champion stints.

He was part of the classic beloved faction with Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Ric Flair, and JJ Dillon leading. A revolving door, the massive Sid Vicious was also part of the crew during Windham’s tenure.

Barry Windham in The Four Horsemen alongside Arn Anderson, JJ Dillon, Ric Flair, and Tully Blanchard.
Barry Windham in The Four Horsemen alongside Arn Anderson, JJ Dillon, Ric Flair, and Tully Blanchard.

When Flair was fired in ’91, the world title was vacated. Windham was then elevated to the number two contender spot and faced Lex Luger in a steel cage bout to decide the new champ. In a double turn, Luger won the match and became the top heel, with Windham once again a fan favorite gunning for the title.

Later, Windham was chasing the NWA World Championship held by The Great Muta. History was made at SuperBrawl III when he defeated the Japanese great for the prestigious belt.

But once again, it wasn’t an easy road for Barry, who lost his title to a returning Flair at Beach Blast. With injured knees, Windham left wrestling for nearly a year.

In yet another matchup with Flair upon his return, Windham reinjured a knee, and there were yet another two years lost.

Later Career

Late career Barry Windham saw him return to WWE for more ill-advised gimmicks, including The Stalker, a seemingly psychotic fan-favorite of all absurd things.

Few gimmicks have been as ridiculous as The Stalker.
Few gimmicks have been as ridiculous as The Stalker. [Photo: WWE.com]
Windham himself realized just how bad an idea it was in his interview with WSI Wrestling Shoot Interviews.

"I guess maybe Vince [McMahon]’s reasoning was that I could work well enough where I could make something work or that he could make it work, but it never did.

“He always believed that he created his own guys and made his own talent and I think that was where it hurt me in that I was already Barry Windham and he wanted to create something else."

The New Blackjacks: Barry Windham and John "Hawk" Bradshaw (JBL).
The New Blackjacks: Barry Windham and John “Hawk” Bradshaw (JBL). [Photo: WWE.com]
Misguided as well were the New Blackjacks tag team with John "Hawk" Bradshaw. They didn’t come close to the aura or stature of Blackjack Lanza and his father, Blackjack Mulligan.

The team was short-lived, and Barry soon returned to WCW to join The West Texas Rednecks in their feud with Master P’s Soldiers featuring the massive Cassius (AKA New York’s own Teddy "The Tank" Reade).

Is that a D chord? The West Texas Rednecks: Barry Windham, Kendall Windham, Curt Hennig, and Bobby Duncum Jr.
Is that a D chord? The West Texas Rednecks: Barry Windham, Kendall Windham, Curt Hennig, and Bobby Duncum Jr.

Coping with worsening knees and a bad ankle, Barry worked in Puerto Rico and various indies before ultimately retiring in 2010.

He eventually became a WWE Producer for two years, is the proud uncle of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas, builds old custom trucks and motorcycles, and has battled a variety of health issues to this day.

On December 2nd, 2022, Windham suffered a “massive heart attack” while traveling through Atlanta. As of December 9th, he was in stable condition and able to stand and talk.

Windham underwent “an emergency procedure to save his life,” according to a GoFundMe set up for the former wrestler. His family said that the fundraiser was set up because Windham’s medical history and limited work left him without health insurance.

“To face these times is one of great stress and hardship. As well as one that comes with extensive medical expenses he is taking on. That is overwhelming to say the least.”

We send our well wishes to Barry and his family as he continues to fight his latest battle.

Barry Windham at the Monster Mania Con on March 10th, 2017, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Barry Windham at the Monster Mania Con on March 10th, 2017, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. [Photo: Bobby Bank/Getty Images]

The Legacy of Barry Windham

Barry Windham blessed the business with innumerable classics, all the while holding an abundance of titles.

He helped book some of the greatest wrestling ever produced, along with Dusty Rhodes.

Windham is a WWE Hall of Famer as part of the Four Horsemen, arguably the greatest faction of all time.

However, despite being revered by his peers and fans who witnessed him in his magnificent prime, you rarely see him listed on all-time great lists.

Has history been unkind to this wrestling machine?

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Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He's a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Wrestler" and acclaimed wrestling documentary "350 Days." He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at evan_ginzburg@yahoo.com.