In 1991, UWF founder Herb Abrams was owed money by “Wild Thing” Steve Ray. Abrams also suspected that Ray was sleeping with his wife. On May 10th, 1991, at a television taping in New York City, Abrams paid Dr. Death Steve Williams an extra $100 to take care of this problem. The ensuing shoot quickly turned into a threatening situation for the young wrestler. But was it all a work?
Dr. Death Steve Williams and “Wild Thing” Steve Ray – When Things Turned Real in the Ring
The Universal Wrestling Federation was a short-lived wrestling promotion that started with a lot of promise in 1990. Unfortunately, inconsistent storylines by the eccentric owner and booker Herb Abrams — who allegedly squandered much of the money on illegal narcotics for himself — hindered any progress the promotion obtained.
In the beginning, the company had a lot of financial backing and a weekly television show on SportsChannel America.
Abrams was an ambitious businessman, envisioning his UWF dethroning the then-WWF.
Abrams started bringing in many stars most fans would recognize to accomplish his mission, such as Billy Jack Haynes, B. Brian Blair, Bob Orton Jr., Mick Foley (Cactus Jack), Dan Spivey, Colonel DeBeers, Don Muraco, Ivan Koloff, Ken Patera, and Paul Orndorff, to name a few.
Who Was “Wild Thing” Steve Ray?
One of the homegrown talents who began getting a solid push by the UWF was the lean-muscled, bleach-blonde-haired "Wild Thing" Steve Ray, who had a surfer/rocker gimmick. Think Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Sting (without the makeup), but quirkier- that was Steve Ray.
During the filming of Rocky III, Ray met Thunderlips, a.k.a. “The Ultimate Object of Desire,” who was portrayed by Hulk Hogan. Ray was so in awe with Hogan’s aura and how much charisma he exuded that this chance encounter convinced him to pursue a career in professional wrestling.
After only three months of training under Sonny Myers, Steve Ray made his wrestling debut in 1987.
Upon arriving at the UWF, Abrams saw something special in Ray and pushed him to the stratosphere. His athleticism and likeability made him a fan favorite, and he soon became one of the standouts fans remember from the promotion.
"Dr. Death" Is Turned Loose on an Unsuspecting Steve Ray
The match between Dr. Death Steve Williams and Steve Ray began with some decent chain wrestling, but after Ray delivered several powerful kicks that connected with Williams in the corner, things took a turn.
Williams, who has always been a notoriously stiff worker in the ring, viciously tackled Ray.
Afterward, looking like he was planning to go for a backdrop, Dr. Death instead elevated Ray and introduced him to the mat.
Now outside the ring, a somewhat reckless Steve Ray did a sloppy body splash off the top rope where Williams barely caught him to break his fall.
Ray, who was known to get excited in the ring at times, over-jumped this maneuver. Once outside the ring, Williams snapped and turned into an animal. He lifted Ray and rammed his back violently into the post, exactly like the first part of his Oklahoma Stampede finisher.
Craig DeGeorge and Bruno Sammartino, who was commentating for this televised match, were shocked at how Williams looked like he had broken Ray in half.
When watching the match, it’s hard not to wince. The word painful is a grievous understatement when describing the unexpected move Williams put on Ray.
Williams continued to work on Ray’s back with a barrage of well-placed forearm shots.
Once back in the ring, the match seemed to briefly go back to “normal” until Williams caught Ray launching himself off the top rope again.
This time, Williams flipped Ray over like a sack of potatoes, viciously dumping him awkwardly on his head. He followed this up by kicking Ray several times in the nose until mercifully ending the match by way of his Oklahoma Stampede finisher.
Herb Abrams then entered the ring and knelt beside a fallen and confused "Wild Thing" Steve Ray and whispered something in his ear. Ray wasn’t happy with what was whispered, so he began swinging at Abrams, who was barely able to dodge the attack as he scurried to safety outside the ring.
The referee held back an angry Ray who wanted to chase after Abrams. Williams then offered to shake Ray’s hand, to which he complied.
Both men’s mouths moved as they seemed to make peace, but it is difficult to decipher what they said to each other because of the crowd noise.
Was It a “Work” or a “Shoot”?
To this day, “Wild Thing” Steve Ray appreciates Herb Abrams’ promotional abilities. After all, Abrams was able to help Ray become one of Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s most popular wrestlers for a brief period.
However, when it comes to the incident with Dr. Death Steve Williams, Ray admits that it wasn’t a shoot but staged to look real, despite other sources such as former UWF Vice President Zoogz Rift stating otherwise.
"When I walked into that dressing room that night, [the wrestlers] really thought that I got in a huge fight with Dr Death," Ray acknowledged in a 2020 interview with VOC Nation’s In the Room podcast. "When [Dr. Death] ran my back into that metal pole, that even freaks me out to watch it. It just looks brutal."
Zoogz Rift, a wrestling personality and musician who booked the UWF in 1993 and became its vice president in 1995 until Herb Abrams died in 1996, had a different spin on the story.
When asked if the match between Steve Ray and Dr. Death Steve Williams was a legitimate shoot fight or staged as Ray maintains, he answered that it was real.
"Steve Ray allegedly screwed Herb in a drug deal," Rift admitted in a 2005 interview, "and Herb had the impression that Steve was fooling around with Herb’s wife (he wasn’t), so Herb paid Steve an extra $100 to break Steve Ray’s nose during the match."
Rift continued, "Wrestling knows no morals, sadly. I liked both Steves on a personal level, so I hated to see that kind of s*** happen. With me in charge, I would have never allowed that to happen."
Dr. Death Steve Williams and Herb Abrams are no longer with us to share their side of the story. Nevertheless, in 1991, the fans at that TV taping in New York City witnessed a beatdown still discussed today.
Watch "Dr. Death" Steve Williams shoot on "Wild Thing" Steve Ray:
Want more? Here are more times things turned real in the ring!:
- Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda | How Their Fight Turned REAL in Japan
- Blue Meanie and His Real-Life Fight with JBL
- Earthquake John Tenta and Kōji Kitao – When Things Turned Real!
- Perry Saturn and Mike Bell – When Things Turned Ugly!