One of the great perks of running this website is that I occasionally I get to interview some very interesting people. With that said, I am confident that I have never spoke with anyone tougher than when I spoke with former USFL player and Professional Wrestler, Steve Cox. Seriously, I think if I angered him over the phone, he would have had the ability to summon up the ability to reach through my I-Phone and render me an invalid at will.
Steve may have also been one of the funniest people I have had the pleasure to talk to. As i listened back to his stories in his distinctive Midwestern drawl, the amount of times I found myself bursting out laughing eclipsed any other interview I have ever done.[i]
I found the timing to be perfect. Currently, the WWE is promoting a Mid-South wrestling DVD, and though Cox did not officially compete there, he was there in final portion of Mid-South’s finale, the UWF. Cox may not have been the biggest name in the business, but he did compete against and befriend those who were. He also was an amateur wrestler who would later compete in the early shoot promotions in Japan, which itself would foreshadow the Mixed Martial Arts that has become popular now.
With special thanks to our mutual friend, Chavo Guerrero Sr., I hope you enjoy the transcript of my chat with Steve Cox.
You had a great football career at the University of Tulsa, correct?
“I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, three miles across into Kansas, and I was a real good Linebacker and wrestler and I got a full ride scholarship to Tulsa University. That’s how I got there.”
This took you to the USFL right?
“Yeah, I got out of school and then I got drafted.[ii] I was signed by the New Jersey Generals and was there when Herschel Walker came in. I am going to show my age, but this was back when ESPN was showing us and we were a bunch of lunkheads wondering who would watch 24 hours of sports. This was the early days of (Chris) Berman. Chuck Fairbanks was our Coach.[iii]
I was traded from to the Michigan Panthers[iv] so I went from Hackensack, New Jersey to Pontiac, Michigan and Jim Stanley was our coach. He was one of the original guys who went off with Bear Bryant at Texas A&M. He was a real hardcore coach. Anyway, I was getting beat up pretty badly, and I decided to get out (of Football).”
You mentioned that you were an amateur wrestler in school. Were you a fan of pro wrestling when you were growing up?
Heck no! Now I grew up in Kansas, so I was familiar with Bob Geigel and Harley Race and all those guys. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of the old WWF out of New York. But as a collegiate wrestler, though this has changed since Kurt Angle, a lot of the “real” wrestlers didn’t appreciate “fake” wrestling.
As I got out of the USFL, and back in the day there weren’t a lot of gyms, and I always went to Moguin’s Gym by TU (Tulsa University). When the wrestlers came through, that’s where they worked out. I was actually talking to of all people, Sting[v] and he asked me if I ever thought about being a pro wrestler, and I said ‘not really’. That weekend there was an article in the paper about the UWF, Bill Watts and the Rock and Roll Express and how they had a sold out crowd downtown. The guy who owned the gym was a friend of Bill Watts and he called him up and I met Bill Watts.[vi]
I didn’t realize at the time what Bill was all about. He asked me if I had (wrestling) boots and I said no. He said I had no possibility in hell until I go t some boots as he couldn’t get me in the ring and do much with me. He said, stay and watch the show, and they did TV every Sunday night in Tulsa and that place was sold out like lightning.
I got some boots in this place out of Arkansas. Back in the day, there weren’t too many places you could buy (wrestling) boots unlike now where you can buy them all over the place. Anyway, I got my boots and I got my trunks and I got a call that he wanted me at the arena at four o’clock, which was pretty early because they started at seven. I get there, and he (Watts) says suit up, and I go out to the ring. We’re in the middle of the ring and Watts says ‘Hit the ropes’, and I’m running back and forth hitting the ropes. He said ‘Drop down, hit the ropes. Drop down, hit the ropes’, then he says be at my house, which was near Tulsa at two o’clock Sunday.
I got to his house and we drove to Miami, Oklahoma and we go to this armory and he said you’re going to wrestle tonight. I’m like ‘Oh Shit, I’m not planning on it!’, but I get to the arena and there is Terry Taylor, Rick Steiner, Doc (Steve Williams) and my first match is with Mike George.
It was a small armory, but this place was packed to the ceiling with people. I go out there and Mike George[vii] is my first match and Tommy Gilbert is the referee. I should have known from the first match when I went over that I was being brought in as Dr. Death’s protégé, but I had never took a bump. Mike was slamming me, giving me boots, but Tommy was getting in my ear that ‘we have a superstar here!’ I couldn’t even breathe during the match! Mike did the deal where I grabbed the ropes and he falls back and then 123 kick and I take a powder and I am beat to shit.
After, Terry Taylor says ‘Now why would Watts want a jabroni[viii] to get ahead?’ you know what I’m saying? They’re all inquisitive and watching ‘cause Watts liked big men. That’s why he used to crack on the Memphis territory, and how you had to put over midgets[ix]. Watts wanted you to understand that you had to bump for the right people at the right time.
That night, there was (Skandor) Akbar from Devastation Incorporated[x] , The One Man Gang, Eli the Eliminator and Bill said to me that I can’t to a Stampede run[xi] which was Doc’s finisher so I was told to do a Side Russian Leg Sweep for my finish. I think Bill Irwin came up with that. The deal that night was that I would go watch Doc have a match with Mike George which was a technical match. Doc goes over and Devastation runs in, and I jump in. Now, I don’t know shit about the business, that’s how green I was. After that, every night I was working and every night I was getting killed in the ring. I was getting crowbarred, the old school way. There wasn’t a lot of wrestling schools; that was my school, right there.
They came up with an angle where I would be the Rookie of the Year. My first marriage[xii] was really against Gary Young. He really cleaned me up pretty good. Every night we did the same match, but it was always different. I don’t know if you heard some of the boys say this, but (Ric) Flair’s match was always the same but they are always different.[xiii] The boys knew how to tell the difference.
At the time I was fortunate enough to run around with the top guys and I kept my mouth shut, and I learned a lot. I had my first ever squash match, I put over Bubba (Rogers) real good; Watts loved that; which helped Doc when he went in to help. The thing about Watts is that he told me a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense at the time, but it helped me later on to see the business as not just as worker but as a promoter.”
Did you get some heat with the boys because you came in with a decent position, especially since you did not have a professional wrestling background?
“Oh yeah. I was brought in, green as green could be and at the time Bill Watts was negotiating with the NWA[xiv] . We were working tight every night. Now when they would come at me, and I’m not the sharpest guy on the stick but when we got to a certain point, I was like ‘Fuck You’, and I would stand up (for myself). Like I said, I was a real good High School athlete, I wrestled, I played Football, I could slow them down. But I had to respect the fact I was crowbarred in, and it wasn’t easy for them to take that. I understood. Nowadays (aspiring wrestlers) go to school; real boy band shit. In my day it wasn’t that way. You had to be one mean, tough son of a bitch to get through this shit! Staring out the way I was (with a good spot), it just wasn’t done that way.
I remember Terry Taylor, he had to lace up my boots[xv] . Terry said ‘Look at this fucking guy!’. It was hilarious. Chavo (Guerrero Sr.) of all people showed me how to tuck in my laces. That’s how bad I was, I didn’t know how to lace up boots. These guys would thump me pretty good, because I couldn’t lace up boots. If I couldn’t do that, why would they want give me anything (in the ring)? “
Was there anyone who took you under their wing when you were starting out?
Yeah, Chavo. He was the most consummate worker, he understands the business, and he grew up in the business. Everything he did (in the ring) had meaning. He was the total package, and he was one hell of a partier! Sometimes he would go too far out there, and you would have to reel him back in, but that was Chavo!
I had Gary Young, I had Doc, and Terry Gordy. I would ask them to watch my matches and have them critique it. This is another way that Watts helped me; he said when they tell you what to do, don’t say ‘Yeah, but’. They don’t care what you’re thinking. Listen to what they’re telling you. They will check to see if you listened, and from there you will get more information.
I just lived, learned and watched. I rode with everyone from Flair, Arn Anderson and really everyone. You have to realize that in my first year to two years in the business I had almost five hundred matches. I was dong singles and tags often on the same card, and as a new guy that was the norm.
One night, me and Sting after (Ultimate) Warrior left[xvi] I pained my face and worked with him as his partner against (Rick) Steiner and somebody else. Jeff Gaylord, I think. Think about it, these indy kids nowadays wouldn’t be working with the best in the business in their first five hundred matches. That doesn’t happen anymore. The work was tough. We weren’t just suspending disbelief, we were really tough. In time, I could work 60’s style, 70’s style, 80’s style, 90’s style, Bullrope Match, two minute match, six minute match; whatever.
The most important match is the opening match. A lot of green guys don’t even know that. The opener sets the tempo and the crowd. It is not an easy match, usually fifteen minutes and a time limit draw; a lot of false finishes. These kids today don’t know; you don’t get that anymore.”
You were there when the NWA merged with the UWF. Chavo Guerrero told me that he didn’t see it coming, and that it was a surprise to him. Was it a surprise to you also?
“A lot of people thought something was up. Now I didn’t really, because I was just happy to be in the same locker room as these guys, but it goes back to what Bill always said which is ‘negotiate your own contract’. Now that was his territory, and he gave us ‘We’re all in this together’ speech about generating synergy (between the two organizations). Well, he dropped the bottom out and he skated out, and we didn’t get much out of that deal. There were a lot of guys hot.”
Where did you go after that (the NWA UWF Merger)? Did you go to the NWA?
“The deal was that Dusty Rhodes[xvii] was the one who called me and told me I wasn’t needed anymore. I needed a break as my body was beat to shit. I got a call from (Bob) Geigel, and I just wanted to work with “Bulldog” Bob Brown[xviii], so I asked if Bulldog was still there. I wanted to work there just to get my picture taken with Brown and send it to my roommate from College who was from Kansas City and was a big Bulldog Bob Brown fan.
I went up there, and anytime you walk into the territories, they might know you, they might not. TV coverage wasn’t that national yet. I remember I worked a match with Mike Golden. I didn’t know much about Mike and how great he was until we got in the ring. As soon as we tied up after two minutes I was like ‘Let’s get it on’ and we had a good match. I worked for about a week up there.
Then I get a call from the same place that ran the office side for the UWF and they told me that WCCW is coming in and I was asked if I wanted to tag up with Michael Hayes going up against the Samoans[xix] , but you got to lose. I’m told them I’m there.”
You were brought in as Michael Hayes’ protégé, were you not?
“It kind of worked out that way. Really, they wanted (Jimmy) Garvin, but Garvin and Michael couldn’t hold up the way the Samoans worked. It was only supposed to be one match, but the Samoans loved me. Anyway, I get a call from Pritchard down there, asking me if I could be there for Friday. It was funny, because Michael really pushed for Garvin, but the office was like nope, and they liked the big, blonde Texas style wrestler, you know what I’m saying?
I go down there, and this is where I first met Fritz (Von Erich)[xx] . They were trying to negotiate with me, but I already had a deal in hand with Kansas City but it was a good deal to down to Texas. I signed a contract, though it took a while as we kept going back and forth and I finally said ‘I’m out of here’, and he said, ‘Hey, hold on’, and we hammered it out. That was the first time I met Fritz, though I had no fucking clue who Fritz was. We shook hands, and I never worried once about my paycheck. I was now working with Michael against the Samoans and we had one of the top tag team programs in the United States. It was a real good time.”
You did a few shots with the AWA, did you not?
“Oh yeah, but that was all tied in. By that time, everything was crumbling. What happened was, I talked to the guys in Atlanta[xxi] , and they were like ‘You don’t want to come here!’ Usually, I give people the benefit of the doubt but if there is one person in life and literally I would do this for the boys, I would KO Eric Bischoff. I knew some guys there. The Steiners, Buff was there and Steve Austin. Hell, I’m the one who told (Austin) to go to Texas! Of all the people one night, he asked me to watch his match over in Memphis. I was kind of impressed that this kid wanted me to watch his match. I said the first thing you got to do is change the name from Steve Williams. He said to me, ‘There is another Steve Williams?’ I swear to God, he said that! I started to laugh thinking that this fucker was as dumb as I was! In the business, I was probably the dumbest son of a bitch to come in, and I wear that proudly because I humble myself to the fact that I was one dumb son of a bitch. He asked what name I should have, and I said do the porno shit, where you take the first name of your first pet, and the last name is the street you grew up on. As everything was falling apart (The territory system in American Wrestling), I was doing a lot in Japan.
Which promotion in Japan?
The UWFI and New Japan. I was also with another upstart shoot promotion. Doc got me over there. It was good money; I was making $2,500 a week there. I didn’t do a lot of indy shows around Tulsa, but I did do them all over the Midwest. I even did some in Philadelphia before ECW started. I worked a lot with Mankind (Mick Foley), before he was Mankind. I remember the 1-2-3 Kid coming in[xxii] , I did a lot with Shane (Douglas) back East and did Europe too. I got to see a lot of Europe with Shane, and we tagged up a bunch. I like the way that Shane kind of morphed into that “Franchise” character.
Actually, I would like to talk to you more about Japan.
Let me break it all down. All-Japan had a death grip on that whole market over there, and a lot of guys were starting to do their own shows. You know Gary Albright?[xxiii] ”
“Gary Albright and the Shoot promotion over there.”[xxiv]
Was that a more fitting style for you?
“I suplexed the hell out of those people! But, I had to take some serious shots there, but the money was so good. It was funny, I was working with one group, and there was a lot of cross promotion. I remember at the Tokyo Dome, when (The Great) Muta showed up, and I was drunk as shit. I knew Muta, as his first American tour was in WCCW with us. I worked a bunch with Muta. They were pretty prejudiced towards us gaijins[xxv] , but yeah, I bounced around and worked with five different groups over there. I did a lot of submission style wrestling there. I also did a lot of boxing and pad up with linemen’s gloves. Yeah, it was rough.
In Japan, I slowly started stepping over into the real world. I got a call from New York (The WWF) and at the time they were getting their ass kicked by Atlanta. In today’s world you wouldn’t think about it. The money (in the WWE) is so good, but they run your ass ragged in the ground. That’s why all these guys flamed out, suicide but for three million dollars and 250 days on the road, you just shut the fuck up and do it.”
What made you want to leave wrestling?
“I was in Iowa, and I saw a father and son fight over cocaine in the locker room, I thought do I want to have that conversation with my son? None of these guys had good relationships with their kids until much later when they begin to understand. I made up my mind that I would try coaching football. I wouldn’t make as much money, but I would have a better life. I didn’t get out clean, as I had to go to rehab but overall I did transition well (out of wrestling) when it is all said and done. I was a onetime rehab guy, and I have been clean and sober ever since.”
So you were able to put wrestling behind you. That in itself is a success story as many other former wrestlers have not been able to do that. I am thinking of an example where Diamond Dallas Page is trying to get Jake “The Snake” Roberts recovered, and one of the constant threads in the videos he has put out is that if he fails he won’t be able to get a slot at the Royal Rumble. This is the carrot that Jake seems to need to be motivated. One more pop from the crowd. Let’s say he does get that appearance, and then what will be his motivation? What does he do next?
“Oh, I’m telling ya! Bill Watts told me never to wind up in a cage where people are throwing crumbs at you. That’s where Jake and some of these other guys are at tight now. I think Chavo’s a lot like this too; I think I am a renaissance man. I have been a business owner, a teacher, a coach, I have done sales, and I was in College. I didn’t do the best, but I got a degree. I always told my son, that you can do anything you want to do as long as you harness yourself. You learn as much you can and then make it your own, and then you can do as well as they have done. I have had a lot of different careers.
When I look at Scott Hall[xxvi] , I think ‘God Damn’. You want to hand him a pistol and just say ‘Go ahead and shoot yourself and get it over with’. That sounds really crass, but at some point you have to fight for your life. They will tell you (in rehab) that is not your fault, but fuck that. I got in trouble, because I partied too much, and that was my fault. They kept telling me why I failed, and they coddled it. What really helped me a bunch was dealing with a bunch of old-time drunks.
I’ll tell you the thing I miss about the wrestling business is that I didn’t wrestle in New York. I never went against (Hulk) Hogan, but I have been with everyone from Harley Race, Ric Flair, the Andersons; I had a good run.”
Steve, I always like to close with a bit of word association. I will mention a wrestler and just tell me what word comes to mind, or if something triggers, feel free to expand.
“Genius. A great booker, and he did some great angles. He was humble. It wasn’t about him, it was about the book.”
“Goofy. Craziest guy I have ever been around in my life. A great consummate worker.”
Kerry Von Erich
“I’ve never seen anybody, and I’ve been a lot of places, I have never seen anybody radiate a room like he could. He just had it. Kerry walked in, and they knew he was a somebody. They might not know who, but they knew he was a somebody.”
The One Man Gang
“Scariest son of a bitch I ever saw. When I first saw him, he spits at me but misses out of politeness. A great big teddy bear of a guy”
“Great match. I did some big time spots with him. What a great guy to work with. I loved working with Kamala.”
I think you were there when he started his career, Booker T.
“Yeah. Booker and his brother. When they came in, and don’t get me you wrong, you got to have a lot of swag, you know what I’m saying? I was really surprised he made it has high but I’m not. He was always learning, he picked up his craft quick. He went from a loud thug to someone who mastered his craft. He and Stevie. I liked him. Tag matches; people don’t’ realize what an art form tag team wrestling is. It’s a whole different part of the business that you have to learn. We actually crossed paths more in Japan then we did over here. It was funny, you would go to Ribera’s[xxvii] and that’s how you would find out who all is in the country. In the business, nobody ever says goodbye, they’ll say see you down the road. In that line of work, that’s a fact. You’ll cross paths somewhere.”
The 1-2-3 Kid
“He just got to Texas, and he was already trained well, by the Harts I believe. I’m sitting there looking at this little shit, thinking who the fuck is this guy in his little blue outfit? (Laughs) I made a mistake one time, the first time I saw Jeff Jarrett in Memphis in the locker room and I said (aloud) ‘Who the fuck is he related to?’ (laughs) The boys laughed, but I had a real good match with Jeff.
He (The Kid) comes up to me and says we have a match tonight and that we are going fifteen minutes and asks what are we going to do. Now when you are someone new and you come into someone else’s territory you don’t do shit like that. You should be asking what kind of match will we have tonight, and the veteran will take care of you.
Anyway, I told him to come off the top rope and get as much height as you can, and I’ll catch you. Anyway, I move out of the way and he hits as hard as hell. You should have seen the look on his face on the way by! I just started beating the shit out of him and putting the boots to him. He was gone the next day; he wasn’t made for Texas. I think the only reason he got where he did was, was that he was a funny mother fucker, that’s what I heard.”
I think you wrestled him a bit, Stan Lane.
“I think they are replaying a bit of this on ESPN Classics. I was a Midnight Express also. We worked an angle with Bobby (Eaton) Stan and me, and Bobby was out. Lane was just a funny mother fucker. I was plugged into a lot of tags, and I became as good as anybody.
You’ll get a kick out of this. The boys would say you see a room with a revolving door; Steve has that gimmick quarantined! Tag teaming was an art, you had to know when to have the referee cut off, work the hot tags; remember you have five people out there working! If you’ve never done that it can scare you.”
I have a few more for you, Doug Gilbert.
“You took care of him, because he was Eddie Gilbert’s little brother. I liked Doug, but he was no Eddie. He’s still out there working. You could slide him in, no harm, no foul.”
One more for you; Buff Bagwell.
“I knew him as the “Handsome Stranger”[xxviii] . (Skandor) Akbar had him kiss all the girls in the front row. He was just a pretty boy, and when he popped up like he did in Atlanta, I have to give him props.
You got to realize, I hung out with (Bruiser) Brody, Doc, Albright; I wasn’t used to hanging out with a guy like Buff! Guys like that…..Yeah, he was Buff out there (in the ring) but in here (locker room) you’re just a paper tiger. That was like Hogan, but again, props to Hogan, nobody could draw like he could. But, yeah, Buff as the Handsome Stranger did well at the Sportatorium[xxix] out there on “Skank Row”.”
One final question, do you watch wrestling now?
“I do, when I can. Now CM Punk and John Cena, you’ve got to me kidding me. Is this the best you got? Don’t get me wrong, but if this is the best you got, but these guys ain’t Brody. These guys would get destroyed in my day. When you watch the work today, it’s so light. It’s too make believe; too much entertainment. In my day, you believed you were getting your ass kicked, because you actually were.”
[i]And I am only talking about what I can print!
[ii]Cox was selected in the 16th Round in 1983
[iii]Fairbanks was a successful collegiate coach who won the Orange Bowl and two Sugar Bowls with Oklahoma. The job with New Jersey would be his last as a coach in football.
[iv]Michigan was the inaugural USFL Champions.
[v]Sting’s first big break was in the UWF territory which had a large base in Oklahoma
[vi]Watts was the owner of the UWF, and notoriously known for his toughness.
[vii]George was a journeyman wrestler who held multiple regional championships in the United States but was an underneath worker at this stage of his career.
[viii]“Jabroni” is slang for someone who does the “job” in the ring. Basically; the one who loses on a regular basis.
[ix]The Memphis territory traditionally had smaller wrestlers in comparison.
[x]Devastation Incorporated was the heel stable that was managed by Skandor Akbar.
[xi]The Oklahoma Stampede was Steve Williams’ finisher which was a powerslam preceded by a run in a slam position to the turnbuckle
[xii]“Marriage” in wrestling, means that two opponents were booked against each other on a regular basis.
[xiii]I have heard that often from my friend, Chavo Guerrero Sr.; or as he says “seen one, seen them all”.
[xiv]Watts would sell his territory to the NWA, and “merge” with them, though it was unknown to his wrestlers at the time.
[xv]This isn’t a metaphor; this was about actually lacing up boots.
[xvi]Sting and the Ultimate Warrior were a tag team called the Blade Runners that got their start working for Bill Watts. The Warrior left for World Class in Texas.
[xvii]Rhodes was the booker of the NWA at the time
[xviii]Brown was an icon in Central States Wrestling.
[xix]This was the Samoan incarnation of Samu and Fatu.
[xx]Fritz Von Erich was the owner of WCCW. The World Class area was drawing huge a few years previous with Fritz’s sons.
[xxi]This would have been in the early 90’s.
[xxii]This is in reference to the Global Wrestling Federation which was based in Dallas. They had a brief contract with ESPN.
[xxiii]Albright was a star in Japan, but never achieved mainstream success in North America; of course, he never seemed to try.
[xxiv]The UWFI was a shoot style promotion which was a precursor to UFC, but the match results were still pre-determined.
[xxv]Gaijins is the word for foreigner in Japanese
[xxvi]As if this writing, Scott Hall has been doing very well, and credits a lot of that to Diamond Dallas Page. Hopefully, this continues.
[xxvii]Ribera’s is a steak house in Tokyo where wrestlers frequent. It is considered a badge of honor for an American wrestler to set foot in Ribera’s and get once of their famous jackets. It is definitely a “wrestling” thing!
[xxviii]This was Bagwell’s gimmick in the GWF where he wrestled alongside Cox.
[xxix]The Sportatorium was the facility that was the home base of the GWF and previously World Class in Dallas.