The phrase ‘Battle of New Orleans’ means different things to different people. To the majority, I’m sure, it refers to a famous military encounter between the British and United States armies on January 8th, 1815. To others, there was an even more violent event: the UWF Battle of New Orleans!
I’m being facetious, of course (even I’m not dumb enough to argue wrestling is more violent than war), but to those wrestling fans in the know, the UWF Battle of New Orleans is a historic and noteworthy moment in the history of wild TV brawls in wrestling, broadening the options of what was permissible for wrestling and its storytelling on TV.
No, we’re not talking about the infamous Herb Abrams edition of the company, but rather the rebranded version of Bill Watts’ brilliant and groundbreaking Mid-South territory. Known for its sports-like approach, realistic, logical storytelling, and ability to break new ground, such as being one of the first promotions to push a black wrestler as the biggest star, the UWF, otherwise known as the Universal Wrestling Federation, was Bill Watts’ attempt to meet the WWF and Jim Crockett Promotions’ expansionism head-on by making a run at his own national campaign.
Certainly, the UWF had the talent and the product to do it. They were a clear alternative to the more Sports Entertainment-based WWF, and they took the best bits of Crockett’s presentation (the sports-like approach, the blood feuds) and made it even more grittier and hard-hitting without compromising on the visual and audio elements. In fact, I’d argue their production qualities were on par with Crockett’s at the time. Unfortunately for Watts, while he did manage to secure syndication for UWF programming, he just couldn’t compete with Vince and Crockett, either in the number of homes he could reach or in live gates. That’s before you get to things like PPV buy rates and merchandising, something Vince in particular made an art form.
On April 9th, 1987, Watts bit the bullet and sold UWF to Jim Crockett. But before the promotion was officially closed down and the UWF titles were unified with the NWA’s, the UWF TV show continued to run, quite often to promote the Crockett talent, until December of 1987, and its in this crossover period that the UWF Battle of New Orleans took place.
The First Family, led by the wonderful ‘Hot Stuff’ Eddie Gilbert, and comprising of Gilbert, Terry Taylor, Rick Steiner and Missy Hyatt, had been dominating the UWF TV title scene on and off for months and had also been getting up the nose of several of the UWF’s babyfaces.
In particular, a couple of young babyfaces (almost hard to imagine these stars being young now!), Sting and Shane Douglas, were often disgusted by the actions of the First Family and were keen to prise the TV title out of their grip and take those first steps on the road to stardom.
The UWF Battle of New Orleans was born out of this feud between Sting & Douglas and the First Family, but there were some specific moments that raised the temperature and led to the match. Firstly, Eddie Gilbert took out Sting with a chair to prevent him from appearing for his title shot. Unfortunately for Gilbert, Shane Douglas took Sting’s place, and with Sting stealing revenge by interfering, Douglas took the TV title. Gilbert took his revenge in turn by interfering in Douglas’ defence against Gilbert’s First Family partner Terry Taylor, costing Douglas the title in the process. No wonder then that there was bad blood as the UWF Battle of New Orleans beckoned.
The Battle of New Orleans
What started as a normal tag team match between Sting & Shane Douglas and Eddie Gilbert & Terry Taylor would quickly become wild and heated, and quickly too. As things broke down and Sting and Gilbert found themselves brawling out in the crowd like a precursor to the Attitude Era or ECW, Rick Steiner snuck in the ring and helped Terry Taylor to spike piledrive Shane Douglas for the win.
Big mistake on the part of The First Family. This is where the UWF Battle of New Orleans really begins.
As Sting checks on a fallen Douglas, ‘Gentleman’ Chris Adams comes out of nowhere to tell the ref how Taylor and Gilbert cheated. Gilbert doesn’t like that, not one bit, so Taylor and Gilbert pounce and pound Adams down. That brings Sting back to his feet and the fist fight is on! While Adams and Taylor go at it in the ring, Sting leads Gilbert back towards the concession stand at the back of the crowd, where he proceeds to batter Gilbert with several shots with a trash can, sending ‘Hot Stuff’ into the stairs and onto the merch table. What makes this fight seems so spontaneous and wild is the way the crowd sort of circle the wrestlers and back off as they get a little too close for comfort. It looks like a crowd on the street watching a legitimate street fight.
Gilbert bleeds as he gives Sting a taste of his own medicine with the bin before putting a paper bag over Sting’s head and bashing it against the concession table. Sting retaliates with a shot with a blue plastic tray of some sort and mounts ‘Hot Stuff’, raining down blows and pushing refs away. Gilbert tries to escape, sending the crowd running, just as Taylor and Adams appear, with Taylor being thrown head-first onto the table. This cuts Taylor open, but Terry retaliates by smashing Adams in the head with a full beer keg. This sends beer everywhere, with referees legitimately falling and slipping on the floor while Gilbert grabs Adams so Taylor can batter him and Sting can send Gilbert flying onto the floor, soaked by the spilt ale. There’s no obviously planned spots here; everything feels organic, wild and vicious.
Somewhere amongst all of this, a table has been set up against the wall, and both Gilbert and Taylor are sent into it with big bumps. As Sting and Gilbert brawl off down the tunnel to backstage, a now-bloody Adam and Taylor continue throwing wild fists until refs and officials are finally able to pull the pair apart and separate them.
Over the course of 12 minutes of crazed, anarchic violence, the UWF produced an underrated yet deeply exhilarating and classic moment that those in the know still refer to today as amongst the greatest wrestling angles of its time.
The UWF Battle of New Orleans has almost been forgotten except to those in the know, but it’s there, as a secret jewel in wrestling history, waiting to be endlessly rediscovered. Even though Bill Watts had sold the UWF to Jim Crockett, it proved that the promotion was still determined to go out with a bang and that realistic action and simple, logical storytelling can produce heat of a magnificent kind. Elements of this type of out-of-the-ring brawling, meanwhile, built on the violence of Memphis and would be seen, in modified form, in both ECW and the WWF’s Attitude Era.
Not only that, it showed the potential of Sting to get the audience behind him and be a star. Approximately 5 months after this, he would headline the inaugural Clash of the Champions against then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair in a 45-minute draw that would elevate Sting towards the stratosphere.
The UWF Battle of New Orleans is clearly an important moment in the history of pro wrestling then. Let’s make sure more people talk about it and give it the love and respect it deserves.