Barry Windham knew when he first set foot in a pro wrestling ring that he had some mighty big shoes to fill.
After all, his dad, Blackjack Mulligan, was not only a larger-than-life character in the wrestling business, but also was one of the largest men in the business in stature.
At six-foot-nine and well over 300 pounds, Mulligan cast an imposing shadow as he went head-to-head with other giants of the day, such as Andre The Giant, Big John Studd and The Super Destroyer (Don Jardine).
Mulligan, whose real name is Bob Windham, traveled the roads with some of the greatest characters in the wrestling business. The pride of Sweetwater, Texas, was, indeed, one of pro wrestling’s true originals.
Windham, though, would accomplish things that his famous father never did, including winning the NWA world title in 1993.
Windham, along with younger brother Kendall, will return to his old stomping grounds on Aug. 1-4 in Charlotte as featured guests at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest.
Mulligan had hoped to attend this year’s event, but will be unable to due to health issues. Son Barry was there to accept his dad’s award for induction into the 2009 Hall of Heroes class.
Like his dad, Barry Windham is a WWE Hall of Famer whose considerable talents expanded well beyond the confines of that organization.
Barry, 52, was inducted in 2012 as a member of the legendary Four Horsemen, along with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and manager J.J. Dillon. It was a unit that made its name famous in the NWA and, more specifically, in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Like his dad a decade earlier, Barry enjoyed an incredible run working for Crockett Promotions during the ‘80s and into the ‘90s for WCW.
“My dad had kept us all pretty sheltered from the business. He kept us away from the shows. I was 11 before I got to go to my first (wrestling) show. I went with him to some workouts, but he didn’t let me come around that much. But I could understand why he did that.”
Windham knew Blackjack Mulligan was one huge, imposing figure in the ring. But at home, he says, “he was always Dad.”
“I’m sure it was difficult at times for him to balance home and wrestling, especially at times like that, when he was so hot.”
What Jack Mulligan couldn’t keep his son sheltered from, however, was his neighbor.
Windham laughs when conjuring up mental images of living two doors down from the Nature Boy. “Ric and my dad were best friends when I was growing up.”
Windham was only 15 when he started driving Flair’s limousine.
“I once burned up one of his limousines,” says Windham. “I was out driving my buddies around in the Nature Boy limousine and we pulled into a Taco Bell drive-through. The back end of the car caught on fire. We didn’t get to take the limos out after that.”
Living next to Flair was “quite an experience,” says Windham. “I got to see Ken Patera train for the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ competition as he was working out in Flair’s garage. I watched him pull our van up and down our street. It was unreal.”
While growing up in Charlotte, Windham loved watching such Mid- Atlantic stars as Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Paul Jones and Johnny Weaver.
“It was a great show to watch. There was some tremendous talent in this territory.”
Windham dropped out of West Texas State in 1979 to follow his father into the wrestling business. He had his first match in 1979 against J.J. Dillon, who would become his manager years later.
“I had been refereeing the matches on the weekends. When some of the guys didn’t make the trip or missed their flights, I was put on first, then I’d referee the rest of the matches.”
“It probably took five years in the business before I really thought that I knew anything,” he adds. “It just takes a while to get acquainted being in the ring.”
By the mid-’80s, though, Windham was a national star, first in the WWF as a tag-team champion with Mike Rotunda, and then in the NWA, where he was one of Flair’s top challengers for the NWA world title, until joining Flair’s Four Horsemen in April 1988.
Windham, considered by many to be one of the top five in-ring performers in the business during the mid-’80, first came into the Carolinas as Jack Mulligan Jr., although he had worked previously in Florida under his real name.
“Honestly I think it was easier as Barry Windham. I probably also went farther than I did as Jack Mulligan. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to follow in my dad’s footsteps.”
Nor did Blackjack Mulligan push or encourage his sons to get into the wrestling business, says Windham.
At 6-6 and 275 pounds, Windham possessed the kind of speed his dad could have only dreamed of. He held a slew of regional singles titles, along with U.S. and world tag-team championships.
But in February 1993, he added the NWA world title to his collection, defeating The Great Muta at WCW’s Superbrawl III pay-per-view in Asheville, N.C.
“Even though it was a sorry match, I still came out on top,” he says.
One of the highlights of his career was working as one of the Horsemen.
“It was something that you achieved when you got to be a Horseman. I guess we knew we were good, but we didn’t know how good we were. That just carried through in the work that we did. Every night we wanted it to be right. We worked hard and we played hard.”
Windham jumped between WCW and WWE several times over the years, and after retiring from in-ring action, he worked with WWE as a backstage agent.
He escaped a near-death situation in 2011 after surviving a heart attack that left him hospitalized and in rehab for several months.
He says the attack came out of the blue. There were no symptoms, no known health issues.
“I just went to bed and didn’t get up. It was a strange deal. It’s been a year and a half. I had to completely learn how to walk again. My left side just quit on me. That’s why they initially thought it was a stroke.”
It’s been a long, uphill battle, but Windham says he continues to make progress.
“I’m still getting there. But it’s just part of having a heart attack. It takes a while to come back.”
Windham says he was glad he was able to attend the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony the following year.
“Especially to go in as a Horseman ... that was a big deal. I was really honored that the WWE would even consider me to be in the WWE Hall of Fame. But to go in with Ric, Arn, Tully and J.J., that was really a way to go.”
Would he do it all over again?
“Absolutely,” he says. “Without a doubt. It was a great ride.”
Like his brother Barry, Kendall Windham was born into the business and destined to be a pro wrestler.
Although he never reached the level of success that his dad and brother did, Kendall was a solid worker who could be counted on to put together a good match.
“You had to work hard because so much was expected of you,” says Kendall, now 46.
Windham, who broke into the business in 1985, went straight to Florida after graduating from high school in Charlotte. He was trained by Mike Graham and Hiro Matsuda.
“I learned the hard way ... lots of push-ups, Hindu squats and get beat you until you can’t walk, and keep going,” he laughs.
Wrestling, he says, came naturally to him.
“Ever since I was 14 years old, I knew what I was going to do. I had been in the preparation stages ever since I was a young teen-ager.”
Windham, who gained several titles in the Sunshine State, worked in Florida until 1987.
When he returned to the Mid-Atlantic territory, it was like coming home.
“We had lived in Charlotte off and on throughout my younger life. I really liked the Carolinas quite a bit. It was whole different atmosphere there. The fans were different, the climate was obviously different, the wrestlers were different. It was still a major promotion.”
Windham also got the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the best talent in the world.
One guy he says he never stopped learning from was Ric Flair.
“Ric has been a mentor in my life since I was a young kid. We used to live two doors down from him in Charlotte. From the time I was 8 years old, that was the lifetime that I saw and wanted to grow up and live. I learned how to enjoy the finer side of life from Ric. He had a limo and a limo driver. Just seeing all the things and the persona that he lived. He didn’t just turn it off at night when he went home. He lived that persona. That was him.”
One of the highlights of Windham’s career was his role in a group called The West Texas Rednecks in WCW in 1999. The group was made up of the Windham brothers and Bobby Duncum Jr., along with native Minnesotan Curt Hennig.
Originally intended to be a heel faction in a feud with the No Limit Soldiers led by rapper Master P, the pro-Southern fans turned the tables on the bookers of the program, cheering on the Rednecks and booing the rappers.
“I loved it. We were supposed to be heels, but it just didn’t quite work out that way, so it kind of got squashed prematurely.”
Windham, who was 33 when he officially retired from the business, has run an ADT home security business since retiring from wrestling.
Business, he says, is going well. Unlike the wrestling profession, it’s steady work and easier on the body.
“I would live the exact life I have lived, but I wouldn’t go back and do it either. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my past because it got me to where I am right now.”
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.