If you've watched any wrestling in the UK over the last two decades, the chances are you'll know the name Doug Williams.
The Reading native is widely regarded as one of the men who carried the British scene through its dark days, before it exploded in popularity.
He made it big in the U.S. with Ring of Honor and TNA/Impact Wrestling, where he became a multiple time champion, including a TNA tag title reign as part of the 'British Invasion', with partner Nick 'Magnus' Aldis.
Though he has retired from appearing on the UK circuit, the 47-year-old technical wizard is still making showcase appearances overseas.
On March 14, after more than a decade away, Williams was set to return to ROH as part of its Past vs Present pay-per-view in Las Vegas, where he was going to face another technical supremo, Jonathan Gresham.
Sadly, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic put paid to those plans, but the British wrestling legend is determined to show he can still hang in the ring with the best performers the business has to offer.
Mirror Sport's Danny Stone spoke exclusively to Williams about the show, whether we might see him reunite with Aldis, and the current state of British wrestling.
What prompted your return to Ring of Honor?
I was attracted to the philosophy of the show, being past stars against the current roster. It was quite a unique idea. It was also the opportunity to wrestle someone that I've never wrestled before. I was quite interested in wrestling Jonathan Gresham and so that was part of the attraction as well. It was a free trip to Vegas as well!
Aren't you retired though?
Yeah, I'm basically retired in so much as it isn't my full-time career anymore. I'm not wrestling in this country, really because I don't want to travel about too much unless I'm going somewhere nice and it's a trip, I can make a real weekend of. I'm not interested in travelling up and down the road, putting the miles on the car and wrestling every night anymore. So, it is kind of drawing a line on doing that really.
I had surgeries I needed to get out of the way. So, a year's recuperation time and I'm just picking and choosing the ones I want to do now. Obviously, if the surgeries hadn't helped too much in any way I'd have stayed retired, but my health has improved and so it's something worth doing still, I think, while I still can.
Is it an absolute red line on future UK appearances or might you be convinced by a Wembley Stadium show?
It's pretty much done here. I've done everything I want to do. I suppose if someone had a really big show in an arena I'd never worked before I'd be interested, but I've done everything I can with the British companies and so I think it's done.
You were in the first 'Pure' Championship tournament for Ring of Honor, the title for which matches have a specific set of rules. What memories do you have of that time – working with CM Punk, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe – was there a standout moment?
I don't know about a standout but what was good about it back then was just the unique experience of that kind of style of show – the wrestling. It was no frills, exciting and the crowd were really passionate about it. It was just an alternative to anything else that was going on at that time. You could feel the atmosphere of the audience. They enjoyed the athleticism, the skill and the creativity of the wrestlers involved.
I can't fault the crew I came up with. They're all amazing talents and have gone on to do fantastic things. It was just the general atmosphere and excitement about the growth of this new promotion and where it could go.
What has prompted the return of the 'Pure' title? It's been 14 years since it was retired.
I think maybe it is an attempt to regain some of the uniqueness Ring of Honor had back in the day. They wanted to set themselves apart from other companies within the USA and present something a little bit different. Will the fans accept it? Well, we hope so. It's all about getting the rules over [these include the title changing hands even if there is a disqualification or count out] and getting people invested in the stories that are going to be told with the particular rules that are involved within the Pure Title matches. We'll see how it goes, but I'm sure the fans will appreciate it, and appreciate the hard work everyone puts into the tournament.
Ring of Honor has partnered with NWA. What on your thoughts on how Nick Aldis has turned things around there? Could we see you on that show? You'd seem a good fit.
Well, you never know. That would be very interesting, what with my involvement with Nick in the past. Tagging with him and bringing him up when he was developing and quite green and turning him into a rounded performer. There's kind of a built-in storyline there I think. If they want to exploit that and utilise it, I'd be interested in that. It would certainly be nice to have a title shot against him.
I wrestled him in 2018, unfortunately he'd lost the belt at the time to Cody, but it would be good to have another match with him and a title shot, for sure. The NWA, the style and how they wrestle, it's right up my street really. It's one show I make sure I watch every week and I really enjoy it.
What are your thoughts on NXT UK's impact on the British scene?
People say it has a detrimental effect but I'm not really that convinced because what it has done is open up a whole new ranch of talent to come in and take the spaces by those signed to NXT UK. The independent shows that are successful are those finding a niche in the market, and continuing to promote well and using decent talent at all levels.
To be honest with you, it also gives UK wrestlers an achievable goal in their career. They've got something to work towards. When I was starting out and wrestling at my high, before I got to Japan and Ring of Honor, there weren't any domestic goals to achieve. You just worked the British circuit in the hope you'd get spotted to go somewhere else. Now there's a definite career path you can follow which is probably a big incentive for a lot of guys.
Have you maybe talked to NXT UK about coaching, guest coaching or behind the scenes roles?
I've had a few chats with them but whether it's scheduling, nothing concrete has really come of it. To be honest with you, I've not really pursued it in any great way either because maybe in a year or so I'll be coaching, but I'm not really wanting to train people full time. I'm quite into doing guest seminars but the regular grind, day-to-day training, I don't have a passion for that at the moment. Maybe it will change.
You trained at Ohio Valley Wrestling for Impact didn't you? What was the most important training tip you give to people?
I did but it was slightly different in that I didn't run classes, I was more helping with production of TV and live events. Producing and agenting those. A lot of the training was done by Rip Rogers and Nick Dinsmore at the time. I'd do a little bit of input here and there. That was an interesting time…
As for a tip, slow down and make sure everything you do means something to the people watching. For people that are currently working, working at the moment on the independent scene, that's probably the main thing I tell most people. Everything has to mean something or else you are wasting your time and the audience's time.
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They won't be emotionally invested in watching, if something takes them out of that they'll lose interest, so just make it mean something. Trainees who want to start doing shows, just make sure you get the fundamentals right. Basics. That's the most important thing, really.
Given your background in judo, do you feel it's important to have a base in a combat sport coming into the business in 2020? Maybe it's gymnastics now for the more acrobatic style?
I just think to have a base in sports and athleticism is your main thing. Your conditioning is good, your timing, it can be applied from any sport. The necessity to have a combat sport background is a lot less important than it used to be. Any background in sport will help you immensely.
You wrestled Ric Flair at Wembley Arena with TNA in 2011. Did you have any ring chat? How was working out the match with him?
It was weird really. We didn't talk about anything before, except the finish, I think. In the match it was all him. The way he's trained, and a lot of the older guys are trained, the heel would take the match. I don't want to say 'laid back', but I kind of just laid back and listened to him and just did what he said!
I got a little excited when he called his own signature spots. When he had me get him into a corner so he could do the Flair flip, it's a little high when you're in there wrestling him. You've seen it so many times as a fan.
What do you want your legacy to be, when you finally hang up the boots?
Just to be an inspiration for the current selection of UK guys that have taken the business to the next level in this country. I was there during the supposed 'hard times', keeping the business alive. I just want to be recognised for that, for the fact I had some kind of input into bringing it back to some sort of prominence. Be it through inspiring others, or from the work I did in building the business back up. I think that's the most important thing for me now.
Finally, do you have a good rib (practical joke) story from the road?
Yeah, I have a great one from Japan. Dave Richards (of The Wolves) was on tour with us. He dropped his hotel room key, his key card, on the floor in the corridor. So another of the wrestlers swiped it up and rather than tell him he dropped his key, we all decided to go into his room, remove the furniture and stack it in the bathroom, then pull the shower curtain across. Then we all waited for him to return, he walked into his room and it was totally empty!
The only thing we couldn't put in the bath was the bed, which we put up against the window. So he walked into total darkness, stumbling about until he found the light switch. He turned it on and it was totally empty. He went downstairs to reception to complain and we rushed in there and put it all back. Unfortunately, he saw us in action when he returned with the guy from reception, but it was quite amusing. Harmless as well, I hasten to say, someone wanted to turn the shower on and we said no – that's too far. Fun!
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