One of the great legends of the sport of Professional Wrestling, he is known for his patented Irish Whip.
By Steve Slagle
For nearly 40 years, “Whipper” Watson was one of the premier athletes in the “Sport of Kings”, and he thrilled crowds like few others. Never one to break the rules, or rely on a flashy gimmick, “Whipper” Watson (like most other great NWA champions) simply got in the ring and wrestled — very, very well. With a man as talented as the Canadian-born Watson giving his all during each match, no gimmick was needed — just his vast repertoire of holds and counter-holds. His natural talent combined with his high level of popularity among the public resulted in several World Heavyweight title reigns for Watson, as well as one of the most successful — and respected — careers in the history of the sport.
“Whipper” Billy Watson was William Potts on June 25, 1915 in East York, Ontario. He began his career in pro wrestling during the early 1930’s in Canada, and got his “Whipper” nickname (he was also known as “The Irish Whip”) as a result of using the manuever named after him. After whipping his opponent into the ring ropes, Watson would often deliver a high back body drop — a manuever that would become his signature move, as well as a spot used in virtually every match in the post-Watson era of modern pro wrestling. However, Watson had a true arsenal of wrestling holds and moves to choose from, and often used numerous finishers, including his “Canadian Avalanche” move.
After working his way to the top of the Canadian wrestling scene, Watson was ready to move onto the fame and fortune of American pro wrestling. From the response he received, America was ready for him, too. Watson was a career-long “good guy”, and a role model during his years at the top of the sport. It was both a responsibility and an honor for Watson, who, as the World Heavyweight Champion, openly embraced the role. For instance, Watson took an active role in fundraising for the Easter Seals, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, various organizations for handicapped children, and the Boy Scouts of America. In the April 1944 edition of Maclean’s Magazine, Watson was described as being “…the living embodiment of all the ideals of the Boy Scout movement and the Legion of Decency. Watson is as handsome as Robert Taylor, as powerful as the SS Queen Mary and as persistent and uncompromising as Dick Tracy in his efforts to exterminate evil. In moments of supreme exasperation he is likely to mutter “Oh, fudge!” but otherwise conduct is exemplary. He is a paragon of virtue in the ring. If his opponent attempts to decapitate him with a tomahawk, misses and imbeds the tomahawk in one of the ring posts, Watson will help him to disengage the weapon. If his opponent strikes him illegally with a brass knuckle, Watson merely will smile a sad, brave smile and break his opponent in twain, like a stick of dry macaroni. Watson destroys his opponents with the air of Sir Galahad repelling scorpions, and the customers love him to pieces.”
The character traits of “Gorgeous” George, on the other hand, were the total opposite of “Whipper” Watson, and the two wrestling superstars had a long and intense feud throughout the 1950’s. Using the new medium of television to transmit their battles across the nation, Watson and George combined for a match that headlined sold-out cards across the country. The classic feud finally culminated with a 1959 “Hair vs. Hair” showdown, which saw Watson defeat George in a match that set TV ratings and drew a record gate. Watson won the highly-publicized bout, and as a result, the “Human Orchid” was forced — to the delite of the nation — to allow his golden locks to be shaved until his head was completely bald. The victorious Watson, by forcing the hated George to suffer the ultimate humiliation, was the object of untold praise and adoration…
Among his various title reigns, Watson captured a record 12 NWA British Commonwealth titles, and had legendary feuds over the championship with the likes of Gene Kiniski, Pat O`Connor, Fred Atkins, and others. A popular fixture on television and a top draw for numerous promoters, Watson won several versions of the World Heavyweight title during his career. On February 21, 1947, “The Whipper” defeated Bill Longson for the NBA-NWA (precursor to the National Wrestling Alliance) version of the World Championship, which he would eventually lose to “friendly rival” Lou Thesz. Watson went on to avenge the loss some 8 years later, when he pinned Thesz (or more accurately, the technically superior Thesz allowed himself to be pinned by Watson) for the NWA World Heavyweight title in March of 1956. During his 36-year long career, Watson battled the “best of the best” — Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Pat O`Conner, Bill Longson, and dozens of other all-time greats. The man that Jack Tunney once called “the greatest wrestler I ever saw…clean, methodical, no crazy antics” went on to establish himself as an elite NWA World champion. Although the late 1950’s marked the end of his run as World Champion, Watson remained one of the most high-profile workers in the business for many more years.
But in 1971, tragedy struck Bill Potts when, during some bad weather, he had stopped to aid another driver. While helping the other driver, Watson was struck by another car traveling on the icy road. The car slammed into Watson, pinning him against another vehicle and crushing his knee — nearly severing his leg in the process. Retirement was his only option when it came to pro wrestling, and he gracefully made his exit from his career of 36 years.
After he made his recovery from the accident, Watson spent the next 20 years using his name and influence to help others, working tirelessly for numerous charities, both in his native Canada as well as in his 2nd home of America. Finally, on February 4, 1990 William “Whipper Watson” Potts, 74, died after suffering a heart attack at his winter home in Florida. His death saddened those who knew and loved both Potts and “The Irish Whip” and was perhaps best summed up by Al Fraser, the executive director of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation when he said Watson “…made people feel better just being around him. He had that magical effect.” He also had the talent — and titles — to warrant his lofty place in the history of wrestling. We at The Ring Chronicle are proud to induct the legendary multi-time World Heavyweight wrestling champion, a role model from a lost era, the great “Whipper” Billy Watson into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…