The Universal Wrestling Federation was owner Bill Watts' attempt at taking his Mid-South Wrestling promotion to a national level in 1986. The attempt failed and in 1987, Watts sold the promotion to Jim Crockett Promotions and it became part of what would later be known as World Championship Wrestling. The promotion had started out as an NWA Territory known as NWA Tri-State founded by Leroy McGuirk in the 1950s. Tri-State promoted in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, the same area that Watts's Mid-South wrestling ran in before attempting to go national. In 1990, Herb Abrams started an unrelated wrestling promotion with the same name.


A former territory wrestler who was blinded in a 1950 auto accident, Leroy McGuirk eventually took over promoting a wrestling circuit that covered Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. Until 1973, Watts had been a fan favorite for Tri-State Wrestling. After a short break in Eddie Graham's Championship Wrestling from Florida, he returned to Tri-State in 1975.


In 1979, Bill Watts bought out the Tri-State Wrestling circuit from Leroy McGuirk, and renamed the circuit Mid-South Wrestling (MSW, known officially as the Mid-South Wrestling Association). One of his first acts as owner was to withdraw from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), though MSW would still remain loosely aligned with the organization and continue to have the NWA World Champion defend his title on MSW shows. MSW began adding shows in Arkansas to its circuit. In 1982, the promotion grew to include Oklahoma when McGuirk shut down his Oklahoma-based promotion. He also formed an alliance with Houston promoter Paul Boesch to feature Mid-South talent on the cards at the Sam Houston Coliseum, one of the largest cities in America and one of the most fabled arenas in professional wrestling, as well as other parts of southeastern Texas.


Instead of cartoon-ish characters and interviews, Mid-South Wrestling focused on energetic matches and characters whose personas blurred the lines between good and evil and a physical style and episodic format. The promotion ran shows in a mix of small venues and gigantic arenas. In 1980, a card pitting a "blinded" Junkyard Dog against Freebird Michael Hayes in the main event drew nearly 30,000 fans for a show presented by a promotion less than one year old. In 1984, Watts came out of retirement to team with a masked Junkyard Dog (under the name Stagger Lee) to face the Midnight Express to cap an angle in which the Express and manager Jim Cornette beat Watts on TV. The latter card also featured a showdown between Magnum T.A. and Mr. Wrestling II. The 1984 show drew 22,000 fans.


In the mid-to-late 1980s, the MSW began to expand nationally. In 1985, Ted Turner invited Watts to air his Mid-South Wrestling program on SuperStation TBS as an alternative to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) programming that ran on Saturday nights. Turner was angered with Vince McMahon and the WWF because McMahon reportedly promised Turner a studio-produced program, but he instead presented a two hours of highlights from other WWF programming. (Eventually, the WWF would have in-studio squash matches on the show on an infrequent basis.) MSW quickly became the highest-rated program on TBS, and Watts positioned himself to take over the two-hour Saturday block occupied by the WWF. His luck ran out when former Georgia promoter Jim Barnett helped broker a deal that allowed NWA promoter Jim Crockett, Jr., to buy the slot from McMahon and become the exclusive wrestling promotion for TBS. The deal forced the elimination of the Mid-South Wrestling program from the TBS schedule. Watts made one more attempt at going national the following year under the auspices of the Universal Wrestling Federation


In March 1986, MSW went national and was relaunched as the Universal Wrestling Federation so it was not stigmatized as a southern group.[2] From that point, many newcomers (mostly from World Class Championship Wrestling, WCCW) joined the federation, as did former WCCW co-promoter Ken Mantell. However, despite the federation's success, it could not compete against Jim Crockett Promotions and the WWF. In addition, the WWF also reached the pinnacle of its success through WrestleMania III. Watts was also harmed when the oil-based Oklahoma economy went into a severe recession in the fall of 1986, affecting all businesses and cutting down on fans able to pay to see the shows. Watts would end up selling the UWF to Crockett on April 9, 1987, and many of the federation's top names went on either to the NWA, WWF, or WCCW. Unlike the other NWA promotions JCP purchased, the UWF did not immediately end; it was kept alive until December 1987. Despite promises at the time, Crockett buried the UWF, letting its various titles die out and, with the prime exceptions of Sting, the Fabulous Freebirds, Shane Douglas, Rick Steiner, and for a while Eddie Gilbert, and Steve Williams, few of its various stars made headway into Crockett's promotion.


Crockett's circuit was sold to Ted Turner and eventually become World Championship Wrestling.[3] In the early 1990s, Watts found himself as WCW president.


WWE acquired most of the Mid-South/UWF archive for its WWE Libraries collection in 2012.[5] The exception to this is Mid-South/UWF matches that were filmed for Houston Wrestling, the wrestling program produced by Houston wrestling promoter Paul Boesch for local independent station KHTV and whose archive is now owned by Boesch's estate.