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RIP Blackjack Mulligan (1942-2016): WWE's First Great Heel Cowboy



On Thursday, the WWE lost another one of its great old-school wrestlers, as 2006 Hall of Fame inductee Blackjack Mulligan passed away at the age of 73. At the moment, the cause of his death is unknown, but as we’ve seen in recent weeks, he had been dealing with some health issues, with his grandsons Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas having taken time off from the ring to be with him.

Photo c/o ObsessedWithWrestling.com
Robert Jack Windham was born on November 26, 1942, and first earned recognition as a football star for Texas Western College (later to become the University of Texas at El Paso). Like many a wrestler, he didn’t exactly play in the NFL in the truest sense, despite announcers claiming otherwise. Still, he had made it to the New York Jets’ preseason lineup in 1966, and after failing to make his mark in pro football, he began training as a wrestler. It was there where Bob Windham became Blackjack Mulligan, a physically imposing heel cowboy with the exact same ring attire, finisher, and persona as future tag teammate Jack “Blackjack” Lanza.

Wrestling mainly in the AWA and WWWF, The Blackjacks, Mulligan and Lanza, were a solid heel duo, winning the WWWF World Tag Team Championship in August 1975, with “Captain” Lou Albano as their manager. Previously, the Blackjacks were managed by Bobby Heenan and Ernie “The Grand Wizard” Roth, giving them three legendary heel managers during their run as a team.  But beyond being a tag team specialist, Mulligan also appeared in singles feuds against the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant. Those feuds had him on the losing end, but he was, at least, getting lots of heat as a midcard/upper midcard heel, the most ornery of the many kayfabe cowboys in wrestling during those days.

Photo c/o WWFOldSchool.com
In 1984, with Lanza retired and working as a road agent for WWF, Mulligan got one final push, wrestling as a babyface and hosting his own talk show segment. And while you may know about Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan donning masks as part of The Machines, Mulligan was part of that stable too, wrestling as the masked Big Machine. He then wrestled sporadically using the Mulligan gimmick, before leaving WWF in 1987 as the age of 44.

Mulligan may never have been the most successful heel in the WWWF/WWF, but his accomplishments as one-half of The Blackjacks left a lasting impression. In 1997, Mulligan's real-life son Barry Windham (a man of many gimmicks, might we add) dyed his hair black and grew a mustache, and teamed up with a pre-JBL Bradshaw to form The New Blackjacks. Like The New Midnight Express from that same timeframe, The New Blackjacks were a sad substitute for the original, and hadn't had much success at all when they disbanded in 1998.

Among those surviving Mulligan are his sons, Barry and Kendall Windham, his son-in-law Mike "IRS" Rotunda, and his grandsons Windham "Bray Wyatt" and Taylor "Bo Dallas" Rotunda. All these men have made their name in professional wrestling, and it all started when a tall, beefy New York Jets castoff decided to try his luck in the wrestling business.

Rest in peace, Blackjack Mulligan.

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