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.
In March 1986, MSW went national and was relaunched as the Universal Wrestling Federation so it was not stigmatized as a southern group. 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. 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. 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.