Stone Cold State Street: Will Willow return?


William Bolden, more popularly known as Stone Cold Willow, celebrates on State Street in Lexington, Kentucky, after Kentucky mens basketball’s win over the University of Louisville to advance to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament on March 28, 2014. (David Stephenson/ZUMA Press)

Lindsey Davis

William Bolden, more popularly known as Stone Cold Willow, is an icon in Lexington, specifically State Street. However, Willow is growing up and branching out.

Willow was born in Cincinnati and lived in Lexington for a time when he was younger. He grew up watching WWE, which is how the “Stone Cold” part of his name came to be.

As for the belt he is often seen brandishing, he bought it at a toy store one day because he thought he might look good with it. He calls himself the “SEC Heavyweight Champion.”

Outside of UK sports, Willow is also a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Nashville Predators and FC Cincinnati, some games of which he has traveled to see play this year.

In the future, he would like to pursue a career in sports, either by playing soccer or participating in professional bull riding.

“I’m trying to do it now while I’m in the best possible health condition,” Willow said.

Many people have been asking Willow if he is going to return to State Street during March Madness this year, but at the age of 31, Willow is questioning this.

Willow is known for being on State Street during the NCAA mens basketball tournament, whether the Wildcats are leading the way in March Madness or leaving the fans feeling March Sadness.

“There were some celebrations, and there were some heartbreaks. That’s the beauty of March Madness. People pour out into the streets,” he said.

Willow had his first real experience on State Street in 2012, after Kentucky captured its eighth NCAA National Championship against Kansas, beating them 67-59.

“I was involved in the so-called ‘State Street Riot’ after the win,” he said. “It went on for hours before the streets were finally cleared.”

Many fans rushed to State Street after the victory to celebrate by setting more than 40 fires that involved couches, mattresses and even a car, according to ABC News.

It was estimated that over 15,000 people rioted in the streets that night.

In 2014, Willow took to State Street again after Kentucky lost to Connecticut 54-60 in the NCAA Championship.

Couches were set on fire, bottles were thrown and arrests were made. Lexington police even had to use tear gas to control the chaos.

The same disappointment continued a few years later.

Willow was devastated after Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina 73-75 in the 2017 NCAA Elite Eight. UNC player Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left in the game.

“I literally laid on the ground and cried, you know, because it was so terrible. I was so hurt because I felt like Kentucky got robbed,” he said.

Other fans were so upset that they were burning couches, shirts and TVs.

Willow once again laid on the pavement on State Street in 2019 after another Elite Eight loss. Kentucky had been defeated by Auburn 71-77 in overtime.

“After the loss to Auburn, that’s when I said, ‘It’s time for me to call it quits.’ I was done with State Street,” he said.

In 2020, the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Kentucky failed to even qualify for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Since there wasn’t the opportunity to go to State Street for the past two years, people are trying to convince Willow to return for one last run.

“Kentucky’s playing and winning, you know, with a legitimate opportunity to bring home another national championship, but I asked myself, ‘Should I be back on State Street?’”

Ultimately, Willow has decided that he will return — along with his WWE belt.

“If Kentucky reaches the Sweet 16 at the very least, then the legendary rattlesnake will return to State Street all the way through the national championship,” he said.