Duggan broke into the wrestling business in Dallas and was discovered by Fritz Von Erich, having already had a strong football career and a brief stint in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. He would go on to wrestle in 23 countries around the world.
“I’ve wrestled in every state of the union, and every province in Canada including Northwest Territories,” says Duggan. “Austria, Australia, Bermuda, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guam, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Japan — for All Japan and New Japan. I’ve been around.”
But the old Mid-South territory will always hold a special place in the heart of Hacksaw Jim Duggan. “That was where I got my first break,” he says. “That was a great time, I had been in the business for quite a while before I got there, but my heyday really was down in Mid-South.”
WWE recently released Legends of Mid-South Wrestling on DVD and Blu-ray, showcasing everyone from Duggan, Junkyard Dog, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Sting, the Midnight Express, the Fabulous Freebirds, and announcer Jim Ross.
That’s why WrestleNewz.com caught up with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, one of the major babyfaces and legends of the Mid-South era, to shed some light on working the territory, transitioning to the WWF, and the unforgettable characters of Mid-South Wrestling.
WNZ: What brought you to the Mid-South area back in ’82?
JD: I was in San Antonio with Southwest Championship Wrestling with (promoter) Joe Blanchard, and I made the move. The booker there at that time was Buck Robley and when he moved to Mid-South, I moved with him.
WNZ: Did you debut as a member of the heel faction The Rat Pack?
JD: I came in by myself originally, but then (promoter) Bill Watts put me, DiBiase and Matt Borne together as The Rat Pack. We’d have matches in small towns like Louisiana or east Texas that were very lively, to say the least. Those days, the business was a much tougher, rougher type of business, and the fans would sometimes be right there in the ring with you. It was very dangerous, especially for The Rat Pack.
If there was a hot finish, and all the heels would have to stay right ’til the end, many times you’d have to fight your way back from the ring into the dressing room. And we’d all wait and walk out to our cars together because people would be outside waiting for you, back in the day. They were pretty rough as they’d throw stuff at you, cuss and swear, flick their cigarettes at you. It was a very different business than the sports entertainment one of today.
WNZ: What was it like working with Ted DiBiase, who also spent his formative years in Mid-South?
JD: Anytime you work with a guy like Ted, a second-generation wrestler, they’re usually a little more polished and understand the business a little bit. And I was still quite green at that time. And to have the opportunity to work with Teddy and learn from him was a great spot to be in. We had a lot of fun and became good friends, and to this day are still great buddies.
WNZ: “Maniac” Matt Borne, who was also Doink the Clown in the WWF, died recently. What was he like?
JD: Matt wasn’t my favorite person, y’know. He too was a second-generation wrestler, but I think he was kind of like the guy you see in the movie, The Wrestler — kind of the underbelly of professional wrestling. I don’t think he was a very good person.
WNZ: How did you get along with Bill Watts, one of wrestling’s top promoters?
JD: I enjoyed working for Bill. He enjoyed jocks, guys like Steve Williams and myself, ex-football players, Junkyard Dog. He enjoyed legitimate tough guys and Bill, he ran a tough promotion. But it was also a great training ground where guys not only learned the business, the in-ring stuff, but also you learned how to do interviews.
You wouldn’t do one generic interview for the whole week, but rather you’d do an individual interview for every town you would go to. In doing interviews, they’re like in-ring work in that the more you do it, the better you get at it. And of course, if Bill didn’t like the interview he’d have you do it over and over again. So, like I said, not only did you learn the ring work but you also learned how to do the mic work.
WNZ: What else set Mid-South apart from other territories you worked?
JD: Bill Watts had a waiver if somebody in the audience wanted to try one of the wrestlers. They could sign the waiver and get in the ring with a guy, and usually get stretched pretty good. Of course, if one of the wrestlers lost a bar fight back in the old days, Bill Watts would fire you (laughs). He ran a tight ship, and I actually got along good with Bill, even though he mistreated a lot of guys. But he took care of me.
Also, everything we did in the ring was pretty believable. It was all pretty live, y’know. I mean, we would really lay it in and it was a very snug territory to work in. And while you tried not to hit someone right in the face and break a nose or teeth, the body was pretty live and we’d give it our all. So it was a very tough territory to work in, and the guys who worked in Mid-South were physically tough, so it all worked very well. And of course the fans believed it so much. Y’know, a wrestling riot back in the old days was pretty common, and in Mid-South we had more riots than most territories.
WNZ: And Mid-South at that time was a hotbed of talent.
JD: It was a who’s who that came through there, and people still talk about Mid-South. From One Man Gang, Kamala, and Junkyard Dog to King Kong Bundy, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Barry Darsow, name after name after name…Shawn Michaels, Butch Reed, Ricky (Morton) and Robert (Gibson), Magnum T.A. It was just a great training ground for all of us because it was a tough territory and you might wrestle nine times a week and travel 2,500 to 3,000 miles. But we were all young guys and looking back at it, it was a lot of fun.
WNZ: Some of your most memorable feuds in Mid-South were against big brawlers like One Man Gang, Kamala, and Lord Humongous…
JD: I always felt like I could pretty much work with anybody, but as a babyface I always felt it was an advantage to work with a bigger heel. When you’re in there with a big guy, it’s a lot easier to get sympathy compared to when you’re out there with a smaller guy and the crowd’s like, “Come on Hacksaw! Get up and kick his ass!” (laughs)
WNZ: You also had some classic battles with Buzz Sawyer, that culminated in a violent and bloody dog-collar chain match in Houston. What was it like working with Sawyer?
JD: Buzz Sawyer and I, you could say, weren’t really good friends. We had our problems (laughs). Buzz and I we had a few things go down in the dressing room over the years, so yeah, when Buzz and I loaded it up in the ring it was pretty live, and a lot of folks remember those matches because of how snug we wrestled. Buzz, I really didn’t like the guy, but I have to say I kind of respected him.
WNZ: On the new Legends of Mid-South Wrestling DVD, Terry Gordy is featured in matches against the likes of you and Steve “Dr. Death” Williams. Tell us about Gordy and Williams?
JD: Terry Gordy, Steve Williams, and Gino Hernandez were my three best friends, and all three of them have passed which is a real shame. Gino and I were tag team partners for my first actual match, when I broke in with Fritz down in Dallas. I stayed with Gino, we became very good friends over the years, and then he died. And then I met Gordy when I was in Georgia Championship Wrestling. I was Big Jim Duggan and we lived in a place called the Falcon Rest, a two-storey hotel that all the boys lived in. We were young guys and I was still learning the business, and Terry and I became close friends.
It was a funny coincidence, I left and went to Pensacola and then to San Antonio, then to Mid-South where I met Steve Williams. Doc and I became best friends and we lived together. I’ve had three roommates in 35 years of professional wrestling: Gino, Gordy, and Doc. Anyways, Doc and Gordy ended up in Japan and got to know each other and they became best friends. But the three of us were never together in the same place. It was strange, I’d see one of them some place and then they’d see each other in Japan, then I’d see the other one of them in another place. It was just an odd coincidence how we were all best friends but the three of us were never together at the same time.
Both those guys were legitimate tough guys. I mean, back in the days before everybody was getting sued and arrested, we’d have bar room fights. And if you had Doc or Gordy watching your back, you felt pretty confident in what was going to go on. Like my other good friend, Jake Roberts, I always said, “Jake’s a great guy to party with, but he’d be the last guy you’d want watching your back in a street fight (laughs).”
WNZ: Your road has certainly had its ups and downs, as you also lost your mentor Bruiser Brody back in ’88.
JD: Brody helped me develop the Hacksaw character. When I first started I was Big Jim Duggan, then I was The Convict and wore a mask for a while, then I wrestled as Wildman Duggan. Then I evolved into Hacksaw in San Antonio with Bruiser Brody, who really taught me a lot. Not by coming up and talking to me, but rather just working with a man like that. And of course the tragedy of him being stabbed to death in Puerto Rico was terrible. I’ve never wrestled in Puerto Rico and I probably never will. I had a couple opportunities to go and I just never made the move.
WNZ: Who do you stay in touch with from your days in Mid-South?
JD: I still keep in touch with Gang and his wife, Mary Alice. They’ve been together for years and they still live down in Louisiana. He’s your standard type wrestler who…you know, so many people see the movie The Wrestler, and that jerk Mickey Rourke put us all in a bad light. Yes, there’s a lot of guys in that situation he portrays, but there’s a lot of guys who are successful in our business. Y’know, I’ve been with my wife almost 30 years, I’ve never been to rehab, I’ve never had a felony arrest. I have two daughters, one in college and one in high school.
It’s been a good business for me. I saved my money, I traveled the world and I’m tired of seeing everybody think we’re all Scott Hall — we’re all either drug addicts or drunks. It’s been a good business for me, and not only me but guys like Gang, Tito Santana and Roddy Piper. Lots of guys have been successful in our business, and have lived good lives after their heyday.
WNZ: Tell us about your friend, Ted DiBiase, who inducted you into the WWE Hall of Fame a couple years back?
JD: I wrestled Teddy in the early ’80s all the way to 2000. We had hundreds of matches over the years. I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to induct me. I mean, of all the people I’ve wrestled in the world, Teddy and I wrestled each other more than anyone else. We just always seem to pair up well together, whether it was down in Mid-South or at WrestleMania with Andre in his corner. Ted and I always paired up well.
I remember him being worried about coming up to New York with no gimmick, but he ended up with the best gimmick of all.
Come back tomorrow for part 2!