Armed with strength, patriotism, and the most iconic piece of lumber ever carried, Hacksaw Jim Duggan stormed the Mid-South wrestling scene back in the early ’80s, busting heads and feuding with the likes of Kamala, Buzz Sawyer, and Ted DiBiase.
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.
Check out part 1 here.
WNZ: Did you see yourself as a seasoned veteran by the time you made the move to the WWF at the beginning of ’87?
JD: I certainly didn’t feel as polished as someone like Teddy would have been, as I didn’t start wrestling until I was 25 years old, so I started much later than a lot of guys like DiBiase who came up in the business. My good friend Terry Gordy started wrestling when he was 16 years old. So guys who were around the business understood it much better than I did.
But coming up to the WWF was definitely a graduation. I mean, even in Mid-South we’d run Superdome shows with 40,000-plus, which I thought was great for a small territory. And I thought I was over pretty good. But I remember coming up to New York and seeing Hogan at Madison Square Garden, and I’m like, wow, this is a whole different level up there.
WNZ: Your history with the WWE can be traced all the way back to when it was the WWWF, right?
JD: Yeah, when I was still wrestling as Big Jim Duggan, with red and black trunks and a long gold bathrobe, I started working for Vince McMahon Sr. I was in the opening matches up there and the first main thing I did on camera was try to get out of the Cobra Clutch Challenge from Sgt. Slaughter. I had short hair, was clean shaven and a totally different character. But that was where I really started learning the business of professional wrestling.
WNZ: Years later, you would have a memorable and bloody feud with Andre the Giant. What was it like wrestling Andre in the WWF?
JD: Andre elevated me to a different level, me being the only man to ever knock out Andre the Giant with a 2×4. So he and I had a good rapport. He and I matched up well in the ring and I think he appreciated somebody fighting back instead of being afraid of him. He and I had some good matches.
WNZ: Tell us about the WWF in that era, as you made your major debut at WrestleMania III.
JD: Vince McMahon went around to all the small territories and picked all the top fruit off the vine, you could say, guys like Junkyard Dog and Jake the Snake. He got lots of people from Mid-South and brought everybody up to WrestleMania, putting all the small people out of business.
That was kind of the golden age of professional wrestling, if you ask me. It was kind of like in the movies with Rock Hudson and Jimmy Stewart, and those guys. Junkyard Dog, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Theodore DiBiase (laughs), people to this day remember that, they remember Saturday Night’s Main Event, and it’s great for a guy like myself to be a part of that generation of wrestlers. I do a lot of comic cons and stuff like that, and a lot of folks come and say, “Well, you know we really enjoyed that era better than this era.” So it’s nice to be remembered at this stage.
WNZ: And you’re still active on the independent scene.
JD: Yeah, but I recently tore my rotator cuff, so I have to have surgery down in Florida. I’m actually pretty lucky, though. Teddy’s had both knees replaced, Jake’s pretty broken up, so I think I’m one of the last guys of my generation that still gets in the ring. I was just in Bristol, Tennessee and Carleton, Georgia, so I still enjoy getting in the ring and my character still works.
WNZ: What makes a wrestling character believable?
JD: The best characters are always just an extension of your own personality. Y’know, Jake the Snake is a lot like Jake, I call him “slippery.” Teddy is Ted, you know he’s a dapper guy. He’ll be on the road for a month and he’s still ironing the creases in his pants, while I’m standin’ beside him in sweat pants (laughs). I’ve said over the years, they gave Lex Luger the flag and a lot of other guys tried to do the U.S.A. gimmick, but I hope the folks saw it wasn’t a gimmick for me. It was from the heart, and that’s why I think I can still do it nowadays.
WNZ: Tell us about your book, Hacksaw: The Jim Duggan Story.
JD: It’s kind of a positive look at wrestling instead of all that negative stuff. I was surprised when Triumph Books out of Chicago contacted me and said they wanted to do a book. I never really thought I would write a book, even though I was kind of disappointed by the number of guys who had done books and painted such a negative image of the business. But I was excited when Triumph put together the deal. I think it’s a well done book and a good looking book, and I think it’s really neat to have a book that looks back on my life in wrestling.
I’m also trying to catch up on Twitter and Facebook a little bit. I called Piper and I’m like (laughs), “Piper, I’ve got 15,000 folks on Twitter!” And he goes, “Jim, I got 250,000,” and I said, “Okay Rod, I’ll talk to you later (laughs).” I actually have four Comic Cons coming up in November, so between that and doing small wrestling shows, I’m having a lot of fun.
WNZ: What insight do you share with aspiring young wrestlers on the indy circuit?
JD: There’s guys in there bustin’ their butts, making 50 bucks and doing everything they can to entertain the fans, with very little opportunity to move up. I get a lot of young guys come up to me and say, “Hey, what’s it take to make it in the WWE?” I wanna be a WWE wrestler.” And I tell them it’s a numbers game like any other profession. There’s 1,500 football players in the NFL, there’s 120 wrestlers on contract in WWE, it’s an extremely competitive business.
I tell them the odds of making it are a million to one. But these guys go out there and work hard for the fans because they love the business. Plus, it’s just great for a guy like myself because when you work for the WWE, you don’t get a chance to mix with the fans so much. Here at the small shows you get the hour-long meet and greet before the shows. And it’s great because I get so many people coming up with their little kids saying, “You know, I used to watch this guy growing up when I was your age!” And it’s nice to be able to tell the fans thanks for the 35 years of support.
WNZ: Those fans can now enjoy watching your matches from Mid-South on the new Legends of Mid-South Wrestling DVD…
JD: Yeah, but I’m quite disappointed that I wasn’t on the cover. It’s got Junkyard Dog, who of course should be there, along with Teddy and Jake, but I thought there should have been room for ol’ Hacksaw on the cover. But I’m glad this footage is available for people to see now, as they have all the other libraries. Ene Watts, Bill Watts’ wife, I think had control of the tapes and the longer she sat on it, it was losing value, y’know. So it’s good that it’s finally out there.
You know, I’ve never been a company darling, and that’s okay. I was never one of the office guys and I was never World Champion. I was never Intercontinental Champion or tag team champion. But still I think I was always the people’s champion. Even though I wasn’t an office guy, they almost kind of had to keep me around.
WNZ: What’s it like for you meeting the superstars of today when you appear at WWE live events?
JD: I get an awful lot of respect from the young guys today, guys like Dolph Ziggler who I think is great. You know, I had the opportunity to wrestle Orton’s kid, Dusty’s boy, Ted Jr., and be in the ring with Neidhart’s daughter. So to be wrestling my contemporaries’ kids was quite a thrill. You know, people are very interested in hearing about the golden era, our ’80s work schedule, and how no guys were under contract. You worked, you got paid, so you tried to work as often as you could. So I went over 60 days straight without a day off. And a lot of guys worked over a hundred. It was a lifestyle, it wasn’t really a job, you lived on the road.
When I went back under a talent contract, oh, probably four or five years ago I was working with Umaga, the Spirit Squad, and those guys. It’s amazing how respectful they are.
And of course a guy like John Cena, I was expecting not to like John Cena. I’d seen him on TV and I’m like, “Meh, this guy, y’know. What the devil?” And when I went in and met him he really impressed me. He’s a gentleman, a hard-working guy and a class act. So my whole attitude changed not only towards John, but also a lot of the young guys. A lot of people see the persona on TV, and often when you meet ’em they’re totally different.
WNZ: Will Hacksaw Jim Duggan ever retire from in-ring action?
JD: People always ask me when I’m going to retire, but I still really enjoy being in the ring and I genuinely really love the business. And a lot of guys like Goldberg, Ultimate Warrior, guys like that, I think just kind of used the business as a stepping stone to move on.
But I’ve always loved being in there, whether it was in Mid-South, WrestleMania, or the small shows today. I like to joke, I’ll probably have a walker made out of 2x4s.