Sheepherder Luke Williams recalls all the blood and guts
MARSHALL WARD - SLAM! Wrestling
WARNING: The following article is not for the faint of heart, and contains an excessive amount of blood and guts.
The violent bloodbaths perpetrated by The Sheepherders (later known as the Bushwhackers during their more tame WWF tenure) are still talked about among wrestling fans. "Blood and guts, mate. The people loved the blood and guts," Sheepherder Luke Williams said with a sinister laugh, reflecting on their nefarious reputation around the world.
New Zealand's notorious Sheepherders, made up of Luke Williams and Butch Miller, have been bashing opponents and busting heads since debuting in 1969, leaving a trail of broken bodies, stained canvases, and crimson masks along the way.
That reputation has served them well, as Luke Williams finds himself currently on a cross-Canada tour, with two stops in Southern Ontario for Stranglehold Hardcore Wrestling this month, along with an appearance at FanExpo Canada.
It was in Canada where the team of Williams and Miller first discovered their dark, bloodthirsty side, while wrestling as The Kiwis.
"Montreal -- that's where we first became vicious heels. Bloody and vicious, mate, I tell ya," Williams told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "We were working for Grand Prix Wrestling -- that's when Andre the Giant was there -- and our matches just started getting wild and crazy in that territory. Then we moved on to Stu Hart's (Stampede Wrestling) territory, where we met up with Abdullah the Butcher, if you can imagine that. It was all blood and guts from there on."
The Kiwis in a Montreal Grand Prix Wrestling promo photo from 1973. Photo by Jimmy Caruso.
Known as "Sweet" William and "Crazy" Nick at that time, the Kiwis had already been wrestling for three years in Canada, Singapore, and Thailand since first teaming in their native New Zealand. It was in 1979, though, that the (Kiwi) Sheepherders launched their villainous "invasion" of the United States, thanks to "Playboy" Buddy Rose
"We were based in (NWA) Hawaii, and it wasn't the greatest territory to work at that time. A lot of new faces came in, so we needed to get out," said Williams. "Buddy Rose and Roddy Piper were over there for a big show in Hawaii, they came in from Portland, and it was actually Buddy who told us that Piper was a tag team champion with Killer Brooks in the Northwest promotion, but that Brooks had left, leaving them needing a new tag team. Buddy said, 'So you've heard of Don Owen?' and we got on the phone with him. Two weeks later, we were in the Northwest promotion.
"I think it was the second or third week there we took the belts off of Adrian Adonis and Ron Starr. Then we had a feud with Stan Stasiak and Dutch Savage -- he was the king of the coal miner's glove matches. We had an army, a New Zealand army we made and Buddy Rose was the general. We started carrying the New Zealand flag which causes a lot of heat, and of course for Buddy too. Then it was our army against Roddy Piper and Rick Martel, and that feud raged on for over a year. It was a hot little territory as [Jesse] Ventura came in, Andre came in, even going back we had Red Bastien come in -- in his later days before he retired. Portland used to run six times a month: four Saturdays and two Tuesdays in the summer. But people most remember that feud we had against Piper and Martel, those vicious cage matches near the end. Blood and guts, mate, blood and guts."
Blood and guts are what fans can expect when Williams faces hardcore indie wrestler Juggulator in an upcoming "New Zealand Deathmatch" in Toronto. Williams explained his enthusiasm for New Zealand Deathmatches: "It's of course our specialty 'cause they're just a wild and all-over-the-place kind of match, with lots of blood and guts, mate," said Williams.
"It's like a boot camp match and I'm coming to show the Juggulator what a guy from Down Under can do when it's anything goes. You think I'm an old man? I've been through the grinder before, mate!"
Indeed, grinding and shredding is Williams' specialty, as the Sheepherders were hardcore "Before they called it hardcore," Williams said with a laugh. "We were one of the first tag teams to be doing barbed-wire matches, then barbed-wire cage matches. We had cages that were made to bolt onto the corners of the ring and then it was barbed-wire up to eight feet high. Vicious, bloody vicious matches those were.
"We did four-way chain matches, table, ladders and chairs, ambulance matches, coal miner's glove matches. I made myself a new (coal miner's glove) about two years ago when I got back in the business," Williams added. "I may have it in the bag with me when I come to Canada. It's really just a big welding glove made of leather, and I had a steel plate about a half inch thick by about an inch-and-a-half wide, two inches long, sewn into the top so if you hit anything with it, you'll smash it. For example, I can hold a bottle in one hand, and with the other wearing the glove I can smash the bottle into pieces.
The bloody Sheepherders in Calgary's Stampede Wrestling. Photo by Bob Leonard
"Blood and guts, mate, blood and guts is what happens in a coal miner's glove match 'cause you put that glove up on a pole and the first one to get it puts it on his fist and knocks the other guy out cold. I took that glove around the world with me, because those matches make a lot of money. You do a coal miner's glove match in one territory, then you take it somewhere else and do it there and the people love it 'cause it's something special, and because they love the blood and guts."
Along with blood and guts, Williams said the fans love the smell of burning flesh. "Fire deathmatches" became all the rage in Puerto Rico while the Sheepherders were there in the '80s. "In the old days, we had canisters that we'd tie to the top ropes all the way around the ring, and we'd fill them with fuel. There'd be a match at the bottom of every canister so when you hit the ropes, the fluid would start burning. It was scary, mate, 'cause you didn't want to hit that top rope -- but when you did, that flame would shoot up two feet and blow you out of the park. Nobody wanted to hit that top rope and feel that fire."
It was in Puerto Rico where Williams found his skills as a booker, working for Carlos Colon in the WWC (World Wrestling Council). "I made big money with Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, and Abdullah," said Williams. "We had some bloody and wild feuds between them back then in the ballparks, drawing 20,000 people. It was good business here in the early to mid-'80s. The Sheepherders and Invaders had a long feud, and we drew big houses. But it was wild, mate. Those fans would riot and they hated the Sheepherders."
That heat the Sheepherders garnered followed them everywhere, from Puerto Rico to England to Canada. "We came out of the arena in P.E.I. up there in Canada, and the fans thought the ref's car that we arrived in was ours," Williams recalled with a chuckle. "They broke the roof and slashed all the seats.
"Numerous times in Canada, we came out of the arena and the car had all the tires slashed and it was down on the rims. A few times we found ourselves driving hundreds of miles without a windshield, 'cause the fans knocked the front windshield out. Imagine how cold it was driving down the highway without a windshield!
"In those days, the fans used to want to fight you, and I've been sliced quite a few times, y'know, in the arm and in the shoulder coming out of the ring. We sometimes had police help us to just get out of the arena, to our cars, and out of town. Those were the wild days, mate."
Memphis wrestling fans may tell you that the wildest matches of all were between the Sheepherders and the Fabulous Ones. "That was a major feud that the fans still want to hear about," said Williams. "Jackie Fargo had just put the new team of Stan Lane and Steve Keirn together, and they were the Fabulous Ones with Fargo in their corner. It became this battle between the us, the boys from Down Under, against these two good lookin' Southern boys who the fans loved.
"We wrestled them every night for five months all over the state. We had a series of 'no ropes, barbed-wire matches' along with 12 wild-and-woolly steel cage matches in a row. The cage actually came down in a rumble with them one night -- it was nuts! Blood and guts, mate, and the fans just loved it.
"When we came in there, it was already a wild territory, so there we are comin' in with the New Zealand flag and we gave them what we do best. The fans really hated us, especially after we did this thing on television where we told the people that 'the trouble with you Americans is you have your air conditioned homes, air conditioned cars, and that even their women were air conditioned,' if you know what I mean?
"Then, after about four or five weeks, we went on television and took a map of the United States and put it inside a toilet. We told people that this was the state of America, and with the pole of our New Zealand flag we pushed the stink down the throne."
After that, it was absolute bedlam as the Sheepherders bloodied the Fabulous Ones night after night, selling out arenas and enraging fans. "We were getting beaten up too, and the people loved it," said Williams. "We always gave the people what they want -- seeing us get our butts kicked, and we were always bloody in the end. But we never laid down. We always made sure we were on our feet so they'd come back again."
And come back they did. The Sheepherders packed arenas from the Mid-South to the Mid-Atlantic and abroad, winning numerous tag team championships, while engaging in feuds with teams often much bigger than the stocky New Zealanders. "People liked to see us wrestle big guys, I think, because they thought they would get to see the Sheepherders get our ass kicked once and for all," said Williams. "We made a lot of money with the Zambuie Express (Elijah Akeem and Kareem Muhammed). Both of them are dead now, they died in their 40s. Also Blackjack Mulligan and partners he'd have, like Kevin Sullivan
-- those matches gave the people what they wanted -- blood and guts, mate."
Guts, more so than blood, is what the Sheepherders got one night wrestling the Road Warriors, said Williams: "In '84, Joe Blanchard brought in the Road Warriors to wrestle for Southwest Championship Wrestling in San Antonio," Williams recalled. "He had them work with us for a few shows in Waco... (and) at the arena we had a big match with them 'cause like I said, we made the most money working with big guys, big teams.
"They worked like two pitbulls always charging at ya, and I don't remember what exactly happened, but the match was really intense when Hawk went over to the ropes and threw up into the crowd.
"Hawk puked this green stuff right into the crowd, and this one kid said, 'Look daddy, just like Kabuki!'" Williams laughed, referring to the green mist that The Great Kabuki spewed into opponents' eyes. "'Except this one has lumps in it!' the kid says. It was crazy, and we worked with them a few places and made a lot of money, mate."
Money is the reason Williams gives fans when they ask why the Sheepherders went along with being rechristened the Bushwhackers -- a kinder, gentle version of the duo -- when Vince McMahon called them up to the WWF in 1988. "A lot of people ask us how we could change our name, after being so violent, to becoming a comedy duo. I always just sit there and tell them, 'That's easy: money!'
"Vince gave us the opportunity to be something else and he had the biggest wrestling stage in the world. (The Bushwhackers) were loved by everyone from young kids to grandparents. And I'll tell ya, we wouldn't be here now still going around the world if it hadn't been for the WWF. Vince put us on the world map, and Butch and me are grateful for that."
Unfortunately, Butch Miller won't be joining his partner any time soon on the indie scene, since he's recovering from a recent hip operation, said Williams. "He's back home with his wife, his daughters, and grandchildren in New Zealand," said Williams of his long-time friend. "He also survived a staph infection some time back, mate. It was really scary. When the paramedics got to him he was on the ground, lying in his own shit, and seizing up. He ended up in intensive care.
"The doctors couldn't find the strain for about a week as they were trying all the different antibiotics. He went down to 145 pounds, but he got back up to 200 before he came home from the hospital. He could have been brown bread, y'know, he could have been dead."
Infections were something Williams never feared while bleeding buckets in rings around the world -- long before the threat of hepatitis C and other infectious blood transmissions made headlines. "One night against the Fabulous Ones, Steve Keirn nearly bled to death and ended up getting about 80 stitches," said Williams. "We hit him so hard and split him right above the brow and to his ear where one of those major veins were hit. Didn't mean for that to happen obviously, but he had to get external stitching to fix him up. Now that was blood and guts.
"When you're in that ring, mate, and you're bleedin', you don't really notice how much is spilling out of ya 'cause you're so into the match," Williams added. "But it happens sometimes, where you get back to the dressing room and you become weak, especially if you hit one of those arteries and it's a pumper, y'know? The blood, it's squirting out into your eyes and you're making a big mess all over.
"Where I am at the moment (Puerto Rico), this being a Latin country and all, it's a hotbed for blood and guts."
Williams concluded, "That's what this Juggulator needs to understand about our upcoming New Zealand Deathmatch, mate. I'm not saying I've done it all, but like I said, I've been through the grinder before. And I'm still standing. So I hope you know what you can expect from this boy from Down Under!"
Blood and guts.
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Stranglehold Hardcore Wrestling's "Devil's Playground Tour" comes to The Legion in Oshawa, Ontario on August 26, and Lee's Palace in Toronto on August 28, featuring Bushwhacker Luke, along with names like Mad Man Pondo, Bloody Bill Skullion, Sinn Bodhi (aka Kizarny), Stacy "The Kat" Carter, the Juggulator, and many more. Tickets will be $20 at the door.
For more information on Luke Williams' upcoming appearances, visit www.BushWhackerLuke.net or check out the Official Bushwhacker Luke Williams fan page on Facebook.
August 5, 2008: A run through the career of Kiwi/Sheepherder/Bushwacker Luke
Aug 2, 2008: Legend back bushwhacking
Jan 20, 1999: Getting 'Whacked' by Luke and Butch
Marshall Ward, a visual artist and weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle, stood on his seat and cheered the Bushwhackers when they attacked the team of Rhythm 'n' Blues at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto, breaking the Honky Tonk Man's guitar to the delight of the crowd. Whoooooh!!!