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COMMENT





Duggan still swinging his 2x4
Hacksaw heads to eastern Ontario in a few weeks
By JIM BARBER - Napanee Guide


Hacksaw Jim Duggan at the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this month in Atlanta. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

He's battled hulks, giants, warriors, macho men, and hitmen. He's been beaten, battered and bloodied in venues all over the world.

And he may be the best walking advertisement for the lumber industry.

Hoooooo!! Hacksaw Jim Duggan is coming to Napanee, 2 x 4 and red, white and blue attitude in hand.

He is the headline attraction at the Great North Wrestling (GNW) show, Friday, May 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Strathcona Paper Centre, and the following night, May 14, in Hawkesbury.

In the main event of the evening. Duggan will team up with Napanee's "Daytona Beach Bad Boy" Jason Cage, who is making a one-time ring appearance after announcing his retirement from the ring earlier this year, and Kingston wrestler Harley Davison, to take on the imposing tag team of Total Devastation (featuring Yarker's Justin Cousineau) and the mammoth seven-foot-tall Darko.

Also on the bill are popular independent promotion wrestlers Hannibal, Randy 'Ravenous' Myers, Jeremy Prophet, Gama Singh Jr., Son of Abdullah the Butcher, and Candy Girl.

Duggan was one of the top performers in the WWE, back when the promotion was known as the WWF, and became a household name with his energetic ring entrances, USA chants and ubiquitous 2 x 4, which he often used as a weapon in the ring to bring order or right a wrong.

At age 57, the native of Glens Falls, NY, is still an active performer, as well as acting as a sort of goodwill ambassador and talent scout for the WWE.

Earlier this month, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, prior to the organization's signature pay-per-view event, Wrestlemania 27.

"It was great to be honoured. A lot of guys say they don't care about being in the hall of fame and I think they're kind of fibbing to themselves. I think everybody in this business wants to be remembered, and everybody wants to be recognized by the people you know and respect, and to be put in there is great," Duggan told The Napanee Guide over the phone from his home in South Carolina.

"To me, it's like you have reached the pinnacle of your business, kind of like the Oscar of professional wrestling ... even critics of pro wrestling have to appreciate what you have to do to achieve that goal."

And what Duggan did was slog it out for more than 30 years, ever since he was spotted by legendary promoter Fritz Von Erich who remembered him as a tough-as-nails lineman with Southern Methodist University in the 1970s, and later in his brief pro career with the Atlanta Falcons.

In the days before the WWF/E became a global entertainment juggernaut, and Wrestlemania was still a glint in Vince McMahon's eye, wrestlers usually came up with their own personas or 'gimmicks' as they are known in the lingo of the business.

Duggan started off as a bad guy named Big Jim Duggan.

"I had the gold bathrobe and red and black trunks, and nice hair, and was clean shaven. So [legendary wrestler/manager] Arnold Skaaland said, 'come up with something better than Big Jim and get rid of the gold bathrobe kid.' So I went through three or four different things: at one point I was called The Convict, and then I wore a mask, and I went as Wild Man Duggan and I wore fur with chains and stuff. And then I evolved into Hacksaw after about three years," he said, adding that the idea for carrying a 2 x 4 was not to add to his character, but for self-preservation.

"It was actually Bruiser Brody who suggested I carry something into the ring, because back in the early 1980s, I was in southwest Texas, and it was a very rough territory run by Joe Blanchard [father of Four Horsemen star Tully]. The crowds were brutal. If you were a bad guy. They just had little rope barricades and people would punch you, and spit on you, throw cigarettes on you. And if you're hot and sweaty, a cigarette will stick to you and burn the devil out of you. It was actually pretty dangerous, and all of us bad guys would walk to their cars together after the show," he said.

"So Brody told me, 'Duggan, if you carry something into the ring with you, carry something you can use. Forget the feather boas and sequinned robes. So I picked up a piece of wood, and every time I came through the curtain waving around this 2 x 4, it was like the parting of the Red Sea with those people."

As for the American patriot routine, that started when Duggan was wrestling the in the prestigious Mid-South territory, and was part of a 'stable' called the Rat Pack, alongside Ted DiBiase, Matt Borne and Mr. Olympia (Jerry Stubbs). When that group of bad guys decided to align themselves with manager Skandor Akbar, who was an Arabic-American, born in Texas, but who always portrayed an anti-American character.

Duggan refused to join DiBiase and Akbar's anti-American crusade and began bringing an American flag into the ring when battling Akbar's forces, and also became a fan favourite for the first time in his career.

During this time, he and DiBiase, who became The Million Dollar Man, when he came to the WWF/E, had one of the most bloody, brutal feuds in wrestling history, and battled each other throughout North America hundreds of times. Duggan said that he and Dibiase were and continue to be very close friends, and that he has wrestled DiBiase more than any other opponent throughout his career.

"That's why it was so neat that Teddy inducted me into the hall of fame, because I had some of my earliest matches with Teddy, and some of my best matches," he said.

"And back in the day, we had probably the greatest gimmick match ever. It was inside a steel cage, a coal miner's glove on top of a 10-foot steel pole, and we were dressed in tuxedos for a loser-leaves-town match. And of course it was interesting working for Bill Watts in that territory. We would do our TV at the Irish McNeil Boys Club in Shreveport, Louisiana, and it would hold maybe 200 people, and then the next night we would be in front of 60,000 people at the Superdome in New Orleans. It was an extremely hot territory, and a tough one. I mean, if you lost a bar fight while working for Bill Watts, he'd fire you."

Vince McMahon, who was in the process of turning the WWF/E into the monster global promotion that it is today, liked the 2 x 4 and hyper-patriotic gimmick as well as Duggan's over-the-top personality and signed him to a contract, starting in 1987.

Over the next six years, he wrestled with or against some of the biggest names in the business at the time, including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The Honky Tonk Man, Randy 'Macho Man' Savage and Sgt. Slaughter.

During the late 1980s, Duggan feuded with the mammoth Andre, who was the biggest star in the business before the advent of Hulkamania, and it was considered to be a privilege and mark of distinction of the 'big man' wanted to work with you.

"Teddy might have been my favourite guy to work with, but my most memorable match was a main event at Madison Square Garden with Andre. And no matter what profession you're in, whether it's music or sport, if you sell out The Garden, you sell out The Garden, and everybody respects that. So to be in there with Andre, with 20,000-plus people watching, that was the highlight of my career," he said.

"He was a bad guy at the time, and managed by Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan, and when he first grabbed me, his big thumb hit me and cut me on my lip really bad. He choked me down to my knees and when I was on my knees, I grabbed my 2 x 4 and hit him on the head and he went down like a giant redwood. And we went off the air with me standing over Andre the Giant, covered in blood, my 2 x 4 up in the air, and that elevated my career from a mid-carder to a main eventer."

And the program he ran with Andre led to the longest stretch of consecutive days of working in Duggan's career -- 64 in all, and on many of those days, there may have been more than one match, as the WWE often ran two shows on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening in another city.

"You might do the Capital Center in Washington in the afternoon and they'd have a bunch of little airplanes and they would fly you up to La Guardia in New York to go to MSG that night. And sometimes it would be six shows in three days if it was a long weekend. We easily did more than 300 dates a year. But guys weren't under contract then. If you didn't work, you didn't get paid. So my longest run was when I was main eventing with Andre and if the big man wanted to work, I wanted to work, that's for sure," he said.

Duggan jumped to the rival WCW in 1994 during the so-called Monday Night Wars between the two largest wrestling organizations, and stayed there until 2001, before returning to the independent circuit. For a couple of years earlier in the decade, he appeared in the fledgling Total Non-stop Action (TNA) promotion, before returning to the WWE fold in 2005.

While working for WCW in the late 1990s, Duggan had a scare that was far worse than anything Andre, The Undertaker or Jake "The Snake" Roberts could muster. He was told he had kidney cancer.

"I didn't think it was the end of my career, I thought it was the end of my life. It was a terrifying ordeal. My dad struggled with cancer, but I had been healthy all my whole life. I walked in one day, I knew the doctor well, and I was flirting with the nurses and doctor comes back in and looks at me and said, 'Jim, it's cancer.' How would anybody react? My girls were three and four years old. I was devastated. I was panicked. I spent the time before the surgery [to remove the cancerous kidney] in my daughters' rooms crying and praying. But with the grace of God, and early detection, they were able to save me. So now I do a lot of work with the American Cancer Society, and I have a celebrity golf tournament that I host and I try to make people aware of early detection. Because if they can find it early, a lot of times they can cure it."

Duggan still performs every weekend, and even at what is considered a pretty advanced age to be taking bumps and bruises, still loves the business, still loves working with up-and-coming wrestlers and performing in front of crowds both big and small.

"I like to keep my hand in the business. I am always on the lookout for young talent. Being a member of the WWE family, if I see somebody that looks exceptional, I give the office a call. And I like working in the smaller towns. For anybody of my generation, that's where we came from. We started off in the high school gyms and community arenas and National Guard armouries," he said.

"And now you are seeing a resurgence of the smaller companies, as people kind of miss the small time wrestling, where you have a chance to interact with the wrestlers and talk to them, get autographs and pictures."

He said he also likes to mentor the young hopefuls.

"I explain to these guys that it's not all a physical business. It's sports entertainment. So you've got to be able to entertain the folks, give them a good show. Sometimes you're tired. You've had a long day flying, you're away from your family, been eating fast food, and you're back in the dressing room going, 'oh God.' But then you hear the people coming in, and then your music plays and you go through that curtain, and whether it's 200 people, or 20,000 people, you can't help but get fired up. That's my life blood.

"I always joke when people ask how long am I going to wrestle that I am going to get a walker made out of 2 x 4s."

Duggan has been with his wife for 27 years, and married for 23 of those. They have two daughters, now 16 and 17, and Duggan has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of the business. He has seen too many of his former friends and colleagues die young, from depression, substance abuse, the side-effects of steroids and other ailments, and counts his blessings.

But Hacksaw survived and his family has thrived, living in South Carolina after a couple of decades living in Florida.

He guaranteed fans who come to see the GNW show at the Strathcona Paper Centre on May 13, will be in for a fun, family-oriented night of entertainment.

"Folks that are critical of wresting, and only go by what they see on TV, cut us some slack and come on down and check out the show. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you're going to leave saying, 'hey, that was a great night out,'" he said.

"But as for my opponents, I can tell them when Hacksaw Jim Duggan stomps on down to that ring in Napanee, there's only one thing in mind, to do what Hacksaw Jim Duggan does best, and that's beat people up, tough guy!! HOOOOOO."

For tickets, visit the Strathcona Paper Centre during regular business hours, or visit www.ticketweb.ca. Also check out www.greatnorthwrestling.com.

RELATED LINKS

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