May 12, 2011
Hacksaw stomping into Niagara Falls
By JOHN LAW - Niagara Falls Review
He's been busted up and busted open. He's been dog tired on the other side of the world, missing his family. He's sacrificed his health to entertain millions of fans for more then 30 years.
So "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan doesn't want to hear any sneers or snickers about recently being inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Fame. He has earned the respect many of his peers squandered or didn't live long enough to see.
"I'm not a big fan of ballet, but I don't sneer at ballet," says the wrestling icon, in town Thursday to meet fans at Pulp Comics on Queen St.
"You can't knock professional wrestling. World champions in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball ... have those guys ever been to Japan, Australia, all through Europe? WWE is truly worldwide. Like it or hate it, you've got to respect the huge operation it is."
Known for his patriotic battle cry and trusty two-by-four, the 57-year-old Duggan is that rare grappler to carry over his appeal from the WWE's '80s boom (back when the company was still the WWF -- World Wrestling Federation). After several years creating his character with Mid-South Wrestling, Duggan joined the WWF just in time for Wrestlemania III in 1987, at the time the biggest wrestling event in history thanks to a main event pitting Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant.
He had seen big crowds before, but nothing prepared Duggan for 93,000 people at the Pontiac Silverdome.
"I thought I was a pretty big star down in a small pond, then I came up there and saw the way Hulk Hogan orchestrated that crowd. It was amazing."
Though his character was mostly comic relief, Duggan quickly won over fans and was in contention for several major titles. He won the first-ever Royal Rumble match in 1988, and took part in the Wrestlemania IV tournament for the vacant WWF title (losing in the first round to his good friend in real life, Ted DiBiase).
At first Duggan feuded with foreign villains like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. When the Cold War started to thaw, he moved on to Andre the Giant, Dino Bravo and Rick Rude. But as much as the crowd cheered, he never won a championship belt.
And he doesn't mind. If it was his job to prop up the villains, Duggan did it with Hall-of-Fame gusto.
"It worked out so well, it's kind of a conversation point," he says. "I never was world champion, I never was intercontinental champion, I never was tag team champion. I was the most popular wrestler to never hold a major title.
"My character never really needed a belt. There's nothing fancy about being Hacksaw Jim Duggan -- I may lose the match, but I'll win the fight."
After a brief return to the WWE two years ago, Duggan wrestles weekends on the indie circuit now. And unlike the depressing portrait of the lifestyle depicted in the film The Wrestler, he loves a less hectic schedule.
"I've been wrestling for 32 years," he says. "A lot of folks say, 'Don't you get tired of it?' Even if you do have a long day flying or travelling, and you get to the dressing room and think, 'I've got to wrestle some young stud,' when you hear the folks start chanting and you go through that curtain ... after 32 years I still get excited."
He also appreciates the business more than ever. During his second go-round with the WWE, Duggan always took time to soak it all in.
"This time around, I realized where I was and what I was doing. Back then, you were just so caught up in it, you didn't realize what was going on. I smelled the roses this time.
"We'd be out in California and I'd be sitting at some scenic overlook, and the guys would be blowing by me at 90 miles per hour. I was like, 'I can remember those days.' "
- - -
Meet the Hacksaw
WHO: "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan