Ahem. Sorry for the outburst, but today is the 62nd birthday of flag-waving, thumbs-upping, pro wrestling institution, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. Most people think of Duggan as a walking emblem of pro wrestling at its most cheerfully goofy, but Duggan has had a long, varied career and his share up highs and lows. Behind the cockeyed mugging and fanatic America lovin’ is a guy you might not expect.
So, tough guys and girls, here’s a few facts you might not know about the first-ever Royal Rumble winner…
Jim Duggan was a clean-cut member of the chess club in high school.
Jim Duggan played college ball at SMU. Duggan was signed by Atlanta but was released adue to knee injuries. pic.twitter.com/H1LqKcnGPl— Old Wrestling Pics (@OldWrestlingPic) September 5, 2014
James Duggan Jr. was born on January 14, 1954, in Glens Falls, a small town in upstate New York. His dad was the town’s Irish police chief, and his mom was a conservative churchgoer who ran a tight ship. While most wrestling fans know Duggan as a Captain Caveman-esque wildman fueled by pure, unfiltered patriotism, the young Duggan was a square-jawed, conventionally handsome straight-arrow who could have been an extra on Mad Men. Just look at the pictures above. Those glasses! According to Duggan, he was even a member of the chess club in high school, so apparently he isn’t just tough, he’s a smart guy, too.
He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.
Never give up those gridiron dreams.
Duggan may have looked like a half-thawed side of beef throughout most of his wrestling career, but he was actually a star athlete early in life. Duggan earned varsity letters in football, wrestling, basketball and track in high school and played college football for Southern Methodist University. Eventually, he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, but his career was quickly sidelined due to numerous knee injuries (Duggan’s busted knees were the reason for his, shall we say, deliberate wrestling style).
After fizzling in the NFL, Duggan defected to Canada, joining the Toronto Argonauts, but he quickly realized playing for the CFL is no way to live and started looking for a new line of work. Thankfully, Duggan had met the legendary Fritz Von Erich while playing college football in Dallas, and he agreed to teach Duggan to wrestle.
He had a brief, forgotten WWF heel run in the early ’80s.
After some very cursory training, Duggan began wrestling for the Von Erichs’ WCCW in early 1979. After only a few months, Vince McMahon Sr. caught wind of the new 6-foot-3, 280-pound pro footballer on the scene and brought Duggan in to work for the WWF (a fetish for big ex-NFL guys apparently runs in the family).
This first Duggan WWF stint, which ran from late ’79 to early ’81, has been swept into the dustbin of history. Partly because Vince McMahon Jr. never wanted to admit it was his dad who discovered guys like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Jim Duggan, and partly because Duggan was completely unrecognizable in this early role. He was a heel, went by “Big” Jim Duggan, had short hair, no beard, none of his trademark wacky mannerisms and may have been allergic to sunlight based on his tan. Up above, you can check out a 1981 match featuring proto-Duggan taking on an also erased from history pre-Hulkamania Hulk Hogan. It’s a terrible match, but fascinating in about a thousand different ways.
Duggan was partially trained by The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia.
After a couple years of going nowhere fast in the WWF, Arnold Skaaland (Vince Sr.’s top lieutenant) strongly “suggested” that Duggan needed to go out and get some experience in other territories. Skaaland arranged for Duggan to go to Hawaii and study at the school of hard-knocks under the legendary “High Chief” Peter Maivia.
Duggan never met Maivia’s grandson Dwayne Johnson during this stint, but he did get some much-needed training, and grew himself a thick skin battling the Wild Samoans and Haku under a mask as “The Convict” for 40 bucks a week. Hawaii was definitely a valuable learning experience, but it was the next stop in Duggan’s career that would prove the most formative.
Legendary badass Bruiser Brody came up with the “Hacksaw” name.
If you want to learn crazy, go to the master.
Jim Duggan’s run in San Antonio’s Southwest Championship Wrestling wasn’t a long one, only around six months during the summer of 1982, but it was during this time that everything clicked into place for him. This was entirely due to the fact that Duggan made the brave, but fortuitous choice to become best pals with the infamous Bruiser Brody. For those unfamiliar with Brody, he was basically Luke Harper, except bigger, meaner and legitimately a little crazy.
Most of Duggan’s wild-eyed theatrics were inspired or directly cribbed from Brody, and it was The Bruiser who came up with Duggan’s “Hacksaw” nickname. Announcers usually claimed Duggan got the name because he hacked through the defense during his football years, but Duggan has admitted it was Brody who christened him Hacksaw after a night of drinking. Why? Because it sounded cool, why else? Don’t question a guy with a wrestling name as perfect as Bruiser Brody.
Duggan began carrying his 2×4 to fend off unruly fans.
Don’t come between a man and his wood.
Brody was also the mind behind Duggan’s trademark 2×4. Southwest Championship Wrestling was a particularly rowdy territory (it would have to be with Bruiser Brody on top), and Duggan was playing the flamboyant, top heel, which meant he pretty much had to fight his way to the ring every night. Eventually, Brody offered a helpful suggestion…
“If you’re going to carry something to the ring, carry something you can use! Forget the feathered boas and sequined robes!”
Duggan scanned the backstage area and grabbed a random piece of lumber after failing to find anything more functional. Rather than doing the usual Ric Flair routine, Duggan came through the curtain shouting and swinging his board like a maniac, and lo and behold, the surly San Antonio fans parted like the Red Sea. And just like that, home improvement supply history was made.
He had a blood feud with Ted DiBiase that culminated in one of the most ridiculous stipulation matches of all-time.
After his stint in SWCW, the newly revamped Hacksaw Jim Duggan made his way to Bill Watts’ Oklahoma City-based Mid-South Wrestling in late 1982. There he teamed up with Ted DiBiase, Matt Borne (the original Doink the Clown) and Mr. Olympia to form a heel stable called the Rat Pack. Unfortunately, the presumably ironically-named stable soon broke up when DiBiase sided with the villainous Skandor Akbar.
Wrestling fans are most familiar with Duggan and DiBiase’s cartoonish, mostly harmless WWF characters, but their feud in Mid-South was a surprisingly grounded, emotional affair. If you’re somebody who’s never appreciated Hacksaw’s mic skills, check out the promo above. The guy could get real when he wanted to. Duggan-DiBiase was also a bloody feud, with the two men tearing each other apart in every stipulation match imaginable throughout most of ’83 and ’84. This would culminate in a match that was basically every stipulation at once – a loser leaves town, tuxedo, coal-miner’s glove on a pole steel cage match. That may sound a tad ridiculous, but listen to the crowd absolutely losing their minds for the entire match…
…Duggan-DiBiase would end up winning the Wrestling Observer Feud of the Year, and before long, both men were off to greener pastures in Rock ‘n’ Wrestling-era WWF.
Duggan was indirectly responsible for the WWF’s first drug policy.
Leave it to this guy to ruin the party.
Duggan may have played the true red, white and blue good guy for most of his career, but in reality, he hung around with some fairly disreputable characters, and was a strong believer in, uh, “herbal medicine” (a habit he picked up wrestling in Hawaii). In 1987, Duggan and travel partner The Iron Sheik were nabbed in a routine traffic stop. Duggan was found to be in possession of marijuana, and Sheiky Baby was caught with both pot and cocaine (shocking, I know).
At the time, this was a double scandal, both for the the obvious drug-related reasons and because Duggan and Iron Sheik were supposed to be violent ideological enemies. For falling afoul of both the War on Drugs and the War on Kayfabe, Duggan and The Sheik were fired, and Vince McMahon brought in a three-strike drug policy, bringing an end to the unrestrained drug bacchanal that had consumed WWF for most of the ’80s.
He was also partly responsible for Steve Austin being fired by WCW.
Unsurprisingly, after the drug bust, Duggan saw his WWF push significantly reduced. As a result, Duggan decided to make the jump to WCW when his WWF contract expired in 1994. Duggan’s move to WCW was part of a larger changing of the guard going on within the company, with Ric Flair and his favorites being replaced by the incoming Hulk Hogan and his favorites. “Stunning” Steve Austin was a Flair guy, and Duggan was a Hogan guy, and it all came to a head in Duggan’s first match with the company at Fall Brawl ’94.
U.S. Champion Ricky Steamboat couldn’t wrestle due to an injury, so the plan was to have Austin “win” the title by forfeit, then immediately lose it to a debuting Duggan. The match was scheduled to be 12 to 15 minutes, but Austin apparently wasn’t interested in losing a competitive match to Hacksaw. According to Duggan, Austin feigned a knee injury and immediately told Duggan to cover him. Whether you believe Duggan’s precise recounting of events or not, it’s clear something screwy was going on, as Austin, usually depicted as a resilient fighter, lost to Duggan in 35 seconds after a single backdrop.
Needless to say, nobody was pleased with the situation, and Austin losing in half a minute, possibly against orders, didn’t raise his stock with those in charge. A few months later, Austin would injure himself for real and Eric Bischoff would write the pink slip that changed the wrestling industry forever.
He kicked cancer’s ass.
Okay, a lot of you may already be aware of this one, but it bears repeating: Hacksaw Jim Duggan took a 2×4 to cancer. In 1998, Duggan was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer. Within a week of the diagnosis, he was on the operating table. Miraculously, Duggan not only beat the disease, but was back in the ring months later like nothing had happened. Beat that, tough guy.
There you are, a few AMERICANA-infused facts about the guy who eats 2x4s and sh*ts apple pies. Or is it the other way around? Know any Jim Duggan facts I missed? Have any favorite ridiculous Hacksaw memories you want to share? Exercise your FREEDOM OF SPEECH and leave your comment below.