Monday, November 10, 2008

Wrestlers of Yore: Hacksaw Jim Duggan

Defender of America. Convicted cocaine user. Brandisher of the world’s most famous 2 x 4. Killer of kayfabe. Cancer survivor. Winner of the first Royal Rumble. Possible mental retard. Hacksaw Jim Duggan has earned many titles and accolades throughout his long wrestling career, but the most surprising of which may be that the 54-year-old Duggan is still wrestling, and is in fact the oldest active member of the WWE roster. Hoooooooooo!

Duggan actually began as a football player, serving as team captain at SMU before being signed by the Atlanta Falcons. Knee injuries ended his football career, so Duggan began training under Fritz Von Erich for his second career, as a professional wrestler. He gained notoriety wrestling in the Louisiana area for Mid-South wrestling, where he had a number of famous matches with Butch Reed, Ted DiBiase, and the Junkyard Dog. I’ve seen a few of Duggan’s Mid-South matches, and he wrestled a completely different style than the one we all grew accustomed to later in his career. His feud with DiBiase even earned the Wrestling Observer "Feud of the Year" for 1985. In Mid-South, Duggan was actually “skilled” and “talented” and “not retarded.” Oh how times would change.

Like many big-name regional wrestlers of the ‘80s, Vince McMahon came a-calling for Duggan, offering much higher pay and national exposure. However, it also meant turning himself into a walking cartoon character, taking on the gimmick of an ultra-patriotic simpleton who defended America’s freedom with a 2 x 4 piece of wood, and starting the fans in such witty chants as “U-S-A! U-S-A! and "Hoooooooooo!" It should also be noted that Duggan, as would be a trend throughout the rest of his career, came across as the most mentally challenged person ever to enter a wrestling ring. I mean seriously, the guy played retarded better than Chris Burke. Commentator Bobby Heenan would joke that "With Duggan, taking a shower is a high-risk maneuver" and that "Duggan's at a disadvantage when he wakes up."

His first feud was with the evil Iron Sheik, promoting xenophobia across the land against men with pointy boots. Duggan and Sheik screwed the pooch however after being arrested together in 1987 for driving while on lots of cocaine. The arrest not only sullied the good name of the WWF, but was the first time that two “feuding” wrestlers were publicly exposed to be traveling partners and friends. For many of us, Duggan and Sheik’s arrest, or specifically, the fact that they were found together, was a brutal blow to our belief in kayfabe, or the portrayal of events in ring being real and not staged. If Hacksaw and Sheiky were buddies in real life, then…was wrestling not real? My therapist and I have spent the last fifteen years working through such a revelation.

However, Duggan must have regained favor with WWF management, because he became the first Royal Rumble winner in 1988, defeating 19 other “tough guys.” Duggan later would feud with King Harley Race, eventually winning Race’s crown and purple robe, which I attempted in vain to replicate for Halloween. Duggan would spend the next fewe years entangled with the likes of Andre T. Giant, Bad News Brown, and a variety of Russians, against whom Hacksaw would defend the good ol’ USA. He even helped Sgt. Slaughter “get his country back” after Slaughter had abandoned his homeland for the evils of Iraq. In his WWF tenure, Duggan, while a memorable character, never held a title or was billed as anything other than a mid-carder with a patriotic gimmick. His WWF departure would come soon after receiving four banzai drops from the 600-pound Yokozuna.

Duggan moved to WCW in 1994, and after an initial push that saw him win the U.S. and TV titles, he soon fell into the same old “guy that we don’t take seriously but will exploit for jingoistic purposes” hole that he occupied in the WWF. He feuded with such greats as Squire David Taylor, Kamala, Meng and VK Wallstreet. Duggan then left WCW abruptly in 1998, after it was discovered that he had kidney cancer.

Duggan miraculously returned to the ring only a year later, but instead of celebrating a man’s real defeat over a deadly disease, WCW writers immediately turned him into…the WCW janitor. Ugh. Duggan would spend the next two years wrestling only occasionally, including a horrible run as a Canadian sympathizer. Yes, Mr. U-S-A had become part of Team Canada. This, folks, among other reasons, is why Vince Russo is among the more idiotic souls on this planet, and someone that I hope gets hit by a bus in the very near future.

Since then, the 51-year-old Duggan was re-hired by the WWF in 2005, reprising his patriotic gimmick. He’s now trotted out on the occasional Raw, looking old, saggy and ten seconds from death, and busting out the same old “U-S-A!” chants that we heard twenty years ago. Duggan has become a tragic figure, unable to leave the only business he knows, hanging onto his job by a thread, and performing embarrassingly bad in any match he’s thrown into.

In fact, the 54-year-old Duggan reminds me of another athlete who held on far too long:

U-S-A! U-S-A!


Pepster said...

I was never fully into the whole wrestling thing, but I did, from time-to-time, use the then WWF to pass away a boring weekend morning. It always struck me as absurd that the prototypical USA first American on the show was a dumbass (or at least his character was). Is Vince McMahon a communist?

Hazel Maes Landing Strip said...

Meng > Mung

Anonymous said...

holy're sick Hazel Mae..... haha