'Hacksaw' still cuts imposing figure
Jim Duggan set to wrestle Saturday at Lancaster Host Resort 'Hacksaw' still cuts imposing figure BY MELANIE HERR, Correspondent
A gold bathrobe almost stood in the way of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan's professional wrestling career.
Duggan, a World Wrestling Entertainment hall-of-famer, is a legend among wrestling fans today, but when he was getting his start back in 1979, he was just "Big" Jim Duggan, a clean-shaven guy who wore red-and-black trunks and a long gold bathrobe.
In the world of professional wrestling, where there are few open slots, image is everything, and players have to be on top of their game.
"To get one of those spots, you have to be the best in the world," Duggan says during a telephone interview from South Carolina, where he's watching his daughter's soccer game.
Duggan recalls his professional metamorphosis. It began when a wrestling promoter pulled "Big" Jim aside and told him he might have a future in the biz if he changed up his character and ditched the gold bathrobe.
A compliant Duggan tried a few other things.
"I wrestled as the Convict. I wore a mask for a while," he says. He also wrestled as a wild man, wearing fur with chains, he says, before he perfected the two-by-four-toting, flag-waving patriot Hacksaw character who chanted "USA" and hollered "hooo-ooo."
Duggan went on to win the first WWE (then the World Wresting Federation, or WWF) Royal Rumble free-for-all match in 1988. He continues to add new chapters to a wrestling legacy that spans more three decades, and he'll step into the ring Saturday at Lancaster Host Resort and Conference Center to face Mustafa Aziz, aka "The New Son of Sudan," for the Lancaster Championship Wrestling Main Event.
"I know who he is," Duggan says of Mustafa. "He's a talented wrestler."
LCW is one of the smaller wrestling operation, not unlike those in which Duggan initially tested his mettle. Now, in this small arena, Duggan is the draw, not the upstart.
"When you say the name 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan, there are very few people that do not know who he is, regardless (of whether) they are wrestling fans," says Jason Witmer, aka Jason "The Perfect Owner" Smith, one of the three men who founded LCW, which has been in existence for a little more than a year.
Kids are a big part of Duggan's audience, although he never watched wrestling himself growing up. He never even had aspirations of becoming involved with the business and considers his entry into the world of professional wrestling to be a "fluke."
"Actually, my main sport was football," he says. Duggan grew up in a conservative family in Glens Falls, N.Y., where his father was chief of police. In addition to football, he lettered in track, wrestling and basketball. He won the New York State high school wrestling championship.
He was eyed by the Ohio State and Penn State football programs, but chose Southern Methodist University. In 1977, he was signed by the Atlanta Falcons, but his career was cut short by knee injuries. By 1979, he had transitioned into pro wrestling after an incidental run-in with a wrestling promoter at a college alumnae function.
Duggan's mentors coming up in the pro wrestling world included Bruiser Brody and Ted DiBiase, "The Million Dollar Man." It was Brody who told him to carry something -- i.e., a two-by-four -- that he could use in the ring.
Duggan forged a career in wrestling during its heyday, first by wrestling as a villain, then by battling such villains as Dino Bravo, Bad News Brown and Boris Zhukov. He joined World Championship Wrestling in 1994, but returned to the WWE in 2005. He has made sporadic appearances in WWE over the last few years, but he remains as popular as ever, and still carries the two-by-four and flag.
One of the highlights of his wrestling career was taking on Andre the Giant at a sold-out Madison Square Garden in 1988. "It's something I am proud of," Duggan says.
Quick to say he's not retired yet, Duggan remains active in wrestling. "The window's closing fast," he says. "But I'm a guy (from that era) who can still get in the ring."
Duggan says pro wrestling is a challenging, demanding profession with a hectic schedule. He has wrestled in every state in America, every province in Canada, and 23 countries.
He also says it's not an easy role to score. "I tell the young kids give yourself a time schedule," he says. "You got a better chance of playing in the NFL than you got making it in the WWE."
Duggan, who has been married for 28 years and has two daughters, says pro wrestling gets a bad rap. He says critics form opinions based on things such as the movie "The Wrestler," which depicts a darker side of wrestling.
He characterizes his recently released book, "Hacksaw: The Jim Duggan Story," as a positive look at professional wrestling.
"I live a normal life," he says. "Most of the people who are critical have never seen a show." He encourages naysayers to come out and witness the pageantry and the costumes. "It's a show. You cheer the good guy, boo the bad guy. We usually convert (the critics)."
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan will take on Mustafa Aziz at the Lancaster Championship Wrestling event at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lancaster Host Resort and Conference Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. Also scheduled to appear are Lancaster Heavyweight Champion Bill Bain, Mark "The Red Scorpion" Hazel, Bay City Thrashers, AC ROC, K'ras Van Tasel, Ed House, Zac "The Ripper" Conner, "Sexy Syco" Adrian Bliss and other LCW stars. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Kids 12 and under receive free admission. Tickets are available at lcw-pro.com and at The Comic Store, 28 McGovern Ave., Lancaster.