Jim Duggan is one of the most loved wrestlers to step foot inside of the squared circle. Duggan’s best known as the American patriot triggering outbreaks of U-S-A chants wherever he goes.
The 59-year-old from Glens Falls, New York most significant moment in WWE came when he became the winner of the first-ever Royal Rumble match in 1988.
We caught up with Duggan to talk about how he came up with the ‘Hacksaw’ gimmick, the highlight of his career, appearing in WWE Legends House plus much more.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
College football had opened the door for me, I’m from a small town in upstate New York quite close to Montreal and I ended up playing my college football in Dallas, Texas. I was nearly recruited out of high school where I still hold the shot put record of 19.73 which has stood for over 40-years, I wrestled in my senior year but football was my number one sport.
It was when I went to college in Dallas, Texas I had a chance meeting with Fritz Von Erich. We hit it off and after I played a couple of years professional football for the Atlanta Falcons and had to quit because of two knee surgeries. That is when I gave Fritz a call, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What was it like working with Fritz Von Erich and getting to know the Von Erich family?
It was great, for them to open up the business for me, back then it was still a very closed business. It was nothing like it is nowadays with thousands of wrestlers, back then there were just a handful of wrestlers throughout the world, it was a very small group so for them to open that door to me was something that later in life I really appreciated.
It was a great opportunity for me, back then I wrestled as ‘Big’ Jim Duggan with short hair and clean-shaven and I wore red and black trunks with a gold bathrobe. I then went from Texas up to the WWWF and worked for Vince McMahon Senior and they told me I might have a future but told me to come up with something other than ‘Big’ Jim and to get rid of the gold bathrobe.
How did the name ‘Hacksaw’ come to fruition?
After the WWWF I went to Hawaii where I worked for Peter Maivia. I actually worked under a mask in Hawaii where I wrestled as The Convict and I still didn’t fully understand the business. I then went to Georgia Championship Wrestling as ‘Big’ Jim Duggan again, then I became ‘Wildman’ Duggan.
It was when I went to San Antonio that I became ‘Hacksaw’, so out of 35-years, 31 of them I have been ‘Hacksaw’. Around the same time, Bruiser Brody and Buck Robley were both big influences on me and I worked with them in San Antonio and that is where the 2×4 came into play.
It was pretty rough in west Texas, people would punch you, spit on you and kick you, so just getting back and forth to the ring was a dangerous proposition for a bad guy. Brody told me to carry something to the ring instead of coming out in the robe and there was just a piece of wood lying there and I just came out swing the 2×4 and it was like parting the Red Sea, I was able to get back and forth to the ring with no problem.
You joined the WWF in 1987 and soon appeared at WrestleMania III, what was that like?
That was a great thrill to be up there in front of 93,000 people and of course my character, I was carrying the American flag and the whole arena was chanting, ‘USA, USA, USA.’ I was out there with Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik, it was just a thrill to be in the ring and that many people cheering you on, it was invigorating.
What was it like being the winner of the first-ever Royal Rumble match in 1988?
It was really exciting and that is kind of my claim to fame, something a lot of people always remember is the winner of the first-ever Royal Rumble match. I was never World Champion, Tag Team Champion or Intercontinental Champion. Winning that first-ever Royal Rumble match was a good spot for me, a nice place to hang my hat.
What were some of the highlights of your time in the WWF?
The pinnacle of my career was wrestling Andre ‘The Giant’ at Main Event at Madison Square Garden. There were over 20,000 people at the Garden, I grew up in New York State and as a kid, I had been to the Garden to watch shows, so to main event at the Garden with Andre was a thrill.
Andre elevated me from a mid-card guy to a main event guy, I was also the only guy to knock him out, I hit him with my 2×4 and knocked him out on television and then all of a sudden I was in the main events. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t want to, that’s for sure.
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What was your time in WCW like?
I had a good time in WCW at the beginning until of course towards the end when Vince Russo came in and they made me the janitor of WCW and turned me against America joining Team Canada. What they were trying to do was push me out of my contract, but this is a business and it is the way I support my family but I wasn’t going to quit, I made it work. As the janitor, one of the highest-rated segments was me cleaning the toilets. I would give it my all, they gave me a toothbrush to clean Russo’s toilet and I got my head down and was scrubbing with water splashing about, I made it a good little spot where people liked it.
Same thing with Team Canada, I would be wrestling with Lance Storm and he’s as vanilla as they come and I’m behind him being ‘Hacksaw’. They called me into the office and said that they were trying to showcase the kids and asked if I could turn my stuff down a little bit. I was like turn my stuff down, tell the boy to turn his shit up, this is the big leagues.
What was it like returning back to WWE in 2005?
It was quite rewarding and it’s is something I’m quite proud of. I was wrestling with Ted DiBiase Jr., Randy Orton, Goldust, and Cody Rhodes, I was wrestling a whole generation younger than me and still entertaining the crowd.
People have no conception of how competitive WWE is. In America, there are about 1,500 NFL players but there are only 120 WWE Superstars, it is an extremely competitive business and to be able to be back on camera and entertain a crowd and get a talent contract at that stage of the game is something I’m really proud of.
You’ve also made several one-off appearances in WWE since 2011, what have they been like?
I think any run with the company is always exciting. The WWE shows like Raw and SmackDown go out worldwide so being at any event with them where the cameras are rolling is a bonus and is beneficial for me personally. Especially when I am taking bookings on the independent scene which I do most weeks.
In 2011 you were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, can you describe the moment?
It was surreal, a lot of folks say they don’t care if they are in the Hall of Fame or not but if you are honest with yourself everybody would like to be in the Hall of Fame. To be remembered and to be honoured by your peers, I was inducted in Atlanta with my whole family there and friends, there was also a lot of fan support.
I had The ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase induct me, he was probably the person who had the biggest influence on my career. I wrestled Ted thousands of times in probably a hundred different countries, he was a second-generation wrestler and was always more polished than I was, he had already been wrestling for 10 years by the time he was 25-years-old.
How would you compare your two bosses, Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff?
There is no real comparison, that is like comparing a diamond and a chunk of coal. Vince McMahon is an absolute master, he is a brilliant man, you take a look at going up against WCW, Ted Turner and that whole organisation. Turner gave us all no-cut contracts; Hulk Hogan, Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, Bret Hart, and myself all went to WCW.
Vince then took all the cast-offs like Triple H and Steve Austin and turned them into global superstars and once again he was on top. You’ve got to give Vince credit, he is not your friend, if you want a friend, go buy a puppy, Vince is your boss. He will use you and make you money but when the time is right he will flush you down the toilet and won’t think twice about it, welcome to the real world.
Who are some of the current WWE wrestlers you enjoy watching?
I’ve always thought Dolph Ziggler would be a hot talent from way back when he was still part of the Spirit Squad. Ryback is almost like a throwback to back in the day and I would like to see him doing well.
Daniel Bryan, you’ve got to give the guy credit, to look at where he has come from you’ve got to be impressed where he has taken himself. Then of course you’ve got a guy like CM Punk, when I first met Punk I knew he was a great talent but I didn’t think he would ever blossom to be the superstar he has become.
What was it like appearing in WWE Legend’s House?
The house was in Palm Springs, California and it was a great opportunity to take part in something like that. I was roommates with Rowdy Roddy Piper for five weeks. You get to know a guy pretty well after spending five weeks with them, the first week we just eye-balled each other but by the second week, it was like summer camp.
Hillbilly Jim was a renaissance man, he cooks, he sings, reads music, plays music, he was quite a character. Howard Finkel, Pat Patterson were all great. I didn’t get on too well with Tony Atlas, we almost had two fistfights over the five-week period. Overall we all had a lot of fun!
For more information on Hacksaw, you can follow him on Twitter @OfficialHacksaw.