Hacksaw Jim Duggan had a hunch.

Hooooo! Thumbs up for Hacksaw Duggan in the WWE Hall of Fame.

“The week before I got a heads-up from (WWE Executive Vice-President of Talent Relations) John Laurinaitis, saying I might want to watch Monday Night Raw just in case something special might happen,” Jim Duggan recently told SLAM! Wrestling from his home, nestled in the backwoods of South Carolina.

It was indeed something special — the announcement that Duggan would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2011. “Yeah, I kind of had an inkling, ’cause you always hear rumours and stuff, but you never know if it’s a done deal until you hear it on the show — then it’s official,” said Duggan. “And I’ll tell ya, after 30-plus years in the business, to be inducted into that hall of fame, it’s something really special.”

Armed with strength, patriotism, and the most iconic piece of lumber ever carried, Duggan has wrestled in 22 countries including Austria, Australia, the Bahamas, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. “I’ve wrestled in every state of the union, and every province in Canada including the Northwest Territories,” said Duggan. “Bermuda, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guam, the Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Japan — for All Japan and New Japan. I’ve been around.”

Having already had a strong college football career and a brief stint in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, Duggan broke into the wrestling business in Dallas and was discovered by Fritz Von Erich. It was Georgia though where Duggan would meet his long-time friend, Ted DiBiase, who will have the honours of inducting Hacksaw into the WWE Hall of Fame.

“I think it was in ’81, in Atlanta, when I first met Jim,” DiBiase, himself a WWE Hall of Famer, told SLAM! Wrestling from his home in Clinton, Missouri. “He was a heel and fresh out of his run in pro football, and it was Tommy Rich and I against Jim in a tag match with somebody in what we call a spot show.

Hacksaw Duggan’s brief flirtation with Canada came in WCW.

“I remember locking up with Jim and it was like locking up with a vice grip,” DiBiase recalled with a laugh. “And I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, did anybody tell this guy that this is a work?’ He backed me into the corner and the referee says ‘Break,’ and it was funny ’cause I didn’t do anything else. We broke the hold and I just walked over and tagged Tommy, and he looked at me and I said, ‘He’s all yours’ pal.’ Jim and I laugh about that now.

“Oh my gosh, we were partners, we were enemies, and then we were partners again,” DiBiase added. “He was one of the most colourful characters I think our business has ever had. And on top of all that, Jim is a big-hearted guy.”

Clearly, the admiration is mutual. “I couldn’t ask for a better guy to induct me, I mean, of all the people I’ve wrestled in the world, Teddy and I wrestled each other more than we did anyone else,” said Duggan. “From the early ’80s all the way up to 2000, we had hundreds of matches over the years. We just always seemed to pair up well together from down in Mid-South to WrestleMania with Andre [the Giant] in his corner. Teddy and I always worked well together.”

DiBiase concurred: “The thing is, Jim and I could go into a match together and the people would be screaming for him and booing me, and we’d be up there of course taking care of business, but in the midst of business we’d be telling jokes,” said DiBiase with a chuckle. “I remember one time I got one of my front teeth knocked out, and so I got a partial — where the thing slips in and slips out — and of course, you know anybody else with any sense would never go into the ring with that thing. They would take it out for the match, but I guess I was too vain to be seen with one of my front teeth missing, right?

“So I wore the thing and Jim gave me this move where you pick the guy up and drop him — we used to call it an ass bump or turd stomper — and my backside would hit his knee and then I vaulted myself out onto the floor. But when I did, that partial came flying out of my mouth, and gosh it was funny.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, where is it?’ and Jim says, ‘Hey, did you lose something?’ Jim grabs me and he’s got me in a headlock, and it looks like he’s mauling me, but he’s actually helping me put my partial back in my mouth. He’s just a real good guy.”

A beloved performer everywhere he wrestles, Duggan’s trademark battle cry of “Hoooooo!” can still be heard occasionally on WWE TV and on various independent shows around the world.

“I get an awful lot of respect from the young guys today, who remember when ol’ Hacksaw won the first-ever Royal Rumble match,” Duggan said, the pride obvious in his voice. “Being a guy my age, from that golden era, I’ve had an opportunity to wrestle Orton’s kid, Dusty’s boy, get in the ring with Neidhart’s daughter, and wrestle Ted Jr., even. So, to be wrestling my contemporaries’ kids was quite a thrill.

“And the young people are very interested to hear about our work schedule back in the ’80s,” Duggan added. “No guys were under contract back then, you worked, you got paid, so you tried to work as often as you could. So I tell them, I went over 60 days straight without a day off. And a lot of guys worked over a hundred. It was a lifestyle. It wasn’t really a job, you lived on the road.”

Sgt. Slaughter approves of Hacksaw Duggan at the 2009 Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas. Photo by Mike Lano.

It was a road that had its ups and downs, said Duggan: “My three best friends are dead, of course — Gino Hernandez, Terry Gordy, and ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams, just recently,” he said with a touch of melancholy. “So, my best friends in the business have already gone.”

Duggan has faced health issues himself, diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1998. “So of course, me being a cancer survivor makes this Hall of Fame honour mean even a little more,” he said. His charity work is being recognized with the Frank Gotch Award at the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, in July.

Reflecting back on three decades in wrestling — primarily as an All-American hero and immensely popular, lovable tough guy — Duggan acknowledged the support he received from not only friends like Hernandez, Gordy, Williams and DiBiase, but legends like Andre the Giant. “Andre, of course, he elevated me to a different level,” Duggan said of their memorable, hard-hitting and bloody feud in the WWE. “Me being the only man to ever knock out Andre the Giant with a 2×4, that went over huge — so he and I had a good rapport. I think he appreciated somebody fighting back instead of just being afraid of him, so me and Andre had some good matches and I am grateful to him.”

Duggan’s history with the WWE can be traced all the way back to when it was the WWWF. “Yeah, I started here working for Vince McMahon Sr.,” he said. “I was wrestling as Big Jim Duggan, with red and black trucks and a long gold bathrobe. I was in the opening matches up there and the first main thing I did on camera was try to get out of the cobra clutch challenge from Sgt. Slaughter.

“I had short hair, was clean shaven and was a totally different character back then. But it was where I really started learning the business of professional wrestling,” added Duggan, who years later would return to the WWF and make his pay-per-view debut at WrestleMania III.

With a 2×4 slung over his shoulder and a red, white, and blue flag gripped tightly in his hand, Duggan defended America’s honour against dastardly foreign villains like Nikolai Volkoff, Iron Sheik, Kamala, Dino Bravo and Yokozuna. It could be said that no wrestler in history was as unwaveringly patriotic as Duggan.

DiBiase concluded on the legacy of Hacksaw Jim Duggan: “Jim is one of those guys who was never recognized as a great technical wrestler and his skills were pretty basic. It was a headlock, an armlock and a board across the head, but that was his strength,” said DiBiase. “If you were to walk down the street at the time and pick anybody at random, and ask them to name some famous wrestlers, Jim would be one of those names.

“He was as much a character off screen as he was in the ring. Jim is a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy.'”

Fittingly for Hacksaw Jim Duggan, the inspiring chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A!” will surely ring loud and clear when he takes his place in the WWE Hall of Fame in Atlanta, celebrating an exceptional career as one of wrestling’s most recognizable stars. “My life has come full circle, as I’m now doing the indie circuit. That’s where I started, doing small shows,” said Duggan, who does numerous autograph signings, golf tournaments and charity events throughout the year. “I still love being in the ring. I can still perform. I still have an opportunity to tell the fans thanks for the support.

“The Hall of Fame weekend is going to be a lot of fun. I’m thinking I might get a Twitter account and start Twittering the whole experience. I figure people might enjoy reading that.”

Another good hunch, Hacksaw.

— with files from Blaine van der Griend

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