"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan has put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces over the course of a career that has spanned 35 years. With his iconic "Hoooo!" and his thumb held proudly in the air, Duggan was a beloved midcard staple for decades, settling into a comfortable role as a wrestling journeyman after a run as one of the WWE's top babyfaces during the promotion's 1980's boom.
But while many fans will remember him as a perpetually enthused, slightly slow, flag waving, two-by-four carrying comedy character, those who grew up in the southwest have a very different set of memories.
Competing for legendary tough-guy promoter Bill Watts in Mid South Wrestling, Duggan was one of the most feared and respected men in the business. As both a babyface and a heel, he split heads and spilled blood up and down a territory that stretched from Oklahoma all the way to Mississippi.
Bleacher Report had a chance to sit down with Duggan to talk about his heyday with Watts, his time with Vince McMahon during wrestling's mainstream explosion and his recent return to prominence as one of eight old-school superstars on the WWE Network's instant classic reality show Legends' House (subscription required).
Bleacher Report: Recently WWE put out a new Mid South Wrestling DVD and it's filled with so many great "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan moments and memories. One of the first things I saw was you in the gorilla suit running in to attack the late, great Junkyard Dog.
We think about Bill Watts, the owner of Mid South, as this wrestling traditionalist. Were you surprised, in the middle of a run in that hardcore territory filled with tough guys, that someone wanted you to put on a costume?
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan: It fit right in with my personality. As you can see in Legend's House, I like to be silly, I like to do crazy things. That gorilla suit was one of my fondest memories. I was out in front of the arena with a whole bunch of balloons. The fans had no clue I was a bad guy "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. When Junkyard Dog got knocked out in the ring, I helped him up, brushed him off, he turned around and boom. I hit him on the back of the head and pulled that gorilla mask off.
People were shocked. "It's Duggan. It's cockeyed Duggan." (Laughs).
Bleacher Report: People, when they talk about wrestling in the 1980's, talk about Hulk Hogan as the ultimate good guy. But when I'm watching this footage from the Mid South territory, the guy you laid out there, the Junkyard Dog, was as hot a babyface as I've ever seen in wrestling. What's it like to work against a guy like that? Does it make it easier to have the crowd more invested? Or is there more pressure?
Duggan: So much easier. When you've got somebody like Junkyard Dog who was hot down there in the Mid South territory or the Hulkster was hot all over the world—to be able to get in the ring with somebody like that, you had heat just walking down to the ring. You didn't have to beat him up too much. (Laughs).
B/R: The match of yours that stands out to this day, and is on that set, had every stipulation you could imagine.
Duggan: (Laughs). Ted DiBiase.
B/R: Exactly. There's a coal-miner's glove. It's loser-leaves-town. You're in a steel cage. And to top it all off you're in a tuxedo. I don't think there are any stipulations you guys left out of that match. Who's the genius who came up with that match?
Duggan: I think that was Bill Dundee's. He worked for Bill Watts as the booker and came out of that Memphis territory with Jerry Lawler. He came up with all that crazy stuff and we sold out a lot of the arenas throughout the southwest with that.
Like you said, it was loser leaves town, dressed in tuxedos, inside a steel cage with a coal-miner's glove on a pole.
B/R: Way up on a pole.
Duggan: On a 10-foot pole. We had all the bases covered.
B/R: I watch that match with different eyes today on that Blu Ray. Because while I see all the drama, the moment he rips the buttons off your tuxedo I'm thinking, man, Duggan isn't getting his deposit back for that rental now.
Duggan: (Laughs) I think the Mid South people bought us a few different tuxedos. It all started as a best-dressed-man contest. Ted DiBiase, he was a dapper guy. Even before he was the million-dollar man he had creases in his pants. You know me. My shirt's always untucked, my tie's crooked.
So, that's how it started. It led into the match to end all matches.
B/R: How was it for you, in this blood and guts wrestling territory, to move to the WWF at the time and play a slightly different version of the same character. Was that a challenge for you?
Duggan: You know, when I first came in I was pretty much the Hacksaw folks remember. Knocking Andre the Giant out with my two-by-four and battling some of the guys. But as time went on I kind of evolved.
By the time I was the "King of Wrestling," I was going to the ring I had the cape, the crown, the flag, the board, the thumb, the tongue, the "Ho!" and the crossed eyes. I came to the back and Jay Strongbow, the agent, said "You might want to be a little more serious in the ring." You've got to be kidding. Look what I'm carrying.
B/R: You were the "Tuxedo Cage Match" of gimmicks.
Duggan: Bobby Heenan kept going "Vince, Duggan needs an eagle. Get him an eagle." I was like "Bobby, please shut up!"
B/R: (Laughs) That would have been so awesome. It was hard enough traveling with a two-by-four I imagine, let alone an eagle. Did you carry it on the plane or did you have to pick up a new one in every town?
Duggan: Usually in North America I would try to find one at the arena or get one from the crew off their trucks. It was an old joke. I traveled with Jake "The Snake" Roberts and we'd walk into the arena and I'd say "Can somebody get me a two-by-four and him a 10-foot python."
Duggan: You could find a board laying around anywhere.
B/R: Not so much with the python.
Duggan: (Laughs) Yeah.
B/R: Now you've been whacking people with that two-by-four for going on 30 years now. Have you ever slipped up, gone too far and thought "man, I think I hit that guy way too hard with this board!"
Duggan: Yeah. And talk about the worst guy in the world you want to hit hard with a board. I whacked Andre the Giant with it and I could hear that I really got him. He was so big it was hard to judge. I hit him and he made a strange noise. So I exited stage left out of the ring real quick.
B/R: I can imagine, even in those later years where Andre was struggling with his mobility and health, that he was still a terrifying human being to stand across the ring from. He was just so huge.
Duggan: I'm sure you saw the movie The Princess Bride. They needed a giant and they got Andre. I said "that's perfect casting."
But he could be an irritable giant too. I remember getting on planes and sitting next to business men who would complain about their tough day at the office. I'd say "brother, let me tell you."
B/R: (Laughs). Those TPS reports don't quite compare to an angry giant. Now, I've been watching Legends' House (subscription required) and it's a lot of fun. I got to that last episode though, and it really threw me. That was really emotional. What was it like for you to show a vulnerable side we've never really seen from you?
Duggan: I don't think that was anything that was really planned. That just goes to show how close the eight of us, or the seven of us and Tony (Atlas), got over that period of time, being away from our families and just being together.
I don't' think anyone expected that episode to go the way it did. I think Jimmy (Hart) started the ball rolling when he shared what had happened in his life and I told a story I very seldom tell. It was very traumatic for me. And then Pat went. It just goes to show how close we became.
B/R: You guys just filmed a reunion episode. I know when you left the house, you were all ready for some space. A couple of years later, what was it like getting back together with the whole gang?
Duggan: It was great to see everybody. It was the first time all eight of us have been together since. I had seen (Roddy) Piper an Jimmy Hart on the road and I've talked to Hillbilly (Jim) on the phone, but for the eight of us to get together again was a lot of fun.
It was even kind of good to see Tony. The first two minutes.
B/R: As you look back, you're an official WWE legend, a WWE Hall of Famer and a giant of this business. How do you want fans to remember you?
Duggan: I think the character is just an extension of my personality. My old buddy Bret Hart always said "I'm the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be." I always say "I'm Hacksaw Duggan. I try hard."
Duggan: I think that people saw that in me. That's why I can still go to the ring today. People see Hacksaw is an extension of my personality. What's out there is genuine. When I'm cheering "USA, USA" it's coming from the heart.
Jim Duggan is the star of WWE Legends' House, available in its entirety all day every day on demand to WWE Network subscribers. Jonathan Snowden, Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer, is the author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling and is a lifelong wrestling fan.