Brandishing a 2×4 and bellowing his iconic proclamation of “Hoooo,” to call “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan well-known would be underselling his presence. In fact, from the late 1980s through the 90s, Duggan was one of the most recognizable wrestlers in the United States. Though his title victories, on a mainstream level, were few and far between, his longevity as a wrestler and personality speaks for itself. For as iconic as he was, however, getting his foot in the door was far from straightforward.
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan – Professional Wrestling’s Stouthearted Patriot
Prior to getting involved in professional wrestling, Jim Duggan was a star athlete, having competed in several sports. However, it was football where Duggan seemed destined to compete. After graduating from high school, he played at Southern Methodist University in University Park, Texas, eventually becoming team captain. Following his higher education pursuits, Duggan was recruited by the Atlanta Falcons, though his time with the team was short due to knee injuries. A chance encounter with a well-known name in professional wrestling would change Duggan’s trajectory forever.
“I actually started my career in Dallas, Texas with Fritz Von Erich, and he brought me in,” Duggan told Betway Insider in their exclusive interview with the legendary wrestler. “If you weren’t somebody’s son or nephew, you didn’t get in, but Fritz gave me the huge gift of professional wrestling.” Duggan trained under the patriarch of the Von Erich family during the late 1970s before catching the eye of World Wrestling Federation promoter Vince McMahon, Sr.; Duggan wouldn’t sign with the WWF until roughly a decade later.
Though Duggan worked for such organizations as Mid-South Wrestling and New Japan Pro-Wrestling in the preceding years, it was in the WWF where he enjoyed the lion’s share of his popularity. He embodied the heart and soul of the American working man, albeit in an over-the-top fashion that endeared him to wrestling fans at that time. Duggan entered notable feuds with such men as Haku, Harley Race, and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Though these feuds helped elevate Duggan at different points during his time with the company, one landmark in particular guaranteed his legacy in wrestling.
Along Came the Royal Rumble
On January 24, 1988, the World Wrestling Federation held its inaugural Royal Rumble. The premise was simple: 20 men compete in a single match, attempting to throw one another over the top rope to eliminate them; the final man standing would be declared the winner. From Harley Race to Jake Roberts to Bret Hart to The Ultimate Warrior, this match wasn’t short on star power. However, after last eliminating One Man Gang, Duggan stood victorious as the winner of the first-ever Royal Rumble.
“Nobody realised the WWE would become this huge worldwide powerhouse that it is today, let alone the Royal Rumble,” Duggan told Betway Insider. Since 1988, the Royal Rumble match has become a professional wrestling institution, even outside of the boundaries of the company that would become World Wrestling Entertainment. Currently, Duggan looks back on this landmark victory with fondness and nostalgia, having told Betway Insider, “There’s a picture of me on my knees with both of my hands in the air. I think you can look at my face and see the expression of shock, joy and elation right there.”
Following his departure from the WWF, Duggan made his way to World Championship Wrestling in 1994. Unlike the WWF, Duggan captured gold in the Turner-owned WCW, specifically the company’s United States Heavyweight and World Television titles. Furthermore, Duggan maintained his patriotic demeanor up until 2000, when he joined Team Canada led by Lance Storm. Though this alliance was short-lived, it puzzled many fans, especially those that have watched Duggan throughout the years as he proudly waved the Star-Spangled Banner.
After the WWF purchased WCW in March of 2001, Duggan toured the independent wrestling scene and appeared in conventions the world over. This isn’t to say, however, that his time in mainstream wrestling was over. In the years that followed, Duggan was not only prevalent in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling but even returned to WWE as an esteemed company alumnus. Whether in Royal Rumble matches or comedic segments featuring other legends, Duggan’s appearances never failed to receive positive reactions from audiences.
WWE honored Duggan outside of the squared circle, too. In 2011, Duggan joined the company’s Hall of Fame. Roughly three years later, Duggan took part in the short-lived WWE Network reality show entitled Legends’ House. This show, which ran for one season, featured other names from yesteryear including Pat Patterson, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Those with only a passing interest in pro wrestling may be unaware of the fact that Jim Duggan is a cancer several multiple times over. Roughly 20 years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which he beat. However, this past October, he revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis; fortunately, by December, it was announced that he was cancer-free. Now at 68 years old, having enjoyed an extensive career and undergone positive and negative life experiences alike, the former Falcons recruit seems to look at the modern wrestling landscape with optimism.
“I think the kids are much more professional nowadays. Nobody’s sleeping on the floor back there and nobody’s out partying all night,” Duggan shared with Betway Insider. Though the wrestling world is different from the one that Duggan was in the proverbial trenches for, during his time, his contributions to the industry can’t be ignored. The fact that the average old-school wrestling fan will immediately associate a plank of wood, of all things, with the WWE Hall of Famer is a testament in and of itself. He may not be a multi-time world titleholder, but “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan a legend all his own.