JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are very few professional wrestlers who have found a simple gimmick that works with the public and stick with it. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan has done that as successful as anyone for decades. His wrestling gimmick is simple and memorable. It consists of carrying his 2X4 to the ring, raising his thumb and yelling “Hooooo!” and fans loved it. Particularly when the patriotic character followed up with a chant “USA! USA! USA! USA!”
Duggan had a few medical scares over the past few years but is doing fairly well right now and lives with his wife of roughly 40 years Debra. Duggan said he’s outlived a lot of his friends in the wrestling world like “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig but he remains close with others like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Hulk Hogan and Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart.
The home break-in, the 44-Magnum and Tucker Carlson
While Duggan has been living mostly a retired life in recent years he found himself plastered on the front page all over the country right around Christmas last year.
“It was a very terrifying ordeal, it really was, it was right around Christmas time,” said Duggan. “All of a sudden there’s pounding, pounding I could hear it coming from my front porch.” He jumped up and found a 25-year-old stranger tripping over his front step. Duggan says his home is very well known in the area and he was convinced he was the victim of a home invasion.
“I got him by the throat and kept going right back out on the front door with him,” said Duggan. He had a 44-Magnum pistol by his front door that he uses to scare off animals near his home. He grabbed the gun and held it to his intruder until police arrived. “Now he’s screaming ‘help me, help me.’” Turns out the intruder was worried someone was chasing him and he was looking for help. Duggan chose not to press charges on the man for breaking into his home.
That story of a large ex-pro wrestler detaining an intruder with a 44-Magnum caught the attention of the national press. His story was published on numerous websites all over the country and he was invited as a guest on numerous cable news shows. The highest profile of the shows was “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the recently canceled primetime show on the Fox News Channel.
“All the conservative channels really picked it up,” said Duggan. “Of course, Tucker I did the one show with him remotely and we got along so well I went to the studio, spent the day with him at the studio and we visited for quite awhile.”
The portion of the original interview with Carlson that wrestling fans would probably identify the best was the very end when Duggan stopped Tucker and challenged him when he said “Let’s go tough guy. Hooooo!!!” as he ended the interview with his most well known phrase from his wrestling days. Carlson appeared uncertain how to react as Duggan started chanting “USA! USA! USA!”
How he got into wrestling
Unlike many of his contemporaries — “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig — Duggan didn’t come from a wrestling background. And the reality of the industry is it’s hard to get into if your family is not already in it. Dibiase, Roberts and Hennig (just to name a few) had fathers who were all wrestlers. For Jim Duggan, however, his father was the Chief of Police in Glenns Falls, NY. “I joke everywhere else in the world I’m ‘Hacksaw’ Duggan. In Glenns Falls I’m Chief Duggan’s kid.”
He said he was a standout in numerous sports as a youth and his high school shot put record still stands today. Fifty years this year it will still exist as his school. He eventually played college football at Southern Methodist University and eventually the Atlanta Falcons. Along the way he was approached by legendary wrestling promoter Fritz Von Erich in Texas. That led him to the world of professional wrestling. It’s a business he warns is not an easy one to get in. “There’s 1,200 NFL Football players, there’s 500 NBA basketball players, there’s 100 WWE wrestlers. It’s television. It’s more competitive than sports. It’s just not kids from America. It’s kids from Japan, Australia, Europe. Everyone wants one of those 100 spots,” said Duggan.
Sgt. Slaughter, Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan
As the years went by Duggan tried out numerous gimmicks that simply didn’t work with fans until he finally settled on his “Hacksaw” all American gimmick. He believes one reason it worked is he was essentially playing himself. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, that’s not a gimmick,” he said. “What you see is what you get.”
Along the way he worked with all the top wrestlers in the world including Sgt. Slaughter, Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. And there were a lot more than that. But he never held a title. And Duggan was okay with that. “We’re all not lead singers in the band,” Duggan said. “Hogan’s singing and I’m back there playing the drums for 40 years. It’s been a great spot,” he said.
One of Duggan’s early feuds before he adopted the “Hacksaw” gimmick was with Sgt. Slaughter. One of his first matches was for the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) when Vince McMahon Sr. still owned the company before his son Vince Jr. bought it and changed it to the WWF. His ring name at the time was “Big” Jim Duggan and he wore a long gold bath robe. “Trying to get out of the ‘Cobra Clutch’,” he said of Slaughter’s famous finishing move. “Huge spot for a young guy who just got into wrestling. I fought like hell and Sarge put me down. So I’ve known Sarge, we’ve been friends for years.”
One of his favorite memories as a wrestler was competing against Andre the Giant at Madison Square Garden in New York City. “Scary sometimes,” Duggan said about working with Andre who was also known as “The 8th Wonder of the World”. “But I had a good relationship with Andre. I met him as a kid when I was working as ‘The Convict’ a guy with a mask in Hawaii for High Chief Peter Maivia (Dwayne Johnson’s Grandfather) a real young guy back in like 1980.”
Moving to WCW, a cancer diagnosis and Vince Russo
Following his time in WWF, Duggan moved onto World Championship Wrestling (WCW) when Hulk Hogan arrived in the company in the mid 1990′s. Hogan brought in a few of his compatriots like Brutus Beefcake and Jimmy Hart. Duggan had a good run in WCW winning a few titles but that changed years down the road when there was a shift in the writing and producing of WCW programming.
“I enjoyed the early years of WCW until Vince Russo came in,” said Duggan. He’s speaking of Vince Russo who had been a top writer in the competing WWF during their peak of the “Attitude Era” with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Russo was brought into WCW to help reinvigorate their programming which had started struggling in what was called the “Monday Night War” between WCW Nitro and WWF Raw.
“He (Russo) made me the janitor of WCW and I found the TV title in the trash,” Duggan said. He added Russo turned him “heel” which meant a bad guy. Duggan had never played “heel” in wrestling since his national ascent. He was put onto a group called “Team Canada” which was portrayed as an evil faction of Canadian wrestlers.
It turned Duggan “Heel” because his gimmick had been All-American for so many years and this showed he was turning his back on the U.S. Duggan said that was one of many storylines produced by Russo that he feels contributed to WCW’s demise as a company. WCW had been owned by billionaire Ted Turner prior to a Time-Warner merger. Eventually WCW folded and was sold to Vince McMahon in 2001. “You can just imagine Vince Russo took WCW with Ted Turner’s company with Turner Channel, and Turner company and total power of Turner organization and you go to Atlanta and he flushed it all down the toilet.”
But along the way through all these years Duggan got some hard personal news. In 1998 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and was unable to wrestle for a considerable amount of time. Following his recovery he returned to in-ring action and shortly thereafter is when he was given the janitor gimmick.
Current health status
Duggan said early detection in 98 saved his life and he had a kidney removed. But he has had other health issues come up over the years. “After I retired pretty much I had a heart problem. That’s why I dropped so much weight,” said Duggan. “The doc’s like ‘Jim, you don’t see a lot of old heavy guys’. I see your point doc. So I’m supposed to be about 225 now.”
Just in the past year following a physical he got some more bad news from his doctor. “Mr. Duggan you’ve got the most aggressive form of prostate cancer you can have,” he said. “Me and the wife hug each other start crying.”
He went to Charleston, SC for surgery and even after that the cancer remained. Duggan said he struggled with depression following that. But following eight weeks of radiation he says the outlook is good. “Got to ring the bell and feeling great,” he said.
Jim Duggan will be one of dozens of nationally and internationally known wrestlers on hand for River City Wrestling Con at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds on June 10-11.
“Going Ringside” will stream its first live podcast from the event on Saturday June 10th at 4pm. The podcast can be viewed on News4Jax.com, News4Jax+ and the News4Jax YouTube Channel.