JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When you think of iconic American wrestlers who were immediately recognizable with the general public you often reserve that for the likes of Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. But for a time the Bushwhackers were in that category.
Their story started half a world away in New Zealand more than 60 years ago. That’s when two young wrestlers named Luke Williams and Butch Miller began their wrestling careers and eventually teamed up to form a tag team called The Kiwis. “But no one knew what a Kiwi was,” said Williams. “A Kiwi is New Zealanders. That’s a nickname for New Zealanders.” He says to deal with the confusion they changed their team name to the Sheepherders because of the large amount of sheep in New Zealand.
Williams said one of their first notable feuds while still in New Zealand came in 1969 when they started wrestling Andre The Giant. At that point Andre was still getting his start in the wrestling scene and eventually on his way to becoming the best known wrestler on Earth. They say he was much thinner and more athletic than what younger fans probably remember. The would wrestle him in what are called “handicap” matches — two on one. “He’d sit on both of us,” said Williams. “I’ve got photos of us in body scissors. And he’s got his legs around the both of us.”
Wrestling all over the world
Soon after this the Kiwis/Sheepherders started wrestling all over the world taking on the most famous wrestlers on the planet. They feuded with wrestlers like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Rocky Johnson (Dwayne Johnson’s father) and Abdullah The Butcher. They also started to form the style of wrestling known as “hardcore”. This style became more nationally known in the 1990′s when ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) became popular but Williams says he was doing this decades earlier. “In the 70′s we were doing chain matches,” said Williams. “Fire matches, barbed wire matches, all that kinds of stuff. From the late 70′s onward.”
Along the way the team had some run ins with young wrestlers when they were still children. Two of the most notable ones were Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bret “Hitman” Hart. As for the Rock they said he was nothing like the massive muscular guy he is today. “The son was in New Zealand in school when he was seven years of age,” said Williams of The Rock. “Tall and skinny, look at him now.”
They also had an interesting run in with a very young Bret “Hitman” Hart in Calgary where his father Stu ran Stampede Wrestling. “The Hart kids were selling programs around the ring,” said Williams. “And Abdullah threw them in and said put the boots to them. We didn’t know who they were. But we knew Abdullah. So we put the boots to the kids. It wasn’t until we got out of the ring and went to the dressing room that this guy stopped us who we never met before. This was our first time we’d met him and it was Stu Hart and he said ‘What the **** are you doing to my kids?’”
Eventually the team got a lot of national recognition when they were brought into the NWA’s World Championship Wrestling promotion. That was the second tier promotion in the United States behind the WWF. This was in the latter half of the 1980′s and they feuded with the likes of the Rock & Roll Express and Four Horsemen. That really introduced them to a U.S. audience as wrestling was changing and the WWF and WCW remained the only primary U.S. wrestling promotions.
Arrive in the WWF
At the end of 1988 the Bushwhackers were finally brought up to the peak of the industry, the World Wrestling Federation. This was as the company was well into its “Golden Age” on the back of Hulk Hogan. When they arrived in the WWF their character development shifted to more of a comedic tone. They catered their act to appeal to children and families. And it worked. Really, really well.
While they lost many matches and were never really in the title hunt, they received incredible on camera recognition. They were in backstage segments, commercials and every sort of promotion the WWF offered to top-level talent. This was the case because they really connected with children who were the prime demographic WWF targeted before the late 1990′s.
To show how successful they had been in ingratiating themselves to the young audience the WWF took to major chances on them in 1994. The first involved the hit TV series “Family Matters”. At the time that was a top level sitcom in the country. The star, Jaleel White played the nerdy character Steve Urkel. One one episode Urkel needed to enter a wrestling match and the Bushwhackers were brought in to face him on an episode of the hit sitcom. “When you were in NWA you were a wrestler,” said Williams. “When you were in WWE you became a celebrity and that was the big difference.”
And it didn’t stop at hit sitcoms. In 1994 WWF sent the Bushwhackers to the White House for the White House Easter Egg Roll. They were there with then-President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. There’s even a famous shot that was on WWF Raw at the time of Bushwhacker Butch licking “Socks” the Cat (the Clinton family cat). Luke addresses that in the podcast.
Bushwhacker Butch passes away
Following their primary run in the WWF and eventually as the company became WWE they would return sporadically in a “legends” capacity and were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. They continued to wrestle all over the world and have remained recognizable wherever they go.
Sadly, this past April right before WrestleMania Butch Miller passed away at the age of 78. During the podcast Luke talks about losing his decades-long partner. “In April this year, the end of March, before WrestleMania in Los Angeles. He stopped taking a pill. A water pill,” said Williams. “Because he didn’t want to get up and down from signing. He stopped for four days the water went around his lungs and went to his heart.”
Despite the loss of his partner, Luke Williams continues touring around the world for wrestling conventions meeting fans and seeing his old friends from the world of wrestling.
We also discuss John Cena’s future on this episode
Following our interview with Williams we’ll have a lengthy discussion on the future of WWE legend John Cena.
Cena lost his last match at the WWE Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia this past weekend. There has been considerable online speculation that this was his last match. Much of that is due to a belief that the Hollywood Actor’s Strike may soon end and he could go back to acting which has become his primary job as he’s gradually stepped away from wrestling over the past decade.