Hacksaw's still ho(ooo)lding on
Nearly three decades have passed since the 2x4-lugging tough guy "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan first stepped into a ring. Since that time, the Superstar from Glens Falls, N.Y., has seen sports-entertainment evolve from a regional-based business into the global phenomenon it is today. He's also seen hundreds of his colleagues come and go, but somehow, after all this time, Duggan still finds himself a part of the WWE roster.
Pocketing that much time and experience, it's comforting to know that the smile on his face is in fact genuine; the bounce in his step, the optimistic boom in his voice when he screams "Hoooo!" and the sarcastic quips that so effortlessly flow out of his mouth, none of it is fabricated. He's sincere as a person, and earnestly says his second run with WWE has not been taken for granted.
"I never thought I'd be back on the WWE roster full-time," admitted Duggan before heading into action this week on Heat. "WWE officials asked me to come back for Taboo Tuesday in late 2005, and the fans reacted so well that WWE kept bringing me back."
Bringing Duggan back meant yanking him out of "semi-retirement." To some, the term semi-retirement may create an image of the husky, bearded U.S. patriot in blue wrestling tights munching Doritos or whacking golf balls off a red, white and blue tee. But Hacksaw saw his retirement as an opportunity to keep working -- just not in WWE.
"During my ‘semi-retirement' I was working quite a bit; I did a lot of independent shows," he said. "On that level of this business, kids are content with the opportunity to perform in front of an audience and just have a love for wrestling -- like I do," Duggan continued. "It's a very humbling experience, when you go from Madison Square Garden to some American Legion Hall. It made me want to get back to the top pretty badly."
A little more than a year into his return to the top, Duggan realizes just how fortunate he really is. Having competed on independent cards where there were more wrestlers in the auditorium than fans, he knows many young dreams may never become reality.
"Some people don't know or don't realize that this is WWE -- the premier business in this sport," Duggan said. "There are 1,500 NFL football payers, 1,000 NBA basketball players and there are maybe 100, maybe 120 people tops that are under contract with WWE; it's extremely competitive. This time around, I'm enjoying it more and I realize exactly how fortunate I am to be here in WWE."
The word fortunate sticks out in that statement for two reasons. One, the numbers don't lie. The odds of succeeding in such an aggressive company are extremely slim; secondly, that word relates to how lucky Duggan is after what he went through in the ‘90s while he was working with WCW. That's when Duggan was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
"Cancer didn't just affect my career, if affected my whole life," he said. "I went to the doctor thinking I bruised my kidney in the ring, and the doctor tells me that I have cancer. I couldn't believe it; I really couldn't believe it. At this point, I wasn't worried about wrestling; I just wanted to survive.
"I was given six days before my surgery, and I spent that time with my two little girls, Celia and Rebecca, praying and crying," said Duggan. "I didn't want my little girls growing up without a father."
Through early detection of the disease, and by the "grace of God and by the skills of the surgeon," Duggan's life -- and career -- was saved. And it wasn't long before he began to ponder the next phase of his life, which included a return to the ring.
It only took five months before Duggan got back between the ropes. Still, he'd have to wait another six years before he'd be a WWE Superstar again. A 12-year gap in tenure also put "Hacksaw" into a different standing with the new members of the locker room upon his WWE return. He'd been around the block and back, and was not unpacking his ring necessities into the same locker-room tone from the ‘80s.
"You know, back in our day, our shoes would be tied together, we'd have locks on our bag and there'd be all kinds of jokes pulled. But instead, the kids today are very receptive," said Duggan. "The guys today show more respect than they did in the past. I do miss the harmless pranks and stuff like that, but some guys went overboard."
Claiming he's been rejuvenated by the energy of the younger Superstars in the locker room, Duggan says he doesn't see himself putting down his 2x4 or hanging up Old Glory anytime soon.
"I love wrestling; it's what I do," he explained. "If I wasn't wrestling at this level, then I'd be wrestling at another level. Returning to the WWE ranks is number one or number two in terms of my career accomplishments. Working with Andre the Giant at Madison Square Garden in a main event was probably the pinnacle of my career. But at my age, to come back and compete well means the world to me. The most important thing is that the fans are still receptive, and they know when I come down that aisle waving our flag and chanting ‘USA,' that's from my heart."