Hacksaw Jim Duggan on the WWE, nicknames and Madison Square Garden
In our exclusive interview, the WWE hall-of-famer talks through his career and what it felt like to win the inaugural Royal Rumble.
In an exclusive Q+A with Betway online casino, legendary former wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan opens up about what it was like wrestling in the '80s and '90s and where his nickname actually came from.
Where did the Hacksaw nickname come from?
“I actually started my career in Dallas, Texas with Fritz Von Erich, and he brought me in. Back then, it was a closed business.
“If you weren’t somebody’s son or nephew, you didn’t get in, but Fritz gave me the huge gift of professional wrestling.
“I started off as Big Jim Duggan, with red and black trunks and short hair. When I was back home visiting my family in New York, the WWF was running a show in my hometown and they thought they’d use me and liked what they saw.
“They called me into the office with Vince McMahon Sr. Everybody was smoking cigars, it was a real mafioso-type atmosphere.
“I’m a young kid, short hair, clean shaven and I wore a long gold bathrobe to the ring to try and dress it up a bit.
“So I go into the office with Vince Sr. sitting there and he’s like, ‘Kid, you might have a future in the business, but come up with something better than Big Jim and get rid of that bathrobe!’
“I went to Hawaii, Georgia and Pensacola and changed my gimmick each time until a break in San Antonio, working with Bruiser Brody.
“I used to cut through the wedge in my football days and Brody suggested, ‘How about Hacksaw?’
“Yeah, let’s try it, and that’s where I developed the character.”
You entered and won the first Royal Rumble, but how did you prepare for what was a brand-new event at the time?
“Back then, preparation wasn’t really anything like it is today. Right after a show, we were in a car headed to do another show.
“We said, ‘Hey, that was a great pay-per-view’ and would start thinking about the next one.”
Did you have any idea it would become as big as it is today?
“Nobody realised the WWE would become this huge worldwide powerhouse that it is today, let alone the Royal Rumble.
“The appeal of professional wrestling is amazing. In the States, I do a lot of charity work with NFL and MLB guys.
“They say they’re world champions and I always ask, ‘Where in the world do you fellas go?’ They say that they went to London once, and I’m like, ‘That’s like going to the west coast.’
In my 40 years of wrestling, I’ve wrestled in every state, every province in Canada, right up by the Arctic Circle and in 31 different countries.”
Where does winning the Royal Rumble rank in your career achievements?
“Probably number two.
“The Royal Rumble was obviously the biggest feather, but as a kid I grew up in upstate New York in a small town.
“I had a loving, supporting family and my dad would bring me to New York City, about 250 miles away, to see the circus at Madison Square Garden.
“As an adult, you can only imagine the thrill to bring my dad down to New York City, to Madison Square Garden and see Hacksaw Jim Duggan versus Andre the Giant on the marquee.
“My dad was my best man at my wedding, the best man I’ve ever met and that was a thrill that will stay with me to the day I die.”
How did you feel when you had won it and realised the enormity of what you had achieved?
“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.
“I think that’s what helped my longevity in the business because it’s very competitive.
“If kids say they want to be a wrestler, especially in America, I tell them to chase their dreams because you never know.
“But if you’re looking at it as a business, this year there are 1,500 NFL football players, 500 NBA basketball players, but just 100 WWE wrestlers.
“You’ve got kids from the UK, Australia, Japan, Mexico, everybody’s coming in, they all want to be a WWE wrestler.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world and it’s hard to survive, so you’ve got to give guys that make it to the top credit, and the WWE is the top.”
How friendly were you with the people you were competing with outside of the ring?
“It’s not like it’s open hostility or I’m like, ‘You dirty son of a gun’, but it’s big business.
“I get along with Hulk Hogan, he’s not a bad guy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not envious of his spot, and I’m going to do everything I can to get his spot.
“Everybody behind me wants my spot, it’s a competitive business, but it’s not like you’re going to cut somebody’s tyres or something like that.
“It’s like any profession, you have a few good friends, a lot of acquaintances and a couple of enemies.”
You were in at #13, but is it better to be drawn earlier or later in the Royal Rumble?
“It’s always better to come in later. You’re fresher than the guys who have been out there longer.
“People talk about 15 or 20 minutes in the ring, that’s a long time. I’ve only done one-hour time limit draws a few times.
“That was with [Ric] Flair when he was world champion. I was dragging at the end of an hour because it’s a long time.
“But you’re in front of millions of people, thousands in the arena cheering you on, you do get an adrenaline rush.
“You can be backstage after your travelling had been screwed up, you’re five hours late, it’s snowing, the hotel has been horrible, there’s no food, your bags are late and you’re in the back lacing up your boots like, ‘Jeez, how am I going to do it?’
“All of a sudden, boom, you hear your music, the curtain opens up, you step out and the place is going crazy and it’s like a shot of adrenaline.”
What was the hardest part of the Royal Rumble that you won?
“Just staying in the ring.
“There were a couple of times, I was bouncing on the top rope and it could have gone either way.
“But I always think it’s like when you’re competing in any sport, you think, ‘I can pull this out, I’m down 20 points and I can still win it.’
“I never gave up hope and it’s the biggest feather in Hacksaw’s cap.”
How do you think wrestling has changed over the years?
“The whole business has changed.
“Back then, you didn’t have 200 channels to choose from, you almost had to watch wrestling. It was wrestling, a game show or the news.
“I think the kids are much more professional nowadays. Nobody’s sleeping on the floor back there and nobody’s out partying all night.
“When I was with the WWE in Australia after my comeback, I was down in the hotel bar, there were young women down there and the booze was free.
“I was sitting around and none of the boys were down there. I heard a bunch of noise on our floor, open the door and they’re all in there playing a video game.
“What the hell? Different times.”