Passing the Torch

9 May

How things change in 25 years.

In 1987, with kayfabe still going strong, the WWF’s on-screen enemies Hacksaw Jim Duggan, an American working class hero, and the Iron Sheik, an Iranian, were traveling together by car when they were stopped by a police officer who found that they were in possession of marijuana and cocaine. They were promptly fired by an unamused Vince McMahon – in an era of rampant drug abuse, his decision had less to do with the arrest and more to do with the publicity around it, proving that the two were, in fact, friends.

A couple of years later, McMahon changed his approach completely, to the point of making the legal declaration that his product was scripted and matches were predetermined – all in an effort to avoid sports regulations. He then brought back Hacksaw Jim Duggan (and, later, the Sheik – as “Iraqi” Colonel Mustafa), after the Glens Falls native had been told to lie low and wait instead of defecting to WCW – just as Daniel Bryan was told in 2010 to wait it out until his Nexus “tie choke” controversy blew over.

But in a recent interview with Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch, “Hacksaw” claimed the incident stained his career, and as a result he wasn’t given a title run with the Intercontinental, Tag Team, or World championships, he suggests.

Now, even in his 1980s prime, Jim Duggan was a loveable but mediocre brawler famous for his three-point stance charge, “USA!” chants, and cheap pops by carrying “Old Glory” to the ring. The notion that he would have been given a World title run is absurd, even at a time when Vince (understandably) slapped his top belt on a the super-over muscle-bound meat-head, the Ultimate Warrior. The Intercontinental belt seems almost as far-fetched for “Hacksaw,” considering that although, again, the Ultimate Warrior was awarded the strap as prop to keep him over with the fans, that title was normally reserved for technically sound athletes like Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Ravishing Rick Rude, Mr Perfect, Kerry Von Erich, Bret “Hit Man” Hart, and Shawn Michaels.

But that’s not the most important part of the story – just a mere indication of how the otherwise eternally likeable “Hacksaw” has adopted a loose grip on pro wrestling reality.

His eventual switch to WCW coincided with the expiry of his WWF stock after 1993, when Hulk Hogan arrived in Atlanta as WCW’s supposed saviour. Hogan’s penchant for getting all his friends hired – whether best for business or not – was never so evident as in his WCW run, with incoming washed-up WWF rejects such as the Nasty Boys, Honky Tonk Man, Brutus Beefcake, and even Hollywood’s Tom “Tiny” Lister, who co-starred with the Hulkster in the highly suspect big screen project No Holds Barred, which actually seems passable when compared to the motion picture stinkbombs McMahon finances today. Sure enough, Hogan’s flag-waving buddy Jim Duggan joined the ranks as well.

By now in his forties, “Hacksaw” was booked to defeat an immensely talented up-and-coming star by the name of “Stunning” Steve Austin, who exuded charisma, technical wrestling ability, and a “Stun Gun” finishing move on top of an incredible repertoire. He was also ten years Duggan’s junior – approaching the peak of his career.

In a company as corrupt as WCW, which – much like today’s TNA – served only to protect Hulk Hogan’s value and justify his extortionate price tag while employing his sub-par allies , Austin can perhaps be forgiven for rebelling against the system of Eric Bischoff, who’s suffered nothing but failure in almost all of his projects since the demise of the Turner-bankrolled WCW that he structured to revolve around Hogan’s overloaded, overpriced and unsustainable nWo faction.

A disgruntled Austin was fired after a questionable knee injury, and Duggan told PWTorch:

“There was a change in wrestlers’ attitudes then…it wasn’t about passing the torch and what can you do for the company; it was more of a ‘me’ type of time.”

Passing the torch? That’s a laughable statement, not least since time has told and history has judged just how badly Austin was being held back in WCW, whether Bischoff lacked foresight or not – having only ever created one genuine star in Goldberg (arguably a character itself inspired by Austin).

Duggan’s right about one thing, though: it was all about “me, me, me” in WCW in 1994 – which is exactly why, as Hogan’s friend, he was even employed by the company at all. Passing the torch, however, is exactly what should have been done – by him. The suggestion that a young, hungry, gifted wrestler like Austin should have put over a washed-up has-been like Duggan is even more offensive than his kayfabe-busting arrest for drug possession – and was potentially even worse for the industry long-term.

Unfortunately, today’s TNA – and, to a lesser extent, WWE – have not learned from this. Perhaps those in their corridors of power actually nod their heads in understanding of the words of good ol’ “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.

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