By G. Michael Dobbs
Hacksaw Jim Duggan has beat the odds. He has been in professional wrestling for 30 years an easy profession and he has survived kidney cancer.
Talk with him for five minutes and despite the challenges of his life and profession, he is still enthusiastic about it.
Duggan will be the star attraction at a benefit for the Chicopee Boys and Girls Club on Sept. 25, as part of an evening of wrestling presented by Big Time Wrestling.
Duggan -- who recently ended his long career in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) -- said he is looking forward to working in independent promotions such as this one.
"It's a whole lot of fun," he said in a telephone interview last week.
Duggan, known for his huge personality and the sizable length of a 2 by 4 inch stud he carries into the ring, said the smaller promotions offer wrestling entertainment with an emphasis on what is going on in the ring, instead of a soap opera back story.
He added that he is concerned about some elements of the national wrestling programs that are not family-friendly, while shows put on by regional promoters are still good family entertainment.
Duggan, born in 1954, played football for Southern Methodist University and then turned pro with the Atlantic Falcons. A knee injury ended his football career and he was recruited into professional wrestling by Fritz Von Erich.
He wrestled in regional promotions until he was signed by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) -- the WWE's predecessor -- in 1987.
He said the biggest change he has seen through his career is the shift from 10 to 12 regional wrestling promotions across the country to one: the WWE.
Working for the WWF and WWE has brought Duggan to every state in this country, every province in Canada and 25 counties.
"It's crazy, the reach of the WWE," he said.
While the attention paid him through a WWE contract has been beneficial, he noted that when he started, there were a lot more people wrestling because of the number of regional promotions.
The competition to be part of the WWE has increased. He noted there are only about 100 wrestlers signed to the WWE, as opposed to 1,500 people playing in the National Football League.
He explained, "There's no set formula to make it in the WWE." He added that wrestlers with different styles and personas have found success.
Athletic ability is only part of what's needed, as he said a professional wrestler has to know how to talk as well.
So how did he acquire his trademark 2-by-4? Early in his career, Duggan said when professional wrestling hadn't yet evolved into "sports entertainment," the fans could be a bit dangerous.
He wondered about some sort of additional protection and fellow wrestler Bruiser Brody said to him, "whatever you carry [into the ring] make sure is something you can use," Duggan recalled.
Duggan chose a section of a 2-by-4, which he said could be used in a rowdy crowd to "part the Red Sea."
While wrestling can both be lucrative and appealing, Duggan said being a wrestler is "hard on your family" because of the amount of time wrestlers are away. Many people have had "trouble with the road," he said.
He added for all of the shows in big venues, such as Madison Square Garden in Nee York City, many more are in small towns throughout the country.
The highpoint in his career was wrestling the late Andre the Giant at Madison Square Garden. He called it a "super thrill."
"There was only one Andre the Giant," he said.
Doors open for the evening of wrestling at the Boys and Girls Club at 6 p.m., with bell time at 7 p.m. Tickets for the event are available online at www.big-time-wrestling.com and are also on sale at the Boys and Girls Club of Chicopee, 580 Meadow St., at Cabot Liquor Store, 220 Exchange St. or by calling 877-769-8587.
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