Some people say that one can never go home again. But for those who attended Saturday’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling event at Bradwell Institute, it certainly felt like home as fans were treated to some old-school professional wrestling.
The first strains of Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA” kicked off “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan’s patented march to the ring. Armed with his trademark fresh-cut, shimmering, white-pine two-by-four, he let out his famous catchphrase — “Hooooooo!” — and the 300-plus fans stood as one.
Billed from Glen Falls, New York, Duggan was a four-sport athlete in high school, including becoming the New York state wrestling champion in an unlimited weight class. He was elected captain of the Southern Methodist University football team in the 1970s. Duggan was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, but his pro-football hopes dashed because of bad knees.
However, he trained with professional-wrestling icon Fritz Von Erich while at SMU and began in smaller regional operations before vaulting to the then-Worldwide Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). A product of the final days of the Cold War, “Hacksaw” Duggan was a super-patriot often cast against Soviet-styled wrestlers like Nikolai Volkoff. Featured alongside Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant and other big-name wrestlers of the 1980s, “Hacksaw” had action figures made of him, toured across the world and had matches on pay-per-view.
Although he once performed some of the biggest venues, Duggan entered Bradwell’s arena Saturday with the same zeal and glass-half-full enthusiasm as if he had walked into the Omni in the 1980s. It also came years after one of his toughest matches ever — defeating kidney cancer.
Saturday’s lineup also included Marietta native Marc “Buff” Bagwell and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promoter and champion Rikki Nelson.
New generations of wrestlers may hope to achieve what Duggan and Bagwell have done in the industry. One of those wrestlers is Elliot Russell, who originally is from Morristown, Tennessee, and now lives in the Atlanta area.
“I played football as an offensive tackle. I was bigger then, but I still dead-lift 500 pounds,” he said. “It’s about strength, obviously, but we focus more now on nutrition and different workouts. I have to watch what I eat, and I also do a lot of circuit workouts in addition to free weights. Wrestling with Mid-Atlantic and the legends around is great because we have a chance to learn from them. Making it to the next level, it’s about knowing when to talk and when to not say anything, and being seen by the right person.”
Russell was joined by three other up-and-coming wrestlers: Chase Owens, Sigmon and “High Flying” Chris Hamrick.
Duggan, who regularly leads crowds in a “USA” chant, defeated Jeff Lewis Neal. After a few “Hooooooo!” encores, he delivered a heartfelt message to the crowd.
“Tonight, I want to think the real heroes of this country — the brave men and woman that protect this great country and help keep us free,” Duggan said before launching into a final “USA” chant.
The event was a fundraiser for the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Youth Homes.
“It’s always great to be able to enjoy yourself and help raise money for such a good cause as the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Youth Association,” Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes said.
He also was appreciative of the crowd and thanked the Liberty County Board of Education — especially BI and its principal, Scott Carrier — for use of the venue.