"Hacksaw" Butch Reed: A Natural At Making Money While Making You Hate His Guts

“A Dog Collar Match, a 10 ft. chain… You know somethin’, Junkyard Dog, you ain’t housebroken yet, that’s your problem! You ain’t learned to go in and out of the house when you’re supposed to, ya understand, so, the dogcatcher, Butch Reed, is gonna have to teach you some manners!” – Butch Reed

From as far back as he can remember, Butch Reed was always an athlete. Coming from a “family of hard-working people”, Reed worked to become a good enough high school football player at Warrensburg High in Missouri to receive offers from “a few Big 10 schools”. According to Reed, however, his grades weren’t up to snuff, forcing him to attend Northeast Oklahoma A&M community college until he was able to transfer back near his hometown and finish up his college career at the University of Central Missouri.

Already dealing with knee and ankle injuries, Reed walked onto the practice field of the Kansas City Chiefs, supposedly spending one season with the team, though since his name doesn’t appear on any Chiefs rosters between ‘76-’78, odds are he spent the year on the team’s practice squad (if he remained on the team at all after the preseason).

Unable to continue playing football, but never one to shy away from a fight (just ask Buddy Landel and/or Nord the Barbarian), professional wrestling was an appealing possibility for him. Butch has said his way into the sport of pro wrestling was through legendary wrestling promoter Bob Geigel. He, apparently, walked into Geigel’s bar, was spotted by former NWA Central States Heavyweight Champion Ron Etchison (who, by then, was nearing the end of his in-ring career) and was sent to train at Lord Littlebrook’s gym. “I went there twice a week for a year,” said Reed, “before I got sent to Canada to work for All-Star Wrestling.” Reed (wrestling under his real name of Bruce Reed) spent four months in Vancouver, gaining knowledge from Gene Kiniski and Al Tomko while simultaneously earning in-ring experience against the likes of Eric Embry and Bobby Jaggers.

In the Fall of ‘79, Reed returned to the Midwest, working for Central States Wrestling and NWA St. Louis. He spent most of the next two years back “home”, winning his first championship (the NWA Central States Tag Team Titles with Jerry Roberts) while also continuing his All-Star Wrestling feud with Bobby Jaggers.

Spread Your Wings

After six months of shuffling back and forth between the Midwest and Georgia Championship Wrestling, Reed got his first big break when he made his way to Florida to wrestle for Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship Wrestling. At the time, Dusty Rhodes was on top in Florida and business was booming. “If you worked with Dusty,” said Reed, “you were on top. He was a helluva showman and just had a natural charisma.” It was in Florida where Reed adopted the name “Butch” on a full-time basis. Being thrown into the fire almost immediately, the 6’2”, 260 pound Reed held his own in tag matches against The Briscos and Funk Brothers and in singles matches against longtime CWF enhancement talent Steve Sybert.

Just over three weeks into what would become a 10-month stay in Florida, Reed found himself in an NWA World’s Heavyweight Title Match against “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be the only time, as the pair would wrestle for the title on dozens of occasions, including several 60 minute time limit draws. “I was fortunate enough to be one of the guys that could compete with Flair,” said Reed. “With my athleticism and his athleticism, we clicked.” During that same time, Reed wrestled Dory Funk, Jr. over the NWA International Heavyweight Title, holding the belt for 28 days in the summer of ‘82 (although the reign is not recognized by the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance, for which the title was created).

So hot did Reed’s feud with Flair get that the NWA decided to take it on the road, pitting the two men against each other in Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio and Missouri (where Reed had begun making short returns to set up a feud with Harley Race). Again splitting time between the Midwest and Georgia, Reed continued his climb to the top of the industry, defeating Race for the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Title in November of ‘82 in St. Louis, then engaging in a heated feud with Buzz Sawyer in Georgia the following month.

By the Spring of ‘83, Reed had found a new home, this time wrestling for Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling. “Junkyard Dog and Ernie Ladd brought me to Mid-South,” said Reed. He was immediately put into the Mid-South North American Title Tournament, winning his first two matches against Super Destroyer and Jim Duggan, before losing a semifinal match against Mr. Olympia. Calling himself “Hacksaw”, he jumped into a slobberknocker of a feud against Duggan over who was the true owner of the nickname. Working as a babyface against Duggan, Ted DiBiase and Matt Borne (then calling themselves “The Rat Pack”), Reed got over huge with the Mid-South fanbase, picking up big wins all over Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas.

His popularity as a babyface made his heel turn in the Summer of ‘83 all the more dastardly a move, especially considering it came at the expense of the man who brought him to Mid-South in the first place: Junkyard Dog.

Another One Bites The Dust

In June of 1983, there were few wrestlers walking the Earth more popular in their respective territory than was Junkyard Dog in Mid-South. Having headlined Mid-South’s biggest events and wrestled against the biggest heels of that era, JYD was an instant draw all across the Tri-State area of the United States. He wasn’t just cheered by Mid-South fans; JYD was loved. When the Fabulous Freebirds blinded him less than two years prior, Michael Hayes says it’s the closest to death he ever came in his wrestling career. 

“I’ve never felt my life more threatened than in that era with Junkyard Dog,” said Michael Hayes. “We had our cars destroyed, people would fill up water pistols with Liquid-Plumr and you would fight your way from the ring to the locker room. It wasn’t a question of if you were gonna get your ass whipped. The question was how badly and would you make it back to the locker room.”

“Our last night in the territory,” said Hayes, “undercover police officers found a man in the crowd with a Saturday night special and a bullet in it with the word “freebird” engraved on it.”

After JYD chose “Hacksaw” Duggan over “Hacksaw” Reed as his tag partner in a television match, Reed came to ringside and said, “Butch Reed is gonna start looking out for Butch Reed.” This brought Junkyard Dog to the ring where he was attacked by both Reed and Ted DiBiase. With Butch Reed viewed as something of a protege of Dog’s, his turning on him was met with vitriol and hostility. After challenging (and defeating) JYD for the Mid-South North American Title at Watts’ massive Superdome Extravaganza show on July 16th, he barely got out of town, saying, “I had to pull a pistol in New Orleans after I took the championship”.

“His Mid-South run was about as good as it can get,” expressed legendary Midnight Express manager Jim Cornette. “I had seen him in Florida, but by the time I got to Mid-South and saw him as a heel and saw the promos he was cuttin’, that was even better. He’d gotten really good in a short amount of time.”

Teaming up with Buddy Landel to make JYD’s life miserable, Butch Reed’s heat with the fanbase was white-hot, regardless of the town they worked. “I had Klansmen follow me out of town in Loranger, Louisiana,” said Reed, “and I popped that pistol again.” It wasn’t just the Klan with whom Reed had to concern himself. “I had to fight off more of my people than I did white folk.”

Reed and Landel regularly attacked Dog, doing things like rolling him in chicken feathers in an effort to make him look weak in the eyes of the fans. It only made them cheer JYD that much louder. “I had a great mentor in Ernie Ladd,” said Reed, “one of the biggest and baddest heels going in his day.” It wasn’t uncommon for Reed to have to fight his way from the ring back to the locker room during this era, saying, “you didn’t have time to play around with those fans; you got ‘em out of your way and kept going towards the dressing room.”

After holding the North American Title for almost 4 months, during which time he repeatedly turned away JYD and Jim Duggan, Reed finally dropped the championship to Magnum T.A. in a match with Dog as the special guest referee. The move was meant to give a young T.A. a boost in the eyes of the fans and by that point, Reed didn’t need the title as much as he needed to continue his heated rivalry with JYD. The two would feud in a variety of matches (Loser Painted Yellow, Dog Collar, Lumberjack, Street Fight) into early-’84 when a young babyface named Terry Taylor was added to the mix.

Don’t Stop Me Now

Still whitehot from his battles with Dog, Reed got Taylor over huge with the fans. Terry was the epitome of a “white meat babyface” and was easily viewed as a sympathetic character, especially when juxtaposed to Butch’s evil ways and cocky promos. Wrestling singles matches against Taylor while working in tag matches against The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, Reed stayed at the top of the card as one of Mid-South’s biggest heels.

This remained the case when he and Junkyard Dog renewed their blood feud just prior to Dog leaving the territory for the WWF. With the territory’s biggest babyface gone, Watts used Skandor Akbar and his stable of heels to turn Reed back into a fan favorite. Often teaming with Jim Duggan (until he left for the WWF), Reed would remain in Mid-South for a few more years, winning every regional championship there was to win in the promotion while also feuding with the likes of Dick Murdoch and Dick Slater. He even picked back up with Ric Flair, wrestling a few more times for the NWA World’s Heavyweight Title (but coming up short thanks to Slater).

If You Can’t Beat Them

After an 8-month run in Central States Wrestling with Rufus R. Jones as a tag team called The Soul Patrol, “Hacksaw” joined the WWF in September of ‘86. Bleaching his hair blonde and calling himself “The Natural”, Butch returned to his heelish ways and feuded with WWF fan favorites Tito Santana, Billy Jack Haynes and Koko B. Ware (whom he beat at WrestleMania III).

A long, unfulfilling program with a returning “Superstar” Billy Graham led to discontentment and Reed wasn’t shy about letting his feelings be known. Graham was back from hip-replacement surgery and, though he ‘looked like a million bucks’, his body could no longer handle the constant in-ring beatings. After being injured by Reed, “The Dr. of Style” Slick and One Man Gang, Graham became Don Muraco’s manager as a way to get back at Reed. Unfortunately, this was yet another feud that barely got above the mid-card and “The Natural” had reached his end with WWF. “A lot of times, guys become unhappy and they let everybody know they’re unhappy,” said Bruce Prichard when asked about Reed’s time in World Wrestling Federation. “They mope around and can be their own worst enemy and in my opinion, that’s what happened with Butch. It got to the point where Vince said, ‘Butch, if you’re unhappy, maybe we need to part ways.’”

A year and a half into his run with the WWF, they would do just that, and Reed would make his way to NWA World Championship Wrestling for what would become his last big run in pro wrestling.

The Show Must Go On

Saddled with chronic knee issues, Butch again took the nickname “Hacksaw” and began working for Jim Crockett Promotions in early ‘89. Wrestling as part of Hiro Matsuda’s Yamasaki Corporation (a short-lived off-shoot of The Four Horsemen which boasted Reed, Ric Flair and Barry and Kendall Windham as members), Butch’s return run with the NWA was floundering.

Teaming up with Ron Simmons in June of ‘89, the duo formed the tag team Doom, and in very short order made their presence felt all across the NWA with their physical style and unnatural strength. With Woman as their manager they didn’t win many matches, but once Teddy Long came on as their new manager the duo found their groove. On May 19th, 1990 at Capitol Combat, an event likely best remembered as the night Robocop showed up at a WCW PPV, Doom won the NWA/WCW Tag Team Titles, defeating The Steiner Brothers. They would hold the belts for a record 281 days, defending then against a multitude of top tag teams, including The Steiners, The Southern Boys and The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express. After losing the titles to The Fabulous Freebirds, Reed turned on Simmons and the two feuded for a few months before “Hacksaw” left WCW for a short run in the USWA.

Less than a year after their implosion, Simmons defeated Big Van Vader for the WCW Heavyweight Title, becoming the first African American to be recognized as a wrestling world champion. Reed renewed his feud with the Junkyard Dog one last time, beating him for the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Title.

Hammer To Fall

Butch Reed was the total package but isn’t often remembered as one of the top heels of his era. Chalk it up to two factors: timing and an abundance of heels in his era whom we now view as some of the absolute best ever. Had he made it to the WWF a few years earlier when he was healthier, who knows what might’ve been. In an alternate wrestling universe, Butch Reed and Hulk Hogan probably spent 1985 “talkin’ ‘em into the building” on the national stage. One thing is certain: Butch Reed drew big money for virtually every promotion for whom he was employed and, ultimately, that’s the single most important thing when determining a pro wrestlers true greatness.

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Colonel DeBeers Was A Lot Of Things, But A Shade Of Gray Wasn’t One Of Them

I wanna get to the heart of my complaint against dirty sports in America: the use and abuse of anabolic steroids by Scott Hall! The man has obviously overstepped his bounds and he is dirty, filthy and eaten up with anabolic steroids! – Colonel DeBeers

On November 12, 1988, WCWA Heavyweight Champion, “The Modern Day Warrior” Kerry Von Erich put his title on the line against the hated AWA heel, Colonel DeBeers, in Las Vegas, Nevada. At some point during the match, DeBeers managed to lock onto Kerry’s right boot, and as he’d done hundreds of times before, the colonel gave the babyface opponent’s leg a nice twist. However, when Von Erich’s boot came completely off, revealing nothing but a stump below his ankle, DeBeers knew this was something entirely different from all the other times he’d applied an ankle lock. Immediately, he turned his confusion towards the referee while Kerry rolled under the ring and reattached his boot. 

Two and a half years prior, Von Erich had been involved in a horrific motorcycle accident that, ultimately, resulted in the amputation of his right foot. A prosthetic was made which allowed him to continue to wrestle, but virtually no one in the business knew of his amputation. Based on his reaction, Colonel DeBeers was most certainly not one of the few people “in the know”.

Almost surprisingly, this would not be the craziest thing Colonel DeBeers would be involved in during his 20+ year wrestling career.

What’s A Wiskoski?

I’ve previously written about the American Wrestling Association and the wealth of top tier heel wrestlers the company had its disposal in the ‘80s and early-’90s, scribbling at length on their greatness and need for a transcendent babyface to keep the company relevant as Vince McMahon went national and began steamrolling over the ‘Territory System’.

Casual fans of pro wrestling know names like Nick Bockwinkel, “The Living Legend” Larry Zbyszko, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and The Nasty Boys. Bockwinkel became the face of the AWA, while the other men I’ve mentioned spent large swaths of time on the national stage with the WWE/F and/or WCW. One heel that often falls through the cracks when discussing AWA heels, however, was regional bad guy, Colonel DeBeers, who, during a time when pro wrestling was fighting to become more “kid friendly”, doubled down on “evil” to the point where some have argued he went too far.

DeBeers got his start in 1973 and was trained by Lord Littlebrook and Harley Race. Wrestling under his real name, Ed Wiskoski, he spent several years working in Florida and the Midwest, winning several regional titles, including the NWA Central States Championship in ‘75. As champion, he turned himself into a big enough draw around Iowa, Kansas and Missouri that it landed him an opportunity to face Terry Funk, then the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion in a Two Out of Three Falls Match. He came up one fall short, but Wiskoski was off and running. 

After a month-long tour of Japan with AJPW, Wiskoski moved on to the Northwest, working the next two years (summer of ‘77 – summer of ‘79) for Don Owen and his Pacific Northwest Wrestling promotion. There he formed a formidable tag team with “Playboy” Buddy Rose, winning the PNW Tag Team Titles on several occasions. He also added two PNW Heavyweight Championship reigns to his wrestling resumé, feuding with Portland legend Dutch Savage.

In close proximity to San Francisco, Wiskoski also worked for Big Time Wrestling, winning the NWA San Francisco U.S. Title and tagging with Rose and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to capture the NWA San Francisco World Tag Team Championships three times. 

During the five years that followed, Wiskoski went on a territory-hopping tour that would land him back in the Midwest and Florida, and also New York, Mid-South, Canada and Germany. He even found his way back to Portland for another main event run, working part of the time under the name Mega Maharishi Imed, but in February of ‘86, he joined the AWA, taking on the new name and character that would make him more infamous than famous.

The Face Of Evil In The AWA

In the mid-’80s, the race-related political unrest in South Africa was a regular topic of discussion on the nightly news. The apartheid system enforced racial discrimination, separating people based on their race and features. Wiskoski, assuming the name Colonel DeBeers, the “heir to the De Beers Diamond Mines”, became the pro wrestling embodiment of everything that was appalling about the racial segregation that had been a fixture in South Africa for centuries.

For the first few months in the AWA, he wrestled against the likes of The Midnight Rockers, Brad Rheingans and Wahoo McDaniel, earning the hate of every last fan that watched him wrestle. But it was his blood feud with the legendary “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka that turned him into the most hated man in the Minnesota-based promotion. In July of ‘86, Snuka was one of the biggest babyfaces in pro wrestling. Having worked all across the U.S., Jimmy was known far and wide and for a time in the mid-’80s was widely considered the most popular WWF wrestler not named Hulk Hogan.

Dialing up his hateful rhetoric, DeBeers tapped into something beyond heat, grabbing the fans hook, line and sinker. Snuka would prevail in their series of matches, but the colonel turned himself into pro wrestling’s face of racism, a heat-seeking endeavor that not only kept him in the wrestling magazines (then a primary method for a fans to learn about wrestlers outside their region), but also under the employ of the AWA for over four years.

Goin’ Goin’ Back Back To Cali

Shortly after the demise of the AWA, Herb Abrams’ California-based UWF came into existence. Flawed as it was, it was still a place to work and DeBeers was one of the veterans signed for the first series of television tapings. The first televised show from Abrams’ UWF aired on September 24th, 1990 and the pro-Apartheid heel wasted no time in infuriating every last person possible. After spending close to two decades in the wrestling industry, the man was an expert on garnering attention from a crowd, and the brand new promotion for which he was employed needed just that.

Entering the ring prior to his match with Billy Jack Haynes, DeBeers turned his attention to referee Larry Sampson, a black man, and bellowed, “I will not have a black man refereeing my matches”! Just like that, everyone in the building hated the Colonel’s guts. This led to even more heat with fans after he tried to attack the very same referee a few shows later, leading to a short feud with another major regional name of that era: “Iceman” King Parsons. Though the UWF’s run was marred with failure, the colonel remained one of the few bright spots. He was detestable and reviled; he was everything he was trying to be.

Smart, not “smart”

Over the years, it’s been debated that Col. DeBeers went too far with some of his promos and actions. Some say he did more damage with his words than he did good in trying to parody this type of evil character. In my youth I watched Baron Von Raschke goose-step around a ring, Randy Savage damn near murder Ricky Steamboat by crushing his windpipe and Abdullah the Butcher carve up every last babyface hero I ever had. All these men worked to make you and me feel something more than that which can be expressed by simply booing. They needed our hearts.

DeBeers went down the same road as these men and when such a road is traveled, there are likely going to be times when a line or two is crossed. Did he go too far? Perhaps, but I miss the days when promotions thought enough of their fans to know we’d be smart enough (no, not “smart” enough) to hate the right wrestlers. The color gray is as boring as can be. The Colonel DeBeers character was a lot of things, but it was never a shade of gray.

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