"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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When Old School Heat-Seeking Met Corporate America: The Night The Road Warriors Blinded Dusty Rhodes

I’ve been battered, I’ve been beat, I’ve been scraped and I’ve been cut. You should have made it a point to get both eyes, because when I get up in the morning and look at my children out of one eye, I think of you, Road Warriors! I’m gonna take a lot from you. My violence! My lightning bolt! My fire! My thunder! An eye…for an eye! – Dusty Rhodes

For much of their run throughout the ‘80s, The Road Warriors received deafening cheers from pro wrestling fans all across the globe, regardless of whether they were babyfaces or heels. There simply weren’t very many people walking the Earth that looked like Animal and Hawk and yoked up oddities that they were, fans turned out in droves to see them destroy the unlucky tag teams tasked to wrestle them.

The tag team’s late-’87 through mid-’88 feud with The Powers of Pain was a bloody, physical series of matches that tested them in ways Animal and Hawk had yet to be tested, for as big as The Road Warriors were, Warlord and Barbarian were every bit as physically massive and intimidating. The teams went back and forth for months with The Powers of Pain actually making The Road Warriors look mortal. At the apex of their rivalry, Warlord and Barbarian slammed Animal’s face into a stack of barbell plates during a bench press contest on TV, forcing him to wear a hockey mask to protect an injury to his eye socket.

Forcing Animal to wrestle injured, The Powers of Pain teamed with Ivan Koloff to win the NWA World Six Man Tag Titles in February of ‘88. They held the championships for four months, vacating them on June 12th and leaving for the WWF after learning they were set to face The Road Warriors in a series of Scaffold Matches.

With the Six Man Titles up for grabs, The Road Warriors teamed up with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and defeated the trio of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard in a July ‘88 Great American Bash Tour Cage Match. Two months later, Anderson and Blanchard jumped to the WWF after a dispute over money with Jim Crockett. With The Four Horsemen gutted and The Powers of Pain up north, Dusty (then the head booker of Jim Crockett Promotions) needed bad guys with some heat. He decided to turn The Road Warriors heel.

Pulling off a “double turn” in October of ‘88, Animal and Hawk defeated The Midnight Express for the NWA World Tag Titles. After spending three weeks defending the titles against “Sweet” Stan and “Beautiful” Bobby, The Road Warriors began a feud with Sting and Lex Luger. The problem was that fans simply did not want to boo The Legion of Doom. Looking to salvage the turn and get some heat on the team, Dusty came up with a plan that would not only (hopefully) light a fire under Animal and Hawk, but also give himself a nice babyface bump.

Face Of A Fighter

In most markets in 1988, Dusty Rhodes was still the “Son of a plumber” and was greeted with cheers from his adoring fans. Truthfully though, he was beginning to get somewhat of a mixed reaction in places like Philadelphia and Chicago. As more and more fans began to embrace the heels, “The American Dream” was at times viewed as passé. Additionally, Dusty’s “Midnight Rider” gimmick did not get over with fans the way he’d hoped.

Knee deep in a battle with the WWF for control of the wrestling world (and with WWF coming off a lackluster WrestleMania IV), Dusty was undoubtedly looking to grab a bigger piece of the market share and generate another money-making run at the top of the card by garnering some sympathy from fans. The formula was tried and true…

Write Your Own Song

During the November 26th broadcast of World Championship Wrestling, L.O.D. cut heel promos at ringside, during which Animal took the opportunity to call Rhodes out concerning a singles match they had coming up in December. Dusty walked out, cut a promo of his own and hopped in the ring, saying he didn’t want to wait to fight Animal. The Road Warriors returned to ringside and attacked Rhodes, using one of the spikes from their trademark shoulder pads to gouge out the right eye of “The American Dream”. It was a bloody, violent scene, made even worse by Dusty’s agonizing screams. Fans in attendance and watching at home were horrified at what they were seeing, but not nearly as horrified as the Standards & Practices office of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Having purchased the company from the Crockett Family in October, TBS had implemented a strict “no blood” policy on television.

This wasn’t Rhodes’ first run-in with a spike. Four years earlier while wrestling in Florida, Kevin Sullivan had hit Dusty with his Golden Spike, igniting a vicious series of matches that packed houses throughout the State and made Kevin Sullivan one of the most hated men in pro wrestling. Dusty was hoping to recapture similar magic in ‘88.

Truthfully, Rhodes might have gotten away with a slap on the wrist had he not previously been reprimanded for the very same issue. The problem was he had already ignored the policy once, just two weeks prior when he okayed Paul E. Dangerously hitting Jim Cornette in the head with his cellphone during The “Original” Midnight Express’ attack on the then-current incarnation of the same name. Cornette bled far more than planned and Dusty was admonished by corporate. When he again defied the powers that be, even though, according to Cornette, he bled “a fraction of the blood I bled” TBS was done with warnings.  

In Dusty’s defense, he was just looking at it from the perspective of heat-seeking. Get fans talking, you get fans attending live events and watching your television program. TBS, then the home of wholesome, family-friendly programming like The Andy Griffith Show and Charles in Charge, were concerned about offending parents and sponsors. “I think it was a combination of the way Dusty sold that spike and the way I was hammering the spike into him,” said Animal when asked about the incident on Ric Flair’s podcast in 2016. “People went, ‘holy crap, he’s trying to take his eye’, and Dusty was selling it like I was taking out his eye.”

“I never understood why he did it,” said legendary broadcaster Jim Ross. “He’d bled before on TV, but the rules had changed. I figure he was gonna run a bluff, see if he could get by with it, apologize and still get the benefit of it for the angle.” Unfortunately, Dusty wasn’t given much of a second chance (not then, anyway). Though he stayed on as a wrestler through the middle of January of the following year, he was removed as booker immediately after Starrcade on December 26th, 1988.

On The Road Again

Shortly after Dusty’s exit, George Scott was brought in as the booker. “He had to be fired after three months,” said Cornette, “because he tanked the ratings; the worst wrestling rating TBS had ever had since they’d started carrying wrestling 20 years before that.” Dusty, however, moved on to the WWF, donning the now-legendary yellow and black polka dots and feuding with fellow legendary names “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. 

Though Ric Flair would take over booking (via a committee) and fix some of the post-Dusty issues, “Dream” would have the last laugh on WCW after being rehired in ‘91 as a member of the booking committee and part-time manager. “They never should’ve fired Dusty,” said Cornette. “TBS played catch-up for eight years (with WWF/E).”

Do Your Thing You’re A Cowboy

It could be argued that the firing was a blessing in disguise for Rhodes; that Dusty was fried and needed a break from booking. After all, he’d been at the helm of JCP/WCW for four years by that point. Perhaps the repeated open act of defiance was a product of self-sabotage in place of admitting he was mentally exhausted.

Hubris is certainly also an option as anyone who’s reached the heights of Dusty Rhodes is sure to have a healthy ego. You don’t reach out and ‘touch’ one side of a television screen without knowing in your heart that everyone on the other side of it is gonna touch the other side. Whatever the real reason for his bucking of the system, history remembers “The American Dream” (and the eye-gouging angle) far more positively than it does the years that followed his first exit from WCW.

While Rhodes is primarily remembered for his innovation, charisma and legendary promos, WCW has gone down in history as a promotion with plenty of highs, but entirely too many self-inflicted lows.

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