Butch Reed: A Natural Epitaph

On February 5th, Bruce “Butch’ Reed passed away after complications from two separate heart attacks and a COVID-19 diagnosis. Though the former star had largely faded from the pro wrestling spotlight since the early 90s, Reed and his story’s impact helped shape the landscape of the pro wrestling business.

Reed got his start playing football as a linebacker at Central Missouri State University. After graduating, Reed signed a Rookie Free Agent deal with his hometown Kansas City Chiefs. Reed, however, was cut before the start of the 1976 season.

Like many stars of the 70s and 80s, Reed found the natural progression from football into pro wrestling. In the 60s & 70s, the pro wrestling scene was dominated by burly tough guys who looked like the kind of bad hombres one would meet in a roadhouse bar. But when Superstar Billy Graham reached national prominence in the mid-70s, with his bodybuilder physique and Muhammad Ali-inspired interviews, the face of the wrestling began to change. With a bold personality and a remarkable build, Reed was a natural fit for the evolution of the business.

Bruce Reed started his career in Bob Giegel’s Central States territory based in Kansas City. Reed teamed with a young Jacques Rougeau competing under the Americanized Jerry Roberts. Rougeau would wrestle in the WWF under his real and as The Mountie. The young tag team won the NWA Central States titles from Bob Sweetan and Mike George in 1980. After a few successful appearances on Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis TV program, Wrestling From The Chase, Reed would travel to Florida to wrestle for Eddie Graham.

Championship Wrestling From Florida was a hot promotion in the early 80s. The feud between the heroic Dusty Rhodes and the demonic Kevin Sullivan heated up the cards. Reed debuted in early 1982 and was immediately accepted by the Tampa fanbase. When NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair came to town, Graham and Flair decided to make the young Reed one of the biggest names in the territory. When Flair and Reed wrestled on television, Reed dominated the champion to the surprise of everyone. Flair managed to retain the belt after a time limit draw.

The champion was so incensed by this upstart that he charged the commentary table and demanded Gordon Solie, the commentator, give him five more minutes. Reed accepted the champ’s challenge and pinned Flair less than a minute later. The crowd at the Tampa TV studio erupted, thinking they’d just seen a title change, which never happened on free TV. Of course, the NWA would declare this finish was void since the overtime was unsanctioned. Thus Reed had to give the title back to Flair. Shades of Triple H and Chris Jericho in 2000.

The championship bait and switch was an old trick that Graham used frequently. Though we call it a “Dusty finish,” it’s not hard to see where the Dream picked it up. After the TV match, Flair, who had to go to another territory, put a $10,000 bounty on whoever could takeout Reed. This gave Reed something to do, keeping him in the title picture until Flair returned later in the year. When Flair returned, he had two minions ready to take out Reed: David and Kerry Von Erich.

In a classic scene, Flair, as always accompanied by a beautiful woman, trashes Reed at the commentary table, which of course, brings him to ringside. Flair smacks Reed, and the two brawl to the ring, all while Reed literally rips the clothes from Flair’s body. Not only does Reed take care of business with the champ, but he also works up the Von Erich’s. In a fun twist, Flair worked a simultaneous program with the Von Erich’s in their home Dallas territory.

Though the angle was heavily-inspired by Flair’s feud with Rick Steamboat in 1977, it helped make Reed a sensation in the Sunshine State. Though Reed never won the NWA title, he does hold the distinction of beating Dory Funk Jr. for the NWA International Title. This was the only time that belt, held by such luminaries as Rikidozan and Giant Baba, changed hands outside Japan.

Reed would then surface in Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion, billed for the first time as “Hacksaw” Butch Reed. Reed was a perfect fit for Watts’s rough and tumble territory with his thick build and football background. Reed teamed with the top star, Junkyard Dog, who was in the middle of a feud with the Rat Pack of Ted DiBiase and Hacksaw Jim Duggan (who for some reason is called Doogan here). The two Hacksaws are instant enemies. But midway through the rivalry, Reed turns on JYD after Duggan leaves DiBiase. This would spark the most essential rivalry of Reed’s career.

Now aligned with DiBiase, Reed defeated the Dog for the North American Heavyweight title. In Reed’s own words, the two proved that “two black men fighting each other could draw money.” Later, Reed teamed with Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart to defeat Duggan and Magnum TA for the Mid-South tag team titles. Reed became a double champion and the company’s top heel. Reed would feud with both Neidhart and Terry Taylor before reigniting the rivalry with JYD and his masked alias, “Stagger Lee.”

The two would complete in vicious dog collar matches, but before they could reach their final crescendo, Junkyard Dog would leave Mid-South and join the WWF. Without a top babyface, Watts foolishly assumed what made JYD such a hero to the territory was his ethnicity and brought in journeyman George Wells as “Master G” to continue the feud. It failed at the box office. 

When famed Texas manager Skandar Akbar came to Mid-South, he tried to use Nature Boy Buddy Landell to lure Reed into his new Army. Akbar gifted Reed a Rolex watch. In a stunning turn, Reed rebukes Akbar, attacking Landell until the Army comes. Reed was saved by his old enemy, Duggan. The two Hacksaws became a force in Mid-South. Unfortunately, Reed cannot match the Dog as a draw.

Reed would leave Mid-South in 1986. After bouncing around the AWA and Central States, Reed was hired by the WWF along with his new manager, Slick. Instead of being Hacksaw, McMahon would bill Reed as “The Natural.” Reinventing himself like Sweet Daddy Siki with dyed blond hair, Reed and Slick came to the ring with a theme song that hasn’t aged very well.

Reed would debut after Wrestlemania III, defeating Koko B. Ware, and would immediately target the new Intercontinental Champion, Ricky The Dragon Steamboat. Though Steamboat had feuded with Randy Savage for the title, he requested time off shortly after winning the belt to spend time with his pregnant wife. Reed was picked to be the next champion. But after Reed allegedly no-showed an event, McMahon decided to place the title on the Honky Tonk Man instead.

Reed’s WWF tenure was relatively uneventful. A proposed feud with a returning Superstar Graham fizzled. Though Reed was part of the Survivor Series main event in 1987, his tenure ended shortly after being eliminated by Savage in the first round of the Wrestlemania IV World Title tournament.

Hacksaw Butch Reed would resurface in the new WCW in late 1988. Managed by James J. Dillon, it seemed Hacksaw would become the next member of the Four Horseman. But Dillon left the former Crockett company along with Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and eventually Barry Windham. Like Flair, Reed joined the short-lived Yamazaki Corporation, which would disappear after Flair turned babyface during his epic three-match series with Steamboat. It seemed that Reed’s run in WCW would wash away just like his WWF days.

In late 1989, the popular Rick Steiner started an on-air relationship with a fan named Robin Green. The WCW audience was drawn to the coupling. Longtime fans recognized Green as the Fallen Angel, a longtime associate (and real-life wife) of Kevin Sullivan. The rouse was revealed as Robin Green transformed into the devilish Woman, promising to bring doom to Rick and his brother, Scott.

At Halloween Havoc 1989, Woman unveils her “team of Doom.” As Bob Segar’s Her Strut played over the speakers, Woman walked to the ring with two masked muscled-up African Americans. The fans very clearly recognized Reed and Ron Simmons under the hoods. What looked good on paper didn’t quite translate to the ring. In the Starrcade 89 Future Shock tournament, the masked men lose to The Steiners, The Road Warriors, and The Samoan SWAT Team (aka The Headshrinkers) to finish 0-3. Doom then lost their masks after dropping a World Tag Team Title match to the Steiners at Clash of the Champions X in February of 1990. Woman abandoned them for Flair and the new Horseman. Again, it seemed Reed had washed out.

A funny thing happened after the Clash. Though Woman left her former charges, Reed and Simmons found a new manager in Theodore R. Long. The three clicked instantly. Under Long’s direction, Doom is reborn. Wrestling as themselves, the two start living up to the potential as a Road Warrior-style team. Without the masks to encumber them, Reed and Simmons are allowed to be themselves instead of nameless hitmen. The new version of the group was such a success, they defeated their rivals, The Steiners, for the WCW World Tag Team Titles less than a month later. 

Doom would dominate the WCW tag division for the rest of 1990. During their reign as champions, they defeated The Rock n Roll Express, The Southern Boys, Brian Pillman, Tom Zenk, and the Steiners. Fans got invested in the two legit bad-asses and sided with them during a racially-charged angle with The Four Horseman, who refused to share a locker room with Simmons and Reed. Doom would wrestle Flair and Anderson at Halloween Havoc and retain the titles, leading to a wild brawl with Anderson and Windham at Starrcade 1990. The best match on a very forgettable show.

In 1991, Reed and Simmons started having miscommunications. After losing the titles to the Freebirds at WrestleWar 91, Doom broke up. Reed would lose to Simmons under the Thunderdome cage at Superbrawl I, jump-starting Simmons’ run as a babyface that would eventually lead him to the WCW World Championship. Reed would fade from the company shorty spotlight after.

Butch Reed seemed like a can’t miss superstar in the early 80s. More than anything, Reed appeared to be a victim of bad timing. He was at his hottest during the JYD feud. Perhaps if Watts had immediately transitioned to Reed as the top star rather than wasting time with George Wells, maybe things could have been different. Reed seemed to be a sure target for Hulk Hogan in 1987, but the feud never materialized.

Similarly, if the WWF had gone with Reed as IC champion, Randy Savage’s trajectory ascent to the WWF title would have been much different. The same with the Ultimate Warrior. Slick would manage The Big Bossman and Akeem against Savage and Hogan. It isn’t hard to imagine Reed in either of those positions instead. 

Late in Reed’s life, he took a particular liking to AEW’s Powerhouse Hobbs. Allegedly, Reed told family members shortly before passing, “that’s the new Hacksaw!”