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LOOKING BACK AT THE CAREER OF BUTCH REED

By Mike Johnson on 2021-02-05 14:10:00

There was a period of time in the 1980s where Bruce "Butch" Reed was the best kept secret in professional wrestling, event though he was in plain sight.  He was legitimately one of the toughest men in the business and from an in-ring perspective, one of the best performers in the world - but for whatever reason, he was never pushed as THE guy until it was too late, because the person who tried to frame Reed as the guy, Bill Watts, did it because he had already lost THE guy - The Junkyard Dog - and at that point in time, Reed couldn’t outmatch what was JYD’s best trait at the time, his charisma as New Orlean’s adopted favorite son, even though as a legitimate athlete and tough guy, Reed could run circles around JYD.

In another universe somewhere, Reed would be lauded as a former WWF Intercontinental Champion.  Well into a run as the bleach-blonde “Natural” Butch Reed, he had been earmarked to defeat Ricky Steamboat and have a healthy run with the title.  Reed, burnt out by the WWF schedule, blew off a series of dates, leading to The Honkytonk Man being cast in the role instead, having his biggest career run.

Instead, as we look at Reed, the stories we get to share are about one of innate toughness, about someone who could hang with anyone in the ring and someone who fought and battled with a ton of heart with a true knack for making fans hate him and when called to do so, could make fans get behind him.

In the late 1970s, Reed broke into the business under Ron Etchison after being signed by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs for a short time, using the “Hacksaw” moniker.  As was the norm at the time, Reed worked for a number of different territories, including Central States, Championship Wrestling from Florida (where he got a big push as Bruce Reed as one of the secondary babyfaces under Dusty Rhodes) and Georgia (where he and Pez Whatley won the 1983 Omni Tag Team Tournament), among others.

Reed really broke out as a top star in Bill Watt’s Mid-South Wrestling, brought in as The Junkyard Dog’s partner against The Rat Pack - Matt Borne, Ted DiBiase and Hacksaw Duggan.  As part of the feud, Reed and Duggan would feud over each having use of the Hacksaw moniker.  

When Duggan turned face and was chosen by JYD as his partner against DiBiase and Borne, an angered Reed turned heel, declaring that he was going to start looking out for himself during a promo.  JYD came out to try and calm his friend but instead was attacked as Reed aligned himself with DiBiase.

Within weeks, Reed captured the North American Heavyweight Championship, the top belt of the territory and held it for several months until dropping it to Magnum TA, who was in the midst of his first singles push.  The storyline was that fans had voted on who deserved the title shot and Reed refused to give the shot to the winner, JYD.  The belt was returned to Reed with the idea that the win showed the legitimacy of TA while also getting over that Reed was cowardly getting out of doing what the fans wanted.  In the end, JYD would win the title with Dusty Rhodes as the special referee.

Before losing the title, Reed and Jim Neidhart had won the Mid-South Tag Titles, putting him back in Magnum TA’s crosshairs as he was cast in the upstart role with the masked Mr. Wrestling II as his mentor.  The teams feuded until TA and II won a steel cage match on Christmas 1983.  The team with Neidhart exploded, leading to a short feud with Neidhart as the babyface.  During an angle where Reed was beating Neidhart down with a football helmet, Terry Taylor made the save, sparking Reed’s next program.

Reed and Taylor feuded with Reed using a coal miner’s glove as a weapon, leading to glove on a pole matches.  Buddy Landell would become Reed’s partner during this time period, eventually helping Reed as JYD and Reed once again became the top feud of the territory during a  time period JYD was working under a mask as Stagger Lee, leading to a series of dog collar matches and names like Ernie Ladd teaming with JYD.

Everything was going swimmingly until a little promoter named Vince McMahon came along and began signing the top talents in the country for himself.  Overnight, JYD was gone, leaving Reed without his hated opponent and Bill Watts without his top babyface.  Watts tried to slide Geoge Wells, as Master G in, but imagine a world where Hulk Hogan disappeared overnight and Hillbilly Jim was the replacement.  Wells was a solid hand and likable but lacking that intangible IT that makes one a superstar...there was only one JYD and his exit, in the matter it happened, was a shotgun to the chest of Mid-South at the time.

Watts would turn Reed babyface and he was the best (and probably should have been the first) choice.  The storyline was that Skandar Akbar wanted to recruit Reed in his stable through Landel but Reed was disgusted by this and stomped the gold watch meant to bribe him into pieces.  Akbar and company tried to attack but Reed went off on the mic with an incredible promo that immediately got the fan behind him.  When his former enemy Hacksaw Duggan hit ringside to back him up, the babyface turn was solidified.  Reed was great in the role and had short-term success but over the long run, couldn’t match the charisma of JYD and by now, he was the second attempt by Watts to recast the top babyface role and they couldn’t replicate the magic.

Still, Reed’s work during this time period was nothing short of excellent, including an awesome one hour draw against Ric Flair for the NWA title and great matches against DiBiase, Landel, Steve Williams and Dick Murdoch, among others.  He had another run with the North American title before dropping it to Dick Slater.

After leaving Mid-South for the last time, Reed worked the Kansas City territory run by Bob Geigel, where he was managed by Slick for the first time and teamed with Rufus R. Jones as the South Patrol.  After turning heel to feud with Jones, Reed finished up, losing a loser leaves town bout to Bruiser Brody.

On a national level, next would be the biggest exposure of Reed’s career, a two-year run with the WWF, coming in with Slick.  Now billed as “The Natural” Butch Reed with bleached blonde hair to get heat, Reed started out with a strong push as a rising heel, feuding with Koko B. Ware and Tito Santana.  The hope was he was going to be a huge franchise heel for the company but the insanity of the travel schedule at the time wore Reed down to the point he was done with it.

As noted, Reed had been earmarked for the Intercontinental title run, but when WWF opted to instead go with Honkytonk Man, Reed instead feuded with Superstar Graham, teaming with The One Man Gang to take out Graham’s legitimate replaced hip, injuring him and taking Graham out of action.  Reed would then feud with Don Muraco, who had been teaming with Graham and now took him on as a manager.

Reed was part of Andre the Giant’s team in the main event of the first-ever Survivor Series PPV, defeating Hulk Hogan’s team.  Reed would then take part in the tournament to crown the new WWF Champion, losing in the first round to Randy Savage.  Reed finished up and headed to Jim Crockett Promotions.

Back to his “Hacksaw” moniker, Reed would be managed by famed trailer Hiro Matsuda with the idea that Matsuda had purchased the contracts for what remained of The Four Horsemen from the departing JJ Dillon (who had left to take a WWF management job) for The Yamasaki Corporation, trying to get heat off the news story at the time that Japan was overtaking The United States and engaging in corporate takeovers.  Reed would feud with JYD yet again but would mostly be used as a credible heel putting over top babyfaces like Sting.

 Reed would disappear into plain sight, taking on a masked role as one half of Doom with Ron Simmons.  Managed by Woman, the two were placed together as rivals for Rick and Scott Steiner.  The team was given a strong push out of the gate until losing their masks to the Steiners at Clash of Champions X.  The feud continued with Simmons and Reed winning the WCW World Tag Team titles with the team now led by Teddy Long.  That led to a feud with Ric Flair and Barry Windham that included a great Flair vs. Reed match on a Clash of Champions.

The team split at Wrestlewar ‘91 after a loss to Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin.  Reed turned on Simmons, keeping Long as his manager.  The two feuded until Simmons defeated Reed in a Thunderdome Cage match at Superbrawl in May 1991.  

Reed exited but was brought back in the fall of 1992 when Bill Watts ended up in charge of WCW.  Watts, seeking to recreate the magic of JYD in Mid-South, built to a great moment where Ron Simmons won the WCW title.  Seeking to build credible heels around him, Watts brought The Barbarian and Reed in and coupled them with Cactus Jack.  Reed’s run would be short and he’d disappear on a national basis for the most part from that point on.

Reed would continue to wrestle off and on until 2005, including yet another program against JYD in Memphis for the USWA.  He made a few appearances for Texas’ Global Wrestling Federation but began focusing more on competing in the rodeo circuit in the midwest.  He would occasionally wrestle for Harley Race’s World League Wrestling but Reed focused more on life beyond wrestling, including his family.  Reed did pop up for a cameo during an episode of Smackdown in 2007, but he was not consistently involved in pro wrestling in recent years beyond appearances at fan conventions, including Doom reunions.

In recent years, Reed had been part of the now-dismissed lawsuit against WWE, alleging that the company had hidden the risks of concussions to talents.

Through his career, Reed's work was always good and at times, especially Mid-South, great.  There was a time period where he was certainly one of the best, period, and if upcoming stars wanted someone to study to improve their work, Reed would be on a short list of names who certainly remains underrated and under the radar.  Perhaps in the days and weeks to come, part of his legacy will be a new examination of his work to inspire others as they trudge their own path.

PWInsider.com expresses our deepest condolences to Reed's family, friends and fans.

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