FROM SHEEPHERDERS TO BUSHWHACKERS

Whether he wrestled in singles action under the names Gorgeous Teddy Williams and Sweet William, or in tag team competition with his partner Butch Miller as the Kiwis, the Sheepherders, or the Bushwhackers, Luke Williams has learned how to leave an impression on wrestling fans while inside the ring.

He solidified his notoriety and became a household name while wrestling as Bushwhacker Luke in the WWF between 1988 and 1997. His reputation in the ring, however, occurred long before he and Butch decided to work for Vince McMahon.

“The Bushwhacker’s” run started almost 30 years ago, so there are fans that are 30, 35, and 40 years old that don’t even know who the Sheepherders were. They’ve never heard of the Sheepherders,” said Williams. “We were hardcore before hardcore became a name brand.”

As the Sheepherders, Williams and Miller were a bit crazed, unstable, and totally unpredictable. They terrorized their opponents and literally scared the fans. Their style was so violent and relentless, that it was not uncommon to see a bit of blood while they were wrestling. The Sheepherders wrestled in some of the most dangerous matches ever created.

Their home country of New Zealand has been a long time ally of the United States, but not to wrestling fans as Williams and Miller would flaunt the flag of their motherland and revile America. The Sheepherders would often have an American wrestler who would denounce his country and proudly wave their colors in the middle of the ring for all the fans to see.

Their criticism of each state they worked in and their regular usage of the word “Yank” didn’t help matters much either with their popularity.

“We were pit bulls. When it was time for us to take over, we would go in and beat up our opponents,” said Williams. “In wrestling, there is a good guy and a bad guy. We were the foreigners and the fans were going to cheer for the hometown boys.”

Williams started wrestling in 1962 when he was only 15 years old. In the beginning, it was a hobby for the teenager. At that time, shows were not as frequent in New Zealand and he would wrestle whenever he could. It was in those early days that he would ultimately meet Butch while they were both training in gyms. They wouldn’t start wrestling full time together however until 1966.

About that same time, Williams started traveling to Australia when promoter Jim Barnett was running shows in that country. New Zealand wrestlers would take on the American talent that Barnett brought there to wrestle. It’s possible that Barnett’s contribution to wrestling might have helped influence William’s future wrestling style.

“Barnett was running shows every day there. He had all of the crazy guys and all of the heavy artillery there,” said Williams. “There is no heavy artillery around anymore. He did the blood and the guts. Jim Barnett was a businessman and he wanted to draw money.”

By 1972, Williams and Miller made their way to North America and started wrestling in and around Montreal as the Kiwis. It was there that they worked with Andre the Giant and Killer Kowalski, two familiar faces they knew from wrestling in New Zealand and Australia. While in Canada, it wasn’t just the action inside the ring that was catching the Kiwi’s attention.

“We would walk down Catherine Street in Montreal and see all of those neon signs. When I finished wrestling for the night, I could go to a delicatessen and have a glass of wine and half of a chicken, but back in New Zealand, everything was closed by nine o’clock,” Williams said. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw an electric carving knife. I thought these Yanks were amazing. It was a whole different world for us.”

The Kiwis were working seven days a week. They were making a name for themselves in the sport of wrestling, but they were constantly on the move. They would eat, go to the gym, travel to the next town, wrestle, sleep, and do it all over again the next day.

“There wasn’t much time for pleasure or anything like that. There was no real downtime,” Williams said. “We were making money and wrestling was something we liked to do, but it wasn’t a party or anything like that. It was work.”

Over the next seven years, the Kiwis would wrestle in Stampede Wrestling for Stu Hart, and then go back to New Zealand for television tapings. They also wrestled in Europe, Japan, and Hawaii. Their reputation was unpopular, and they were hated and feared everywhere they went.

The stay in Hawaii was nice because when the Kiwis weren’t wrestling, they were enjoying their free time on the beach. The downside, however, was that there wasn’t much money to be made in that territory. In 1979, after being there for only a couple of months, they met Roddy Piper, who came to the island for a wrestling show. He liked how Williams and Miller worked.

“We told Roddy that we wanted to get out of there, and he made a call to Don Owens,” Williams said. “Shortly thereafter, we were in Northwest Championship Wrestling, and the fans hated us there too.”

Now, officially calling themselves the Sheepherders, they won the territory’s tag team belts the first week, after defeating Adrian Adonis and Ron Starr. Within six weeks, they were going strong in the Pacific Northwest. Suddenly, a feud broke out with Rick Martel and Piper that would last more than a year.

As was common in every territory they wrestled in, the Sheepherder’s tactics infuriated the fans. The blatant disregard that Williams and Miller had for the rules and their opponent’s well being,

incited negative emotions as far as the audience was concerned.

“We would come out of the arenas and our tires would be slashed and our windshields would be smashed out. That was the kind of heat we had,” Williams said. “We learned real quick that we had to start traveling with somebody else.”

After their run in the Portland territory, the Sheepherders would work in Memphis and then in Texas with Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling promotion, which was based out of San Antonio.

Williams and Miller would sport their signature camouflage pants and tank tops as they conducted business inside the ring. In 1981, Miller left Williams to return to New Zealand to take care of some family matters. Fellow wrestler Jonathan Boyd stepped in to take Miller’s place up until 1983.

It was in Southwest Championship Wrestling where Williams gained his experience as a booker. A wrestling booker is someone who recruits and hires talent for matches put on by a particular promotion. Williams was responsible for supplying the final television product. From there, Williams took his booking talents to Puerto Rico, a territory where fans had become accustomed to a certain style of wrestling.

“In Puerto Rico, we had some different kinds of matches. We had both barbed wire matches and fire matches,” said Williams. “It was all blood and guts because the people down there loved the blood and guts.”

In 1986, while working for Bill Watts in the Mid-South Wrestling territory, the Sheepherders were involved in one of their most notable feuds. It was against Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers, who was known as The Fantastics. The promotion covered a large part of the southeastern region of the United States, including New Orleans, St. Louis, and parts of Texas.

When the rivalry started between the Sheepherders and the Fantastics, they were just having normal tag-team matches. As the months went on, the two teams had all kinds of gimmick matches, until it escalated to the men being involved in barbed wire cage matches with each other. Those violent and bloody events went on all over the territory every single day for over a month.

“We knew what we had to give the fans. Those two little guys had big hearts and we drew a lot of money there,” said Williams. “The kids of today wouldn’t be doing matches like that. They would be screaming, but today is a whole different era.”

Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers were two handsome guys who had muscular bodies to go along with their charming charisma. The Sheepherders were mean and vicious, and like everywhere else they wrestled, they were loathed by all. There was a big difference between the two teams and it just might have led to the success that fueled this conflict.

“The fans wanted to see them kick our asses,” said Williams. “We made them a team that the fans could get behind.”

In 1988, the Sheepherders had a meeting with Vince McMahon. It was McMahon’s idea to turn the duo from some of the most violent wrestlers in the business to good guys. The plan was to create characters that would fall between the Moondogs and the Sheepherders. Moving forward, they would be called the Bushwhackers, and their personalities would change drastically.

“We told him that we didn’t care as long as we had jobs,” said Williams. “In both the NWA and the AWA, you were a wrestler. In the WWF, you were a celebrity. We were making our wrestling pay, but we were also making merchandise money, so we were doing pretty well.”

Now, when Williams and Miller would enter the ring, they would march and swing their arms back and forth as they went off to wrestle. They were fun, silly, and adored by the fans, as opposed to the years before when they were feared, hated, and booed.

Fans would swing their arms in the air from their seats just like the Bushwhackers did as they entered the arena. For wrestling fans who had been watching the two wrestle throughout the years, this was something really different from their Sheepherder days. Their absurd antics didn’t stop there, however.

“Butch thought we needed to come up with something catchy. He came up with the head licking,” said Williams. “The fans would stick their faces out there so we could lick their heads. It was anything but normal.”

When the fans would compare the Sheepherders to the Bushwhackers, there was some criticism, because even though they were the same two wrestlers with the same wrestling style, the characters that Williams and Miller portrayed were vastly different. That being said, they got people’s attention.

“We would be called the marching morons,” said Williams. “But I knew we were catching on when we would see NFL players score and celebrate in the end zone by marching around like the Bushwhackers.”

In 2015, the Bushwhackers were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Some fans didn’t realize the extent of their wrestling history. Few knew that they once wrestled with the Rock’s Father and the Rock’s grandfather. Many people were still unaware of their days before the Bushwhackers, but after wrestling for five decades, there isn’t much that Williams and Miller haven’t seen or done as professional wrestlers.

Today, Williams is 71 years old, and he still wrestles and attends wrestling conventions on a regular basis. The events where he can do autograph sessions allow him to interact with fans up close and personal. He meets fans that have known him for different parts of his wrestling career or the entire time.

“I believe that because of the marching and the head licking, we are still remembered,” said Williams. “A fan recently told me, “I liked the Bushwhackers, but my heart was with the Sheepherders. I feared the Sheepherders.”

A lot of fans and some of their opponents feared them as well. Fear is a common theme when discussing these two New Zealand wrestlers. The Sheepherders style was savage and fierce, and their work inside the ring was impactful. Williams and Miller knew how to play the villains well, and that was because, in their prime, wrestling was designed that way. Today, wrestling is different.

“There are no bad guys today. Back then, people bought tickets to see the bad guy get their ass kicked, and that’s why the arenas were packed,” Williams said. “I love the sport and I’m not knocking it, but today its entertainment, just like the circus.”

FUN FACTS

Favorite wrestler: Roddy Piper

Career highlight: #1. Walking into the ring at Wembley Stadium in front of 96,000 people when the Bushwhackers and Jim Duggan took on the Nasty Boys and Mountie. #2. It was a battle royal at Madison Square Garden in the 80’s. The last man to enter the match was Hulk Hogan and the crowd went wild. Butch could have talked to me with his mouth right up against my ear and I wouldn’t have heard him.

Favorite band: The Rolling Stones

Favorite sports team: The Florida Gators

Hobbies: Weight training and lying in the sun.

Dog person or a cat person: A dog person.

A state that you never been to: Wyoming

Favorite food: Chicken and fish.

Favorite color: Purple

A book that you have read: I have read hundreds of books. I am currently reading “Order to Kill.”

EXTRAS

1979-The Sheepherders vs. Adrian Adonis & Ron Starr

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LQ6N1MqIcQ

The Sheepherders vs. Roddy Piper and Rick Martel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkS85-3A4DA&t=394s

1986-The Sheepherders & Jack Victory vs. The Fantastics & Terry Taylor (Barbed wire cage match)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIIp1ivz27Y

1989-The Bushwhackers promo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH799RqKVkQ

1989-The Bushwhackers vs. The Bolsheviks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM7BDdK_2RY

 

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