Old School Spotlight: “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer

Buzz Sawyer

In the long storied history of professional wrestling, many spandex clad gladiators have grabbed our attention and captured our imaginations. These colorful characters remain in the deepest recesses of our minds years after their glory days in the ring have passed. The most memorable grapplers from our years of wrestling fandom are often those that we encounter early on in our initial discovery of the mat game. This column will take a weekly look at some of the most bizarre, flamboyant, charismatic, and downright terrifying pro wrestlers of all time.

During the 1970s and 80s territory days, pro wrestlers were touring tough men who traveled the globe like a rock and roll circus leaving a wake of chaos in their paths and adding even more questionable accomplishments to their already bizarre resumes. Bruce Alan Woyan was one such individual. Woyan is best known by his ring name Buzz Sawyer but it was through his exploits and antics both inside and outside the ring that he earned the nickname, “Mad Dog”. He was born June 14, 1959 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sawyer was a graduate from Dixie Hollins High School where he was a state ranked wrestler in the 186 pound weight class. He was known for allegedly hammering nails with his forehead in locker rooms prior to and at halftime of their local football games. Sawyer started his pro wrestling career in 1979 in the National Wrestling Alliance’s Mid-Atlantic territory, Jim Crockett Promotions. He stayed there with some stints in Georgia Championship Wrestling until 1984 mainly teaming with his brother, Brett.

Buzz may be best remembered for his epic feud with “Wildfire” Tommy Rich that led to many bloody, violent matches throughout the southeastern US. Their feud culminated in 1983 with the Last Battle of Atlanta, which for the very first time featured a completely enclosed steel cage. It also saw manager, “Precious” Paul Ellering suspended 20 feet above the ring in a smaller cage. This is the match that Shawn Michaels credits for inspiring the Hell in the Cell concept used by WWE in recent years. This match also likely provided the genesis of the War Games match used for many years by WCW. The stipulation for the Sawyer/Rich match was that they would never wrestle each other again. Sadly, no known video footage of this historic match exists as rumor has it Ole Anderson tossed all the footage from the classic Omni shows when he was the booker for the Georgia territory. After Sawyer fell to Rich in the cage, he had a memorable feud with the Road Warriors after he left manager Paul Ellering’s Legion of Doom stable.

Sawyer then had a short World Wrestling Federation run in 1984. He was called “Bulldog” Buzz Sawyer because the “Mad Dog” moniker was being used by Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon. During Sawyer’s few WWF TV appearances, he was managed by the legendary Captain Lou Albano. Sawyer’s gimmick included wearing a dog collar with chain and a lot of barking. He wasn’t moving up the card as he had hoped in the WWF so he left after a few months. After his short WWF stint, he surfaced in the NWA’s Florida territory, under the mind control of Kevin Sullivan. There he feuded with the likes of Mike Graham, Dusty Rhodes, and “Exotic” Adrian Street.

In 1985, Buzz went to work for “Cowboy” Bill Watts in Mid-South Wrestling. The Mid-South territory would become the Universal Wrestling Federation in 1986. There Sawyer became a protégé of “Dirty” Dick Slater. After Slater won the North American Heavyweight Title, he gave the Mid-South TV Title to Sawyer to defend on his behalf. The promotion tricked Slater into letting Sawyer defend the North American Title (which he promptly lost), Sawyer then refused to give the TV belt back to Slater. This sparked an issue between the two leading to a feud. Sawyer’s time in Mid-South and the UWF is remembered for his hard hitting matches with Slater and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan among others. Watts had a standing policy that if his wrestlers frequented bars or nightclubs and were involved in any sort of physical altercations with “civilians”, they better come out on top of the tussle or they would be fired. Sawyer took that policy as a personal challenge. Many stories exist of the “Mad Dog’s” exploits at watering holes all over the Louisiana and Oklahoma area. Sawyer was known for his crazy antics such as continually trying to fight the police outside bars and his partying lifestyle and drug abuse was legendary. One drunken evening, Sawyer and The Iron Sheik were thrown out of a hotel after The Sheik gave Buzz a belly to belly suplex through some furniture in their room.

In 1986, Sawyer left the UWF for Fritz Von Erich’s, World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas. There he formed a successful tag team with “Maniac” Matt Borne as the duo quickly won the WCCW Tag Team Championship. They were managed by Percy Pringle III. He also won the WCCW Television Championship and the Texas Heavyweight Championship. He got into a feud with the Dingo Warrior and lost the tag team titles, with Master Gee substituting for him, to Warrior and Lance Von Erich before reportedly being fired after failing a drug test.

Sawyer then returned to the site of some of his greatest success, Atlanta, with the newly re-named World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1989 as part of “Playboy” Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation. Upon Sawyer’s arrival, Hart’s stable was in the midst of a feud with the Four Horsemen. The “Mad Dog” had several matches against Arn Anderson during that span. At the conclusion of that feud, he then joined Kevin Sullivan’s “Slaughterhouse” stable in 1990. At the Wrestle War ’90 event, Sawyer fractured his wrist after landing awkwardly while delivering a top rope splash and never returned to WCW after that show.

Sawyer was wrestling on the independent circuit when he died from heart failure due to a drug overdose on February 7, 1992. Fellow wrestler Billy Jack Haynes, himself no stranger to controversy, contended that Sawyer’s death was a well executed “hit” because they were both part-time drug smugglers in the Pacific Northwest area around that same time. Buzz successfully trained a few wrestlers during his later years including Ken Shamrock. Other training agreements did not go as well. The story goes that Sawyer was paid by a few guys including a young Mark Calaway, who went on to become The Undertaker, to teach them to wrestle while living in Dallas, but Sawyer only showed Calaway and the other students how to lock-up and then skipped town the next day with the money he had received. Many people have varying opinions of Sawyer ranging from a legit tough guy with an amateur background, to an abusive locker room bully, to a brash, outspoken, party animal. However, everyone can agree “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer left his mark on the world of pro wrestling like few others have ever done.

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