Professional wrestling has taken Luke Williams far from his native New Zealand. During the 70s and 80s, it took him all over Texas, so his featured match Saturday as part of the the Laredo Wrestling Alliance Laredo Cup won't be his first brouhaha on the border with Mexico.
"We worked for Joe Blanchard in San Antonio, and we had matches all over Texas. We wrestled in Laredo and in Nuevo Laredo," said the man still known today as Bushwhacker Luke. Along with his longtime partner Butch, he formed The Bushwhackers, one of the most memorable tag teams from the late 80s and early 90s.
It was the late end of that era of wrestling with feather boas and bow tie-wearing ring announcers. Wrestlers wore colorful costumes and performed under names like Koko B. Ware. The Bushwhackers stood out for their comical antics and trademark march to the ring. They'd lick the faces of their fans and any opponent would be considered lucky if he avoided having his rear bitten by one of these good ol' boys from Down Under.
When he steps in the ring against LWA's Burhan, however, Luke said he's bringing a very different demeanor.
"I'm bringing the Sheepherder, mate. Before we were The Bushwhackers, Butch and I were The Sheepherders," he said. "We were doing hardcore before it was a mainline title. We did four-way chain matches and we barbed wire steel cage."
Now working the independent scene as a singles wrestler (Butch retired in 2002) Luke, 65, introduces audiences to the brutality that made The Sheepherders famous. While he may have gone back to his roots in between the ropes, he said fans can still expect the typical goofball Bushwhacker as they interact with him.
"There probably will be some licking," he said.
One man who has nothing good to look forward to, though, is Burhan.
"I've heard he's been running roughshod down there in Laredo. When the Sheepherder comes to town, he's going to be in for a kicking."
A former LWA champ, Burhan said he grew up watching The Bushwhackers and it was that era of wrestling that made him dream of lacing up the boots himself.
He said, "To be stepping in the ring with Luke it's, it's just an honor."
The so-called "Arab Assassin," who is nearly three decades the junior of his opponent, emphasized that he won't let hero worship cloud his judgement when the bell rings. He plans to overwhelm Luke with his power-based offense until the veteran can take no more.
The rest of the card includes matches in the single-elimination tournament for which the event is named. The brainchild of LWA owner Rey Chavarria, the Laredo Cup is a concept bringing together four areas of the border region--Tamaulipas, Mexico, McAllen, San Antonio and Laredo--with each represented by two wrestlers.
"The intent is to continue building wrestling all over the area, not just Laredo," Chavarria said.
The winner of the tournament holds the Laredo Cup until next year's tournament. Thus far, the official brackets indicate both of Mexico's representatives, Black Magnum and Aries have already advanced out of the first round. The two fought on opposite ends of a tag match last week at Friday the 13th and then in an unscheduled one-on-one encounter with their masks on the line. Though Aries won, Black Magnum refused to remove his mask. Both have since signed an iron-clad mask versus mask contract for a match in October, and their meeting in the Laredo Cup semifinals will likely only fuel their ongoing rivalry.
In first round matches, Rey Peligro meets Cobra and Madness takes on Bandanna Joe. Joe currently holds the United Pure Wrestling (UPW) championship, a cross-promotional title Chavarria explains as a throwback to the days of wrestling territories.
"When Ric Flair won the (National Wrestling Alliance) world title, he defended it against wrestlers in Japan. He defended it in the South," he said. "That's the idea here, that the title can change promotions depending on who wins or loses."
The notion is likely strange to today's younger fans, familiar with titles as a fixture of their promotions or, in the case of World Wrestling Entertainment, exclusive to a single T.V. show. In this regard, Chavarria said the UPW belt helps introduce wrestling traditions to a new audience.
LWA Laredo Cup starts Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the American Legion Post 59 located at 809 Zaragoza Street. Tickets are $5.