Bushwhackers get spot in WWE Hall of Fame
Legendary New Zealand tag-team The Bushwhackers have been awarded the ultimate professional wrestling honour– a coveted spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Kiwi duo - Luke Williams and Butch Miller - will be inducted during this year's ceremony in San Jose, California on March 28 alongside fellow legends 'Macho Man' Randy Savage and Rikishi, with others yet to be announced.
The ceremony takes place the night before WrestleMania 31 and has become an integral part of the biggest wrestling event of the year.
The formal announcement, set to come later today on WWE programming, means Williams and Miller will join just six other tag teams at the highest echelon of sports entertainment, ensuring their name will forever stand alongside the likes of the Black Jacks, the Wild Samoans and the Legion of Doom.
"All I can say is 'about bloody time'," Williams laughs during a chat about the stunning announcement with Stuff.co.nz.
The 68-year-old Auckland-born star has been in the United States for over 40 years, but there's no doubting the accent and the Kiwi sense of humour that pervades every answer and every shared memory.
And the memories have to go back a very long way, right to the time when the duo first got together in 1966.
But it was in 1972, when they headed for the bright lights of the United States, that they took the first, some might say unlikely, steps towards wrestling stardom.
They were known for their sense of fun during their time with the WWE, but that wasn't always the case.
Before The Bushwhackers they were known, amongst other things, as The Sheepherders, a tag-team famed for bloody and brutal matches.
"To get on the big stage we were working for a big promotion in the south, the NWA," Williams recalls.
"In the NWA we ran around with The Fantastics, these two kids with big hearts - we did many barb-wired cage matches with these two kids. We worked every night with them for maybe six months."
But their aim was higher still, a place at the biggest company in the business.
"Vince [McMahon] Jr had taken over from his dad. He opened up nationwide and then worldwide. Of course we wanted to get on that big platform and at last we got the call in 1988. We joined and we went from wrestlers to celebrities."
The difference between The Sheepherders and The Bushwhackers is stark, but that doesn't mean we should think any less of their WWE time.
"I'll admit it, we became a comical team," he says.
"We had the meetings with Vince and all of a sudden Butch rings me and says 'I've got this contract in the mail here. And it's for guys called The Bushwhackers'.
"Vince said to us 'I want you to be between the Sheepherders and the Moondogs. I want you to come in as good guys. I want to change your whole thing.'
"When we went out to the ring as bad guys we threw up our arms and screamed. Butch said to me let's go to the ring marching, swinging our arms'. And all the fans caught on to that.
"When you see us coming down the aisle at Madison Square Garden everybody was swinging their arms to our music. The Bushwhackers were now in WWE."
But it wasn't just the combat fatigues, exaggerated arm movements and marching that became a staple of The Bushwhackers – there was also the licking. Of each other, of the fans – it didn't seem to matter, if you were in their way you got a Kiwi tongue across your head.
"That was Butch. He liked to lick," laughs Williams.
And the wise-cracking Kiwi has no regrets about the decision to change their style of wrestling to be faces (good guys) instead of heels (bad guys).
"We were professionals. I suggested later on in our career there - after about six years - to Vince but he said our characters were too strong to change back to heels.
"I appreciated what he said because I'm still going around travelling to Europe and around North America as a Bushwhacker because they remember that character - the arm swinging and the head licking."
There's one moment in particular that people remember, and oddly enough it's for a time Williams was on his own.
That infamous moment came during the 1991 Royal Rumble, when 30 superstars enter the ring at various time intervals. To be eliminated you have to be thrown over the top rope and your feet touch the ground.
With Miller already in the match Williams made his way to the ring, marching as he always did. He entered. Earthquake (John Tenta) picked him up and immediately threw him out. He lasted a total of four seconds and marched straight back out the way he came.
But there was no fighting back at what could have been considered an unwise career move when told of his cameo.
"I'd been in the business a long time. Business is business. I realised straight away it was one hell of a spot. I was like an Ever Ready battery, I just kept going."
And he got the best of his long-time partner too.
"Butch was in there for 25 minutes. He was hot because the pay day was the same," he chuckles.
With Williams' wrestling career now all but over, he runs a gym at Clearwater Beach in Florida.
And the switch from being a wrestler to a celebrity – a byproduct that came with their WWE signing - means he's still as popular as ever.
"People come up all the time, they see the sign out there and come up and say 'I watched you'.
"Germans, English, Austrians - people from all around the world, all walks of life come up and shake hands and say 'you entertained us' and want a photo with me."
His final words are for New Zealand. To those who supported him when he first started out and to all the Kiwis who were proud to watch fellow countrymen entertain millions of fans.
"I'm proud to be a Kiwi going into the Hall of Fame. We're the first people from Australia or New Zealand to go in.
"I'm like an ambassador for the country."
The truth is, few ambassadors have ever put New Zealand on the map as much as The Bushwhackers did.
And with a wee chuckle and a loud 'Kia ora', Williams is gone. Probably to meet some more fans and get his picture taken. Maybe even to lick a head or two.
But definitely to California, WrestleMania weekend, the Hall of Fame and the culmination of a half-century in one of the toughest businesses around.