If the saying "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery" is true, then the "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers must have been very flattered while he was alive. Rogers was not highly decorated like Lou Thesz, but Buddy has had an impact on the sport of professional wresting in many ways other than winning a great deal of titles.
Buddy had the most famous wrestling promotion in the world formed partially because of him. The way he was described in that chapter makes him out to be a coward when in actuality he was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Born Herman Rohde, he started his wrestling career using that name. He gained some much needed experience in these few years, but did not really become famous until he changed his name and dyed his hair blonde. He called himself Buddy Rogers in respect to the movie star with that same name.
With this new persona, he became the most hated "bad guy" of his era. This time period was known as the Golden Age of wrestling(the 1950's and 1960's.) Not only was he the most hated, but he was also one of the most talented wrestlers of that time.
It was not until June 30, 1961, that he won his
first World title. This was from Pat O'Connor in a match that would become one of the most
famous matches of all time:
The ring announcer was Leonard Sterling, the ring doctor was John Bolutsee, the referee was Stan Sarbonic, and the time keeper was Bob Klouse. Sterling announced the match as two of three falls with a 60 minute time limit. The first combatant he announced was Rogers. He was the current United States Title holder. The crowd booed him very loudly as Sterling said his name. Then O'Connor was announced to a very loud cheer from the fans. Both wrestlers were 33 years old.
Fifty Thousand people were in Comiskey Park to watch this match, which was being billed as the greatest match of all time. Not many people could predict a winner as both men were so evenly matched. The match started out with "collar and elbow tie ups" and forearm blows. O'Connor gained the advantage with an excruciatingly painful spinning arm bar. Buddy soon escaped the move and gained the advantage with a forearm to the face. He then attempted the figure four leglock, a move which he had invented, but O'Connor blocked it. A couple minutes later, Pat ran at Buddy, who was standing in the corner of the ring, but Buddy lifted his leg up and caught O'Conner with a boot to the face. Buddy then rolled on top of Pat and got the pin.
The second fall started with much of the same moves as the first fall. O'Connor worked on Buddy's ankle in this fall rather than his arm. Pat twisted his ankle in nearly a complete circle which put an expression of sheer pain of Buddy's face. After some more wrestling, Pat rolled Buddy up off of the ropes and got the pin for the second fall.
It was now tied 1-1 and the fate of
the world championship was down to one fall. At the beginning of the third fall, Rogers
was very confident and strutted around he ring, but this confidence would not last long.
Soon into the fall, O'Connor gains the advantage and begins to brutally pummel Rogers. Pat
had many near pinfalls which would have allowed him to keep the world title, which he had
held for two years. This all changed, though, when O'Connor attempted to drop kick Rogers,
but Buddy moved out of the way. O'Connor's legs straddled the ropes and they hit him in
the groin area. This put Pat into serious pain and caused him to roll around the ring.
Buddy got up and covered him for the pin. Sterling then announced Rogers as the new World
champion and Buddy was presented the belt by a National Wrestling Alliance official.
Rogers grabbed the microphone and said, "To a nicer guy it couldn't happen."
Mr. Rogers held this title for about two years and defended it five nights per week during those two years. He did not lose it until Lou Thesz defeated him in a one fall contest on January 24, 1963. Because the match was only one fall, several promoters from the North East did not accept the title change and started their own promotion because of that. This new promotion was known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation and Buddy Rogers was their first champion. With this, he became the first person to hold both the NWA world championship and the WWF world championship. Not one else would accomplish this feat for almost 30 years until another Nature Boy, Ric Flair, won the WWF title. Rogers held his new championship for six months until he was defeated by Bruno Sammartino.
Buddy Rogers has often been imitated, but never duplicated. Both Ric Flair( 13 time world champion who is considered to be the best wrestler of all time) and Buddy Landel have taken the name of "Nature Boy." In 1979, Buddy showed up in the Mid Atlantic, where Flair was wrestling, and challenged him to a "Battle of the Nature Boys." ir ended up winning this match, but the Mid Atlantic hadn't heard the last from Buddy Rogers. He ended up staying there and becoming a manager. He managed Gene Anderson and Superfly Jimmy Snuka, who at that time was one of the most hated men in wrestling. Soon, Snuka left the Mid Atlantic Region and joined the WWF. About a year later, Rogers was hired by the WWF to do an interview segment called "Rogers' Corner." On one of these segments, he persuaded Snuka that his current manager Lou Albano was stealing money from him. Buddy then found a loophole in Snuka's contract and allowed him to escape from Albano. Buddy then became the manager of Snuka once again.
In the mid 1980's, Buddy retired for good. His
"for good" would not have lasted long if he could have helped it. In the early
1990's, Rogers was planning a comeback so he could fight Buddy Landel. This match never
happened, though as he had a heart attack on June 26, 1992, and died.
There is much more to a man than his professional self, so I sought to also find out about his personal self. I have done that with the help of Blare Rogers, the "grandson" of Buddy Rogers. Rather than summarizing what Blare said to me, I will print the interview I conducted with him. I thank him greatly for allowing me this opportunity of learning about one of the great legends of the ring. Here is what Blare said:
"You ask me what kind of
man was Nature Boy Buddy Rogers. He was not only a great man but a major influence on my
life. I would definitely not be who or where I am in my life if it where not for the
influence of The Nature Boy.
I thought I would shed a little light on Buddy Rogers THE MAN. I was asked what kind of personality did Buddy have, did he like to joke or was he serious, was he fun loving or hard working. Well, in fact he was all of these things all of the time. The hardest working man in professional wrestling, but loved to have a good time and knew how to have one. When he wanted to, he had the intensity to accomplish anything he wanted. When Buddy spoke and told you he was gonna do something... It Happened! And I do not think there is anyone who enjoyed a good joke better than Buddy. He especially liked to play them. The Wrestling Biz is known for its great "ribs" and Buddy was one of the best at it.
Buddy treated me and Bobby as nothing less than Champions of the World. We went to book a show at a venue down here in Ft Lauderdale, and Buddy had those promoters in the palm of his hands. He told them how he they were looking at two of the best entertainers to set foot inside a wrestling ring. Now it may not sound too surpassing for him to speak of his protégés in that way, but when you understand that match could very well have been my DEBUT match, it showed the kind of confidence he had in Bobby and Blare.
Buddy loved to work out and was always in excellent no make that INCREDIBLE shape. At over 70 years old the man had the body of a man half his age. He loved to go for a walk on the beach, in fact, he was out there just about every morning--scoping out the chicks. Buddy was a huge flirt but when it came down to it, Debbie, his wife, was the only one for him. He loved the good life. Limo's and Wild Suits... that guy... I couldn't believe how loud his clothes were. I often wondered if he really liked them that way or if he was really just color blind. Ha ha. No seriously Buddy had the personality for it... he could wear whatever he wanted it woulda made no difference. The Nature Boy would shine through. He has the kinda charisma that if you talk to him for five minutes you'd feel like you've known him your whole life.
Buddy was also the chivalrous type. For instance at the age of 69, at Laspada's a sub shop near his home, there was this 18 year old guy raising hell with the waitress. Buddy asked the guy politely several times to stop when the punk answered "What are you gonna do about it old man" He barely had finished his words when he found himself half unconscious with his head in the sink. Not bad for an "Old Man"
What can I say about Buddy as a wrestler?? His career speaks for itself. His accomplishments at the time were unparalleled. Everything that is wrestling today is owed to the Nature Boy. Inventor of the Figure Four and Atomic Drop. To say that Buddy was one of the greatest would not do justice to him. Only to say THE GREATEST would ever come close.
While Buddy did not physically train me in the ring, what he did teach me was irreplaceable. My ring psychology everything I KNOW about how to go about the human chess game that is wrestling I learned from talking with Buddy. This has carried over into my everyday life as well.
When I heard of Buddy's death, I would have to say my reaction was shock. While it is not unusual for a man of his age to get sick, it was very surprising for it to be Buddy. Buddy was never sick and like I said ALWAYS in the BEST of shape. I was stunned that we had just been with him just weeks before and really couldn't believe what had happened. The funeral itself was quite interesting... I mean in seeing the droves of people who came to pay respect. That place was packed and this was a HUGE church. There were wreaths from both WWF and WCW. Buddy's very close friend George Scott was on hand along with Larry Sharpe. Bobby only 17 at the time gave the eulogy. I listened to what Bobby had to say and I spoke to many of his friends, people who had known him for decades. I thought of all that I learned from Buddy and how I was gonna make some changes in my life that very desperately needed to be made. I think I learned more about myself that day than I have ever before or since. The lights came on so to speak and I have never been the same since.
What do I remember most about Buddy??? Wow!! Was it the wild suits... the huge gold jewelry.. the smell of his ever present cigar... the way he told a story... or the AWE that came over you just to see them man. When you looked into those big blue eyes you knew you were looking into the eyes of greatness.
It is my goal in life to be as much like Buddy Rogers as I possibly can be, not just the wrestler, THE MAN. If I can even be just 1/8th the man he was, then I can consider myself a success. You know they say you cant really know someone till you've worn their boots... well I have tried them on... and they are all but impossible to fill. But I will do my best."
Buddy has had great influence on many people in his life. He will most likely have even more influence on people in the future. He, along with a few select others such as Gorgeous George have paved the way for the exciting style of wrestling today. Buddy Rogers will never be forgotten by anyone. He was a man who was proud of his accomplishments as Blare told me that he had a huge panoramic mural of the 50,000 plus crowd hanging on a wall in his house.
Compiled from Various Sources. A special Thank you goes to Blare Rogers for answering my questions.