Nature Boy Buddy Rogers would’ve been 100 today if he were still alive, so I thought I’d have a look at some clips of him at different stages of his career.
Herman “Dutch” Rohde vs. Ash Mahoney
From 1941, two years into his career and aged twenty, Buddy wrestles under his own name still at this time. The presentation needs to be seen to be believed, like an old time movie (“Mat Maulers!”). The commentator, Bill Stern, is a little facetious from the start. Rogers still has dark hair and is a babyface. Mahoney forearms him down before he even has his robe off. An early start sees Rogers in a “back strange hold”, but is released by the ref and gets some forearm shots and kicks with quite obviously overdubbed slap sounds. They do look stiff, though! Mahoney looks like he dwarfs Rogers and offers a handshake, so Rogers kicks the hand. They trade forearms and do some dazed selling. Mahoney goes back to the strange hold (rear chinlock) and then chokes Rogers on the ropes. Front facelock, which the referee gets really involved in breaking up. Mahoney downs Rogers with a forearm and seemingly has him for three, but Rogers pats him on the back from underneath and Mahoney thinks it’s the ref telling him to get off because he’s won, so he breaks at two and Rogers gets a trio of loose suplexes and a pair of dropkicks for the win. Very limited, but they were doing something all the time and it told a story, so not hard to get into it.
Buddy Rogers vs. Joe Garcia
Twenty years later and Herman Rohde is now the arrogant Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, with bleached blonde hair. This is from a TV taping in Charlotte. Garcia gets a side headlock to start, which Rogers breaks with a pull of the hair and shoots Garcia off. Garcia returns with a dropkick but does more harm to himself, so Rogers goes to work with some neat punches and a choke. Garcia breaks the choke with a knee and charges in for a shoulderblock, but walks into a high knee and Rogers quickly finishes with the figure four grapevine (leglock). Quick, dominant win for Rogers. He won’t release the hold, so Billy Darnell, who’s on commentary, runs in to break it after he also decks the ref to build up a future match between them. Short, but exciting.
Buddy Rogers vs. Haystacks Calhoun
From Chicago, Rogers wrestles a man who outweighs him by 361 pounds, Haystacks Calhoun. Rogers just looks awesome and muscular here. The recently deceased Bobby Davis is ahead of his time as Rogers’ manager, holding up the NWA World Heavyweight belt and taking his time getting out of the ring. Russ Davis jokes (I hope!) about how they had to get Calhoun in the ring with a forklift truck. Rogers holds his own on a collar and elbow tie-up, but can’t take him over with a side headlock and gripes about it to anyone who will listen, then gets stuck in Calhoun’s headlock and can’t fire him off to the amusement of Russ and the crowd. Rogers tries for the hair and the throat, but can’t break, so gets him to the corner and stamps on the bare feet. He then uses the overalls to get a reverse chinlock. Calhoun looks like he’s starting to expire, so punches the gut to break. Also of note, the crowd pop on getting regular updates over the house mic on ongoing game scores. Haystacks starts winning on a standing wristlock, so Rogers goes to the eyes, which Calhoun returns the favour on. Rogers then walks into a big slam and starts begging off, so Haystacks just sits on him. That would be an unescapable pin, but Rogers has his leg over the bottom rope. He tries to peel himself off the mat while Haystacks stands on his stomach. Back up, he avalanches Rogers in the corner a few times and LEAPS on him with a big splash, but again Rogers gets his foot on the ropes to escape the sure loss. Haystacks with some short punches to the jaw. Rogers leaps into a bearhug, but pokes the eye and uses a pair of dropkicks to send Calhoun flying out of the ring in a nasty, nasty bump, breaking the second rope on the way out, resulting in a count out victory for the champ. I thoroughly enjoyed this big babyface against arrogant heel match, which could fit into any era with how it was worked.
Buddy Rogers vs. Pat O’Connor
From Comiskey Park in front of almost 39,000 people in ’61 as well. Rogers is the challenger, Pat is the champ. Two out of three falls with a one hour time limit. Rogers with an early uppercut and strut. Pat meets him back with a forearm. Cut to O’Connor charging into a forearm, with Rogers trying to capitalise with the figure four, which Pat counters with a chop to the ear. He goes for a piledriver, but Rogers gets to the ropes before he can be lifted. Pat gets some strong blows with the sweat flying, but he charges again and Rogers gets his foot up for the pinfall and the first fall.
Second fall, Rogers gets a rabbit punch to the back of Pat’s neck. He gets a dropkick, which O’Connor kips up straight away from. These damn kids, no-selling! Cut and he goes to the dirty tactics himself, with a punch to the nose while in a headlock. Rogers charges and Pat scoots behind and gets the O’Connor roll on him for the equalizer. Gee, I thought everyone pre-1985 just sat in a headlock for three hours and didn’t have any athleticism(!).
Third fall, Rogers resists a criss-cross by breaking into a strut. They both start getting a little excited and hit heads on a collision. With Rogers dazed O’Connor goes for that piledriver again, but they tumble to the apron, which itself is about a foot wide. Back in, Rogers runs into a slam. Another big one, almost into the corner. Rogers gets his foot on the rope to break a pinfall. Pat tosses him by the hair and gets another slam, but it’s the same escape. Stop slamming him into the corner, Pat! Actually, I know it’s a lot of standard moves being repeated, like slams, but realistically a slam is a big, powerful move and the business hadn’t progressed to the point where it was powerbomb, piledriver, tombstone, Stunner, Rock Bottom, chairshot, Angle Slam, only to get a two. Pat starts getting nasty and BOUNCES the back of Rogers’ head off the turnbuckle repeatedly, with Rogers crumbling down. Rogers seeks respite in the ropes and does a timber bump back off a punch. Hip toss and dropkick, but Rogers ducks a final one and O’Connor bounces off the top rope and rolls around clutching his stomach, with Rogers finally catching up to him to get the pinfall. About a dozen police officers immediately climb onto the apron, facing outwards, perhaps predicting a volatile reaction. The clip is cut off, for shame, with Rogers further endearing himself to the crowd with the classic line “To a nicer guy it couldn’t happen!”. Obviously one of the classic matches of all time, even accessible 60 years later.
Rogers’ Corner – Pedro Morales
Rogers pretty much finished up in the big time with the WWF in the absence of Bruno Sammartino, hosting Rogers’ Corner and managing Jimmy Snuka. Hostile crowd, seemingly, as a few people pelt Rogers (a babyface interviewer at the time) with garbage. Pedro looks confused but smiles it off. He’s also sweating bullets and doesn’t seem to know how to answer Rogers’ questions, just talking about where he’s been and how the toughest people are in the “World Wide Wrestling Federation”. He then breaks from the nice comments by talking about how he can’t stand Don Muraco and how Muraco stole his belt. Rogers is pretty dry here but does a good job of filling in the gaps, plus he has that distinctive voice.
The Bottom Line: Superstar Billy Graham is often talked about being ahead of his time and there’s sadness that he’d deteriorated by the time he could’ve been really big, but Rogers was absolutely ahead of his time and a pioneer who could’ve fit any era. If he and Flair were contemporaries he would’ve been the alpha male to Ric. Great, great wrestler, one of the very best.