Buddy Rogers (wrestler)

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Buddy Rogers
Buddy Rogers (wrestler).jpg
Birth name Herman Gustav Rohde Jr.
Born (1921-02-20)February 20, 1921
Camden, New Jersey, U.S.
Died June 26, 1992(1992-06-26) (aged 71)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Buddy Rogers
Dutch Rogers
Herman Rohde
Billed height 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Billed weight 227 lb (103 kg)
Trained by Joe Cox
Fred Grubmeyer
Debut 1939
Retired 1982

Herman Gustav Rohde Jr. (February 20, 1921 – June 26, 1992), better known by the ring name Buddy Rogers, was an American professional wrestler.

One of the biggest professional wrestling stars in the beginning of the television era, Rogers' performances inspired generations of professional wrestlers, such as Butch Reed during his "Natural" phase, and the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, who used Rogers' nickname, as well as his look, attitude and finishing hold, the figure-four leglock. Rogers was a two-time world champion, holding the top championship in both the NWA and the WWWF, today known as WWE (he was the inaugural WWWF World Heavyweight Champion). Rogers is one of three men in history to have held both titles, along with Ric Flair and AJ Styles.

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Early career (1940s–1950s)[edit]

The son of German immigrant parents, Rogers was an outstanding athlete, taking up wrestling at age nine at the local YMCA. Upon the advice of one of his instructors, he joined the Camden YMCA Wrestling League, winning its heavyweight championship. He also excelled in football, boxing, and track, but perhaps his best sport was swimming. In 1937, he won the YMCA’s three-mile swimming championship, and throughout his life was known as a charismatic figure.

Joining the Dale Brothers Circus as a wrestler at age 17, he then went to work at a shipyard and became a police officer, but one day he went to the offices of professional wrestling promoters Ray and Frank Hanley, who gave him his first match on July 4, 1939 against one Moe Brazen, which Rogers won.[1]

Rogers soon became a top professional wrestler using his real name around his hometown where he gained his first major win over Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Like many professional wrestlers, Rogers was likely not the height and weight listed, as he probably stood 5'11" tall and weighed in at 195 pounds.

He continued his career in Houston, where he assumed the name Buddy Rogers. Rogers would get his first professional wrestling championship during his tenure there, winning the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship four times, once from Lou Thesz, beginning a long rivalry both in and out of the ring. After leaving the Texas territory for Columbus, Ohio, the final pieces of his character were added. He bleached his hair and was given the moniker "Natural Guy", later "Nature Boy", by promoter Jack Pfefer.[2] In the early 1950s, Lillian Ellison (under the moniker Slave Girl Moolah) worked as his valet.[3] Ellison claims that the partnership ended after Rogers pushed for a sexual relationship, which Ellison refused.[3]

With the advent of television, Rogers' flashy look, great physique and bombastic personality instantly caught the ire of audiences. The first sign of Rogers' impact was his involvement in Sam Muchnick's opposition promotion in St. Louis, Missouri, a major professional wrestling market at the time. He was pitted against Lou Thesz as a draw. In the end, Muchnick's promotion was powerful enough with Rogers as its main star that the two promotions merged. Rogers continued control of the Midwest as a booker and professional wrestler, most notably in Chicago, frequently selling out the 11,000-seat arena. In the 1950s, Rogers expanded into Vince McMahon, Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation. He also wrestled in the Al Haft promotion out of Columbus, Ohio in the 1950s into the 1960s.

National Wrestling Alliance (1960–1963)[edit]

In 1961, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) voted him into a NWA World Heavyweight Championship match. On June 30, 1961, Rogers took the title from Pat O'Connor in front of 38,622 fans at Comiskey Park, a North American professional wrestling attendance record that lasted until the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions in 1984.[4] The ticket sales of $148,000 were a professional wrestling record for almost twenty years.[4] The match, a two out of three falls match, was billed as the "Match of the Century".[4] During the match, both men had gained a pinfall, when O'Connor missed a dropkick, hit his head, and Rogers pinned him to win the match.[4]

To many promoters, it seemed that Rogers favored northeastern promoters over other territories. Promoters and noted shooters Karl Gotch and Bill Miller confronted Rogers in Columbus and broke his hand. Another injury in Montreal in a match against Killer Kowalski kept Rogers on the sidelines. On his return, the heads of the NWA voted to switch the title back over to Lou Thesz, who publicly disliked Rogers. On January 24, 1963, the match took place in Toronto, but Rogers was hesitant about dropping the title, so promoter Sam Muchnick put in place three safeguards to guarantee Rogers' cooperation. First, the match was only one fall, out of the ordinary since most title matches were two out of three falls until the mid-1970s. The second safeguard was his threat to give Rogers' bond (the NWA World Heavyweight Champion was required to pay a $25,000 deposit to the NWA Board of Directors before being given the championship belt; the deposit was returned to the wrestler after losing the title) away to charity.[5] The third was matching him against Thesz who could "take" the title if necessary; Thesz won the match and the title.

Rogers was also co-holder of the NWA United States Tag Team Championship, with frequent tag team partner "Handsome" Johnny Barend. They won the championship in 1962 on Washington, D.C. television from Johnny Valentine and Arnold Skaaland, who was put in as a last minute substitute for Ellis whose flight had been "delayed". With the championship on the line, Rogers and Barend isolated Skaaland whom Rogers disabled with hisFigure-four leglock to win the first fall. After Skaaland was carried from the ring on a stretcher, Valentine continued to fight alone in the second fall, but was being worn down quickly by the two villains. All of a sudden, the roar of the crowd could be heard as the television cameras swung around to catch "Cowboy" Bob Ellis running down the aisle in his street clothes and carrying his travel suitcase. Ellis kicked off his shoes, leaped into the ring, and after applying multiple bulldog headlocks, he pinned Barend to win the second fall for his team. The third fall was a bloody free for all with the wrestlers fighting inside and outside the ring. Finally, Ellis and Barend collided near the villains' corner knocking each other out. The referee was distracted by Valentine trying to get into the ring as Rogers picked up the unconscious Barend by the back of his trunks and his hair, and threw him on top of Ellis for the pin and the victory.

Rogers and Barend defeated Valentine and Ellis in a title rematch at Madison Square Garden, and went on to defend the championship until spring 1963, when they lost the championship on Washington, D.C. television to Killer Buddy Austin and The Great Scott (even though one of the falls was on a disqualification and they technically should not have passed). Rogers and Barend split briefly and feuded, but reunited that summer to defeat Bruno Sammartino and Bobo Brazil in Madison Square Garden two falls to one.

During the brief Rogers-Barend feud, Rogers teamed up regularly with a masked wrestler, The Shadow (veteran wrestler Clyde Steeves). Prior to the title reign with Barend, he was frequently a tag tea, partner with Bob Orton, grandfather of Randy Orton.

World Wide Wrestling Federation and semi-retirement (1963–1969)[edit]

Northeast promoters, led by Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt, withdrew their membership from the NWA and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, now WWE), as Thesz was not a strong draw in the area. The WWWF billed Rogers as their world champion since January 25,[6] but did not recognize him as the first ever WWWF World Heavyweight Champion until April 11, 1963 (the official date of Rogers' beginning reign), when promoter and first WWWF President Willie Gilzenberg appeared on Washington, D.C. television in 1963 and officially declared Rogers the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion by handing him the WWWF world title belt.[7] This was explained by Rogers having won a wrestling tournament in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, although it was fictional.[8] However, WWE.com lists Rogers' reign beginning date on April 25, 1963.[9] Rogers' reign was cut short by a mild heart attack that greatly hindered his endurance.

Despite being the top champion, McMahon had a hard time with Rogers at the top of his company as fans were not happy with Rogers as the champion. Physically in decline, Rogers was matched against the hugely popular and immensely powerful Bruno Sammartino. Rogers was beaten by Sammartino on May 17 of that year, in a match that lasted a mere 48 seconds. Stunned and disheartened, Rogers quickly left the ring. Legend says that Mondt dragged Rogers out of his hospital bed and forced him into the match, but it was obvious that Rogers could not take the burden of a WWWF World Heavyweight Championship match in his condition. Sammartino publicly claimed that Rogers was not ill and just did not want to lose the title.

After losing to Sammartino, Rogers stayed on top, in anticipation of a rematch. He defeated Hans "The Great" Mortier in less than a minute with the figure-four leglock in Madison Square Garden, and teamed with "Handsome" Johnny Barend to take two out of three falls via pin from Sammartino and Bobo Brazil, with Rogers pinning Sammartino for the final fall. The big rematch was to be held October 4, 1963 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. The tickets were printed with Rogers–Sammartino on them. However, it was announced that Rogers was retiring, and Gorilla Monsoon, who had won a tournament, got the title shot that night.

Rogers subsequently only wrestled an occasional show for The Sheik's promotion in Detroit and Montreal. In 1969, Rogers appeared for a brief time in an Ohio-based promotion called Wrestling Show Classics, where he spent time on television talking with his former manager Bobby Davis and appearing in brief studio and arena matches.

Jim Crockett Promotions and return to WWF (1978–1992)[edit]

In 1978, Rogers returned to wrestling as a fan favorite in Florida, although he was in his late 50s. He later moved up to Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas as a villain manager managing professional wrestlers like Jimmy Snuka, Ken Patera, Gene Anderson, Dewey Robertson and Big John Studd. His most notable moment during his run in the Carolinas was his feud with the new "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, before Rogers put over Flair on July 9, 1978.

After his time in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, he moved back into WWF where he was a fan favorite manager and part-time professional wrestler who also hosted the interview segment Rogers' Corner until 1983. Rogers was instrumental in helping turning Jimmy Snuka into a fan favorite, leading to Rogers managing Snuka for his feud with Lou Albano and Ray Stevens. During the feud, Rogers broke his hip and retired from professional wrestling for good. His show was replaced by Victory Corner, which would later be replaced by Piper's Pit. He would continue to make sporadic appearances in the WWF until 1984, right before the beginning of the Rock 'n' Wrestling era.

End of career and death[edit]

He was set to wrestle yet another "Nature Boy", this time Buddy Landel, in a comeback match for the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance (a predecessor of ECW) in early 1992, but the promotion went out of business and the match never occurred. Later in the year, Rogers was weakened by a severe broken arm and suffered three strokes, two on the same day. He was put on life support and died a short time afterward on June 26, 1992.

Legacy[edit]

Lou Thesz, Rogers' long-time colleague and frequent opponent, best described Rogers' early impact in his memoir, Hooker: "Rogers is remembered by fans and performers alike as one of the top all-time stars in the business, but it's probably not common knowledge just how influential he was... he broke into the business somewhere around 1941 as a hero-type personality, with little more going for him than a good body and natural charisma in the ring – which is actually a pretty good beginning – and he was a hit almost from the start. He had that indefinable something fans responded to, and he was sharp enough to build upon what he had, paying attention to what got a reaction from the fans. What evolved over several years was the 'Nature Boy', the prototype of the cocky, strutting, sneering, arrogant peroxide blond villain that is almost a tired wrestling cliché today. Rogers invented the character, and I believe he did it better than anyone". Thesz continued, "He was also one of the first guys to rely a lot on what we called 'flying' moves in the ring – body slams, dropkicks, piledrivers, ricochets off the ropes into his opponent, action moves that are commonplace today. All of those moves were in use before Rogers came along, but they were used sparingly; most of the wrestling prior to Rogers' emergence was done on the mat. Rogers was the first to use flying moves in quantity, staying off the mat, and the style was so popular with the fans that other wrestlers, including me, followed his lead".[10]

Another Rogers contribution to modern professional wrestling was his bombastic interviewing style. Professional wrestlers might talk and converse with interviewers, but Rogers bragged and boasted about how great he was and how pathetic his opponents were. After winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Pat O'Connor in Chicago in 1961, Rogers accepted the title belt and then took the microphone and shouted, "To a nicer guy it couldn't happen!". This type of bombastic style went over well with the fans and has been followed ever since. However, Rogers was not well liked during his prime years because he had a habit of taking advantage of opponents in the ring. During his prime years, he was known as much for his distinctive peacock-like strut as for his wrestling performance. He was also very skilled at drawing heat during interviews, with a smug "to a nicer guy, it couldn't have happened" being his catchphrase of sorts whenever he was victorious. He may have been the first authentic "charismatic" professional wrestler, who, along with almost equally charismatic Bobby Davis, would use cruel, yet hilarious, put-downs of his opponents, such as: "After I get through with him, he'll be back driving a garbage truck where he belongs". Almost like a tag team of pseudo-arrogance, Davis would incredulously say of Roger's opponents that they did not even deserve to be in the same ring as Rogers, bemoaning the fact that "this is a sport of kings!". Interestingly, although he was viewed as a villain in most areas during most of his career, Rogers was always a fan favorite in cities throughout Ohio. This was probably due to his appearances for many years with the Al Haft Promotion who had their offices in Columbus.

According to Thesz, Rogers, although admittedly an excellent professional wrestler and a superb showman, was a manipulative schemer behind the scenes and was fond of saying in private: "Screw your friends and be nice to your enemies, so your enemies will become your friends, and then you can screw them too".[11] With age, however, Rogers mellowed and became a very respected veteran and spokesman for professional wrestling. Rogers had one of the longest consistent top drawing periods of any main eventer (15 years) and the ability to draw in several different territories successfully. In 1994, he was posthumously inducted into the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame. Fellow professional wrestler Ric Flair from early in his career to the present day, adopted the "Nature Boy" gimmick from Rogers as a tribute to him. Even using Rogers' own signature move the figure-four leglock as his own, Flair even went as far as doing his own variation of the Rogers strut as well.

In wrestling[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

1 Five of Rogers' six reigns with the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship occurred before the title came under the control of the NWA and before the NWA was created. The situation is the same regarding Rogers' reign with the NWA Texas Tag Team Championship.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Davies, Ross, Buddy Rogers (The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2001), pp. 14-20.
  2. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8. 
  3. ^ a b c Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. pp. 60–65. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8. 
  4. ^ a b c d Oliver, Greg (2006-03-16). "Chicago's big moment: O'Connor vs Rogers, 1961". SLAM! Wrestling. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  5. ^ Hornbaker, Tim (2007). "13 NWA World Heavyweight Champions (1948-1975)". National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-741-3. 
  6. ^ "1963". thehistoryofwwe.com. Retrieved November 15, 2016. World Champion Buddy Rogers defeated Bobo Brazil 
  7. ^ "1963". thehistoryofwwe.com. Retrieved November 15, 2016. WWWF World Champion Buddy Rogers fought Bruno Sammartino to a no contest; it was prior to this bout that Rogers received the WWWF World Title though he had been billed as 'world champion' since January 
  8. ^ Kyle Dunning (July 16, 2015). "History Of The WWWF/WWF/WWE World Heavyweight Championship". ewrestlingnews.com. Retrieved November 15, 2016. It was decided to give Rogers the championship and claim he won it in a tournament in Brazil, but the tournament was completely fictional. 
  9. ^ "WWE World Championship". WWE. Retrieved November 15, 2016. 
  10. ^ Thesz, Lou, with Kit Bauman, Hooker: An Authentic Wrestler's Adventures Inside the Bizarre World of Professional Wrestling, Mike Chapman, Editor (TWC-Press, 2000), pp. 95-96.
  11. ^ Thesz, Lou, with Kit Bauman, Hooker: An Authentic Wrestler's Adventures Inside the Bizarre World of Professional Wrestling, Mike Chapman, Editor (TWC-Press, 2000), p. 96.
  12. ^ Melok, Bobby; Murphy, Ryan (March 23, 2013). "Who invented the Figure-Four Leglock?". WWE. Retrieved November 10, 2016.  Archived August 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "AWA World Heavyweight Title [Chicago]". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  14. ^ "AWA World Heavyweight Title [Ohio]". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  15. ^ "AWA Eastern States Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  16. ^ "Capitol-WWWF United States Tag Team Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  17. ^ "NWA World Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  18. ^ "WWE World Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles.com. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 

External links[edit]