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Buddy Rogers
Ring name(s) Herman Rohde
Dutch Rogers
Buddy Rogers
Billed height 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Billed weight 227 pounds (103 kg)
Born February 20, 1921(1921-02-20)
Camden, New Jersey,
United States
Died June 26, 1992 (aged 71)
Trained by Joe Cox
Fred Grubmeyer
Debut June 1939
Retired 1978

"Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, born Herman Rohde,, (February 20, 1921 – June 26, 1992) was an American professional wrestler and one of the biggest wrestling stars in the beginning of the television era. His performances inspired generations of professional wrestlers, such as "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, who used Buddy Rogers' nickname, as well as his look, his attitude, and his finishing hold, the figure four leglock. He was the first professional wrestler to hold the WWF Championship and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Contents

Professional wrestling career

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Early career (1940s–1950s)

The son of German immigrant parents, Rogers was a New Jersey police officer before being discovered by a local promoter and soon became a top wrestler using his real name around his hometown where he gained his first major win over Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Like all professional wrestlers, Rogers was not the height and weight listed. Buddy actually stood 5'11" tall and weighed in at 195 pounds soaking wet.

He continued his career in Houston, where he assumed the name "Buddy Rogers". Rogers would get his first major taste of gold during his tenure there, winning the Texas Heavyweight title four times, once from the great Lou Thesz, beginning a long feud 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 "Nature Boy" by promoter Jack Pfefer.[1] In the early 1950s, Lillian Ellison (under the moniker Slave Girl Moolah worked as his valet.[2] Ellison claims that the partnership ended after Rogers pushed for a sexual relationship, which Ellison refused.[2]

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 wrestling market at the time. He was pitted against the well respected Lou Thesz as a draw. In the end, Muchnick's promotion was powerful enough with Buddy Rogers as its main star that the two promotions merged. Rogers continued control of the Midwest as a booker and 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.

National Wrestling Alliance (1960–1963)

In 1961, the National Wrestling Alliance voted him NWA World Heavyweight Champion. On June 30, 1961, Pat O'Connor dropped the title to Rogers 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.[3] The ticket sales of $148,000 were a professional wrestling record for almost 20 years.[3] The match, a two out of three falls match, was billed as the "Match of the Century".[3] 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.[3]

To many promoters, it seemed that Buddy 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 made it public that he did not like Buddy Rogers. On January 24, 1963, the match took place in Toronto. 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-1970. The second safeguard was his threat to give Rogers' bond (the NWA Champion was required to pay a $25,000 deposit to the NWA Board of Directors before being given the title; the deposit was returned to the wrestler after losing the title) away to charity. The third was matching him against the legitimate wrestler Thesz who could "take" the title if necessary. Thesz won the match and the title.

Rogers was also co-holder of the U.S. Tag Team Championship, with frequent tag partner Handsome Johnny Barend. They won the belts in 1962 on Washington, D.C. television from Johnny Valentine and Arnold Skaaland (Skaaland subbing for the missing Ellis, but the belts were still up). Rogers and Barend defeated Valentine & Ellis in a title rematch at Madison Square Garden, and went on to defend the belts until Spring, 1963, when they lost the titles on Washington,DC television to Killer Buddy Austin & 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 in Summer 1963 to defeat Bruno Sammartino & Bobo Brazil in Madison Square Garden 2 falls to 1.

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 partner with Bob Orton, grandfather of Randy Orton.

World Wide Wrestling Federation (1963)

Northeast promoters, led by McMahon and Toots Mondt, withdrew their membership from the NWA and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), as Thesz was not a strong draw in the area. Promoter Willie Gilzenberg, and first WWWF "President" appeared on Washington, DC TV in April 1963; noted that "a match" had taken place in Canada, that it was non-title, and returned the belt to Buddy Rogers, effectively making him the first WWWF title holder. Rogers' reign was cut short by a mild heart attack that greatly hindered his endurance. He quickly dropped the title to Bruno Sammartino on May 17 of that year, in a match that lasted a mere 48 seconds. 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 world championship in his condition.Bruno publicly claims that Rogers was not ill, he just didn't want to lose the belt.Bruno claimsd that he (Sammartino) told Rogers that he (Bruno) would be winning the belt that night--not ther promoter and Rogers just wanted to get it over quick. By the end of the year, he was retired and only wrestled an occasional show for The Sheik's promotion in Detroit and Montreal.

Jim Crockett Promotions and WWF (1978–1992)

In 1978, Rogers returned to wrestling as a babyface in Florida although he was in his late 50s. He later moved up to Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas as a heel manager managing wrestlers like Jimmy Snuka, Ken Patera, Gene Anderson, 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 the younger Nature Boy on July 9, 1978. After his time in Mid-Atlantic, he moved back into WWF where he was a babyface manager and part-time wrestler who also hosted the interview segment "Rogers' Corner." During a feud teaming with his old protégé Jimmy Snuka against Lou Albano and Ray Stevens, Rogers broke his hip and retired from wrestling for good.

End of career and death

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, style, and criticism

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 (which is believed to be the inspiration for Vince McMahon's "power walk")[4] 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 catch phrase of sorts whenever he was victorious. With age, he mellowed and became a very respected veteran. Rogers was considered the first total package wrestler. He had all the looks, physique, personality, and ability promoters wanted. He is often attributed with developing the psychology that several heels went on to use with great success, and with inventing the "Figure Four Grapevine" (later renamed the Figure-Four Leglock).

According to his pro wrestling colleague and occasional ring opponent Lou Thesz (as stated in Thesz's autobiography Hooker), Rogers, although admittedly an excellent wrestler and a superb showman, was a manipulative schemer behind the scenes and was fond of saying in private: "Use your friends, and be good to your enemies; so they'll become your friends, and you can use them too."

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.

In wrestling

Championships and accomplishments

1Five 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

  1. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. p. 59. ISBN 9780060012588. 
  2. ^ a b c Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. p. 60–65. ISBN 9780060012588. 
  3. ^ a b c d Oliver, Greg (2006-03-16). "Chicago's big moment: O'Connor vs Rogers, 1961". SLAM! Wrestling. http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/2006/03/11/1483388.html. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  4. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. p. 60. ISBN 9780060012588. 

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