Buddy Landel: The Wrestler With Most Wasted Potential?

A reader asked, “Which wrestler had the most wasted potential?” Find out why our pick is Buddy Landel and how poor decisions derailed a sure-shot hall-of-fame career.

"Nature Boy" Buddy Landel was his own worst enemy.
“Nature Boy” Buddy Landel was his own worst enemy.

We get a lot of questions on social media, so we’re going to distill those queries and their answers into an occasional column from our in-house wrestling savant, Bobby Mathews. If you have future questions for a column, feel free to shoot us a message on TWITTER or FACEBOOK.

Welcome back to Ask Pro Wrestling Stories, the occasional feature where we answer your questions about any and all arcane wrestling stories, personalities, trivia, and assorted nonsense. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so we’re just going to get right to it.

Who was the “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel?

From Connor in Brockton, Massachusetts: “It seems to me that the 1980s in the wrestling business is full of stories about wrestlers who should have been huge stars but got derailed for whatever reason, like when Magnum TA got hurt in his car wreck. Which wrestler do you think had the most wasted potential?”

I’m going to defer to smarter wrestling minds than myself and go with Jim Cornette and Brian Last’s pick: “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel.

After breaking in with the Poffo’s ICW outlaw wrestling territory as a brunette workhorse, Buddy Landel emerged in Puerto Rico as the newest bleached-blond Nature Boy for WWC.

From there, he worked for Bill Watts in Mid-South and Fritz Von Erich in World Class.

The story is that Ric Flair — who was then the touring NWA World Heavyweight Champion — saw Buddy Landel and loved his work.

Soon, Landel was on Jim Crockett’s TBS show, accompanied by J.J. Dillon, and challenging Flair to see who the ‘real’ Nature Boy was.

That was 1985, and Flair’s feuds against Magnum T.A., Nikita Koloff, and Dusty Rhodes took precedence.

But the battle of the Nature Boy gimmick was so intriguing that Rhodes booked a couple of matches between Landel and Flair for house shows in North Carolina.

The first of those matches resulted in Buddy Landel pinning Flair for the title to have the championship returned to Flair on a technicality.

That ‘Dusty Finish’ led to a rematch at the Dorton Arena at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. The place holds 7,610 people, and the arena sold out for the rematch, with literally thousands of fans being turned away at the door.

Related: Ric Flair | 13 Stories Showing Who the Real Nature Boy Was

That was enough for Crockett’s booker, Dusty Rhodes, who positioned Buddy Landel with the NWA world title.

Did you know? There have been many Nature Boys over the years. Along with Ric Flair and Buddy Rogers, Buddy Rogers was the first to use the nickname across different territories, and wrestler Roger Kirby, too.

The plan was this: Once Flair’s feuds with Magnum, Nikita, and Dusty were more or less finished up, the promotion would fully embrace the battle of the Nature Boys and put the feud on top. That didn’t happen.

Behind the scenes, Landel was struggling with alcohol and drugs. He eventually missed a TV taping where he was booked to be in an important angle, and Rhodes fired him, taking the national championship for himself in a phantom title switch.

From there, Landel’s career nosedived.

Buddy Landel: His Own Worst Enemy

Even though he rose to some success, he never found the national spotlight in the same way again. He was considered unreliable by some promoters. He bounced around in Continental and other southern territories for a long time.

As Cornette says, there was Good Buddy and Bad Buddy.

Good Buddy was the kind of wrestler a promoter could rely on to take gate receipts for a town and deposit them in the company’s bank account the next day — which Buddy Landel did for Cornette when the ‘Nature Boy’ worked for Smoky Mountain Wrestling.

But Bad Buddy was the guy who would go out on a bender and miss three weeks of bookings because the party was more fun than the wrestling.

My favorite Buddy Landel story: Landel and “White Lightning” Tim Horner were involved in an ‘I Quit’ match in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and Landel didn’t like Horner. At all.

During the match, Landel didn’t sell Horner’s holds. At one point, Horner hooked Buddy Landel in a submission, and the referee placed the microphone next to Landel’s mouth and asked him if he quit.

Landel took a deep breath and sang, “Moooooooooooon Riiiiiiiiveeeeeeeeeer …” over the house mic.

Cornette fired Landel after that match for exposing the business.

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The Redemption of Buddy Landel:

But here’s a happy note: Buddy Landel got his act together. He beat his addictions. He came back and headlined Smoky Mountain, winning the promotion’s heavyweight title, and even wrestled Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental title at an SMW show.

While he never rose to the same heights as he had during his 1985 run, he still had solid matches and was one of the friendliest, most down-to-earth guys behind the scenes.

While a lot of people view Landel as a cautionary tale, it’s important to note what a nice guy he was, as well as how much his peers absolutely respected his work. And they were right to do so.

At his best, Landel was so good that you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.

Look at this promo for the buildup to his match against Michaels.

YouTube video

Buddy Landel died on June 22, 2015, one day after an automobile accident. He was 53 years old.

Many remember him fondly for his time in Universal Wrestling Federation, Continental Championship Wrestling, the AWA, Global Wrestling Federation, Jim Crockett Promotions, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, the USWA, and WWE.

He was a wrestler with great potential who could not reach his full potential due to personal issues.

Despite being one of the most talented athletes in the sport, he matched up with some of the business’s best talents (including Terry Taylor, where he won the NWA World Title off him at Starrcade ’85, Shane Douglas, Arn Anderson, Jeff Jarrett, Barry Windham, Bret Hart, Eddie Gilbert, Jerry Lawler, Bob Backlund, Billy Jack Haynes, Bob Roop, and countless more). Still, he never reached the heights he was poised to.

His career was marred by substance abuse, personal struggles, and legal troubles that hindered his ability to focus on his craft and take it as far as he could have.

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Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.