Find out why our pick is ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Landel but how drugs and alcohol derailed a sure-shot hall-of-fame career.
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.
[Editor’s note: We get a lot of questions on social media, so we’re going to distill those queries and their answers into a monthly 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.]
Who was the “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel?
From Connor in Brockton, Massachusetts: “It seems to me that the 1980s are 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 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 Boys’ was intriguing, so much so 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, only 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.
That was enough for Crockett’s booker, Dusty Rhodes, who positioned Buddy Landel as the NWA national champion. 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. 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.
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.
Landel died on June 22, 2015, one day after an automobile accident. He was 53 years old.
James from Atlanta asks: “What was the deal with the Halliburton briefcases that wrestlers hit each other with during 1990s WCW? Why a briefcase? I didn’t get it then, and I still don’t get it now.”
Halliburton’s were an inescapable accessory for a lot of wrestlers in the 1980s and 1990s, sort of like fanny packs but shinier. And more secure. The thing about the Halliburton was that it was made of some sort of forged aluminum that made it as hard as steel, but a lot lighter. They also have combination locks in order to be even more secure. Wrestlers who carried one essentially had a portable safe with them. Guys like Harley Race and Ric Flair would use them to store their jewelry and wallets while they went out to wrestle.
As to why WCW had wrestlers like Steve “Mongo” McMichael use a Halliburton as an illegal object … I have no idea. I guess they just thought it looked cool.
Erin from Seattle wants to be a wrestler: “What’s the best piece of advice you can give someone who wants to become a wrestler?
Go get a real job. Wrestling will break your body, your mind, and your heart. Do something else. Be a teacher, a cop, a magician. Hell, juggle geese. Don’t be a wrestler.
But if you’re gonna do it anyway, I have four separate pieces of advice for you, which I think would be backed up by almost anyone who’s ever worked in a wrestling locker room:
1) Get trained properly. Find someone who knows what they’re doing and has references. And then put everything you’ve got into doing exactly what they want you to do.
2) Be professional. That means being on time for the show, being polite to the veterans, and volunteering to help with whatever is needed, whether that’s putting up the ring, setting up chairs, running sound cables, etc.
3) Always bring your gear to a show with you–even if you aren’t booked. As a personal example: I recently went with my friend (and booker) Jack Lord to a WrestleBirmingham event. One referee was sick. Another was needed to fill a different role. I and another friend got to referee the show–and got paid for it–because we brought our gear. I worked the main event with former TNA world champion James Storm, as well as reffed a match involving Southern legends Robert Fuller and Jimmy Golden, which was absolutely a career highlight for me. And it happened because I showed up and brought my gear. (It also didn’t hurt that Jack vouched for me, either.)
4) Be clean. Wash your gear regularly. If you stink up the locker room, no one will want to work with you. And who could blame them?
Jimmy from Villa Rica, Georgia asks about young talent: “Hey, I’ve seen your fat a*s on FITE TV! You work with a lot of young/undiscovered talent. Who stands out to you?”
Jimmy is talking about Southern Legacy Wrestling on FITE TV, where I’m the *senior* referee … (mostly only senior because I’m old). And for the record, I’m down 30 pounds, so Jimmy can take a flying [Editor’s note: Nope. Can’t say that!] at a rolling donut.
But he’s right. I see a lot of young talent come through, and I’ll tell you about the two I see as standouts. If Sean Rossini–who works as Sean Legacy–isn’t signed by a major promotion within the next two years, I’ll be stunned. He’s got a great look, decent size, and he’s in shape. He also works his butt off in every match he’s in. I just worked a match between him and Steven Michaels last night, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they tore the house down. The kid is damned impressive.
Likewise, “The Wrestling Saint” Hunter Young needs a bit more seasoning, but he would be a great fit in the NJPW juniors division or on 205 Live. He’s smaller, but agile and has a great look. He’s extremely athletic, has an incredible work ethic, and he’s also one of the nicest kids out there. Humble and willing to learn. (If he ever makes it big, I’m going to take credit for suggesting two of the coolest spots he does. I won’t spoil y’all by saying what they are, but he’ll pop when he reads this.)
And finally, we have Byron from Elba, Alabama: “Who really is the greatest wrestler of all time, and why is it Ric Flair?”
Huh. That’s a funny way to spell Ray Stevens.
In all seriousness, Ric Flair is one of the greatest of all time–and he’s certainly my favorite wrestler on a national scale–but I want to say a word about Nick Bockwinkel, a tremendous talent who doesn’t really get his due. He was the AWA world champion during a time when that title meant something, and he was–believe it or not–a better worker than Flair in some key ways. He couldn’t carry people like Flair did, but he didn’t have to. Bockwinkel could work multiple styles, and he toured with the AWA world title just like Terry and Dory Funk, Jerry Brisco, Harley Race, and Flair did with the NWA world title. Even though Bockwinkel didn’t tour as extensively, I’d put the body of his work up against Flairs. Both are undeniably great, and maybe it’s the contrarian in me that makes me want us to revisit the legacy of such a classy, often underappreciated wrestler.