Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales were on a tour of Australia for Jim Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling in December of 1968. But when the two went to a New Year’s Eve party at the Crest Hotel’s penthouse in the Kings Cross area of Sydney, both men were lucky they didn’t become permanent residents.
Who was “Killer” Buddy Austin?
Pedro Morales, a Triple Crown winner and Hall of Famer for the PWHF, WWE, and WON, probably needs little introduction to wrestling fans, but Buddy Austin might not strike a chord for many.
For those not knowing who Austin was, it is possible to confuse him with similar-looking wrestlers who dyed their hair blond during the ‘50s and ‘60s such as Buddy Rogers, Freddie Blassie, Buddy Colt, or Ray Stevens. But “Killer” Buddy Austin gained a reputation all his own, and during the ‘60s was a heel hated like few others of his era.
Buddy Austin became “Killer” after he claimed he had killed a man with a piledriver. A pro wrestling myth long ago disproved, but one that in the fan’s eyes, solidified his reputation as a dangerous heel. He is one of the several wrestlers credited in the training of Harley Race when he debuted in the midwest area of the U.S. and is mostly known for his success in the mid-‘60s in the Los Angeles, California based Worldwide Wrestling Associates (WWA) promotion, that had an on and off relationship with the NWA. Although before this, he had a major push in Japan with Rikidozan’s JWA and earlier in his career, John Gabor who later became Fritz Von Goering was a frequent tag partner. He won the International Wrestling Alliance World Tag Team title (Australia) twice with partner King Curtis in the early ‘70s.
When the WWA partnered once again with the NWA in 1968, it became known as NWA Hollywood Wrestling under Mike LeBell. Here Austin worked alongside the likes of Alberto Torres, El Mongol, Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, John Tolos, Victor Rivera and Jules Strongbow just to mention a few. With Blassie, they had a “stretcher match” that sold out the Grand Olympic Auditorium in 1968.
His first reign as WWA World Heavyweight champion in 1966 was by defeating Pedro Morales. His second one was via Bobo Brazil where they traded the title once, and later Austin dropped it to Lou Thesz. Over the years, he and Morales would have several memorable bouts during their careers. One was memorable enough to a young future wrestler named Ric Drasin, that it placed seeds of doubt in his mind on whether he even wanted to get involved in the sport.
“The Equalizer”, who is a former bodybuilder, actor, and wrestler credited for designing the original Gold’s Gym and World’s Gym logos as well as training with Arnold Schwarzenegger, remembers meeting “Killer” Buddy Austin in Los Angeles when he was introduced to him and other wrestlers backstage in an arena show during the mid ‘60s. At the time, he was thinking about giving wrestling a try and in his autobiography The Time of My Life, he recounts, “That night, the show was Pedro Morales against Buddy Austin. Austin was one mean SOB and looked scary as hell.” He continues, “They had a great match- so believable that I thought maybe I don’t really want this.”
Eventually, Drasin, after training six months with Johnnie May Young and still paying his dues, did debut. His first match was against Austin where he says that he got his nose “slightly broken” from a punch during the match which he is still unsure if it was on purpose or unintentional.
About five years prior in 1959, according to the Zanesville Times Recorder from Ohio, Austin was possibly facing charges of assault and battery of promoter Tim Nolan. This report is a work, where the local media ran a piece as a legitimate story, but in reality, the promoter and or wrestlers made up one in order to drive interest for the upcoming card. Austin is quoted as saying, “I don’t have a friend in the world and I don’t want any.” He further stated, “I did the same thing to Tim Nolan that I did to Frankie Talaber, the Great Scott, and fifty other guys… put them in the hospital. I have beaten over two hundred guys with the atomic knee drop which I used to beat [Buddy] Rosen.”
John Hitchcock, the author of the book Front Row Section D, once wrote, “All I know about wrestling is best summed up by a crazy, violent TV wrestling show that came on television in the late sixties at 12 o’clock on Saturday. I swear this show looked as if it was shot inside a tent. My favorite angle was when they introduced the sadistic heel, KILLER BUDDY AUSTIN. I had never seen this guy before, come to think of it I never saw any of these guys before but Austin was a tall tan white-haired veteran that seemed like he hated being there. He was the prototype of what all heels strived- to be hated. On one show there was this squatty green jobber in the ring and Killer Buddy got pissed off and doing the gentleman thing, piledrove his a*s on the concrete floor.”
Austin certainly cultivated his villainous persona wherever he went and relished the hate he received. His reputation preceded him, as if the jeers from the fans emboldened him. But in Sydney, Australia, it’s possible he infuriated the wrong people and almost paid the ultimate price.
Kings Cross Sydney, Australia
“Kings Cross” is where Darlinghurst Road, Victoria Street and Kings Cross Road intersect. But “The Cross”, as it is colloquially known, is not just simply a point of conversion between three streets.
Mark Dunn of The Dictionary of Sydney wrote in 2011, “Since the 1940s, it has developed an almost mystical reputation as the center of Sydney’s seedy red-light district, attracting thrill seekers, party-goers and the down-and-out equally. Today’s fading bohemian façade reflects the area’s earlier incarnation as home to many of Sydney’s artistic and literary citizens. However, Kings Cross itself, as a physical place, takes up a much smaller portion of the city than its reputation suggests. From the later 1950s, the Kings Cross area had been increasingly associated with nightclubs and a growing number of topless bars and strip joints, with Darlinghurst Road taking on the moniker of ‘the Strip’. The Roosevelt nightclub had introduced topless showgirls in the early 1950s, and in 1959 the Stacatto Club in Orwell Street opened as the first strip joint in Australia.”
WATCH: A small taste of what Kings Cross was like in the late ‘60s in Sydney, Australia
“Wrestler Shot, Gashed.”
– The Herald, Melbourne, Australia. January 1, 1969.
The Party Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales Barely Escaped Alive
“Two professional wrestlers who were due to clash on Friday night were seriously injured at a party in a luxury King’s Cross penthouse early today. ‘Matman’ Buddy Austin, an American, was shot in the stomach with a .22 calibre rifle (sic) and Mexican Pedro Morales was gashed on the face with a broken beer bottle. Austin is in a serious condition in St. Vincent’s hospital. Morales is satisfactory. More than 20 men and women were at the New Year party. Police said there was an argument. Police called to the penthouse found Morales slouched against a white marble-tile pillar in the foyer. Austin was stooped forward and clutching his stomach, near an inquiry desk. A trail of blood led from the penthouse to the lift and into the foyer.”
The newspaper reported that Austin was shot with a .22 caliber RIFLE, but with “(sic)” next to it, this indicates that there is some doubt in the original report but it was being printed literally “thus was it written.” Meaning that it was probably not a rifle used on Austin, but rather a handgun.
In another official report, it says that Morales got hit over the head with a vase along with all the above information previously mentioned. Here though, he is not referred to as “Mexican,” but gets it right by calling the man from Puerto Rico an American.
Some theories state that a nightclub employee by the name of Daniel Duggan got into an argument with Morales and struck him with said vase over the head and knocking him out. When Austin saw this, he tried to help Morales but got shot in the stomach in the process by an unidentified man, not Duggan.
Later, it was revealed that a magistrate remanded a man named Daniel Duggan, age 28, who turned himself into the police in the alleged slashing of Morales. The newspaper called him “a dealer from Gilderthorpe Avenue, Randwick” and was on $300 bail. There would be a hearing on January 30th.
Case in point, the issue says that Austin’s wife and daughter had died in an accident the year previous to the incident in Sydney. This, in fact, is false. His wife did not die, but tragically both his 15-month old twin daughters did, by drowning in their pool in California. In the article, writer Rick Sydell called the shooting in Sydney “senseless” especially when Austin was just trying to help Morales. They go on to wish him a speedy recovery, regardless of anyone’s personal feelings towards him.
It’s interesting to note that the story in Wrestling Revue did base itself on some of the official reports coming out of Sydney where they claim Austin came to Morales’ aid, although most do not state this.
Perhaps a More Plausible Version of Events of What Happened to Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales on that Fateful New Year’s Eve
The story has another version which is told by “Aussie Mike in DC” when this topic was inquired about in the WrestlingClassics.com message board where it is not uncommon for fans and people in the industry to exchange stories. Perhaps his theories can shed more light on the reason for the attack.
He reveals more backstory to the incident based on information shared with him by “boys in the business at the time.” Austin, who before wrestling had been in the U.S. Navy, is believed to have gotten into a habit of beating up the local bouncers in the Kings Cross pubs of the area. After one too many times, he was warned by the local crime bosses (Sydney crims) to stay away from Kings Cross and they even called promoter Jim Barnett, who became to be known as wrestling’s “Power Broker,” and warned him of the situation.
Another version he tells is where Austin was fooling around with one of the local crime bosses’ girlfriends and Barnett was warned about this too. He goes on to suspect that it was probably a combination of both of the aforementioned theories. He then writes, “As expected, Austin didn’t heed this warning and walked into a trap. When he walked into a party with Morales, he was greeted full-on with a shotgun blast to the stomach. Morales, an apparently innocent bystander who happened to just be at the wrong place at the wrong time, was neutralized by a beer jug to the face which I’m told has left him with a still visible scar.”
Now the weapon used on Austin has morphed from a rifle as reported in some papers, to a shotgun. As already stated, realistically it was probably a handgun.
In the different newspaper reports of that morning’s occurrence, we can see differences in the details of what may have transpired in the Crest Hotel’s penthouse party. Morales’ age even varies from him being 28 or 29 at the time. Detectives said that it would take several days to question the 40-50 people who had attended, and because it was crowded, they would have a hard time deciphering what exactly happened. The Herald calculated only 20 patrons in attendance.
In Don Fargo’s book The Hard Way written by Scott Teal, the attack that occurred at the Crest Hotel on Darlinghurst Road is further substantiated by mentioning that, “Buddy was sitting on the bed talking on the phone when some tough-looking guys walked in.”
Fargo later confirms that they were taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and “Austin underwent emergency surgery for the removal of the bullet.” This account also corroborates that a broken beer bottle used by the attackers lacerated Morales in the face and not a vase over his head that knocked him out as some reports claimed. But here, there is no mention of Austin going to Morales’ aid.
Attempted Murder of Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales – The Aftermath
Eventually, both Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales made full recoveries, but the implications of this incident were very serious for wrestling because Barnett, like the vast majority of promoters of the time, had strict rules forbidding babyfaces and heels to socialize together in public. This was one of the measures used to try to protect the business and maintain the illusion of hatred between the heels and babyfaces.
Buddy Austin and Pedro Morales were scheduled to wrestle each other at Sydney Stadium two days after the attack, but this never happened. The reason given to the public is unknown, but we saw above what was written in Wrestling Revue.
Austin did work again in Australia a short time later, again for Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling. Don Fargo believes an arrangement was made with the crime bosses. As mentioned in his book, “I can’t say for sure, but I think Barnett paid Buddy’s enemies to leave him alone. Buddy was a good draw in Australia and Barnett thought he was well worth the expense.”
Morales, on the other hand, never returned to Australia and towards the end of 1970, he began to work exclusively for the WWWF in the next five years. In early 1971, he became the World’s Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Ivan Koloff and held the title for 1027 days. In one of his best-remembered matches, Morales faced Sammartino, who was often his ally, in front of more than 20,000 people at Shea Stadium in 1972. A curfew ordinance forced the marathon 75-minute match to end in a draw.
WATCH: Buddy Austin (as a babyface) pairing up with Killer Kowalski in Australia
Known to be a heavy drinker, Buddy Austin saw his career losing a lot of steam during the mid-seventies but he tried to make positive changes in his life by working as a minister in his latter years. He sadly died in 1981 of a heart attack at age 51 but is survived by his daughter Monique Rogers. His attacker never got apprehended and it remains a mystery to this day. Austin would always have to bear a visible scar on his stomach as a reminder of what “could have been” on that New Years’ morning.
Although Pedro Morales passed away in 2019 at the age of 76, his countless battles against the heels he vanquished in the ring throughout his years, forever echo in the hearts of the fans who witnessed them. It is unconfirmed if he also remained scarred after the attack on Kings Road.
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