Former WWWF/WWE World Heavyweight Champion Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin 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!
Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin: The Party They Almost Didn’t Leave
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 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 known as "Killer" after he claimed he had killed a man with a piledriver. A pro wrestling myth long ago disproved, but one that solidified his reputation as a dangerous heel in the fan’s eyes.
He is one of the several wrestlers credited in the training of Harley Race when he debuted in the midwest area of the US 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 [Iaukea] in the early ’70s.
When the WWA partnered again with the NWA in 1968, it became known as NWA Hollywood Wrestling under Mike LeBell. Here Austin worked alongside Alberto Torres, El Mongol, Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, John Tolos, Victor Rivera, and Jules Strongbow, 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 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 trying wrestling, 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 probably a work where the local media ran a piece as a legitimate story. Still, in reality, the promoter and/or wrestlers concocted a scenario to drive interest for the upcoming card.
Austin says, "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, 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 Buddy got pissed off and doing the gentleman thing, piledrove his ass 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 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 King’s 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 1st, 1969.
Tragedy Avoided: Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin Barely Escape with Lives
"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 caliber rifle [sic], and [Puerto Rican] Pedro Morales was gashed on the face with a broken beer bottle.
"Austin is in 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 some doubt in the original report, but it was being printed literally "thus was it written." Meaning that it was likely a handgun.
In another official report, Morales got hit over the head with a vase along with all the above information previously mentioned.
Some theories state that a nightclub employee named Daniel Duggan got into an argument with Morales, struck him with said vase over the head, and knocked 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 in to 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.
The news they ran was often fictional, barely based on reality and mainly used to entertain and sell copies. Fun magazines, but not always reliable resources when researching an attempted murder.
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, 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 only trying to help Morales.
They wish him a speedy recovery, regardless of anyone’s personal feelings toward him.
It’s interesting to note that the story in Wrestling Revue did base itself on some of the official reports from 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 Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin 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 US 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.
They even called promoter Jim Barnett, who became 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 also warned about this. 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 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 happened. In turn 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 to remove the bullet."
This account also corroborates that a broken beer bottle used by the attackers lacerated Morales in the face, 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.
Aftermath: A Dark Night For Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin
Eventually, both Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin made full recoveries. Still, this incident’s implications were severe for wrestling because Barnett, like most promoters of the time, had strict rules forbidding babyfaces and heels to socialize in public. This was one of the measures used to protect the business and maintain the illusion of hatred between the heels and babyfaces.
Pedro Morales and Buddy Austin 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 for Barnett’s World Championship Wrestling. Don Fargo believes an arrangement was made with the crime bosses.
As his book mentions, "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."
On the other hand, Morales never returned to Australia, and towards the end of 1970, he began working exclusively for the WWWF in the next five years. In early 1971, he became the World’s Heavyweight Champion, defeating Ivan Koloff and holding the title for an incredible 1027 days.
In one of his best-remembered matches, Morales faced Sammartino, often his ally, in front of more than 20,000 people at “The Showdown at Shea” in 1972. A curfew ordinance forced the marathon 75-minute match to end in a draw. There was even interference by George Steele.
Buddy Austin (as a babyface) pairing up with Walter Kowalski in Australia:
Known to be a heavy drinker, Buddy Austin saw his career losing 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 was survived by his wife Carmelita Rogers, two boys Mark and Corbin, and daughter Monique Rogers.
His Sydney, Australia 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 Year’s 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 remained scarred after the unfortunate attack on Kings Road.
These stories may also interest you:
- Pedro Morales – WWE’s Forgotten Champion
- Wrestling Upsets | 6 Upset Victories That Left Fans Shocked and Confused
- Wildmen of Wrestling | 12 Outrageous Heels Who Pioneered Hardcore
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