He was the original Nature Boy, and he set the standard for flamboyant heels in the 1960’s.
Real Name: Herman Rohde
Stats: 6′ 0″ 235 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was one of the most inventive, skilled, hated, impersonated, and respected champions ever. He was also one of the biggest superstars of wrestling’s “Golden Era” during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and won numerous championships including two World titles in two separate promotions, and continued to be a major force throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s as a manager. “The Nature Boy” was born Herman Rohde, and used that name during his first few years in the sport. But, when he dyed his hair blond and changed his name to “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers (after the film star) the muscular, and now experienced, Rohde’s career really took off. Whether he competed in tag teams, or especially as a single’s wrestler, Buddy Rogers was among the most hated villains of his day. Perhaps the most hated. But there was no denying he was also among the most talented. After winning numerous regional titles throughout the NWA, Rogers captured his first World Heavyweight championship on June 30, 1961 by defeating Pat O’ Connor in Chicago before a crowd of 30,000 at Commisky Park.
The flamboyant Rogers was wrestling’s biggest draw for promoters during his 2 years as champion, and he defended the N.W.A. World title 5 nights a week, taking on the best of his era. But on January 24, 1963 he lost a controversial match to Lou Thesz. Since the match had ended after 1 fall, when most title matches were 2 of 3 falls at that time, several northeastern promoters disputed the loss. At least that’s how the “official” version goes. In reality, the “match” never took place.
When several eastern promoters broke away from the NWA, they formed a new organization named the World Wide Wrestling Federation and named “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers as the first W.W.W.F. champion. Rogers proudly defended the new World Title for nearly 6 months before being defeated by a young and powerful Bruno Sammartino. Buddy Rogers was the 1st (and for 30 years, the only) man to wear both the NWA and WWF World title belts during his career. Over the years, with the plethora of wrestlers that have worn both the WWF and NWA/WCW World title, that distinction has lost some of its prestige. For the longest time, however, it was viewed as a truly remarkable accomplishment, exclusive to Rogers. Ironically enough, the 2nd man to have held both World championships was also a legendary performer, and the second man to call himself “The Nature Boy” — Ric Flair.
Flair had idolized Rogers during his days as a young wrestling fan, and tried to emulate him in every way once he became a wrestler himself. In 1979, Rogers showed up in the Mid Atlantic region, where Flair was the top heel, and challenged him to a “Battle of The Nature Boys”. It was also a battle of the Figure 4 Leglock, of which they were both masters. The youthful Flair ended up coming out on top of this bitter feud with his childhood hero…but we had not heard the last of Buddy Rogers.
After the feud with Flair, Rogers dropped out of sight for awhile. But, a few months later, he returned to the Mid Atlantic territory, this time as a manager. This time around, though, his old heel personality was back, too. With decades of experience at the top, Rogers was a master of infuriating the fans…and he managed the hated Jimmy Snuka, Ray Stevens (pictured, left) and Gene Anderson among others to many championships. Even though he was no longer the main-event wrestler or champion, his highly prominent managerial role still allowed him to be the center of controversy, and Rogers embraced the role during his stay in the Mid-Atlantic region. As the manager of the popular NWA territory’s top heels, Rogers was a big part of a very profitable era in Jim Crockett Promotions. Of course, Snuka later entered the WWF, and eventually, Rogers once again dropped out of sight. But a year or so after his former protégé had entered the WWF and established himself as the WWF’s #1 villain, Rogers was hired by new WWF owner Vince McMahon, Jr. to do an interview segment called “Rogers’ Corner.” During the popular segment, Rogers helped promote various wrestlers (pictured right, with Rocky “Soulman” Johnson) and upcoming WWF events.
It was during one of these segments that Snuka interviewed Jimmy Snuka, and his hated manager Capt. Lou Albano. Rogers informed his ex-student that Albano had hoodwinked Snuka into signing an unfair contract, and that he had the proof that Albano had been ripping Snuka off ever since he’d left Buddy to enter the WWF. After several weeks of Albano holding an unhappy Snuka to his rigged contract, Rogers found a “legal loophole” that allowed Snuka to be free of Capt. Lou forever. Rogers began managing Snuka again, and helped turn him from the Federation’s most hated to the most loved almost overnight. Even after all of the years, Rogers still made things happen in the sport…
When he finally retired from wrestling for good (just prior to the rise of Hulkamania) he took a job as a Playboy Casino manager, but still remained in contact with the sport he loved so much. Remarkably, Rogers was actually preparing for a comeback to the ring at the age of 70 to face wrestling’s 3rd “Nature Boy,” Buddy Landel, at an upcoming Tri-State Wrestling Alliance (ECW’s predecessor) show when he died unexpectedly on June 26, 1992. Rogers, always known for being in peak physical condition, even after he retired, died of a heart attack. That day, the “sport” of pro wrestling lost a true icon, and one of its greatest performers. Buddy Rogers’ legacy, though, will live on forever.