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Buddy Landel Interview

Conducted by Jeremy Hartley for TWC Online
Transcribed by Earl Oliver

This interview was conducted on Feruary 10, 1998 by telephone.

Jeremy Hartley: Let's start as close to the beginning as we can, you say you're 36 now...

Buddy Landel: I was born a couple of hours apart from Eddie Gilbert...

Jeremy Hartley: I'll be darned...

Buddy Landel: Same age, same day, same year...

Jeremy Hartley: I assume you were probably a fan to start...

Buddy Landel: I was a kind of closet fan, I was a star in every sport that I played in school, I always watched wrestling since I was a kid. My sister's girlfriend was a camera girl here in Knoxville. My sister had went to a match and was dating Bob Orton Jr.'s little brother, Barry O.

Jeremy Hartley: I'll be darned...

Buddy Landel: That's what I said when I walked in the door. When I was 16 I was six feet tall I weighed 210, I was always kind of a big kid. Anyway, he (Barry O) invited me down to the matches and I met Professor Malenko, Dean Malenko's dad, and he told me up front, "Well, you want to try it?" So I sold my car and gave him $1500 up front. Okay, so this was 1979. So - boom - I sell my car and started training. My training in itself would blow your mind, what I had to go through to get into this business.

Jeremy Hartley: Well, if you wouldn't mind kinda getting into that, it's always fascinated me...because a lot of fans just don't seem to get it.

Buddy Landel: Well, when I first broke in, it was when South-Eastern was really heavy here in Knoxville...

Jeremy Hartley: Right...

Buddy Landel: It was a great promotion. They had a split where the Fullers, Kevin Sullivan and Dick Slater went one way - Bob Roop, Randy Savage, Ronnie Garvin, Malenko and Roger Spence which was the the Assasins - went the other way, they named their group All-Star and that where I broke in. Anyway, I trained for about six months with Malenko. Started out doing the Hindo push-ups, the Hindo squats and running. Before he would teach me how to lockup I had to do all of this at one time. I had to run 5 miles, do 500 push-ups and do 500 squats in one sitting before he would teach me the collar-elbow lock-up. So when I completed that, I started training. It took me about six months, I dropped about 20 pounds down to 190 and my first year in the business I never rode in a car, I referreed, I wrestled, I set the ring up, tore the ring down and I rode in the back of the ring truck.

Jeremy Hartley: Oh man...

Buddy Landel: So I started with All-Star, then I went to ICW which was the Poffo's promotion in Kentucky.

Jeremy Hartley: So, your training with the Great Malenko. You always hear a lot of guys saying it was one of the most valuable experiences they ever had...

Buddy Landel: Bar none...

Jeremy Hartley: Who were some of the other people in your "class" so to speak?

Buddy Landel: There were actually 22 guys who went out for it but I was the only guy who made it through the training. I can't emphasise enough, we're not talking about a dungeon like Stu Hart's or Karl Gotch or anything like that, it was none of that. It was more or less based on endurance, stamina, just being in shape.

Jeremy Hartley: So do you remember what your first professional match?

Buddy Landel: Well I wrestled some matches in Johnson City, it was probably about September of 1979 I wrestled Bob Orton Jr. (Cowboy Bob Orton in the WWF) for my first match.

Jeremy Hartley: Wow! Now lets see, I'm trying to place it. Bob Orton Jr. had broken in, what..? Mid 70's? So he'd been in for a few years...

Buddy Landel: No, he broke in early 70's...

Jeremy Hartley: Okay, so when you had these matches, when you were a rookie coming into the business there seemed to be a lot more of these pockets of guys who wouldn't even give the rookies the time of day...

Buddy Landel: No, as a matter of fact, just to heighten the tension a little bit, to let you know, after South-Eastern split with All-Star they had "Shoot Challanges" matches where they actually got mad with each other over reasons why they busted up and they were challenging each other on TV a lot locally here. They were carrying guns, knives, mace, I mean it was a shoot, they were actually challenging each other to come down. Ronnie Garvin would challenge these guys, Bob Roop, Bob Orton Jr. - so I was 17 years old riding up and down the road wth these guys - and all of them had pistols on them! So from night to night we didn't know if they were going to hit the ring on us or not. If we were going to go to a bar and they were going to come out, actually a few times, a few of them - I believe Dick Slater and Bob Roop had gotten into a fight in a bar here locally in Knoxville. So it was a pretty bad situation, especially for a 17 year old kid. These guys trained like they were going to the Olympics, you know, they trained more for the shoot then for the work.

Jeremy Hartley: So who were the guys that you seemed to click with when you first started out?

Buddy Landel: The first one was Bob Roop, but these guys wouldn't give you the time of day, they treated me like a mark for the first year, they talked "carney" around me, even after I wrestled, they talked "carney" around me, they "kayfabed" to me, Bob Orton would black my eye, every time it would go down he would get me down and bust my eye again. I carried a black eye for my first year. They cauliflowered both of my ears for me. I mean they just made me respect the business.

Jeremy Hartley: Just a quick backtrack - you said you were a closet fan. Who were the wrestlers that you liked to follow?

Buddy Landel: Well, back in those days all you had was regional TV, Ron and Don Wright, Whitey Caldwell, Al and Don Green, the Fargos, Lou Thesz, Bob Roop, Bob Orton Jr., Malenko - those guys were all we had locally. Until '76, then we got Georgia Championship Wrestling out of Atlanta...

Jeremy Hartley: So when you first started wrestling, did you use the "Nature Boy" moniker?

Buddy Landel: Oh no, that came several years later, Flair gave me the name. I had dark hair up until March of 1983. I was in Memphis, Tom Raymesto Sr., who was booking Puerto Rico, called and asked me if I'd consider bleaching my hair and coming to Puerto Rico and bieng a heel I said, "Heck yeah..." I went down and got my very first push in '83. Flar was flying in, him and Roddy Piper were flying in and out, and of course this was before I tore my pec in a bench press contest. That was really big...I was into body building and power lifting, and so when I tore my pec, Flair was coming in and out, and he was the one who tagged me "Nature Boy".

Jeremy Hartley: I see. Well here's something, judging from your email address, which I've seen, the Figure Four...

Buddy Landel: That was just something to goof off. Just to piss Flair off, I'll tell you what I was going to do, I was going to go and copyright the name "Nature Boy" so that Flair couldn't use it again...

Jeremy Hartley: Oh man, (laughs) I'm surprised that the Rogers folks, Buddy Roger's people people never did that...

Buddy Landel: You know Jeremy, I have got in my possesion, the last hand held video copy of, back in '92 when Joe Goodheart had the Tri-State...

Jeremy Hartley: Oh yeah...

Buddy Landel: Okay, I was going to wrestle "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, who was 72 years old. I'd just won the Tri-State belt, Buddy Rogers was the referee and I went in the ring and insulted him, he turned around and I hit him with the belt and he beat me up, so I have the last time that Buddy Rogers was in the wrestling ring on tape. I own that, I'm the only one who has a copy of that...

Jeremy Hartley: Then he passed away...

Buddy Landel: Yeah, he passed away a year or so later. You know Buddy Rogers thought the world of me. He said that it was ironic that there were only three Nature Boys and all three looked alike and worked alike, and had the same work ethic - I thought that was the greatest compliment I ever received in my life. Actually, Buddy Rogers was going to take me to the WWF and manage me, and then he passed away.

Jeremy Hartley: Wow! So he was really planning another resurgance...

Buddy Landel: Well, just to help me out you know, he was worth about $10,000,000 when he died, he just really liked me and he just, you know, thought the world of me.

Jeremy Hartley: So that must be a compliment that nobody can ever take away...

Buddy Landel: Yeah, well you know, nobody can ever take away the fact that, you know, me and Flair both broke Elvis Presley's attendance record in Raleigh, North Carolina. I mean nobody can take away the things that I've done. I've held, lets see 24 or 26 titles. I mean I've sold buildings out, I've had a Rolls Royce, I lived in mansions, I've had it all and I've had nothing. These are things that nobody can take away from me. The way I look at it, if you guage age as being a factor of what my career going to turn out to be - I've got another 13 - 14 years yet to wrestle.

Jeremy Hartley: Can you recall a specific point in your career, when you were starting out when you were finally starting to get a little respect?

Buddy Landel: Well, you know that's a very interesting question, I've never really thought about it. You know I always knew that I was talented, but I was in the business with people who were super-talented. You know I feel that way now but I don't remember if I ever felt that way by the time I was the ripe old age of 23 I was wrestling Flair. I had to have some credibility and drawing power in order to be in that position. They didn't just stick a 23 year old kid in there with Flair. I mean, you know this was a do or die situation where every angle and every spot, you know, every television show was precious time. There wasn't time to take 9 months to get this guy over.

Jeremy Hartley: Uh huh...

Buddy Landel: Used to be that the promoters would all work together within the Alliance, I remember in 1981 going to Watts (Mid-South promoter Bill Watts) and I was there for about 6 months and he said, "Listen Buddy, we've done about all we can do with you on this level, so what we're going to do is", he said, "I've called Crockett, and I'm going to send you over there and let you learn from them. You got guys over there like Wahoo (McDaniels), Valentine, Steamboat, Flair, Paul Jones, Ole Anderson, all these guys who make tons of money. Go over there and learn from these guys who made money, saved money, blew money, etc." I credit Bill Watts with being my mentor I credit Bill Watts with teaching me this business. So it was along these lines that I reflect back now more these days. I give homage to these guys that really taught me.

Jeremy Hartley: Yes...

Buddy Landel: I mean guys really wouldn't talk to you in the dressing room, they'd be cordial and say "Hi", but you were really scared to talk to them there, because you knew that with these guys it was a very serious situation, they were making money. Kayfabe was a must, oh God forbid that some guy would blow Kayfabe, especially a rookie...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)

Buddy Landel: I mean forget it, you just wouldn't be in the business any more. And basically I would just walk in and put my chair up against the wall and speak when I was spoken to. And I tried to learn something more, and fortunately for me when I broke in I broke in with guys like Randy Savage and Bob Roop, Bob Orton Jr., guys that were fantastic, you would have had to have been an idiot to not pick something up.. All my career, Jeremy, I was fortunate enough to be around guys who were successful, who were truly great sculpters and artists and creative geniouses - I probably ramble back and forth...

Jeremy Hartley: That's okay, you know you talk about sitting your chair against the wall and speaking when you're spoken to, and that's kind of what I've been doing when I do these interviews - kind of let the people tell the story and I'll kind of interject with a question or two and just carry on a dialogue...

Buddy Landel: But to answer your question, I never was much into ego man, I mean there were guys that were, but I always felt like I was a kid from Knoxville, Tennesee who was just really blessed that God gave me the talent and ability that I had and just tried to utilize and capitalize on it. Each day I got up and went to the gym and got my mind set on what I was going to do that night and I tried to learn. I never really looked at myself as being to the point of saying "Hey, I've arrived, I've made it". You know, a lot of old timers, Malenko, Harley Race, guys like this always told me, "Hey kid, I learn every night when I go out there, even if I work with you I learn something new every night...

Jeremy Hartley: That's right...

Buddy Landel: I really admired that, and Flair always told me that, it was never a thing where "Well, I'm on this plateau and what I don't know hasn't been written yet." Part 2

Jeremy Hartley: Okay, so you had a couple of stints in Mid-South...

Buddy Landel: Yeah, actually 5 or 6, I was in there from 1980 to '86 off and on.

Jeremy Hartley: I kinda want to get into this because a lot of people I've talked to, they mention Bill Watts as being probably one of the greatest promoters, bookers - a really good judge of talent, and someone who could really run a territory.

Buddy Landel: Bill Watts was unlike a lot of promoters, he was unlike a Jim Crockett or anybody else, he was actually a wrestler, he was a main event wrestler. He had a mind for this business, he was student of Eddie Graham's, who had probably the greatest mind ever in this business. But BIll Watts surrounded himself with actual athletes. He allowed guys who were amateur wrestlers and football players, the Ernie Ladds and Steve Williams - you gotta realize that these guys, by the time that they were with Bill Watts, they had been under coaches who pushed and pushed and pushed them, understand, to be Champions...

Jeremy Hartley: Right...

Buddy Landel: And Bill Watts was like a father figure, he was like a coach, he could be a tyrant, you know, he could be a lot of things. But he pushed you and he could see you, and I'm not putting him up there with God, but God don't look at you and see what you are - he sees what you can be, and that's the greatest thing about the Lord, and that's a lot like what Bill Watts did, he looked at what he thought he could mold us into and he was just a great creative genious. Of course, he had to have something to work with, and back then you either carried the ball, or if you fumbled you were out. But if you could run with the ball, if you worked hard... I'd never say that you had it made, because there was just no such thing...even the Dibiasis and the Junk Yard Dogs, we all worked hard. I mean, in our territory you could do a 100,000 miles a year in a car, I mean it was rough...you never had any highways except for Interstate 10...your talking about wrestling in New Orleans on a Monday night and the next day you had to be in Shrieveport to do interviews at 9:00 in the morning - your talking about 250 miles of back roads - it was treachorous.

Jeremy Hartley: Will get back to Mid-South in a minutes, but I kind of want to get into the various Titles you've held. What was the first Title that you held?

Buddy Landel: The first Title I held was when I first turned heel, it was in 1984, it was the North American Heavyweight Championship. As a matter of fact I had three Titles at one time - it was for Capitol Sports in Puerto Rico, I was the North American Heavyweight Champion, Terry Gibbs and myself were the North American Tag Team Champions, and we were also the Carribean Tag Team Champions. It started because I remember having all three belts in my bag one time, and my wife said, "Why don't you get a picture of yourself with all three of those belts so that way you'll have them forever." Of course one went then the other one went then the other one went and to this day I regret not taking a picture with all three Title at one time...

Jeremy Hartley: Wow! That's got to be some kind of record...

Buddy Landel: Well, I don't know about that but pretty close to it.

Jeremy Hartley: Who did you beat for the North American Title?

Buddy Landel: I believe I beat El Gran Apollo.

Jeremy Hartley: Okay, so what was the Title you were holding when you faced Ric Flair at 23?

Buddy Landel: I was the National Heavyweight Champion. I beat Terry Taylor at Starrcade for that.

Jeremy Hartley: And that was in the Georgia area..?

Buddy Landel: No, that was the nationwide (NWA) National Heavyweight Title, actually Magnum TA was the US Champion and I was the National Heavyweight Champion, that was the big thing, who was the #1 contender. I used to get under his skin about that 'cause Magnum was easy to rib...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)

Buddy Landel: I was just kind of blasse about everything, by that time I had learned, "Hey, just have a good time day to day." Magnum was like, "This stuff is real, by God, and I'm a Champion..." and, you know, I had to say, "Hey, no man, it's a work...if it was real, none of us would be in it..."

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) I know that you worked for a while with the late Eddie Gilbert, and there's going to be this memorial thing that's going to be coming up for him, I think it's the 3rd Annual..?

Buddy Landel: Right...

Jeremy Hartley: So what was it like to work with or for an Eddie Gilbert?

Buddy Landel: Eddie was a very quiet guy, he was a very humble man, he was way before his time, a super-super talented individual. He had a mind for this business. I mean, any time that Bill Watts makes you a booker, that's the ultimate. Of course, there's all the rumors of drug abuse, the alcohol and all of that...which a lot of it's been said about myself also. Eddie Gilbert and I had a lot in common, we were both born the same day, the same year a couple hours apart, August 14, 1961. But I never one time, my right hand to God, never even saw Eddie take a drink of beer, never mind drugs. And I say that a lot of times to people because it sticks out in my mind. I think a lot of people were jealous of Eddie, and rightly so, he was a super talented guy. There'll never be a nother Eddie Gilbert.

Jeremy Hartley: Especially in the Bill Watts territory, you were a part of a very talented group of guys, as you said...

Buddy Landel: 1984, I considered the best pool of talent ever assembled in a territory, bar none.

Jeremy Hartley: Shoot, lets see, just real quick on the roster you probably had at that time: you still had Dibiasi at that point, Williams...

Buddy Landel: ...Junk Yard Dog, Mr. Wrestling II, Jerry Stubbs, myself, Butch Reed, the Midnight Express, Jimmy Cornette, Magnum TA, Bill Dundee was the booker. Oh my God, I mean I could just go on and on and on. Hector and Chavo Guerrero, Jim Duggan, Kamala, Sonny King...

Jeremy Hartley: Wow! And the thing is that Bill Watts and that whole territory developed guys and I think that that's important for people to understand. I mean you were there when Ted Dibiasi turned from this total face to, by the end of his career one of the top heels ever in the business.

Buddy Landel: Right...

Jeremy Hartley: Did you wrestle him much..?

Buddy Landel: Sure, also Paul Orndorff was there. Yeah, I wrestled Teddy a hundred times and they don't come any better. I mean usually you got to take a guy who was really good and use him as a crutch. Nowadays they do that kind of thing but to make the not so talented guys look good they have to have great gimmick. Back then you could take one of these guys who was really good and put him with anybody and you have a program.

Jeremy Hartley: Besides working with Flair, which was probably your greatest feud are there any other memorable programs that stick out in your mind? I always like to ask... did you have a match where, regardless of it being a work, you went back to the hotel that night and thought, "I am going to remember this match for the rest of my life", whether it be a beating that you took or just the way that the program was worked?

Buddy Landel: Well, all the stuff we did in Memphis. The last time that Jarrett's promotion sold out in Memphis, I was the main event. It was in 1986, the match I actually had was a Texas Death match, it was Bill Dundee and myself against Dutch Mantell and Jerry Lawler - we went 26 falls in 90 minutes...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) oh man...

Buddy Landel: They had 2000 people rioting outside, it was a great time. You know Jeremy, I have really been blessed, man. I have had the opportunity to be in situation where I've worked with the greatest talent ever in this business in the modern day era.

Jeremy Hartley: You certainly sound like you were blessed but do you ever have occasion to stop and think, "Dang, if I had only been in a few years earlier, at a different time where...I mean, when you broke in the talent was thick, nowadays your lucky, if your a promotion like a WCW or WWF and you have a select handfull of guys that are your drawing cards, but back then, everybody was your drawing card.

Buddy Landel: Everybody, top to bottom. And I was fortunate enough, the promoters though that I had what it took and I was the main event a lot of times. Looking back, everything that happened to me, happened to me at a really young age, and then I got into some personal problems, and now I look back and I go, "Wow, I wish that I could have not done those things and been where some of these guys are today. But you know what, I lived through it, my God stayed with me, I've raised two healthy children, I certainly have a nice home, I have nice things and nobody can take away from me what I accomplished there, you know, nobody can take away what I did. You know, for a long time after some bad things happpened to me, I blamed wrestling. And after a lot of counselling with pasteurs and people that I really opened my heart to I realized that it was Buddy that was bad for Buddy, wrestling was great to me, it actually was great to me. Then I started asking myself "Well, if I get back into the business will I ever measure up to what I used to be?" And that's a heavy statement because I was at the top. A lot of people don't realize this, but in 1986 I signed a $200,000 contract with Bill Watts, this is when Eddie Gilbert, Sting and Rick Steiner were making $50,000.

Jeremy Hartley: Wow..!

Buddy Landel: When I went back to Crockett later in '86 and we had our big blow-up thing and that's when they brought Sting in - actually Sting filled my space when I screwed up. Now I'm not saying that I could have done as well as Sting, I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that by my screw-up that's what gave him the opportunity to come in. And a lot of people don't know that, but if people would go back and do their history, I mean I was riding high. There was nothing that I touched that didn't turn to gold in the mid 80's.

Jeremy Hartley: Speaking of gold, if you could just sort of capsulize a bit of your Title history for us, for people who don't know necessarily.

Buddy Landel: Okay, well the North American Heavywight Title, North American and Carribean Tag Team Title, Mid-South Television Champion, (NWA) National Heavyweight Champion, Tri-State Heavyweight Champion, Tennesee Champion, Mid-American Champion, Southern Heavyweight Champion, IWA Heavyweight Champion, USWA Heavyweight Champion, Continental Heavyweight Champion, USA Heavyweight Champion, Smoky Mountain Heavyweight Champion, Smoky Mountain Television Champion...just on and on and on.

Jeremy Hartley: I'll be darned...

Buddy Landel: A lot of those were multiple-multiples, I was 6 times Mid-American Champ, I don't want to bore everybody, it goes on and hits about 24 or 26 somewhere in there.

Jeremy Hartley: I don't think it's a matter of boring anyone, I think one of the misconceptions is that is when guys make it, lets say when guys go to certain big federations, either like the big two, lets say for example WCW or WWF, a lot of them have been legends previous before going to the big two but most people don't know it. And then they go to the big two and they're getting lost in the shuffle.

Buddy Landel: Right, that happened to me in 1990 when I went back...

Jeremy Hartley: Yes...

Buddy Landel: It was funny because here you've got Ricky and Robert, the Rock & Roll express, 5 times NWA World Tag Team Champions, or you've got Tommy Rich, former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Bobby Eaton, probably one of the best workers ever...when I came back to WCW in 1990 I thought, "Hell, the last time I was here I was wrestling the World's Heayweight Champion, it ain't going to be no time before I'm back on top - well to my surprise, and to the surprise of the rest of the guys I just mentioned, we were no more then just job guys...

Jeremy Hartley: Yeah...

Buddy Landel: Just to let you know how much the business had changed. They were using our talent to put over the guys they thought were going to bring the new millenium in...

Jeremy Hartley: Yeah... BL ...which I didn't mind at all because after all I had a nice house in Florida with swimming pool, driving a Mercedes, I mean I could care less 'cause like I said from the outset, I don't have an ego, just pay me my money, I got kids to raise.

Jeremy Hartley: So, would you say that was sort of the sentiment, the feelings of most of the guys in your position at the time?

Buddy Landel: I can't answer for anybody else, I mean I had been in the business long enough that I understood the game. I was a student of the game and I was just happy to get my money. At that point I saw that I was fighting a losing battle, you know, why not just sit back and collect the money? Go do your ten minutes, get your money go put it in the bank. Maybe they might come in one day and go, "Hey, we forgot, there's Buddy Landel..."

Jeremy Hartley: That's why I think it's important to have shows like this, shows on the Internet, because most of the Internet fans are the younger generation. I remember the first time I saw Buddy Landel, it was in 1990, as you said, the NWA or WCW - at that time they were making a transition...so I was watching one of the late night shows. They said, "The Nature Boy Buddy Landel is back..." and I thought, "...who is that guy?" And I watched it and your marching around the ring going, "I'm back! I'm the Nature Boy..." and I thought, "Well, that's kind of cool but why does he lose matches..?" Meanwhile I had only been a fan for the last four years previous to that and so just didn't know and I can honestly tell you that there's probably many of theose people out there who don't, so when I ask questions about Title histories and other things it's not only for my own benefit but it's also for the benefit of those who don't necessarily know...most people don't know of Harley Race unless you do your history...but, huh, lets see...talk a little bit about that program you worked with Ric Flair.

Buddy Landel: It's really fascinating, you know Flair, at the time...I was over in Louisianna and Dory Funk was booking, and the territory was really down in Charlotte. Flair flew over to do some shows, to work with Kerry Von Erich over in Dallas when Watts was loaning Butch Reed and myself out. Butch Reed had just switched babyface and I was wrestling him, and I was on the same card in Dallas. By this time I'd already been the Nature Boy for about a year and a half, with Flair's blessing, and Flair said, "Would you consider coming over to Charlotte?" I said, "Well, I don't know man, Watts usually sends me where he thinks it will be best for me.." He says, "Well, how much are you making now? If you come over I'll make sure it's doubled." But see, at that time money didn't really matter to me, what I really wanted to do was go to Florida and meet Eddie Graham, I wanted to learn from the guy who taught BIll Watts..."

Jeremy Hartley: Right...

Buddy Landel: Well, within about a week's period of time, not even that, within a very few short days, I'll never forget it - I was in the dressing room with Baby Doll, Tully Blanchard and Gino Hernandez, somebody walked in and said, "Eddie Graham just blew his brains out..." and that was the deciding factor. I was not going to go to Charlotte, I was going to pass up working with Flair to go to Florida to work for Eddie Graham...so that kind of made my mind up for me. I went to Charlotte. Really the thing of it is, our program consisted of JJ Dillon and myself walking out and saying, "Flair's bogus - I'm the real Nature Boy..." With Flair, at first not even acknowledging me, and I was beatin' guy after guy after guy...Flair and I never had a program, we never worked a program, we never shot the first angle, that's what was so unique about it. That's what was so great about it. Flair and I never shot the first angle and yet it sold out. (Editor's Note: I remember this very well - it was such an unusual angle because it went for quite a while but they never actually met in the ring)

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) Wow! And that's unheard of now...

Buddy Landel: Take for example, in forty years of Jim Crockett promotions, the biggest house they'd ever done was Raleigh, North Carolina. Now you could go down the roster: you're talking about Buddy Rogers, Malenko (Sr.), your talking about Flair, Steamboat, Wahoo, you're talking about the Valiants, the Valentines everybody that had ever been through there for forty years, the biggest house they'd ever done was 24 grand. Flair and I, our very first night in Dorton Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina did $48,000. We broke Elvis Presley's attendance record. It was mind-boggling, man. I'll never forget it, when we pulled up in the parking lot, JJ said, "We're screwed, there's a fair tonight..."

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs)

Buddy Landel: That's how many cars there were in the parking lot.

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) And it's funny that you mention that JJ was part of this because, as a lot of the fans know, he ended up working with Flair for many years after that...

Buddy Landel: Right...

Jeremy Hartley: ...'85-'86 to about '89-'90, something like that (Editor's note: actually, Dillon bowed out in '88) Part 3

Jeremy Hartley:That leads me to a question I hadn't thought on asking but...about you and managers, did you work with any other managers?

Buddy Landel: Yeah, actually I was one of the first guys that Jimmy Cornette managed. I think my first manager was Jimmy Hart, as a matter of fact at one time, Jimmy Hart, Jimmy Cornette and Andy Kaufman were my managers as a trio, me and Dennis Condrey (of the original Midnight Express).

Jeremy Hartley: Was the role of a manager to work a lot of outside influences, or did they just stick you with a guy..?

Buddy Landel: It depended on what kind of clout they had in the office, JJ pulled a lot of weight as the assistant booker in Charlotte. When you're talking about private jets leaving Butler Aviation on the tarmac, you're talking about Ric Flair, Jim Crockett, Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, Buddy Landel and JJ Dillon - I was in. You couldn't have gotten more in then I was in.

Jeremy Hartley: That's always interesting to hear about how these guys put themselves over...have you tried any promoting or booking?

Buddy Landel: My futile attempts...yeah I have, but you know what, I was in charge, I guess it was about 1991. I love helping people, doing charity work, and God gave me an idea about making a wrestling match, getting some sponsors and having a show where you didn't pay to get in but brought an unwrapped gift or toy. We called it Christmas for kids. So I went out and got my corporate sponsors and flew guys in and took the gifts at the door and worked with the Sheriff and the Police Department and Goodwill the first year with the Marines and give out gifts. We've been doing that every year since in Knoxville. So my stuff is charity, I've never really been a greedy person, and I think that's a perequisite of being a promoter, you have to be greedy. I've just never had that bug bite me.

Jeremy Hartley: So you also never really had any desire to be on any booking committees...

Buddy Landel: Well, I've been on several booking committees, I mean I was in Sholin in '85 that sat in and gave ideas. Of course I was Jimmy Cornette's assistant booker while I was here in Smoky Mountain and helped in Memphis and in Puerto Rico. I mean, everywhere I've went people really saw that I knew what I was doing, so I was never the booker but I always had a lot of influence. Especially on my angles...

Jeremy Hartley: It's funny because a lot of people say they can pick out the fingerprints of an angle as far as who booked it, they mention guys like Terry Taylor, and it seems to me like the best bookers are the ones who who were big stars in their regions but they never really quite hit it huge...

Buddy Landel: But you gotta understand, Terry Taylor's a lot like myself, Terry Taylor is a student of this business...

Jeremy Hartley: That's what I was getting at...

Buddy Landel: Terry Taylor's been in Florida where they made the big money, he's been in Charlotte where they made the big money, you know he helped book and had a lot of say-so in UWF and Mid-South. He's been in situations where he cared more about just then getting in the car at 5:00 and just driving and showing up at work, he went that extra mile. That's the kind of guy Terry Taylor is. He always had input...

Jeremy Hartley: That's what I was getting at, the real students are the one who really need to work for it, judging from what you're saying - to get where you went and to get to where Terry Taylor went, you really had to work for it. You didn't have anything, seemingly, handed to you.

Buddy Landel: No. As a matter of fact, you got a guy in the back with a knife in his hand waiting for you to foul it up. There were only so many positions...it's even worse now - I mean , hell, back then you had twenty territories - now you got two, and there's the same amount of guys if not more. I mean hey, all the old stories and all that stuff is fine. It really tickles me nowadays you got young guys trying to do what we did twenty years ago, you know pissin' in public, getting drunk and taking there clothes off - all that stuff was funny back then, but it's not funny anymore. It don't impress anybody. You're just cutting your own throat, now you have to be a businessman. You know, they want to hire people that they can depend on.

Jeremy Hartley: So when you broke into the business you had the legends that made sure you respected the business. When you came back in '90 in NWA-WCW - at that point what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room? Was it more top heavy, did you have the people who were making the big bucks, whether they were young or old were the ones who had the say, what was the pecking order?

Buddy Landel: Well, let me tell you something, back when I broke in if you didn't want to do a finish, hey, you were fired. See yuh...nowadays, if you don't want to do a finish it's negotiable. I remember Flair one time was supposed to drop the strap in Michigan to Luger and before the match he said, "Naw, I don't want to do it." And it didn't happen...

Jeremy Hartley: So even then things were beginning to change, and now they're way out of control...

Buddy Landel: Yeah. But I'll tell you this, Terry Taylor tells it like it is...

Jeremy Hartley: Oh, does he..?

Buddy Landel: Oh yeah, Terry taylor tells it exactly how it is, I've got all the respect in the world for that guy.

Jeremy Hartley: It's good to hear you say that because we don't get to hear that - all we hear is - "Taylor screwed up that booking..." and you know that's by people who don't know what their talking about...

Buddy Landel: Yeah well, Taylor just says, "Were going to go with my idea and if it screws up it's going to be my job, you're going to do what I tell you to do, or we'll put you in Peet, Montana or Tupelo, Mississippi with, you know whoever - you're gonna do it." I think the problem that's in the business now, Jeremy are these promoters have built there companies around a few select guys, and these guys started out as a little tumor and now it's malignant...

Jeremy Hartley: Yeah (laughs), I think that's a very fair assessment...

Buddy Landel: It's way past benign, it's malignant. I don't want to call any names out, I don't think I have to - Ray Charles can see that, I don't mean any disrepect, but I mean it's really ridiculous...

Jeremy Hartley: And so you have been fortunate, I suppose would be the word, to have worked for pretty much every promoter that meant anything in this business.

Buddy Landel: Yeah...

Jeremy Hartley: Besides Bill Watts, any other promoters that you felt, "Wow, I'm getting treated nice, they care about their athletes - this is what I'm getting at, a lot of promoters don't seem to care...

Buddy Landel: They basically take care of the guys better today then they used to because, use to, if you worked with Bill Watts, and you had a broken finger - you worked, if you had a busted ear drum - you worked, you had a seperated shoulder - you worked. Nowadays, go in with a hangnail...you know. And I have to say that another great mind that I had the pleasure of working for was Jerry Lawler. Famtastic mind...

Jeremy Hartley: Yes, I'm glad you brought that up...

Buddy Landel: He helped a lot of guys in the business with their gimmicks, he gave the Rock & Roll Express their gimmick, Kamala his gimmick, I mean the list goes on and on. Just a tremendous mind, the best the South had to offer. You know everybody came through Memphis at one time or another...

Jeremy Hartley: That's good to hear because now he's a commentator and you don't really see that anymore. It would interest me, and I'm sure everyone, if you could just explain say an average week for a wrestler in the Mid-South territory, wrestling many nights a week. A lot of peole say, you know, no matter what you do this stuff's not real - nobody gets hurt, nobody gets lonely, nobody gets tempted...and I just tend to think that's a buch of bull.

Buddy Landel: Well you know you were married to the guys that you ran up and down the road with. I mean you were in a different hotel in a different town every night, you were never home. You took care of each other, you worked hurt, let me tell you something, you did not miss a shot for Bill Watts. I mean everything is out there, every kind of temptation in the world, it's out there. You either say "yes" or you say "no". You know, if you say "yes" too many times, it gets a hold of you and the next thing you know you got another problem. Bill Watts on you and you got your problem on you...

Jeremy Hartley: And he was good about that? Keeping tabs on the boys?

Buddy Landel: Oh my God, he had Grizley Smith...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) Now that's the father of the Snake Man (Jake Roberts)...what was his occupation in those days? Enforcer...

Buddy Landel: Private eye...he could tell you what bills you owed...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) So to bring us up to the present day, from the guys you've seen now, in todays' wrestling, who do you think will be the next generation of wrestlers, the ones who won't be flashes in the pan after a few years in the spotlight.

Buddy Landel: Well, I think that Hulk Hogan until he decides to walk away, Ric Flair forever, I think that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash can write their own ticket, I think that Shawn Michaels is probably the best athlete in the business today. Of course you got Bret Hart who can write his own ticket. My top pick for the future of this business is of course Steve Austin. I think that the promoter has to build up a trust in the person that they are going to put their time and money into. Give him the microphone and he can be creative on any night. I don't think they expected Steve Austin to get over with the fans, but he's a creative genius, he created his own character and ran with it. I don't think they know what he's going to do night to night. I think they're as big of marks for him as we all are. I think we're all big marks for Steve Austin because we're just waiting to see what he's going to do next. So my top pick is Steve Austin.

Jeremy Hartley: Another guy, you know, he announced his retirement, wrestled a big card in Texas, the next thing you know he's coming out af a crate wielding a chainsaw...of course you know who I'm talking about...

Buddy Landel: Yeah, I hope when I'm 54, I hope I can do that (Editors note: actually Terry Funk is 52). I mean I'm 36 and don't do moonsaults...I'm gonna wait till I hit 40 at least...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) For someone like myself, who never got to see the whole Funk dynasty, what did they mean to wrestling..?

Buddy Landel: They just had their own style. They went out and they worked their hearts out. I mean they were credible, they were rough, tough, Southern, kick-ass. And even Dory...you know I was supposed to be his partner, this month, the 28th for Dennis Corraluza - but I had to cancel that out because I had a prior engagement. But I loved working with Dory, I love watching him and I loved being around him. He's a true gentleman, now here's a guy who was on top in an era where he was beating guys with headlocks, really rough guys. And I don't think any one was giving them anything, even though they were second generation wrestlers, they had more to prove then anyone else. Their dad was great, and I think they had to prove it too, you know, and prove it they did.

Jeremy Hartley: That they certainly did. Another guy from the Texas era comes to mind, and I'm wondering if you ever worked with Dick Murdoch.

Buddy Landel: Great, crazy Dick. Yeah he was great. I can't think of too many guys that were from Texas - you know, all the guys from Tennesee were great and all the guys from Texas were great. I think it all has to do with who you grew up idolizing, who you grew up in the business around...

Jeremy Hartley: And when we talk about the Funks and when we talk about Murdoch - they both had fathers in the business who used to fight each other - so they both had something to prove... You know I was just reading somthing about the whole Von Erich family - did you ever work for Fritz Von Erich?

Buddy Landel: I never did work for Fritz other than being loaned out by Bill Watts. I had the pleasure of woking for Carl Bosch, the best payoff man in the business and of course I always admired all the Von Erichs. My wife says that the two nicest guys she ever met in the business were Kerry Von Erich and Bobby Eaton, just gentlemen, really respectful gentlemen. And you know I was in Japan when Kerry's life ended, I'll never forget it. I think their father put a lot of pressure on them. When I first met Kerry in 1981, he was driving a new Corvette, he had $20,000 Rolex and was living in a $750,000 home - there was a lot of pressure out on those kids to carry on, and it was really sad - I thought I had pressure on me but you could imagine to carry on a dynasty, with Fritz being the patriarch that he was, I'm sure it was intense. You know the Von Erichs were like Flair is in Charlotte only two-fold in Dallas. I mean when they screwed up it wasn't like the average guy on the street screwing up - I remember talking to Kerry, it was several of the brothers who died or committed suicide...I mean what one of them got busted for, I think it was Mike got busted for pot - and I mean when I got busted for pot it was like, okay will go to court and boom, boom, boom but for them, they were local heroes and the shame just drove them over the edge...it's sad, it's really sad - we've seen a lot of tragedy in this business...

Jeremy Hartley: Right...you know I was going to say something and it just went right out of my mind...

Buddy Landel: You want to know who to make the check out to...

Jeremy Hartley: (laughs) You said you were in Japan when you heard about Kerry Von Erich's death - and I always hear from other guys, Dory Funk, and Lou Thesz mentioned it, wrestling in Japan and how different it is...

Buddy Landel: Well, I went over there thinking I was the consumate worker, expecting to get a pop from the crowd. Well there was no pop from the crowd. Over there, there's no babyface and heel, there's strong and weak - if you do something good they clap - I'm out there with a high spot, I'm looking for a pop and there just sitting there looking at me - that really threw my timing off, I went over there really out of shape - they kicked the hell out of me - it was yars later before I went back. So it is a lot different. #1 - to wrestle in Japan you have to have credentials, you have to be an amateur this or an amateur that, I mean you're not a local yokel from K-Mart over there. You're actually something. You know those guys eat, breathe and sleep wrestling, which I respect and it's totally different. Yeah they kicked the hell out of me over there. I couldn't wait to get back home is what I'm saying...

Copyright 1998 - Jeremy Hartley and Jump City Productions.
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