COMES TO TOWN
the Nature Boy and foe Billy Darnell
by Mike Cline
Special to the
Mid-Atlantic Gateway, part of a
feature by Dick Bourne on WBTV studio
You take your chances when you research
something from many years back, never knowing what shall be
discovered, if anything. When the Mid-Atlantic Gateway asked me to
gather some memories from watching WBTV Charlotte Wrestling and jot
them down for one of several features for THE MID-ATLANTIC GATEWAY
he wanted to do, I was happy to do so.
I am also very fortunate to have a
friend who has worked for WBTV for a number of years who might be
able to locate some wrestling footage in the station archives
(assuming any still existed). Need I say how excited I was (and
still am) when some material turned up in my mailbox.
A pig-in-a-poke, a
shot-in-the-dark...whatever phrase you want to use. Any footage
would be welcomed, just as a visual record and remembrance of an
extremely popular, long-running weekly experience...watching Jim
Crockett CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING on WBTV-Charlotte, as thousands did
every Saturday afternoon.
To my amazement, the rare footage went
all the way back to around 1960, the time when the then NWA United
States Heavyweight Champion "Nature Boy" BUDDY ROGERS did a stint
with Jim Crockett Promotions. This, at the time, was comparable to
the big push JOHNNY VALENTINE would be given by booker George Scott
in the early 1970s. A worldy-known, big name wrestler enters a new
territory wearing THE BELT, daring any local wrestler to take it
away from him. ROGERS was one of the very top stars in all the
business, known in the Crockett territory only by reputation and the
Buddy brought something new to the area
besides the belt...the figure-four leg lock, then known as the
figure-four grapevine, unlike today, an INSTANT submission hold.
Buddy won every match with it. Week after week, he appeared on WBTV
defeating some jobber in a few short minutes with the figure-four.
No one came close to breaking the hold. Rogers actually issued a
challenge to any man in the studio audience to get in the ring and
see if they could break the hold. Several weeks went by with a male
spectator being assisted out of the ring limping badly (I don't know
if these men were "plants" or not, but to me, then ten years old...I
bought it). Especially the week when Buddy applied the hold in the
ring on commentator BIG BILL WARD.
Of course, someone had to step forward
to put an end to the Champion's wave of destruction. The babyface
selected was BILLY DARNELL, who wrestled as BILLY "TARZAN" DARNELL.
Billy became an overnight hero. All of a sudden, kids at my
elementary school were going around emulating what we watched on TV
Saturday. One kid would be Darnell, and the other would be Rogers.
One of my best friend's older brother was the first in our
neighborhood to learn how to apply the figure-four, and had all of
us screaming and crying when he'd slap it on us. (He disregarded Big
Bill Ward's advice to "not apply these wrestling holds at home").
Darnell was elevated to calling some of
the WBTV shows with Big Bill, only to promote the program he was
having with the Champ. The particular match in the existing footage
was leading up to the big "blow-off" match with Rogers' defending
the title against Darnell in Charlotte. (I'm guessing it was a
holiday Coliseum show since this was such a huge "feud.") Being
ten-years old and living fifty miles from Charlotte, there was no
way in the world I could go to see the match, especially on a school
night, so all of us kids at N.B. Mills Elementary School would just
have to wait to see the new champ on TV the following Saturday.
That day never came.
What I recall was the following
Saturday's show had no mention of BILLY "TARZAN" DARNELL winning the
U.S. heavyweight championship...no mention of Darnell at all. I
can't remember ever seeing him again. I don't believe he ever
wrestled in the Charlotte territory after that match. I'm not
totally clear as to whether BUDDY ROGERS remained. Both might have
left JCP at the same time. I wish I knew for sure. I do remember
sometime later hearing an adult somewhere saying that he had gone to
the match, and ROGERS had retained the title by using the
figure-four. Whether he was speaking the truth, I don't know. I was
But I know for a fact this big "feud"
did happen. And when I watched the surprise footage for the first
time, I nearly fell out of my chair, because I specifically recall
seeing this exact match. Now I wish I could see BIG BILL
lying in the ring in the figure-four. We can't have everything.
- Mike Cline
January 1, 2006
Posted on the Gateway February 2006
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HISTORY ON THE MID-ATLANTIC GATEWAY
The rare video clips mentioned in the
article above can be found in the Gateway's feature on
wrestling at WBTV-3 in Charlotte.
Newspaper Article promoting the match that
followed this altercation between
Buddy Rogers and Billy Darnell:
Sixteen of the most famous names in
professional wrestling will be on display tonight at the Charlotte
Coliseum, beginning at 8:15 p.m.
The headline bout is a championship
struggle featuring Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, the United States
heavyweight champion, defending against Billy (Tarzan) Darnell.
"I want to take time right now to thank my
many fans for making this event possible," states Darnell. "It was
through their efforts that the National Wrestling Alliance forced Rogers
to get back in the ring with me." Darnell had protested an earlier bout,
claiming a win at that time. The referee on that occasion was disabled
and would not support Darnell's demands.
The semi-final of the card will be tag-team
in scope. P.Y. Chung, the rowdy Chinaman, and Chris Averoff meet stylish
George Becker and dauntless Sandy Scott.
Both of these matches are two-of-three
(Salisbury Post, Monday April 24, 1961)
(Updated 11/02/07. Clipping Courtesy of Mark Eastridge.)
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