Remembering 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 wrestling.


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 wrestling magazines.

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 only ten.

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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The rare video clips mentioned in the article above can be found in the Gateway's feature on

studio 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 falls encounters.

(Salisbury Post, Monday April 24, 1961)


(Updated 11/02/07. Clipping Courtesy of Mark Eastridge.)


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