Nature Boy, Buddy Rogers
"Those Son-of-a-Bitches, they threw water all over us----. Hey that's not water. Those dirty bastards threw piss all over us. Let's kill the bastards." The heat was great in Borger, Texas on Friday night. The match was the Blond Bombers, Art Nelson and Rip Rogers vs Dory Funk and Cowboy Carlson. Rip Rogers and Art Nelson had just gained an unpopular decision over crowd favorites, Funk and Carlson. It was a near riot just getting from the ring back to the dressing room and the fans were not going away. When Rip opened the door and dosed them with the salty shower they were even madder. Needless to say with heat like that, the following week Borger sold out with a return of the same four wrestlers in a Texas Death Tag Team Match.
This was a time when the hottest heel in the country was Buddy Rogers. The colorful, perfectly built and always sun tanned Rogers had drawn the largest gate in wrestling, The historic sellout in Chicago's Comiski Park for the NWA World Championship against Pat Oconnor. The gate at that time was an astounding $126,000. Rogers was a showman par excellance, much in the mold of the all time great showman and wrestling's greatest box office attraction, Gorgeous George. (George Wagner)
Rip Rogers was the Amarillo Territory's version of Buddy Rogers. He was a wild man, a great wrestler and had a sharp mind. Rip Rogers and Art Nelson always had a case of beer in the car and made all the trips in the territory together. Their appearance was much like Buddy Rogers but there were two of them. They were the arrogant heels that the fans would pack the arenas to see take their lumps from the likes of Dory Funk, Ricky Romero, Cowboy Carlson, or Bob Geigel.
I was in high school and loved to travel to the wrestling matches in Hereford, Texas on Saturday nights. Hereford was only fifteen miles down the road from our house at the Flying Mare Ranch in Umbarger, Texas. My best friends from high school, football players, Leonard Miller and Richard Burgess were with me. Old Mr. Doole, president of the Hereford Lions Club (Local promoters in Hereford, Texas) had given us front row seats at the old Hereford Bull Barn. The match that night was Art Nelson and Rip Rogers vs Dory Funk and Bob Geigel. The referee was our assistant high school football coach, John Ussery.
Midway through the match, our coach turned his back on Rip, pushing Art back toward his corner. Rip Rogers saw his opportunity and reached up and grabbed the back pocket of the referee's pants and pulled hard. The whole ass-end of his pants came out and he was wearing nothing but a jock strap. I will never forget him completing the match as if nothing had happened while my friends and I were rolling on the floor laughing.
Rip Rogers was only twenty four at the time. He was a drinker, a partier, and a wild bull rider, while at the same time he was studying the wrestling business more than anyone knew. He watched the business tactics of my father, Dory Funk.
My father built his wrestling business on a foundation of credibility. He was a collegiate wrestler from Indiana University. When he turned pro he learned from the great Lou Thesz. He was superintendent and wrestling coach at Texas Boys' Ranch for four years. He protected the wrestling business by bringing in legitimate tough wrestlers who would defend their business at the drop of a hat. People like, Mike Dibiase, Vern Gagne, Fritz von Erich, Bob Geigel, Gene Kiniski, Ricky Romero, Art Nelson, Dick Hutton, Pat Oconnor, Tony Morrelli, all tough guys. He also built his business on the principle of giving back to the community in charity work. I remember him saying, "You can not always take from the community, you must also give back." He never forgot his association with and love for Cal Farley's Boys' Ranch and continued to support them throughout his career.
Rip Rogers would go on to become one of the most dynamic movers in the wrestling business. He would own his own territory and build it on the same principles of credibility, athleticism, and giving back to the community that he learned in the mid 50's in Amarillo, Texas by watching Dory Funk Sr.
I knew him as a friend, believed in what he stood for, and respected his ability as a wrestling promoter. When I became interested in flying, he flew his own Cessna 182 to Amarillo to teach me all he knew about safety in flying. He booked the match with Gene Kiniski that changed my life, and when skeptics said I would never make a successful champion, he was there to stand up for me. When my father passed away, he was there to help. His territory featured great wrestlers, including my toughest challenger, Jack Brisco.
Many thanks to Rip Rogers, aka Eddie Graham, the heart and sole of Championship Wrestling from Florida.
Florida Sheriffs Boys' Ranch, name sound familiar?
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