Sunday, March 21, 2010

The wrestling business needs Buddy Landel

By Rick Morris

On Episode #94 of THE FDH LOUNGE (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EDT) on, we had the pleasure of interviewing one of the great stars of wrestling’s territorial days, “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel. We’ve had dozens and dozens of interviews in the course of our show’s history, but rarely have we had any thoughts that occurred to us afterwards that we felt would merit a column on the site – let alone two of them.

This one deals with Buddy’s place on the current pro wrestling landscape. During the interview, it emerged that he is hopeful that some tentative feelers that have been put in the direction of TNA Wrestling might result in a high-level comeback to the industry (that led, of course, to my inevitable joke that he was too young at age 47 to expect a push in TNA – since the median level necessary for that seems to be 55-60 these days). He indicated that he is back in great shape and because he was underutilized for such a long time, his body has not taken nearly the bumps as many other veterans his age.

But I started thinking afterwards about how hopeful I was that his efforts would bear fruit – and how much of a shame it is that he is identifying what looks right now to be his sole hope for breaking back out in a big way. If you don’t think that is true, examine the alternatives:

^ WWE: With the company’s lack of faith in the institutional memory of its audience, they would surely regard Buddy’s super-brief late-‘90s stint as something beyond the remembrance of today’s audience. That would leave them faced with the dilemma of how to get him over with a crowd that they might fear would not be able to connect with him. Bear in mind that in recent years only Jim Duggan and Tatanka have been brought back for big comeback runs and both were longtime WWF fixtures back in the day. They’ve also always had an inability to treat anything they regard as “southern ‘rasslin” in an appropriately credible manner, so you’d have to worry that even if he got in the door that he could get the right opportunity to be taken seriously. One shudders to think of him being saddled with a “hot tub time machine” gimmick (“and now, hailing from 1986, Buddy Landel!”) or being treated as an “NXT rookie.” If you don’t think the latter possibility could happen, consider that former ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson has been given that designation. Buddy would bring a breath of fresh air to the company, livening up the product with a style and charisma that does not come along every day, but unless the company were to experiment and free up a spot on Smackdown (which is the one place they’ve been halfway willing to take chances from time to time), it’s hard to visualize.

^ ROH/Evolve/Dragon Gate USA: While in-ring workrate has continued to improve from the 1990s in the country’s high-level independent promotions, it has come at a cost. There was room for the likes of Terry Funk and Tommy Rich in the ECW of the mid-to-late ‘90s and most people would regard that as a strong positive. But as today’s otherwise great promotions have taken shape, there is a uniformity of athletic expectation that is a bit off-putting. There could be no better evidence of this than the way that ROH “smart” fans shat all over Jerry Lynn – one of the truly great workers of the 1990s and a man who still puts most others of his age and experience level to shame – when he was working a comeback storyline en route to the ROH World Title last year. With that having been the case, it would be hard to imagine the fanbase being willing to give a fair shake to a man who unapologetically works a different style and who has never pretended to be a spot monkey (spoken as somebody who has a lot of appreciation for spot monkeys, by the way!).

In the pro wrestling business, variety is the spice of life. A man like Buddy Landel, who has a great story to tell in terms of beating severe drug abuse (the story he recounted on the show about WWF wrestlers telling him that they lost money on him in a “dead pool” back in the 1990s is astounding in its insensitivity, even for crude humor in a business known for it) and who projected great charisma and entertainment in the squared circle should be welcomed anywhere he has an interest in donning the tights (not addressed in this column are behind-the-scenes opportunities, which could conceivably be more plentiful in the aforementioned promotions and in which he could doubtless succeed as well). Instead, our hopes for seeing a high-level comeback are more or less reduced to the chance that somebody in Nashville will smell the money in “Nature Boy vs. Nature Boy, 25 years later” and make the consequential phone call. Such is life in a business with too few high-level opportunities and substantially fewer places with the wherewithal to appreciate a top talent.

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