Old School Spotlight: “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel

Buddy Landel

In the long storied history of professional wrestling, many spandex clad gladiators have grabbed our attention and captured our imaginations. These colorful characters remain in the deepest recesses of our minds years after their glory days in the ring have passed. The most memorable grapplers from our years of wrestling fandom are often those that we encounter early on in our initial discovery of the mat game. This column will take a look at some of the most bizarre, flamboyant, charismatic, and downright terrifying pro wrestlers of all time.

This week the sport of professional wrestling has lost yet another legend. We felt it was only fitting to use this week’s “Old School Spotlight” to celebrate the life and career of one of the 1980s most colorful characters, “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel. William Ansor was born on August 14, 1961 near Knoxville, Tennessee. He was a standout amateur wrestler, football, and baseball star in high school. He received several college scholarship offers including signing a letter of intent to play both football and baseball at the University of Tennessee. Ansor quickly realized that college was not for him. At that time, his sister just happened to be dating professional wrestler, Barry O. The “O” was for Orton. Barry was the younger brother of “Cowboy” Bob Orton and uncle of current WWE superstar, Randy Orton. Barry took a liking to his girlfriend’s brother when the two would playfully wrestle around in the Ansor family living room. He saw right away that young William Ansor had some serious mat skills and convinced him that he should give pro wrestling a try. Orton introduced him to “Professor” Boris Malenko, the father of Dean Malenko. Out of 25 training camp hopefuls, Ansor was the only one to make the cut. While training under Malenko, Ansor met former Olympic wrestler, Bob Roop, and they became friends and roommates.

After graduating from Malenko’s training school, Ansor began working as an enhancement talent and under card performer for Angelo Poffo’s “outlaw” promotion, International Championship Wrestling based out of Lexington, Kentucky. He then began working for “Cowboy” Bill Watts in Mid-South Wrestling. Ansor made his in ring debut there in 1979 under the ring name, Buddy Landel.  He worked his way up the card and began to gain some notoriety. He received a major break in 1985 when the National Wrestling Alliance’s premiere territory, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, and promoter Jim Crockett came calling. Landel by this time had dyed his hair blonde and adopted the “Nature Boy” nickname as well as a more boisterous persona. Landel was managed by James J. Dillon long before Dillon’s association with the Four Horsemen faction. Landel captured his first high profile championship by winning the NWA National Heavyweight Title from Terry Taylor at Starrcade ’85 in Greensboro, NC. Landel was on quite a roll. His match with NWA World Heavyweight Champion, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair broke the box office record set by Elvis Presley at the Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina in July 1985. Legend has it that booker, Dusty Rhodes, wanted to put the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on Landel but his demons outside the ring cost him the opportunity. Landel arrived late for an important TV taping after a hard night of partying and was disciplined by Rhodes. He soon left the territory and returned to his native Tennessee.

In 1986 Landel was part of the final sold out wrestling crowd at Memphis’ vaunted Mid-South Coliseum on a card with the likes of “Superstar” Bill Dundee, “Dirty” Dutch Mantell, and Jerry “The King” Lawler. Landel moved on to the Continental Wrestling Federation territory in Alabama for a couple years before returning to the NWA in 1990. Landel was entrenched in the mid-card upon his return but his stellar in ring work again landed him the opportunity to move into a larger role as he faced off with old foe, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in the “Battle of the Nature Boys”. The two had a memorable “Gauntlet Match” in November 1990 that saw Flair eek out a win. Landel continued to be a major part of the overall product and was involved in a storyline in early 1991 that saw him being “recruited” by Alexandra York for her York Foundation stable to join the likes of Ricky Morton, Terry Taylor, and Tommy Rich. Landel lost the matches he needed to win and was spurned by York in the end. Again, Landel’s problem outside the ring cost him an opportunity and he left the NWA and returned to the independents. He was scheduled to face the legendary “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers for the Tri-State Wrestling Heavyweight Championship in early 1992 but the promotion folded before the match ever took place.

Landel again landed on his feet and was given the opportunity by old friend, Jim Cornette, in 1994 to join his successful Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion in his native east Tennessee. Landel came in as a heel managed by Cornette as part of his “militia”. Rumor has it that Landel was considered for the “New Jack” gimmick but it was decided that painting him in blackface would not be smart given his name value and past ring success. Landel was a main event star in SMW and held both the SMW Heavyweight Championship and Television Title. After a string of losses Landel was fired from Cornette’s militia and became a babyface. Shortly before the promotion closed in 1995, Landel faced off against Shawn Michaels in a record setting house at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum representing SMW against the WWF. Cornette had worked out a talent trade agreement with Vince McMahon during the latter days of Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Once SMW closed, both Cornette and Landel headed for the WWF.

“Nature Boy” Buddy Landel was part of the same signing class as “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin and began with the WWF in December 1995. He maintained a very similar look to Ric Flair and even used Flair’s old WWF theme music for a time. He made his first appearance on pay per view in a losing effort to Ahmed Johnson at In Your House 5: Season’s Beatings. He faced Bret “The Hitman” Hart in an excellent televised match for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in January 1996.  Landel suffered a severely torn right quadriceps early in his WWF run and missed 6 months of action. After his return, he only worked a few more matches before quietly leaving the company. He made a few surprise return appearances including facing Edge in his debut TV match for the company and battling Triple H on an episode of Shotgun Saturday Night in 1999. Landel continued to make independent appearances throughout the late 90s and even briefly surfaced in World Championship Wrestling before the promotion closed in 2001. He is credited as being the very first opponent of Bill Goldberg at a house show in Dalton, Georgia, well before his televised winning streak began. “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel had his retirement match against “Wildfire” Tommy Rich on August 11, 2001 at the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama.

Since his retirement from the ring, Landel had kept himself busy. He worked as a color commentator for the NWA Rocky Top promotion in Knoxville in 2005. Even more beautiful than his patented corkscrew elbow drop was the person that he had become in the later years of his life. He enjoyed spending time with the members of his Masonic Lodge and worked as a reserve police officer. One of his favorite pastimes in recent years had been speaking to various groups about the pitfalls of drug and alcohol addiction particularly young up and coming wrestlers. The fact that he became wrestling royalty should come as no surprise. He was named a Kentucky Colonel and his roots were English, and his 5th great-grandfather was Peter Shipe, president George Washington’s baggage master. Upon the end of his service, Shipe was given a land-grant in Knoxville by Washington for his service, and the family owned the land for 200 years until it was sold in 1980 by his grandmother. His was a life well lived. Few men have been to the top of the wrestling world and left their mark on the business like the flamboyant and charismatic “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel.

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