Nature Boy

BUDDY ROGERS was born Herman G. Rohde Jr. to Herman and Freda Rohde in Camden NJ on February 20, 1921. Both his parents were born in Germany. In 1920 his father had been working as a machinist at the Samuel Langston Company in Camden's Eighth Ward, ten years later he was a stationary engineer at the Camden Brewery at 6th and Bulson Streets. Young Herman was the baby of the family, his father was 49 when he was born, and mother Freda was 37 at his birth.  In 1930 the Rohde family lived at 2033 Arlington Street in Camden's Eighth Ward, in the shadow of the Howland Croft & Sons Co. mill, and a short walk from the brewery. 

He began wrestling in 1939 as Dutch Rogers, and wrestled in the Camden area his own name, Herman "Dutch" Rohde. His father passed away on December 5th of that year. Realizing that marketing meant as much in wrestling as what took place in the ring, Herman Rohde took on the name Buddy Rogers, died his hair blond, and, borrowing a term from the 1960s, let it all hang out.

Herman C. Rohde, aka Buddy Rogers appears in the 1947 Camden City Directory. The directory shows that he had married and was working as policeman in Camden. Along with wife Ella he was still living at 2033 Arlington Street. Also at home were his widowed mother Freda and older brother John.

The new invention, television, was about to sweep the country. Wrestling became a staple during the first 15 years or so of the new medium, and Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, with his dyed hair, flamboyant costumes, and bad behavior became the sports first televised star.  

Nature Boy Buddy Rogers

Hard to believe but The Original Nature Boy was born in the city of Camden, NJ. Buddy Rogers, real name Herman Rohde was born February 20, 1921, and made his pro debut in July of 1939 under the ring name of Dutch Rogers, and even wrestled under his own name. Knowing he would need a name and an image that would distinguish him from every other wrestler, he took the name of movie star  Buddy Rogers in 1941, died his hair platinum blond and in short order became the Nature Boy, taking the tag from Nat King Cole's hit record..... "there was a boy, a strange enchanted boy".....

To further establish himself, Rogers made sure the fans despised him every night in every town he competed in. His character was an arrogant, flamboyantly dressed villain that competed in both the tag team and single divisions. From an insiderís view he was so well received by the fans that promoters had him in one form or another a champion in their territory.

In 1961, Rogers reached the very top of wrestling when he won the NWA World Championship from Pat O'Connor at Old Comiskey Park in Chicago in front of 34,000 fans. His reign lasted over two years, drawing sellout crowds hoping to see him get his and the belt around one of their favorites. His was defeated in 1963 by Lou Thesz after one fall, which itself was controversy. At the time all title matches were best of three falls matches. Promoters in the Northeastern United States were so furious that they withdrew from the NWA and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment) and he was named their first champion. Through this unusual series of events, Rogers became the first man to hold both the NWA and WWWF Title belts. That would stand until January 1992 when another Nature Boy, namely Ric Flair accomplished that same feat. It was also accomplished by Hulk Hogan, Bret "Hitman" Hart, 1996 Olympic Gold Medal winner Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, & Randy Savage.

Rogers would hold onto the WWWF title until he faced Bruno Sammartino  on May 17, 1963 in Madison Square Garden. It is said Rogers suffered a heart attack a few weeks before the match took place, but what really happened was that Rogers was just a transitional champion. He never won the belt, it was just awarded to him, and this was the first opportunity to get the belt around the waist of Bruno. Rogers would retired from the ring a few months latter.

Rogers would resurface in the 1970s as a manager for the less charismatic wrestlers of the time such as Jimmy Snuka, John Studd and Ken Patera. He would again step into the ring in July 1979 to face Ric Flair in a battle of the nature boys, and would lose by submission. According to legend, Flair idolized Rogers and copied his total gimmick down to the ring robes, grand entrances, blond hair, ego & finishing maneuver (The Figure Four leg lock).

When he finally retired from wrestling for good, just prior to the rise of "Hulkamania", he took a job as a Casino manager. Remarkably, at the age of 70, Roger was going to challenge wrestling's third Nature Boy, Buddy Landel, but suffered a massive stoke and passed away on June 26, 1992.

Buddy Rogers fought under his birth name in Camden early in his career. This advertisement from December 1942 shows him as Herman "Dutch" Rohde
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Buddy Rogers was never demure in broadcasting his attributes. So in 1961, when he dethroned Pat O'Connor for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Title in front of 38,622 fans at Chicago's Chomiskey Park, the original "Nature Boy" couldn't resist getting on the microphone and heaping praise on himself.

Said the smug Rogers, "To a nicer guy, it couldn't happen."

This was Rogers' style throughout his wrestling career, a manner that grated on the wrestlers behind the scenes as much as it did on the spectators. But the inaugural WWE Champion seemed to care little about how he was perceived. He legitimately was great, and even his harshest detractors could do nothing to change that.

Rogers was a former Camden, New Jersey police officer who took the name, "Nature Boy" from a popular song. In the 1950s, he received national exposure while wrestling from Chicago on the old Dumont Network. With his platinum blond locks, rich tan, haughty strut and Figure-Four Leglock, Rogers stood out.

His services were sought all over the country, and are credited with galvanizing business in struggling promotions. His 1961 match with O'Connor set attendance and gate records that would not be surpassed for two decades. But Rogers was considered a difficult person by many peers, and was continuously embroiled in controversy.

In early 1963, he lost the NWA Championship to Lou Thesz in Toronto. While most promotions in the U.S. recognized the title switch, Vincent J. McMahon -- father of current WWE Owner, Vincent K. McMahon -- and his partner Toots Mondt cried foul. They insisted that the NWA Title could only change hands on a two-out-of-three falls match, and declared the result of the single-fall contest invalid. In fact, they claimed that Rogers had won a tournament to become the titlist of their new company, an organization that would eventually morph into World Wrestling Entertainment.

Rogers did not wear the crown for long. On May 17, 1963, Bruno Sammartino defeated him in 48 seconds in Madison Square Garden. Rogers claimed he'd suffered a heart attack shortly before the match. Sammartino claims the dethroned king was simply making excuses.

After the title change, Rogers vanished from sight, turning up briefly in different promotions, and disappearing almost as quickly. Then, in 1979, he appeared in North Carolina, heckling, then attacking a new "Nature Boy," Ric Flair, in the Mid-Atlantic wrestling territory.

The "battle of the Naure Boys" was a pivotal moment in Flair's career. "Slick Ric" admitted to emulating many of Rogers' mannerisms and ring moves. But when Flair defeated his idol with a Figure-Four in Greensboro, he earned the right to proclaim, "To be The Man, you have to beat The Man."

In the 1980s, Rogers was back in WWE, hosting an interview segment, Rogers' Corner. In an example of enterprising journalism, Rogers discovered that Capt. Lou Albano had misappropriated funds due his protege, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka. Rogers began managing the popular Superfly, and occasionally showed traces of the old "Nature Boy" when they paired up in tag team bouts.

Buddy Rogers was an out-and-out star. He Had a knack for what we call ring showmanship. No One was better than Buddy Rogers. Buddy Rogers... Owned every moment in the ring. You'd watch him and forget he had an opponent"-   
                                                               Lillian Ellision aka The Fabulous Moolah,
                                                                        from her 2002 autobiography 
                                                   "The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle"

"Buddy was so flamboyant. He had a great physique and was very charismatic. Buddy was also very reliable. A tremendous athlete - Buddy was far and away one of the best athletes ever in the business. And very smart, in the ring and outside the ring." - 
                                                                                         Vincent K. McMahon
                                                                       in the book "WWE Legends" released 2006

"I'm not sure a lot of stories about Buddy Rogers are true. But I'm glad to say that THAT Nature Boy did the right thing for THIS Nature Boy. The one thing I learned from the experience (Of working with him) was to judge people by the way they treat you." -
                                                                                                Richard Fleir aka Ric Flair 
                                                                                                     in his autobiography 
                                                                                          "To Be The Man..." released 2004

Thanks to
El Fredador Grande
for his help creating this page