I've been thinking about writing about Buddy Roberts, since learning of his November 29th passing. It was mid-December when I finally got the word - giving an indication of how much attention his passing received in the mainstream wrestling world. I just didn't know how many modern fans would remember Buddy, or how relevant his career might seem to those who never had the priviledge of seeing Buddy in his prime - as one half of The Hollywood Blondes in the 1970's, or as one third of the ground-breaking, star-making, top-drawing Fabulous Freebirds of the 1980's. I knew there would be others who could write more knowlegeably about his career, and his influence on the business. But as a guy who knew Buddy for over 25 years (I met him either in November, 1986 or January 1987), and most importantly, as a guy who has been doing some serious thinking on the subject, I feel like I have to share at least a few thoughts on Buddy Roberts - as a wrestler, an inspiration, and as a friend.
By the time I met Buddy, on a Mid-South swing into Ohio and West Virginia, I was already well-versed in the legendary accomplishments of The Freebirds - both in and out ofthe ring. Inside it, The Birds were innovators and money-drawers; a team comprised of three very different parts, three very different people, who somehow operated as one cohesive unit. Michael Hayes was the mouthpiece and the focal point of The Birds. He was one of the best talkers this business has ever known, and, to those who watched him, either hating him, or loving him - because there was no in-between - almost tough enough to back up his words all by himself. That's where Terry Gordy came in; he backed up the game Hayes talked, and did it as convincingly as any big man of his era. There would be those - like me - who would watch - as fans - and wonder why we should believe that a wrestler like Gordy - muppet-like in features, thick, as opposed to muscular in stature - should be taken seriously as an ass-kicker. Then we'd watch him at work. and come to believe pretty quickly that he should be taken seriously as an ass-kicker because he dealt out some serious ass-kickings. Then, there was Buddy.
Buddy was the guy it took a little longer to appreciate. I'm not sure if I appreciated him at first. I was in The Garden in New York City the night they made their sole appearance. If memory serves me right, it was August, 1984, and I had taken my parents to MSG to see Snuka vs Piper. Yes, that's the type of caring son I was. Out came this legendary team I'd been reading about for years in PWI, and to tell you the truth, I wasn't that impressed - mainly by Buddy. I was less than a year away from entering the wrestling business myself, and looking at Buddy, I thought I had a realistic shot at him. But that was actually part of his charm. Half the audience on any given night in the Sportatorium probably thought they had a reasonable shot against him - yet there he was, on a weekly basis, creating mayhem, delivering cheap-shots, dishing out punishment to the heroic Von Erics.
When I did get into the business, in the Spring of 1985, and slowly came to learn the inner working of the busines - or at least the inner workings of the workers in the business, I came to marvel at Buddy Roberts. He was the guy who took the beating. He was the guy who dropped the fall, but somehow maintained his heat. He would do anything to make his matches exciting - including the rumored dropping of the first elbow off the ring apron. He could make anyone and anything around him look better. If someone around him was bad, he could make them look good. If they were good, he could make them look great. And if something was great - like The Fabulous Freebirds - he could help turn greatness to legend.
Buddy had his demons, to be sure. Not everyone gets an added middle name (Jack) based on their beverage of choice. Not everyone gets to have that nickname turned into a verb, based on the change in his behavior when enjoying that beverage of choice. The term "jacked off" had no sexual connotation when used in conjunction with Buddy Jack. It was just a way of describing his lively change in behavior when enjoying his drink of choice. While I admit that I did see an occasional episode of Buddy J-ing off, there was a far different side of Buddy "Jack " Roberts that drew me to him as a friend, and an inspiration.
It was Buddy, along with Terry Taylor, Chris Adams, Eddie Gilbert and Missy Hyatt who started spreading the word about the two DeNucci students (me and Shane Douglas) who were tearing down the house in towns like Hundred, Virginia. The traditional Mid-South strongholds in Louisiana, Texas, etc had been hit hard by a recent slowdown in an oil-based economy, and owner Bill Watts was looking to expand to other areas where his sydicated, state-of-the-art TV show was popular. Shane got his shot with Mid-South. I kind of blew mine (see "Have a Nice Day", the Sam Houston "phantom elbow" match) but Buddy Roberts wouold nonetheless stay an outspoken advocate of mine, until we did meet up again - briefly in Memphis, and then in World Class Championship Wrestling.
The Freebirds were no more by then - Michael Hayes had gone on to WCW, and Terry Gordy was adding to his legend in Japan. Buddy was the manager of The Samoan Swat Team - in my opinion, the single most physicall dominant tag-team I'd ever seen. Try to find them in their World Class Days; they were awesome! Well. the SST got the call from WCW, and Buddy didn't get to go. He'd mellowed, with the help of his lovely wife Janice, and I'd often travel to shows wiuth them, absorbing as much knowledge as I could. I have a photo of my last day in World Class - a day when Buddy Roberts helped me pack all my belongings (6 boxes) into my Plymouth Arrow - knowing that my "Loser Leaves Town" match with Eric Embry was not likely to go my way. It's a photo ofme with my wrist brace ( a souvineer from my Ft Worth "Scaffold Match" that did not go particularly well) taking a break and enjoying ice pops with Buddy's 3 year-old son, Brandon. Still tough for me to believe that the little kid with the ice-pop is now 27 years old.
Yes, Buddy "Jack" Roberts was a friend of mine. But is he still relevant? After giving it some thought, I became almost ashamed of myself for even wondering. Though he may be gone in person, his spirit still lives. It lives in every bad guy who makes us laugh, even while we hate them. It lives in the memory of Kurt Angle wearing that ridiculous wig underneath his head-gear, trying to claim he hadn't actually lost his hair. Vintage Buddy Roberts. It lives in the stories Chris Jericho tell - of challenging Y2J to meet me at my book-signing at 7pm at the Walmart in St Louis if he wanted a piece of me. Different time, different signing, but vintage Roberts as well - and the most successful book-signing I ever had. It lives, most importantly, in the mind of Michael Hayes, whose creative mind has left such an indelible stamp on the WWE landscape for the better part of 20 years. Without the influence of Buddy Roberts, I just don't see Hayes leaving that indelible stamp..and without Hayes' indelible stamp, World WQrestling Entertainment would be a far differnt place; less dynamic, less creative, less fun. Most of our WWE Universe has never seen footage of Buddy Roberts. Fewer still got the chance to see him live. A lucky few had the chance to know him. Yet, without our realizing it, Buddy Roberts has been entertaining us for years.
My inclusion into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame has been an honor of the highest magnitude - an event I know will go down as one of the highlights of my career, probably my life. But as I finish this piece on Buddy Roberts, I can't help but wish that Buddy Roberts had been given that same honor during his lifetime, and can't help but hope that the doors of the Hall will someday open for Buddy, for Terry, for Michael.