Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flair vs. Landel: Sold Out in Raleigh

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Ric Flair vs. Buddy Landel - July 31, 1985 Dorton Arena, Raleigh NC

During the summer months of 1985, Jim Crockett and booker Dusty Rhodes gave the Ric Flair vs. Buddy Landel feud a little test run to see if they had anything with the two of them. Landel, relatively new to the territory, was getting a great heel reaction everywhere and the "Nature Boy" vs. "Nature Boy" battle was bound to be big box office at some point.

However, Flair was in the middle of a big national run against Magnum T.A. off of WTBS, and back home in the Mid-Atlantic area he was the monster babyface against the Russian monster Nikita Koloff coming off the huge Great American Bash match at Charlotte's Memorial Stadium. Later that fall, Flair would be embroiled in a feud with Dusty Rhodes leading up to Starrcade 85, the same supershow where Landel would win the National heavyweight championship from Terry Taylor. So booker Dusty Rhodes wasn't ready to pull the trigger yet on the full blown Flair/Landel feud. He would save that for early 1986.

"Landel, managed by J.J. Dillon, was set for a major push in Jim Crockett Promotions, including a potential NWA title run or at least a major feud with Ric Flair," wrote Dave Meltzer on the Wrestling Observer website. "The two had set a record in Raleigh, NC, in a tryout match."

Buddy Landel holds up the NWA title belt
after an earlier title match in Greensboro
The Raleigh match Meltzer was referring to took place July 31, 1985 at the Dorton Arena on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. It had been set up by an earlier match between the two in Greensboro, NC on July 13 where Landel actually pinned Flair and was handed the NWA world title belt before the decision was overturned. Video of that match and angle was shown on Mid-Atlantic television and the local promos between Landel and Flair leading up to the rematch in Raleigh were white hot.

The result was a turn-away sellout of the Dorton Arena that stunned the Crockett front office. If you look closely in the photo up top, you'll notice fans jammed into every entrance way from the concourse into the arena and every seat taken in the building.  It was truly "standing room only."

James J. Dillon told the Gateway during a conversation in the summer of 2013 that he and Landel were in a car traveling to the building and were stuck in traffic the last couple of miles. "I wondered if maybe the State Fair was in town that week," remembered Dillon, "but then it just dawned on us; they're trying to get to wrestling."

Buddy Landel 1962-2015
Dusty put that plan in his back pocket and let it simmer for six months. The longterm plan was for Flair and Landel to have their series after the first of the year. The urban legend, as Meltzer alluded to above, has always been that Landel was going to get a brief run with the NWA title in early 1986. One can only imagine how the NWA/Crockett landscape might have changed if  that had taken place.

But we never had a chance to find out. Landel had his demons and missed a key television taping that was to set the angle with Flair. He was fired and Flair was programmed with Ron Garvin instead for the short term.

But there was always magic in the air when Flair and Landel got close to each other, and sparks flew when they had their handful of matches the summer of 1985. They just never had a chance to catch fire. And we'll always be left to wonder "what if."

In 2005, I had a short series of interactions with Landel. A mutual friend had introduced us and Landel had inquired about some video he thought I might have. He was looking for the aforementioned clip that aired on Mid-Atlantic television of the match where he had pinned Flair and was briefly handed the NWA belt. I had that original show on VHS and dubbed it to DVD for him, along with some other clips from that year-long run with Jim Crockett Promotions. For the next several years, every time our paths crossed, he would thank me for the DVD. Buddy was a nice guy. I think he enjoyed being able to show his family a glimpse of what might have been had it not been for those personal demons. Perhaps he was trying to pass on some hard lessons learned.

- Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Buddy Landel passed away on Monday, June 22, 2015. He was 53 years old.
Rest in Peace.