Accepting for their late father:
David Combs Royal and Shannon Royal McCrary
David Combs Royal photograph by Mark
Robertson • Shannon Royal McCrary photo by Irwin Markowitz
Shannon Royal McCrary, Hall of
Heroes host Jim Cornette, Paul Jones, and David Combs Royal
Photograph by Dick Bourne
Honoring Nelson Royal at the Hall of
"No. 1" Paul Jones
Tommy Angel, David Isley, and Brad
Photographs by Dick Bourne
Given his down-home nature and the fact
that he sold western-style goods to a generation of Carolinians,
it’s pretty hard to imagine Nelson Royal as a pompous, overbearing
Englishman in tails and top hat. But that’s what he was, as the
lordly Sir Nelson Royal of Lancashire, slipping foreign objects into
his kneepad to gain an upper hand as his valet Jeeves looked on. In
the early 1960s, Royal worked the Amarillo, Texas, territory as an
uppity bad guy with Bob “The Viking” Morse as his partner. But not
long after they ventured east in 1965, the pair split up and Royal
became the good-natured technician who’d delight Mid-Atlantic fans
for the next quarter-century.
Royal was born Nelson Combs July 21,
1935 in Floyd County, Ky., and got into wrestling when the legendary
Don Eagle spotted him at an amateur match in Columbus, Ohio. “He
made an arrangement with my dad to take him under his wing, and my
dad actually traveled with Don Eagle for 14 months, and Don showed
him the ropes,” his son David Royal said. Royal broke in with Al
Haft’s prestigious Columbus promotion, and quickly hit the road to
Idaho, New Mexico, Washington state, Oregon, Maryland, and the
Carolinas in 1956 and 1957. In the Mid-Atlantic, Royal, who went
about 5-9 and 220 pounds, became a tag team specialist, first
pairing with Tex McKenzie in 1966 in a big man-small man duo, then
adding a young Paul Jones to his side in 1968. The successful combo
traveled to Los Angeles to capture the International Tag Team title.
Jones said he tapped into Royal’s popularity to help establish
himself as a main eventer in the Carolinas. “We were partners for
about four years. Never had one argument. Sweetheart of a guy.”
Royal found the area to his liking, and put an end to most of his
travels, though he occasionally slipped off overseas. I’d rather be
here with my family. My wife, Karen, has never really been able to
accept the travel, and I hate it every time I have to leave home,”
he said in 1987.
After Jones, Royal had partnerships
with wrestlers like Les Thatcher and Sandy Scott before holding the
world junior heavyweight belt three times in the 1970s. Royal didn’t
pull his punches, either. He came from a background that emphasized
tough, realistic mat action, and his body paid the price. “I’ve got
more stitches in my head than I want to think about,” he once joked.
“God, I loved to wrestle with him,” said Rip Hawk, who took his
youth wrestling team to see Royal in Charlotte during a Junior
Olympics event. “He told the kids, ‘You think he’s such a great guy,
that old SOB broke my leg.’ It’s true. We were doing a little
wrestling deal and I just snatched him a little too much. I felt
terrible but there were no hard feelings. He was not only a friend
of mine but a good wrestler.” Royal also loved his horses and his
ranch. “He was always riding when he was home,” David said. “He had
two or three stallions at different times, and showed on the
circuits and so forth when he had an opportunity.”
Royal became a trainer with former foe
Gene Anderson and ran the Atlantic Coast Wrestling promotion after
Jim Crockett Promotions folded. “You couldn’t find a better guy,”
Ronnie Garvin reflected after Royal died of a heart attack in 2002.
He lives on to the many wrestlers he trained, and his western gear
store is still in operation in Mooresville, N.C. The Hall of Heroes
banquet will be a fitting time to remember what “Nellie” meant to
- Steve Johnson
Co-Author, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams
Co-Author, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels
With Great Honor
Brad Anderson talks about his mentor Nelson Royal
(Originally posted on
MinnesotaWreckingCrew.com / MidAtlanticGateway.com)
The legendary Nelson Royal is being
honored this year at the Hall of Heroes Dinner Banquet and Awards
Ceremony in Charlotte on August 7. The Hall of Heroes is an annual
part of the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest, held this year at the
University Place Hilton August 6-9 in Charlotte.
Royal will be honored posthumously by
his long time friend and former tag team partner Paul Jones, as well
as three of Royal's wrestling students when Royal trained young men
who were hoping to break into the business in the 1980s and early
1990s. Those three students are Tommy Angel, David Isley, and Brad
Brad is the son of Gene Anderson, part
of wrestling's legendary Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Gene and Nelson
worked together on the wrestling school for Jim Crockett Promotions.
Naturally, Brad had ample opportunity to be exposed to professional
wrestling at an early age, both from his father but also from his
mentor, Nelson Royal.
Brad was present to accept for his
father when his Dad was welcomed posthumously in the Hall of Heroes
Class of 2007. In advance of his participation with the group of
peers that will honor Nelson at this year's Hall of Heroes banquet,
I had the opportunity to talk with Brad regarding his thoughts and
memories of that time in his life, riding the roads with his father
and training under the great Nelson Royal.
- Dick Bourne
Q. Do you remember how old you were
when you first met Nelson Royal? Did your families socialize at all,
were you around him growing up?
A. I only remember hearing the name as
a kid. I don't remember meeting him until Dad and Nelson started the
wrestling school. So I don't have a deep history as a younger kid
like I did with some of the other wrestlers until about the age of
15. I got more than my share of him though over the years following
Q. Tell me a little about the training
that Nelson did for Jim Crockett Promotions. Who else was involved
and where did it take place?
A. I know the school started because
the office wanted to train a couple of guys and asked Dad and Nelson
to do it. There was a black guy that went as "The Night Train" and
the other was Todd Champion. I am not real
clear on the early beginnings because I was a teenager and was interested in my own
thing. I do know that if it wasn't the first place, it was right in
the beginning that Nellie and Dad used an old machine shop-aluminum
building on Nelson's land in Mooresville NC to train the guys in
before there was a school. No A/C or heat, just open the garage door
for circulation. They used a ring that the office had given them. It
was an old sturdy rock hard stiff ring. Stiff as hell!
Q. You obviously were around wrestlers
all the time growing up, and probably hung around Nelson’s camp a
lot before you actually began serious training to wrestle. How did
you become one of Nelson's students?
A. I had been hanging around the school
once it began mostly to try and be cool by associating myself with
'wrestlers' about the age of 15. I never got 'smartened up' for
another couple of years. I did have to go up though and 'shoot' and
'stretch' the guys who were trying out way before I was 'smart'. I
started getting serious at 17 and I remember one day dad and I were
riding up to Mooresville and out of nowhere he said "Nelson is
going to train you. We decided he would be better for you." I never
asked who is "we decided" or why it would be better, I was just
happy as hell to start training full time.
Q. What was the process like with
A. I don't believe I was treated any
differently from the other guys, and that is a testament to Nelson's
love and respect for the business. Nobody got a pass or had it any
easier regardless of who they were. I did not have to go through a
tryout though, and those were absolutely brutal. I guess
my Dad didn't make me go through a tryout because he used to throw
me to the wolves starting at around the age of 10 when I would have
to go meet some of the wrestlers who were good shooters and they
would stretch me and teach me how to shoot. For example, guys like
Mike Rotundo, Iron Sheik, and Don Kernodle. Nelson was more hands on
in the ring with us. Dad would usually be on the outside and tell us
"looks like shit, do it again." We bumped our asses off, learned
wrestling holds, learned to listen in the ring to who was calling
the match. The whole time the 'psychology' of how to put a match
together, how to get heat, and how to sell was introduced and
reiterated over and over. The psychology is something I can't begin
to describe. It was an ongoing process of how to get over and make
what you do mean something. Nelson and Dad would say "Listen to the
people, you have to know how to make them get up out of their seats,
make them sit back down, and then make them get back up again."
Watch the crowd of today's wrestling. You never know how they will
respond and I don't think the crowd knows what to do most of the
time either. Go back 30 years and the great wrestlers of that era
were like conductors, and the crowd was the orchestra.
Q. Did you get to assist Nelson and
your father in training sessions as time went by?
A. No one really taught anything if Dad
or Nelson weren't overseeing and instructing us. Again, I did have
to stretch guys who were trying out. I never liked doing that. They
were always so past exhausted by the time I got in there with them,
they were grown men who wobbled like Jello from fatigue, and I would
get chewed out if I didn't hook and stretch them. Dad and Nelson
wanted to send a message to guys who thought they could be a
Q. Who were some of the guys that came
through Nelson’s camp when you were breaking in that went on to work
in the business?
A. Tommy Angel, Ricky Nelson, David
Isley, Curtis Thompson, Trent Knight, Joe Cruz, Rusty Riddle, Colt
Steele, Cougar J, L.A. Stephens, Bob Blackburn, Mike Force, Johnny
Ace (Laurinitis), Mark Laurinitis
Q. Any stories you’d like to share?
A. My favorite is the one when Tommy
Angel and I worked a tag match in the school with Nellie and Johnny
Weaver. About 30 seconds into it I had no idea what I was doing. I
tried to keep up by just listening but I was not even on the same
planet with those two. This was inside the school but Johnny and
Nellie were going at it like it was Monday night sold-out in the
Park Center. It is with the utmost honor, not pride, that I can say
that happened to me in my lifetime.
Q. What does it mean to you to be one
of a group to honor Nelson at the Hall of Heroes banquet?
A. Undeserving, humbling, I can never
put to words what Nelson taught me about wrestling. I was willing to
do the Hall of Heroes so that I could express my gratitude because
Nelson is so much bigger than anything I could explain.
Nelson's Hall of Heroes plaque
hangs on the wall of Nelson Royal's Work & Western Wear shop in
Mooresville NC. The wall also features one of Nelson's world junior
heavyweight title belts, as well as a framed newspaper article by
Mike Mooneyham of the Charleston Post & Courier.
The shop is located at 193 E. Plaza
Drive, Mooresville, North Carolina.