The world of wrestling has been bettered by the ideas of some of the many creative minds that have been part of it and have helped it evolve to what it is today. Today we look at one of those creative geniuses but is less known than the likes of Vince McMahon, Eddie Gilbert or Dusty Rhodes. Namely: Phil “Buck” Robley.
The word ‘genius’ is thrown around a lot when it pertains to certain individuals involved in professional wrestling. For example, Paul Heyman has been called one as has Vince McMahon. What exactly is the criteria for being known as a genius in this industry? Well, you have to be able to be a pioneer…someone who always thinks ahead of the curve. Someone who is a visionary and can create something big…out of something small.
There have been many great minds that have someway been involved in the business…whether it be Heyman…McMahon…Eddie Gilbert…Dutch Mantell…Dusty Rhodes etc. One other name that needs to be mentioned with that group went by the name of Phil “Buck” Robley. Who was he? What did he ever accomplish? We will get into that…but first a little background on his career.
Colonel Buck Robley was a semi successful pro wrestler back in the 1960’s and 70’s. After his active wrestling career ended…Robley went on to managing talents and then ultimately became a booker for promotions like Mid South and Texas All Star Wrestling. He was your typical old school wrestler..who believed in living his gimmick in front of fans 24/7. Loved and admired by so many in the industry…he also had his enemies…be it because of professional jealousy or because Robley was a man who said what he thought and held nothing back.
He was also someone who was known to stretch the truth or exaggerate the truth if you will. Some have said that Buck would tell you he invented pro wrestling if he had the chance. Regardless of Robley’s shortcomings…Robley did have an intuitive mind for wrestling..both in the ring and out of it. A man who was keenly aware of ring psychology and a visionary that helped progress the business to new levels.
First off, it was Buck who saw the potential in a youngster by the name of Sylvester Ritter (Better known to fans as the Junkyard Dog) Back when Robley was the booker for Mid South Wrestling in the early 1980’s….Ritter was languishing early on and Mid South promoter apparently was ready to cut ties with him. It was Buck who saw the potential of the big guy and campaigned to Watts to keep him within the territory. Bill Watts and Robley started booking Ritter wearing a dog collar and chains calling him the Junkyard Dog. Before too long…JYD became one….if not the biggest stars in that territory for some time.
Robley also claims to have created the legendary trio of the Fabulous Freebirds. Bill Watts was not too enamored with Michael Hayes as a wrestler…but saw Hayes’ great ability to push the fans emotions with his talking skills. Now depending on who you believe…Watts claims Robley wanted to “trade” the team of Terry Gordy and Hayes to the territory in Florida. Watts apparently wanted to keep the team in Mid South…but wanted someone to replace Hayes as Gordy’s tag partner. It was either Watts…Robley or a combination of the two that decided to use Buddy Roberts as Gordy’s partner. Eventually, they all saw the magic the threesome had and the Freebirds as we know them were born.
Other wrestling personalities have talked highly about Robley’s eye for talent and booking style. Ted Dibiase credits Robley’s booking as making him into a star. Good Ol’ Jim Ross says he learned so much about the business by sitting in creative meetings with Robley and Watts. The late, great Bruiser Brody also was a great friend of Robley who held him in the highest of regards.
Back in the day, promoters would hold back the big money matches for live shows and only use TV to sell the house shows. Robley was one of the first bookers to put marquee match ups of free TV. That drove many promoters crazy…but ratings went through the roof and it was Robley’s influence that helped Bill Watts go from a local territory to attempting a national expansion.
Many fans think of Jake “the Snake” Roberts as one of the greatest ring psychologists of all time and justifiably so. Jake was one of the greatest of all time in that department. Did you know…it was Buck Robley who trained Jake as a wrestler and taught Roberts the ins and outs of becoming a ring general. Jake credits Robley’s knowledge to making Jake who he was a pro wrestler.
As a wrestler/manager, Buck has the distinction of being the first to wear a custom Tee shirt to the ring instead of the traditional robe or bare chested. It was a yellow shirt that said…”Nobody calls me yellow” referring to Buck’s cowardly heel gimmick. The shirt itself was designed by Jim Ross. Of course…as you know…tee shirts are now huge business for pro wrestling/sports entertainment.
No doubt about it…Robley had a tremendous impact in the evolution of professional wrestling. Whether he was creating stars or coming up with innovative matches and endings. Buck Robley died of congestive heart failure back in 2013 at the age of 68.