This review was commissioned by Bingo over on my Ko-fi account. As of this writing commissions are still open, they’re going for $10 a pop. If you want to seek out my specific thoughts on a match that I haven’t gone into yet, this is the way to do it.

Much of my experience with the Chicago territory of the NWA comes from the 1950s where Lou Thesz primarily dominated as the World Champion. Here, we have two talents that I have much less familiarity with in the 60s. The copy of the match I was provided seems to come from a WWE-produced retrospective on stars of the 50s and 60, as such much emphasis is placed on Buddy Rogers here who would later on become the first ever WWWF Champion. Rogers also has the notable distinction of being the original “Nature Boy” of pro wrestling.

Rogers’ performance for much of the first fall is classic heel work in this kind of championship setting. Not only is he the first to sneak in a few blows with an early uppercut, but he also pulls at O’Connor’s hair twice to get the advantage on a struggle for a wrist lock. It’s good, simple stuff, timeless way to work a heel persona into a more technically minded match the way that this opens.

It doesn’t take long for the champion to establish why he has the gold though.

After a few cheap tactics from Rogers, O’Connor bursts out of the gate with his athleticism and ferocity. The highlight of the first fall comes from O’Connor grounding Rogers on the mat and applying a truly disgusting looking spinning armbar variation. The way O’Connor wrenches and twists around Rogers’ body, it’s hard not to let out a scream of agony or admiration. It’s a thing of beauty, and in a perfect world Rogers puts over the effects of that a bit more in the long term but it’s early enough in the match that I can let it go for the most part.

O’Connor really gets the chance to shine in this fall. His athleticism is on display with those great kip ups he does off the mat, and even though Rogers is characterized as more of a dirty brawler, it’s O’Connor’s striking that lands with a little more oomph and follow through. He seems all but set to overwhelm the challenger in this fall. But Roger is sneaky (or perhaps more lucky) enough to catch a charging O’Connor with a knee in the corner that knocks the champion out for the three-count.

The second fall is easily the weakest part of the match. Part of that is by design as O’Connor’s still selling the grogginess of the knock out in the first fall. Even when he makes his comeback though, there’s a lot less vigor behind it compared to the first fall. By the time he does get a winning pinfall on the Nature Boy, it feels like the second fall really just passed me by before it truly began.

It’s around this point that I began to dwell on the weaknesses of both men’s performances so far. There’s a certain stiffness to Rogers throughout the whole match. He never seems to get as much height on his big bumps as I would like, and his forearm strikes don’t do much to impress either. While O’Connor’s much more of the mechanically impressive worker in this match, he just doesn’t seem to have the kind of gravitas and presence that a Thesz might. Perhaps a borderline unfair comparison there, but given the timeframe and region here, a just one to make I’d say.

The match wouldn’t be great if not for the final fall. It’s here that a dramatic shift I hadn’t anticipated kicks into gear. O’Connor begins to thoroughly dominate the fall, but this time in much more brutal fashion than before. He seizes control with these really petty and mean-looking short punches aimed right for Buddy’s nose. Then he follows up by repeatedly ramming Rogers head-first into the multiple turnbuckles. It’s an even more striking visual for how little padding the turnbuckles at the time had, and Rogers works hard to put over the cumulative effects of having his head bashed in repeatedly.

It’s an interesting thing where O’Connor’s being so goddamn mean about things and Rogers’ selling leans closer to the sympathetic than the stooging that one’s sympathies begin to side with the challenger. O’Connor was being such a prick about how he dominated the fall, that it comes across far more like bullying.

The final twist of the knife though is the finish. O’Connor charges in for a big dropkick, but Rogers dodges, sending the champion crashing into the ropes in Tsuruta-esque fashion. Bumping his head on the impact, the champ is knocked out again and Rogers gets the pinfall and the win. Where at first he had seemed admirable in toughing out the champion’s onslaught, his victory is anything but. It’s perhaps the cheapest, flukiest way to win the belt without outright cheating, and it restores O’Connor as the hero of the moment as he loses his title in such an undignified manner.

That last fall finds such a great dramatic hook and this delicate balancing of the viewer’s sympathy. On top of the energy of the first fall, it’s enough to land this in the category of “great” despite not being quite on part with my favorite of the Chicago wrestling canon up to that point. Well worth the watch, and a strong start to Rogers’ first ever reign as the NWA World Champion.

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