By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Hello Bruthas and Sistas. It’s time once again, for Breaking In, and this time I’ve chosen a man that walked into the business at the beginning of the ascension of a generation of stars that made up the Attitude Era. He was under the learning tree of some of the best in the business, and took his career around the world and back again. No really good story starts in the penthouse though, so let’s take it to the ground floor, and see how Bull Buchanan made it from the center of Southern wrestling country to the bright lights of New York.
Bull was born in the cozy town of Bowden, Georgia, at the beginning of what would become one of the most turbulent years in American history; 1968. He grew up in the small town of Bowden not far from Atlanta, situated in the northeast corner of the state, and in the center of Carroll County. This was one of the hot beds of professional wrestling in the territorial days, and as a kid growing up there, it must have been great. I was fortunate to be raised near another, in St. Louis, and we spoke about what it was like to have access to the product in those days:
“I really wasn’t even aware of wrestling until, maybe the late Seventies. I was flipping through the channel one might, back when actually you had to get up and turn the channel. That was before cable, and the signal on the antenna wasn’t always the best, but I could see two guys in trunks through the fuzz wrestling around. I could hear it good and when they got out of the ring they started talking trash to each other. They were just giving each other “down the road.” (chuckles). I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. That’s what did it for me.”
He went on to talk about the lengths he went to watch the product once he had the fever:
“I found out the next week at school that it was on Channel 17, the SuperStation and once I started watching, I was hooked…and I mean hard. My Grandad was in a nursing home not far away and we’d visit him. If our visit went past six o’clock, I’d go find one of the old folks that had their TV tuned to it and sit down with them, cause they were all watching wrestling too.”
Carrollton, Georgia was the closest big town for him and it was one of the regular stopping spots for Georgia Championship Wrestling. These trips to the fairgrounds was the first time he saw greats like “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, Ric Flair, The Andersons, and Andre’ the Giant in person. Any true fan will tell you that the first time you get to see these larger than life guys that you see on the television in your living room, up close and personal, it just seals the deal for you. Especially in those days of limited access and when kayfabe still meant something. This closeness to his Saturday Night heroes, made him delve further into the product, and his love for wrestling became a passion.
His High School didn’t offer any type of option for wrestling, so he never got the amateur background to the sport that some are exposed to. He played football, some baseball, but at over six feet tall and still growing, basketball was a natural choice for him. He played forward and as he grew he also shifted to the position of center. This was his avenue to college and he attended LaGrange College in 1986, wearing the black and red of their Panthers. He stayed there for a year, before moving over to Southern Union College in Alabama, and continued on for two more years with basketball.
He was still consuming a regular diet of weekly professional wrestling during this time. It wasn’t long before he began to think about trying his hand at it, when an opportunity to get his chance presented itself.
“My Aunt knew a local wrestler named Snake Brown, who had wrestled in the mid-cards in Georgia. Well, they had went to school together and she reached out to him for me. He said he would train me. Around this same time I had the opportunity to play more basketball and the choice became one or the other. I often look back and ask myself if I had started in 1986 or ’87, where could I have taken my career? At the same time, knowing what I know now, I don’t think it would’ve been a positive outcome for me at the end of the road. I’m sure that in the short run it would’ve been cool and really, really good, but at that age I don’t think I could’ve handled the road like I did later on when I was older.”
Although opting to stay in basketball for the time being, his love for wrestling never waned. His roommate in college played baseball at S.U. and was also a big wrestling fan. He told me about the two of them watching their local television while he was in college:
“There was a local channel down in Alabama not far from Montgomery, and every night of the week at seven o’clock they had wrestling. One night would be Continental, the next night would be the WWF, then the next night would be maybe something like Watts. Continental wrestling was one of my favorites too. Back then though, you know, they were all good because they all had a little different style.”
After his college days came to a close he saw that he wanted to pick back up with wrestling rather than try to continue on with basketball at a professional level. He became connected with a wrestler named James Hammond, and started his training. Hammond, who was himself trained by Ted Allen, was well known in the area and taught Bull the old ways of protecting the business, and taught him how to work, as opposed to just being able to wrestle. For there is a marked difference in the two. He told me a funny story about his first time with James:
“James was a big old dude,like 6’6“ and 330 pounds, and he was heavy handed. I guess that’s where I learned it from. (chuckles) I remember the first night he walked in, and some of the boys had been showing me a few things, you know. Well, I think it kinda pissed him off. He asked me if I knew how to chop, and I said, “Yes Sir”. I had never thrown one, but I watched Ric Flair do it a million it times. He turned himself around in the corner and unbuttoned his shirt and said, “Chop me”. Well shit, now I went from knowing what I was doing, and been doing it all my life to not knowing whether to scratch my ass, or wind my wristwatch. I hit him just pathetically softly, and he turned me around. After about the third one no-one had to ever tell me how to hit or chop again. I figured it out pretty quick.”
Bull started to work in 1992 as the Lord Humongous character for Bob Armstrong in Alabama. I personally love that gimmick, and there have been a few men of note to don the hockey mask and portray the ruler of the post apocalyptic wastelands. He shared a story with me about this character that I want to pass along to you all as well:
“I spent a little time in Jacksonville, and someone gave me tickets to go see WCW, and this was right at the time when Sid was getting really over. When he got up in the ring, I thought God almighty he’s huge. This old guy was sitting next t me and he was kinda trying to talk to me all night, but I was kinda blowing him off and not paying any attention. But he elbowed me and said, “You know who that is don’t ya?” I said , “Yeah that’s Sid Vicious.” He said, “No, that’s Lord Humongous.” As soon as he said I looked closer at him and realized, holy shit, he’s right!”
One of the last vestiges of what the territories was about was in existence at that time in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which was owned and operated by Jim Cornette. started up in 1991 and was at the height of its popularity when Cornette was pulling in talents to fill the blossoming cards. He heard about this big kid that could move who worked in North Georgia Wrestling. NGW had a long list of good hands that had moved through there working the area, or lived in Georgia and stopped regularly. New Jack and Mustafa, Chris Candido, The Rock and Roll Express, Fantastics, Scotty Riggs, Chris Jericho, Glenn Jacobs, Atom Bomb, and Glacier worked there, and that’s just to name a few. It was through working with these guys and building a resume of work that doors began to open up more for him and Cornette made an offer for him to come to work there.
Cornette would run larger shows at the Marietta Civic Center a couple times a year and it was the process of advertising for these shows at NGW, that New Jack and Mustafa got picked up to work for SMW when Jim had seen them work. They told Buchanan that they would try to get him in, and at that same time he was doing the Lord Humongous shots he met Ricky Morton at one of the Alabama shows. Ricky told him to give him a picture and he would take it to Cornette as well. It seemed that he was destined to work for SMW.
He went up to work one of their shows and New Jack had told him that Jim would be watching the match and he pulled out all the stops. For a big guy he was very agile and could pull off skinning the cat, backflip out of a backdrop and he finished with a big knee drop off the top rope. He recalled Cornette’s reaction to the match and the subsequent call up to Smoky Mountain:
“When I dropped the knee, New Jack told me that Cornette lost his mind backstage, and that he had never seen anybody my size hit a leg drop like that off the top, that looked as good, except for Bobby Eaton.”
That sealed the deal and Buchanan was brought in when there was an opening in the book. Then in 1995, he was brought in as Jim Cornette’s bodyguard, The Punisher, and a part of The Cornette Army, alongside Buddy Landel, Tommy Rich, Terry Gordy, and somewhat with Glenn Jacobs and Al Snow. For a young kid that grew up watching many of these guys, this had to be one of the biggest thrills. To be only a year or two in the business and working with some of the legends of the territories is the best on the job training you can get. Cornette has a unique mind for the business and story building that sets him apart from most of his peers. Bull spoke on this briefly:
“The way he looks at the business makes sense to me, because it makes sense, you know. It’s not that hard. It’s not rocket science, but people want to over complicate it sometimes.”
The elders among the youth of the roster were willing to teach and pass along that knowledge and protect the business that way it should be. That’s why I referred to Smoky Mountain Wrestling as the last true territory, as well as ECW a year or two later. It was the learning tree that was instilled in these promotions that stood them apart from the rest during the years when the only choices were rapidly becoming only WWF or WCW. They had that same attitude and local following that also resonate with a territory. For me as an old school guy, it made me sad to see them go. We talked about the impact and importance of the organization and it’s final days:
“Smoky Mountain was the greatest for me because it made sense, we were still protecting the business, and everything was as I thought it should be in wrestling. IT was what I was looking for when I got into the business; everything was perfect.”
As the cliche’ saying goes however, all good thing must come to an end, and thus was the case for SMW as well. I didn’t ask Bull what he thought the reasons were, and I’m not one to surmise on it either, but for whatever they were the business closed not long after his arrival as a full time employee, on November 26th, 1995 in Cookeville, Tennessee, and he told me about that fateful night:
“I think it was the last night of our Thanksgiving tour, and the crowd wasn’t the best turnout. Jim came into the dressing room and said, “Guys that’s it. I’ve done the best I can do. Ill try to get everybody a job I can up there, but I’m going to go to work for Vince. That’s the best thing right, because I’ve got to pay some bills.” I was cool with it you know, but heartbroken that this thing I loved was disbanding. He owed some of the old guys some money, and I think he owed me like seventy-five bucks. I woulda really never cared if I got it or not, you know. I was really just grateful for the chance to work for him. But a few months later, I got a check in the mail from him and he told me before I left that night to keep doing what I was doing and that he was going to try to get me a job in New York.”
Cornette tried to do the best he could by all the talents, and several of them went to work for the WWE, including Bull. His transition to the “big time” wasn’t immediate however and he took other avenues to keep his career as a professional wrestler from becoming a weekend-only adventure. It wasn’t long before his phone rang, but it wasn’t Cornette. It was a wrestler by the name of Billy Black, with an offer to go work at ECW. It didn’t take Buchanan long to make that decision:
“At that time, ECW was the hottest thing around. It was causing the most stir in wrestling, whether they packing MSG or not because they were changing the business…. Hell yeah, of course I wanted to go. We eventually got onto their TV as the Dark Riders and worked a match against Saturn & Kronus, The Eliminators. Then we stayed up til like three o’clock in the morning with guys hanging out in the halls and cutting promos on cameras. It was the coolest thing in the world, you know.”
He left there on cloud nine, and energized about the possible futures for him at ECW. While he was sitting on the couch the next week the phone rang, and who he thought would be ECW, turned out to be Jim Cornette.
“Now, I have alot of loyalty to Jim Cornette, and before I went to ECW I had called to ask him what he thought about it. “Ah Hell go up there and take his money.” was his response so I did. When I picked up the phone to talk to him and he said, “Well kid are you ready to go to work? I got you a contract.” My head melted, and kinda just slid off in the floor, and I said, “What are you talking about?” He said I got you a contract, and it’s going to be in the mail. You should get it in the next two or three days.”
Apparently, Cornette had showed Vince the tape of Bull working at ECW and told them that he was about to be signed there. To which Vince replied, “Sign him before they saw his head off.” And with that, Bull Buchanan was headed to the WWE and his big break into the industry. Bull went to New York and met Vince the same day that Rocky Maivia also stepped through the doors.
His career spanned the WWE and went on into Japan in the years that followed. I spoke at length with Bull about the business and how he saw the differences in it then as opposed to now. I will be following this article up with an edition of Life Through the Lens with Bull and we will pick back up on his career path in that edition and hear his thoughts on how the business effected him, and where his life has gone since then.
I want to thank Bull for being so generous with his time, as well as all of you that keep coming back to hear these chronicles of the business. Until next time, remember….Bruthas, Sistas, Marks, and Maniacs…..no matter what you do to get your foot in the door, when you’re given the opportunity, break it down!! Peace