NWA Veteran Roger Kirby Passes Away at 79

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The wrestling community is in mourning following the news that another of their brethren has passed away. On Monday March 18, Roger Kirby, a wrestler throughout the NWA for over 25 years, passed away from pneumonia, while he was battling stage four pancreatic cancer. He had just recently been admitted to hospital following a fall.

A native of Indiana, Roger Kirby was a Golden Gloves boxer in the late 1950s. After attending a wrestling show during high school – and getting into it with the wrestlers – he was informed by his mother that he had two cousins in the business – “Cowboy” Dennis Hall and legendary Ohio wrestler and trainer Les Thatcher. Kirby was sold. He began to work as a wrestler, originally as “Wild” Bill Baker, before hooking up with Dick The Bruiser and The Sheik in Indianapolis for proper training.

Roger Kirby (L) and Les Thatcher (R)

He began working the NWA territories in 1960, working his way around the Midwest, Mid Atlantic and Southern territories, as well as branching into Mexico with Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL, which rebranded as CMLL in 1991). He often worked in tag team action, with either of his cousins, winning multiple tag team titles with his cousin, Dennis Hall, while also working multiple matches alongside Les Thatcher.

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In 1967, at the behest of his good friend Buddy Rogers due to his blonde hair and physique, Kirby became the second man to become known as “Nature Boy”, preceding future “Nature Boys” like Ric Flair and Buddy Landell. He would go on to great singles success in the NWA territories, as a 3x NWA Central States Heavyweight Champion in Alabama and in 1971, defeated Danny Hodge for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Rogert Kirby (L) and Lord Alfred Hayes (R)

As the 1970s progressed, Kirby would grow out his hair and grow his trademark handlebar moustache, continuing to amass championships, both singles and tag team, throughout the territories, including tag team title runs alongside Harley Race, Lord Alfred Hayes, Ronnie Garvin and others.

In 1973, he made his Japanese debut with All Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as beginning to work with Verne Gagne‘s American Wrestling Association (AWA), while continuing as one of the top midcard journeymen in the NWA territories. In the early 1980s, he would team with another recently departed, The Destroyer, as The Cruiser, wearing a similar mask.

The Destroyer (R) with Roger Kirby as The Cruiser (L)

By 1984, Kirby had been wrestling for over 25 years, but he finally began working for the WWF. He worked with the WWF until 1986, including transitioning briefly to the role of referee, before ultimately deciding to retire from the ring.

Our condolences go out to the Kirby family and Roger Kirby’s family, friends, peers, and fans.

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