KNOXVILLE (WATE) – American wrestler “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel died at his home on Monday.

A friend of Landel said he passed away in Chillhowee, Virginia. He was 53.

Landel went to Halls High School before transferring to Fulton High School. He left high school at 16, even though he had a letter of intent to play baseball and football at the University of Tennessee, along with several other schools.

The wrestler had runs with WCW, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Smoky Mountain and other promotions. He was hired by WWE in 1994, but suffered a bad knee injury just days after being hired.

WWE issued this statement:

WWE is saddened to learn of the passing of William Ansor, aka “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel.

Landel made his in-ring debut in 1979, performing in regional promotions before signing in 1985 with the NWA’s Jim Crockett Promotions. With flowing blond locks, glittering robes and WWE Hall of Famer J.J. Dillon in his corner, Landel set his sights on then-NWA World Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Though he left Crockett Promotions by the end of the year, Landel left his mark, defeating Terry Taylor at Starrcade 1985 to capture the NWA National Championship.

Landel continued to compete in various promotions in Tennessee and Alabama, then returned to the NWA in 1990 to face off with Flair in a “Battle of the Nature Boys,” before moving on to compete in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. He also made brief appearances in WWE in 1995 and 1996.

WWE extends its condolences to Landel’s family, friends and fans.