Back in the day, the NWA World Champion (a man voted upon by the various members of the National Wrestling Alliance) would travel from territory to territory defending his belt, The Belt, against the top stars of each member promotion. On Christmas 1982, traveling NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair was making a scheduled defense at Reunion Arena in Dallas. His opponent for the evening: super-over local hero ‘The Modern Day Warrior’ Kerry Von Erich, a member of the beloved Von Erich family (who just happened to own the territory). It led to one of the most iconic moments in U.S. wrestling history…
Length: Approx running time 5 hrs 51 mins
- Texas Rasslin’
- Fritz Von Erich
- The Boys
- Fritz Retires
- Innovative Television
- The Sportatorium
- Enter… The Fabulous Freebirds
- Young Superstars
- Freebirds – Von Erich Feud
- The Death Of David Von Erich
- A Von Erich Dream Realised
- Chris Adams: Good Friend, Better Enemy
- Mike Von Erich In Critical Condition
- Lance Von Erich
- Gino Hernandez / Chris Adams
- Fabulous Freebirds
- Withdrawl From The NWA
- Kerry’s Motorcycle Accident
- Mike Von Erich Commits Suicide
- Fritz Has A ‘Heart Attack’
- Ken Mantell Becomes Part Owner
- SuperClash III
- Jerry Jarrett Buys WCCW
- Kerry Goes To The WWE
- Chris Von Erich Commits Suicide
- Kerry Von Erich Commits Suicide
- A Curse?
- Remembering World Class
- Tea With Gentleman Chris Adams – January 1983
- ‘Iceman’ King Parsons – March 1983
- Freebirds Promo On The Von Erichs – April 1983
- Gino Hernandez At The Airport – April 1983
- David Von Erich’s Valet For The Day – July 1983
- Sunshine’s Assistant – September 1983
- Freebirds At Home – April 1984
- Badstreet USA Music Video – May 1984
- Chris Adams And Gino Hernandez Car Service – April 1985
- Kerry’s Korner: Kerry’s Photography Hobby – September 1987
- Sunshine In Israel
- Fritz Does Bill Irwin A Favour
- Kevin Watching His Dad
- Fritz Vs. The Funks
- Aeroplane Crash
- “I Hate You Mr. Brazil!”
- Pain Inflicted
- Wrestling In Japan
- 2 out of 3 Falls Match: Duke Keomuka vs. Ricky Starr (TexasRasslin’)
- American Heavyweight Championship: Fritz Von Erich vs. King Kong Bundy (Fritz Von Erich Retirement Show at Texas Stadium – June 1982)
- Steel Cage Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Kerry Von Erich vs. Ric Flair (Star Wars of Wrestling – December 1982)
- ‘Iceman’ King Parsons, Kevin & David Von Erich vs. The Fabulous Freebirds (WCCW – May 1983) *Alternate Commentary: Todd Grisham and Kevin Von Erich
- Hair vs. Hair Match: Iceman King Parsons vs. Buddy Roberts (Star Wars of Wrestling – December 1983)
- 6-man Tag Title Match: Fritz, Mike, & Kevin Von Erich vs. The Fabulous Freebirds (David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions – May 1984)
- Mixed Tag Match: “Gentleman” Chris Adams & Sunshine vs. “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin & Precious (David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions – May 1984)
- The Great Kabuki vs. Kamala (David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions – May 1984)
- American Tag Team Championship: Fantastics vs. Midnight Express (2nd David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions – May 1985)
- “Gentleman” Chris Adams vs. Kevin Von Erich (WCCW – July 1985) *Alternate Commentary: Todd Grisham and Kevin Von Erich
- Bruiser Brody & The Missing Link vs. One Man Gang & Rick Rude (WCCW – October 1986)
- Steel Cage Match: Bruiser Brody vs. Abdullah the Butcher (3rd Cotton Bowl Extravaganza – October 1986)
“I’m want to tell a story about a place you don’t wanna be at
This ain’t no home sweet home, it’s a home sweet misery
We knew when we got here they’d try to put us away
But when they seen us walk down the street they ran the other way
Badstreet, Atlanta, GA
Baddest street in the whole USA
Badstreet nasty and hot
The further down the block you went, the badder it got”
(Michael ‘P.S.’ Hayes , Badstreet USA, from the album: Off the Streets)
Previous matches between the two had ended in controversy so a write-in poll was held in which fans voted from four choices for a special referee. The winner by a landsline was Michael ‘P.S’ Hayes, a the charismatic leader of The Fabulous Freebirds and possibly the only man who’s popularity was close to that of the Von Erichs. To prevent outside interference, Hayes brought along his best friend the late great Terry Gordy as ‘Gatekeeper’ of the door. Fans in attendance were sure this was going to be Kerry’s night and they let him know it by reacting vociferously to every offensive move. A single punch from Kerry generated the response of thousands of girls jumping up and down in the crowd. Throughout the match, Hayes appeared a bit overenthusiastic in his role as referee, possibly due to inexperience. Things got interesting when he broke up the Iron Claw Kerry had on Flair because the ‘Nature Boy’ had his foot on the ropes. Moments later ‘Naitch’ punched Hayes after he broke up a Flair chokehold by grabbing the champion’s famous blonde locks. Hayes responded by KOing Flair with a punch of his own and telling Kerry to get the pin – to the SCREAMING approval of the audience.Being a ‘good sportsman’ Kerry seemed reluctant to accept a tainted victory, so Hayes threw Kerry on top of Flair. Refusing to get the pin this way, Von Erich did the honourable thing and got off him. A frustrated Hayes decided to simply give up and leave. As Kerry tries to pull him back in, Flair kneed Von Erich in the back sending him crashing into Hayes who crashed through the door with a thud. As Kerry lay there with his head through the open door, Gory slammed it into his face! An angle that has been repeated numerous times since, but never with the same effect, the audience were stunned by this turn of events. Completing the heel turn, Hayes got back in counted to three, even though Kerry’s shoulder was clearly up and the huge cheers that had accompanied The Freebirds’ entrance had turned into boos as they stormed off into the night. Amongst this atmosphere of disbelief and huge heel heat, the other referee David Manning got the ring announcer to say “no fall” and the match continued as ‘Naitch’ went to work on Kerry’s now-injured head. Inspired by the crowd, Kerry kept fighting by kicking out of several pinfalls without delivering any actual offense. Finally, ‘The Modern Day Warrior’ made a comeback with punches and hit his trademark discuss punch to KO Flair… only for Kerry to instantly collapse to his knees. Manning checked his eyes and called for the bell. Flair had retained the Title. Post-match the audience remained loyal to their fallen hero chanting “Kerry’s Number One! Kerry’s Number One!” as older brothers David and Kevin entered the cage along with a paramedic and they helped him out. And thus began, the hottest run World Class Championship Wrestling would ever know.
At its early 1980s peak, Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling was the hottest territory going. The red-hot feud between clean-cut babyfaces The Von Erich Brothers and the dastardly Fabulous Freebirds, combined with state of the art production values and some of the liveliest crowds ever – complete with fainting girls, police escorts, and packed football stadiums – made it a product that was easy for fans to get into. Get into it they did: World Class’s television show was broadcast on over eighty five stations in twenty five countries. As Kevin Von Erich said on the main feature, “We’re getting letters from Kenya, Taiwan and places our show wasn’t supposed to be so we wound up putting our show pretty much everywhere. All these people wanted our show, they wanted to know ‘How can we get it legally?’” Meanwhile, the comparatively easy driving schedule and infamous party scene made it the place to be for many workers – although just as many would pay the price for those years of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. WCCW’s fall from grace was as memorable as its rise to international prominence. Today, the stories of Fritz’ (alleged) obsession with pushing his children into the business, the premature death rate, multiple suicides, and the so-called ‘Von Erich Curse’ have become more infamous than any of the famous angles that put “Dallas” on the international map. Fittingly, Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling covers both sides of the company’s history. Rather than go through things chapter by chapter, I’m going to give a broad summary of what I feel were some of the key moments in both categories and my opinion on how they were presented here.
When one looks at the history of wrestling in the Dallas territory there is much to admire. Whilst the focus is clearly on the fabled ‘glory years’ of 1982-1986, the documentary itself runs for two hours, during which time it covers the history of the territory from Ed McLemore’s Texas Rasslin’ of the 1950s to Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett buying out the ailing WCCW in 1988 (a sore point for many Texas wrestling fans to this day). We get plenty of footage dating back to the 1950s as WWE’s massive tape library is supplemented by material from Southern Methodist University and photographs from Pro Wrestling Illustrated. At the heart of the story is the Von Erich family as it tracks the story of Jack Adkisson Erich, an intimidating man with a huge stature and deep voice, from star discus thrower and (American) Football player at University, through getting his start in wrestling by doing Ed McLemore’s taxes (and we even see get to see early footage of him wrestling as Jack Adkisson), through his transformation into a legitimate top draw as the hated Fritz Von Erich, his rise to head of the NWA and patriarch of the Von Erich dynasty and the series of deaths and suicides which destroyed not only the family but World Class itself. This is important because to understand WCCW’s rise and fall, one need properly understand its background. As Dory Funk Jr. tells us “Texas has always supported athletics” and for many of the smaller towns in the state wrestling was the only entertainment to visit except for the circus once a year. Built in 1934 the Sportatorium in Dallas was an old tin shed, described here by Gary Hart as “probably the most famous s***hole that anyone could ever imagine”. It had no air conditioning and a leaky roof but, much like he ECW Arena in the 1990s it became, “a temple for wrestling” (Michael Hayes). Promoter Ed McLemore ran Texas Rasslin’ cards from there, broadcast on KTVT (the television station in Dallas) with Ves Box handling the commentary.
It was in this territory in which Jack Adkisson established himself as a force to be reckoned with in and out of the ring. Inside the ring, Fritz Von Erich a Nazi-sympathizer complete with cape, bald spot and Iron Claw finisher became known for his rugged, physical style of wrestling (“His wrestling style was just beat the hell out of somebody”, Dory Funk Jr.) – Kevin even calls him “the best of the Von Erichs”. Outside the ring, the enterprising Fritz bought into the Dallas based Big Time Wrestling promotion and in 1965 together with McLemore (who owned the Sportatorium), they broke away from Paul Bosch’s Houston-based territory. Then, after McLemore died following a series of heart attacks, Fritz became the sole owner and top star. For those unaware, this was a common situation at the time as Jerry Lawler helpfully points out: “For instance Verne Gagne who was the owner and also the top star in the AWA, Eddie Graham – the same situation in the Florida territory, and of course we had a similar situation down in Memphis and the reason that normally comes about is because when you own the territory, when you own the territory, when you own the company – I mean that’s not only your baby but your livelihood.” When his children were old enough to work it was clear they would follow in their father’s footsteps and we see footage of Fritz of claiming every one of his sons will be a World Heavyweight Champion. At the time this didn’t seem like such a wild claim: the three eldest sons all had stellar athletic backgrounds, Kevin in football, David in basketball and Kerry in discus. A good looking young man, Kevin would play football at Uni’ and then wrestle for his dad during the off-season. David (who was considered by his peers to be the best in-ring and the one with the business sense to eventually take over his dad’s promotion) took it a step further by dropping out of college to wrestle for his dad and quickly surpassed his older brother (“David didn’t have the charisma and the good looks of Kevin but when it came to in-ring talent and interviews I believe David was the superior one.” Gary Hart) to the extent he was earmarked as a future NWA World Champion. The third brother Kerry was a combination of both (“Kerry, he had the charisma and the looks of his older brother Kevin, but at the same time he had a lot of the in-ring ability that David had.”, Gary Hart). Together the kids were super-over, particularly with the thousands of young women in the Dallas area who flocked to the Sportatorium every week. It got to the extent they were so well known that they would just be advertised by their first name (‘Kevin’, ‘David’, ‘Kerry’, etc.) Fritz was still wrestling, oblivious to the fact he was past-it (“He was beat-up and arthritic”, Bill Mercer) but the boys were drawing so much money they persuaded him to retire leading to the first big stadium show headlined by his retirement match against King Kong Bundy at Texas Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys).
Following the angle of Christmas 1982, they had the perfect foil to feud with: a three man team (consisting of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Jack Roberts) that both contrasted with and complimented the Von Erichs. With Hayes as the cocky leader whom the women loved and the men hated (“Michael Hayes isn’t performing a character, that’s really Michael Hayes.”, Kevin Von Erich), Gordy as the heavy-hitter and ‘worker’ of the team (“Terry Gordy was God’s gift to wrestling – the greatest ever in my mind”,Hayes), and Roberts as the sneaky veteran they had all their bases covered. Indeed, The Freebirds brought something fresh and exciting (most notably Hayes popularized the use of entrance music… although the tradition itself goes back to Gorgeous George in the 1950s) and the battles between them were as much about regional pride as they were about different lifestyles as the clean-living all-American boys defended the honor of Dallas against the out-of-control party animals from Georgia that were The Freebirds. “This war is not between Texas and Georgia its between decency and filth”, as Kevin famously put it in a promo. Throughout the documentary, Michael Hayes takes a lot of credit for World Class’ success but then again he is also given a lot of credit by others. As Jim Ross puts it, “When an outsider like The Freebirds would roar into Dallas and start knocking the Von Erichs, they might as well have been knocking Sam Houston or the Dallas Cowboys or anything that was Texas” It led to one of the most famous and violent feuds of all-time, sell-out arenas across the territory, and rabid Texans chanting “Go home Freebirds! Go home Freebirds!”
It is important to note, WCCW was no one-trick pony (in fact Jerry Lawler puts it over as one of the first companies to feature ‘young talent’ in prominent positions) and there are features on Bill Irwin, ‘Iceman’ King Parsons (an important influence on The Rock), ‘Gorgeous’ Jimmy Garvin (and his valets Sunshine and Precious), the late ‘Gentleman’ Chris Adams (including footage of him playing soccer), Kamala (“one of the best at his gimmick I’ve ever seen in my life”, Michael Hayes), The Missing Link (the late Dewey Robertson), and the late Bruiser Brody. In the case of former World Of Sport wrestler Adams he was another babyface who at one point who’s popularity rivaled the Von Erichs. When Gary Hart was returned to World Class in 1984 he helped engineer Chris Adams’ heel-turn on the Von Erichs. The subsequent feud between Adams and Kevin led to some stiff matches (described here as being semi-shoots) and when Adams and the late Gino Hernandez formed The Dynamic Duo their rivalry with the Von Erichs actually surpassed the famous Freebirds feud in terms of drawing revenues. Many other aspects of the World Class set-up were ahead of their time. When Triple H gives them credit as “one of the pioneers using beautiful, young attractive women to help bring in viewers to bring in fans”, he’s right and this wasanother, often overlooked, piece of the WCCW puzzle which would have a lasting influence.
What stands out to me most are the World Class (pun intended) production values. Placing an unheard of seven or eight cameras at ringside, including been the first to place a camera right on the ring apron for super close-ups, microphones in and around the ring and making full use of the latest technology, WCCW where ahead of the time and (along with Memphis) pioneered the idea of using vignettes and music videos to show wrestlers outside the ring. I was amazed that the video footage looks great even to this day. This attitude of embracing technology paid off in the ratings where the show outdrew not only Saturday Night Live but even the WWF in its home territory of New York. It got to the extent where ‘the boys’ (as the Von Erich kids were always called) wanted to go national but Fritz didn’t. It would have been interesting to see how U.S. wrestling would have progressed had he taken his sons advice… Not least because World Class’ popularity would not last.
The release of this DVD was delayed after the Benoit tragedy due to the mainstream media’s focus on drugs and premature deaths in wrestling at the time. Indeed the recent death of Gary Hart highlights the number of World Class’ alumni who are sadly no longer with us. Kevin Von Erich is prominently featured as one would expect, and looks healthy but seeing him is an instant reminder that he is the sole surviving member of this dynasty. Unfortunately, some of those other WCCW who did make it haven’t aged as well. The other interviewees include the late Gary Hart; The Fabulous Freebirds: Michael Hayes, Buddy Jack Roberts (who now needs to speak with the aid of a voice box), and an old looking Jimmy Garvin (who its worth noting despite their real-life friendship was not in The Freebirds in WCCW but interviewed with them here); Bill Mercer (World Class’ famous commentator); ‘Wild’ Bill Irwin (who was half of The Super Destroyers/Long Riders along with brother the late Scott ‘Hog’ Irwin); Skandar Akbar (not the guy from Return Of The Jedi); Dory Funk Jr.; Verne Gagne; Gerald Brisco; Jim Ross; Jerry Lawler; Ric Flair; Dusty Rhodes; Mick Foley; Shawn Michaels; and… Triple H. The latter of whom appears to just be on here because he used to watch it on TV. Between them they paint an incomplete, but interesting enough picture of a bye-gone era in this business. The most telling comments come when they are talking about the tragic elements of the promotion.
The picture they paint of Fritz is not a completely complimentary one. In common with many promoters of the era, he is described here (notably by Hayes and Garvin) as underpaying the workers. An example, would be that after booking the angle at the start of this review Gary Hart claims “Christmas 1982 I helped the office get a quarter of a million dollars. For that quarter of a million dollars if I would tell you what the guy gave me you’d probably never want to talk to me again: thirty five hundred dollars for a quarter of a million. I was sitting in my office, I’m looking at my cheque, I’m saying ‘This can not be right. This can not be right.’” Fritz’ response was to tell him he was “getting too big for his britches” and so Hart quit and took The Great Kabuki with him (interestingly The Freebirds also wanted to quit but he persuaded them to stay… It would have been interesting to see how business would have gone had they simply left following the cage match rather than gone on to do record-breaking business).
The biggest criticism over the years related to discussion over whether ‘the boys’ were ‘forced’ into wrestling and the issue isn’t ignored here. Michael Hayes may be closest to the truth when he says “I would imagine there was a lot of prodding at the same time I would imagine it probably didn’t take much because the boys idolized their dad.”
Whatever the case, four out of the five Von Erich sons are no longer with us. According to Kevin, his dad’s personality changed following the death of his oldest son Jackie Jr. who was electrocuted and drowned in accident at home aged seven. At the same time Jack Adkisson changed his gimmick and wrestling style becoming the evil Fritz Von Erich (“He was so ferocious in the ring. He was like he wanted someone to kill him, I think. He just didn’t want to be alive anymore but he wanted, you know, to punish himself or something. Punish other people too”).
The death of David Von Erich during a 1984 tour of Japan, at arguably the peak of World Class popularity has been a controversial topic over the years. Ric Flair, amongst others, has said that “everyone in wrestling believes” it was a drug overdose (To Be the Man , 2004)whereas the Von Erichs have always denied this claiming it was due to a heart attack caused by a ruptured intestine as Kevin does here. We also get comments from Bill Irwin (who was on the tour and left David in his room to phone his wife, where he was found the next morning) and Gary Hart (“It was an accident”). Long before WWE’s tributes to Owen Hart, Eddie Guererro and Chris Benoit, the Von Erichs took the step of dedicating the entire February 18 , 1984 episode of World Class Championship Wrestling to David and here we see footage from the show with the likes of Harley Race, Ric Flair and Michael Hayes appearing out-of-character to give their real-life tributes to Davd. In many ways this was a turning point for WCCW, as although business remained strong the loss of ‘The Yellow Rose Of Texas’ was a big one. Jim Ross considered him the best of the Von Erichs “including the old man” and according to Akbar, David could have kept the company going for years as owner had he lived longer. It also led to the Parade Of Champions event that May which drew the biggest attendance for a wrestling card in North America to that point, as Fritz came out of retirement and Kerry won the NWA World Heavyweight Title from Ric Flair as a tribute to his brother. It’s interesting to observe how Shawn Michaels says how emotional it was as a fan, whilst the likes of Hayes and Gerald Brisco (guys who were in the business) take a more cynical approach and admit it was done in a way that it just happened because ‘David didn’t get to do it’.
Kerry’s unreliability and drug use meant that the title run was short. He wasn’t the only member of the family to have problems: with David out of the picture younger brother Mike (who according to many sources never wanted to wrestle) replaced him in the feud with the Freebirds despite his inexperience and slim frame. On WCCW’s famous 1985 tour of Israel Mike suffered a separated shoulder and we get news footage from the operation which led to his near-fatal bout with Toxic Shock Syndrome. As the empire began to crumble there were some questionable booking decisions made as well. Like when they brought in a local athlete Kevin Vaugh billed as their cousin “Lance Von Erich” to fill in for the recovering Mike. We learn here that all the sons were against the ‘Lance’ gimmick but it was Fritz idea since Mike being out meant they only had two Von Erichs to work the three shows they were running a day (which meant one of them would have to wrestle twice). Gary Hart gives an insight into the fans opinions on this at the time (“On my return to Texas, I had a lot of people come up to me on my way into the arena saying ‘What do you think of Kevin Vaughn?’ And I said ‘Who?’ And they say ‘Kevin Vaughn.’ And I say ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about’ – ‘Oh he’s Lance Von Erich. The Von Erichs lie. We don’t like them anymore because we thought they only told the truth but they lied.’”) and we even see footage of Fritz breaking kayfabe on television (acknowledging Lance was never a real Von Erich) and saying he won’t mention his name again after Lance quit without giving his notice over a pay dispute. The way in which he delivered this announcement was identical to Vince McMahon’s promises not to mention Chris Benoit’s name again on the episode of ECW the night after the Benoit tribute show.
From 1986 on out, the story of World Class moved from that of a beloved promotion struck by the odd tragedy to a depressing tale of decline one with the odd highlight thrown in here and there. The charismatic Gino Hernandez seemed to have it all: youth, talent, good looks, women (according to those in wrestling he dated Farrah Fawcett at one point) and a natural ability to get under people’s skin as a heel. Unfortunately, he also had a well-known cocaine problem. On January 27th, 1986 Hernandez worked a blinding angle with Chris Adams (an angle critized here by Manning as going too far) as an excuse for Adams to return to England. By the time it aired on television, Hernandez had been found dead of a cocaine overdose aged twenty nine. According to Kevin, Gino was worried about his safety after someone hid in his car. The possibility of foul play is hinted at as Kevin talks about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death and things gets emotional with Hart blaming himself for Adams death and not been able to help him overcome his demons.
In the chapter Withdrawl From The NWA, the interviewees discuss the decision in February 20th that same year, to rename the promotion’s top belt the NWA American Heavyweight Championship and recognize the late Rick Rude (who was managed by Percy Pringle III aka Paul Bearer) as their World Heavyweight Champion. Everyone thought this was a bad idea, and the likes of Chris Adams, Black Bart and Kerry went on to hold the belt. Things really started to turned sour that June when World Champion Kerry was injured in a motorcycle accident which left him with a dislocated hip, badly injured right leg and a right foot which had to be amputated. We see a promo from Kerry in hospital (“motorcycles are silly. I’ll stay away from them”) and hear the familiar story of how after he lost his foot he kept it a secret (going as far as to shower with his wrestling boots on). It also left him addicted to painkillers. Bill Mercer says someone was fired for informing Fritz that a certain person was dealing drugs to the boys, and one can just imagine Fritz sitting there with his hands over his ears singing ‘la la la’. Meanwhile Mike made an ill-advised return to the ring despite apparently suffering brain damage. Slurring his words in promos and unable to regain his strength and weight, he was forced into early retirement. The pressure of having to “replace” David and work to the same standard as his brothers, combined with increasing drug and alcohol problems (and charges for drink driving) led him to commit suicide after overdosing on Placidyl . When Mike committed suicide “that pretty well did us all in” according to Mercer and the final days of World Class make a depressing story.
At least we get both sides of the story as we hear about the so-called ‘heart attack’ angle on Christmas Day 1987 which Hart was against it (“why do you want to beat up a sixty year old man?”), whereas Kevin says it was never meant to be a heart attack (what about artists intention versus interpretation); and the working arrangement with the AWA and Memphis which led to the all-time classic match between Kerry Von Erich and Jerry Lawler (who oozes charisma in a suit and vest as he cuts a heel promo “Coming in to the SuperClash, he’s thinkin’ ‘Am I going to let my family down again?’ Kerry: you are. You’re going to lose, I promise you that.”) at SuperClash III a year later. Triple H calls that one “Three sinking ships and they just put their stuff on one ship and said ‘Well at least we just have one sinking ship now’”. The story of World Class ends shortly thereafter as the promotion was bought by Jerry Jarrett when “Fritz found a sucker to buy his business” as Hart put it. That said the DVD does go into the early 1990s by discussing the career of Chris Von Erich (who made his debut in 1990) and Kerry’s time in the WWF (1990-1992) as ‘The Texas Tornado’ as well as both their suicides. Kevin says Chris didn’t have the agility and the athleticism to be a wrestler which would be a fair assessment. The youngest and smallest (“He was barely taller than the ropes”, Irwin) of the Von Erich Brothers, he never had an athletic physique, suffered from asthma and had to take a type of steroids which stunted his growth. According to Hart his brittle bones meant he was prone to fractures, and he would injure himself performing standard moves. Throw in drug problems similar to his older brothers and it’s safe to say the wrestling business wasn’t the best choice of occupation. In September 1991, aged twenty one he shot himself in the head. Two years later Kerry shot himself on his dad’s ranch one day after being indicted on a cocaine possession charge. As Triple H says here, Kerry was worried about jail time, since he realised he was going to prison for violating his parole (at the time he was serving ten years supervised probation for forging drug prescriptions). “I think he was thinking about his fans” offers Lawler. Akbar points out two days before, Kerry had tried reconciliation with his wife and failed.
Disc 1 –
“We’re a whole different era, man. We’re not back there with Gene Kiniski and all those people – Dory Funk Sr. You’re talking about us. And you’re not talking about imitation either. You know there’s a lot of teams now tryin’ to imitate us, copy us, calling themselves ‘The Fabulous This’, ‘The Fabulous That’. They try to play a record coming to the ring – of course they don’t have a record that’s Number One going all through the country, they don’t have a video coming out. Nevertheless, you still try to imitate us. It’s not the word ‘Fabulous’ that makes us what we are, it’s not the word ‘Fabulous’ makes us World Champions. It’s the word that follows it and that’s ‘Freebird’ and there’ts only three of them and they can be imitated but they can’t be duplicated.”
(Michael Hayes sends a message to a certain other tag team whilst still managing to cut a promo at the expense of Fritz Von Erich, Freebirds At Home, April 1984)
The main menu shows famous clip from the famous opening credits and classic clips from the early 1980s glory days of the promotion. As mentioned previously the picture quality is fantastic for the era. Of the twenty extras on Disc 1, the first ten are segments lifted from WCCW’s television show; the other ten are outtakes from the documentary itself. From ten segments:
Tea With Gentleman Chris Adams sees a young, newly arrived in Texas Chris Adams chat about his background (“I’m from a place called Stratford-on-Avon, which is eighty miles North of London, and that’s where Shakespeare was born so it’s pretty famous place”); his wrestling experience on the old British circuit, Japan, Africa and Mexico (“I know all the Guerreros: the three brothers, so I spent sometime with them in Mexico – they’re really good wrestlers and really good friends of mine” ), and the differences between wrestling in the UK and the States (“I find the wrestling here is a lot rougher, you know: kicking, ounching, a ot more physical. I guesss you’d cal it ‘dirtiness’”) whilst enjoying a spot of tea with Bill Mercer in the garden.
Iceman’ King Parsons, the company’s top African American star, carries huge blocks of ice and smashes them with his head and backside.
The Freebirds cut a heel promo on the Von Erichs blaming them for everything ( “You gonna blame s when your wife has a headache at night? You gonna blame us when she wakes up in the morning she looks bad?”, Michael Hayes).
Gino Hernandez shows off his fancy car, suit, sunglasses, and lear jet from his private airport hanger on his way to Beverly Hills, and lets us know: “Comparing the Von Erich family to Gino Hernandez ‘The Handsome Half-Breed’ is like comparing my 380SL Mercedes to a Voltswaggen.”.
In a memorable angle, the result of a match stipulation means ‘Gorgeous’ Jimmy Garvin and Sunshine have to work on the Von Erich ranch as David’s ‘Valet For The Day’ – digging post-holes, carrying hay and washing the dog whilst David brandishes a shot gun. Predictably it ends in a brawl. World Class was ahead of its time with some of this stuff.
The next segment also revolves around Garvin, this time relaxing by the pool as we are introduced to Precious: Sunshine’s new assistant. The gimmick of having a valet for the valet was copied by the WWF in 1999 with Jeff Jarrett, Debra and Miss Kitty. In real-life Garvin and Sunshine were cousins and Precious and Garvin were married. Sunshine bosses her about as they are interviewed by Bill Mercer. These two segments highlight how entertaining Garvin was.
The ‘Freebirds At Home’ reveals they live in a broken down shack (“Welcome to our world – Badstreet USA”, Buddy Jack Roberts) and Hayes calls Fritz a “yellow-bellied dog”.
Filmed in black and white, the Badstreet USA Music Video is one of the classic moments of 80’s wrestling. It features the vocal skills of Hayes, backed by The Badstreet band and special appearances from Freebirds’ Gordy and Roberts, and their pal Jimmy Garvin.
Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez talk about their strategy for the upcoming two-ring, three out of five falls, tag match for $100, 000 and a Lincoln Continental for whomever scores the winning fall at Texas Stadium and the Second Annual David Von Erich Memorial Card.
Finally in Kerry’s Korner, Kerry talks about how he got interested in photography (“Even though we don’t have Mike and Dave right now, I still have s many pictures of them”) and buying a then-state-of-the-art camera with super-fast auto-rewind from Japan.
We then move on to a series of out-takes from the sit-down interviews that made up the main feature the best of which by far is the one in which Gary Hart recounts the incredible and frightening details of the 1974 plane crash involving himself, Buddy Colt (the pilot), Austin Idol and Bobby Shane.
Elsewhere we get: footage of The Great Kabuki practicing martial arts in a Japanese garden as Hayes gives an analogy of ‘setting the table for dinner but not being around when meal-time came’ for Kabuki’s contributions to WCCW; Bill Irwin softens Fritz’ hard image a bit with a story about how he gave Irwin $150 for a dental appointment; Dory Funk Jr. talks about watching Fritz against Dory Sr. in a ‘German Blood Match’ for the Funk’s Amarillo territory how he followed in his father’s footsteps when by wrestling Fritz to a one hour draw in front of thirty thousand people at Texas Stadium; and in five separate segments with Kevin Von Erich he tells us about: Sunshine getting into a fight with Mike Von Erich’s two Israeli girlfriends during World Class’ tour of the Holy Land; stories about his reactions as a kid to matches involving his dad against Dory Funk and Bobo Brazil in the days of kayfabe; a scary story about an unnamed Japanese wrestler trying to kill him, after Fritz told him to go to Japan (as a last-minute replacement for Lance Von Erich) whilst Kevin was suffering from a severe concussion (“This guy just tried to kill me. It would have made him a superstar.”); and finally, puts he puts his survival down to his twenty-four year marriage and children.
Disc 2 –
“As he works his way to the ring to the adoration of these thousands of young ladies, Kerry Von Erich literally having to push his way through to get to this chance to win the World heavyweight Championship. It may be tougher getting in the ring than it will be with Ric Flair!” (Bill Mercer, Star Wars of Wrestling – 25/12/ 1982)
Disc 2, consists of twelve matches all but one of which come from the 1982 to 1986 glory days of the promotion: The match that isn’t from that period is some black and white footage of an old-school ‘Two Out Of Three Falls Match’ between Duke Keomuka and Ricky Starr held at the Sportatorium . How old school is it? Well, to put it in perspective this is from the old school days when the wrestlers would return to the dressing rooms between rounds. The match has a ninety minute time-limit, both have dressing gown, plain black wool trunks and at “one hundred and ninety eight pounds” Starr is a positive lightweight by today’s standards, whilst the “two hundred and eleven pounds” Keomuka was considered big at the time. The match itself is a no nonsense, mat-based match affair, but in-between the floor work it is actually very fast-paced. A former Sumo, Duke plays to the stereotypical Japanese heel gimmick that was common post-World War II by wrestling bare-foot and uses his trademark “judo chop”, whilst the charismatic Starr works does ballet gimmick (and shows what a great athlete he was) with his neck-bridges, cartwheels and some of the quickest successive dropkicks you’ll ever see. Probably not for everyone but I really enjoyed it.
Fritz Von Erich ‘Retirement Match’ after “48 years in the business” against a young King Kong Bundy sees Bundy’s manager Gary Hart is barred from ringside, as in an early example of the Falls Count Anywhere gimmick that would be popularized by Cactus Jack ten years later falls count in “either the ring or the Dallas Cowboys Texas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium Field” (Mark Lowrance). Years ago when I first saw this match on The Von Erichs: Front Row Ringside I was shocked to see Bundy sporting brown hair instead of the bald look that would later become his trademark. Although it gets off to a quick start, before the bell has rung this is a basic, big man match that was not as good as I remembered it. The highlight is actually Fritz’ making threats in his deep voice throughout the match, which is way more intimidating than a dozen moves. All five sons are there to watch their dad retire a champion although it cuts out the post-match retirement speech in which Fritz promised each of his boys would be World Champion at some point.
The legendary Cage match in which Ric Flair placed the NWA World Heavyweight Title on the line against Kerry Von Erich at the 1982 Star Wars Christmas Special is one of my favourite matches from the early 80s. According to WCCW storyline, Flair had placed a bounty on Kerry to “avoid” having to defend against him, which he paid Gary Hart after The Great Kabuki injured Kerry’s knee leading to him having surgery. This was Flair at the peak of his abilities and Kerry was motivated as well and even without the famous angle I described at the beginning, this was still a great match with blood, intensity, psychology (Flair worked on Kerry’s bad leg for most of the match), a hated heel, loved babyface, and with a packed crowd of screaming girls at Reunion Arena, truly one of the hottest crowds of all-time.
The match between ‘Iceman’ King Parsons, Kevin & David Von Erich vs. The Fabulous Freebirds is a good brawl which starts before the bell match and highlights that Terry Gordy really was The Man when he was on form and it’s a shame there isn’t more of him on here (e.g. vs. Kerry from the Sportatorium, 17/08/84). This follows on from the previous match with its beginnings of the Freebirds/Von Ercih Family feud, with The ‘Birds proving they were the original ‘cool’ heels (“There are some who of course admire The Freebirds, as you might understand”, Bill Mercer).
At 5:30 or there-about, the ‘Hair vs. Hair Match’ from Star Wars ’83 is a short, comedy-type match. This and the previous match show that ‘Iceman’ was very over as a babyface at this point and there is some amusing censorship here: with a giant blue dot over rude bits during a grab-the-tights spot. It includes the famous post-match angle with the ‘Freebird Hair Cream’.
“The World Six Man Title, next to the World Title – the most prestigious belt in all of the world, and it’s even wilder tonight being a Badstreet bout meaning whatever you wear into the ring can be used.” (Mark Lowrance on commentary) yes the famous six-man ‘Badstreet Match’ with Fritz, coming out of retirement is basically a ‘No DQ’/Streetfight in which the participants must tag in and out (i.e. not a Texas Tornado Match) and pinfalls only count in the ring. Cowboy boots, leather belts, fists and feet are used as weapons in another short but intense brawl that starts before the bell. In fact, Kevin is already bleeding before the match officially starts! Includes the post-match angle with Killer Khan (here only referred to as a “huge Oriental”).
Although it lasts less than five minutes the match pitting Chris Adams and Jimmy Garvin’s former valet Sunshine against Garvin and his new valet Precious is credited with being one of the first ‘Mixed Tags’ ever. The old school ‘men wrestle the men, the women wrestle the women’ rules are in place and they get some great reactions from the huge stadium crowd for doing very little. Which raises a question: for the past two years we have heard that the “problem” with having WrestleMania in front of a stadium atmosphere (particularly this year at WrestleMania XXIV where it was outdoors) was that it takes away from the atmosphere because the noise doesn’t travel. That’s not true here as all these matches from the David Von Erich Tribute Show feature some of the loudest reactions you will ever hear.
The Great Kabuki vs. Kamala is a somewhat of the ‘battle of the stereotypes’, between two rather unusual heels – “There’s Gary Hart. There’s The Great Kabuki – the man who led this man out of Singapore and into a career here in North America as one of the most deadly beasts ever to come in to the ring… And there’s his opponent: Kamala, ‘The Ugandan Giant’ – Deadly, cannibalistic, and unpredictable. We know Kamala has never before seen the likes of this type of creature. The same goes for Kabuki.” As they work their gimmicks and slowly apply rest-holds, the real focus is on their respective managers Gary Hart and Skandar Akbar, and Kamala’s handler Friday.
The two-ring American Tag Team Championship match between The Fantastics and The Midnight Express (Condrey version) from the Second Annual David Von Erich Memorial show is not the best bout these teams had against each other but there are still some fun spots as Jim Cornette – dressed in a pink tuxedo – has to sit at ringside with Little John to prevent him from interfering and Eaton takes some insane bumps on the hard stadium floor. We start off with Condrey/Rogers in one ring and Eaton/Fulton in the other and this is basically ‘Texas Tornado Rules’. Without giving away the result, it ends with a ref bump, outside interference and a (modified) ‘Dusty Finish’.
Chris Adams vs. Kevin Von Erich is the second match to feature “Alternate” commentary with Todd Grisham and Kevin Von Erich, although I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. At 9:49 this felt like it ended just when it was getting good. Despite his heel turn the ‘Gentleman’ always had his supporters as evidenced by the split crowd reactions here. There are some nice fast-paced exchanges here along with blood, bodyslams on tables, hurracanrannas, and fighting after the match has ended.
The late Bruiser Brody and the late Missing Link, accompanied by Sunshine, team-up against the late Rick Rude (sporting leopard-spotted tights) and the One Man Gang, managed by Percy Pringle III. There are four distinct characters here for sure and the match seems to have been included purely to highlight some of the names who worked for WCCW particularly the crazy babyfaces: Brody enters wildly swinging a metal chain, whilst Link headbutts a steel-chair. By the next November, Rude and Gang would be teaming up again, this time in the main event of the WWF’s First Annual Survivor Series.
The final match is from the Third Cotton Bowl Extravaganza as regular opponents Brody and the equally bonkers Abdullah the Butcher (here managed by Gary Hart) go at it in a bloody Cage match and wouldn’t you know it? “Stepping forward after a world-wide seacrch as special referee for this event: Fritz Von Erich” (Ring Announcer Mark Lowrance). Predictably, Fritz’ presence only takes away from the match because anytime you have the referee as big as the wrestlers (and no-selling moves from them) it makes it more difficult to accept they are being presented as Monsters. The highlight is when Gary Hart stops by the commentary table to inform us: “I’d think Von Erich was doing an extremely good job if I was Brody’s manager” (on Fritz’ refereeing skills).
TheBigBoot’s Best Match: NWA World Heavyweight Championship Steel Cage Match: Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich (Star Wars of Wrestling, 25/12/82) ****¾
TheBigBoot’s Most Memorable Quote: “Those guys lived up there in Lake Dallas, they were… gods.” (Bill Irwin on the Von Erichs)
“All the girls around the world love that steroid freak Kerry Von Erich. Well you know what? He’s beatable, he’s gullible, and he’s just as stupid as he looks. It takes him an hour and a half to watch sixty minutes.” (Michael Hayes in a promo)
So after all the anticipation of the DVD being delayed was it worth the wait? Like The Rise And Fall Of ECW and the The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA the DVD is certainly well put together and whilst it praises the success of WCCW at its peak it doesn’t try too hard to gloss over the negative aspects of the territory either. At times the documentary is very candid and ‘warts-and-all’, at others some of the wrestlers are determined to keep kayfabe, even today. For example, at one point Kevin blames Jimmy Carter boycotting the 1980 Olympics for his brother Kerry not being there as a discus thrower and claims that was the reason he decided to get into wrestling… Despite the fact Kerry was already wrestling full time by that point.
My biggest criticism of the documentary portion is that the story it tells is not complete. Other than Hernandez and the Von Erichs none of the other deaths are mentioned. Whilst a roll call of all the deceased wrestlers who had passed through the promotion might not be the best PR move given the current climate, it does seem odd that for all the credit they are given here the deaths of the likes of Chris Adams, Terry Gordy and Bruiser Brody (who was actually working for the promotion at the time of his murder) are ignored. Whilst it may be the most serious, that is not the only exclusion either: although Ken Mantell is credited for his role as booker and as part-owner it makes no mention of the infamous talent raid of 1986 which followed his jump to Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory (which was in the process of expanding nationally as the Universal Wrestling Federation and thus expanding into Texas) where Mantell was able to persuade the likes of Skandor Akbar, The Fabulous Freebirds, Sunshine, Chris Adams, Kamala and ‘Iceman’ King Parsons to jump with him. Considering Hayes, Akbar and Good Ol’ JR were interviewees this should not have been overlooked. Even a mainstream event like the Texas oil crisis is forgotten about when discussing the variables that led to the promotion’s decline.
In terms of the extras what is included is very good, but again it is what isn’t included that interested me most. For a start, whilst the footage looks great visually copywrite issues mean that awful music dubbed over the theme tunes (apart from The Freebirds who use Badstreet USA) so we don’t get Rush’ ‘Tom Sawyer’ for Kerry or Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ for ‘Iceman’ King Parsons! As with Ric Flair And The Four Horsemen there are plenty of other matches which could have been included. Considering it is (arguably) the best known moment from the promotion I was surprised they didn’t include the NWA Title change from Parade Of Champions with Kevin beating Flair for David! And with all the talk on the documentary portion about how David was the “best Von Erich”, shouldn’t they have included at least one of his singles matches? For all the time it was given in the main feature, there are only two matches from the Von Erichs/Freebirds feud, both of them being six-mans. Whilst I can understand the idea of wanting to highlight various wrestlers from World Class to give a broad overview I don’t think the best matches were necessarily chosen to do the job. For example, if you want to highlight The Great Kabuki then wouldn’t his ‘Battle Of The Superkicks’ with Adams have been more entertaining than the bout with Kamala?
Selective use of information and minor quibbles aside, this was an interesting but ultimately depressing DVD to watch. As Ric Flair put it,“All that tragedy, how could you ever find any good in it? I mean you can talk about things that were good along the way but at the end of the day it was a very tragic, very sad situation.” Watching the documentary and hearing about all the problems got me thinking that the surprising thing wasn’t that World Class fell apart but how long they were able to keep business as strong for as long as they did.
In the end, Jim Ross makes an interesting point when he says: “I hope that the wrestling fans remember the Von Erich’s as a vibrant, exciting, wrestling territory and not for funerals and premature deaths. That would be a shame for that legacy”. Easier said than done, Jim. Easier said than done.
Points: 8 / 10