There is unlikely to ever be as tragic a tale in wrestling as that of the Von Erich family. The sons of Fritz Von Erich helped propel World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) to being one of the biggest wrestling promotions in the early 80s but the tragic deaths of David, Mike, Chris and Kerry brought such grief and removed the heart from the promotion. The WWE produced DVD ‘the triumph and tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling’ shows you the highs of the promotion, its innovation, its performers and characters but also addresses the demise of one of the greatest families in wrestling history and some of the other tragedies that struck WCCW.
The documentary contains extensive interview footage with the last remaining Von Erich, Kevin, as he takes you on the journey as the company grew and sold out stadiums to the final days when they performed in front of empty arenas. There are a lot of myths surrounding the father, Fitz Von Erich, but Kevin is keen to shatter many of these in the course of the interviews and explains that the boys did what they wanted to do, they weren’t forced by Fritz into wrestling.
The athletic prowess of the boys is highlighted very early on as comparisons are drawn with Fritz himself. He missed out on the Olympics as a youngster due to getting married whilst Kerry missed out in representing the USA in the discuss throw because of Jimmy Carter boycotting it. The logical next step for them all was wrestling.
Formed in 1966 as Big Time Wrestling, the focus was on Fritz Von Erich during the seventies before shifting to his boys in the early 80s. Fritz’s retirement match in a 1982 NWA American Title win over King Kong Bundy at Texas Stadium in Irving. By then, the promotion had switched to the World Class name and was centred firmly round Fritz’s sons, Kevin, David, Kerry, and later, Mike Von Erich.
While naturally such a shift resulted in accusations of nepotism, there were no question marks over the ability of the Von Erich’s in the ring. Unfortunately, it was their activities out with the ring that played a part in the demise of the promotion. No prodding was needed, either, to get the boys into wrestling. Loyalty to their Father and their natural athleticism made it a natural fit for them to get involved. It benefitted too as he could build the promotion around then and trust them not to run out on him.
In what was a rarity at the time, the Von Erichs were gimmickless. In a respect, that was their gimmick. Their movie star looks turned them into superstars and made them so over with the Texas fans. Their fanbase wasn’t solely based in Texas with viewers tuning in on pirated version of the TV show and crying out to watch it legally. At this stage the boys wanted to go nationwide but their Father’s loyalty prevented this from happening. What could have been…
It very much seemed that WCCW were ahead of the game, they were the first promotion to use entrance music and with the Freebirds it could be suggested that they started off the wrestling and rock ‘n’ roll connection long before the then WWF jumped onto that bandwagon ahead of Wrestlemania I. The WCCW is heavily associated with the Dallas Sportatorium, an arena it regularly sold out and at times seemed like it was constantly beating last week’s new record in terms of attendance and are rightly regarded as revolutionising wrestling in Texas.
Without question the biggest feud in the history of the WCCW was the one between the Von Erichs and the Fabulous Freebirds. On one side you had the clean cut movie star-esque Von Erichs who were huge crowd favourites against the brash and arrogant Freebirds who consistently drew heat as the antagonists in the feud. Not only the biggest feud in WCCW history but arguably in the history of American Wrestling. The rivalry catapulted those involved into becoming some of the biggest names in wrestling and drew in money like nothing else. In one week, and bear in mind this was 82, the WCCW brought in a quarter of a million. Quite incredible money for the time.
In what was to become the norm for WCCW, tragedy wasn’t far away. Despite clearly being ill, David Von Erich travelled to Japan for a match and died over there. Despite a number of contradicting stories, it is believed that David’s lower intestine rupturing resulted in a heart attack. At the subsequent memorial show, Kerry Von Erich defeated Ric Flair in the main event to capture the NWA championship in the main event of the show that also saw Fritz come out of retirement to team with his sons. Despite the obvious sadness, this turned out to be a great day for the Von Erichs as Kerry’s victory was greeted with deafening cheers from teh fans in attendance.
Would this title win be the beginning of a new era and see Kerry Von Erich finally fulfil his potential and lead the NWA as their new champion? Unfortunately no, the NWA saw the writing on the wall and the belt was returned to Flair in a match in Japan just 18 days later. By now a black cloud hung over Kerry Von Erich and there were doubts over his reliability and fears that he wouldn’t show for events. It seemed his title reign was never going to be anything other than a short term thing.
See part two here…