Today we have the latest in the ‘Alternative Wrestling History‘ series. After spending a period of time immersed in the Texan world of World Class Championship Wrestling, John continues his look at “what if?” moments by wondering what would have happened had David Von Erich not died.
On the Feburay 12th 1984 taped edition of World Class Championship Wrestling, David Von Erich collided with Terry Gordy in a red hot brawl to close the show. David was as fiery as ever, vowing to take on the Freebirds and anybody else they wanted to bring with them, declaring that he had his brothers by his side and the people of Texas behind him and that’s all he’d need to vanquish his foes.
Originally he scheduled to face Buddy Jack Roberts and Gordy was a last-minute substitution and fought in his jeans. He stomped into the ring and immediately the two went at it like wild-men throwing punches like their lives depended on it. After a few minutes of back and forth action the Hayes and Roberts interfered and caused a mini riot. The show went off the air in much the same fashion as it had done ever since Gordy screwed Kerry Von Erich out of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at WCCW Star Wars in December 1982. What fans didn’t know was that David had already been dead for two days when the programme aired.
The Von Erich boys had become an incredible attraction for their father, World Class Championship Wrestling Promoter Fritz Von Erich. The Von Erich boys all possessed the goods to make it in wrestling but while Kerry had the good looks and Kevin was the best athlete David was the best pro wrestler of the bunch.
David had the kind of natural, fiery charisma that can almost render in ring talent redundant, but he had plenty of that too. David was the total package and in 1984 at just 25 years of age seemingly had the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in his blindingly bright future. It’s been reported that Harley Race had even promised him the belt in 1983 only for the National Wrestling Alliance to overturn him and give it to Ric Flair instead, at the original Starrcade. Flair, Race and others have gone on the record to talk about the destiny David was carving out for himself with his incredible ring work and lament his death on February 10th 1984. Just like Magnum TA, David Von Erich was considered a monumental lost opportunity for the NWA to have a great babyface champion.
Years ago, I personally started doing research on David’s death and rarely did I hear the same story twice. There have been multiple accounts of his demise and importantly for this article, many of them seem avoidable. So, what if David Von Erich had survived his trip to Japan and returned to the US to continue his trailblazing path to the NWA title?
One thing we know for certain is that almost immediately after David’s demise, his younger brother Kerry was slotted to have a brief reign as NWA Champion. The event was called ‘The David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions’ with Kerry challenging Champion Ric Flar in place of his brother. A lot of people have claimed that Kerry was in David’s place on that day in many ways. WCCW and its fans were in desperate need of a happy ending, even if it was to be a brief one.
The ‘Modern Day Warrior’ defeated Ric Flair for the title on May 6th 1984 in front of 50,123 fans at Texas Stadium. The Dallas territory had been yearning for one of their own to win the big one for years and it looked like that man might finally be David Von Erich, when that hope was snatched away from them it was crushing and needed to be remedied immediately. Kerry was the best option available. He looked like a million dollars and was more charismatic than his, still talented, brother Kevin. The crowd at Texas Stadium lost their minds when Kerry rolled up the Nature Boy to win the title in a relatively brief match, lasting just 11:24.
The NWA didn’t have the kind of confidence in Kerry though that they were said to have in David. In a cruel twist of fate Kerry would lose the title in the country David lost his life just 18 days later while on tour with AJPW. The hopes and dreams of the fans of WCCW had a habit of going to Japan and disappearing forever.
If David had won the title, though, would his reign have been substantial? Babyfaces didn’t tend to have long reigns in the NWA. Ric Flair has stated that his run on top really began with his second title run and it’s hard to argue when you look at the numbers. From November 24th 1983 until January 1st 1990, there were 2230 days and Ric Flair was champion for 2060 of them, he was the king of the NWA in the 80’s. Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, Rick Steamboat and Kerry had 170 days with the title between them during that period.
Could David have achieved something similar? Probably not. It was common for a champion back then to be a babyface in their home territory and a heel everywhere else. While David was beloved in Texas to the point where he could probably never have been heel, he did have the fire and the verbal skills to make the switch to heel. I imagine he’d be quite like fellow Texan Terry Funk who was an unpredictable wildman heel during his championship reign in the mid 70s. Since he was more talented than his brother, I imagine the NWA would at least be willing to give him a better chance to succeed than they gave Kerry who by all accounts was never seriously considered for a long title reign.
If David had been champion, he would’ve had to leave Dallas and tour the territories which would’ve left Kerry and Kevin to hold down the fort. Due to his fanbase and his family loyalty David would’ve no doubt remained a Texas-based Champion, much like Ric Flair remained based in Charlotte NC and Harley Race held court in St Louis. Say David had held on to the title by 1985 when Vince McMahon had started creeping across the wrestling landscape with his national expansion? One of the reasons Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling could compete so effectively with the WWF was that they had an almost perfect concentration of stars in the Mid-Atlantic/Georgia region topped by Ric Flair. With no other territories able to compete against Vince, the NWA title didn’t ever leave that area, but what if WCCW was firing on all cylinders with David on top as champion? WCCW had crazy syndication, they were doing huge ratings as far away as Israel and were even on TV in the WWF stronghold of New York. With David as world champion could they have pushed forward and competed with Vince on his own ground? Or maybe they’d bolster Texas and take over Amarillo and El Paso, both vibrant markets while keeping a strong TV presence in enemy territory.
Another possibility is that the NWA would pull ranks and bring the title back to WCW after the panic of Black Saturday, leaving David and WCCW out in the cold while they send Flair and Dusty out to battle Hogan and Piper on the airwaves. A few possibilities arise here.
One is that David is brought into the fold by WCW to be one of their top stars. He’d have certainly been able to keep up and he and Dusty Rhodes would made a great pairing as a babyface tag team to go up against the Four Horsemen. This is kind of unlikely though. It’s improbable that David would abandon his home territory and his brothers Kerry and Kevin and its even less likely that all three would leave Dallas together to make the jump to WCW.
Another possibility is that when Vince McMahons Black Saturday coup fails he approaches Fritz about buying into WCCW and thus takes on Kevin, Kerry and David as well as Fritz’s TV which as we discussed was airing in his domain anyway. While it’s unlikely that the Von Erich brothers would be main event attractions during the Hulkamania Era they no doubt would be featured talent and a strong addition to the roster. With no apron strings attaching them to Texas they could then float down to WCW after a time too if they so desired. The NWA would probably be glad to have them without their father attached and could start promoting their own shows in Dallas with the Von Erichs on top.
Both of these scenarios are unlikely though. Fritz was a stubborn man by all accounts. When his syndicated TV was doing great numbers in NY he refused to break boundaries and promote shows their despite McMahon’s behaviour. One thing Fritz did do though eventually was split away from the NWA when he wasn’t getting his way. In our timeline this was seen as a foolish manoeuvre. WCCW didn’t have the star power to succeed on its own without the regular influx of NWA mainstays and any other free agents of worth were gone north to do business with McMahon. Eventually Fritz’s stand out’s like Rick Rude and the Dingo Warrior would do the same. Without the scar of tragedy on his territory and without a legacy of broken promises behind him he just might have had a chance.
David was The Yellow Rose of Texas and the biggest babyface in the lone star state when he died, and that lone star was on the rise. The state of Texas had a population of over 16,000,000 in 1985 and could easily have kept and independent and tightly run promotion afloat. If David had been given a substantial run as NWA Champion fans could take him seriously as the first ever WCCW World Champion. As it actually happened Rick Rude was unceremoniously named World Class Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion on February 20th 1986 and as great as Rude would become in the late 80’s with the WWF and later WCW in the early 90’s he wasn’t on the level of the WWF, NWA or AWA world champions of the day and it was painfully obvious. WCCW had become small time.
Maybe that same thing would happen with David on top or maybe it wouldn’t but either way the nationalisation of wrestling was inevitable and even if WCCW held out it would be small beans by the 90’s when WWF and WCW ruled the roost.
David Von Erich would’ve been 32 in 1990, the year his brother Kerry signed with the WWF. This was also the same year World Class Championship Wrestling melted into becoming part of Jerry Jarrett’s USWA. If David had stayed home and resisted the temptation to flee north until that point like “The Texas Tornado” had, there’s probably no doubt he’d have jumped by then too. As much as people like Jim Cornette held on to the days of old, by the 90’s wrestling was a different business and its fans were different people, David would’ve had to change with the times or be left behind. It becomes hazy to find a possible timeline for a star who was so tied into this region but I’m sure if given the opportunity David would’ve at least been a successful mid card attraction like his brother.
It’s been speculated by many in wrestling that if David had not died so young that maybe his brothers Chris and Mike wouldn’t have followed in his tragic footsteps, perhaps Kerry too? However, I can’t speak to their personal lives and their circumstances, I can only go by the world of mouth professional records that wrestlers of that age tend to leave behind so I won’t speculate on the mortality of the Von Erich family. What I will say though is that when the wrestling world lost David Von Erich they lost one of the best and as a fan it’s too hard not to look back and wonder what could have been had the Yellow Rose of Texas lived to fight another day.
If you have any theories of your own or if I’ve missed any vital points please let me know in the comments section.
You can read all previous ‘Alternative Wrestling History’ pieces here.