World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) was the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territory that proved everything is bigger in Texas, whether it was their wrestlers, matches, or supercards. Wrestler Fritz Von Erich (aka Jack Adkisson) promoted the territory, taking it to unprecedented heights during the 1980’s through clever booking and a top-rate showcase of stars, several which were his sons. In 1986, World Class seceded from the NWA, but internal conflict, incredible tragedy, and a loss of talent led to the promotion’s demise by the end of the decade.
Dallas, Texas’ fabled Sportatorium was home to some of Texas’ greatest wrestling matches. It was in the Sportatorium that wrestler Fritz Von Erich joined forces with Ed McLemore to promote Big Time Wrestling, breaking off from Paul Boesch’s Houston Wrestling. In 1969, Von Erich assumed control following McLemore’s fatal heart attack.
Once a hated heel, Fritz Von Erich played a babyface in Big Time Wrestling, battling a variety of heels. Although he received NWA World Heavyweight Championship title bouts and was considered for the championship, Adkisson never held the title. However, in 1975, he was elected NWA President.
Big Time Wrestling featured a number of stars but Fritz focused on making his sons the center of the promotion. Oldest son Kevin Von Erich, debuted in 1976 and would be the first of several in the Von Erich clan to work for his dad. Wrestling promoters often promoted their sons, regardless of wrestling talent, but a look at the Von Erich boys’ work suggests they all had varying degrees of talent ranging from average to above average. Brothers Mike, Kerry, David, and Kevin won over the fans (youngest Chris Von Erich would wrestle briefly), guaranteeing Papa Fritz a core group of babyfaces he could count on for his territory.
In 1982, Fritz renamed Big Time Wrestling to World Class Championship Wrestling, setting out to make World Class a top-rate production. As Max Levy writes, “The renamed promotion had a revolutionary, high production values TV program taped with six cameras, high quality lighting, state of the art graphics, full instant replay capabilities, and interview and personality profile pieces that were largely unheard of at the time for a professional wrestling program.” The territory also utilized promotional tools such as music videos and entrance music, and while World Class wasn’t the first promotion to utilize them, they used them well, adding to the show’s appeal. World Class also boasted a wider audience thanks to its airing in syndication (including international syndication) and the Christian Broadcast Network.
1982 saw World Class experience its hottest angle- the Fabulous Freebirds’ heel turn on the Von Erich family. Christmas Night was the night World Class fans felt Kerry Von Erich would finally triumph over “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for Flair’s NWA World Heavyweight Championship, meeting the wily Flair in a steel cage match. The Freebirds had entered World Class as babyfaces and allies to the Von Erich family, and the ‘Birds were ready to help Von Erich fulfill his dream. With Freebird Michael Hayes serving as special referee and Freebird Terry Gordy standing outside the cage, there was zero chance of chicanery. Unfortunately, when Hayes punched out Flair after Flair got in his face, Von Erich refused to take the easy pin. An angry Hayes went to leave the cage, only for Flair to knee Von Erich into him. The situation broke down as Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Von Erich’s head, ensuring Flair’s victory. The stage was now set for the promotion’s hottest feud, as the Von Erichs battled the Freebirds.
The Von Erich brothers were all talented but David Von Erich was seen by many as the best of the Von Eric brothers, in terms of looks, charisma, and ability. He ventured outside of Texas, finding success in Florida, Georgia, and All-Japan Pro Wrestling (Hornbaker). Many insiders saw David Von Erich as a future NWA World Heavyweight Champion. However, that dream vanished when David died in his sleep on February 10, 1984, while touring Japan. The medical report stated a ruptured small intestine but rumors alleging drug use continue to this day.
On May 6, 1984, World Class ran its David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions supercard in Texas Stadium, highlighted by a main event between Kerry Von Erich and NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair. Von Erich defeated Flair with a backslide, finally bringing the gold home to the Von Erich family. Unfortunately, the NWA members’ uncertainty about Von Erich’s ability to hold the belt for a lengthy period led to a short title reign, with Flair regaining the belt in Yokosuka City, Japan less than three weeks later.
While World Class was built around the Von Erichs, the promotion featured a number of stars. World Class included babyfaces such as such as Iceman Parsons, “Gentleman” Chris Adams, Brian Adidas, the Fantastics, Bugsy McGraw, and Bruiser Brody. World Class featured a solid stable of heels to oppose the Von Erich brothers and their allies. In addition to the Freebirds, there were monster heels such as Kimala, the Angel of Death, the Great Kabuki, and the One Man Gang; and a parade of other villains including “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin, Gino Hernandez Rick Rude, and the Dingo Warrior (later to find superstardom as the Ultimate Warrior). Inevitably, family friends turned foe including “Gentleman” Chris Adams who betrayed Kevin Von Erich and sparked one of the promotion’s hottest feuds (including a memorable tag team with Gino Hernandez as “The Dynamic Duo”), and Brian Adidas, another friend turned foe. Managers Gary Hart and Skandor Akbar were at the forefront of causing headaches for the Von Erichs but others such as Jim Cornette and Percy Pringle (later known as Paul Bearer) caused their fair share of mayhem as well. World Class also featured sexy ladies including Jimmy Garvin’s valets Sunshine and Precious; and sexpot Missy Hyatt, who managed John Tatum.
World Class was known for its supercards, often held in stadiums and featuring some of the promotion’s biggest matches. These included the holiday “Star Wars” shows, the Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, and its Cotton Bowl shows. During the promotion’s heydays, these shows proved lucrative, but as World Class waned, the cost of running stadium shows with a poor turnout proved costly.
As the WWF expanded and the NWA shrank, Fritz Von Erich chose to pull World Class out of the NWA, hoping to become a national promotion. Unfortunately, the timing was poor. Had Von Erich chosen to do so earlier in the 80’s, he might have succeeded given the promotion’s reach via syndication and plethora of stars. By 1986, several of World Class’ top stars were leaving for other promotions such as the WWF, Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation, and Jim Crockett Promotions. Worst of all, the Von Erich family was losing its saintly status among fans; the combination of personal demons affecting Kerry and Mike Von Erich, and Fritz Von Erich bringing in a fake Von Erich family member.
In 1985, Fritz brought in wrestler Ricky Vaughn as Ricky Von Erich, a supposed Von Erich cousin. With Mike Von Erich sidelined due to toxic shock syndrome, Fritz felt he needed someone to lighten his sons’ workload. This backfired when Vaughn left World Class over a financial dispute and Fritz was forced to acknowledge Ricky had never been a Von Erich. This deception and the Von Erich’s problems outside the ring tarnished the family image.
As World Class’ problems mounted, they joined forces with Memphis’ Continental Wrestling Association, and later, the American Wrestling Association. Fritz sold World Class to Jerry Jarrett (Kerry and Kevin retained minority ownership) and the promotion became the USWA. As 1990 neared its end, Jerry Jarrett left Texas. Kevin Von Erich would hold one final World Class show in the Sportatorium on November 23, 1990, with World Class soon joining the many promotions that fell by the wayside during the 1980’s.
The Von Erich family entertained many fans but the family was plagued by tragedy as David died under mysterious circumstances (oldest brother Jack died at age six in a freak accident), and brothers Mike, Chris, and Kerry took their lives. Patriarch Fritz passed away in 1997 at age 68 from cancer. Despite the Von Erich’s calamities, they and World Class Championship Wrestling made undeniable contributions to the wrestling industry and in 2009, the WWE honored the Von Erich legacy by inducting the entire family into its Hall of Fame. Surviving member Kevin Von Erich accepted the award while Kerry’s daughter Lacey and Kevin’s sons Ross and Marshall carry on the Von Erich tradition.
Hornbaker, Tim. National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled
Pro Wrestling. ECW Press, 2007.
Flair, Ric. Mark Madden ed. Ric Flair: To Be the Man. World Wrestling Entertainment, 2004.
Heroes of World Class: The Story of the Von Erichs and the Rise and Fall of World Class Championship Wrestling. Directed by Brian Harrison, performances by Skandar Akbar and Gino Hernandez, 2006.
“The History of World Class Championship Wrestling.” WWE.com. http://www.wwe.com/classics/wccw/history-of-wccw. Accessed 15 June 2017.
Meltzer, Dave. Wrestling Observer’s Tributes: Remembering Some of the World’s Greatest Wrestlers. Winding Stair Press, 2001.
Rickard, Michael. Wrestling’s Greatest Moments. ECW Press, 2008.
Stark, John. “Regional Territories: WCCW.” Kayfabe Memories. World Class Championship Wrestling #3. http://www.kayfabememories.com/Regions/wccw/wccw3.htm. Accessed 15 June 2017.
Stark, John. “Regional Territories: WCCW.” Kayfabe Memories. World Class Championship Wrestling #4. http://www.kayfabememories.com/Regions/wccw/wccw4.htm. Accessed 15 June 2017.
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling. Performances by Abdullah the Butcher, Chris Adams, and Brian Adidas, 2007.