Recently, I was surfing the net and came across a web site that Kevin Adkisson (Von Erich) had set up to celebrate perhaps the greatest wrestling family of all time, the Von Erichs. There are some nice memories on there, as I grew up watching World Class Wrestling, as many of you know. One of the most interesting things on there was a very good story from the Dallas Observer about Kevin Von Erich that chronicles the history and tragedies of the family. It also talks about the changes that have gone on in the wrestling world since the height of NWA dominance in mid-80s. Also available from the web site is a video that included some of the family’s greatest matches, and I, being the big Von Erich mark I am, bought it and watched it.
The film, The Von Erichs: Front Row Ringside was apparently made around 1986 or 1987. The video contains remarks and remembrances by Fritz, Kevin, Kerry, and Mike Von Erich. It begins with footage of Fritz speaking about the family a little from their farm near Lake Dallas, Texas. Fritz is then shown in the ring at the historic Sportatorium in Dallas while some highlights of the Fritz’s matches are shown. The film then shows, in their entirety, historic matches from each one of the wrestling Von Erichs, excluding Chris Von Erich.
The match portion begins with the patriarch of the family, Fritz. Some highlights are shown. Fritz’s retirement match is then shown against King Kong Bundy (with hair!!!!) in Texas Stadium. This was for the American Heavyweight title (the NWA’s "regional" title for Texas). It is a decent match, with Fritz getting the obligatory Iron Claw on Bundy, and ends with Fritz braining Bundy with a chair and pinning him on the Texas Stadium floor. It is great to hear the legendary announcer Bill Mercer commentating on the match.
Next comes Kevin’s segment. Fritz states that Kevin was the most athletic of the boys. A match is shown which pitted Kevin against Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy for the American Heavyweight strap. Kevin looks very good, as he was in his prime in this match. Gordy also looks pretty sharp in this match. The great Bronco Lubich is the referee in this match. Kevin wins, of course, with a sort of twisting version of the moonsault.
The family then remembers David Von Erich. He was supposed to carry the banner into the future for the family. Many highlights are shown, most notably David putting then world champion Harley Race out with the Iron Claw in a non-title match in St. Louis. David always had a lot of charisma, and this was a nice remembrance. His death is talked about, and they talk about how he was supposed to wrestle Ric Flair for the NWA belt (and win it, but they don’t say that) in Texas Stadium. This leads into Kerry’s segment.
My personal favorite match of all time is shown. It was decided that Kerry would face Flair in 1984 in Texas Stadium. Ric Flair is in his prime here. He looks good and Kerry looks good. The atmosphere in Texas Stadium was electric. Flair and Kerry both work the crowd extremely well. I could not believe that watching this match again fourteen years later, my heart was still beating fast. Marc Lowrance is announcing and has a very good feel for the meaning of the match to the family and the people. Pretty good match, with Kerry taking the belt using a backslide of all things. I will never forget this match, and it was great to see it.
Mike’s segment is then shown. His first match, against General Skandar Akbar, is shown from Reunion Arena. They then detail his bout with toxic shock syndrome. At one point the family is told he has twenty minutes to live. His inspirational return to the ring is then chronicled.
The film ends with various highlights of all of the family together, along with commentary from all of the family members. They show parts of a match with David, Kerry, and Kevin (perhaps the greatest six-man tag team of all time) taking on the Freebirds (another awesome six-man team). This film reminded me of all of the things I loved about wrestling as a kid. We cheered for the Von Erichs as people. We wanted them to succeed because we liked them. Today, we cheer for the two guys to beat the hell out of each other. I would dare say that there are only a couple of wrestlers today that the fans can look up to as role models. No one cares about the wrestlers as heroes today, only their image and their finishing move. I suppose you can see this in the "legit" sports too, such as baseball and basketball. The matches did not have as many high risk moves or maybe were not as wrestled as well, but I’ll take Flair-Kerry or Flair-Dusty Rhodes over Hogan-Sting any day. These wrestlers seemed to enjoy the sport. You did not see as much selfishness or wrestlers refusing to job. It seemed like a very close-knit fraternity of men in those days, not a bunch of individuals out to be the top dog.
The film made me appreciate Ric Flair and the old NWA setup even more too. Here’s Flair, who goes into all of these different territories to wrestle against the hometown favorite. He was always the heel, yet he always put on a good show and worked his ass off night in and night out. The territories of the NWA were good in a another way. They allowed fans to root for local guys. It was so great when I first saw the world title match, because here was our guy, our local favorite, wrestling Flair, who was truly the "world" champ, because you could watch many of the different wrestling shows, and they were all gunning for one guy – Ric Flair.
Again, I thought this was a great film, and a great lesson in history for any wrestling fan. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who remembers the Von Erichs’ glory days and anyone who just wants to see what wrestling was before the promotions went national.