The history of World Class Championship Wrestling
Learn about the triumph and the tragedy of the Von Erich family and the impact that they made on sports-entertainment through their Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling.
World Class Championship Wrestling started in 1966 in a big silver barn called the Sportatorium on the corner of Cardiz Street and Industrial Boulevard in Dallas, Texas. Back then, when it was Big Time Wrestling and the mighty Fritz Von Erich ran the show and wrestled in the main events, it was a local thing. Folks along the Trinity River packed the house on Friday nights to see The Spoiler, Boris Malenko and The Golden Terror try to wrestle the American Title away from their hero, Fritz. But by the time Von Erich’s four sons, Kevin, Kerry, David and Chris, had taken the spotlight from their father in the early 1980s, World Class had become a sports-entertainment phenomenon from Fort Worth, Texas to Tel Aviv, Israel.
There isn’t much left of WCCW in Dallas today. The dilapidated Sportatorium was demolished in 2003, Fritz and four of his boys passed away all too soon and the last surviving son, Kevin, moved his family some 4,000 miles away to Hawaii long ago. But theirs is a story worth remembering. Here, WWE Classics offers a brief history of a sports-entertainment institution through photos, videos and conversations with Kevin Von Erich. Saddle up and ride.
Sept. 23, 1966
Made in Texas
Fritz Von Erich, one of the country’s leading wrestling villains, partners with Ed McLemore, owner of the Dallas-based Sportatorium, to take control of the Dallas–Fort Worth wrestling territory. The pair promotes shows in the area with Fritz usually competing in the main event against opponents like The Spoiler and Joe Blanchard. When McLemore dies of a heart attack in ’69, Fritz becomes the territory’s sole owner and a hero to the wrestling fans in Texas.
Aug. 9, 1976
The Von Erich Boys
Fritz’s eldest son, Kevin Von Erich, makes his ring debut in Fort Worth, Texas, defeating Paul Perschmann (who will later gain fame as “Playboy” Buddy Rose). In the years that follow, The Golden Warrior is joined by his brothers, David, Kerry and Mike, sparking off a sports-entertainment phenomenon that produces more screams from teenage girls than The Beatles invasion of America. ( WATCH)
April 1, 1982
Looking to give his company more of a national appeal, Fritz changes the name of his Big Time Wrestling to World Class Championship Wrestling. With that, the promoter invests in more modern television production, bringing cutting edge music videos, sharp graphics and unique vignettes to markets across the country and, eventually, the world. This modern approach to sports-entertainment creates a generation of new Superstars in “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin, The Great Kabuki, Gino Hernandez and many others. ( PHOTOS)
June 6, 1982
End of an Era
In what is billed as Fritz Von Erich’s retirement show, the Dallas icon defeats King Kong Bundy for the NWA American Heavyweight Championship in Texas Stadium, pinning the behemoth in the end zone in front of thousands of fans. ( WATCH) It is not the last time Fritz steps through the ropes, but it is the night he unofficially passes the torch to his sons, Kevin, Kerry and David.
Dec. 25, 1982
Freebirds of Prey
The legendary rivalry between The Von Erichs and The Fabulous Freebirds ignites on Christmas night during a Steel Cage Match between Kerry Von Erich and Ric Flair. Serving as the bout’s special guest referee, Von Erich ally and Freebirds leader Michael “P.S.” Hayes knocks out The Nature Boy and then blows a gasket when Kerry refuses to cover him. Things quickly escalate and Kerry ends up getting the cage door bashed against his head by Terry Gordy of The Freebirds. The ensuing enmity brings WCCW’s popularity to new heights. ( WATCH)
May 6, 1984
Parade of Champions
Three months after David Von Erich mysteriously dies in a Japanese hotel room, World Class Championship Wrestling holds a tribute show in Texas Stadium in honor of their fallen son. Dubbed the Parade of Champions, the event is headlined by a match pitting NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair against Kerry Von Erich. After walking to the ring to his brother’s entrance theme, Tanya Tucker’s “Texas (When I Die),” The Modern Day Warrior defeats “The Nature Boy” to win the title and fulfill a family dream. ( WATCH)
Oct. 27, 1984
Not Quite a Gentleman
As the red-hot rivalry between The Freebirds and The Von Erichs begins to a cool off, a new one heats up when British Superstar Chris Adams batters Kevin Von Erich with a wooden chair in front of a stunned audience in the Cotton Bowl. A onetime favorite of the World Class fans, the UK “Gentleman’s” brazen attack — and newfound alliance with the dastardly Gino Hernandez — makes him one of the promotion’s biggest villains and one of the family’s most loathed enemies.
Aug. 3, 1985
The Holy Land
Thanks to international syndication of the World Class Championship Wrestling television program, the Von Erich boys become wildly popular celebrities in Israel. WCCW takes advantage of their surprising fame in the Middle East by holding a series of small shows in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, Mike Von Erich suffers a shoulder injury during a bout. After leaving the hospital, Mike develops a 107-degree temperature due to toxic shock syndrome. The bacterial infection deeply affects the once promising young competitor’s health and well-being.
Oct. 28, 1985
A New Von Erich
Following the shocking death of David Von Erich, Fritz looks to add a new family member to WCCW by introducing a distant “cousin” named Lance Von Erich. ( WATCH) A handsome and well built young competitor, Lance is received well by the fans, but his cocky behavior begins to wear on Fritz and the family in the locker room. Eventually, in a revelation damages The Von Erichs’ relationship with the fans, Fritz publically dismisses Lance after revealing that he has no ties to the Von Erich name.
Feb. 20, 1986
A longtime affiliate of the National Wrestling Alliance, World Class Championship Wrestling headlined many of its biggest shows with Kevin or Kerry Von Erich battling Ric Flair for the illustrious NWA Title. But after recognizing that the championship is becoming a main part of Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic promotion, Fritz makes the decision to split away from the NWA and establish his own title. With that, WCCW becomes World Class Wrestling Association and Rick Rude is recognized as their first world champion.
Watts Stampedes over WCCW
Looking to expand his Oklahoma City-based Universal Wresting Federation deep into the heart of Texas, promoter “Cowboy” Bill Watts lures WCCW executive Ken Mantell away from the Von Erich family operation. When Mantell leaves, a majority of the World Class locker room follows, including The Fabulous Freebirds, Chris Adams, Kamala and One Man Gang. The loss of top talent is devastating to the WCCW product, but the promotion soldiers on.
Dec. 13, 1988
When Worlds Collide
Desperate to hold ground as Mr. McMahon’s WWE and Jim Crockett Promotions build steam through the pay-per-view market, WCCW partners with Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association and Jerry Jarret’s Continental Wrestling Association to present SuperClash III. The PPV event, which draws less than 2000 fans to Chicago’s UIC Pavillion, is headlined by AWA Champion Jerry Lawler defeating WCWA Champion Kerry Von Erich to unify the titles.
Aug. 4, 1989
Despite misgivings from Kevin Von Erich, the Von Erich family decides to merge with Jerry Jarrett’s Memphis-based CWA. Taking on the new name of the United States Wrestling Association, the amalgamation is reflected in the ring as the charismatic Eric Embry, representing the Tennessee contingent, battles WCCW’s P.Y. Chu-Hi and Devastation Inc. for control of the promotion. Embry wins the war and symbolically tears down the World Class Championship Wrestling banner in the Dallas Sportatorium, signaling an end of a major epoch in Texas wrestling history.
Sept. 30, 1989
After years of watching the action from the stands of the Sportatorium, a young Texas kid named Steve competes in his first match, defeating Frogman LeBlanc. Less than a decade after making his professional wrestling debut, the Texan wins the WWE Title by beating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV. By this time, he has shaved his head, rechristened himself “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and become the biggest Superstar sports-entertainment has ever seen.
Nov. 23, 1990
The Last Stand
Following a series of legal and personal disputes between Kevin Von Erich and Jerry Jarrett, the USWA pulls up stakes and leaves Dallas. Now, without a television program or many of the top stars that made WCCW great, Kevin promotes one of the final cards under the World Class Championship Wrestling name. The Golden Warrior defeats The Angel of Death in the show’s main event to win the Texas Heavyweight Title in what is Kevin’s last match in the legendary Sportatorium. The building is later demolished in February 2003.
April 5, 2009
Hall of Fame Family
On the night before The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, the Von Erich family is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by former ring rival and longtime friend Michael “P.S.” Hayes. Appropriately taking place in Texas, the occasion is somewhat somber when the sole surving member of the legendary sports-entertainment family, Kevin Von Erich, remembers his late brothers, Chris, David, Kerry and Mike, and father, Fritz. But there is no denying the emotional impact of the evening. ( PHOTOS)
The WWE Classics team would like to thank WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Von Erich for his invaluable help in compiling this timeline.