Highspots Presents: Voices of World Class with Bill Mercer and Marc Lowrance

This was filmed in 2014.

The host is Mike Johnson, from PWInsider fame

It runs at two hours and forty-seven minutes long

For those unaware, both Mercer and Lowrance were the announce team for World Class Championship Wrestling.

 

 

The interview starts with Johnson briefly going over the history of both guys as Mercer was doing radio before going into wrestling while Lowrance was originally brought into World Class as a ring announcer for three weeks then ended up staying for ten years.

 

 

Next, the guys talk about how they met. Lowrance talks about Mercer’s broadcasting career in baseball (with Harry Caray while he was doing White Sox games) and football before putting him over as a great, intelligent man. Mercer jokes that he first thought Lowrance was a bum before saying Lowrance had a nice voice and presence and from that they talk about how World Class started to shoot TV in Dallas as they were shooting in Fort Worth at the time on a different station.

 

 

Lowrance said he was going to work for three weeks, as told by Fritz Von Erich. Lowrance then talks about how they shot the TV show on Monday Night at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth and it was held in the can and shown on Saturday nights without any post-production and in its entirety as he also puts over Mercer for bringing credibility to the product. However, Mercer had to take a few Monday’s off to broadcast college basketball games and had a friend replace him. This friend, while a good announcer at other things, really struggled with wrestling so Lowrance thought to himself that he could do a better job and went up to Fritz, asking if he could get a shot to fill in for Mercer when he was away. Fritz told him he had the same thought and that night, they sent him out to do color while Mercer was the play-by-play guy. Lowrance said Mercer was helpful and guided him along and from that, World Class began to envision the syndicated show and pave the way to appeal to a larger audience. Lowrance said the production was so innovative for its day that Channel 11 (which had the Friday night show) started to get upstaged by them so they brought in a floor camera and wanted to do post-production and both stations, despite showing the same promotion, started to compete with each other.

 

 

Johnson brought up how channel 39 was a religious station that aired the “700 Club” with Pat Robertson and asked how wrestling worked so well on that channel as wrestling at its core is violent. Mercer said it was because that show made money and the channel had nothing else that did at the time. Mercer then said at this time it was like the wrestling gods gave them a pile of talent to use and it would be successful. He said that everyone believed in it and producer Mickey Grant had a vision for how it should be broadcasted. When asked how they got Fritz on board, Mercer starts to laugh and said when Grant and himself presented this idea to him on paper, with more action, closeups, and microphones around the ring, Fritz said no but later said yes when Channel 39 called him up as Mercer said that Fritz later took credit for the ideas. Mercer said he was trying to build a better show with Grant but had no idea it would take off in syndication. Mercer even tells a story of how in Israel, he was the 4th most famous TV personality behind the three Von Erich boys (David, Kerry, Kevin).

 

 

Lowrance talks about working with Mercer and how they were loyal and supportive to each other and it worked. Johnson brings up to Lowrance how in the “Heroes of World Class” DVD, Lowrance said working in wrestling helped prepared him for the ministry. Lowrance goes further into how he got hired by World Class. He talked about needing work for the Summer as he was in his last year of grad school and Boyd Pierce, the ring announcer at the time, left to work for Bill Watts. Someone close to Fritz was a fan of Lowrance’s work on commentary for hockey games and that was how he was brought into the company. Lowrance said that he knew nothing about wrestling and that Fritz paid generously and was pleasant and from that talks about how wrestling announcing typecasts your broadcasting career. Lowrance said no one would have known who he even was if not for the popularity of their show and the jealously from the local media, who was patronizing and condescending to the product. Mercer then puts over Lowrance for working extremely hard to improve and learn about the product as Lowrance himself talks about how he would sit in during the production meetings then sit with Gary Hart, who was the booker, as Hart would lay out their plans so the announcers could convey these stories to the audience. Lowrance also talks about how he learned the names of moves but also made some up, such as a “rollover drop.”

 

 

They are now asked about the Sportatorium and how despite being a dump, had an electric atmosphere. Mercer talks about one promoter in Dallas, Ed Macklemore, would not join the NWA and that pissed off the Houston guys and the NWA, who put in another wrestling venue between Dallas and Fort Worth then one day the original Sportatorium burned down (Mercer hints it was due to mafia-like behavior and it turned out the fire was deliberate) as Mercer talks about the new Sportatorium was built without air conditioning as Lowrance puts over the food, beer, and everything else that created a great atmosphere.

 

 

Johnson asks how they were able to take the Sportatorium and make it almost like a mecca of wrestling. Mercer puts over the seating arrangements and how it made for great viewing at a wrestling show. He also puts the production crew for making the building look the way it did. Lowrance talks about how he thought it was big time and a great venue the first day then saw a huge rat run over a steel beam right above him.

 

 

Regarding Fritz, Mercer talks about how he was a heel when he first met him in the 1950’s the over time started to drop the evil German act and became more obnoxious until one day, he said that he wanted to ease up because his boys were growing up and he did not want to be portrayed as a bad guy so he turned face as a result. Mercer said that he was friendly with him at the time. After that, Fritz became a promoter in Texas while still wrestling. When CBS decided to take over programming, they did not have TV to put on the product. When his boys got into the business, Mercer felt that Fritz became more irritable and egotistical, with the need to control everything. Lowrance chimes in and said he was an outsider and saw Fritz in a different light. He talks about Fritz saying the announcer was to be respected and revered by the talent, even the heels, like any other broadcaster. Lowrance said Fritz told him if the fans trust and respect the announcers, they will buy the product, noting he found out the hard way when Jerry Jarrett took over in 1988 and he was made to get roughed up by the heels. Lowrance also talks about Fritz slowing down in the ring in the 1980’s and became interested in conservative Christian religion, right when his boys broke into the business, after hearing a sermon that started his born-again Christian revival. However, Lowrance said those teachings were not who Fritz was as he tells a story while sitting in Fritz’s office and how he told Lowrance he had to be a born-again Christian to work with him. As that happened, the secretary called to say a wrestler was on the phone, upset about his payoff so Fritz picked up the phone and laid into the guy with every swear in the book and slammed the phone down before going back to telling Lowrance he needed to get involved in religion. Lowrance goes deeper into that by stating he felt that when the wrestlers were dying due to drugs, Fritz believed it was due to a wrath from god. Mercer talks about being a believer of the separation between church and state, with sports being the “state,” and how he lost some respect for Fritz when he got approached and asked by Fritz if he was Christian. Mercer told him its none of his business so Fritz responding by having his minister friend doing color commentary with him as Mercer objected, stating he did not want to have him drop religious facts on commentary. Mercer said the final straw was during David’s funeral where Fritz made reference to god wanting to remember David forever and to give us a champion, which would be Kerry. Mercer did not like family and religion being used to build up the product.

 

 

Johnson digs deeper about Fritz’s religious obsession and if they could talk to him about that as they both laugh then Mercer said not even the station, which was a Christian station, pushed religion on the show as it was just Fritz and his friend. Lowrance then joked how Fritz never took constructive criticism well. He then talks about Fritz’s ego and how he thought the syndicated show should all revolve around his kids because as long as they were front and center, the show would be a hit. Lowrance said that everyone else saw the other talents were just as important as he really puts over the heels for making the Von Erichs look better than they were as they did not have charisma and were really flat on interviews, despite having good looks and athletic ability. Lowrance also joked that Kerry said “I’m in the best shape of my life” in every interview he did, even when he did not have his foot. Mercer said Kerry was a nice guy but didn’t have the “smarts.”

 

 

Mercer says that it is fair to say Fritz forced wrestling upon his kids and tells a story. This was near the end of World Class as they were walking along the Sportatorium. Kevin asked Mercer if it was okay to hate your father as much as you love him. Kevin said that Fritz always told them what to do and would pay the top talent ten times as much as his own kids, always paying them the same amount. Mercer then said after that, Kevin called him up and said a promoter in Israel wanted to set up some shows that would pay them all very much. Mercer was going to get paid $10,000 (Kevin was getting $50,000) plus all expenses. Mercer said he was ready to go but Kevin called him back shortly after that and said the deal was off because Fritz had it in Kevin’s contract that he had to be paid the same amount as himself in any other venue. Lowrance talks about how the Von Erich boys lacked the self-confidence to make decisions on their own and as a result were constantly taking advantage of as they had no idea it was happening.

 

 

Johnson asks them if people were trying to tell Fritz about the problems his sons had with drugs. Mercer said that David Manning went to Fritz to tell warn him that his son Mike was selling drugs to the wrestlers and Fritz responded by firing Manning. Lowrance adds how Fritz was struggling with his own faith that he manufactured and would just deny that his kids had problems. Lowrance said everyone who told Fritz about his kids problems felt the wrath from Fritz.

 

 

Mercer talks about David Von Erich and how he was the best of the boys and had the most potential to do stuff outside of wrestling and that he is surprised that Kevin was able to survive the way that he did. Mercer credits Kevin’s wife, Pam, for helping him survive. He also thinks that Kevin was smart enough to realize what was happening when he approached him that time about hating his father. Lowrance said that Mike, Chris, and Kerry battled severe depression and how Kevin made better decisions to detach from his father, especially the last few years of the company where they were really at odds. Both guys put over Pam for being a wonderful person.

 

 

They are asked about how popular the Von Erich’s were with the fans, who would swarm the ring trying to get autographs and touch them in the aisles. Lowrance said that the security force consisted of senior citizens and one muscle guy and they sometimes caught guys who were unruly and drag them into an electrical room, which was described as a “living hell” and close to 120 degrees and beat the crap out of them until they nearly had to go to the hospital. He said that the regulars in attendance were afraid to act out because they knew what would happen. However, Lowrance pointed out that when Kerry won the title, the place went nuts and there were fans jumping up on his table, knocking down monitors because there was no one around to stop them.

 

 

Regarding the Fabulous Freebirds, Mercer said that Hayes was the leader while Roberts always seemed in another world and with Gordy, you never knew what he would do next. Mercer said that the Freebirds would invite them places and when he showed up, asked what he was doing there and they never accomplished what they were going to do. Mercer also laughs at Hayes thinking he was the one who made World Class huge as he was a part of it but there were many others who also contributed to that as Mercer said they had great heels, which are needed for a good show. Lowrance said that good heels learn to capture the weakness of humanity and prey upon it as he said Hayes was great at that.

 

 

Lowrance talks about how bad Fritz’s decision to do the angle in which he had a heart attack as it insulted the fanbase and was oblivious to all of the wrestlers that had died in the promotion.

 

 

On the Von Erich’s feud with Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams, Lowrance said Adams was super talented but hard to work with and had an inferiority complex to go along with anger management issues. Mercer said that Adams was trying to be as good as his own brother, who was an Olympian, and self-destructed. Lowrance said that Hernandez had an inferiority complex as well but a much nicer guy and was lonesome. Lowrance said he unfortunately connected with the wrong people as a result and that was how he got hooked on cocaine. Mercer then talks about his death and said he was told their was just a tiny amount of cocaine in his system and how he owed a lot of money to the wrong people and the assumption was that he was murdered. As Johnson wonders what could have been in wrestling had Hernandez lived as he was rumored to be heading to the Carolinas to team with Tully Blanchard, Lowrance said that if Fritz had the wherewithal to understand the fragile nature of his own kids and other young talent dealing with fame, stardom, and money to bring in resources to help them be better equipped to make decisions as he said investing in your talent long-term can help avoid this as Mercer talks about the NFL helping out their players like that as Johnson brings up the WWE Wellness Policy as he explains it to the guys.

 

 

About Gary Hart’s departure, Mercer said he was great at judging talent and putting together ideas. Mercer also said he was a great friend of his. Lowrance said that Hart was extremely committed to his work and almost loyal to a fault. He said Hart was the master of being subtle and do all sorts of little things no one would notice. Lowrance also thinks that Ken Mantell was working Fritz to get into that role and did when Hart left over a payoff at a Christmas Star Wars show. They talk about all the guys that came in after Mantell left to help book like Buck Robley, Brusier Brody, and others until Jerry Jarrett took over, when World Class merged with his CWA to form the USWA, and did not want to pay talent or production and ended up running it into the ground.

 

 

The guys now talk about some of the talents. Mercer said the Great Kabuki was a “pleasant Japanese person” and always pleasant. Mercer said that Percy Pringle (Paul Bearer) was a character and fun but sometimes overbearing. Lowrance said he was a kind person who loved wrestling and was quite intelligent. He also puts him over for being a good family man. Mercer said that Bruiser Brody never wanted people giving him instructions and if a new guy came in and tried to show him up, Brody would destroy him. He tells another story about two guys tried to jump him in the Sportatorium so he dragged them behind the door and beat the shit out of both guys. Lowrance said Brody was incredibly instinctive in the ring and just a fiercely independent guy. He also said that Brody had a big heart but did not want anyone to know that. Lowrance said Brody saved and invested his money and put it all in his family while never going out to eat as he carried around canned tuna all the time and ate that. He also never washed his ring gear and it reeked but Brody thought it went with his appearance and character. Lowrance tells a story about Skandor Akbar. Some little kid, who was about five years old, came up to Lowrance for an autograph. After he signed it, the kid asked Lowrance to tell Akbar that he is an asshole. Lowrance said Akbar was the most hated heel they had. Lowrance also said Akbar would find the most disgusting woman in the crowd and grab the mic, referring to her as “Mrs. Marc Lowrance.”

 

 

On other guys in the territory, Lowrance put Killer Tim Brooks over as a solid midcard talent. He also said that Armand Hussein should have been a standup comedian but was not a very good wrestler. Mercer said he will never forget Jimmy Garvin then talks about Sunshine and how she had great presence but got involved with drugs. Lowrance talks about they got involved in the sexual innuendo before well before the WWF Attitude Era. Lowrance talks about Missy Hyatt and how she was gorgeous and drew a male crowd. Lowrance said that Al Perez was a good talent with a solid presence but came around when the promotion was dying and if he was around when it was hot, they might have been able to do something with him. Mercer thought David Manning was a smart guy who worked hard and enjoyed his work as a referee. Mercer said he was never a real big fan of Al Madril as a wrestler as Lowrance calls him a good, midcard talent. Mercer said that Bill Irwin was a nice guy and how his brother Scott’s death really effected him. Lowrance said he is down to earth and a versatile performer. They talked about the Missing Link and how he lived in a nudist colony and that his wife looked like Dracula. Mercer said he is a funny guy as they joke the lights are on but no one is home. Lowrance liked King Kong Bundy and said that he once put the car in neutral while Lowrance was driving 70 miles per hour on route 281.

 

 

Lowrance is asked about the merger with the USWA and the influx of talent. He said that Kevin was not excited about that then talks about how Jarrett was cheap and the psychology he employed left a bad taste in his mouth. Lowrance said they slashed his salary in half, along with producer Keith Mitchell and Ken Mantell, but they didnt bring in good talent and knew it was time to leave. Lowrance does call Jarrett a master manipulator who was comical and good to be around.

 

 

On if they miss wrestling, neither guy does as Mercer talks about how it is different than any other sport. Both guys are happy that they did the job though. Lowrance talks about he became really close and friendly after wrestling with Mercer.

 

 

The final question asked if there is a definitive moment in World Class. Mercer said its the image of the Von Erich Boys running down to the ring at the Sportatorium. Lowrance said his most exciting moment was his first show he called and the defining moments were the cage door and the night Kerry won the NWA Title.

 

 

Final Thoughts: I thought this was a solid interview. I came away liking both guys and they told interesting stories and were especially candid when talking about Fritz. It really painted a bad picture of him as a person.
My only complaint was that the interview was a little hard to follow at times. Also, the first twenty or so minutes and the last ten were not too good and probably could have been cut out. As an interviewer, Johnson was knowledgeable and mostly asked good questions but he didnt really guide the interview much at all. It wasnt very structured if you ask me.

Overall, I do recommend this shoot. Longtime fans of World Class will appreciate this and does not too familiar with the history of the promotion can get a bit of a lesson here as well. You get a lot of information about the popularity of World Class and some good behind the stories along with a lot of insight into the Von Erich Family. I also came away liking both guys as Mercer, who was 88 years old here, still had a fairly shape mind. Lowrance, who is now a minister at a United Methodist Church (which he said does not discriminate against race, gender, or sexual orientation) also had a lot of insight too from a more outside perspective as he spent his whole wrestling announcing career at World Class.

 

You can purchase the DVD of this shoot for $14.99 or download a digital copy for $9.99 by clicking on the links below:

http://www.highspots.com/p/vowc.html

http://www.highspots.com/p/VD_voicesofworldclass.html

 

 

Here is my schedule for the rest of the week:

Friday @ 3pm EST: WWF 1987 Slammy Awards

Sunday @ 830pm EST: WWF Wrestling Challenge 12/20/87

Tuesday @ 900pm EST: WWF Superstars of Wrestling 12/26/87

Thursday @ noon EST: Shoot Interview TBD

 

 

Also, feel free to email me any questions at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mrbayless1982