Aww yeah, this is my jam! To be honest, I called dibs on this because, in an era where my friends were debating if Hogan and Piper could beat Flair and Harley, I was over in the corner watching WCCW on ESPN and saying Kerry Von Erich was better than all of them. Look, I was 6 at the time, okay? (Disclosure: I’m 38 now, so this show took place before I knew what wrestling was.) It’s still a shame that the Kerry most people know was the shell of himself in the WWF from 1990-92, because if he’d stayed sober he’d have been a game-changer. Anyway, this is from 1981, so he’s just one of the brothers, but that doesn’t mean I’m not down for some World Class!
From Dallas, Texas, December 25, 1981, and technically promoted by NWA Big Time Wrestling. No word on attendance. (“Here’s some money; go see a Star War.”)
Your host is Bill Mercer, and your ring announcer is Marc Lowrance. They’re like old friends to me.
Ernie Ladd vs. Jose Lothario.
The NWA Texas Brass Knuckles title is on the line here, so this is relaxed rules and both men have taped fists. So we skip over El Negro Assassino going 15 in a draw with Richard Blood (aka Ricky Steamboat) as well as Tiny Tom and Little Tokyo in a dwarf match. There are two rings set up, but this being an undercard match, it’s confined to the ring on the right. Lothario is better known as a trainer, obviously.
Ladd is nervous about knuckling up with the boxer Lothario to start, staying by the ropes at all opportunities. Lothario gets the headlock, and Ladd gets him to the corner and slugs away. Lothario retaliates, and Ladd bails to the other ring to break. (This is kind of surreal seeing the 6’9 Ladd acting afraid of the 5’9 Lothario, but that was Big Cat for ya.) Back in, Lothario tries a bearhug to wear the back down, which allows Ladd to unload with fists. Into the turnbuckle, and Ladd chokes away. Ladd with fists to the throat and more choking. To the bearhug, then he slams him into the buckle and more throat thrusts. Lothario tries a comeback, but Ladd boxes him down with his superior reach only to be caught by an uppercut. Lothario actually gets a standing eight-count out of it as Ladd stays in the ropes to avoid contact. Ladd goes to his tights for an international object, which he slams into Lothario’s neck. Another shot, and then Ladd chops Lothario down. Another chop sends Lothario to the floor, and Ladd beats on him on the apron. Lothario stops Ladd and slams him into the buckle, then comes off with a flying fistdrop for the pin at 6:33. Lots of punching and stalling from Ladd. 1/2*
El Solitario vs. Tim Brooks.
Aw, man, they don’t have the Blue Demon match? This is for the UWA Light Heavyweight title. Brooks with the single-leg to start, but Solitario does a headstand to bridge. He flips Brooks, who bails to the apron. Now Solitario with the single-leg, but Brooks scrambles to the ropes to escape. Test of strength, which Brooks wins with a kick but doesn’t follow up. A second try, and Solitario with a dropkick that pops the crowd. Brooks controls with a headlock, and they do the International Sequence with Solitario getting a hiptoss and some thrust kicks to the gut.
Okay, pause. A little inside baseball I learned from Mike Quackenbush: the International is commonly used between two wrestlers unfamiliar with each other. Here’s how it works: heel gets a side headlock; face backs him into the ropes and shoots him off; heel with a shoulder tackle, then he runs the ropes; face drops down, usually adds a leapfrog or lucha paseo, then lands a hiptoss or other move. And now you know. Back to the action.
Brooks pushes Solitario to the ropes and chops him down, adding a right hand and a kneelift. Solitario sent to the turnbuckle, then Brooks chokes him on the top rope, in fact tangling his head between the ropes like a hangman. Kneedrop gets two. Back body drop by Brooks, and another kneedrop gets two. Solitario with a sunset flip for two, then a series of dropkicks in the corner that sends Brooks to the apron. Brooks suckers Solitario itno the corner and slams his mask into the buckles, but Solitario blocks and sends Brooks into the post. Solitario with a plancha to the outside (“diving bodyslam” if you’re Mercer), and both men are back in as a diving bodypress ends it at 5:32. Some pretty decent action for a five-minute match. *1/2 Al Madril celebrates with Solitario post-match.
Fritz Von Erich vs. Great Kabuki.
So this is a Texas Death Match, which “will continue until one man is physically unable to continue”. In practice, this means a three-count, then 30 seconds rest, then a 10-count to get back up. Both rings are in play for this one, and it’s a no-DQ match with both referees. Gary Hart seconds Kabuki, as is right and proper. Fritz is getting mugged for autographs during introductions. Kabuki gets the ASIAN MIST OF DOOM out of the way pre-match. Green, before you ask. Kabuki jumps Fritz when the latter is taking his shirt off, but Fritz stops him and slugs away. Snapmare, but Kabuki blocks the Claw. Kabuki gets Fritz on his back, but Fritz kicks away and reverses to the stomach Claw. Kabuki makes the ropes, so a submission can’t count. Of course, Fritz doesn’t have to let go, so he doesn’t.
Kabuki finally uses the ropes to break and goes to the outside. Fritz won’t let Kabuki in, but Kabuki with a shot to give himself the chance. Fritz cuts him off (Kabuki’s body language is begging for it), and it’s some kicks to the gut. Fritz with a couple of rights, but Kabuki blocks the Claw again and chops Fritz down. Mongolian chop and thrust kick by Kabuki and he bites Fritz. Kabuki chokes Fritz on the ropes, but Fritz bites the hand to break. Big left to the gut by Fritz, who just boxes him down and adds a shot to the back. Fritz chucks Kabuki to the other ring and adds a kneesmash, but he teases the Claw too long and Kabuki with a strike to the head from the prone position. Kabuki chokes Fritz in the corner, then an armpit nerve hold as Hart and Bronko Lubic argue in the other ring. Kabuki with a chop to the shoulder, and back to the nerve hold. Fritz attacks the throat to break, then slides outside to beat up Hart.
Kabuki follows and they brawl on the floor. Kabuki tries for a chair, but Fritz cuts him off. Fritz slams Kabuki into the apron and pushes David Manning away before getting another stomach Claw. Back in the ring, and they slug it out with Kabuki winning the exchange. Headshot by Kabuki, but Fritz kicks at the knee to take over again. More punches, but Kabuki chops Fritz back into the first ring. Eye poke by Fritz, and he catches a thrust kick before applying the Iron Claw. Kabuki slowly fades (very slowly, but the crowd’s into it so whatever), and eventually he’s down for the pin. Fritz won’t let go so they can start the count, and it takes both refs to pry him off, but he goes right back to it as even Gary Hart comes in to protest. So Fritz beats up Hart as Kabuki beats the count up. The Claw appears to have allowed Kabuki to blade.
Fritz jumps him and keeps pounding away in the ropes, into another Claw. But they’re in the ropes, so no decision can be rendered. Meanwhile, Hart beats up Manning while Lubic asks for a break, and the top turnbuckle on the opposite side falls off. Fritz sends Hart into the bolt, then he throws Manning to the opposite ring (AMAZING bump by Manning), which allows Kabuki to recover and slam Fritz into the bolt. Everyone’s down (except for Lubic, who has never bumped in all the time I’ve seen him), and Kabuki chokes Fritz on the apron. (Sidebar: could Bronko be the least mobile person ever to achieve a level of infamy in wrestling? Even Great Khali could bump some.) Both men hit the throat at the same time, and Lubic rules both men out. But that brings us to sudden death, first man standing wins. Hart rolls Fritz to the floor and throws soda in Kabuki’s face to wake him up, and it works for the win at 14:32. Way too slow and protected for the stips. * Kabuki and Hart threaten Fritz, so Kevin runs in to clean house.
The Von Erich Brothers vs. Frank Dusek, Bill Irwin, and Ten Gu.
Gu is the Japanese version of Kendo Nagasaki. It’s Kevin, Kerry, and David representing the family with Mike in the corner. So the rules are that there’s a legal man in each ring with the third man able to tag into whichever ring he can. They have to clear the fans from ringside. So it’s Dusek v David in one ring and Irwin v Kerry in the other. Kevin then takes over with Dusek while David takes Irwin. Irwin brings Gu in as everyone jockeys for position. David (the one in black) works Gu’s arm. Gu works a headlock, as does Kevin on Dusek. He adds a kick to Irwin, drawing him in to get bumped into a Santo-style double takedown. David races in, leaving Kerry with Gu to give him a dropkick. Kerry with roundhouse rights to Gu, and a sleeper follows. Dusek breaks, and David follows.
Gu takes over on Kerry as Kevin does a headlock takedown on Irwin. Dusek in for Gu, and he gets a chinlock on Kerry. Heels almost collide on coincidental whips, with Kevin getting two on Irwin as David tags Kerry. Irwin and Gu double-team Kevin, while Kerry does a ring to ring crossbody on Dusek for two. Dusek goes to the eyes as Irwin does a running stomp on Kevin, and Gu and David are in the other ring. David with a headscissor takedown for one, but Gu fires back. David is sent into Dusek’s knee, and he adds an axhandle for two as David uses the ropes. Meanwhile, Kerry with a headscissors of his own and he controls Irwin. David with a suplex on Dusek for two, and Dusek’s in the ropes. Kevin and Gu fight between the rings while waiting for a tag as Kerry and Irwin go to the floor.
Kerry with a snapmare and second-rope kneedrop for two back in, while Gu tags in the other ring to help Dusek attack David. Dusek switches over with Irwin to take Kerry, who is stuck on the apron. David gives Gu a kneelift, but Irwin tags in as Dusek suplexes Kerry back in. Dusek’s flying kneedrop misses as Kerry rolls away. Meanwhile, Kevin gets the hot tag from David and works over Irwin with shots in the corner and a kneedrop for two. Irwin brings Gu in to control Kevin with stomps. Kerry keeps working Dusek’s leg in the other ring, so we focus on this ring as Irwin slams Kevin, but misses a flying whatever. Gu races into the Claw by Kevin, but Irwin tries to break only to his Gu by mistake. Kevin with the elbowdrop to finish at 11:30. I mean, the concept is unique, but I think this was a little too hard to follow to be effective. That said, you can’t say there wasn’t something happening at all times. **1/4
Battle Royal: so we have 16 men in two rings for this one. It’s Al Madril, Armand Hussein, Big Daddy Bundy (yes, that Bundy), Bill Irwin, Blue Demon, Carlos Zapata, David Von Erich, Frank Dusek, Jose Lothario, Kerry Von Erich, Negro Assassino, Richard Blood, Ten Gu, and Tim Brooks…. wait a minute, that’s only 14. Who are you protecting, Wikipedia!?
Okay, so the graphic for the show is wrong. Wouldn’t be a Fritz Von Erich event without a blatant lie, would it?
So everyone starts in Ring A before being thrown into Ring B. Then, from Ring B to the floor. Winners of both rings face off for 10 grand. And we’re off! Brooks and Dusek double-team Kerry, while Bundy works over David. Everyone piles up on the ropes near the other ring for obvious reasons. Demon works over Hussein while David has the Claw on Brooks. Lothario has Zapata in the corner as Bundy beats on anything that moves. Blood with right hands on Irwin as Demon and Madril square off. David gets thrown into Ring B, with Brooks following soon after.
Brooks is busted open as Madril and Demon get tossed over. David and Brooks fly out of the ring as Lothario, Kerry, and Dusek switch rings. Kerry jumps down to assist David and I have no idea if that counts. Meanwhile, Bundy clears Ring A to move to the final. Demon pulls Hussein out, but the momentum carries him out as well. Kerry back in (he went out via the middle rope) as everyone beats on people indiscriminately. Kerry tosses Dusek before getting jumped from behind by Gu. Assassin tries to toss Madril, but Madril with a headscissors and they’re out. Pretty sure I missed a few people, but the camerawork here is leaving a lot to be desired.
Kerry gets a sleeper on Gu, but they tumble out. We’re down to Irwin, Blood, Lothario, and Bundy as Zapata’s tossed by Blood. Irwin tosses Blood soon after, and we’re down to Irwin/Blood in Ring B with Bundy waiting. Lothario with a big chop and he charges, but Irwin low bridges him out as it’s Bundy vs. Irwin for 10 grand. Dusek calls time and gives some advice to Irwin. That advice? “Never act like an NHL player for your wrestling career.”
Irwin moves to Ring A and suckers Bundy over to get the advantage, but the fight is in Ring B. Bundy fights out of the corner and smashes Irwin up, adding a running elbow. Elbowdrop misses as Dusek cheers Irwin on. Curbstomp by Irwin, and he tries to toss Bundy. Bundy fights out of it and smashes Irwin around, then tries to throw him out. Irwin blocks, so he gets a clubberin for his trouble. Both men try to leverage the other out, and Irwin with a thumb to the eye to get control. Irwin gets Bundy on the ropes, but Bundy lands on the apron. Irwin tries to charge Bundy to knock him out, but Bundy low bridges and wins the event at let’s say 11:53. I can see why most battle royals don’t get rated, but the final two was a neat bit of theater. Plus, Bundy with hair is just mind-blowing. So let’s call it *3/4 all told.
MATCH TIME: 50:00 even over five matches
BEST MATCH: The six-man tag
KAYFABE MVP: Big Daddy Bundy
BRONKO LUBIC MOBILITY: 0
FINAL SCORE: Meh, 4/10. You’re not watching this for the great wrestling; you’re watching for a slice of nostalgia. Getting to see people like Ernie Ladd, Fritz Von Erich, Great Kabuki, and Kendo Nagasaki is a real treat. This is what you want out of a Hidden Gem. The crowd is totally into the Von Erichs, and you can see the sparks of what would allow Fritz to ride them to national prominence – especially Kerry, whose physique and good looks meant he had “star” written all over him. Bear in mind, he’s only 21 here!
Still, this is pre-Freebirds and pre-Flair appearances, so it feels like watching ECW while it was still Eastern Championship Wrestling. You don’t get the flavor of what made World Class special, but you do see the seeds of what it would become. The lucha influence with Lothario and Solitario is there (and the Von Erichs throwing headscissors was pretty neat), plus you had a trailblazer in Great Kabuki and some good vets like Madril and Nagasaki. The whole thing only runs about 70 minutes. Check it out when you have time.
See you around, folks!