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Wrestling’s Greatest Feuds: The Fabulous Freebirds vs. The Von Erichs by Hank McAllen

Christmas time has always been associated as a time for giving. We all gather around the tree in anticipation of what gifts Santa has brought us. Little did we realize it at the time, but on Christmas night 1982 we were given the gift of the start to maybe the greatest wrestling feud of all time; the Von Erichs vs. the Fabulous Freebirds. This was back in a time boys and girls when two of the biggest nights of the year in the wrestling business were Thanksgiving night and Christmas night. The theory of most of the promoters, especially Fritz Von Erich, was you open your presents in the morning, what are you going to do in the afternoon? Which left the night time for only one thing, wrasslin’. Nowadays, there’d be a riot amongst the non kayfabe dressing room if you asked a wrestler to work on Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Initially, the Dallas territory was never considered a marquis market for a wrestler to make significant money back in the day. Texas had numerous territories across the state, including Amarillo (the Funks), Dallas (the Von Erichs), Houston (Paul Boesch), El Paso (the Guerrero’s) and San Antonio (the Blanchards). Due to the lack of cable TV and the size of the state, a wrestler could make a good living by just roaming from territory to territory without leaving the state. None of the individual territories in Texas though stood out to rival the opportunities and money that either Georgia Championship Wrestling or Florida Championship Wrestling could, let alone the AWA or the WWWF. This all changed though when three young men, hailing from Backstreet, Georgia arrived in Dallas, Texas to take on the sons of the great Fritz Von Erich

Michael P.S. Hayes, the P.S. stood for Purely Sexy, arrived in Dallas in 1982, and he was initially only going to be in Dallas for two shows. Upon arriving to WCCW, Hayes hit it off with promoter Gary Hart and was offered a job, along with Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy with the idea of them being part of WCCW’s Star Wars Show coming up at the end of the year. Initially Hayes and Gordy took a wait and see approach, before signing on the dotted line. Hayes’ first match in WCCW took place on October 11, 1982 against Frank Dusek. It was during this initial match that Hayes could see that there was a growing young fan base, and that the Von Erich brothers were over like nothing he had seen in quite some time. Hayes made it a point to reach out to Gordy and tell him to finish up his time in Georgia and get to Dallas as soon as possible because something big was about to happen.

Birds

At first, Michael Hayes, who was now joined by Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts, were friends of the Von Erichs. They were over with the fans as faces and were going up against most of the notorious heels of the region (Bill Irwin, Destroyer #1, King Kong Bundy, Magic Dragon, The Great Kabuki and Killer Tim Brooks). Occasionally they’d team together and help each other out when necessary. But, that all came to a change as 1982 drew to a close.

Being a member of the NWA, World Class, like the other territories, would have the Heavyweight Champion defend their belt over the various top regional contenders from time to time. Ric Flair was the NWA Champion in late 1982 and was having a series of matches against David and Kerry Von Erich. Flair had defeated Kerry in a title match in which the Nature Boy had used some questionable techniques to retain his title. This was the impetus for the fans to take part in a vote that would determine who the special second referee would be in the ring to ensure that there were no shenanigans and that there’d be a clear winner. Also, to make sure things wouldn’t get out of control, the match would take place in a steel cage AND there would also be a special enforcer outside of the ring as well. Sounds like the perfect plan for nothing to go wrong, right? Well think again.

As luck would have it, Michael Hayes won the fan vote to be the guest referee and it was determined that Terry Gordy would be the outside enforcer, who would act as gate keeper. Over 18,000 people jammed Reunion arena that Christmas night wondering if that would be the night that Kerry would take the strap from Flair. Everything seemed to be going as planned that night. When Buddy Roberts was unable to make the card, David Von Erich volunteered to be Hayes and Gordy’s partner for the World Six Man Championship match against Iron Mike Sharpe, Ben Sharpe & Tom Steele. After the ‘Birds and Von Erich won, David relinquished his potion of the title to Buddy. Feel good story, huh?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziLr67JY16c

The first of the two combatants to enter the arena was Flair. Then out came Kerry to a thunderous ovation. By the way, if you are trying to imagine how popular the Von Erich boys were (especially with the female fan base), picture the Beatles times about a thousand. Anyway, the intensity was at a fever pitch. David Manning, the main referee and Hayes gave the rules to the no disqualification match, checked each for any weapons, which in a no DQ match why bother, but anyway the bell rang and we were off to the races. Initially Flair was very cautious around Hayes not trusting him to play in favor of Kerry. As the match went on it was a back and forth battle with both wrestlers in top form. Both refs were also heavily involved in breaking various holds after a 5 counts, etc. especially Hayes. Flair was wearing his usual crimson mask of blood as the match wore on. Over time Flair was taking more and more exception to Hayes’ “hands on” approach and finally punched Hayes, who then returned the favor to Flair and knocked him out. Hayes shoved referee David Manning out of the way, grabbed Kerry Von Erich and told him to pin the vulnerable Nature Boy. Each time Hayes went to get Kerry to pin Flair, Kerry wouldn’t do it as he felt it wasn’t the right way to win the title. Finally, Hayes became very frustrated and was being told by Terry Gordy to forget Von Erich and come out of the cage. As Hayes makes his way to leave the ring, Kerry goes to stop him and then Flair comes up from behind and knees Kerry into Hayes, who goes falling out of the ring. When Hayes turns around to see who pushed him he only sees Von Erich who is hanging half way out of the ring. Both Hayes and Gordy think it was Kerry’s doing and then…….. “The Shot Heard Around The Wrestling World!” Gordy slams the steel door into Von Erich’s head and the Freebird vs. Von Erich feud was officially on!

It was a match made in wrestling heaven. The three Von Erich boys were young, handsome and all three had a specific style. Kevin was the fast, barefoot high flyer, David was the big country strong tough guy and Kerry was the modern day power athlete with a body chiseled out of stone. On the other side you had the Freebirds. Michael Hayes was one of the best promo guys ever. Some people will tell you that Hayes wasn’t the greatest technical wrestler ever, but Michael talked the people into the building as one of the top heels of his day. Then you had the brute force muscle of Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, with one of the most devastating clotheslines ever. Finally there was Buddy Jack Roberts. Buddy was the worker of the group. He was the one who would basically get the crap beaten out of him for ten minutes only to make the hot tag to one of his two teammates.

The two teams would go on to battle for the better part of two years. Interestingly, the man who brought the Freebirds in to Dallas, Gary Hart left shortly after the Christmas Star Wars show. He was replaced by Ken Mantell, who didn’t miss a beat. The feud was beautifully booked with numerous cage and stipulation matches that would see either all six men involved in a match or in singles matches. Two of the more different matches for that era that fans would be treated two were David Von Erich vs. Terry Gordy in a handcuffed match and Kerry & Kevin vs. Hayes and Gordy in a leather strap country whipping match. The two teams battled across the state selling out arenas across the territory. The feud became so intense it almost took on a state rivalry between Georgia (Freebirds) and Texas (Von Erichs), that Kevin Von Erich at one point during a TV match said “This rivalry isn’t between Texas and Georgia, it’s between decency and filth!”

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Sadly, the feud took a significant hit when David Von Erich passed away in February of 1984 while on tour in Japan. David was replaced by younger brother Mike during most tag team battles against the ‘Birds. Even Fritz made a comeback when he teamed with Mike and Kevin to recapture the World Six Man Championship when they defeated the Freeebirds at the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions Show in May of 1984 (in front of over 32,000 fans at Texas Stadium). That show also saw Kerry Von Erich finally become NWA Heavyweight Champion with an emotional win over Ric Flair.

Most of the success of the feud has to go to the Freebirds. The Von Erich’s needed a great antagonist and the Freebirds posed the first serious threat to the family. As Michael Hayes has pointed out on numerous occasions, and rightfully so, the crowds increased significantly after the Freebirds showed up. It was the right chemistry that came together at the perfect time. While the Von Erich’s were adored by the fans, there was a deep seeded personal hatred from fan base towards the ‘Birds. In a mere nine months, World Class Championship Wrestling was seen on 85 stations in 25 countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. There are even strong rumors that World Class was drawing higher ratings in New York than the WWF did at that time.

The feud was so intense that, while it became must see TV, it also helped make stars out of other wrestlers too; such as Kamala, King Kong Bundy, The Missing Link, The Super Destroyers, Ice Man King Parsons, Chris Adams, Jimmy Garvin, Gino Hernandez and the great Bruiser Brody. The feud was also basically the reason there was a World 6 Man Tag Team Championship.

The Freebird vs. Von Erich feud finally came to an end in a Thanksgiving Day, loser leaves town match between Kerry Von Erich and Michael Hayes in 1984, which of course was won by Von Erich. A futile attempt to rekindle the feud was tried later, but the magic was gone. As well documented, the Von Erich family was going through personal tragedy after tragedy. In addition to this, sadly other wrestlers in the promotion also passed away or left to join up with the WWF to seek greener pastures. This resulted in very few fans staying loyal to the product.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that the WWE is FINALLY inducting the Fabulous Freebirds into the WWE Hall of Fame. It has been too long in coming. I really wish they would just induct the original three as Jimmy Garvin was not with them during their Texas heyday, but it is what it is I guess. I am also thrilled to see that Kevin Von Erich will be the one inducting them. It is only fitting that on Wrestling’s Biggest Stage, in Big D, that one half of maybe the greatest feud of all time will be celebrated and receive their due rewards!

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