Former main page writer for Wrestling Headlines Triple R recently completed a fantastic series chronicling the history of World Class Championship Wrestling in the 80s down in the LOP Columns Forum. We wanted to spotlight the series here on the main page as a snapshot of some of the diverse content you can read in the Columns Forum.
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In the 1980’s, you couldn’t travel through the South without hearing about World Class Championship Wrestling. Based in Texas and run by Fritz Von Erich, WCCW was poised to become the next BIG THING in professional wrestling. Originally a part of the NWA, World Class was one of the hottest territories in the industry, with die-hard rabid fans, a growing talent pool, and some of the hottest feuds to ever grace the squared circle. They’re also one of the biggest What If stories in wrestling history. The tragic story of the Von Erich family is legendary, and while the organization kept soldiering on, by the time they attempted to break away from the NWA, their name recognition and talent base had all but dried up as the big names moved on to other promotions.
The WWE Network has archived the prime years of WCCW, from 1982 to 1988. It’s an interesting historical journey to take as you get to see some of the hottest wrestling stars in their primes, as well as stars that were huge in World Class but struggled to break out in other promotions. The presentation of the shows is as basic as basic gets. Primarily based out of the Sportatorium in Dallas, WCCW held weekly events with a packed house at just about every show. There were no mats, no barriers, and hardly any security precautions whatsoever between the wrestlers and the fans. The only thing separating the fans from the action was a thin rope spread across the front row. It wasn’t uncommon to see young fans on the ring apron before each match getting autographs from their favorite stars. The atmosphere was both intimate and overwhelming at the same time and each and every week WCCW would put on a show that almost never failed to deliver.
Make no mistake though, the WCCW shows were about as no-frills as you can get. Commentary was provided by Bill Mercer, a sports commentator with his roots in baseball, football and basketball. When he started with WCCW in 1982 he had little knowledge of wrestling or what any of the moves were really called. Most things were some sort of throw or toss. Chops were all of the “karate” variety. Body to body moves were always some sort of slam. It was basic, and at times somewhat laughable. You could tell most of the time he was making things up as he went along, and he never really got much better.
This was also a different time in our country, but even so there’s a surprising level of racism and ethnic stereotyping that went on in WCCW. Asian wrestlers were all called “Orientals.” Black wrestlers were all saddled with some sort of ethnic stereotype, regardless of their level of success in the organization. While this wasn’t at all exclusive to WCCW in the 80’s, they were pretty blatant about the amount of stereotyping that went on.
Of course the main draw in WCCW was the Von Erich boys. In 1982, Kerry, Kevin and David were the poster boys for Texas wrestling. No matter what else was occurring in the company, those three were always hovering around the Main Event scene, their hands pretty much all over the major storylines. David spent a good part of 1982 wrestling elsewhere, but towards the middle of the year he returned with a vengeance, playing a large part in WCCW until his death just a couple of years later. The Von Erichs were always the target of whatever villainous stable was around at the time, and in ’82 that was H & H LTD, formed by Arman Hussain and the legendary Gary Hart. They’d run roughshod over WCCW for much of the year, taking out all comers with their vicious attacks.
H & H was quite the stable during this year, featuring talent such as Wild Bill Irwin, Killer Tim Brooks, Bugsy McGraw, and The Great Kabuki. The most interesting story of that year though was the emergence and transformation of Big Daddy Bundy into one of the most legendary stars of the Rock and Wrestling Era in the WWF, King Kong Bundy. Originally brought in by the Von Erichs, and hailing from Alaska, Big Daddy Bundy was a big dude with little experience. He’d dress in a flannel shirt and jeans tied with a rope belt. Oh yeah, he also had a full head of hair, which is all kinds of shocking to see. Bundy would progress under the Von Erich tutelage, but would be corrupted by Gary Hart who convinced him that he was being used by Fritz and the boys. Bundy would join H & H and change his name to King Kong Bundy. The singlet would be introduced and as the feud progressed he’d eventually lose his hair in a match against the Von Erichs. The transformation would be complete. Bundy held the American Heavyweight Championship for a good part of that year and would put it up against Fritz Von Erich in his retirement match. Fritz would win, and once again claim that belt one last time. He’d immediately forfeit the title and it basically just reverted back to Bundy’s possession.
Much of ’82 would be dominated by the Von Erich/H & H feud, at times requiring all the WCCW officials to intervene between the two sides. An interesting note in WCCW, they’d often have multiple officials during tag-team matches which quit frequently resulted in a bit of a mess in the ring with so many people. The two main officials in World Class were David Manning and the head of the officiating crew, Bronko Lubich. Lubich was a strange case indeed. A former professional wrestler, Lubich often reminded me of that crazy Uncle who never seemed to know what was going on and wandered around in his underwear most of the time. He almost never seemed to have control of the ring, only got down to one knee to count a pinfall, and seemed to make up a lot of rules on the fly. He just never seemed quite there, but remained in WCCW for many, many years.
As a territory of the NWA, you’d often see some surprising names show up on occasion. Andre the Giant took part in a Body Slam Challenge Battle Royal at one of the WCCW Star Wars events in the Reunion Arena, of course winning the bout easily. Ivan Putski appears in an episode but is never seen again. One thing you’ll notice is that many future stars would pass through WCCW in their early years. Rick Harris shows up in a couple of episodes, and if you’ve been watching wrestling for any number of years you’d notice him immediately as the future Black Bart. A very young Samu would also start off in WCCW, known only as The Samoan. He’d show flashes of what he’d be known for years later as part of the Samoan SWAT Team, but he didn’t have much success in WCCW.
While a lot of young talent made their way through WCCW, they also notably had some older wrestlers as well. One of the main stars at that time was Jose Lothario, who was already 54 years old at that time and was wrestling a pretty steady schedule in a lot of major feuds. Towards the end of the year, H & H would bring in a masked wrestler named Checkmate, who in reality was legendary star Les Thornton. He too would be 54 at the time of his debut and would also be heavily featured at the top of the card. It was a real mixed bag of talent that would come through the doors of the Sportatorium.
However the real star of 1982 was Gary Hart’s star attraction, The Great Kabuki. He’d appear on probably 85-90% of the shows throughout that year, wreaking havoc on anybody that stepped in front of him. Known as the first wrestler to spray mist from his mouth, Kabuki’s persona was that of danger and disaster for his opponents. He feuded with all the Von Erich’s, Lothario, Al Madrill, and many more of the faces of WCCW, whether in singles action or partnering with his Asian Tag Team Champion partner The Magic Dragon. Interestingly, Kabuki was such a draw all over the world that he’d be able to wrestle in multiple places at once. With The Magic Dragon being a masked wrestler, and Kabuki always having his long black hair in front of his face, Dragon would frequently wrestle AS The Great Kabuki if Kabuki was booked elsewhere. You could always tell the real Kabuki, because he’d be the one that had Gary Hart with him. In today’s age of the internet, you could never get away with something like that, but in ’82, there was really no way of knowing something like that was occurring.
While all of this was going on though, 1982 was leading up to one big thing, and that would be Kerry Von Erich vs. The NWA World Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. The match would be held at their end of year Star Wars event, and because of all the shenanigans and chaos that led up to the match, a special Guest Referee would be introduced to the match, and it would begin a startling chain of events that would dominate the wrestling world for years to come.
As 1982 neared its end, The Von Erichs brought in the Fabulous Freebirds to join them in WCCW. Originally brought in as allies, The Freebirds would quickly win over the fans in Texas, despite their adversarial Georgia roots. With Kerry set to take on Flair inside a Steel Cage, Michael Hayes was one of the fan vote choices for Guest Referee in their match. With the other choices being less known, Hayes was the obvious winner, and would take his place alongside the WCCW official in the match. Kerry and Flair would have a legendary battle that night, but it would be Hayes that would have the greatest impact, turning on the Von Erich family and leaving the cage over a dispute with the other official. During the match, Hayes had Terry Gordy positioned outside the ring, under the guise of keeping out any other wrestlers trying to interfere, but nothing that night was as it seemed. As Hayes left the ring, Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry’s head, ending his dreams that night of becoming the NWA Heavyweight Champion. This began the legendary Freebirds/Von Erichs feud.
The arena broke out in a near riot, with Hayes and Gordy inciting the Texas crowd to a fever pitch. As Flair left Texas still the Champion, Kerry and his brothers demanded answers from Gordy and Hayes. What they’d get instead of hatred and violence that would carry over into 1983 and beyond. The battle of Texas vs. Georgia was just getting started and WCCW would never be the same.
Up next…..1983; the year WCCW came into its own, and the last year before tragedy would strike.
1982 MVP: The Great Kabuki
1982 What If?: Tom “Boogaloo” Shaft, a wrestler heavily touted in the beginning of the year but disappeared by mid-year.
1982 Breakout Star: King Kong Bundy
You can read the rest of the series in the LOP Columns Forum, available in the forum section of Wrestling Headlines.