On this day in pro wrestling history: Kerry Von Erich wins the NWA World title from Ric Flair
On this day in wrestling history:
When I die I may not go to heaven
I don’t know if they let cowboys in
If they don’t just let me go to Texas, boy!
Texas is as close as I’ve been.
On May 6, 1984, Kerry Von Erich defeated Ric Flair before more than 30,000 fans at Texas Stadium to win the NWA World heavyweight title.
Years later, Jerry Lawler told me that he remembers at the time thinking, like many, this was the beginning of a new era in the business that would be dominated by the Von Erichs. Little did we all realize this was the beginning of the end, culminating with Kerry’s suicide on February 18, 1993.
The innovative, MTV-style “World Class Championship Wrestling” program had been airing in Memphis since fall 1982, so by this time, I was caught up in storyline of the Von Erichs chasing the dream of the World title, especially in the wake of brother David’s death in January 1984. (To give you an idea of just how popular the Von Erichs were at this point, the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper, which rarely featured pro wrestling despite big weekly crowds at the Mid-South Coliseum, featured a small story on David’s passing.)
Because World Class wanted the title bout to air as part of its syndicated TV show, the May 6 showdown was kept short, so the work was not nearly at the level of many of the state-of-the-art, 45- to 60-minute bouts Flair and Kerry were having at that point. The rising temperatures and incredible humidity of that hot Texas afternoon didn’t help the the match, as Flair seems to cautiously guide Kerry through the motions. It was largely forgettable, with the exception of the victor’s celebration, which was about as real a moment as you’ll ever see in this business, with Kerry hugging brothers Kevin and Mike before proudly displaying the belt with a yellow rose and the Texas state flag as the Lone Star State faithful roar their approval. Watching with my friends, we cheered like Lawler had won the NWA belt.
After a memorable title defense against Terry Gordy and a rematch against Flair in Texas, as well as a tour of Florida, defending the laurels against the likes of Ron Bass and Superstar Graham, Kerry dropped the belt back to Flair in Japan 18 days later. (In typical fashion, Fritz claimed in Texas that a sumo referee mistakenly counted his son’s shoulders despite Kerry’s feet on the ropes, which was not the case.)
Kerry certainly left his mark on the championship–literally. As documented in the beautifully photographed book Ten Pounds of Gold by Dave Millican and Dick Bourne, Kerry commemorated his title win by carving his initials onto the front buckle of the strap.
If you look closely at the picture below, the initials KVE can be seen just above the two wrestlers grappling on the buckle (one of whom looks a lot like Dusty Rhodes). Millican and Bourne’s book has far more detailed photos of Von Erich’s handiwork and many more interesting facts about quite possibly the most famous title belt ever made, so check it out.
When Jim Crockett purchashed the WTBS timeslot from Vince McMahon in March 1985, he also secured dominating influence on who would wear the NWA title. Given Kerry’s drug problems, he was considered a liability to wear the strap again for an extended period of time, despite Fritz lobbying heavily for his son to get another run with the title. Fritz eventually withdrew his NWA membership and crowned his own World Class heavyweight champion. Three years later, the promotion was in a shambles–and Kerry’s life was beginning to crumble. A motorcycle accident in 1986 led to Kerry’s right foot being amputated in 1987, after he was rushed back into the ring by his domineering father. Wearing a specially made boot, Kerry was still capable of working a decent bout but was he nowhere near the performer who had been the toast of Texas only three years earlier. That said, Lawler and Von Erich had some good bouts in 1988 to unify the World Class and AWA World titles, including a fantastic 60-minute draw in Memphis.
After a near-death experience, Mike Von Erich, 23, committed suicide in 1987. That, along with Kerry’s scrapes with the law and poor booking, took its toll on the promotion.
Like a disgraced evangelist, scripture-quoting Fritz lost the faith of his fan base, leading to Jerry Jarrett buying the promotion and eventually phasing out Kerry and brother Kevin in favor of his own son, Jeff Jarrett, and booker Eric Embry. Realizing he’d never be a star like his big brothers, 21-year-old Chris Von Erich committed suicide in 1991.
Although Kerry had brief resurgence in the WWF as the Texas Tornado in 1990, quickly winning the Intercontinental title from Mr. Perfect (the late Curt Hennig) in his debut at SummerSlam, his drug use escalated and he was pushed down the cards by the end of 1991. In his last pay-per-view performance for the Former Fed, Kerry was eliminated from the 1992 Royal Rumble by Flair, who would go on to the match and the vacant WWF World title. He was then relegated to prelims, including being squashed by the Undertaker in under 3 minutes on WWF TV. In one of his final bouts for McMahon, Kerry dropped a “Prime Time Wrestling” decision to Shawn Michaels, who had idolized the Von Erichs growing up in Texas and had started out in the business doing jobs in World Class.
Kerry’s wife, Cathy, filed for divorce and took the couple’s daughters with her in 1992. An emotional wreck, Kerry was convicted on six felony drug charges on Oct. 1, 1992, and sentenced to 10 years’ probation. He reportedly told friends that he’d kill himself before going to jail.
On Jan. 13, 1993, he was arrested again on cocaine possession charges. On Feb. 17, 1993, a grand-jury indictment came down as a result of Kerry forging prescriptions for pain killers. Most likely facing prison time, the former NWA World champion committed suicide the following day, shooting himself in the chest with one of Fritz’s shotguns shortly after telling the Von Erich patriarch, “I really love you, dad.”
Kerry Gene Adkisson was 33.