The King and the Claw: Jerry Lawler and David Von Erich double-down against the Blackjacks
Although I was a huge Memphis fan since 1977, I was excited to see a new wrestling show air locally with the addition of World Class Championship Wrestling to the lineup of debuting channel 30 in fall 1982. I was an avid reader of the newsstand Apter mags, so I was familiar with NWA champ Ric Flair and the Von Erichs, while the Freebirds had worked Jerry Jarrett’s territory in 1979.
With superior production values and camerawork and marquee match-ups, I was immediately hooked on the World Class show, which came to the viewing audience from the “world-famous” Sportatorium in Dallas. Credit the genius of World Class producer/visionary Mickey Grant, who somehow convincingly presented the Sportatorium as a major sports arena–in fact, it was a dump without air conditioning; however, it made for a heated environment (in more ways than one) and, more important, great television.
During the same time period, Jarrett’s Memphis TV was producing music videos featuring young heartthrobs like the Fabulous Ones and Terry Taylor, with the Rock ‘n’ Express to debut in 1983. World Class and Memphis were two of the most innovative shows in the country and wildly popular with not only the traditional male audience but also the growing demographic of women and teenage girls and boys. As good as Mid-South TV was, they wouldn’t expand their demographic until the end of ’83, when Dundee took the booking job and recreated that Memphis magic focusing on younger, smaller talent who could work a fast pace like the Express teams and Taylor in place of the methodical big men who had dominated the territory previously.
So I was thrilled when I saw the headline at the top of the cover of the January 1984 of The Wrestler, which declared that the unlikely duo of David Von Erich and Lawler were on a mission to stop Blackjacks Mulligan and Lanza “before they rule again.” The match took place on the August 26, 1983, lineup at Kiel Auditorium in St Louis, which was headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Crusher Blackwell.
According to the Apter mag “account,” the St. Louis promoter (Larry Matysik?) was concerned that the reuniting Blackjacks, former WWA and WWF tag champions, would run roughshod over the territory unless a team stepped up to cut these outlaws off at the pass. No established teams would dare take the challenge, so David Von Erich, in his youthful exuberance, volunteered his services. (Undoubtedly, the master of the Von Erich Iron Claw wanted to test his grip against that of the famed Blackjacks.) When the desperate promoter recommended Lawler (who had been booked sparingly early in his career as a ’70s TV jobber by longtime St. Louis-based NWA godfather Sam Muchnick before the promoter retired in 1982), Von Erich got on the phone to convince the King to join his side. Impressed by the young man’s fire, Lawler accepted; after all, the King knew a thing or two about fire. While no footage of the bout exists, Lawler and Von Erich defeated the Blackjacks, ending their new reign of terror before it even began–mission accomplished!
Although he was a heel on that night in St. Louis, Mulligan’s babyface son Barry Windham also worked the undercard that night. Speaking of Windham, one of all-time favorite performers, the Wrestling Observer is reporting that Barry is currently in intensive care in Florida after what is believed to have been a heart attack. Mulligan describes the condition of the 50-year-old Windham as “near death.” A former NWA World champion, Windham is the brother-in-law of former tag partner Mike Rotunda, who found Barry collapsed at his ranch yesterday. I hope Barry makes a quick recovery.
On that August evening in 1983, most fans didn’t realize that the balance of power in wrestling would shift from the crumbling National Wrestling Alliance to the World Wrestling Federation, with Hogan winning the WWF title from the Iron Sheik in January 1984, and possible future NWA champ David Von Erich dying in Japan in February 1984.
By March 1984, Mulligan and Lawler were able “to settle their differences” to form yet another unlikely combination for this tag bout in Chicago, challenging Ken Patera and Crusher Blackwell for the AWA World tag titles. Mulligan is one of those guys, along with Roddy Piper, who I think would have been an incredible heel opponent for Lawler during the King’s babyface Memphis heyday.