Home > Uncategorized > On this day in pro wrestling history: Kerry Von Erich wins the NWA World title from Ric Flair

On this day in pro wrestling history: Kerry Von Erich wins the NWA World title from Ric Flair

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On this day in wrestling history:

For David. For Texas.

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.

  1. May 9th, 2010 at 17:24 | #1

    Legend has it that the match at Texas Stadium was to have lasted 45 minutes, but was cut down to 20 minutes due to the heat. And the legit attendance was around 32,000, not “43,517” claimed by the Aptermags or “over 50,000” claimed by Lowrance.

  2. admin
    May 10th, 2010 at 08:13 | #2

    BuddyPSHayes (what, no love for “Bamm Bamm”?), I knew the actual attendance was at least 10,000 fans less than the “reported” figure (and nearly 20,000 less in Lowrance’s case). For some reason, I was thinking they reported it at 33,000 fans (but that was the following year with Flair vs. Kevin), so I put the attendance at 23,000, which was too low. (I’ve since amended the article to “more than 30,000 fans” after reading your comment, as that’s far more accurate.) As far as the match length goes, the story I heard was that they wanted to wrap up airing the Texas Stadium show in three episodes, so that meant Kerry/Flair had to be short. I believe there was talk of extending it a fourth week and having Flair/Kerry go a little over 40 minutes for an entire one-hour episode, but they decided against it in the end. I don’t think the heat had anything to do with the short length. Flair has said in the past that he felt cheated when Dusty slept walk through their title change in KC, so most likely wanted Kerry to look good but simply didn’t have time to build a classic, which is a shame. At the 40-minute mark, the fans likely would have thought they were getting another 60-minute Broadway between the two, so the pop would have been even bigger if Kerry had gotten the pin at the 42 or 43 minutes, in my opinion. Not a bad match and certainly memorable but nowhere near what it could have been.

  3. admin
    May 13th, 2010 at 14:41 | #3

    Can’t believe I forgot one of the most memorable aspects of the match: Kerry’s usual “Modern Day Warrior” theme music hits with Flair in the ring (which begs the question why the champion came to the ring first, but….) and then stops. It’s replaced by Tonya Tucker’s “When I Die” and out trots Kerry with a Yellow Rose in his hand as he fights his way through the masses to the ring…an incredible moment.

  4. Eric
    April 23rd, 2011 at 05:53 | #4

    I was living on the Southside of Chicago, and we got World Class Wrestling on WPWR Tv out of Aurora Il. I don’t know if Fritz knew the magnitude of his shows outside of Dallas. Nevertheless, Kerry winning the title was a big deal. Kerry became my favorite wrestler and when he died, Ric Flair became my favorite. This was a great time to be alive and a great time to be a wrestling fan. I am conviced that the territory system developed better wrestlers and kept more people employed. It would be nice to see WWE bring back the territory system with a true traveling World Champion.

  5. Eric
    April 23rd, 2011 at 05:56 | #5

    @admin I remember that moment, I wish Kerry would have came to the ring with his music though. Jerry Lawler was right, it should have been a changing of the guard. If Kerry had not had his personal troubles, I could see him being as big as Hogan. All Kerry had to do was show up and the people went crazy, unbelievable.

  6. May 6th, 2011 at 15:50 | #6

    Flair later said that Kerry never carved his initials into the belt. I think he said it at that Flair-Race Q&A at the NWA Legends convention you were at.

  7. Ben
    May 7th, 2011 at 14:57 | #7

    So, did he say who carved the “KVE” into the belt? @John K

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