Fritz Von Erich was a legendary athlete from Texas. He was the father of Chris, David, Kerry,
Kevin and Mike Von Erich, all professional wrestlers. Von Erich was known as the “Claw” for
the devastating maneuver he used in the ring. He was a top promoter and wrestler. Von Erich
was a former World’s Champion and president of the National Wrestling Alliance. Out from
under the Fritz Von Erich guise, he promoted under his real name, Jack Adkisson.
Adkisson organized World Class Wrestling out of Dallas in the 1950s and 1960s. At the group’
s peak, it was seen in 66 markets in the United States as well as in the Middle East, South
America and in Asia. His first child was born on September 21, 1952 at Baylor University
Hospital. A son named Jackie. Von Erich beat Frank Townsend in the fourth match on a Sam
Muchnick card on February 1, 1957 in St. Louis. The win came after only 2:18. He moved up
to the semifinal on the 8th of February and beat Yukon Eric Holmback in 10:41. Von Erich
gained popularity as a heel as Bill Longson had in St. Louis a decade earlier. He beat Bill
McDaniel and Ramon Cernadez in a special handicap match on February 22nd at the Kiel in
front of 6,568. The initial elimination of McDaniel was scored in 4:40. Cernadez was beaten by
Von Erich in one-minute and ten seconds.
Fritz made a huge impact on the March 1st main event tag team match at the Kiel in St. Louis.
He teamed with Buddy Rogers against Pat O’Connor and Edouard Carpentier. Needless to
say, the latter duo were the more popular. Von Erich pinned Carpentier in 7:11 to win the first
fall. He used a kneedrop and press. The second ended when O’Connor was pinned by Von
Erich after a Prussian Drop. Von Erich had won both falls and his team took the match.
The pinfalls over both O’Connor and Carpentier earned him an NWA World Title shot against
Lou Thesz on March 22nd in St. Louis. Sam Muchnick promoted the two heavyweights before
nearly 7,500 fans. Thesz beat Von Erich by disqualification when the referee stopped the
match due to the fact that the challenger had landed a Prussian drop while Thesz was partially
out of the ring. The match lasted 15:33.
While the Adkisson Family was living in Niagara Falls, New York in 1959, the family suffered it’s
first loss. Jackie Adkisson, age seven, was electrocuted one night while walking home from a
friend’s house and drowned in a pool of melting snow. Jack was not at home, but returning
from a match in Cleveland.
Von Erich moved back to Texas in 1960 and settled in the Dallas Suburbs. Fritz Von Erich
would change Texas Wrestling forever, and wrestling in general. Things were just the
beginning. He formed World Class Championship Wrestling from Dallas. Von Erich televised
wrestling on channel 4 broadcast his style of professionalism to all who cared to watch. He
also continued to tour.
He beat Dick the Bruiser on December 1, 1961 in Detroit and captured the United States Title.
Fritz went to Denver and was forced to team with Bruiser against the U.S. Tag Team
Champions, Art and Stan Nielson at the Coliseum. They lost the first fall in 6:17, but Von Erich
and Bruiser tied it up after 8:25. In the third contest, Von Erich mistakenly hit his partner with a
punch aimed at Stan. That blow caused their team to deteriorate. Instead of focusing on the
gold, Von Erich and Bruiser brawled outside the ring and were counted out. A feud begun. No
longer teammates, promoters quickly signed a headline match between the two. He lost the U.
S. Title back to Bruiser.
On December 29th, Bruiser and Von Erich met in Denver for Dick’s U.S. Heavyweight Title.
Von Erich lost the first and third falls and the match. It was a bloody event before nearly four-
thousand screaming fans at the Coliseum. A rematch was scheduled for January, but never
took place. Bruiser couldn’t get a plane out of Nebraska and Von Erich was forced to wrestle
Wilbur Snyder on January 17, 1962 in Denver. Fritz was topped by Snyder in two-of-three.
In Amarillo on April 26th, Von Erich beat Dory Funk Sr. in a match for the NWA North American
Heavyweight Title. Funk used a chair and was disqualified in the initial fall, but took the
second. Von Erich won the final when the referee stopped the match due to a cut on the
champion’s forehead. The stipulations were high for Fritz during their Sports Arena contest.
Von Erich stated that he would never again wrestle in Texas if he failed to win the bout.
Von Erich remained the champion until June 7th when he was rematched with Funk at the
Sports Arena. The bout was a special Texas Death Match with ten wrestlers stationed around
the ring to prevent any escape. $5,000 in cash was also at stake, going to the winner. Funk
beat Von Erich to regain the title. In an interesting side note, the Mayor of Amarillo, Jack Seale
was in the crowd as well as several movie stars from the Oscar winning film, “Hud” Bannon,
which was taped in the area. “Hud” starred Paul Newman, but there was no word if he
appeared or not.
Von Erich returned to Denver on June 22nd, and wrestled The Sheik in a no-holds barred
match before a stunned crowd. The wrestlers employed every dirty trick in the book before
Von Erich succumbed to the Sheik’s abilities. He captured his second United States Title in
Detroit in June 1963 from Lord Athol Layton. Von Erich lost the belt back to Layton in July. In
1964, Von Erich competed with Layton in a special “Mud” Match in which the ring was covered
in a layer of wet dirt. The bout made national news. He beat Johnny Powers on November 19,
1965 in the main event of a St. Louis card at the Kiel Auditorium. 10,106 fans watched Von
Erich wrestle Powers in a special Texas Death Match. The bout went nine falls with Von Erich
taking five and Powers taking four. The final ended when Powers injured his left arm and was
unable to continue.
On December 3rd, Von Erich pinned Bill Watts in St. Louis before over 8,600 fans. He beat
Bob Ellis and Ray Gordon in a handicap match on January 7, 1966 in St. Louis. He used his
clawhold on Gordon in 12:02 to end the one-fall contest. Von Erich beat Brute Bernard for the
NWA American Heavyweight Title in June 1966. He began to feud with wrestling’s top athletes
over the coveted belt. Among them were Johnny Valentine, Boris Malenko, Bruiser Brody and
Blackjack Mulligan. Von Erich would go on to hold the title more then twelve times. He
appeared on a Florida TV Taping Card on December 28, 1968 in Tampa’s Sportatorium and
wrestled Koa Tiki. Von Erich did not wrestle on the regular weekly show. He continued to
Von Erich became the first active wrestler to be elected to the presidency of the National
Wrestling Alliance in August 1975. The unanimous vote came at the organization’s annual
convention in New Orleans. Adkisson replaced Sam Muchnick out of St. Louis, who had ended
his twelfth consecutive year as the NWA President. Von Erich watched his son Kevin enter the
business. David, Kerry and Mike all followed. Fritz brutally feuded with Bruiser Brody.
Rumors circulated that David Von Erich was being prepped for a strong challenge for Ric Flair’
s NWA World Heavyweight Title. David captured the International Title and went to Tokyo for a
tour in February 1984. On the 10th, David Von Erich died of intestinal inflammation in a Tokyo
Hotel Room. He was 25 years of age.
The news shocked fans in America and devastated the Adkisson Family. Wrestling had lost
one of it’s sons, but the show went on, although weakened. Fritz Von Erich promoted a special
“1st Annual David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions” on May 6th at Texas Stadium.
An estimated 40,000 fans watched Kerry Von Erich pin NWA World Champion, Ric Flair in 25:
42 to capture the World Title. It was a match Kerry dedicated to his brother. Fritz teamed with
Mike and Kevin to capture the World Class Six-Man Tag Team Title from the Freebirds.
Fritz shaved manager Gary Hart’s head after Kerry had defeated One Man Gang in a singles
contest with the special stipulation in May 1985. The event was one of the highlights of the
second annual David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions at Texas Stadium. Fritz
watched Kevin battle Ric Flair for the NWA World Title in the main event, hoping that the same
result would occur as did the year prior. The match ended in a double-countout.
His son Mike suffered from Toxic-shock syndrome after suffering an injury in Israel. The
incident left his bones frail and weak. He continued to wrestle in spite of the injuries plaguing
him. On April 14, 1987, Mike committed suicide in Lake Lewisville, Texas. Again, wrestling had
been devastated by the news. Fritz was mauled by a host of wrestlers on December 25, 1987
in a steel cage in Dallas before his son was to wrestle Al Perez for the World Class World
Heavyweight Title. Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Angel of Death, Iceman Parsons, and Gary
Hart took part in the attack. He was 60 at the time of the incident.
Chris Von Erich entered the sport in June 1990. He did his best to work his way to the top, but
it didn’t go as he wanted. Depressed, the youngest son committed suicide on September 12,
1991 at the age of 22. Tragedy had once again struck the Adkisson Family. Wrestling
World Class was failing to produce the numbers it once had. Jerry Jarrett purchased the
promotion and began running USWA shows out of the Sportatorium in Dallas. Kerry Von Erich
had spent some time in the WWF before returning to Texas and joining the Global Wrestling
Federation. He was arrested and on February 18, 1993, Kerry committed suicide. The fourth
Von Erich to die at an early age.
Wrestling had lost it’s greatest family. Kevin, Fritz and his wife remained to mourn. Mr.
Adkisson died on September 10, 1997 at the age of 68 in Lake Dallas, Texas of complications
from cancer. During the week of Thanksgiving 1997, the Dallas Observer ran an insightful
article about the Von Erich history labeled “Wrestling with Tragedy.” The story was written by
The Von Erich Family dominated the sport for several decades, from Fritz’s beginning to Kevin’
s continued fame in the ring. When fans of the sport say “Von Erich,” they know they are
mentioning a legendary name derived from a legendary man. Each of them made their mark
on professional wrestling that will never be erased. Fans can reflect on the careers of the Von
Erich Family at www.vonerich.com.
-A multiple-time NWA United States Heavyweight Champion
-NWA North American Heavyweight Title
-A fifteen-time NWA American Heavyweight Champion
-Defeated Brute Bernard (1966)
-Defeated Johnny Valentine (1966)
-Defeated Brute Bernard (1967)
-Defeated The Spoiler (1968)
-Defeated The Spoiler (1968) held-up title win
-Defeated Johnny Valentine (1969)
-Defeated Johnny Valentine (1969) held-up title win
-Defeated The Great Malenko (1970)
-Defeated Professor Toru Tanaka (1971)
-Defeated The Missouri Mauler (1973)
-Defeated The Texan (1974)
-Defeated Blackjack Lanza (1974)
-Defeated Bruiser Brody (1977)
-Defeated Ox Baker (1977)
-Defeated King Kong Bundy (1982)
The Dallas Morning News broke kayfabe sporadically, telling the local public that the man that
wrestled as "Fritz Von Erich" was really Jack Adkisson, a longtime sports hero in the local
community. The April 4, 1964 edition mentioned that fact, saying that Adkisson was a "name
familiar to Dallasites, especially SMU football fans." This was not buried in an obscure article,
but printed in the wrestling advertisement for that week's Sportatorium show. Sam Blair, in his
column in the Morning News on March 24, 1971, wrote "Jack Adkisson, now known as wrestler
Fritz Von Erich." Blair stated that Adkisson held SMU's track and field record for the discus
throw from 1950 until recently being broken by BIll Thomas and Sam Walker.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
|Fritz Von Erich Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling