Exclusive coverage of a remarkable NWA Title Reign" Kerry Von Erich's three weeks on top of the world!
The sound of 43, 517 fans screaming in ecstasy was deafening. And the emotions that gripped Kerry Von Erich in the center of the ring in Texas Stadium were overwhelming.
Kerry had just defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World title. Most important to Kerry, the match took place on a card of wrestling that was dedicated to the memory of his brother David.
"I hope that I can live up to the responsibilities of the NWA championship," Kerry said in an interview the following day. "This title means a lot to me because it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to my family, my friends, the 43,000 people who were in Texas Stadium yesterday afternoon, and most of all, it belongs to my brother David. And that's where the meaning for this title reign comes from. I'm devoting my title reign to David. It's his championship as much as it is mine.
The responsibilities of the NWA title would make their demands on Kerry even before he had the chance to rest from the Texas Stadium card, catch his breath and get used to the idea of being the World Champion.
"There's no rest for the World Champion," Ric Flair was once quoted as saying. "Either you set your controls at 100% and forge ahead full force at all times, or you're going to lose the title. It's that simple.
And that difficult.
The Texas Matches
Kerry's first match as NWA champion was a title defense against Freebird Terry Gordy in Fort Worth, Texas.
"In most of the matches involving The Freebirds," notes Senior Editor Bill Apter, who was the ringside photographing the Von Erich - Gordy match, "Terry Gordy wrestles like a brawler, tries to jam the Oriental spike into his opponent's throat, and a lot of the action might take place out of the ring.
"But in the Fort Worth match, I think Gordy surprised a lot of people," Apter continued. "He certainly surprised. Gordy's usually a brawler, but on that night he showed a lot of people that he can truly wrestle, in the classic sense of the word. Even though I think Kerry was also surprised, he was able to adjust quickly. Having that ability is the mark of a champion."
Kerry won that first title defense when Gordy attempted a flying body press off the top rope. He landed on Kerry, who quickly rolled Gordy over for the pin.
In the five days that followed, Kerry would wrestle Ric Flair four times - two of those would be title matches.
"When Flair and I were negotiating contracts for the May 6 Texas Stadium card," Von Erich points out, "provisions were made for rematches. One of those rematches was scheduled for May 12 in San Antonio, with the stipulation that it would take place only if Flair had lost the title. Then I added a title rematch of my own for May 9 in Corpus Christi, a match that would take place no matter who won on May 6.
"And when it became known that there were two dates open in Texas," Kerry continued, "Flair snapped those up. Although the NWA wouldn't allow the title to be place on the line against the same man so many times, both of us were anxious to take those matches. From my standpoint, I wanted to show the world that my win over him was not a fluke. And I suppose his strategy was to wrestle me as many times as possible so that he could wear me down for our next title match. And I'll tell you something - four matches in five days against Flair was agonizing. Absolutely agonizing."
The Florida Circuit
When the NWA World title changes hands, the new champion must assume the schedule of title defenses already signed by the former champion. During his seven days in Florida, Kerry Von Erich had to defend the title eight times.
"Looking at the schedule objectively," Kerry said, "the week of matches in Florida was certainly harder for me than it would have been for Flair. A man like Mike Rotondo is a familiar quantity to Flair; he's wrestled him several times already, and has a set defense for Rotondo. But I had to start from scratch.
"When I wasn't traveling," Von Erich continued. "I had to spend my days working out in the gym or watching tapes of matches involving Rotondo, Ron Bass, Superstar Graham, and Black Bart, the men I'd have to defend my title against. It was a hectic schedule, and I hardly had any time to myself. Then again, that's the life of the NWA champion!"
Von Erich did make a new friend in Florida - Billy Jack.
"Billy is a terrific guy," Von Erich said. "I traveled with him from town to town, and he showed me some of the best places to work out. Hey - he should know about the best gyms in Florida, right? All you've got to do is look at this guy's body and you're instantly impressed. He's amazing. And I was able to watch him defend his Florida heavyweight title a few times. He's got quite a future ahead of him. I'm happy to call him my friend."
Japan: The Final days
"The flight to Japan gave me my first opportunity to rest," Von Erich said, "But then again I had jet lag to contend with! I remember sitting on the plane thinking about the two weeks I had just lived through and trying to anticipate what the future would hold.
"I knew my match on May 24 would be a rough one," Von Erich continued. "Again, it was against Flair. It's funny, when I first signed for that match, it was before I had won the title. At the time, I assumed I would be challenging for the title. And here I was defending it! I think that's when it all sunk in: I was the champion of the world!"
There were two significant factors of which both wrestlers were keenly aware coming into this match: One, this would be Flair's last chance at the title (the NWA had already stated that Ric would lose his number-one ranking if lost) and, two, Von Erich would be wrestling with a handicap.
Kerry's right hand - the hand he uses to apply his claw hold - was injured two days earlier in Tokyo during a match with former AWA champion Jumbo Tsuruta. In the third and deciding fall of the best two - out - of - three falls match, Tsuruta continually stomped on Von Erich's right hand, spraining it severely. Although Kerry could not close the hand, he would not cancel his two - out - of - three falls match against Flair in Yokosuka City.
"I won the first fall at the 15:21 mark using the claw," Kerry said, "But it took a lot out of me. I think applying the claw aggravated some of the injuries I suffered in the Tsuruta match. I had gotten a leg up on Flair by winning the first fall, but I think that some of my worries about my right hand cost me the edge I initially had."
Flair took the second fall in 3:24 with the figure - four leglock, and recaptured the NWA World title at the 7:19 mark of the third fall when Von Erich rolled him up for a pin, and Flair masterfully shifted his weight to turn the rollover into a double - rollover.
"Those were the three most hectic, aggravating, painful, joyous, incredible weeks of my life," Von Erich said. "Now I fully understand what being the NWA champion means, and what kind of a schedule has to be maintained. I think that, God willing, if I'm able to win the World title once again, I know what to expect and can keep the title for much longer.
"And anyone who criticizes Ric Flair in any manner whatsoever had better think twice about what he says," Von Erich added. "Flair's schedule is incredible, and I respect the man tremendously. I always have, but that respect is even more now that I've had a taste of what being the World champion is all about.
"And I will be World champion once again," Von Erich said. "That's a promise I've already made to myself, my family, my fans, and to David."