Behind the Dressing Room Door
By: Stu Saks
When it comes time for the fans to cast their votes for the annual year-end awards in our sister publication Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Mike Von Erich gets very few votes in the Rookie of the Year category.
By the time the end of the year rolls around, very few people are going to remember that Mike Von Erich is a rookie. Sometimes it’s tough even for Mike to remember.
Being a rookie was a luxury this 19 year old was never afforded. He’s not a typical 19 year old; he’s a 19 year old Von Erich.
“Everything’s happened so quickly,” Mike Von Erich said, struggling to sip up a thick shake that was a bit too thick to pass through his straw as we ate lunch together at a restaurant near his Denton, Texas home. I could see him getting frustrated over his little problem. But that’s not the kind of man Mike Von Erich is. He’s not the kind of person who will sit there and let the thick shake melt a little before he drinks it. If there’s something he wants, that’s within his grasp, he’s going to grab for it. “During the time I was training to become a professional, all I heard from my father and my brothers was how they were going to make sure that my career was going to be handled correctly,” Von Erich said. “I was not going to be allowed to get in over my head. I had a long career ahead of me, they would say, and there was no need to rush things. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.” Mike smiled briefly and then went back to work on his thick shake. It hadn’t loosened any. Shaking his head, he took the straw out and drank from the glass. A little messier, perhaps, but it got the job done. Mike Von Erich is not the kind of man who will allow himself to be beaten. If there’s a way to win, he’ll find it. If things get a little messy, he’s willing to pay the price.
After a relatively easy debut against part-time wrestler, part-time manager General Skandor Akbar, Von Erich assumed a schedule of matches against the same caliber opponents his brothers were facing. He even stepped into the ring with NWA World champion Ric Flair. “That was a match I will probably remember for the rest of my life,” Mike said. “It was a non-title match, but the agreement was if I lasted the entire 10 minutes without submitting or being pinned, Flair would have to give a title match to David. Not only did I last till the time limit, but most people will tell you that I dominated the action. David was so proud.”
Following David’s death, Mike was forced to mature quickly. He had now become a member of the Von Erich three-man team. And he had become involved in one of the most brutal feuds of our time: the Von Erich’s vs. The Freebirds. There’s no place for a rookie in a war like this. The Freebirds couldn’t care less that Mike Von Erich is only 19 years old, nor should they be expected to. “Why should they go easy on me?” Von Erich asked. “I’m certainly not going to go easy on them.”
When it comes to wrestling, the word “easy” is not part of Von Erich’s vocabulary. Critics might say that being a Von Erich, it was easy for him to break into wrestling. And perhaps that’s true. The fact that he is a Von Erich has surely helped him at the box office. His name was well known to the fans long before he made his debut. But all that popularity doesn’t help him once he steps inside those ring ropes. “I’ve always followed the career of Marvis Frazier, the boxer,” Von Erich said. “Marvis is Joe Frazier’s son and everybody always says that Marvis got opportunities that other wouldn’t have gotten, just because of who his father was. Of course, that was true. Even Marvis didn’t deny that. But his father couldn’t help him the night he stepped in the ring against Larry Holmes. Sure, Marvis got his butt kicked, but he proved to the world that he wasn’t scared of proving himself. I admire him for that.”
If anything, being a Von Erich makes things more difficult for Mike. Everyone he faces knows that a win over a Von Erich will receive a great deal of national attention. Wrestlers get up for matches against Mike and his brothers they way they do for the World champion. That would be a tremendous burden for anyone, let alone a 19 year old.
If Mike Von Erich was just an average 19 year old, it is unlikely that he would last through his first year in the sport. But Mike is a Von Erich. Not only does he have the Von Erich physical toughness, but he has the Von Erich mental toughness. Like any rookie, he’ll get mad in the ring, but unlike a rookie, he’ll never allow his emotions to dictate how he’s going to wrestle. In fact, he’s the oldest 19 year old I’ve ever seen. If he isn’t voted Rookie of the Year, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he finishes highly in the voting for Wrestler of the Year.