So, who’s up for an eight-man tag team match?
Mike Von Erich certainly is. “That would be great,” he said. “Kevin, David, Kerry and me against The Freebirds and Jim Garvin. That sounds like a great match. I think I’m gonna have to work up to that, though.”
Mike may be only 19, but he has a firm grasp on where his abilities lie. The youngest of the wrestling Von Erich’s knows that his name alone doesn’t make him a great wrestler. “Experience makes you a great wrestler,” he said. “That’s what they keep saying to me. I have to get a lot of matches under my belt before I can even think about big matches. I have to wrestle all different types of wrestler, too. I know that as I keep doing it, it will get easier. I was really nervous the first time out, but Dad told me that every time I step into the ring, it will be a little easier.”
Mike wanted to turn pro when he turned 18, on March 2 of last year, the day he was eligible for a wrestling license. “Dad said I was too small,” Mike said. At 6’2” and 185 pounds, he was hardly small by regular standards, but he needed to add muscle mass to his body to take the tremendous amounts of abuse a professional wrestler must withstand.
His father, Fritz Von Erich, his brothers, and even his mother had a great deal to do with the preparation for Mike’s professional debut. “It was a family project,” Fritz said. “I had everyone in motion. I had his mother preparing a special diet for him, a high protein diet that went with the exercise program I planned for him. The other boys helped him through his workouts.”
Half a year of training in the gym and at the dinner table added 35 pounds of muscle to Mike’s lanky frame. “I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I’m glad Dad didn’t let me get into the ring before I got in shape. I never realized how important it was. Well, I guess we all learn something from our fathers.”
Mike said the first lesson he learned from his father was that wrestling was a dangerous sport. “He was very good at hiding his injuries when I was little,” he said. “He didn’t want us to worry, I figure. But the first time he took me to one of his matches, I found out how dangerous wrestling really was.”
Fritz Von Erich was battling Johnny Valentine in Fort Worth, Texas, and Mrs. Von Erich took Mike, then four years old, to watch his father wrestle. Mike sat with his mother and watched Valentine and his father brawl for what he says seemed like hours. At the end of the match, Fritz came back bruised, sore, and missing some teeth.
“We laugh about it now,” Fritz said, “but at the time it wasn’t that funny. I remember that Mike was horrified. I never let on at home if I was hurt in a match. Actually, he had seen me in much worse shape. I guess he just never realized it.”
”I made my mother write a letter to Valentine,” Mike recalled. “I told her to write that I hated him and that my Dad would get him back for what he did. And then I signed it.”
The lessons Mike learned after that were in amateur competition. He wrestled on the Denton, Texas, YMCA team, starting at age six in the 75-pound weight class. Kerry, who is four years older, was a teammate. They were both very successful, winning several regional amateur championships.
Mike left the team when he was 15 and began sparring with his older brothers. “Kerry beat the hell out of me,” he said. “All three of them were a lot bigger than me. David and Kevin were already pros, so they took it easy on me. I learned a lot though.”
That learning came in handy in Mike’s debut match, against manager-wrestler Gen. Skandor Akbar. With pre-match coaching from his brothers, Mike stepped into the ring against Akbar on Thanksgiving night at Dallas’ Reunion Arena. Not only was it his first pro match, but also his first grudge match.
Watching a match between brother David and Kamala, the Ugandan Giant, a few weeks earlier, Mike saw Manager Akbar hand Kamala an illegal weapon to use against David. Mike and brother Kevin charged the ring with Johnny Mantell and Iceman Parsons, but the three others wouldn’t let Mike get involved in the action. During the melee, Akbar swatted Mike with his riding crop, setting up the grudge battle between the two.
Mike didn’t disappoint his brothers, rallying to victory in front of a turn away crowd of 22,000 fans. “It was the most incredible feeling to have all those people cheering for me,” he said. “I just stood there at first. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe the applause was for me. One dose of that and you want to hear it for the rest of your life.”
Undoubtedly, Mike Von Erich will be hearing and enjoying the cheers of wrestling fans around the world for a long time to come.