"The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling"
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Quick show of hands -- how many of you stupid marks are old enough to remember the glory days of WCCW? Oh, right; I can't see your hands.
How about this: I don't imagine the majority of today's wrestling fans realize how important World Class was to the industry. How far ahead of its time the production values were. How memorable the feuds were, and how gritty and realistic many of the characters were.
While I'm not crazy with the idea of World Wrestling Entertainment being the official caretaker of wrestling history, I have to say that most of their documentaries about other wrestling promotions have been pretty stellar. If you're able to put aside their slightly-skewed viewpoint of, you know, being the only wrestling promotion to never have made any mistakes ever, WWE's DVD stories of the AWA, ECW and WCW (via The Monday Night War) have been fairly accurate and balanced depictions of events.
Their newest offering, "The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling" continues along those lines, telling this most interesting chapter of wrestling history.
I'll start with the panel of guests WWE trotted out for this. It's an extensive list, with many names that have never been featured on a DVD before. They include Kevin Von Erich, The Fabulous Freebirds, longtime WCCW announcer Bill Mercer, managers Gary Hart and General Skandor Akbar, "Wild" Bill Irwin (a/k/a The Goon), and others. In addition, there are the usual gang of homegrown experts that knew World Class better than most, such as Jerry "The King" Lawler, Ric Flair, Jim Ross, Mick Foley and Triple H.
Um... Triple H? Really???
This may just be my Inner Guttman talking here, but The King of Kings had absolutely NOTHING to do with WCCW, yet he appears on the disc frequently, commenting with authority about things he probably shouldn't be talking about. Don't get me wrong; he's obviously a student of the game (in addition to being The Game), but it just seems wrong. It would be akin to, say, Batista telling us about the career of Jesse Ventura.
One other observation about the guest panel: Michael Hayes is the only Freebird that looks anything like he did 20-odd years ago. Terry "Bamm Bamm" Gordy is obviously no longer with us, but "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin looks more like a bald Fred Ottman than he does Jimmy Jam.
Seriously! I sat there for two minutes and wondered why freaking Tugboat was talking about WCCW. One Club WWI experience and it goes straight to his head! Also, Buddy "Jack" Roberts doesn't look remotely like what he does in the old Freebird clips, and talks through a voice transmitter (I believe it's because of throat cancer).
Hmmm... I guess it's a good thing they DIDN'T hold a
Fabulous Freebirds reunion
, after all.
Of course, the story of World Class is not about Triple H and Typhoon, but rather the famous Von Erich family. Through a combination of wrestling footage and home movies, we're shown how Jack Adkisson moved his family from Buffalo, New York (a/k/a Mikerickardsville) to Dallas, Texas and became a bonafide wrestling star and promoter in the Lone Star State.
From there, Fritz's children David, Kevin, Kerry, Mike, Chris, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael (okay, fine - some of those may actually be Jackson 5 members) became professional wrestlers, with Kevin and Kerry standing out in particular as local heroes and wrestling institutions.
Riding high on the success of the Von Erich family, and other characters such as The Freebirds, "Gentleman" Chris Adams, Gino Hernandez (no relation to Hercules), Iceman King Parsons and others, WCCW's syndicated television program was one of the slickest productions out there, behind really only the WWF at the time. They were one of the first promotions to use professional lighting grids, entrance music, and many other elements that are taken for granted today.
Of course, you can't spell "Triumph and Tragedy" without the letters t-r-a-g-e-d-y, and the deaths of the Von Erich brothers are covered in substantial detail. Obviously, they aren't as explicit with the deaths as some other reports have been (Dave Meltzer's "Tributes" book, for example), but you get the point that this was a screwed-up family, pushed into the spotlight at an early age. You know that's true because Triple H tells us so. Grrrr!
Even though WWE is mired in a drug controversy right now, they don't shy away from the drug problems of Kerry, Gino and others in the promotion (I suppose Texas was far enough outside the Wellness Policy that it was okay to mention). One very surprising inclusion: Michael Hayes, in a promo, refers to Kerry as a "steroid freak". I'm shocked that this ended up on a WWE release in 2007.
Kevin Von Erich is quick to point out that their father did not push them into wrestling, nor was he responsible for their downfalls. While this goes against everything I've read for a good 15 years now, I kind of get the feeling that Kevin may have not participated in the project had his father been painted in anything less than a favorable light.
In addition, Kevin's claim that Fritz wasn't faking a heart attack during the "New Freebirds" angle is questionable at best. I mean, you can clearly see Fritz collapsing on the ground and having people load him into an ambulance. What else could the guy have possibly been trying to fake?
The ending of this DVD left something to be desired because, while it did follow the end of World Class, the promotion changed its name to USWA when Jerry Jarrett won control of the organization. Sure, that might be another story for another day, but the promotion's roots were still in the new group. Steve Austin was easily the biggest star to get his start in Texas, but because it was technically USWA, we never hear about it. Even Mick Foley, who's quoted frequently in the DVD, was a huge name that emerged from the promotion after its glory days.
I don't know; it's like telling the story of TNA's first year without explaining the importance of having roots in the NWA -- oh, wait, TNA just did that.
The extras, as usual, are fantastic, especially since these are all DVD rarities. Besides more Von Erich matches than you can shake a stick at, the match selection ranges from an ancient "Texas Rasslin'" match, to Fritz's retirement match against King Kong Bundy (in which The Bundmeister sports a full head of hair and is about 1/3 of his WWF size, I might add), to a steel cage match between Bruiser Brody and Abdullah The Butcher.
In addition, there are about a dozen interviews and vignettes, most of which are worth checking out. The Gary Hart plane crash story is more than a little freaky, while hearing how a seven year-old Kevin chewed out Bobo Brazil is an amusing antecdote.
Overall, I dug this DVD. As I said, it was an important story to be told, and I don't think WWE half-assed it. They didn't try to turn it into "their" story, and aside from a few minutes of Kerry's "Texas Tornado" run, there's no WWE wrestling footage whatsoever. Still, it's not their best effort to date, and there was certainly too much Triple H for my liking (and I'm a fan of the guy).
Let me put it this way.... if you enoyed the ECW or AWA documentaries, you could do a lot worse than having this DVD in your collection.
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Canadian Bulldog is a borderline journalist who writes weekly for
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