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10 Wrestling Matches to Watch Before Seeing The Iron Claw

13 min read

If you're a wrestling fan then you know the Von Erich name. Even without knowing their story, the tragedy that has befallen the legendary wrestling dynasty precedes them. Ruled by the tough patriarch of the family, Fritz Von Erich taught his six sons how to wrestle just as quickly as he taught them how to talk. By the time the originator of had passed, however, five of those six had predeceased him.

Now, thirty years after the passing of perhaps the most famous member of the family, Kerry Von Erich, comes Sean Durkin's The Iron Claw. Finally bringing their story to a wider audience, The Iron Claw is the ultimate tribute to the family and the impact that they have left on both the professional wrestling business and its fans. 

As important as their story is to tell, the Von Erichs rarely get enough due for their work as in-ring performers. For many fans their introduction to the Von Erichs is often through hearing about the misfortune of the family, rarely setting eyes on any of their matches as individuals or as a team. Just as the movie will be a great place for many to understand the human beings underneath the characters they portrayed in the wrestling ring, some of their best matches are also a great place to better understand those that the film is portraying. Furthermore, some of their matches are just plain excellent.

With that in mind, for the most passionate wrestling fans and for the uninitiated among you, here are ten wrestling matches to watch before seeing The Iron Claw.


  1. Best Two Out Of Three Falls Match for the NWA International Heavyweight Title: Fritz Von Erich Vs Giant Baba – JWA (December 3rd, 1966)

When looking at the story of the Von Erichs it only makes sense to start at the beginning with the man who started it all. The first generation of the Von Erich family and a teacher to those who would come after him, Fritz Von Erich.

Fritz was a big star in American wrestling, notably working for promotions such as the National Wrestling Alliance and founding his own company, World Class Championship Wrestling, which was perhaps the main promotion in Texas during the territory days of professional wrestling. However, Fritz was most notably a star in Japan and played a major role in rebuilding the country's pro wrestling scene after the death of Rikidōzan, a national hero who was thought of as the founder of Japanese wrestling (also known as Puroresu). 

Known as “Tetsu no Tsume” (“The Iron Claw”), Von Erich played the typical role of a foreign heel (also known as a Gaijin) for the Japanese hero to overcome. This match with Giant Baba is perhaps the best example of this with Fritz really playing up to his role of an evil, indestructible force to be stopped. Attacking his opponent before the bell rings, Fritz has the advantage for the majority of the match and sets a fast pace once the bell eventually does ring, charging at Baba early on and never letting up. 

Constantly on the offensive and doing whatever he can to inflict as much damage as he can to his opponent, Fritz looks like a monster from bell to bell, throwing Giant Baba to the outside on multiple occasions and beating up those around the ringside for simply getting in his way. Most impressively, however, both men make the Iron Claw look devastating. The move itself is simply placing one's hand around another's head and squeezing tightly, the type of move that inflicts minimal damage in reality and requires the one taking the move to act a little over the top to really sell the move to the audience. In this match though, not only does Fritz thrust his hand down upon his opponent with such force that we believe he is applying it just as forcefully but Baba sells it suitably to the point that we believe it.

Though the typical politics of Japanese wrestling at the time make the outcome of the match a little predictable, the best two out of three falls stipulations adds some excitement to the match as far as how Giant Baba will overcome the behemoth that stands before him.

If you're looking to really go through the story of the Von Erich family, this match from the family patriarch is the best place to start.

  1. Steel Cage Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich – WCCW: Christmas Star Wars 1982 (December 25th, 1982)

By far one of the most famous matches in the history of World Class Championship Wrestling, this title match between sixteen-time world champion Ric Flair and the face of the Von Erich family, Kerry Von Erich, is the inciting incident that would lead to the legendary feud between the Von Erichs and the Fabulous Freebirds.

Things are a little complicated by the fact that Michael Hayes is a special guest enforcer alongside the referee, meaning that there are essentially two men doing the same job, but things thankfully don't get too confusing. 

That being said, this match is a total war. It is chaotic and even a little messy but given the steel cage stipulation and the hostility that both men show each other, things get suitably violent and could only be described as a bar room brawl.

The crowd is fantastic and come the moment which would ignite the rivalry between the Freebirds and the Von Erichs, this match closes as a certified classic of 80s wrestling. Not only is it an important chapter in the story but it is a great match to boot.

  1. Singles Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Ric Flair vs Kevin Von Erich – WCCW TV (April 9th, 1983)

Ric Flair is a name that is going to be popping up on this list a handful of times. One of the greatest wrestlers of all time and perhaps the most famous wrestler of the 1980s behind only Hulk Hogan, he is also closely tied to the Von Erich family. His record-setting ten reigns with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship during the 1980s placed him within the WCCW promotion multiple times and he always delivered. 

This world title bout tells a fantastic story of a very talented and young Kevin Von Erich who, against all odds, goes up against the world champion and gives him a run for his money. Flair, playing the cocky world champion see's his challenger as being beneath him and not worth his time, underestimating him in the process. In doing so, Flair allows Kevin to show off his impressive move set and in-ring talent, pulling out his flashiest high-flying moves to try and defeat the world champion.

Famous for his dirty tactics, Flair does everything he can to put away the young underdog as quickly as possible, lying, cheating, and stealing at every opportunity. Whereas most babyfaces would fight to overcome the odds, Kevin gives the champion a taste of his own medicine and throws his own tricks right back at Flair. 

It's a great back-and-forth match that builds to a truly exciting finish, one which takes the audience by surprise and blows the roof off of the famed Dallas Sportatorium. As good as the match is, perhaps the greatest visual of all is Flair, bloody, sweaty, and deranged by his embarrassment at the hands of Von Erich, clutching the world title and running out of the building screaming “It's mine!! It's mine!!”

  1. Six Man Tag Team Match for the WCCW Six Man Tag Team Titles: The Von Erichs vs The Fabulous Freebirds – WCCW TV (August 20th, 1983)

Outside of the tragedy that the Von Erichs have faced, the family is perhaps most well known for their rivalry with the Fabulous Freebirds. Renowned by fans and critics alike, the winner of the “Feud of the Year” award in Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards in both 1983 and 1984, this rivalry is rightfully lauded.

Starting way back in December 1982 during that Flair/Von Erich steel cage match, what would follow was a string of back-and-forth promos against one another, interferences in one another's matches, and hundreds of contests against each other over the next two years. 

The Freebirds had four members in the form of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, and Jimmy Garvin, whereas the Von Erichs only had three members with Kerry, Kevin, and David Von Erich. With this in mind, WCCW TV would pit both teams against one another with varying combinations.

After a while, the singles matches on TV could get tedious, with only so many variations being available and with WCCW having a terrible habit of screwy finishes to their matches. However, this first six-man tag match is a reminder of just how brilliant this rivalry was and why the two groups were such a perfect fit for each other.

The match has a terrific flow that allows it to fly by, all the while spotlighting the individual talents of each man as well as the brilliance of each pairing in the ring. The sheer hatred that they both have for each other is on display for all to see and leads to a highly contested bout that is as exhilarating as it is well wrestled. The ending to the match does end things on a bit of a bad note but the rest of the match showcases the best of the Von Erichs/Freebird rivalry. 

  1. Loser Leaves Town Steel Cage Match: Michael Hayes vs Kerry Von Erich – WCCW: Thanksgiving Star Wars (November 24th, 1983)

Almost a full year after their rivalry was ignited, the two leaders of their individual stables – the Freebirds and the Von Erichs – meet again where it all began; inside of a steel cage. This time with the added stipulation that the loser must leave the state of Texas for a full year.

Placed inside a cage with the intention of stopping outside interference from either men's groups, things barely remain contained and soon turn chaotic. Similar to Kerry's earlier cage match against Flair, this fight resembles a bar room brawl more than it does a wrestling match, displaying the hatred the two men have for one another and showing the hostility that the two groups have for each other. Just as it is a great continuation of the rivalry, there are also numerous callbacks to their past that bring depth to the match and make it a much richer experience. It's crazy, chaotic, dirty and fun

  1. Singles Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Ric Flair vs David Von Erich – WCCW: Christmas Star Wars 1983 (December 25th, 1983)

Without speaking too negatively of the dead, it must be stated that David was not as technically gifted as either of his brothers Kevin or Kerry. He was a reliable in-ring talent who could certainly put on a solid match, but who lacked the charisma needed to make his matches special. That being said, David Von Erich had spirit and no better is that on display than in this match.

Up against Ric Flair, David was in good hands and the pair put together a fun story that led to this match which is at points funny and at others thrilling. The throughline from bell to bell is that Flair, by the dastardly bad guy that he is, wishes to make use of his champion's advantage so that he can have himself disqualified and still keep his championship, even if he did officially lose the match. It's an interesting story to tell, one which is fascinating to watch. From the moment Flair first tries anything the referee knows what he is up to and appropriately refuses to DQ Flair. As the match goes on Flair's antics get wilder and more ridiculous and Von Erich seems more and more like a capable challenger. Ultimately, things lead to a well-deserved climax that makes both men look great. Flair is an evil mastermind who'll do whatever it takes to keep his title and Von Erich is a talent that pushes the world champion to his limits. An unusual match in the best way. 

  1. Singles Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich – WCCW: 1st Von Erich Memorial Parade Of Champions (May 6th, 1984) – 32,123 attendance

If you are unfamiliar with the Von Erichs, let this match be evidence of their immense popularity during the 1980s. Put on in honour of David Von Erich who lost his life in February of the same year, the first Von Erich Memorial Parade Of Champions drew over thirty-two thousand fans to Texas Stadium. 

In the main event of the show was Kerry Von Erich taking on Ric Flair. Whereas David had been chosen earlier in the year to dethrone Flair for the title and had passed away before he could do so, Kerry was now placed in his position and dedicated the match to his brother.

Whereas most matches are placed on this list due to a mix of the importance of the match as well as the quality of the wrestling itself, this match belongs here almost entirely because of its importance and the sheer spectacle of it. Among the handful of matches that Kerry and Flair would have together, this one falls on the lower end of the scale. It's not a bad match – these two couldn't have a bad match together in their sleep – but it is certainly less memorable or eventful than any of their other matches.

What makes this match so important, however, is the moment when Kerry Von Erich defeats Ric Flair for the first time and finally becomes world champion. The respect shown by Flair, the emotion shown by Kerry and his family, and the crowd's reaction. It's a moment that shows just how beautiful and rewarding professional wrestling can be. 

  1. Best Two Out Of Three Falls Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Kerry Von Erich vs Jumbo Tsuruta – AJPW: Grand Champion Carnival II, Night 5 (May 22nd, 1984)

From here on this list may as well be a “best of Kerry Von Erich” list. Unfortunately, as much as other great matches were had, Kerry was the brother who found himself in the most high-profile contests, even being the only Von Erich to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Aside from this, Kerry is generally also considered the most talented of Fritz Von Erich's sons. 

As far as the matches on this list go, this is perhaps the most impressive from a purely technical standpoint. With that in mind, it is a terrific contest from Kerry's time in Japan and one that tells a wonderful story. As one of All Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest stars, Jumbo Tsuruta takes exception to Kerry's popularity with the crowd and the fact that the company had brought in a gaijin as a special attraction, so he pushes Kerry to his limit in order to make the Texan prove his mettle.

From the get-go Tsuruta controls the pace of the match, beating Kerry down at every turn and generally disrespecting the champion. With the match taking place under the best two out of three falls rules, they use the structure of the match excellently to tell the story of an underprepared champion and a zealous challenger. Despite coming in as the champion, Tsuruta stacks the odds against Kerry and once it is clear that Jumbo has his number, the match becomes one of Kerry having to prove why he is the one with the belt around his waist. 

It is a brilliant contest, one that shows the intricacies and subtle storytelling beats which are such a major component of what makes for a great wrestling match. Though there can only be one man who walks out of the ring as champion, this is the sort of match that has no losers.

  1. Singles Match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title: Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich – WCCW: Christmas Star Wars 1984 (December 25th, 1984)

There is a marvellous storyline that runs throughout the matches of Kerry Von Erich and Ric Flair. Sharing the ring numerous times throughout their careers, we see the transformation of Kerry Von Erich as a wrestler through his contests with the NWA world champion. Starting out as a plucky underdog with enough talent to really challenge the champion, to a knowledgeable in-ring talent capable of defeating Flair through a lucky pin, to a legitimate top guy and veteran in the ring who has the skill, the brain, and the brawn to defeat one of his greatest rivals. Come Christmas day 1984, Kerry Von Erich is a certified star. 

In this match we see Kerry push Ric Flair like he never has before, giving the dirtiest player in the game his toughest challenge in years and making Ric work harder than he ever has. Just as we see Kerry growing through their matches, this bout shows some serious progression for Flair too. It is in this match that we see Flair using some of his signature moves and spots against Kerry for the very first time. 

Although people think of the Freebirds as the ultimate rivals to the Von Erichs, it is clear that Ric Flair was Kerry Von Erich's greatest dance partner and this is one of the best matches that the pairing ever had together, topped off with a perfect ending to the match.

  1. Singles Match to Unify the AWA and WCCW World Heavyweight Titles: Jerry Lawler vs Kerry Von Erich – AWA: Superclash III (December 13th, 1988)

The height of the Von Erich's was certainly between 1982 and 1984 but that is not to say that they didn't still have gas in the tank. Although tragedy had already struck the family by this point with the passing of both David and Mike Von Erich, as well as Kerry's motorcycle accident which would have his right foot amputated and lead to a painkiller addiction, Kerry was still wrestling at the highest level.

Both his best and perhaps his most notable match past the peak of World Class Championship Wrestling, this title unification bout at the Superclash III is Kerry Von Erich's last hurrah. Both men go through absolute hell to defeat each other, with both competitors coming out of the other end as bloody, sweaty, defeated men who will be forever changed by the encounter they had on this night. The tenacity with which both men compete communicates the importance of the titles to the audience, as well as showing how tough each man is to defeat. 

It's a fairly simple story; Jerry Lawler is the dastardly heel who will go behind the ref's back to defeat Kerry Von Erich and Kerry is a superhero who simply can't be put away. However, both men perform their roles so perfectly and play off of one another so well that we find ourselves totally sucked into it.

Though Kerry Von Erich still had a few years left in him and Kevin would wrestle until 1995, this really was the swan song not just for Kerry but for the Von Erich family as a whole. Although the sons of Kevin and the daughter of Kerry still wrestle to this day, flying the flag of their family, the Von Erich name truly lives on in the legacy of those who came before them. Now, with the release of The Iron Claw, their story can be told and their legacy can live on.