For those who are wrestling fans, it goes without saying that teams, alliances, and factions are a big part of what makes the sport fun and interesting to watch. No other group of people has been more connected to the in-ring profession than families.
Whether it is the McMahons, the Anoai-Maivias, the Vachons, the Harts, the Ortons, the Hennigs, or the Colons, each clan has left their own impression on the squared circle that will continue to carry on their family legacy, even years after they are all departed from the sport.
In Texas alone, you’ve seen famous families like the Funks, the Guerreros, the Rhodes, and the Windhams, however, the Lone Star state alumni would not be complete if you leave out the Von Erich family.
Jack Adkisson was Fritz Von Erich, the wrestling patriarch. In the early 80s, his sons Kevin, David, Kerry, and Mike were superstars on the rise. Their personalities, good looks, and athleticism were the ticket to ensuring all of them a promising career in World Class Championship Wrestling and beyond.
If you are familiar with the triumphs achieved by the Von Erich family throughout their wrestling career, then you also know of the many tragedies they have experienced as well. February 10, 1984, marked a pivotal date in wrestling history, not only for Texas but all around the world as well. It was on that day, that David died while on a wrestling tour in Japan.
In the two years following David’s passing, Mike came down with toxic shock syndrome and Kerry was in a motorcycle accident that later led to the amputation of his right foot. On the business side of things, the World Class promotion was at its peak and the Von Erich boys were in high demand. The fans just couldn’t get enough of this phenomenal wrestling family from Lake Dallas, Texas.
Fritz and the promotion office did not want to take a chance with a drop in ticket sales or lose any fans if the company was portrayed in a bad light. Like most people, when they are in trouble or in need of some help, they call on their relatives. This was exactly what the master of the iron claw did in this situation. Fritz reached out to his brother Waldo Von Erich and made arraignments for his nephew Lance to join World Class and assist his sons inside the ring…
Waldo (Paul Sieber) is not really Fritz’s brother at all, and Lance is not really Fritz’s nephew. It was not until 1985 that Lance Von Erich even existed. Lance Von Erich is Kevin Vaughan, and at the time, he was 25 years old. He sold real estate and was an avid weight lifter who participated in weight lifting competitions. One day in Denton, Texas, while out playing golf with his friends, World Class referee David Manning approached him.
“I was pretty big at the time and he asked me if I had ever thought about wrestling,” said Kevin Vaughan. ”I never did. I never wanted to be a wrestler. It wasn’t my dream like it was for a lot of guys.”
Vaughan was asked to come to the Sportatorium where he met with Fritz, Manning, and Bronco Lubich. There, they introduced the idea of putting the Von Erich name on him and making him a wrestling cousin of the Von Erich brothers. They asked Vaughan what he thought about their plan.
“I had no idea who the Von Erichs were,” said Vaughan.
At the time, Vaughan thought the proposal being offered to him sounded pretty good, and he thought it could lead to other opportunities. He agreed to commit to wrestling for six months. For approximately two months in Dallas, he would train in the ring with wrestlers such as George Weingeroff, Kelly Kiniski, Skip Young, and Bill and Scott Irwin.
“At the time, I was driving a Jaguar SJ6, and all of those guys were asking me why I wanted to wrestle,” said Vaughan. “It wasn’t like I wanted to, they asked me and I said that I would give it a try.”
Arrangements were made for him to go to the Portland, Oregon territory run by Don Owens. While there, he trained in the art of wrestling. The World Class Championship Wrestling fans were told the following fictitious storyline.
“Supposedly, my Father was Waldo Von Erich and at the time, I was wrestling in Europe,” said Vaughan. ”They didn’t want me to learn how to wrestle in Dallas. They wanted me to go to Portland. It could have been anywhere, but they wanted me to go away for a few months so I could learn what I needed to know.”
In the Pacific Northwest, he would wrestle under the name of Ricky Vaughan, a name given to him by Don Owens. Vaughan became friends with Billy Jack Haynes, and he stayed with his family while Billy was wrestling in Japan. Vaughan began training under Sandy Barr, a wrestler that was also a referee, a promoter, and a trainer. Barr was responsible for training Jessie Barr, Matt Borne, and Velvet McIntyre.
While in Portland, Vaughan also quickly learned from the local talent within that territory. Wrestlers like Bobby Jaggers, Mega Maharishi, Billy Two Eagles, and Karl Steiner. He credits Jerry Grey however for a lot of his progress and believes some of his best matches were with him.
Unlike other up and coming wrestlers, Vaughan was formally in the ring much more quickly. While wrestling in the Pacific Northwest, Vaughan held the tag team belts with Billy Jack Haynes and was a one-time NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion. Overall, it was a good experience for Vaughan, but with one downside.
“I wasn’t making any money. Before wrestling, I was making a lot of money. In Portland, I was only making $700 a week,” said Vaughan. “It was horrible money and I wanted to get to Dallas because I was expecting to make better money there.”
After wrestling for about a year in Oregon, Vaughan felt it was time to return to World Class Championship Wrestling and he told Don Owens his plans. Owens tried to discourage him from leaving the Portland area because he wanted Vaughan to learn more and possibly move on to the WWF from there. Vaughan left anyway.
Lance’s big introduction as a Von Erich came on October 6, 1985, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. On that day, Kevin and Kerry Von Erich faced the Dynamic Duo, Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams in a hair match. Lance would be one of 20 wrestlers surrounding the ring and serving as a lumberjack to keep the losers from escaping the ring to avoid their heads being shaved.
One other stipulation of the match was that there were no rules. Meaning the wrestlers could do anything they wanted inside the ring as the match was taking place. Near the end of the match, Chris Adams would throw powder into Kerry’s face and it would temporarily impair his vision.
His blurred vision forced him to retreat to the corner of the ring where Lance came to the rescue. Lance used a towel to wipe the powder from Kerry’s eyes and he was able to return to the action. Back into the mix of things, he was able to quickly catch Chris in a pinning situation in which Kerry got the win.
“I got a pretty good pay day on that one. I was paid $2,500 just to run in,” said Vaughan. “I kind of missed the big time in Dallas. I think 82 through 85 are when things were really going great, but about the time I came in, things were becoming worse.”
World Class Championship Wrestling had television tapings on Monday night in Ft. Worth at the Will Rogers Coliseum and a show on Friday night in Dallas at the Sportatorium. On the other days of the week, they traveled. The promotion hit Texas hard with a rotating schedule. They had shows in some of the surrounding states also on a regular basis. Lance learned quickly what it meant to be on the road.
“I would wrestle two towns a night. I would be in the opening match in the first town, and give myself enough time to drive to the other town and be in the main event,” said Vaughan. I wouldn’t take my trunks off. I would just stay in them because I would have to run straight to the ring a lot of the times.”
It didn’t take long for the grueling schedule to start wearing on Lance. There were times that Lance felt he was carrying the Von Erich name because Fritz’s sons were not always reliable or healthy. The weekend travel was especially difficult because most of the time the shows were spread out to further distances. Places such as New Orleans, Mississippi, and Georgia.
“It would take 10 hours to get home and it would be like eight in the morning. I would sleep until about two or three because I would have to get up to go wrestle somewhere else,” said Vaughan. “My body was so different when I started wrestling with the Von Erichs because I had no time to work out. It started to disintegrate.”
For what the fans saw on television, it was a cohesive family working together and they all got along, but it was a business. Lance was not really a cousin, he was merely an employee hired by Fritz Von Erich. Lance was brought into World Class Championship Wrestling to do a job, which meant he was to do what he was told. Especially regarding his actions and wrestling style inside the ring.
“They kind of gave me a push, but it was always followed with “you can’t do this or you can do that,” said Vaughan. “I was able to do back flips off the top rope and a lot of the things that most of the guys couldn’t do at the time, but they would never let me do them because they didn’t want me to out shine them.”
For the most part, Lance had very little interaction with Fritz. The business decisions were handled by David Manning and Ken Mantell. Eventually, Lance put his foot down and spoke his mind about his pay and discrepancies he had with the profit money from pictures sales.
“I told them if they were not going to pay me more money that I was going to leave. If I were to make a couple hundred grand a year, then the money would be commensurate with the job and I could handle working twice a day,” said Vaughan. “It would have been a lot easier than $150 a match and having to spend your own money to get to each town. It was not my idea of a good time.”
By this time, it was 1987, and Lance had proven that he could work. He had already been in a match against Ric Flair and people in the business started to recognize him as a promising star inside the ring. Though business dealings might have been difficult with him and the World Class promotion, there was a possible job opportunity for Lance in his near future.
“I had met some guys from the WWF in Orlando and their booker wanted me to work for them,” said Vaughan. “I think Fritz was afraid I was going to take their name up there, so he went on T.V. and announced that I was not a Von Erich.”
His relationship with the Von Erichs was now strained, and he was forced to wrestle in the United States under the name Fabulous Lance. With the wrestling territories around the United States drying up and a couple of smaller local wrestling shows not panning out, there were fewer places for Lance to work.
“I would have been okay to have just faded into the sunset,” said Vaughan. “I had no desire to work in the United States. I didn’t even want to stay in the industry.”
Lance might not have wanted to stay in the wrestling profession, but he ultimately did. He didn’t continue working in the United States, however, but took a suggestion from his friend Steve Simpson. Simpson suggested that Lance should call his Father, who was a wrestling promoter in South Africa.
“He told me to come over and wrestle for him and I did. I liked it and I told him that I wanted to stay longer than what we had planned,” said Vaughan. “He told me to stay as long as I wanted to and I wrestled as Lance Von Erich everywhere I went outside of the United States.”
Wrestling in South Africa was very different than his days with The Von Erichs. In South Africa, the wrestlers were flown to the matches unless the matches were in close proximity to each other. Lance enjoyed staying in much nicer hotels that were paid for by the promotion, and he was also content with his match earnings.
Lance was happy with the way the wrestling business was handled in South Africa. He also grew accustomed to the South African lifestyle. Lance made a lot of friends and became a popular celebrity starring in movies and appearing in television commercials. His popularity grew when newspaper and magazine media in South Africa and surrounding countries featured stories about his success.
In 1988, Lance had an idea that would change his life. The film industry in South Africa at that time started to slow down. Filmmakers who went there to make movies during the apartheid were banned from making movies in the United States. This left many large warehouses sitting empty that Lance ultimately turned into health clubs.
“I had 10,000 members between three clubs and I made a lot of money in the industry,” said Vaughan. “I ended up selling them to a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s company.”
Lance’s ability to spot a good business opportunity and his awareness of knowing when to sell the clubs allowed him to use his position in wrestling solely for the purpose of seeing the world.
“After 1995, I was just wrestling in places that I wanted to go to,” said Vaughan. “I went to places like Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and India quite a bit.”
After World Class Championship Wrestling, Vaughan wrestled in South Africa and in other countries for a total of 10 years before retiring from the sport in 1997. Because of a chance meeting with referee David Manning on the golf course, Vaughan went on to wrestle with one of the most prominent families in the business, thus opening up an opportunity of a lifetime. A life most people only dream of.
The short time Vaughan spent with the Von Erichs was definitely not the best time in his life, and he rarely talks about his past association with them. Occasionally and unfortunately, he comes across someone or something on the internet that claims he is an imposter or a traitor.
“They don’t know the real story or anything that happened. It wasn’t like I betrayed the Von Erichs, I just didn’t want to work for them anymore,” said Vaughan. “I’m glad that I wrestled in World Class. I got to see different places in the world and ultimately I ended up making some pretty good money from the health clubs. South Africa was very good to me.”