Fritz Von Erich

Name: Fritz Von Erich
Year Inducted: 2012

Fritz Von Erich


Fritz Von Erich

Fritz Von Erich

Fritz Von Erich’s in-ring style was rough-and-tumble. The 6’4”, 260-pound brute was a thumper, with a vicious growl and a feared finishing hold, The Iron Claw, where he’d place his meaty right hand over his opponent’s skull and squeeze. “Fritz was a big sucker. His thighs were as big as the average guy’s waist, and he had those size 15 shoes. Every time he kicked you, it was like going for three points from the 50-yard line,” recalled Billy Red Lyons.

The football comparison is apt as Von Erich, under his birth name of Jack Adkisson, was a lineman for Southern Methodist University in 1949, blocking for Doak Walker. He lost his scholarship for marrying Doris Smith, who would bear him six boys, one who died as a young child and five who would become pro wrestlers. Born in Leon County, Texas, Adkisson’s family moved to Dallas when he was a teenager. Besides football, he was a clarinetist and excelled at the discus throw. To make ends meet at college, he worked as a loan collector and a fireman.

Doc Sarpolis and Ed “Strangler” Lewis suggested that Adkisson give professional wrestling a try in the early 1950s. When his career didn’t take off the way he anticipated, Adkisson devised a new persona, taking his grandfather’s name, Fritz, and his mother’s maiden name, Erich. “Back in those days, I couldn’t do a damn thing without getting hurt,” Von Erich told D Magazine in 1981. “People think of Fritz Von Erich, the great wrestler. They’d be amazed to find out I lost my first 12 professional matches.”

Getting away from Texas seemed to do the trick for the rechristened Von Erich, and he hit the road. “Fritz was one of the first major big-name guys that wrestled everywhere. He was like a Hans Schmidt, a Don Leo Jonathon, a Dick the Bruiser. He worked in a lot of different territories,” said Gary Hart, a constant thorn in Von Erich’s side to the public but Von Erich’s ally behind the scenes. “He was just a big, heavy-footed, raw-boned guy that didn’t mind fighting.”

Von Erich found great success switching from Toronto to Buffalo to Detroit. “A master of every dangerous wrestling hold, as well as the fastest and definitely the most vicious super-heavy-weight in wrestling, Fritz is responsible for more serious ring injuries to his opponents then any other grappler in modern wrestling history,” reads Wrestling The King of Sports, distributed in Buffalo-area arenas. After winning tag titles in Minneapolis with Hans Hermann in 1958, Von Erich would introduce his “brother” Waldo Von Erich (Wally Sieber of Toronto).

His first crack at promoting was sharing Rochester, New York with Lyons, Ilio DiPaolo and Dick Beyer. Up next, he took over the Dallas promotion from Ed McLemore. Von Erich would run the Dallas wrestling office—later World Class Championship Wrestling—until 1988, when he handed it over to his sons. Von Erich was a different character in Texas, and turned babyface in 1967.

Von Erich died in September 1997 of brain cancer.  In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Johnny Valentine explained Fritz’s appeal to Texans. “He was the people’s bad guy … They adopted him. If you’re mean enough and tough enough, they get to where they respect you for that.”

 

- Greg Oliver



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