Wrestling Ghosts of Christmas Past. Part One of Two.
Originally presented at Canadian Bulldog's World. 2015.
Once upon a time, for a select group of fans, Christmas was a day for professional wrestling. Of course there was more to the day than just that; people celebrated the holiday in the traditional manner, opening presents, attending church services, and dining with family and friends. However, the day would be capped with a trip to the local arena where they saw their favorite professional wrestlers entertain them. These shows were usually limited to one (sometimes two) venues per promotion due to the limited size of their rosters. Like the holidays themselves, there was something special about these Christmas shows and even more special for the fans who got to see them. Join me now as we are visited by the Wrestling Ghosts of Christmas Past.
Wrestling has always been a demanding sport for wrestlers with them working grueling schedules that often kept them from their families for weeks (or longer) at a time. The holidays were no exception, and wrestlers often found themselves in the ring when other athletes were celebrating the Yuletide season at home (Even the NFL has maintained a very limited schedule when Christmas falls on a Sunday).
One area that featured regular Christmas cards was Jim Crockett Promotions’ (JCP) which had Christmas cards in select arenas. What a treat it must have been to celebrate Christmas by watching their favorite wrestlers. The knowledgeable folks at the Mid Atlantic Gateway have a special section devoted to the area’s Christmas cards and I encourage you to check it out (as well as the rest of the site).
World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) was another promotion that featured special holiday events. Fritz Von Erich featured regular shows entitled “Star Wars” which showcased his promotion’s array of talent. The first “Star Wars” holiday show (not to be confused with the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special) was held in Dallas, Texas at the Reunion Arena on Christmas Day in 1982. It featured a main event of a two ring battle royal. Future WrestleMania II main eventer “King Kong” Bundy (known at the time as Big Daddy Bundy) won the battle royal.
Arguably the most historic “Star Wars” Christmas card was the following year when Kerry Von Erich challenged National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in a steel cage match with popular babyface Michael Hayes (leader of the three-man faction known as the Fabulous Freebirds) serving as special referee and Hayes’ fellow Freebird Terry Gordy serving as enforcer outside. Von Erich had been chasing Flair for some time, and with Flair trapped in a cage and Hayes and Gordy on hand to ensure no chicanery, it seemed as if Von Erich was a lock to win the belt. In true wrestling tradition, that’s not what happened. In one of wrestling’s greatest moments (detailed in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments), Hayes slugged Flair after Flair got in his face. With Flair down, Hayes told Von Erich to cover him but Von Erich refused to accept a tainted victory. Things quickly spiraled out of control and the Freebirds cost Von Erich the match, sparking a lengthy and money-making feud between the Von Erich brothers and the Fabulous Freebirds.
As WCCW grew in popularity, “Star Wars” was expanded in 1983 to Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. The Christmas cards continued through 1987. By then, WCCW was on hard times and this would be the promotion’s last “Star Wars” holiday show. The Christmas shows which had once drawn close to twenty thousand fans had dwindled down to less than 3,000. The last show went out on a controversial note and would become known as “The Christmas Day Massacre”, an angle where Von Erich patriarch Fritz Von Erich suffered a brutal beating and suffered a (kayfabe) heart attack as a result of the beating. The heart attack angle was tastelessly exploited by the promotion and did nothing to help its financial woes.