You can’t make a movie about the Von Erichs of Dallas pro wrestling fame without their arch-rivals, the Fabulous Freebirds.
The Von Erichs and the Fabulous Freebirds were enemies on the mat. Their six-man tag-team brawls fired up already-boisterous wrestling crowds on the weekends.
“It was a dandy because someone was always getting hurt — allegedly. Someone was getting cheated — they claimed,” said 97-year-old Bill Mercer, who called several of the matches.
It was, in his words, “such a fierce thing, and it went on quite a while.”
The Iron Claw follows the rise and fall of the Von Erich family dynasty of wrestlers who made an impact on the sport from the 1960s to the present day.
Kevin, Kerry and David — the best-known Von Erich brothers — have been already been cast by the indie film studio A24. Zac Efron will play Kevin, Jeremy Allen White portrays Kerry and Harris Dickinson is David.
An official announcement on the casting of the Freebirds hasn’t been made — unless you count PWInsider.com, a website that caters to pro wrestling fans.
Pro wrestlers Brady Pierce, “Thrillbilly” Silas Mason and Danny Flamingo have been cast as the Freebirds, PWInsider.com reported. Pierce will portray Michael Hayes, Silas is playing Terry Gordy and Flamingo will be Buddy Roberts.
The Von Erichs-Freebirds feud was ignited by an incident in 1982 when Gordy slammed Kerry‘s head into a steel cage door, inciting a riot. To amp up crowds, the Von Erichs would wave the flag of Texas. The Freebirds countered with the flag of Georgia.
A24, which was the studio behind Academy Award-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once, lists The Iron Claw as one of its upcoming features but has not released any promotional materials for the movie. Much of the casting news has come from Deadline, citing anonymous sources, or first-look posts on social media.
Deadline also has reported that Lily James and Maura Tierney have joined the cast in addition to Aaron Dean Eisenberg, who’ll play Ric Flair. The movie will reportedly premiere this year.
In the 1980s, the Von Erichs and Freebirds were known for selling out the Dallas Sportatorium and other arenas several times during their feud.
One such matchup came in 1986. A crowd of 20,062 at the old Texas Stadium in Irving watched the Von Erich family defeat the Freebirds. The event was a memorial to David Von Erich, who had died two years earlier.
Lance Von Erich, who was billed as the nephew of patriarch Fritz Von Erich, employed Fritz’s well-known Iron Claw hold for the first time in his career. He was subbing for Kevin Von Erich, who was injured.
“I’ve been working on [the Iron Claw move] for a long time. It’s just that the right opportunity didn’t present itself until today,” Lance told The Dallas Morning News.
Mercer, a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame who is living in retirement in North Carolina, said he was unaware that a movie about the Von Erichs was being made. He was closely associated with wrestling in Dallas from 1982-1987 and was the play-by-play announcer for Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling.
Mercer, who also was a play-by-play announcer for the Texas Rangers, said the Von Erichs-Freebirds rivalry offers an ideal storyline for a movie.
“The Von Erichs are good-looking, clean-cut and they don’t cheat,” Mercer told The News in 1985. “They sort of exemplify the American ideal. Before the Von Erichs, the whole thing was kind of seedy-like. The wrestlers now are younger and in good shape as opposed to what was happening before where you had older, out-of-shape wrestlers who sort of lived in the past.’
The big attraction for the fans is that the good people usually win and the bad people usually lose, Herbert Gans, professor of sociology at Columbia University, told The News in 1985.
“It’s a morality play,” Gans said. ”You as the fan believe in a set of moral principles, and in a wrestling match, the good usually wins. The happy ending is usually the moral ending.”
Mercer said the Freebirds fit the bill as bad guys.
“Each of them had such an interesting personality. They were good for wrestling,” Mercer said. “If [the filmmakers] can make a good movie out of it, the best to them.”
Read more about the Von Erichs and ‘The Iron Claw’
- First photo from Von Erich movie shows Zac Efron delivering a mid-air dropkick in the ring
- Photos show Zac Efron bulked up to play Kevin Von Erich in upcoming film ‘The Iron Claw’
- Von Erich movie ‘The Iron Claw’ casts Jeremy Allen White alongside Zac Efron
- Zac Efron to star in Von Erich family biopic from movie studio A24
- Inside the Von Erichs -- Dallas-Fort Worth’s most famous wrestling family
- The Von Erich wrestling dynasty may soon receive Hollywood treatment, thanks to a BBC-backed director
- Kevin Von Erich talks about ‘Wrestling the Curse,’ which finally airs Friday on ESPN