INTERVIEW: James Beard

The internationally-respected referee shares his thoughts on the mystique surrounding the Von Erichs and the decline of World Class in this email interview.

How long did you work for the World Class Championship Wrestling organization? In what capacity did you work for them?

John, I was working, primarily, in Japan during the last days of World Class. However, I did work for some for them at that time and was around the World Class talent often when home. I was around during the transition period when Jerry Jarrett took over and started USWA/Texas (though my Japanese tours regularly interupted my appearances) and worked for Kevin when he tried to restart WCCW. So, I actually didn't work a lot for World Class during it's most productive period. My experiences with the WCCW talent was fairly extensive, though, because I had come to know and had worked with many of them.

What do you think WCCW's legacy to professional wrestling will be? How well do you think it would have fared, had it maintained all of its top stars like David Von Erich, Gino Hernandez, etc., against the likes of Vince McMahon and Jim Crockett, Jr.?

That's a hard question to answer because of all the "what ifs" involved. I believe World Class, had David and Gino lived and Kerry and Kevin had been at the top of their form, would have been formidable. The problem is direction....Would someone have (perhaps David) been able to keep the company's direction focused and progressive? Vince McMahon saw the potential of World Class and wanted to join forces with Fritz at one time...Fritz turned down the proposal. So many things would have had to have been different to imagine what could have been. World Class was a very popular and well accepted promotion. But, that was based, in a large part, on the incredible popularity of the Von Erich brothers and the main supporting cast Chris Adams, Gino, Bruiser Brody, Iceman Parsons, etc.).....When some of these guys were lost, the glitter of success fell off the promotion.

David had the personality and talent to have been the leader of the company....As much as I liked Kerry and like Kevin, I'm not so sure either had that kind of personality and work ethic to be the guy in charge of a high profile company. In my opinion, David's death kicked a significant part of the foundation away from the company and nobody could reinforce what was lost.

Do you ever foresee another promotion that will be able to capture the spirit of WCCW, or wrestlers that will capture its audience's hearts the Von Erich brothers and other WCCW talent had?

I really don't see that ever happening....It's kind of a Camelot sort of happening that rose up out of the mist and was there a short time but was taken away because of human failure. The Von Erich boys and the personas they represented to their fan base captured the imagination and fascination of a generation of wrestling fans. We are too sophisticated, jaded and exposed a society today to buy into those values that the Von Erich boys represented. At least right now....That's sad to say, but I believe it to be true. I do believe there is a place for a more believable promotion if someone had the foresight, patience and creativity it would take to get it off the ground. But, you can't create the unique popularity of World Class and the Von Erich brothers, it just has to happen and that's hard to imagine in this day and time.

What made the Sportatorium so unique to the the wrestling fan? What made it so unique to those who worked matches in the building?
The atmosphere....There was no other place like it. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but it had a charm that, like the Von Erich popularity, you cannot manufacture. There were no bad seats, it was loud and it was perfect for wrestling. I saw a lot of big names come in there for the first time and react as if it were a temple. I loved the old place and miss going there every week for TV tapings. I feel very fortunate to have been have had the opportunity to have a place in the wrestling business that allowed me to call the Sportatorium home and spend so much time there. I believe all of us who based our careers in the Dallas Area in those days feel that way.

Whose decision was it to make Eric Embry a booker in WCCW? Do you sense any resentment towards him from the veteran WCCW wrestlers like the Von Erichs, Adams, etc.?

That period of time was very difficult for the promotion. David had been lost, Gino passed away and Kerry had gone through a tough time because of the motorcycle accident. Plus, Kevin seemed to have lost a little interest and focus which was understandable considering all that had happened regarding his family and the effect those things had on the World Class promotion. Plus, the WWF and WCW were being very aggressive as far as cable TV was concerned. Everything was cutting into the World Class piece of the wrestling pie and there didn't seem to be anyone capable of bringing it back to prominence.

Ak (Skandor Akbar) and Bronko Lubich were sort of the mainstays in the office and this guy and that was suggesting things to do. I'm not sure how the decision to give Eric so much latitude came about, but he certainly turned things around (at least for a while). It's hard to believe a guy who isn't particularly impressive physically could have gotten over the way Eric did. He was everything the Von Erichs weren't, but maybe that was what was needed at the time....sort of an anti-hero the fans could get behind.

Whatever the reasons, it worked and you had Eric involved in everything it seemed. I'm sure some of the talent had some resentment, but I don't think it was expressed outwardly the way you might expect. It's hard to argue with success and Eric was certainly bringing back the fans, at least compared to the way it was for several months before he became "SuperEric".

What did Embry bring to WCCW that had been lacking since the heydays of the Von Erichs vs. Freebirds & Dynamic Duo feuds?

As I stated above, he was the anti-hero and the opposite of all that had made World Class so popular before. I think it was timing and Eric's unexplainable appeal that gave the promotion the boost it got. The fans were looking for a hero and Eric stood up and became one, albeit in a converse manner to the way expected. Looking back, he was sort of the Stone Cold of that time because of the way he spit in the eye of everyone who got in his way. He certainly wasn't the traditional babyface.

During your stay in WCCW, what was the morale like amongst its employees?

Unfortunately, my regular appearances there were during tough times and I never got to experience the great successes of the earlier period. The morale was mixed....Some were optimistic and some didn't seem to care anymore. Success spoils you and it was difficult to get some to work as hard as needed to get things on track because they were used to it coming easy. Although I spent a great deal of time in Japan in those days, I was dedicated to doing all I could do to get the Dallas promotion back into the mix and that included staying around during the USWA days, the failed attempt to revive World Class, the GWF days, the attempt to restart the NWA there (Jim Crockett) and the CWF.....up 'til the day the Sportatorium saw its last regular promotion tape TV in the old building I stuck around. And, the reason I stayed has a lot to do with my feelings for the old World Class promotion and those that made it so popular. In my way of thinking, all that came after the mega success of the early days were an extension of that promotion and had ties rooted in the traditions and fanbase it created. My dream was to be a part of it rising up again.....But, there were too many things and too much time in the way......