Lance by Chance is an autobiography written with Vinny Berry of Texas wrestler Kevin Vaughan who would be recruited into the position of Waldo Von Erich’s son Lance and join the Von Erich brothers in the all-conquering World Class Championship Wrestling office in Dallas, Texas.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Dallas story, Fritz Von Erich took over the Dallas territory in 1966, and over the next twenty years would build the territory into the most formidable booking office in the NWA. With a who’s who of talent, state of the art production, absolute booking prowess thanks to the wrestling mind of Gary Hart as lead booker for the promotion, and of course, the Von Erich name, which was adopted by the company’s lead stars Kerry, Kevin, and David. By the time the eighties came around, Dallas was the place to be. Then things started to fall apart. With David’s death while touring for All Japan in 1984, a long decline set into the company, but even with that tragic event, attendance and popularity was sky-high. Reunion Arena, Texas Stadium, The Cotton Bowl, would all be filled for wrestling in those years, and into the picture walks a young Ricky Vaughn on a golf course where he is spotted by longtime referee and talent liaison David Manning. A keen gym enthusiast who moved into powerlifting and bodybuilding over time, Vaughn had the cheekbones and body shape to become a Von Erich. Something that Fritz had explored in creative meetings. And this is where the book picks up.
While Lance’s story is a great read for the non-wrestling fan in terms of eighties culture and high octane life that was part of the scenery back then. It unashamedly takes the story of Kevin Vaughan and gives a solid briefing on his early life, but the meat of the story is his start as a wrestler, his debut in Portland, and his return to Dallas, and his start as Lance Von Erich. The segments on early training show how far the business was still a closed effort back in the eighties. Now, every town, it seems, has a wrestling school. Back then, it was not so easy, even for a recruited wrestler like Vaughan. Working with the Dallas regulars who were available, he learned the craft and was sent to Don Owens’ Portland promotion to begin his career. Portland is a legendary promotion for many reasons, and the road stories in this book make it well worth the read alone. Owens was widely considered a wrestler’s promoter who paid his work force well and had a knack for creating good stories and good wrestling. Taking up the ring name Ricky Vaughan, he had an extended run waiting for the call to return to Dallas and the account of this period of his life is both vivid and typical of the time in wrestling. While the behaviour of the wrestlers was not exactly on a level playing field, the wrestling environment offers up a good insight into how the territory system works and how to build a star.
However, it is obviously going to be Dallas that is the focus of the book and the politics of wrestling as someone who does not exist and treads on very hallowed turf. The Cult of Personality surrounding the Von Erich’s is hard to describe. Their square jaws, Kevin and Kerry’s ripped physiques, and David’s ability to talk people into a building and general wholesome charm put them over the edge in Dallas. In the era of Tom Landry’s Cowboys and an entire TV Drama series devoted to the town, Dallas was a cultural touchstone city in the Western World, and World Class Championship Wrestling was part of that outward-looking culture based on hometown narratives. Vaughan and Berry recall the era beautifully, and the key players in the Von Erich story all have contributed to this book through comments and interviews. Kevin Von Erich, David Manning, and World Class commentator Mark Lowrance are all voices that fill out the story and give a wider perspective, what makes this book different from other World Class accounts in media, such as The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class from WWE, or the independently produced Heroes of World Class is that this is a truly unique story from an outsider. Approaching the business as a business opportunity Vaughan is constantly confronted with some of the absurdities of the business in an era when the absurd was king.
He profiles some of his biggest name opponents, such as Ric Flair, and chronicles his eighteen months with Dallas in great detail, while the book rollicks along at a fair old clip. It is a fun read but doesn’t shy away from the politics. It covers Vaghaun’s eventual departure from World Class in great detail, as well as the company’s decline and his decision to leave the company and start his next wrestling stint in South Africa. As well as his ever so short stint in Ken Mantell’s Wild West Wrestling Show out of Fort Worth.
The book is a wonderful read, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a hold on what the territory system was like in the eighties and how it produced such well-rounded performers, and the down sides of demagogic wrestling promoters rules the roost.
Available at lancebychance.com.