Okay, imagination time: picture yourself on a golf course. (Yes, I know not everyone plays golf, but just humour me here!) And you have just recently competed in a bodybuilding competition. (Again, I realize this is going to be a stretch for some of us, myself included, but just go with it!) You’re minding your own business, when David Manning, the booker/referee for World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), comes up to you and asks if you had ever considered going into professional wrestling. Hearing you could potentially make some good money with this opportunity, you accept Manning’s offer even though you had no previous inclinations of ever becoming a pro wrestler.
This exact scenario happened to William Kevin Vaughan. An ordinary day on the golf course suddenly rocketed Vaughan from obscurity into the brightest of spotlights. After the untimely death of David Von Erich, a member of one of pro wrestling’s most famous/infamous families, patriarch and WCCW promoter, Fritz Von Erich, had to find a replacement to carry on the hot feud between the Fabulous Freebirds, consisting of Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts, and the Von Erichs, which with David’s death had been reduced to two members: Kevin and Kerry Von Erich. The thinking was that younger brother/son, Mike Von Erich, was not yet experienced enough to take on the role.
Enter Vaughan, who was quickly christened Lance Von Erich, despite being no relation to the family and fans were told he was the “son” of Fritz’s “brother,” Waldo Von Erich, who it must be pointed out was also not a blood relative. And when Vaughan would leave WCCW in 1987, Kerry and Fritz on two separate television segments would each uncharacteristically break kayfabe (the act of presenting pro wrestling as authentic) and admit that Vaughan was indeed not a real member of the family. Yep, this all actually happened!
While Vaughan was only on the WCCW roster for under two years, he is undoubtedly part of a moment in pro wrestling history that still elicits an emotional reaction from some fans and figures in pro wrestling today. Amongst those heavily devoted to the Von Erichs, Vaughan’s departure and true identity was seen as the ultimate betrayal. There are also those, such as Jim Cornette, who believe that the fans never truly accepted Vaughan in the first place. Speaking in the Von Erich episode in season one of the Dark Side of the Ring series, Cornette commented, “It (bringing in Vaughan) really hurt their image (the Von Erichs) and it started the downward spiral (of WCCW) going a little bit quicker. They (the fans) knew he wasn’t a Von Erich. ‘They’re lying to us.’ Of all the angles that happened in the final years of World Class wrestling, Lance Von Erich was the worst.”
Now, after decades from being removed from anything to do with the squared circle, Vaughan shares his extraordinary story in his autobiography, Lance by Chance: Wrestling as a Von Erich, written with Vinny Berry, out now from Wrestleville in conjunction with Walking on Hot Waffles (WOHW) Publishers. The book poses the ultimate question to readers: If you were handed a ticket that appeared to be golden, what would you do with it?
It all started when Berry, a pro wrestling fan who has worked in news for approximately 18 years and grew up within miles of the Von Erich family, wanted to write an article about Vaughan for his website. The two would be put in contact through referee James Beard. After speaking with Vaughan and writing his article, Berry felt there was still more to say.
“I just said to him, I said, ‘Look I don’t know if anyone has ever asked you about writing a book,’” revealed the 51-year-old Berry in a phone interview with SlamWrestling.net. “‘But I think it’s very interesting and I think you have a good story. And you know, if you’re ever interested in doing it, just let me know. I would like to help you with that.’ So, I didn’t have to really twist his arm too much, I might have said that once or twice to him. And I think the second time, he said, ‘Write the book!’”
Vaughan, who also joined in the phone interview with Berry, said he had been asked about writing a book before, but he initially thought his story would be “so far gone.”
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a wrestler,” stated Vaughan, who is now 61 years old. “Most of the guys that are in the business are you know second-, some third-generation wrestlers. It wasn’t like that for me.”
Vaughan added, “Other people have asked me (about writing a book), I don’t know, there was something about Vinny. I guess maybe it was his enthusiasm. I said, ‘You know what I never thought I’d do this. Let’s try it.’”
According to Berry, the resulting book would end up being a three-year project. He and Vaughan would have regular Sunday phone calls to hash out the story. In addition, Berry would end up speaking with other pro wrestling figures including Manning (who wrote the book’s foreword), Steve Casey, Jeff Bearden, Jerry Grey, Dusty Wolfe (who provides a guest passage) and wait for it – the sole remaining Von Erich brother, Kevin Von Erich, himself (who contributes a brief and unflattering word on Vaughan to open the book).
Berry says Vaughan did not want Kevin’s contribution in the book, as Kevin has not been shy about voicing how he was adamantly against bringing in Vaughan because “we had never lied to our fans” in interviews for the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) documentary, The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling and the aforementioned episode of Dark Side of the Ring. For the record, Vaughan says he hasn’t watched either of these programs. When questioned if he was asked to participate in either show, Vaughan pointed out that “there was no way they could have found me, really” as he hasn’t lived in the United States since approximately 1987.
“I felt like we needed Kevin’s side,” offered Berry. “And I just thought integral wise, if you’re putting on a journalism hat, in news we were always taught to go get both sides of the argument. And I gave him (Kevin) the opportunity to say what he wanted. And I even told him, ‘I’ll let you write as long as you want. You put whatever you want in there.’ And he didn’t want to contribute (at first). Then he reached out to me again. And then I asked him if we could put a quote on the back of the book and what he sent me was too big to put on the back of the book, so I put it in the front and I took a sentence out and stuck it on the back.”
Even though Vaughan admitted there were topics that weren’t always easy to talk about, he takes readers through his early days as an overweight child to his discovery and passion for fitness to his pro wrestling days and life after WCCW.
After being discovered by Manning and with two months of mediocre/rushed training, Vaughan would make his in-ring debut under a mask against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. He would then go on to work for promoter Don Owen in Portland, wrestling as Ricky Vaughn, to gain more experience. Vaughan would stay in Portland for almost a year, even winning the Pacific Northwest Heavyweight title. In the book, Vaughan says that Owen tried to talk him out of going to WCCW. “He’s (Fritz) not going to give you a push Ricky. Fritz’s sons are the stars of his promotion. You’ll find out when you get there,” Owen warned Vaughan.
But Vaughan would not heed Owen’s warning and thus Lance Von Erich was born. It’s a decision Vaughan regrets to this day.
“It wasn’t a happy time in my life,” Vaughan remarked softly and with some noticeable reluctance. “It started out to be. Portland was actually a good experience and Dallas was more of a negative experience for me. Many people would think of it as the break of a lifetime, but it really wasn’t actually.”
Vaughan added, “If I had anything to do differently, it would have been to stay in Portland longer and bypass World Class all together and actually gone to the WWF (World Wrestling Federation, now WWE) or attempted to.”
Vaughan also answers a question that I’m sure many readers have wanted an answer to for years: why he left WCCW. While recuperating from a shoulder injury from a match with Nord the Barbarian, Vaughan decided he had had enough.
“I took some time off to heal,” wrote Vaughan in Chapter 18 of the book. “I think I had already checked out mentally. I was no longer happy working for Fritz. I wasn’t pleased with wrestling two times a night and I wanted to be paid more. It was that simple. I felt overwhelmed and overworked, and I didn’t want to come back.”
Vaughan continued in the book, “Fritz never acknowledged my efforts for keeping the Von Erich name on the marquee at the shows. I didn’t feel the money I was making reflected any appreciation for my contribution.”
After leaving WCCW, Vaughan says he continued to wrestle for about 10 years, mostly in South Africa and other international locations. Vaughan would continue to wrestle as Lance Von Erich or Fabulous Lance and in his personal life he goes by the name Lance Vaughan. An admitted “extremist,” Vaughan also shares the adventures he’s undertaken in life including bike riding with two friends for 840 miles across Africa, being on one of the trains in the India Train Bombings, opening health clubs, acting in movies and commercials and even transporting guns!
Readers going into this book with the preconceived notion that this is just going to be a Von Erich bashfest will be disappointed. Vaughan is honest, sometimes unabashedly so, about his time at World Class. He lists the difficult realities that came with the burden of being a Von Erich — especially when he points out that the real members of the family weren’t always reliable and pulling their weight. There are sordid stories, about the prevalence of drugs and sex (including an awkward story about Vaughan having a one night stand in a hotel room with the Ultimate Warrior watching television in the adjacent bed), and tragic stories covering the untimely deaths of members of the Von Erich family (David, Mike, Chris and Kerry) and other members of World Class (Gino Hernandez and Chris Adams). It should be clear by the end of the book that Vaughan didn’t set out to deliberately hurt anyone.
I will admit that there were times while reading this book that I wanted more insight from Vaughan and Berry into the Von Erichs and more personal recollections about them. But Vaughan himself shared in Chapter 16 that when it came to Fritz, Vaughan says “I might have only seen him in person on three of four occasions the entire time I worked in Dallas.” And while Vaughan and his then wife socialized on occasion with Kerry and his then wife, Vaughan said he didn’t have a lot in common with the other Von Erich boys and therefore their contact was limited to the ring. But rather than a flaw on the part of Vaughan and Berry, and given the fact that Vaughan was only in WCCW for less than two years, it is understandable, interesting and telling that he didn’t develop close relationships with the family he was portraying to be a member of.
The only real criticism I did have for the book was the choice of having a chapter dedicated to Hernandez. Yes, he and Vaughan faced each other in the ring, but Vaughan admitted in the same chapter to not knowing “(Hernandez) very well.” I just felt it was an odd choice to give Hernandez an entire chapter in Vaughan’s autobiography if the two weren’t even that close.
But overall, this is great book for those like myself, who didn’t know Vaughan’s story and are curious to learn more about him and WCCW. It’s also a worthy read for those fans/detractors who think they already know Vaughan’s full story.
“I think we wanted to tell Lance’s story as honest as we could and as respectfully as we could,” shared Berry. “And you know, there’s a lot of hard truths in this book. I have to admit, it was challenging for me to write some of the stuff that really happened, because (I wondered) how is it going to land?”
When it comes to what he wants readers to take away from his story, Vaughan unexpectedly drops his ultra-serious tone and cracks a joke saying with a laugh, “Well, first of all that I’m still alive!”
He continued, “And maybe now they’ll (the fans) understand why I left and how I left. And to this day I don’t have any animosity towards the Von Erichs or what’s left of the Von Erich family. I just scratched the surface of a lot of stuff because when I set out to tell this story, I didn’t set out to hurt anybody or make them look bad. And I certainly could have! There were lies that were covered up that I know what happened, but it’s not my business to tell that.”
- Buy Lance by Chance: Wrestling as a Von Erich
- Vinny Berry: Twitter and website
- Lance Von Erich: Facebook Group
- SlamWrestling Master Book List
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