The Boys are Back: The Fabulous Freebirds

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Way back in the summer of 1979, some 35 years ago, a wrestling faction was formed by the most unlikely trio of guys, maybe ever. They were young and liked to party way too much, they were crass and rude, and their leader had crazy ideas about promotion and storylines. In the early 1980’s, when this trio found their stride, and had one of the great team runs ever against the Von Erichs down in Texas. The arrogance, mouthy swagger, and brains of Michael “Purely Sexy” Hayes, the power of Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, and the technical skill of Buddy “Jack” Roberts (cause he drank a lot of Jack Daniels) were melded perfectly into the king of the outlaw tag teams, The Fabulous Freebirds. Let’s take a look at this legendary faction, shall we?

Michael Seitz moved from Pensacola, Florida at just 17 years old to start his wrestling career. He started out as a referee, working his way from show to show, listening to any veteran who would talk to him about the business, this usually involving a bar tab. Between referee gigs, he would work small shows in Jackson, Mississippi, wrestling as Lord Michael Hayes. He was smarter than most of the other youngsters around, and seemed to understand wrestling psychology better than most guys 10 years his senior. Michael knew how to get himself over with fans, to make that connection with him, so they were emotionally involved with what was going on inside the squared circle. They either wanted to kill him or be him, and as long as they paid to get in, Michael didn’t care which.

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Meanwhile in Ohio, teenager Terry Gordy was wrestling for the I.W.A. He had set out on his own in 1975, at only 14 years old, determined to make in the business. He worked as Terry Mecca, impressing promoters immediately with his size, strength, athleticism, and charisma, though he constantly lied about his age. He stood 6’4” and tipped the scales at near 300 pounds, so no one cared how old he was. In fact, in 1978, at only 17, he was already the NWA Mississippi Heavyweight Champion. Also making his way across the southeast at that time was Dale Hey. Hey was from Oklahoma but was raised in Vancouver, where he started wrestling back in 1965. He had worked for the AWA in the late 60s as an enhancement talent, making the company’s top stars look good on TV. By 1970, he had made his way down to Alabama and, calling himself Buddy Roberts, had teamed up with Jerry Brown as “The Hollywood Blondes”. This capable duo had a couple of NWA and Mid-South Tag Team Championships. These 3 men, with seemingly not much in common, would come to form one of the most legendary teams in wrestling history.

In January 1979, Michael and Terry teamed as The Fabulous Freebirds in Mid-South Wrestling, managed by Percy Pringle. Buddy Roberts came in to the territory just a couple of months later, and promoter “Cowboy” Bill Watts immediately put them all together. Now a trio, they began working and traveling together exclusively. Their gimmick was based in large part to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the “Southern Pride” they extolled in their lyrics. Michael saw a chance to match music with wrestling, and began getting Bill Watts to play “Freebird” or Willie Nelson’s “Georgia on my Mind” as the trio entered the arena, something no one had ever done before. 3 man teams were rare indeed, and most promoters that heard of them thought it was ridiculous. But the trio clicked and through the rest of 1979, they ran roughshod over the Mid-South territory. The gang even found managed to piss off Jerry Lawler, after complaining over money on multiple occasions. David Von Erich, on a tour away from Texas, met the guys and seeing the possibilities in them, invited them down to Dallas and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW).

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The Freebirds were welcomed into WCCW, introduced to fans as buddies of the Von Erich boys from back east. This went on for a minute, but then, during a cage match, a misunderstanding caused Terry Gordy to slam Kerry Von Erich’s head in the cage door. This was the first shot fired in a war that would consume Texas wrestling fans for years. Fans were incensed that these Georgia rednecks (Note: none of the Freebirds hail from Georgia) would dare turn on Texas’ most beloved sons. And it was magic, the Von Erichs were clean-cut, All-American kids (or so everyone thought) who had grown up right in front of the fans eyes, and the ‘Birds were loud, scraggly, dirty, cheats who would do anything to screw over the hometown boys. It was simple, as all great ideas are, but what made it special was the execution of it.

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The company now found itself with a couple of red-hot teams with excess members.  In response, Fritz Von Erich created the WCCW Six-Man Tag Team Titles. Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy captured the American Tag Titles only once, but the original trio of Hayes, Gordy, and Roberts held the Six-Man belts on 5 occasions. Every match was a battle in a much larger war, with any advantage being used by the Freebirds. Buddy Roberts had an oddly diagnosed head injury which required him to wear padded headgear for a long period, which he would regularly put a steel plate in and head-butt any available babyface when the referee looked away. Michael would strut and taunt the audience, distract referees, and generally be a cocky, trash talking bastard on his way to, from, and in the ring. Meanwhile, Terry Gordy, always the stalwart brother, laid out many a man trying to shut the flapping gums of Michael Hayes. But what if Fritz or Mike Von Erich showed up to give a numbers advantage? Well, the “Fourth Freebird”, Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin was just a phone call away.

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In Texas, Kevin, David, and Kerry Von Erich were like the Beatles, so popular in fact that Six Flags over Texas had to be shut down after word got out they were visiting the park. So imagine how hated the Fabulous Freebirds were, they were hit with bottles, stabbed, and yes, shot at on more than one occasion. Behind the scenes, the guys were all the best of friends. WCCW promoter, Fritz Von Erich, loved the ‘Birds, and was very close to Hayes in particular. Family friends liked to call him, “that other Von Erich boy”. They all liked to party, and to extreme excess. Michael tells many a tale of nights that he and Gordy, along with Kerry and David closed bars and strip clubs all over Texas, leaving a slew of unpaid tabs and half naked girls in their wake. And yes, all of them partook in less than legal chemical and herbal refreshments on a frequent basis, particularly in Lake Dallas when Dad was away.

fabulous-freebirds-06By 1983, it was time to move on, and the Freebirds got a call from the big time, the WWF. But it was a short run indeed as management wanted to split them, the boys refused Vince McMahon’s idea, and they asked for their release. During some time off, Michael, a pretty solid musician, wrote and recorded a legendary song that would become their trademark entrance, “Badstreet USA”. Soon, an offer was received from Verne Gagne’s AWA and the guys headed off to Minnesota. This lasted only a few months, and was a bad fit from the start. This very short run was highlighted by a win at the first SuperClash event over the Road Warriors, which in classic AWA fashion, was quickly overturned. Well, to be fair, the Freebirds did get to be in the opening of 1986’s Highlander from the association, so they had that going for them.

In 1986 and early 1987, The Freebirds worked in the new Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) with Sunshine acting as their manager. They had a solid feud with The Fantastics (Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers) and with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. Terry Gordy defeated Jim Duggan in a title tournament to become the first UWF Heavyweight Champion. Due to an injury, he forfeited the title to One Man Gang in November 1986. This event caused a heel vs. heel feud with General Skandor Akbar’s Devastation Inc.  Akbar would eventually turn on the Gang and help Big Bubba Rogers steal the title from him. This set off a chain of events involving Dr. Death, which somehow resulted in the breakup of the Freebirds. Michaels Hayes remained in the UWF now evolved into a fully-fledged babyface. At the NWA/UWF co-promoted pay-per-view event, Starrcade ’87, Hayes teamed with Jimmy Garvin (also now a babyface after reconciling with “brother” Ron Garvin) and Sting to face the team of Eddie Gilbert, Rick Steiner and Larry Zbyszko whom they wrestled to a time-limit draw. He also challenged NWA World Champion Ric Flair and frequently teamed with Jimmy Garvin.

fabulous-freebirds-071987 saw Hayes record and promote a full length album for Grand Theft Records called Off the Streets. In 1988, Michael Hayes returned to action in the WCCW, and lo and behold, found his old buddies were now partnered with Iceman Parsons against the Von Erichs. Parsons, with assistance from Gordy and Roberts, defeated Kerry Von Erich to become WCCW Heavy-weight Champion after a 3 on 1 beat down. Hayes was not amused, and to the delight of the Texas faithful, partnered with Kerry. The hits kept on coming when Gordy turned on Buddy Roberts after a “hair vs hair” match with Michael Hayes. The 2 old friends chopped off Buddy’s blonde locks and battled with the Samoan Swat Team and a rejuvenated Devastation, Inc. which included a young Cactus Jack.

fabulous-freebirds-08Much like Chris Jericho, Michael Hayes was still touring and doing live concerts, frequently selling out the Dallas Sportatorium where WCCW events were held. Figuring that any exposure is good, Hayes had Buddy Roberts attack him with a guitar during a concert on 1 occasion, which produced great, unexpected heat. Buddy Roberts was nursing injuries and couldn’t really work anymore, so he quietly retired. That, along with the death of Mike Von Erich was it for Hayes, who felt the WCCW just wasn’t the same. He took his leave when he received an offer from Jim Crockett Promotions, heading for Atlanta.

Michael came into the company and became onscreen friends with Lex Luger (he dislikes him quite a bit actually) and the turned on him, taking his US Heavyweight Title in the process, thanks to a surprise appearance by Terry “Bam-Bam” Gordy.  After dropping the title back to Luger, the Freebirds were reformed with Jimmy Garvin now a full time member. Garvin and Hayes immediately won the World Tag Team Titles and began a feud with the Rock n’ Roll Express, thanks to another surprise guest manager, Buddy Roberts. Soon after, Gordy left Jim Crockett Promotions and headed to All Japan Pro Wrestling to for a very popular team with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. When JCP was sold and became WCW in 1991, Roberts went back into retirement. Hayes and Garvin needed another member to go after the new WCW Six-Man Tag Titles, and so, enter a masked Brad Armstrong called Badstreet. It was, just stupid really. Like many talents at WCW, they just had no idea what to do with the Freebirds, so they disbanded in 1992.

fabulous-freebirds-09Meanwhile in Japan, Gordy was having great success. He had won 2 Triple Crown Heavyweight Championships, and he and Dr. Death were a great team. The pair returned to the WCW, picking up 2 sets of Tag Team titles, before refusing to work with the Steiner Brothers over their dedication to AJPW (WCW had a standing agreement with AJPW competitor New Japan). On a 1993 tour back in the US, Gordy overdosed on pain medications and slipped into a coma. He awoke, but suffered brain damage as a result. On the flip side, Michael Hayes had suffered a pretty severe back injury that required surgery at WCW, so he began short career as a manager in the WCW and then headed back to Texas (now the Global Wrestling Federation) where he guided the Freebirds (Jimmy Garvin and Terry Gordy) to 1 last Tag Team Championship in 1994.

fabulous-freebirds-10The mid 90’s saw Michael Hayes move on to the WWF as a producer, booker, and interviewer who called himself Dok Hendrix (Hayes hated it). However, Dok’s career moment was when he slyly informed “Stone Cold” Steve Austin backstage that Jake Roberts had cut a religion-based promo on him at the 1996 King of the Ring. This led to Austin coining the phrase “Austin: 316 says I just whooped your ass!” Jimmy Garvin hung around WCW for a few pointless matches before retiring in 1994. Terry Gordy tried to carry on, doing some work in SMW and ECW, highlighted by the “Battle of the Bam Bams” match against “Bam Bam” Bigelow. He then had a forgettable turn in the WWF as the Executioner, working with Mankind and Paul Bearer before he retired.  In 1999, Michael Hayes was able to get rid of the Doc Hendrix persona when he returned to ringside as the manager of the upstart Hardy Boyz tag team.

On July 16th, 2001, Terry Gordy died of a heart attack caused by an apparent blood clot in his home, he was 40 years old. The old man, Buddy “Jack” Roberts, died from pneumonia on November 29th 2012 at age 67. Jimmy Garvin made a new career as an airline transport pilot, married his longtime valet, Precious (Patricia) and the pair have 2 daughters. Michael “PS” Hayes had his last match when he was only 34 years old, but has worked behind the scenes in the WWF for more than 2 decades. He is one of the great minds ever in the wrestling business, and works hard to produce the RAW television program each week.

Talking about the Fabulous Freebirds is hard for me; I was a huge fan of the team and Hayes in particular. Considering the original trio’s longevity, it is crazy of me to say they were gone too soon, ok, maybe selfish is the right word. Terry Gordy’s son Ray had a short run in the WWF in 2010 as Slam Master J before his release, and well, that’s it. Neither Hayes nor the Freebirds are in the WWE Hall of Fame yet, but I hold out hope (though they need to correct that Randy Savage thing first). With the advent of the WWE Network, there is a wealth of WCCW shows available to you, I highly suggest you check them out, they are spectacular. Thanks for reading, and keep your shoulders off the mat.

Kevin, David, and Kerry Von Erich take on The Fabulous Freebirds 7/24/83

DollarDave

Dave is an avid fan of comics, movies, wrestling, college football, and video games. He killed a bear on the way to school when he was 7 with his looseleaf notebook. His dream job is to push buttons at Cogswell Cogs, but not Spacely Sprockets, that guy is a dink.

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