THE IRON CLAW Keeps A Steady Grip

THE IRON CLAW Keeps A Steady Grip

A review by Raheem “Mega Ran” Jarbo

Mom tried to protect us with God. Dad tried to protect us with wrestling. He said if we were the toughest, the strongest, nothing could ever hurt us. I believed him. We all did.” 

  • Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich

If you’re an 80’s wrestling fan, you know the story of the most famous or infamous family in wrestling, The Von Erich’s. I feel like even if you are a new fan, you probably have heard about the so-called “curse” of this uber talented family that revolutionized Texas wrestling. It’s the story that wrestling docu-series’ like Dark Side of The Ring are usually made for.

Denton, Texas is a considerable distance from Philadelphia, PA, but as a kid in the 80’s, pro-wrestling was my life. We started our own wrestling fed on our block; the Woodstock Wrestling Federation (our own WWF), and we didn’t really wrestle much, we just used that as an excuse to craft really intricate storylines, cut promos and draw sick cardboard facsimiles of the WWF and NWA titles. We found NWA weekly televised shows on channel 48; though it was a little scrambled, it scratched our itch when the bright lights and big hair styles of Saturday Nights Main Event and Wrestling Challenge were a little too kiddie for us. Then the game changed when a new contender arrived.

One day in 1987, my friend Al came running down the street; excited that he had just found the holy grail. World Class Championship Wrestling had just begun airing on ESPN. Powered by the babyface Von Erichs and the heel Fabulous Freebirds, this in-studio wrestling show felt more authentic than its larger counterparts. It was intimate; it was special… and since no one else knew about it, it felt like it was ours. 

The Woodstock Wrestling Fed instantly became World Class Woodstock Wrestling, or WCWW, which wasn’t nearly as catchy, but we were so enthralled by the action and storylines running weekly that it influenced our own squared circle antics.

Fast forward and A24 has scheduled a Christmas week release of The Iron Claw, the biographical tale of the heroic family of super athletic brothers and their hard nosed dad’s quest to make them recognize their greatness through tough love. I had a chance to watch a preview of the film last night and while I knew just about every part of the story, I still managed to be surprised, and to learn a ton. 


To catch you up quickly, the so-called “curse” of the Von Erich brothers consisted of: 

  • The accidental electrocution death of Jack “Fritz Von Erich” Adkisson’s first son, Jack Jr at six
  • David – who was slated to be crowned the National Wrestling Alliance champion, dying in Japan due to an intestinal infection;
  • Mike –  who committed suicide after a shoulder surgery took a tragic turn and put him in a coma, making him a shell of his vibrant self;
  • Chris – who after attempting a career in wrestling, fell to drug addiction and would die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound 
  • Kerry – who took his own life after seeing success as WWF Intercontinental Champion as The Texas Tornado, at his parent’s home. Kerry somehow hid a leg amputation after a motorcycle accident, developing an addiction to painkillers (The quote from Kerry “it’s just too hard to keep this up” from the movie particularly resonated). 

Only Kevin, played by a super-buffed Zac Efron who kinda resembles Lou Ferrigno in “The Incredible Hulk,” now survives and curates the legend: The quest to break the curse. Movie material if I’ve ever seen it. 


I feel like Efron does a decent job, but the film really shines when the brothers are together, roughhousing and loving on each other as brothers do. I know he’s the star and probably had a lot to do with the movie getting the attention it’s getting, but I honestly felt like Zac Efron might have been the weakest actor in a really strong cast. It doesn’t help that he looked exactly the same at 20 in the film as he did at 45. But, though he may not add much to the role, he definitely doesn’t take much away from the film as the sole survivor of the clan. 

Some of the best acting is done by Holt McCallany, who does an awesome job as Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the clan. He’s stern, tough and the exact drill sergeant you’d expect in a Texas home in the 80s. He absolutely takes over any scene he’s in, from joking about the hierarchy of his favorite sons to choosing who would be the next Von Erich boy to step up after tragedy strikes. Fritz didn’t take no mess, and Holt absolutely NAILS it.

I hate when a piece of media reveals that a person is just the evil figure you think they are. If this story has a villain, it’s certainly Fritz Von Erich, who projects his own personal failures and shortcomings onto the boys and uses that to power them to greatness, often beyond their own limits with terrible results. Wrestling is the family business, and everyone has to get a turn. Fritz’s white whale is the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship, which has eluded the Von Erich family for a generation. 

If you’ve seen Jeremy Allen White in “The Bear,” you know he’s a serious cat with some chops, and he brings that to the big screen as Kerry Von Erich. But if you know wrestling, you know Kerry had a mountainous physique and… well, while Jeremy got in great shape, he didn’t quite pull that off. But, he did his thing, capturing the charisma and enthusiasm of the Texas Tornado. If there’s one complaint honestly, it’s that we didn’t get to learn as much about Kerry, who wasn’t at home with the boys through most of their formative years as he was a collegiate athlete. 

Even Kerry’s momentous NWA championship win is kind of glossed over, as it’s only shown on the living room TV after the fact. I get the artistic vision of painting the championship win as a Monkey’s Paw-esque good news/bad news moment, because tragedy did follow it, but downplaying the win the family always wanted seems a little wild considering the title chase is such a huge part of the story. 


There are some great cameos and appearances by wrestlers I knew and loved in the 80’s, with some current stars playing a few historical figures; and the casting is a mixed bag. Out of the supporting cast, I’d give the best casting award to Kevin Anton as the gruff, distinguished Harley Race; and the worst has to go to Aaron Dean Eisenberg who, in my opinion, failed to capture the charisma and swagger of a prime Ric Flair. At his best he looks like someone cosplaying as the Nature Boy, and you’re bound to see 40 of those on instagram any given Halloween. To be fair though, there may not be a lot of people who can be Ric Flair… I might’ve enjoyed Jay Lethal in the role more. Kinda joking. Kinda.

Speaking of casting and cameos, AEW world champion MJF’s Lance Von Erich portrayal, which was greatly hyped in the early promotion of this film, is severely chopped down to one in-ring scene without sound, and we don’t even get to know who he was at all. The end credits will also tell you that Chavo Guerrero plays The Sheik, but I didn’t notice him at all. There’s also a quick Bruiser Brody moment which makes me happy, as he was one of my all time favorites. 


I have to say, when a story that I think I know as a Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine junkie from the 80’s still manages to surprise, shock and even elicit tears from me, it’s a win. I had a friend call this flick “Oscar bait,” but I think it’s just a great story and it’s told well. Maybe a little bit behind “The Wrestler” for me as far as best pro-wrestling movies go, but that’s no slight. Wrestling fans need to see it the first week.

And let’s make Christmas wrestling movies a new tradition.. please?


MEGA RAN is a 7-time Billboard Charting musician who has toured the world; and a lifelong wrestling fan who has provided theme music for ROH, AEW and WWE. He once got punked by Bully Ray in a sold-out Madison Square Garden. 

His new children’s album “Buddy’s Magic Toy Box” is out now /

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