(From left) Mike, Kerry, Fritz and Kevin Von Erich. (Photo/JTA-Wikimedia Commons and Getty Images; Design by Grace Yagel)
(From left) Mike, Kerry, Fritz and Kevin Von Erich. (Photo/JTA-Wikimedia Commons and Getty Images; Design by Grace Yagel)

The Von Erich wrestling brothers, subjects of upcoming film ‘The Iron Claw,’ were huge in Israel

(JTA) — With Hanukkah coming to a close, now comes the most important Jewish question of the year: What to do for Christmas?

The best answer to that question is “The Iron Claw,” the forthcoming movie that tells the (tragic) story of the Von Erichs, the first family of professional wrestling in Texas.

The film, which hits theaters Dec. 22, features a star-studded cast including Jewish actor Zac Efron alongside Jeremy Allen White (of “The Bear” and “Shameless” fame), plus Lily James, Harris Dickinson and Maura Tierney. Wrestling fans will recognize another familiar face: current pro wrestler Maxwell Jacob Friedman, known simply as “MJF,” is also in the movie. Friedman is among the more vocal Jewish athletes in all of sports on the topics of antisemitism and Jewish pride.

But aside from a few cast members, what exactly does this well-received film (with a 91% “fresh” critics’ score on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes) have to do with the Jews?

The Von Erichs aren’t just legends in the Lone Star state. At one time they were a super heavyweight-sized deal in the Jewish state as well.

“Anyone who grew up in Israel in the 1980s would be a major fan of the Von Erich brothers — David, Kevin, Kerry and Mike,” said The Masked Jewish Federation CEO (a federation leader who is also a wrestling expert and wanted to remain anonymous). “They were icons in Israel as their faces were seen weekly on televisions across the Middle East on Saturday nights… The incredible popularity of this family is sadly matched by the tragic stories of three of the brothers. It is a movie not to be missed!”

At the time, the Von Erichs’ promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling, was in fact reported to be one of the most popular English-language programs in Israel. Brothers Kevin and Mike actually visited the country in 1985 as part of a WCCW tour, with the latter winning the WCCW Middle Eastern Championship created for the occasion. But an injury sustained by one of them during the Israel tour (we’ll avoid spoilers) played a role in one of the tragedies that befell the family.

As a tribute to the family’s Israeli fans, what is billed as the original WCCW championship belt — worn by multiple Von Erichs — was on permanent display at the Dizengoff Center mall in Tel Aviv as recently as 2022.

Kevin, who stopped wrestling back in the 1990s, returned to Israel and the ring in 2017 for an official retirement match, with two of his sons also taking part. He told Ynet: “I wanted my sons to see it so much that I…I think I just decided to do what I can to have one more match.”

“I’ve turned down New York, I’ve turned down Tokyo and I’m not going to wrestle again,” he said, before attributing his choice of location to his own religious faith. “I love Israel. I’m a Christian. I love Jesus and my sons are the same way and this is the Holy Land.”

Ami Eden

Ami Eden is the CEO and executive editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company, 70 Faces Media. He served previously as JTA’s CEO and editor-in-chief. Before joining JTA in the summer of 2007, he served as executive editor of the Forward and founding editor of the Forward’s website. He also worked as an editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.