The Fabulous Freebirds were one of professional wrestling’s most original groundbreaking tag teams trios. They debuted in 1980 for Georgia Championship Wrestling. The original team included Michael “P.S” Hayes, Buddy “Jack” Roberts, and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy.
Though they debuted in Georgia Championship Wrestling, they achieved most of their success with Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW.) in Dallas. Their feud with the Von Erichs (David, Kevin, Kerry, and Chris) in the mid-’80s was one of wrestling’s greatest rivalries.
They also had brief stints with Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF.), Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA.), World Championship Wrestling (WCW.), and an even shorter stint with Vince McMahon’s then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF.).
Re-Writing The Rules
The Fabulous Freebird’s impact on professional wrestling still lingers today in one form or another. Wrestling fans everywhere can sing the lyrics or melodies to their favorite superstars’ entrance theme music. Rock-N-Roll was beginning to explode in the ’80s, and Hayes had his finger on the pulse of the burgeoning connection between rock music and professional wrestling. The Freebirds weren’t the first superstars to use music, but they were the first to use Rock-n-Roll music.
This is important because, for some fans, a wrestler’s theme music is just as much a part of their makeup as boots and trunks. The Fabulous Freebirds originally used Lynard Skynard’s “Free Bird” as their theme music but would eventually replace it with “Bad Street USA.” Michael Hayes wrote, produced, and sang the new The Fabulous Freebirds theme music himself, another first in professional wrestling.
This was just another way The Freebirds helped rewrite the rules. In the years since countless superstars have written and performed their own entrance music. A few of the more notable superstars that created their own themes are Shawn Michael’s “Sexy Boy,” John Cena’s “My Time is Now” and more recently, Chris Jericho’s “Judas.” Three all-time great performers that all followed in the footsteps created by The Freebirds.
Some ‘Good’ Rule-Breaking
The Fabulous Freebirds were unique in another subtle way. Professional wrestling in the eighties was quite simplistic in terms of character makeup; there were good guys, and there were bad guys. There was very little (if any) of what we see today in terms of tweeners. Wrestling fans back then simply didn’t cheer for bad guys or teams.
When they debuted for W.C.C.W, the Fabulous Freebirds were pro wrestling’s earliest tweeners. The fans in the Sportatorium got behind The Fabulous Freebirds even though they used heel tactics like eye rakes and blind tags. They even cut their promos in a heelish and edgy way, which was unique for that time period.
The Fabulous Freebirds also teamed with the Von Erich boys on occasion, which endeared them to the hometown fans. David, the eldest of the Von Erichs, actually helped The Fabulous Freebirds capture the World Six-Man Tag Team Championships at one time. This early placement was very important to The Fabulous Freebirds/Von Erich rivalry. It was also the hinge on which the fans adoration pivoted after Michael Hayes turned on Kerry Von Erich.
Kicking Off Wrestling’s Greatest Feud
The year was 1982, and Kerry Von Erich was vying for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, held by “Nature Boy” Ric Flair at the time. However, the champ always seemed to hold on to his title against every Von Erich he faced. So for WCCW’s 1982 Star Wars show, the fans voted Michael Hayes to be the special guest referee in a steel cage match between Ric Flair and Kerry.
For the fans hoping to see Kerry win the championship, the setup was near perfect; steel cage, a special guest referee, and special guest enforcer Terry Gordy outside the cage to keep other superstars from interfering. Fans were sure that there would be a new World Heavyweight Champion crowned that night.
Hayes was more physical in his refereeing than David Manning and repeatedly used force to call for breaks or to get Flair off of Kerry. As the match went on, Hayes lost his temper and decked Flair, knocking him out cold in the middle of the ring. He tried to get Kerry to cover Flair and claim the title, but Von Erich refused; the classic good guy wanted to win ‘the right way.’
At one point, he dragged a lifeless Von Erich over Flair to administer what everyone was sure to be a fast count. Kerry again refused, to the utter frustration of a visibly upset Michael Hayes, who started to abandon his referee duties and leave the cage. Kerry tried to bring him back, and while they were both near the cage door, Ric Flair recovered and nailed Kerry, who then hit Hayes, knocking him off the apron.
An incensed Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry’s head, leaving a gash Flair would go on to win the controversial match and retain his championship, but the bigger development was the dissolution of The Fabulous Freebirds/Von Erich’s friendship and impending feud.
The Fabulous Freebirds Versus The Von Erich’s
The Fabulous Freebirds’ introduction as ‘bad ass’ good guys allowed them to build so much equity with the World Class fans that when they turned on Kerry, they instantly became the most hated superstars in the territory.
Turning heel on the company’s biggest babyface star garnered The Fabulous Freebirds white-hot heat with the Sportatorium fans. Michael Hayes knew how to keep the fire stoked for sure; dancing to the ring with their music, doing pelvic thrusts, and moonwalking all while draped in his Confederate Flag. Those were just a few of the ways The Freebirds could incite a crowd before the bell rang to begin a match.
The Freebirds almost singlehandedly started an interstate war between Texas and Georgia with their nuclear heat. No matter the combination of match participants between the Freebirds and Von Erich’s, fans could always expect it to evolve into a double or triple team situation. They didn’t exclude any of Fritz’s boys either; even the non-wrestling brothers felt the Freebird force.
Writing Their Own Rules
Another way The Fabulous Freebirds also left their mark on professional wrestling was “The Freebird Rule,” which stated that any combination of the trio could defend their championships at any time. This was great for The Fabulous Freebirds because with Gordy as the heavy, Roberts as the technician, and Hayes as the mouthpiece, it kept opponents on their toes in preparation because they didn’t know who they’d be facing.
The Freebird Rule continues to live on in pro wrestling and has been used by numerous teams over the last few decades. Some notable uses of the rule by other tag teams include The New Day during their WWE Tag Team Championship run. In 2016, Randy Orton joined the Wyatt Family, and alongside Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper, they employed the Freebird Rule in defense of their Smackdown Tag Team Championships.
In 1999, WCW’s Jersey Triad (Bam Bam Bigelow, Diamond Dallas Page, and Chris Kanyon) came up with a unique variation of the Freebird Rule. They were allowed to switch between tag team partners during a match, provided one of them remained on the floor.
The Freebird Rule is another example of how they left their mark on professional wrestling. Similar to superstars who perform their own theme music, teams who employ the rule are following along in yet another trail blazed by The Fabulous Freebirds.
The Fabulous Freebirds set the wrestling world ablaze during their feud with the Von Erich’s in the mid-eighties. The Wrestling Observer awarded them Feud of the Year two years in a row (83-84). A Six-Man Anything Goes match between The Freebirds and Von Erich’s (Kevin, Kerry, and Mike) also won Match of the Year in 1984.
Terry Gordy went on to attain great single’s acclaim after his run with The Freebirds ended. He wrestled in Japan often and was the only member of the original team capture a World Heavyweight Championship when he won Universal Wrestling Federation’s World Championship.
Michael Hayes kept the Freebird name alive by adding Jimmy Garvin and the masked Badstreet to the team during their run in WCW. They’d had a loose connection in WCCW and even went on to win WCW’s Tag Team Championships on two occasions.
WWE honored The Freebirds with an induction into the Hall of Fame in 2016. Buddy Roberts passed away in 2012 and Terry Gordy in 2001. Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin, the two remaining Freebirds, accepted the honor for the quartet.