The world of wrestling has always been a fertile feeding ground for people who are their own worst enemies. Take any major American wrestling show from the 80s and 90s and chances are more likely than not that you’ll find someone on the card who embodied the phrase ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’. With many of the major headlines this year also stemming from AEW’s struggles with CM Punk—clearly trying to keep this rich tradition alive— I thought it was worth a reflection on one of the best/worst wrestlers when it came to getting in his own way.

It is twenty-one years yesterday that Chris Adams was shot dead due to a drunken brawl with a friend, which ended with Adams taking a .38 caliber handgun bullet to the chest. He was just 46 years old. It was an incident that was at the very extreme end of what could happen to a wrestler if they were never quite able to stay on the straight and narrow, but it wasn’t a surprise. Alcoholic rages, violent assaults, and tragic deaths had peppered Adams’ adult life. It was arguably the reason he had never truly risen above a minor territorial star, even when he had the talent to go much further. His last significant run was with WCW two years before his death; his last recorded match, a little over eighteen months. Having spent the fifteen years since his peak run in World Class bouncing around several independents and destined-to-fail new startups, it did feel like a question of what might have been?

Whilst I don’t intend to eulogize a man who—to all intents and purposes—wasn’t the best person long before the tragic accident that took his life, I do feel that there is some merit to revisiting Adams in the 80s. As he never really had a run in the proper spotlight of a WWF or an NWA/JCP, some may have overlooked his best work. However, Adams’ peak run in a territory just so happened to sync up with World Class and their moment in the sun. The Freebirds vs. Von Erich feud had raged for over a year and a half, but was ending. For years, the territory had largely relied on the Von Erich name alone to draw in the crowds. However, having seen the importance of having a strong heel contingent to take the boys on, Fritz and the World Class booking team were looking for their next big feud. As a snapshot of what Adams could offer, his heel turn sees him at his best.

When you turn a beloved face, it can go one of two ways. Sometimes it is a damp squib as the fans don’t want to boo someone that they had supported so fervently or the wrestler struggles to commit to the new persona. Sometimes, you strike gold and the love that was afforded the wrestler in the past comes back just as strong in the form of pure, undiluted hatred. Adams was effectively the next babyface in line behind the Von Erich boys. The fans loved him for his looks and British accent, whilst he had stood side by side with Kevin, Kerry and Mike in their battles against the ‘Birds. They couldn’t conceive of a world in which Adams would turn his back on World Class, turn his back on the Von Erichs.

So when he did, it was all the more effective.

There was a slow build to the turn, beginning on the September 1, 1984 episode of World Class Championship Wrestling. In what initially seemed an innocuous moment, Gary Hart was shown at ringside scouting a match between Adams and George Weingeroff. He must have liked what he had seen as, by the following week, Hart was playing the role of Adams’ advisor. To long-term Texas wrestling fans, this was a huge red flag, as Hart had long been a thorn in the side of the Von Erichs.

However, some effort was made to suggest that there had been a change of heart. On the microphone, Adams acknowledged that he trusted Hart even though many in the area wouldn’t and the fans had no reason to doubt Adams as a judge of character. In the ring, Hart paid immediate dividends as his involvement saw Adams pick up wins over heels such as Bill Irwin and Koko Ware, whilst his new adviser also got into several scraps with Skandor Akbar – an easy way to generate a positive response from the Texas faithful.

Good things must come to an end and with Hart in Adams’ corner, it was only a matter of time before things turned sour. The date was  October 7 in a show that was main evented by Adams teaming with Kevin Von Erich against Gino Hernandez and Jake Roberts. As was often the case in World Class, the main feuds were loosely woven together at points, so the ringside area also saw Nickla Roberts with the heel duo and Stella Mae French keeping on eye on the lady who had been dubbed ‘Andrea the Lady Giant’. With so many moving parts, shenanigans were always likely. In a spot missed by the camera crew, French swept Hernandez’s leg as he attempted to suplex Adams into the ring, only for the heel to end up on top in the resulting pinfall.

Hart and Adams stepped to French, blaming her for the loss; Kevin tried to protect her and in doing so got overly physical with Hart; Adams blasted Kevin with a superkick for manhandling his manager; a new heel was born.

While the superkick to Kevin was the turn, it was the actions that took place at the Cotton Bowl that truly cemented Adams as the premier heel in the territory. In a singles match that Adams had declared would be a fair, athletic contest, the Brit did indeed play by the rules only to be caught with a roll-up and bridge for a rare singles loss during this time. When offered a chance of reconciliation by Kevin, reconciliation that could only occur if he ditched Hart, Adams snapped.

I’ve watched a lot of mid-80s territorial wrestling and the chairshot (with a wooden chair) that Adams wipes Von Erich out with is rivaled by few moments in terms of how much it stuck with me. Kevin was known for laying it in stiff, but Adams was no slouch and the chairshot absolutely drilled Von Erich. Not content with just laying out his opponent, Adams followed it up with several chair-aided double footed stomps, effectively eliminating Kevin from the main event of that same show (something spoiled by WCCW as they aired that very match the week prior to this angle). A crying fan at ringside, screaming her love for Kevin, just served to highlight how effective Adams had been in his beatdown.

It was a rare example of someone getting one over on the Von Erich boys during this era. This did mean that Kevin had to get his own back, taking a wooden chair to Adams on the 8th December episode of television in a short, but intense match/angle.

This was the precursor to what would eventually become the Dynamic Duo vs. the Von Erichs. That ended up being a period of Adams’ career that is probably up there as his most valued contribution to the world of wrestling outside of his feud with Steve Austin. However, in order to get there, they had to stick the landing on the initial heel turn, which is exactly what they did. Watching through 2023 eyes, it still holds up and highlights the potential that Adams had in the ring and as a character.

That a two-decade career peaked so early and tailed off so quickly is a testament to the demons that would eventually consume his life. In a perfect world, there’d be a lot more great Chris Adams work out there.