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“When I grew up, I was fortunate enough to live the wrestler’s life, a life that gave me stories to tell, just like the ones I had heard as a boy. Pirates, millionaires, kings, and adventurers have nothing on me. I would trade my life with no one.” – Terry Funk
How do you answer the question, who was Terry Funk?
For most reading this, they have never lived in a period where Terry Funk was not a part of the pro wrestling business. A man who bookended a career with Sputnik Monroe and Jerry Lawler and wrestled with a who’s who from Johnny Valentine to CM Punk, Jumbo Tsuruta to Tomohiro Ishii, and Dusty Rhodes to the Insane Clown Posse.
To many, Terry Funk is professional wrestling – something so complex and deep-rooted that you know when you see it, but struggle to summarize.
The importance of Funk is being felt throughout the industry this week. It was a day that was inevitable and on August 23, 2023, Funk took his last breath while his fans subconsciously yelled, “Forever” in his honor.
While there is often a chasm between one generation with the following one(s), for Funk there was no divide. He saw it as his duty to give more than he received, to create jobs, to expand the industry, and most of all, to see what was coming next.
Funk sacrificed his physical well-being for the paying customer, treating the exchange as the way the business moves forward and keeps the audience coming back. Whether he gutted his way through a 1989 program with Ric Flair nursing a broken sacrum, entering the decade of the ‘90s with deteriorating knees, and a bad back, or making a booking immediately after hernia surgery, Funk gave life to the pro wrestling industry while mortgaging his own.
While the Funk family put their stamp on Amarillo, Texas, it was Indiana where Terry Funk’s story begins on June 30, 1944, son to Dory Sr. and Dorothy with three-year-old brother Dory Jr. They would cross the country and set up their home in Umbarger, Texas on The Flying Mare Ranch.
Funk was born into the industry, with his father a respected wrestler. Dory Sr.’s wrestling career was interrupted when he served in the Navy during World War II. After resuming his career, he was hired by the Boys’ Ranch in Texas as its athletic director and engrained himself in the state’s wrestling scene.
Although an accomplished wrestler, Dory Sr. earned more acclaim as a promoter, obtaining a piece of the Amarillo territory when Karl “Doc” Sarpolis purchased it from Dory Detton and the two ran things until Sarpolis died in 1967 with a one-hour program each Saturday on KFDA-TV Channel 10 (and previously on Sundays on KVII), hosted by Steve Stack and Dory Sr.
Funk’s first focus was football and he was part of pro wrestling’s greatest unofficial developmental system – West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M).
Over the years, the University’s football team fielded future stars including Dory & Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Bobby Duncum, Stan Hansen, Tully Blanchard, Manny Fernandez, Tito Santana, and Bruiser Brody (who relocated from Iowa State) playing for coach Joe Kerbel.
In 1965, the lure of the family industry attracted the youngest Funk to follow in his father and brother’s cowboy boots and was thrown into the deep end, wrestling Sputnik Monroe in his debut on December 9 at age 21.
It was not long before the youngest Funk was sent to St. Louis, teaming with his brother and working with the likes of Dick the Bruiser, Fritz Von Erich, and The Crusher with regular appearances at the Kiel Auditorium.
While he came up with the home-schooling version of the wrestling business, it was time for Funk to be sent away to wrestling college in 1967 under the guidance of Eddie Graham, a man who learned his trade through Dory Funk Sr.
Funk found himself wrestling for $20-$30 per night in Championship Wrestling from Florida, but the payment didn’t reflect the value of the experience and developing the sixth sense required to make it at the top level.
After Sarpolis’ death, Dory Sr. needed his son in the home territory, and he returned.
Texas was a hard-fought-over territory with various divisions. With the death of Sarpolis, it signaled the ascension to power for Dory Sr. in his part of the state. In Houston, long-time ruler Morris Sigel’s death in 1967 gave way to Paul Boesch, and Dallas was a battleground between Ed McLemore and Fritz von Erich ultimately, gaining control and ruling the city for the next two decades.
Dory Jr.’s rise to national stardom was several years ahead of Terry’s, although Terry played a big part.
Dory Jr. was voted in as NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion and won the belt on February 11, 1969, with his father serving as his largest advocate. Funk Jr. ended the three-year run of Gene Kiniski, beating “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” in Tampa, Florida.
Aside from Lou Thesz, no one had a longer uninterrupted title reign than Funk Jr., who clocked in at 3 ½ years when he lost it to Harley Race.
Throughout the title reign, the program pitted the warring families, the Funks and Briscos, and the expectation that former NCAA Champion Jack Brisco would dethrone Dory. The series between the older brothers became the state-of-the-art wrestling match and was taken around the country as a precursor to Brisco ascending to the throne. Funk Jr. would estimate that the two wrestled 150 times.
The change of succession plan has been debated for decades with the accepted story that Dory legitimately injured himself in a vehicular incident on their ranch on February 28, 1973 – days before the scheduled loss to Brisco. You had one side believing the Funks were playing games to avoid losing to Brisco while the Funks maintained it was legitimate and appears to be the accepted explanation.
However, upon his return to the ring weeks later, it was Harley Race who unseated Funk Jr. and won the title on May 24 and served as the transition from Funk Jr. to Jack Brisco, who won the belt on July 20.
It was during the early ‘70s that the Funk brothers ventured to Japan, wrestling for the JWA (Japan Pro Wrestling Association) and working with Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki before the two set off on their own promotional paths. On December 7, 1971, The Funks beat Baba & Inoki for the NWA International Tag Team Championships in Sapporo and dropped them to Baba & Seiji Sakaguchi the following May right before Baba left JWA.
Funk recalled in his book, “Japan was in turmoil the first time I was there, which was my only trip for the Japan Pro Wrestling Association. (Dory) Junior and I worked several dates on that December 1971 tour. The biggest match we had was a tag team win over the two biggest stars in Japan – Shohei “Giant” Baba and Antonio Inoki. Inoki didn’t want to do the job in that match but he did it anyway. I think he did it for the company, which was on its last legs. He certainly didn’t do it for Baba.”
The Funks displayed their allegiance to Baba over the next two decades and joined him when he launched All Japan Pro Wrestling in October 1972. The political implications included Dory Sr. being a major backer of Baba’s stateside along with Sam Mushnick, which led to the NWA working with All Japan in the group’s sophomore year while Inoki had to find alternative partners for U.S. imports and creating challengers that could draw.
Terry Funk headlined that inaugural show, teaming with Bruno Sammartino (in between WWWF title runs) and beating Baba & Thunder Sugiyama. Dory Funk Jr. was amid his NWA Championship reign and wouldn’t work for AJPW until the summer of 1973 after losing the title to Race.
That respect and trust was reciprocated throughout the years. When Baba had “can’t-miss” prospects in 1972 Olympian Tomomi “Jumbo” Tsuruta and Sumo standout Genichiro Tenryu, he sent the rookies to Amarillo for training and had them launch their careers away from the Japanese spotlight and under the care and tutelage of his foreign bookers.
Tragedy struck on June 3, 1973, when Dory Sr. was horsing around and wrestling with friend and colleague Les Thornton at the Funk home with Sr. having a heart attack that night. After being rushed to one hospital, he was sent to the larger one in San Antonio which required an approximate addition of ninety minutes travel. Dory Funk Sr. didn’t make it and died at the age of 54. The delay in immediate attention for his father was something that haunted Terry and left him asking “What if?” for years.
Just weeks before his 29th birthday, Terry and his older brother Dory were tasked with succeeding their father and taking control of the Amarillo territory. The brothers would hold onto the territory until 1980 when they cashed out and sold it to Dick Murdoch & Blackjack Mulligan, with the Funks seeing where the tide was turning and knowing when it was time to get out.
The grind of keeping the territory going came with a personal cost in his personal life, which included the arrival of daughter Stacy in 1967 and Brandee in 1971:
“I got so obsessed with keeping the family business from going down the tubes, and so obsessed with making it better than ever, that I was neglecting my family at home, and Vicki eventually filed for divorce just a few months after my dad died. I was devastated. That reality was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to swallow. I didn’t want her leaving, but she was going, by God. She’d had enough of the isolation. I don’t think I could have salvaged things at that point if I’d offered to give up the business entirely, and as soon as it hit me, I knew what a terrible mistake I’d made by isolating myself like I had.”
Terry and Vicki would reunite and the story had a happy ending with the schoolmates spending their lives together until Vicki’s passing in March 2019.
Terry’s star was on the rise after a run as the set-up opponent in various territories as the final obstacle for Dory’s latest opponent.
While Dory & Terry would demand entry into any Hall of Fame on their respective merits, they would also earn inclusion for their tag work. The brother duo won tag titles across the country including Florida (where the two had booking roles prior to Dusty Rhodes taking over with J.J. Dillon as his assistant), Georgia, Los Angeles (through a relationship with the JWA in Japan), Southwest Championship Wrestling and their home territory with Western States Sports in Amarillo. Their largest impact would be felt abroad through their work and influence in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
But, after the run Dory had with the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, the committee looked down the family tree and voted on Terry to be next in line at the end of 1975.
Unlike Dory, Terry didn’t have his father as his chief advocate and credits his brother as a strong ally when it came to a razor-thin vote between Terry and Harley Race as the chosen one to succeed Brisco.
It came down to a 4-3 decision, and Funk spoke to Fighting Spirit Magazine in 2015 about the need for a major campaign to get the votes while lacking no confidence that he was the best choice for the arduous job where he who holds the title puts everything else in their life on hold.
Funk topped Brisco on December 10 in Miami and set about his two-year odyssey, to this day, leaving the Funks as the only brother tandem to hold the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship. It is hard to imagine anyone else replicating that feat with Jerry Brisco never in that echelon nor likely that multiple members of the Von Erich kids would hold the big belt. When Kerry finally won it in May 1984, it was easy to assume David would have held the title, but Kerry receiving it only came about as a result of David’s untimely death that year.
Terry was a polarizing champion because he didn’t fit the mold of previous champions and drew criticism from some including Bill Watts in his book, The Cowboy and The Cross:
I thought Terry Funk liked to clown around too much in the ring for a world’s champion. I liked Terry, but I thought his style wasn’t right for the world title. I always thought Dory was a better champion, but Terry was a better character. The guy Terry won it from, Jack Brisco, was a great world champion. Terry was great in gimmick matches. I just thought the world’s title needed to have a certain class that elevated the sport.
Funk acknowledged a break from past champions when being interviewed by David Bixenspan in 2015:
I don’t wanna say that Terry Funk wrestled a championship style because I didn’t. Y’know ‘hardcore’, to me, was always giving 100 percent and giving the best show you can. It’s not going ahead and going in there with chains, buckets, and ladders and bullshit. Hardcore was wrestling at its best. That’s what I felt it was. That’s what I would do, and that’s what I did.
The candidates for Terry to drop the title to included Jack Brisco, Harley Race, and Bob Backlund, which resulted in a gridlock of votes. According to Backlund’s book, the deciding promoter was Vince McMahon Sr., who already had plans of Backlund succeeding Superstar Billy Graham as the WWWF Champion (with Graham informed of this prior to winning the title in April 1977) and the decision was made for Race to win the belt on February 6, 1977, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
Funk’s first year on top as NWA Champion earned him $400,000 and included Funk logging more miles than anyone as he crossed paths with Brisco in rematches, Ciclon Negro, Dusty Rhodes, Rocky Johnson (including a June 25, 1976 match in Amarillo with the Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali match on closed circuit), Dick Slater, Mr. Wrestling II, Edouard Carpentier, Thunderbolt Patterson, Pat O’Connor, Red Bastien, Dick Murdoch, Wahoo McDaniel, Billy Robinson, Gene Kiniski, Giant Baba, Bill Watts (headlining Watts’ first card at the Louisiana Superdome on July 17, 1976 and drawing 17,000 fans and a $75,000 gate), Harley Race, Bob Roop, Jose Lothario, Bob Backlund, Jerry Lawler, and Sgt. Slaughter among them. He also accumulated tons of sixty-minute draws that put him on a shortlist from his generation.
Funk may have had no better adversary than Dusty Rhodes as the two became synonymous with each other throughout their careers. The legendary promo battles are recited to this day and Funk’s accusation that “Dusty Sucks Eggs”. On March 3, 1982, they opposed one another at the Louisiana Superdome for Mid-South on a card headlined by Junkyard Dog vs. Ernie Ladd that drew approximately 18,000. Their program spanned generations and continued to draw on independents into the 2000s and came full circle when Rhodes inducted Funk into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2009.
Funk was a powerful operator in the industry alongside his brother as not only ex-NWA champions but also the foreign bookers of talent for All Japan Pro Wrestling that commanded major paydays for U.S.-based talent. They had also bucked the regular presentation of foreigners in Japan but being presented as babyfaces in the same way ‘The Destroyer’ Dick Beyer was able to translate for the Japanese public.
In 1977, the Real World Tag League tournament became a major event on the All Japan calendar with the inaugural tournament setting the stage for years to come and the work of Terry Funk in a legendary performance in that year’s final.
The Tag League was loaded with stars with The Funks, Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta, Kintaro Oki & Kim Duk, Billy Robinson & Horst Hoffman, Dick Beyer & Red Bastien, and The Sheik Ed Farhat & Abdullah the Butcher.
The final on December 15, 1977, became a classic with Terry Funk blading his arm and retreating to the back for medical attention only to return in valiant fashion in a scenario that has been borrowed from countless times over the generations. The Funks fought the Sheik & Abdullah to a disqualification win and won that year’s Tag League. To this day, it’s a hallmark for All Japan due to its historical significance and the groundwork laid in 1977.
The brothers would team in ten Tag Leagues between 1977 and 1990 winning on three occasions and being as linked to its lineage as anyone. Terry would also participate in his lone Champion Carnival tournament in 1980, which was won by his trainee, Jumbo Tsuruta in a field that included another mentee of Funk, Ted DiBiase.
The Funks orchestrated a political chess move with long-lasting ramifications by securing Stan Hansen as a receipt for Antonio Inoki signing away Abdullah the Butcher from All Japan. It was a different culture in Japan and remains to this day where “jumping ship” is not common practice and you show loyalty to the company and it shows loyalty to you. So, when Abdullah was scooped up by Inoki and given the incredible sum of $8,000 per week to jump, the Funks had an “in” to get Hansen as they were the ones that brought him into the industry, trained him, and got his first Japanese booking in 1975.
In 1981, Hansen was making $4,000 per week in New Japan and Baba doubled it for the jump as retribution over Abdullah. Baba and Hansen met secretly at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and agreed to a confidential three-year deal. It was the only time the two would sign anything, with the relationship continuing with a handshake through Baba’s passing seventeen years later.
Hansen finished the year-end New Japan tag tournament on December 10 teaming with Dick Murdoch and losing to Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami. Hansen hid out in Japan for the next two days, arriving as a complete surprise on the final night of All Japan’s Real World Tag League on December 13 when he assisted Bruiser Brody & Jimmy Snuka in beating The Funks in a stunning moment that the audience could not believe was unfolding and confirming that the gloves were off for the rival promotions.
In 1981, Funk began a big program in Memphis with area legend Jerry Lawler. Funk was brought in as Jimmy Hart’s latest assailant for Lawler. Their first match occurred on March 23, 1981, at the Mid-South Coliseum and drew over 7,000 people for a No Disqualification Match that Lawler won by count-out. Dory Funk Jr. challenged Lawler the following week and led to a tag team Texas Death Match on April 6 with Lawler & Plowboy Frazier beating The Funks in front of 8,000.
Of course, the most famous match of the program was taped during this run where Lawler and Terry Funk met in an Empty Arena Match at the Mid-South Coliseum and featured Funk providing the performance of a lifetime and indelible screams of, “My eye, my eye”.
Alan Counihan of the Pro Wrestling Torch recalls the improvisation as a high point, “The Terry memory I’d like to highlight is the five or so minutes that he spent with Lance Russell in an empty Mid-South Coliseum, waiting on Jerry Lawler to show up for their empty arena match. Terry and Lance play off each other in a way that highlights exactly who they were as performers. Funk the wildman, hooting and hollering with an assortment of random threats thrown in. Russell, the consummate professional trying to calm the situation down and plead for a little bit of civility. I can picture them, I can hear them in my head and I can remember all the great lines. It’s 5 minutes of entertainment that you wouldn’t experience in any medium other than pro wrestling, and it’s five minutes that only two legends like Terry and Lance could pull off to this level”.
The program extended into Florida during the year including a Taped Fist Match on September 29 at the Bayfront Center.
The match was Mick Foley’s source of inspiration eighteen years later for a WWF special titled ‘Halftime Heat’ to air on the night of the Super Bowl with Foley and Dwayne Johnson attempting to recreate the Lawler vs. Funk match.
During the summer of 1981, Dusty Rhodes was on his second reign as NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion, and it was an easy program to pit Rhodes and rival Terry Funk. The two had title matches throughout Florida with stops in West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, and Miami Beach.
By 1982, Funk made one tour of All Japan during the first six months of the year with Florida and Georgia Championship Wrestling being his primary stays in the U.S. that year. The Funks returned in August to Japan for the year-end Real World Tag League – beating Bruiser Brody & Stan Hansen to secure that year’s tournament win.
Georgia provided cable access for the Funks and exposure across the country – the power and reach being something Funk was plugged into. As wrestling’s soothsayer, Funk was able to see and project what was coming like few others. When territorial boundaries were being ignored and one’s television reached another part of the country, Funk saw the endgame and knew the time would come when where there would be one dominant player and it informed the Funks in relation to their eventual sale of the Amarillo territory in the late ‘70s to Dick Murdoch & Blackjack Mulligan.
Funk also displayed a willingness to speak openly about the business despite the guarded nature he was brought up in. This included frequent discussions with the newsletters, explaining how things worked, imparting lessons, and always being concerned with where the business was going and being ahead of the curve.
“I was trying to get such a show started and figured a Terry Funk interview would help immensely”, remembers Dan Lovranski, who would go on to co-host Live Audio Wrestling in May 2000. “It was at an Indie show near Detroit where Funk was having a match with Sabu, which at the time, was getting a lot of attention on the Indie scene with this seasoned veteran scraping with this young crazy nephew of the original Sheik. I talked to Funk before the match and even though he came from the kayfabe era, he answered all my questions. It really gave me the impetus to continue trying to cover wrestling, which, of course, I did for 25 years or so”.
From Jonathan Snowden: “I talked to Terry for hours over the years. No one taught me more about wrestling, both how it worked as a business and how to break down what a worker was doing in the ring. Two things you could count on in a conversation with the Funker—he’d sign off by telling you to stay out of prison. And, without fail, he’d talk about his passion for providing fans with their money’s worth when they went to see him at an arena. Of that, there was never a doubt. We were all richer for having him in our lives.”
There was a truly historical match on November 13, 1982, in Sun City, South Africa (during the time of apartheid and making the involvement of those on the show very controversial) headlined by Hulk Hogan and Terry Funk. This was a political lightning rod given Hogan’s stature as a top star in New Japan and Funk’s role with All Japan. It was a match that could not happen in Japan but in an era where information did not travel nearly as much, it was allegedly agreed by the two principals they would never speak of the outcome and therefore, Funk was willing to lose. Hogan completely violated the gentleman’s agreement and went to the Japanese press to brag about his win, infuriating Funk on many levels. Beyond giving his word, Hogan should have been indebted to Funk, whose recommendation to Sylvester Stallone allowed Hogan to be considered and given the role in Rocky III, which was massive for Hogan’s wider appeal. Funk attempted a PR stunt where he rounded up reporters and banged on Hogan’s Japanese hotel door with the intention of fighting Hogan and being “made whole” in the eyes of the press but Hogan did not answer. Years later, Funk would joke to reporter Dave Meltzer about what a terrible idea that was and that Hogan could have tossed him off the balcony for all he knew.
The story of Terry Funk cannot be told without the endless retirement proclamations and setting the tone for the most broken promise in the industry throughout its history. Funk had flirted with retirement in the ‘70s and didn’t appear long for the grind of pro wrestling with his eyes on other endeavors and being a keen businessman.
By late 1982, Dory Jr. had begun booking for Jim Crockett Promotions and would be the architect of the first Starrcade lineup the next November, built around Harley Race and Ric Flair.
The most famous of his retirements was on August 31, 1983, teaming with his brother in a victory against protégé Stan Hansen and rising U.S. superstar, the 22-year-old Terry Gordy.
The ceremony and speech lived in infamy as a raucous Sumo Hall is bestowing its love for their favorite American as Funk responds with repetition of one word with added emotion during each exhale, “Forever”. The speech was immortalized for another generation due to its inclusion in the 1999 documentary “Beyond the Mat”.
Also immortalized was Funk’s return to the ring the next year and three more decades of near retirements.
Funk returned in November 1984 for the Real World Tag League and while a beloved figure, it also deflated a crowd that had engaged in one of the truly epic retirement moments in the industry’s history and was similar to Ric Flair’s return in 2009 where the audience had a deep respect for the performer but with some air out of the sails.
In 1985, Funk made the bold move of joining the surging World Wrestling Federation while keeping his ties with All Japan where he managed two tours for the outfit that year.
Funk began his first of many runs in the WWF in June 1985 during a period where Vince McMahon was rapidly expanding and signing key names from across the U.S. and Canada. He was slotted with mouthpiece Jimmy Hart and given a good run as an upper mid-card heel.
The road schedule of the mid-’80s was as rough as they came and this was a far cry from the in-ring level expected in an All Japan setting. That said, Funk stood out in the “land of giants” not for his size but for what he could get out of those performers who ranged in skill from a Special Delivery Jones to Lanny Poffo and Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker).
His major program of 1985 was with the Junkyard Dog that was taken around the country with Funk getting arguably the best matches out of Sylvester Ritter during his WWF tenure.
Funk participated in The Wrestling Classic pay-per-view in November 1985 with his opening round count-out loss to Moondog Spot lasting all of twenty-seven seconds.
The JYD program was a precursor to a run with WWF Champion and national star Hulk Hogan as the former Japanese rivals did business together several years after the South Africa match. Despite the ammunition to hold a grudge, Funk was always complimentary of Hogan and provided a series of great matches with him, which were not in high frequency given the opponents Hogan was routinely working with.
They had a two-match series in Denver on November 15 with Funk winning by count-out and bringing the match back two weeks later with Hogan retaining. There were follow-up title matches in Philadelphia and Toronto before their Saturday Night’s Main Event taping on December 19, 1985, in Tampa.
The match aired on NBC on January 4, 1986, and generated a 10.4 rating making it among the most-watched matches of its era.
The program extended into the new year with stops at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Cincinnati at the Riverfront Coliseum, the Capital Center in Landover, and the Sports Arena in Los Angeles.
As the Hogan run ended, brother Dory Jr. joined Terry (with an eventual name change to ‘Hoss Funk’) and the brothers worked together including matches with Hogan & JYD. The Funks were part of the Los Angeles portion of WrestleMania 2 in April 1986 beating JYD & Tito Santana in Dory’s lone match at the event. While Terry would return twelve years later, Dory would stick around and McMahon created a new Funk with Jesse Barr becoming “Jimmy Jack Funk”.
In the fall, the brothers returned to All Japan Pro Wrestling with the WWF in the rear-view mirror. After missing the Tag League in 1985, the brothers entered the tournament, which was won by their students, Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichiro Tenryu, who were revolutionizing the style.
Funk felt the wear and tear of twenty-plus years in the ring and was attempting to develop consistency in Hollywood after several notable roles. His first major splash was playing the role of Frankie the Thumper in the 1978 film “Paradise Alley” (where he got his weight up to 276 pounds) and would follow with roles in 1987’s “Over the Top” starring close friend Sylvester Stallone and playing Morgan in the cult hit “Road House” (which was set to star Ronda Rousey in a remake, which was never completed with the latest attempt at the remake featuring Conor McGregor). He also had a run of TV series roles in the ‘90s including “Wildside”, “Quantum Leap” and “Tequila & Bonetti”. He was also attached to the Rocky V film starring Stallone & Tommy Morrison as a credited choreographer for the climactic street fight in the 1990 film.
With his interests split Funk would wrestle the Real World Tag League in 1987 and not wrestle at all the following year.
By 1989, Funk was 44 years old and with the style he wrestled, no one would blame the man for calling it a career and setting off into the Hollywood sunset with a burgeoning career. Instead, Funk turned back the clock and arguably had its most legendary run – at least in front of North American fans.
After wrestling his first match in over a year in a one-off with Greg Gagne in January, Funk made his way to WCW, which had just been sold by Jim Crockett Promotions to Turner with Funk arriving at the tail end of Ric Flair’s breathtaking trilogy with Ricky Steamboat, with Funk serving as the tool to maintain Flair’s incredible year.
After matches in Chicago and New Orleans that remain lauded to this day, Flair and Steamboat had their climactic third televised match at the Music City Showdown in Nashville, Tennessee on May 7, 1989.
Steamboat won the NWA Championship on February 20 at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago with the two rivals wrestling around the country and leaving fans in awe of the nightly performances. The next major match saw the Louisiana Superdome booked for Clash of the Champions on April 2, 1989, and the second year in a row that the promotion aired against WrestleMania.
It was a dreadfully promoted show with booker George Scott not using their television to promote the card for fear it would hurt ticket sales because Flair vs. Steamboat was the house show program.
The business of the Clash show bombed with the Observer reporting 5,300 in the cavernous Superdome and only 1,300 paid with a gate of $15,000 and a 4.3 rating on TBS, the lowest for a Clash special up to that point.
Those that tuned in or attended the show were given a classic with Flair and Steamboat teasing a 60-minute draw and ending at the 55:32 mark in a two-of-three falls match won by Steamboat.
The third televised match of the year was set for WrestleWar in Nashville with the addition of three ringside judges – former NWA Champions Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor, and Terry Funk.
“Road House” was set for release two weeks after WrestleWar, so the backdrop was that Funk’s career was behind him and he had “gone Hollywood”.
After another classic, Flair regained the championship and went in as the villain but had a different path coming out of the event through the masterful work of Funk. The former champion congratulated Flair during the post-match celebration and issued a respectful challenge to Flair, which was met with skepticism by the new champion and Flair informing Funk that the movie star would have to work his way back for a title opportunity. Funk went from zero to sixty and totally changed the mood and the vibe inside the arena by attacking Flair. The grizzled and fun-loving veteran was now wild and crazy Terry Funk, leading an attack that culminated with a devastating piledriver to Flair on top of a table – a legendary moment where such a stunt was not regular fare and came with the knowledge of Flair’s previous neck injury and teased retirement in the lead-up to the first Starrcade.
“Funk’s iconic table piledriver may seem commonplace in today’s wrestling world, but at the time, it was shocking. Flair sold it like hell, taking weeks off and hinting at retirement”, remembers Rich Kraetsch from Voices of Wrestling. “It’s one of the all-time great angles in wrestling history, and both Funk and Flair followed it up with months of incredible promos and two legendary matches”.
They were off to the races and Flair and Funk was the hot program as Flair went from one legacy program to the next that year. The championship program involved two individuals, ages 40 and 44, and yes, the company had doubts and it placed a giant-sized chip on their shoulders to prove how hard they could go and create one for the ages.
The first test of the program’s juice was their championship match on July 23 at the Great American Bash in Baltimore – one of the best pay-per-view shows the company ever produced.
Funk was determined by sheer force of will to gut his way through this program as he was hampered by a broken sacrum weeks before the Bash and his power to push through and deliver became the source of legend. There were stories of Funk being barely mobile but when the red light was on, he didn’t just show up and do his job, he put out some of the best matches of his career.
The two tore it up in Baltimore but the true sign of success was the business generated, with the card drawing 12,000 paid and a gate of $188,000 – figures that would not be topped for WCW until the explosion with the New World Order. On pay-per-view, they drew 180,000 buys. While Flair and Steamboat is a legendary artistic success, it was not a business one whereas Flair and Funk checked both boxes.
At Halloween Havoc, Funk teamed with Great Muta losing to Flair & Sting in the Thunderdome Cage Match on a show that outdid the Bash by drawing 215,000 buys. More impressive is that the pay-per-view aired against Game 4 of the World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants in the series that was interrupted by a devastating earthquake and led to a twelve-day hiatus between Games 2 and 3, so there was national attention on it.
The climax of the program was another all-time hit with an “I Quit Match” at the Clash of the Champions show on November 15 in Troy, New York. It is a match regarded by Mick Foley as his all-time favorite.
It was another commercial success generating a 4.9 rating and hitting a 6.3 for the match with 3,216,000 homes watching Funk say the two words. At that point, it was the second most-watched wrestling match on cable behind the Royal Rumble in January 1988 that aired on the USA Network.
WCW saw the event as Funk’s swan song and he was transitioned to commentary for the remainder of his time with the promotion.
Was this the end of Terry Funk? Hell no.
In 1990, his schedule was reduced and largely contained to a pair of tours with All Japan including his final tag League with Terry & Dory, finishing with fifteen points in the middle of the field which was won by Terry Gordy & Steve Williams.
In 1991, Funk would wrestle his final match with All Japan Pro Wrestling for a decade. After an April tour, Funk sustained an injury as he confirmed to John Arezzi:
The disc between one of the vertebras went and it was extremely painful. I continued on for about four more days and we were wrestling Kroffat and Furnas once again and one of them backdropped me on the floor and that was it. I couldn’t go on any longer. The pain was almost unbearable. I feel for anybody who has a bad back or has had the same injury because it’s extremely painful.
There was never any known sign of a falling out between Baba and Funk, but Terry would never again wrestle for Baba but did return in 2001 when his widow, Motoko, assumed control of the company.
Funk bounced around the fledgling U.S. scene that was greatly constricting with the loss of the territories and fewer full-time jobs, as Funk had envisioned. He bounced around with Smokey Mountain Wrestling and feuding with the Armstrongs, reviving his program with Lawler in the USWA, and working for ECW for the first time on January 23, 1993.
During this period, Eddie Gilbert was booking the then Eastern Championship Wrestling and had a series of matches with Funk including an “I Quit Texas Death Match” won by Funk at their Battle of the Belts card and coming back with a Texas Chain Match in June that Gilbert prevailed in.
Funk’s next chapter in Japan would be with upstart phenomenon FMW (Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling), run by disciple Atsushi Onita, who idolized Funk. Baba had always thought highly of Onita and there didn’t appear to be any tension between the groups – unlike the deep resentment bestowed on Genichiro Tenryu, who left All Japan with the financial backers that created SWS and Tenryu as its key star.
Onita was a popular junior heavyweight wrestler, who began his career at the age of fifteen and traveled to Texas and Tennessee, falling in love with Funk and the wild brawling he was exposed to. A brutal knee injury nearly ended Onita’s career where he shattered the kneecap and forced wholesale changes to his performance and altering to the Onita form most are accustomed to. He did retire in 1985 but would make a return three years later with FMW launching in 1989.
The dream match for Onita occurred on May 5, 1993, at Kawasaki Stadium for a “No Rope Barbed Wire Time Bomb Death Match” to celebrate the promotion’s fourth anniversary.
From that week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
Take one crazy person. Put him in the ring with the person with his mentor, the person who taught him most of what he’s learned about being crazy. Surround the ring with barbed wire laced with explosives. And 15:00 into the match, blow the entire ring up.
The end results? Two men drenched in blood hugging each other. One going to the hospital needing 72 stitches in his back and upper stomach. The other had his nose nearly shredded from the barbed wire. And a packed house of 41,000 fans (approximately 32,000 paid) paying $1.8 million gate made it the biggest and most successful financially over-the-edge wrestling show in history.
The match was a heavy influence on a generation of future performers, ending with a fallen Funk left in the middle of the ring as a countdown clock was ticking toward his doom. In an emotional moment, that can only be produced in this type of setting, the protégé stormed back to the ring, laying on top of his mentor to protect him from the blast. It was a scene recreated in 2021 with Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley in their homage to the legendary moment.
Funk was a living legend in Japan and his star power added further credibility to FMW with Funk engaging in hardcore matches incorporating another rival, The Sheik, and his nephew Sabu. Sixteen years after their classic Tag League final, Funk and The Sheik met in a 1-on-1 match at Korakuen Hall for FMW on December 28, lasting under five minutes and ending with The Sheik being disqualified. They rematched at Kawasaki Stadium in May 1994 and saw Funk winning by knockout in a six-minute affair.
His strangest WWF story occurred in November when he was set to team as one of Shawn Michaels’ mystery “Knights” in a 4-on-4 elimination match with The Hart Family at the Survivor Series in Boston. As the story went, Funk left a note for Vince McMahon the night before stating, “My horse is sick. I think he’s dying”. He confirmed the story in a 2015 story for Fighting Spirit Magazine and that he was being scouted for a possible booking role in Pat Patterson’s spot.
Funk was a “gun for hire” and found himself crisscrossing the globe and landing in unique spots. He continued his regular work with the upstart ECW, which saw a booking change from Gilbert to Paul Heyman in September 1993. On Heyman’s first official show as booker, Funk teamed with Stan Hansen against Abdullah the Butcher & Kevin Sullivan in a Bunkhouse Match at the ECW Arena. To cap off 1993, Funk won the ECW Heavyweight Championship from Sabu and held it for three months.
Deeply involved with ECW during this era, Funk was part of a major match in the company’s history on February 4, 1994, dubbed “The Night The Line Was Crossed”. Funk had a three-way dance with Shane Douglas and Sabu that lasted an hour and ended in a draw and Funk retained his title. The match would be replicated years later between the three in 1997 and, most ambitiously, in 2005.
His contributions to ECW would end up having a significant contribution to his legacy to a modern generation of fans that were seeing the former NWA Champion and Japanese icon reinvent himself to endear himself to a new audience. But, by the summer of 1994, he was essentially done with ECW, although not forever.
Funk had another run at WCW in 1994 as part of The Stud Stable with Bunkhouse Buck, Arn Anderson, and Col. Robert Parker. The peak of the run saw the group face off with Dusty & Dustin Rhodes and The Nasty Boys in a War Games match in September with the latest revival of Funk vs. Rhodes. The program is best remembered for a legendary promo by Dusty with Dustin ending in an emotional embrace between father and son. Funk ended this run teaming with Buck and losing to Dusty & Dustin in their old stomping grounds of Tampa.
It was a short stay for Funk and a far cry from his 1989 run with the company. Funk and Hogan were two passing ships in the night as Funk wrapped up shortly after Hogan’s arrival that summer and the company would go through a major identity shift in 1995 with the advent of Monday Nitro and building the company around its big signing.
IWA Japan was likely an unknown entity for most until associating it with Funk, Mick Foley, and a widely circulated tape simply known as the “King of the Deathmatch”. Funk was not scared of starting from scratch in new places and putting his stamp of approval on unknown outfits. It became his modus operandi to preserve the health of the industry and create more companies and jobs rather than concede to the industry juggernauts. It informed a lot of his decision-making over the next decade.
He debuted for IWA Japan in November 1994 and took his FMW style into new terrain with new opponents in The Headhunters, Nobutaka Arai, Shoji Nakamaki, and Leatherface (Rick Patterson)
The Japanese outfit was his primary source of work throughout 1995 and was the company where he truly bonded with the man that experts pegged as the “next” iteration of Terry Funk, Mick Foley.
The New York native had his fill of the U.S. independent scene and a WCW run in his back pocket as he went on his first tour for IWA during the first week of 1995, earning the grand sum of $300 per night but more experience for the toolset.
Foley and Funk had one singles match to date the previous August in ECW when they set out to take things to new heights in Japan. During Foley’s first tour, he would engage in a No Ropes Barbed Wire tag match opposite Funk, and less than a week later, a No Ropes Barbed Wire Match with Fire in Honjo in a match Foley frequently references as possibly their best despite the small audience.
The two were deeply connected throughout 1995, fighting on two continents with the feud bouncing between IWA Japan and ECW where Jack pinned his hero in their three singles matches in the U.S.
May 1995 was a significant “first” for Funk where there were few of those left in a career that had lasted thirty years. But, on May 3, he stepped into a New Japan ring for the first time teaming with Shiro Koshinaka and beating Kodo Fuyuki & Masa Chono at the Fukuoka Dome and did a follow-up tag match two weeks later with Great Kabuki against Chono & Sabu at Ota Ward Gymnasium (the venue of New Japan’s first event ever in March 1972).
August 20, 1995, was a date etched in the minds of every tape trader who hunted down a VHS of varying quality with tales of the lore of the violence created that day at Kawasaki Stadium.
Funk took part in the day-long tournament spread over three matches and climaxed with a showdown with his American successor.
The first match saw Funk defeat Leatherface in a Barbed Wire Board & Chain Match followed by Funk and fellow legend Tiger Jeet Singh in a Barbed Wire Board & Glass Match that clocked in at six minutes before the night’s climactic finale.
Funk and Foley met in a No Rope Barbed Wire Exploding Boards & Exploding Ring Match, with the hook being an explosion to end the carnage.
After approximately thirteen minutes, Cactus Jack was the King of the Deathmatch and while the explosion fell into the description of “the anticipation was greater than the delivery”, it was a tournament that lived infamy for its meaning in Foley’s career and its legend making its way onto WWF programming, its magazines, and Foley’s autobiography, who understood what it meant for him.
Terry had done me a gigantic favor. Terry had only lost a couple of matches in the last decade in Japan, and a victory over the Funker was a huge milestone. Terry Funk, who had spent his entire career giving, had just given me a hell of a gift.
“The wrestling industry by its nature is one that is going to be filled with selfish performers, driven by the exhilaration of performing in front of thousands of fans and inherently resistance to ideas that may push them out of the spotlight” notes Jesse Collings of the Gentleman’s Wrestling Podcast, “Terry Funk is one of the few performers who is of unquestionable legendary status, but also was willing to constantly give to his opponents. He not only possessed a masterful understanding of how to work in front of different crowds, but he was able to share that knowledge with his colleagues in wrestling, and constantly was helping them be better versions of themselves”.
Mick Foley made $300 for the day’s work but left with a moniker that would follow him throughout his career and, within a year, he was in the World Wrestling Federation.
Two months later, Funk and Foley had another frightening incident during a post-match attack at the ECW Arena following a match between Foley and Tommy Dreamer. After Dreamer’s win, Raven and Terry Funk got involved (each was a second during the match) for a show-closing brawl and the planned use of fire.
Funk had his flaming branding iron and Foley took a chair wrapped with a towel and was set on fire. The towel flew off the chair and landed on Funk, who was caught on fire. As attendants tried to put Funk out with extinguishers, the lights went out and tragedy was avoided but this was among the most dangerous scenes inside of a wrestling venue, and anything from a riot to a mass fire was thankfully, avoided.
Funk sustained second-degree burns and was sent to the hospital. It was one of the rare times performers saw Funk seething in anger and Foley believing his career was over before cooler heads prevailed and the four met in a tag match weeks later at the November to Remember show.
Regardless, a lawsuit was filed by a fan stating they were burned and suffered from PTSD but was dismissed after going to trial in May 2000.
The incident was unquestionably one of the lowest in the history of ECW and could have resulted in such a scarier outcome for those in attendance and was a poorly conceived idea.
Funk continued in FMW in 1996 with the Funk Masters of Wrestling (FMW) group with The Headhunters, The Gladiator, Mr. Gannosuke, Super Leather, and Hisakatsu Oya.
At the annual Kawasaki Stadium show, Funk & Mr. Pogo beat Hayabusa & Masato Tanaka in a Double Hell Time Bomb Tornado Death Match.
He only wrestled once for ECW that year, appearing at the annual November to Remember to team with Dreamer against Shane Douglas & Brian Lee at the ECW Arena. The tag match headlined the show and Funk was the most over performer on the card.
Funk showed up for a cup of coffee with the WWF in early 1997, appearing on Shotgun Saturday Night and cutting his trademark off-color promo (“You’re mother’s a whore”), which didn’t endear him to management, and he was done after appearing in the Royal Rumble match in San Antonio, which was won by Steve Austin.
Once again, the belief was Funk was winding down as the industry was changing and Funk was 52 years old in a rapidly evolving industry that was hardly recognizable to the one he entered.
Funk had another run for the ages that culminated with ECW’s first pay-per-view event, Barely Legal, on April 13, 1997, built around the former NWA Champion turning back time and winning the company’s top prize.
After beating The Sandman and Stevie Richards, Funk advanced for an immediate title match with Raven and won the title with seconds to go on the pay-per-view and a furious battle to the finish line. Within seconds of going off the air, the generator blew inside the ECW Arena and a near-live disaster on pay-per-view was averted.
The event is immortalized in “Beyond the Mat” from Paul Heyman’s speech rallying the troops before the card to Funk’s family watching the veteran defy time and logic, and the celebration being capped off with Funk putting back a bottle of beer.
If Barely Legal was an example of “beautiful violence”, Funk’s title loss to Sabu that summer was one of “violent violence” with no room for beauty. It was among the more gruesome matches ECW presented with a Barbed Wire contest that saw Sabu shredded to pieces in capturing the ECW Championship – one week before Funk, Sabu, and Douglas engaged in a three-way dance rematch at Hardcore Heaven in Fort Lauderdale and Douglas leaving with the gold. It was Funk’s last official ECW match.
Funk was holding his body together by a miracle. As seen in Barry Blaustein’s documentary, his doctor informs Funk he is in desperate need of a new knee and is floored that Funk is moving around much less wrestling.
His next retirement attempt occurred on September 11, 1997, in Amarillo as part of a “50 Years of Funk” show to honor his father and family’s connection to the industry. It was a show promoted by Funk with involvement from the WWF, who sent its champion Bret Hart to wrestle Funk, along with ECW talent on the show.
Hart’s history with the Funk family went back decades as the sons of promoters and part of a unique bloodline. In the summer of 1971, fourteen-year-old Bret tagged along with brothers Bruce and Dean to go to Amarillo and see how the territory operated. Years later, a young Hart would referee in Amarillo.
In his autobiography, Hitman Hart, Bret remembers the retirement match in 1997, “I had a bad flu but couldn’t miss such a significant night. I was happy to put the title up against Terry, but at his insistence, he wanted to put me over, even though it was his retirement match. The Amarillo fans were so fired up about my anti-American heel status that I feared for Stu, who was sitting at ringside. When it was over, I was so sick I had to crawl back to bed before Terry could even thank me.”
He wrestled two weeks later to tour with FMW and returned to the WWF before the calendar flipped over to 1998.
While Funk was viewed as a creative genius, he was not shy about highlighting his misses over the years. While it’s easy to assume that Vince McMahon would rather strip Terry Funk of his name and image over thirty years, place a stocking over his head, and call him “Chainsaw Charlie”, the idea was from Funk’s brain and he readily admitted it didn’t work.
Funk appeared on the final WWF tapings of 1997 and was brought in under the Chainsaw Charlie moniker and paired with long-time ally and foe, Mick Foley, who was performing as Cactus Jack for the first time in the WWF.
There was no veil of secrecy regarding who was behind the see-through stocking mask, rather than “Who?”, the question was, “Why?”
If there was a memorable moment to the Chainsaw Charlie run, it was an angle on Raw in Indianapolis where Funk and Cactus wrestled to a no-contest where both ended up in a dumpster on the stage. The brash and cocky New Age Outlaws appeared and proceeded to roll the dumpster off the stage. Had there not been a clear shot of Styrofoam flying out of the dumpster, or Funk returning at the end of the show in a hospital gown with an IV drip attached, it may have resonated stronger but more comedic than it sounded.
The four had a Dumpster Match at WrestleMania 14 in Boston where Funk & Jack won the WWF Tag Team Championships where Funk suffered a nasty hip bruise after being thrown into the dumpster and clipping that part when dropped. It didn’t stop him from being sent out the next night for a steel cage rematch with the Outlaws, who decimated the duo and regained the tag titles as a “new” DX was formed with the Outlaws aligning with Triple H, Chyna, and the returning Sean Waltman.
With the WWF catching fire due to Steve Austin’s rise, the incorporation of Mike Tyson, and a massive WrestleMania, the company hit its second boom period. Austin needed opponents and Foley was taken from the Hardcore Legend Cactus Jack and repackaged as a heel Dude Love, serving as a corporate apparatus to Vince McMahon for a two-month series of pay-per-view matches.
Funk ditched the Chainsaw Charlie gimmick without explanation and returned to his proper billing while being paired with 2 Cold Scorpio, Dustin Rhodes, and Bradshaw in a series of makeshift teams.
Funk being the “Forrest Gump of wrestling” finding himself in the middle of so many historic moments, was front-and-center for the famous Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mick Foley in June 1998, trying to buy his mentee time and was chokeslammed out of his shoes by The Undertaker as Foley was tended to during his career-altering performance.
Funk wrapped up with the company in August, losing to Foley on the way out on house shows in Toronto and Montreal.
Funk made another ECW appearance at November to Remember where he tried to play heel going against Tommy Dreamer. Funk was insulted that Dreamer chose Jake Roberts as his mystery partner over Funk, with Funk playing heel throughout the show but it led nowhere.
In 1999, his fame grew among wrestling and non-fans alike with the release of Blaustein’s documentary, “Beyond the Mat”. The concept was taking a down-and-out ex-star (Jake Roberts), a weekend warrior trying to make it (Foley, who ended up ascending to the top of the industry during filming), the young and hungry future stars (Tony Jones and Michael Modest), and the aging veteran (Terry Funk).
It was a widely praised film except for Vince McMahon, who refused to market the film despite his participation and providing backstage access when the company needed a spark in its war against WCW. Foley was caught between the company he worked for and a film he was genuinely proud of. The contention between McMahon and Foley was made worse when McMahon compared comments by Foley’s wife Colette with Robin Givens and her famous interview sitting next to Mike Tyson.
Funk was presented as a lovable and caring father with unparalleled respect within the industry, with touching scenes of Funk with his wife, daughters, and son-in-law as his daughter was getting married during the documentary’s filming.
It was also an expose on Funk’s health and defying logic that he was still wrestling.
While WCW was plummeting, they brought Funk back in early 2000 as their on-screen commissioner. His first match occurred on January 4 in a Hardcore Match with company champion Bret Hart in a series of matches that would alter Hart’s career and bring it to an end months later.
After suffering a series of concussions, Hart continued to wrestle in December and into January doing more damage in the process and suffering follow-up blows that proved detrimental to his health. Hart recalls the struggle he endured, “Terry did all he could to go easy on my head, even as we brawled around the ring and on the floor with chairs, rubber bats, and garbage cans. When he finally charged at me with a chair, I got my hands up and deflected it completely. So far so good. I staggered off in retreat, making my way up the aisle as Terry grabbed a fistful of my hair and tossed me into a big, rolling canvas laundry bin that just happened to be sitting right there. With my legs hanging over the sides, I couldn’t pull myself up into a better position. Terry spun it around and pushed it hard toward the ring. I braced myself by wrapping my arms around my head, but when I spilled out I whacked the back of my head on the heavy wooden lid of the cart, which made a sound like a dropped watermelon. After the match, Terry felt terrible, but it wasn’t his fault – I shouldn’t have been in a hardcore match with a concussion in the first place.”
Funk feuded with Kevin Nash over the commissioner’s role before going back to the old hits and being programmed with Ric Flair — a far cry from their program eleven years prior.
Funk was thrust into the Hardcore division, winning the championship from Crowbar in April at the Spring Stampede event. In one of the scarier moments, he had a match with Chris Candido on a Thunder broadcast that ended up in a horse stable and fighting around a real horse. The animal, unable to detect that WCW was just going through with another aimless idea, threw a kick that connected with Funk, who was lucky to walk away from that one.
In the fall of 2000, the company capitalized on a house show that happened to take place in Amarillo, Texas, and opted to have Funk win the United States Championship from Lance Storm for one night, losing it back to Storm the next night in Lubbock. It was among Storm’s career highlights and viewed Funk in the highest regard and like many, was devastated about the news this past week.
Funk wrapped with WCW shortly before the company’s demise in 2001.
After ten years away, Funk returned to All Japan for one night on January 28 at the Tokyo Dome teaming with Atsushi Onita to beat Abdullah the Butcher & Giant Kimala on a show that honored the retiring Stan Hansen and came two years after the passing of Giant Baba.
Funk returned in the fall of 2002 as All Japan celebrated its 30th anniversary and returned to his “gun for hire” status for the likes of XPW, IWA Puerto Rico, Ring of Honor, MLW, JCW, and working shots with TNA.
In January 2003, he wrestled at the Tokyo Dome as part of the ill-fated Wrestle-1 show where he teamed with MMA fighter Heath Herring as the new version of the Texas Broncos against Hiroshi Hase & Satoshi Kojima. It was played for comedy years later when Herring was promoting his UFC 87 fight with Brock Lesnar and mocking Lesnar’s history as a pro wrestler when Herring himself did pro wrestling.
Years after ECW’s demise and WWE securing its assets, the company released “The Rise and Fall of ECW” DVD which sold hundreds of thousands of units. A pitch by Rob Van Dam started the idea process for a reunion show given all the ex-ECW stars on the roster and ECW’s One Night Stand was born. The company would stage an event at the Hammerstein Ballroom on June 12, 2005, while Shane Douglas staged his own reunion event dubbed Hardcore Homecoming two days prior at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia. It became a battle of which one was the genuine article, but both shows served their purpose.
Terry Funk was caught in the middle, aware that physically he could only do one show. Always assessing the good of the industry over the good of one dominant leader, Funk took less money and worked Douglas’ show, recreating the three-way dance with Douglas and Sabu. In an interview prior to the show, Funk revealed he was offered $7,500 by the WWE for their show and accepted $2,500 for Douglas’.
In late 2005, he wrestled Dusty Rhodes for the final time on an independent card in South Carolina. Despite being a generation removed, Funk’s programs with Rhodes and Jerry Lawler still drew.
A year later, Funk did work on the WWE’s One Night Stand and an angle working with Tommy Dreamer and his wife Beulah McGillicutty against Mick Foley, Edge, and Lita. Foley had grand plans for an angle involving Funk, Vince McMahon, and himself that would culminate with Funk biting McMahon’s bare ass on live television, but the angle never came to fruition.
Funk later sold the famous Double Cross Ranch and purchased property on a lake and was said to have been in good financial standing after the sale.
Funk would go into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2009 alongside his brother when WrestleMania was staged in Houston, Texas. In 2013, he did the honors inducting Foley into the same Hall of Fame.
Funk would wrestle one last time for All Japan in October 2013 teaming with Dory against Masa Fuchi & Osamu Nishimura.
He was brought back by New Japan on January 4, 2010, for Wrestle Kingdom 4 at the Tokyo Dome in a star-studded eight-man tag team with Riki Choshu, Masa Chono & Manabu Nakanishi against Abdullah the Butcher, Takashi Iizuki, Toru Yano, and Tomohiro Ishii.
His in-ring career ended appropriately in October 2015 in a series of tag matches involving Jerry Lawler.
Funk made a final appearance on WWE programming in March 2016 during the lead-up to WrestleMania 32 and provided a pep talk to Dean Ambrose prior to his showdown with Brock Lesnar. Ambrose reflected on the interaction when I interviewed him shortly after, “Having Terry Funk come all the way to Philadelphia and do that and have a personal conversation, things I wouldn’t share with you (it’s) between us. (It) makes me feel good, makes me feel like I’m on the right track.”
The last few years have been rough on Funk with the check coming due on a lifetime of injuries, wear-and-tear, and defying the human limits to entertain his audience. He went through a difficult hernia surgery and opted to travel and make a booking shortly after, which reportedly caused more damage. In 2019, the biggest blow was the loss of Vicki, who died in March of that year, and was heartbreaking for Funk.
In 2021, Funk entered an assisted-living facility, and word spread of the icon having his good days and bad days.
Mick Foley made a point to visit Funk anytime he was within a certain distance and professed his love and admiration for his hero in a handwritten note once Funk could no longer communicate using his phone.
Dan Lovranski: “I know it’s totally a cliche thing to say, but there will NEVER be another one like Terry Funk. They literally broke the mold through a flaming table with this guy!”
Jesse Collings: “There are wrestlers who drew more money, that played bigger roles backstage, and will end up being more famous than Terry Funk, but few were more impactful to multiple generations of wrestlers, and future generations”.
Jonathan Snowden: My favorite thing about Terry, as an artist, is that there is no “Terry Funk” match. He had other-worldly bouts across the globe over the course of five decades, but no template or pattern defined him as a wrestler. One night he might be cutting up with Steve Keirn, chasing each other around the building like kids. The next, he could be in a struggle to the finish with a hated rival like Dusty Rhodes, both men covered in blood and spitting fire. Sometimes you’d get those dramatic counterweights in the same match. 60 minutes with Jumbo Tsuruta? Terry was your man. An experimental match that culminated with the ring exploding in a ball of fire? He was your guy for that too.
Alan Counihan: I’ve quite easily spent the guts of 20 years with an appreciation of the legend of Terry Funk and digging up whatever I could find from his time in All Japan, Puerto Rico, the NWA territories, WWF, and WCW. I can’t think of a single instance where I was left disappointed by what I watched. Terry Funk just does not let you down.
Rich Kratesch: There has never been another Terry Funk, and there never will be another Terry Funk. There simply can’t be. The industry, hell, the world, has changed so dramatically from Funk’s debut in 1965 to today. Funk entered the business in the heyday of Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, and Dick The Bruiser, won an NWA World Championship during the cartel’s heyday in the 70s, helped create a legacy of tag team excellence in All Japan Pro Wrestling, became a traveling mercenary during the territorial explosion of the 80s, took the Japanese deathmatch scene to new heights, and even made his mark on the Attitude Era.
In an industry that has populated thousands of wrestlers, and produced endless matches and moments, it’s hard to stand the test of time and difficult for today’s stars to retain tomorrow’s memories. Terry Funk didn’t live for immortality or accolades, he performed as a “thank you” to his fans who spent their money and came to support his industry. At his core, Funk was a custodian of the business his father taught him and living by the adage of leaving a territory stronger than the way you found it.
Through the territorial era, the advent of cable, the diminishing of companies, the rise of one dominant player, changes in styles, the death of kayfabe, the trends, the changes, the evolution – Terry Funk just wanted to see the industry grow, he wanted men and women to make a living in the industry he loved.
Who was Terry Funk?
He was the best.
I want to personally thank the many people who directly and indirectly assisted with this story including David Bixenspan, Jonathan Snowden, Jesse Collings, Rich Kraetsch, Dan Lovranski, Alan Counihan, Neal Flanagan, and Dave Meltzer. All quotes were obtained from the author unless otherwise stated with a selected bibliography below of some of the work incorporated.
Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore by Terry Funk & Scott Williams
Death of the Territories by Tim Hornbaker
Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks by Mick Foley
Hitman Hart: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart
Rags, Paper, and Pins: The Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling by Jim Cornette & Mark James
The Cowboy and the Cross by Bill Watts & Scott Williams”
Wrestling at the Chase by Larry Matysik
50 Years of Funk by David Bixenspan
Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling by Jonathan Snowden
Wrestling Observer Newsletter by Dave Meltzer