The son of a legendary wrestler, and brother of a great world champion, Terry Funk did not rest on his career on his family’s legacy. Instead he carved a role for himself as one of the greats of the business.
Stats: 6′ 1″ 245 lbs.
Hometown: Canyon, TX.
By Steve Slagle
Over the course of professional wrestling’s long history, few men have commanded the kind of instant respect (from both the fans and his co-workers) as the wildman from the Double Cross Ranch in Amarillo, TX., former NWA and ECW World Heavyweight champion Terry Funk. For more than thirty years, the rugged Texan brought both excitement and respect to his chosen profession and influenced countless future wrestlers along the way. A man who was as kind and gentle away from the ring as he was unpredictable and brutal inside of it, Funk was also one of the great teachers in wrestling history. Having trained the likes of Bob Backlund, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Tito Santana, Ted Dibiase and countless other wrestling legends for their careers in the “sport,” Terry (along with his older brother and father) undoubtedly helped shape wrestling for decades to come. A former NWA World Heavyweight champion during the mid-seventies, Terry Funk remained a highly relevant figure in the business for decades after his World title reign ended and he was a constant source of controversy and excitement even into the new millennium. A man who, due to his vast knowledge of the business and an innate ability to read the trends of wrestling long before they actually happened, The Funker was always able to stay a step ahead of everyone else and lead the pack, even in cases where he was decades older than his opponents/co-workers. Truly, there have been few individuals as important to the industry as the one and only “Hardcore Legend” Terry Funk…
Following in the footsteps of his famous father and brother, Terry began his career in pro wrestling after graduating from West Texas State University, where he had excelled at football. The future World champion started in the business during the late sixties, wrestling for his father’s successful Amarillo promotion. Not surprisingly, given his upbringing, the agile & talented second-generation performer quickly became a top star in the territory. With his youthful good looks, a famous wrestling name and an obvious abundance of talent, the youngest Funk instantly became a popular fan favorite upon his debut. It was not long after breaking into the sport that Funk, along with Ricky Romero, picked up one of his first championships in the form of the NWA Western States Tag team. With Romero as his partner, Funk twice won the Western States Tag title; first in 1969 and again in 1970. In terms of singles championships, the youngest Funk won the NWA Western States title five times between 1970 through 1974 as well as the Texas Brass Knuckles championship in 1972.
But, with his older brother Dory in the middle of enjoying what would become a four-year reign as the NWA World Heavyweight champion, Terry eventually began traveling outside of the Amarillo/West Texas territory. Although he portrayed the role of a babyface for most of his title reign, as the traveling champion, Dory Funk, Jr. (pictured, holding the NWA belt, flanked by Terry and Dory, Sr.) would often have to wrestle babyface contenders while assuming a more heelish role. Oftentimes, Terry (who, once he “turned,” was a natural heel and someone able to evoke a great deal of negativity from his audience) would arrive in a territory a few weeks ahead of his brother and engage in a feud with the top local babyface. After a few heated matches, the fan favorite oftentimes ‘earned’ a shot at the World champion by defeating his younger brother. As a result of all the controversy, wrestling fans of the day would line up to see the big ‘payoff’ match in which the babyface would then receive a shot at winning the World Heavyweight championship…something that, at the time, was a very big deal in the eyes of the fans. Indeed, it was a very successful formula that was of significant benefit to the still young Terry, who gained a great deal of experience while acting as his brother’s “enforcer.”
Beginning in the late sixties (and lasting into the late eighties) the tag team of Dory & Terry Funk was one of the most talented, respected, and at the same time, hated duos in all of pro wrestling. Their legendary ‘family feud’ with the Brisco Brothers, Jack & Jerry, was among the most heated and longest running programs in wrestling history. The two incredibly talented teams (one set of brothers hailing from Texas and the other two siblings from neighboring Oklahoma) were the living definition of the term ‘natural rivals’ and their hundreds of matches were always characterized by superior wrestling and remarkably intense competition.
In addition to their legendary feud against the Briscos, the Funk Brothers engaged in several other lengthy, bloody feuds; most notably against Dusty Rhodes & Dick Murdoch, The Invaders and The Shiek & Abdullah the Butcher. Whether they were wrestling in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico or Canada, the team of The Funks were always at the center of controversy within the tag ranks and invariably deeply involved in the title picture…
Together, they captured the World Wrestling Council Tag Team championship twice, and held the prestigious Puerto Rican belts for more than two years all total. The Funks also won the World Tag Team title (Amarillo version) twice in 1968, the NWA International Tag team titles three times between 1971-1973, the Florida Tag Team title in 1971 and Georgia Tag Team championship in 1978. Dory and Terry also teamed to win the NWA World Tag Team championship (Los Angeles version) and the Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW) World Tag team title, both in 1980, as well as the NWA North American Tag Team championship in 1981. The unwavering success of the Funk Brothers tag team, and Terry Funk himself, was equally enormous both in North America, as well as in wrestling’s other epicenter, the island nation of Japan.
Of course, Terry Funk did anything but live in his brother’s shadow and the youngest member of the famous wrestling family picked up more than his fair share of prestigious singles championships during his early years in the business. During a successful run in Florida (the first of many for Funk) in 1971, he won both the NWA Southern Heavyweight & Florida TV titles. A couple of years later, Funk captured the NWA Americas Heavyweight title in 1973, and then the Missouri Heavyweight title later that same year. Another major championship held by Terry Funk (twice, first in 1975 and then again in 1976) was the International Heavyweight title, which eventually became part of All-Japan’s prestigious Triple Crown championship.
The reason for Funk’s early success was due greatly to his solid grasp of wrestling fundamentals combined with his determination to continue learning and developing as a technical wrestler. While he is (deservedly) known as one of the greatest brawlers in wrestling history, the early portion of Funk’s career also contained a great deal of traditional scientific wrestling. A master of the Spinning Toe Hold, Funk also developed his offensive repertoire to the point where he featured ‘text book’ examples any number of finishing maneuvers, including the Figure Four Leglock, an array of Suplexes and truly a devastating Piledriver. Still, even back during his earliest years in the sport, Funk’s propensity for wild, unpredictable & very realistic brawling was quite clear…a fact that got him into hot water on several occasions with some of the more traditional NWA promoters of the day.
However, despite his reputation as being a bit of a maverick, his talent and marketability was too great to ignore and the decision was made by the NWA board of directors to put the World Heavyweight title around the waist of Terry Funk. On December 10, 1975 he defeated reigning NWA champion Jack Brisco in Miami, FL. to win the richest prize in all of pro wrestling.
With this title victory, Terry Funk made history by making himself and his brother Dory the only siblings ever to win the NWA World championship. Indeed, with Terry’s World title victory (which came just two and a half years after Dory lost the title to Jack Brisco) the Funk family was a wrestling dynasty unlike any other…
Although he defended his championship against a plethora of top opponents (including major feuds against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Dick the Bruiser, Harley Race, Jerry Lawler, Giant Baba and many others) in territories across the world, it is probably safe to say that Terry Funk’s primary opponent while champion was the man he won the title from, the ultra-talented amatuer-turned-pro, Jack Brisco. A rivalry as intense as any in the annals of wrestling history, it was not at all uncommon for their heated, emotional battles to run the full sixty minutes allotted for a championship encounter. In fact, it was uncommon if they didn’t.
For a year and a half, Terry Funk stood atop the wrestling world as the NWA titleholder, and in the tradition of previous NWA champions, he defended his gold belt relentlessly in each of the numerous territories and in every nation represented by the National Wrestling Alliance offices. But, what goes up must also come down, and every champion’s reign eventually reaches its end, even one as exciting as Terry Funk’s run with the NWA belt. On February 6, 1977, Harley Race (the same man who, four years earlier, had ended Dory’s reign as champion) defeated Terry Funk for the NWA championship in front of an overflowing crowd at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.
Despite his loss of the World championship, Funk remained a top competitor both at home & overseas and he was in constant demand by promoters worldwide. Still, as the decade of the seventies began to end, Terry Funk suddenly started wrestling less and less frequently. Not surprisingly, there was much speculation regarding the former champ’s future in wrestling, or lack thereof. However, his fans would later find out that his conspicuous absence was due to the fact that Funk was beginning to make his way into the movie business. In 1978, he made his big-screen debut as Frankie the Thumper in Sylvester Stallone’s Paradise Alley. Portraying the role of, you guessed it, a professional wrestler, Funk received unanimously positive reviews of his strong performance in the film. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that in the years following his motion picture debut, the wrestler-turned-actor amassed a very impressive list of credits, both as an actor and a stuntman. In addition to his featured role in Paradise Alley, Funk starred in three episodes of Disney’s Wildside series (1985), plus another big role opposite Stallone in Over the Top (1987), a featured part in Patrick Swayze’s Road House (1989), as well as Mom Can I Keep Her? (1998) and, of course, Barry Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat (2000).
Yet, despite his success in Hollywood, Funk was eventually drawn back to his first love, the wrestling ring. Although he had wrestled dozens of matches since the release of Paradise Alley, Funk’s true return to wrestling came on August 21, 1979. That night, prior to a NWA title defense by the newly-crowned champion Dusty Rhodes, Funk stormed the ring and attacked Rhodes, breaking the new champ’s arm. Rhodes refused to pull out of his title defense, though, and as a direct result of the injury caused by Funk, “The American Dream” lost his title that night to the former champion, Harley Race. The sneak attack sent waves of outrage throughout the NWA fanbase, and Funk instantly returned to his spot as the most hated man in the “sport.” To add insult to injury, immediately following his attack on Rhodes, The Funker won a tournament to determine the new Florida Heavyweight champion…a title that had been vacated a week earlier by “The American Dream” when Rhodes won the NWA World title. The angle (and, in particular, Funk’s crazed attack on the new champion) has gone down as one of the most effective in wrestling history, yet, in hindsight, it was only the latest chapter in the legendary Funk-Rhodes war…
Another legendary feud that Funk participated in was his program against Jerry “The King” Lawler (pictured). During the early eighties, Funk and Lawler tore away at each other during a truly barbaric, bloody series of matches that originally began in the Memphis territory, eventually moved to the Florida territory, and then returned back to Memphis. Perhaps the most famous of the many encounters during their long running feud was the one that, ironically enough, nobody saw. Inside of an eerily empty Mid South Arena, without a single fan or onlooker inside of the cavernous 10,000 seater, Funk and Lawler battled each other in one of the strangest, most violent and most creative matches of its time. Once again, Terry Funk was riding on the cutting edge of his profession. It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last…
As the decade’s first few years passed, it became clear that the “sport” was about to undergo a major upheaval that would reverberate across the entire wrestling world, courtesy of the World Wrestling Federation’s ambitious new owner/operator, Vince McMahon, Jr. Once McMahon had launched his historic national expansion, and the country was gripped by Hulk-a-Mania, Terry Funk was brought into the WWF, specifically to feud with the incredibly popular new champion. Hogan and Funk battled in sold-out WWF arenas throughout the U.S. and Canada, and their big showdown on NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event posted some of the biggest numbers in the highly-rated series’ history. After his feud against Hogan had run its course, Terry was joined in the WWF by his older brother Dory and, later, their half-brother Jimmy Jack Funk (Jesse Barr). The Funks family quickly became a major factor within the WWF’s crowded tag team ranks. A note of interest to Funk fans; it was during this stay in the WWF that Terry first started bringing his infamous (and, at times, flaming) branding iron to the ring.
But as he began to land more and more parts as a film actor, Funk began wrestling less frequently for the WWF and eventually faded from the wrestling scene once again. Indeed, during much of the latter portion of the decade, Funk did not wrestle at all. Although he had not made an official announcement, most fans simply assumed that the fortysomething Funk had simply retired…permanently, this time. Then in 1989, he returned to the wrestling scene via TBS and the NWA, as Funk was brought in to do the color commentary for the NWA’s Music City Showdown pay-per-view, which featured the latest in a long line of classic Ric Flair vs. Rick Steamboat encounters. Following a truly incredible marathon of a match, Flair was able to score a pinfall on the champion Steamboat and “The Nature Boy” regained his coveted World championship. After the match, Funk left his seat at the announcing table and entered the ring to congratulate Flair on his hard-earned victory. The former champion then let it be known that he would also like to be the first to challenge the new champion. But Flair, after noting Funk’s long retirement from wrestling and his successful movie career, suggested that Terry could not simply walk back into wrestling and immediately get a shot at the World title. Flair then assured Funk that once he was the NWA’s number one contender, he would be happy to wrestle him. Until then, though, Flair felt that the men already in the Top Ten deserved the first shots at his title.
Instantaneously, Funks demeanor went from friendly & congratulatory to angry & confrontational, and he accused Flair of saying that he “wasn’t good enough” to wrestle for the World championship. A calm yet exhausted Flair assured Funk that he wasn’t saying that at all, but rather, simply that Funk would have to earn his shot at the title. Terry’s erratic behavior then settled down as he seemed to understand and accept Flair’s explanation, and he eventually apologized to Flair for the misunderstanding. The former champion extended his hand in friendship to the new titleholder, and when the forgiving Flair went to shake it…Funk blasted him in the face with a wicked left hand that dropped “The Nature Boy” like a rock. With Flair prone on the mat and the fans in attendance in a frenzy, Funk — decked out in a black tuxedo — attacked Flair with a vengeance. After pummeling & bloodying the unsuspecting champion in the ring, Funk took the action to the floor and, in one of the most memorable moments in NWA/WCW history, the wild-eyed, crazed Texan executed his famous Piledriver on the bleeding Flair…right through the announcer’s table!
While this highly visual spot would eventually become commonplace during the late nineties, in 1989, the act of putting a man through a table via a Piledriver was virtually unheard of. Due to this unthinkably vicious and heinous act, Slick Ric’s neck was “broken” and Flair (who had been the most hated man in the NWA going into the match, but by the end of it had, through no coincidence, emerged as the top babyface) remained out of action for more than three months while “recovering.” Meanwhile, as he waited for Flair to return, Funk faced off against the NWA’s bounty of top superstars, including the likes of Steamboat, Sting and Lex Luger. It soon became clear to viewers that Funk’s contract had been taken over by the nefarious NWA manager Gary Hart, who also handled the careers of the ultra-impressive Great Muto (which was later changed to ‘Muta’) and grizzled veteran Dick Slater, among others.
Of course, the excitement caused when Flair finally returned to action against Funk translated into the biggest P.P.V. numbers the promotion had ever garnered up to that point, as well as stellar ratings for the episodes of TBS’s Clash of the Champions that featured the ongoing Flair-Funk war. Following his lengthy, intense feud with Flair, Funk continued to compete and he remained a key player within the NWA. However, more and more, his talents were put to work behind the scenes as part of the NWA’s creative team. As a result, Funk began to slowly reduce his air time to the point where he was able to make the transition from a hated wrestler to a respected TV announcer. Once he accomplished his goal of becoming a color commentator, Funk once again “retired” from active competition. And, as a color man (Funk worked primarily opposite lead announcer Jim Ross, as well as Gordon Solie and play-by-play man Chris Cruise) The Funker became an integral part of the NWA broadcast team, working not only on “the flagship” aka WCW Saturday Night but also as the color commentator for the NWA/WCW’s syndicated programs and the monthly pay-per-view shows. For the better part of two years, Funk was one of the NWA/WCW’s main voices and he capably filled the role of the knowledgeable veteran & former World champion. Or, in other words, Funk brought respect and credibility to his broadcasts. But, as always, there was another new challenge awaiting Terry Funk and, as always, he listened to his gut instinct and went where it told him to go…
Following his run with WCW, the “retired” Funk once again made a surprise return to in-ring action. And, in genuine Terry Funk fashion, he did so with the one promotion that was truly on the cutting edge of the wrestling scene…the controversial and violent group known as ECW. While he was decades older than his (for the most part) very young ECW competition, Funk nevertheless more than held his own during this, the fourth separate decade in which he had wrestled. Trading in his old Spinning Toe Hold for top-rope Moonsaults and Hurricanranas, the adaptable veteran was by no means a throwback to some long-lost era. Instead, Funk, as always, established himself as a leader, not a follower. Early in 1993, he defeated Jimmy Snuka to win the ECW World TV title (which he eventually lost to one of his major ECW foes, the suicidal Sabu) and then followed that up by winning the Eastern Championship Wrestling World Heavyweight title on December 26, 1993. Having a legendary, world-famous former NWA World champion as their titleholder definitely added credibility to the young northeastern promotion. However, having a champion (and leader) as dedicated and hardworking as Terry Funk proved to be even more valuable to ECW.
His first reign as the ECW champion ended when he lost to “The Franchise” Shane Douglas during a special 8-man tag match that pitted Douglas & Mr. Hughes & The Public Enemy vs Funk & Road Warrior Hawk & Kevin Sullivan & The Tazmaniac (Tazz). Following his loss of the title, Funk engaged in a exciting new feud with ECW’s foul-mouthed but highly talented Franchise and, at the same time, continued his endless war against Sabu. For much of the early & mid nineties, Terry Funk worked hard at establishing ECW as a legitimate, successful wrestling promotion by giving 100% of his efforts in each and every match he wrestled. Equally important was the fact that he helped nurture and guide the young ECW locker room during its infancy, conveying his wealth of knowledge to the next generation of workers.
Mid-way through the decade, though, Funk left ECW briefly to return to WCW, where he once again wasted no time in stirring up some trouble. This time, Funk was back to re-ignite his feud with arch nemesis “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes…via Rhodes’ young son, Dustin. While the Funk vs. Dustin matches did not necessarily carry the same weight and importance that Terry’s battles with Dusty had twenty years earlier, their mid-nineties feud in WCW was still very hard-fought, exciting and, at times, quite bloody. Under the managerial guidance of Col. Robert Parker (Robert Fuller), Funk also formed a fairly successful team with Bunkhouse Buck during this tour of World Championship Wrestling. Still, the wily former champion was never one to wear out his welcome, and once he felt it was time to move on, Funk didn’t hesitate. Meanwhile, ECW owner Paul Heyman was more than happy to welcome his former World champion back to the renegade northeastern promotion…
But by the time he once again began wrestling for ECW full-time, pro wrestling’s “little promotion that could” had outgrown its once (very) regional boundaries and was ready to go national. Not long after his return, “The Hardcore Legend” regained the ECW (which was no longer known as Eastern, but rather, Extreme Championship Wrestling) World title on April 13, 1997 in the main event of the upstart company’s first pay-per-view Barely Legal. The Funker held the ECW World title for nearly a half-year and, as the promotion’s base of operations grew, he defended the prestigious young belt in new ECW cities across the country.
Funk’s final reign as the kingpin of Extreme Championship Wrestling ended on August 9, 1997 when he dropped the title to arch rival Sabu in Philadelphia, PA. Having elevated several of the young ECW stars while champion, Funk remained a key member of the ECW roster, despite no longer holding the promotion’s World Title belt.
He soon became involved in a controversial and violent feud with a wrestler who was actually very similar to him, the maniacal Cactus Jack (pictured), which further strengthened the overall ECW lineup with a very strong, headlining bout that did not involve any title belts. What was involved in the Cactus-Funk feud, however, was plenty of blood, fire, more blood, non-stop 4-star brawling, a variety of weapons & props, a bit more blood, a chaotic near riot, and, oh yeah, lots of blood. And, it was within those bloodstained rings of Extreme Championship Wrestling that Terry Funk was truly in his own element…
As always, though, new challenges beckoned Funk and eventually, his time in ECW came to its end. Following his five-year run with the trendsetting young promotion, he returned to the WWF after a ten-year absence from the Federation. Portraying a character named “Chainsaw Charlie,” Funk became involved in a long running storyline with his former ECW & Japanese co-worker Cactus Jack, better known in the WWF as Mankind. The two brawlers fought both with and against each other during their WWF program, and together they scored a WWF World Tag team title along the way by defeating the New Age Outlaws in 1998. To his enduring credit, the aged & battered ring warrior never failed to keep up with the talented & hungry WWF workers of the day, most of whom were thirty (or more) years younger than the rugged veteran.
Following a brief period away from the action once his storyline with Mick Foley had run its course, Funk (once again) made an unexpected return to pro wrestling in 2000…however, this time it was not with the WWF, but instead as the new Commissioner of their primary competitor, Ted Turner’s WCW. As the WCW Commissioner, The Funker took on the imposing forces of the newly reunited NWO. Although the role of commissioner had actually been planned for Ric Flair, a contract dispute kept “The Nature Boy” from appearing and, in his place, WCW chose “The Hardcore Legend” Terry Funk, who did his best with the new and challenging assignment. Commissioner Funk was part of several highly entertaining storylines, including the formation of his anti-NWO group, The Old Age Outlaws and the infamous “chicken-on-a-fist” angle, among others. Clearly, The Funker had not lost his touch, nor his sense of humor. Eventually, though, he lost a match to Kevin Nash that stripped him of his duties as WCW Commissioner. Yet, true to form, Funk (who by this time was nearly sixty years old) simply bounced back by winning the WCW Hardcore title no less than three times in 2000. He gained his first WCW Hardcore title by defeating the entertaining “Screamin” Norman Smiley, his second by going over a former ECW rival in “The Franchise” Shane Douglas and his third & final Hardcore title victory came when defeated the young and talented Crowbar.
Unfortunately, yet somewhat appropriately, Funk was also in WCW at the time when the once mighty promotion, the last surviving remnant of the original National Wrestling Alliance, ceased to exist. And with the end of WCW came, seemingly, the end of Terry Funk’s incredible career in pro wrestling. However, if history is any indicator, Terry Funk isn’t actually retired…he’s just waiting around to make his next surprise return.
We proudly induct a man who is, quite simply, one of the greatest performers the “sport” has ever known, the one and only “Hardcore Legend” Terry Funk, into the HistoryofWrestling.com Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame……