‘A wonderful form of art’
by Derik Vanderford Staff Writer
UNION — A legendary pro wrestling hall of famer — who is also known for his numerous movie and television roles — will make his way to Union this weekend.
Terry Funk, 69, has done virtually everything there is to do in pro wrestling. His father, Dory Funk Sr., was a well known grappler from the 1940s to the 1970s, and his brother, Dory Funk Jr., wrestled from 1963 through the early 1990s, winning the NWA World Championship in 1969. Funk, himself, won the NWA World Championship in 1975, earning the Funk brothers the distinction of being the only two brothers in history to hold the title. The two brothers also became two of the most popular American wrestlers to ever work in Japan.
“I wanted to be a wrestler from the time I was four years old,” Funk said, explaining that he grew up on the Boys Ranch — a ranch which still exists in Amarillo, TX — for at-risk youth to stay and learn to become part of a functioning family and community. When Funk was a child, his father was superintendent of the ranch.
“My father separated the kids into weight divisions, and he made every kid on that ranch wrestle (amateur), and I was just like the other kids. I had to wrestle, too. It was a great place.”
In 1985, Terry Funk made his debut with WWE (then known as World Wrestling Federation), feuding with the likes of Junkyard Dog and Tito Santana. He returned to the NWA in 1989 by delivering a piledriver to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, immediately following a match in which Flair regained the world title from Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.
In the 1990s, Funk wrestled in WCW, WWE, and the start-up promotion ECW, which was known for its hardcore style. Funk’s wrestling style evolved into a more hardcore style, competing in numerous wild and gory matches in Japan and ECW against opponents such as Mick Foley (aka Cactus Jack and Mankind).
“Cactus and I evolved for a special reason,” Funk said, referring to their time in Japan in the 1990s. “We had no TV. The only means of mass communication we had was through the newspapers and magazines. So Antonio Inoki and them would be putting a headlock on somebody, and that would be their exciting front-page picture. Then they had Terry Funk nearly killing himself on some unusual flip out of the ring, or Mick Foley sticking a pitchfork in somebody. That was a pretty great picture.”
Funk’s last match on a WWE pay-per-view event was in 2006. In 2009, Funk was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He is the only man to have been inducted into the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, NWA, Hardcore, Wrestling Observer, and St. Louis Wrestling Halls of Fame.
In addition to paving the way for young wrestlers in the squared circle, Funk also paved the way for guys like Duane “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena to transition into acting. Funk had roles in films including Road House (1989), The Ringer (2005), and Over the Top (1987). He did stunts for Rambo III (1988) and Rocky V (1990), and his television appearances include his role as Sgt. Nuzo in the 1992 series “Tequila and Bonetti” as well as guest roles on shows such as “Quantam Leap” and “Swamp Thing.” He was also a primary subject of the 1999 documentary “Beyond the Mat.” He is currently classified as a retired artist by SAG-AFTRA.
Funk said his acting career began in 1978 when he read Sylvester Stallone was about to make his directorial debut — following the success of Rocky (1976) — with a film about wrestling titled Paradise Alley.
“I went ahead and made a stupid promo and sent it to him,” Funk chuckled. “It was something like, ‘Sly, you overbearing, obnoxious, egg-sucking dog… just a bunch of (stuff) like that, but it was very different and he watched it.”
Stallone called Funk and asked him to come read, which led to Funk’s big screen debut as a character called “Frankie the Thumper” in the film. Funk was also stunt coordinator, and he eventually worked on three additional films with Stallone.
“He (Stallone) appreciated my look at wrestling, which wasn’t quite what the average person’s is,” Funk said, telling a story about working on Paradise Alley. “He had a respect for me, and I garnered that respect by doing some things. There’s always that guy who thinks he’s good enough to beat the wrestler. I would get in the ring with anybody they had out there who felt like wrestling was not a tough individual’s sport, and I would show them that it was. I think he respected me for that.”
Funk will teach a seminar for wrestlers on Saturday in Union, and he will also make an appearance at the Trans-South Wrestling event at 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening at Union County Fairgrounds.
Funk said he always encourages young wrestlers to get an education, just as his father encouraged him to do in case a wrestling career didn’t pan out. He said the odds of getting a job in wrestling are more difficult than ever because there is only one major company, compared to the numerous wrestling companies in business when he started.
“Do it for the fun of it,” he said. “Do it because you love it. Enjoy it. That’s what you need to do it for. Then, if something works out, then it works out.”
Funk named several of today’s WWE wrestlers who have impressed him. One was third-generation wrestler Bray Wyatt — the grandson of Blackjack Mulligan and son of Mike Rotunda.
“He’s gonna be a great one in the years to come,” Funk said. “He’s got wonderful talent. Wyatt’s going places.”
Funk also sang the praises of another third-generation wrestler in WWE — Curtis Axel — who is the son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and grandson of Larry “The Axe” Hennig.
“He’s excellent,” Funk said, adding that Axel has ring presence and carries himself like a champion. “He’s a wonderful piece of talent. He’s doing a great job and is going to do a great job. I’m proud of those guys because they’re another generation going on.”
Funk even admitted that second-generation star Cody Rhodes — the son of Funk’s longtime arch rival Dusty Rhodes — is talented.
“I thought, ‘how could Dusty’s kid be any good being Dusty’s kid?’” Funk laughed. “But he’s a good one, too. I’m proud of these guys because they’re another generation going on.”
Funk discussed the way pro wrestling has evolved over the years, explaining that the audience’s attention span is much shorter today.
“They want constant change, and I don’t think that was the way it was before,” he said. “In 1900, wrestling was wrestling. In 2013, wrestling is entertainment. What evolved it was the fan himself.”
Funk said he is a fan of both MMA and pro wrestling today, and he feels MMA — which he described as pure — should remain as it is to be successful, while wrestling should continue to evolve to be successful. He said wrestling — in its nature — has the ability to change constantly.
“It’s a wonderful form of art,” Funk said. “It really is. The people within it know it is, and the people who watch it know it is, too. It’s a form of art and they respect it as that. The great wrestling fans love it for that purpose. They love they great ones, and they know who they are.”
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