‘I don’t want to push the envelope but I want to stay up with it’
When Funk started wrestling he worked for a mere twenty-five dollars a night. The King Of Hardcore says he used to save his small earnings then exchange them for hundred dollar bills. By doing this from time to time, Funk could easily flash around a wad of impressive bills so that critical people could respect him for choosing professional wrestling as a career.
Professional wrestling has obviously progressed from where a wrestler worked for peanuts to the point where the top draws are making millions of dollars. The one constant according to Funk is, knowing what the fans want and giving it to them.
“One of the reasons I think I’ve lasted as long as I have is because I try to be a person who lives in the present, not the past and not the future. That’s really an important thing to convey to the fellas who are trying to come into the business, is you need to keep yourself current,” said Funk. “It’s very difficult to do, it happens to so many guys who get caught-up in the past and they can’t make the changes and wrestling is ever-changing.”
Funk believes at the heart of these cycles is the wrestling fan as they’re the ones who buy the tickets, tune in the television shows, order the pay-per-views and spend millions of dollars on merchandise every year.
“I’ve seen times where they’ve wanted more wrestling and times when they’ve wanted less wrestling and now it is just total entertainment. I don’t know how long it can stay on the plateau that it is on now. Wrestling is the one form of entertainment where the fans have total control over what you do.”
What the fans want in today’s wrestling is storylines and softcore sex and violence. The more hardcore the better, some would say. While Funk isn’t bitter about the WWF’s success in basically ripping off the path he and others paved with hardcore wrestling and combining it with the edginess of ECW, he is cautious at least when it comes to hardcore and giving credit where credit is due.
Funk worries that his accomplishments will be forgotten.
“With Vince going-up to Harvard and all that, they’re liable to think Vince thought up all this s–t. I’ve got values and I’m hardcore but I’m not really into some of the stuff they’re doing now. I may partake in it because it is a necessity but I really don’t think it has a place in our business. I really don’t approve of the sexual innuendoes that they’re doing now. I don’t want to push the envelope but I want to stay up with it,” he said.
Pushing envelopes and boundaries is not something a man like Funk does. He breaks them. While he may shy away from the more T&A oriented standards of today, he has no such qualms about hardcore, no matter what the era.
“I think I was one of (if not) the first to use the table and go through it. When you’re wrestling independents or in Japan it becomes a question of why did you do the things you did? The answer is out of necessity. To be different, to grab that picture, especially with the media in Japan.”
“I mean how many times have they seen Antonio Anoki stretching ‘Joe Blow’ on the front page and how many times have they seen this idiot (me), hanging from the rafters with barbed wire around his throat? So which picture are they going to use?,” asks Funk retorically. “I depend on that to make a living. I need to grab that picture for myself and my company to get the kind of money I want. I have to come-up with stuff like that.”
Funk is a man who speaks of the legends and contemporaries of the sport with the utmost respect and reverence, which he has done throughout our two-hour long dinner – interview. At least until the names of two of modern professional wrestling biggest legends are mentioned: Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. These are two men Funk has had epic feuds with and neither of whom he is especially fond of.
“I don’t like Ric Flair. Flair tried to retire me at forty-four, it wasn’t just part of the story line it was a serious deal. He really didn’t like that feud. I went out there dressed in his robe like Flair coming back from his sickness and he hated it. He thought it was absurd. He also hated me calling him banana nose and horse teeth but what the hell.”
And what about Hogan?
“I really don’t like the man either. I don’t know if this will make sense but one time I was in Botswana wrestling Hogan. I set everything up and I got him a tremendous guarantee. I think it was $45,000 for the night and I think I made $7,500 for the night, but I set it up because I was very adamant about doing it. Verne Gagne wanted to take a bunch of money from it and I didn’t want Verne to get rich off of someone else’s name when he didn’t deserve it and at the time, Terry (Hogan) and I were really close,” remembered Funk.
“So I wrestled him (Hogan) and it was a disqualification. So, after that he (Hogan) took off to Japan and left me to get his money out of the country which isn’t an easy thing to do by any means. He then made a statement in the Japanese papers that he beat me which really upset me and I’m a very unforgiving person when it comes to sh–t like that.”
Funk on whom he would have liked to wrestle but never did
“I can’t think of anyone who I haven’t wrestled, I’ve wrestled them all. I can go back all the way back to Lou Thesz. Like the other day I was up in the WWF and I was wrestling the Rock and I said to him, ‘that’s pretty unusual’ and he said, ‘what’s that?’ And I said, ‘I’ve wrestled the kid, his father and his grandfather.’ Some real pleasurable times I’ve had in the past were the times I wrestled (Jack) Brisco, he was just so fluid and such a great athlete and with (Jumbo) Tsuruta in Japan. I’ve had a lot of different matches and a lot of the time I’m asked, ‘who’s the best?’ and you really can’t answer that, because there is just so many different styles. As far as fluid styles go, Pat O’Connor was a great guy in the ring. As far as maneuvers were concerned, Brisco, Harley? Well, Harley wasn’t that fluid but he was great, had a really hard-nosed style. Abdullah the Butcher — never had any wilder and crazier matches than with him in Japan for all those years, it’s scary how many times I’ve fought Abby, minimum I’ve wrestled Abby a couple hundred times.”
Funk on money and longevity
“In my best year I probably made over half a million dollars and that was in ’85 with Vince and the NBC run, Hogan, Junkyard Dog. I also did very well in Japan. But you see I was never one of the guys who wanted to wrestle every night and I think that’s why I’ve lasted so long, I’ve kind of picked my spots where many other wrestlers haven’t. The Japan situation was a great thing for several years. I’d go over three to five tours a year, make my money and go home and I never liked contracts. Like with Vince and the WCW, I never liked being obligated to any one promoter and I’m sure if someone else was in my shoes that they’d be a lot wealthier, but you have to consider what wealth is. Wealth to me is having a decent family, a couple of kids and living a pretty good life.”