‘The salaries in all sports have escalated so much that it really tends to make a mockery of a fella who fixes a toilet or drives a cab for a living’

Part 1

Terry Funk is a man riddled with contradictions. A polite, soft-spoken, middle aged Texan, who after thirty years in the wrestling business is as likely to apologize for cussing or spitting tobacco, as he is liable to split another wrestler’s head open with a broken bottle. Therein lies the walking-talking paradox that is Terry Funk.

Terry Funk as NWA World Champion in 1976.

Not only is Funk “middle-aged and crazy” in the ring, outside of the ring he is as equally unstable as evidenced by his favorite era of wrestling, one which nearly cost him his life.

“I loved the era of the riots. In Puerto Rico there’d be riots where I’d have to fight my way to the back, San Antonio, the Dallas/South Houston area. It was absurd. They would have to stop the matches because too many people would be hitting the ring. In Kentucky I can remember when they took forty guns off of people coming to the show. I’ve had guns pulled on me and knifes too,” said “Terrible” Terry, as he is called.

“Corpus Christi is where I got stuck with a knife in the neck. Fortunately, it wasn’t that big a blade. It went all the way into the hilt and I thought it was a dart or something, so I left it in. When I got to the back and saw it was a knife my eyes got as big as saucers when I realized what it was and that someone had tried to kill me.”

While most people would view a riot and attempted homicide as signs of taking things way too far, Funk derives another interpretation from them.

“The riots were a form of flattery. The greatest thing (for a heel wrestler) is to do your job so well that someone wants to kill you. What could be more wonderful? People who have done terrible things to me and wanted me to charge them, well I wouldn’t. I mean do I want to put someone in jail because I convinced him or her that I needed to die? I did it to them. That’s how I look at it and that may be sick but it’s also beautiful,” said Funk in town for the Apocalypse Wrestling Federation’s “Scar Wars” event which featured the legendary “Funker” battling Abdullah the Butcher in the main-event.

SLAM! Wrestling’s Greg Oliver and I were fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down and talk with the hardcore institution over dinner and few would argue that anyone has done a better job in professional wrestling than Terry Funk. However, doing your job well in the world of wrestling sometimes means losing, and Toronto is where Terry Funk lost one of his most prestigious titles to the equally infamous Harley Race. February 6th 1977, a date, match and opponent Funk remembers well.

“Sure Toronto has special memories, some that I’m not that especially fond of. That was the end of my NWA reign as the Heavyweight Champion against Harley. I always had respect for Harley because he came-up through the school of hard knocks. He started out being a driver for Happy Humphrey and he would do the carnivals and work his way up from them. He was self-educated person and a man who did well in this profession and as champion after he won the belt from me.”

Chris Gramlich interviews Terry Funk. — photo by Greg Oliver

It is obvious from the respect in Funk’s voice for people like Harley Race, Lou Thesz and Mike Dibiase, that Funk appreciates tradition. Yet, unlike many, Funk has kept up with the times practically inventing the hardcore style of wrestling which is so popular now. Still, Terry can remember when wrestling was more of a family affair.

“It was a wonderful thing as I grew-up and when I started, I think I caught the tail-end of it. When my father started back in the forties everyone had their own trailer and what a wrestler wanted to do (if he had children), was get into an area (promotion or territory) where he could stay for at least the school year for the children’s sake. It seemed like all the wrestlers lived in trailer courts and all the kids became buddies. It was a great time,” said Funk, who was also fortunate to wrestle alongside his brother, Dory Funk Jr., on many occasions.

“There wasn’t wrestling on Sunday or even Saturday. You didn’t fly anywhere. You only worked five days a week and you went where you could drive. On the weekend someone was always barbecuing and would invite everyone over and it was very family-oriented. Divorce was something which didn’t plague our profession like it does now.”

But in Terry’s opinion, wrestling like all sports has changed with the times. Whether these changes are for the better or worse, has yet to be seen.

“Wrestling has definitely changed a great deal since when I started in the business. I think not only in wrestling but in all sports that the athletes are greedy right now and I can understand that. Not being greedy for the sake of being greedy but because the salaries in all sports have escalated so much that it really tends to make a mockery of a fella who fixes a toilet or drives a cab for a living. It really doesn’t make much sense to pay one person more for a night or a year than another will make in a lifetime. I can’t really comprehend that.”

Funk on Mike Dibiase (Father of Ted Dibiase)
“Mike Dibiase was a great help to me when I first started. I had some of my first matches against him. He gave me some great advice and was a great wrestler both amateur and professionally. It was people like him who would open up your eyes and make you realize there were some great people in this business, people who had values. We need that especially young wrestlers, they need guidance we need more Mike Dibiase’s and I wish I could walk in his shoes but unfortunately I don’t think my feet are big enough”.

Funk on his toughest opponents
“I really don’t like to say this guy is tougher than that one, because there are so many different styles and then I would have to name styles, but Sabu, Abdullah (the Butcher), Harley (Race). As far as who I was the most scared with? Well, my first match I was scared to death, another one was when I wrestled Lou Thesz or Gene Kiniski, I was shaking in my boots. Being in the ring for the first time with Dick the Bruiser or the original Sheik. Mike Dibiase who was a phenomenal wrestler, but there is no tape on him and no one remembers him, but I remember him.”