There have been many outlaws in the wrestling business. Steve Austin, Dick Murdoch, Bruiser Brody, The Undertaker, Brian Pillman and most recently, Dean Ambrose comes to mind. Than there’s Terry Funk.
No one defined the crazy Texan wrestler gimmick quite like Terry Funk. This guy has been wrestling professionally since the mid 1960’s, and seems like he’ll continue to do so until he dies. He lives, eats, sleeps and talks the wrestling business. He mixed technical ability with wild brawling and his interviews were some of the funniest moments in wrestling history.
I became a fan of Terry Funk when he feuded with Ric Flair over the NWA Championship. As a kid, when Funk slipped the plastic bag over Flair’s head and was trying to put him out of wrestling, it seemed so believable. I was scared that one of my heroes might be in potential danger. Even though I rooted against Funk in his feud with “The Nature Boy”, I respected his wrestling abilities. Their “I Quit” match at Clash of the Champions in 1989 was one of the best matches I had ever seen.
This was in an era of video stores, and our local rental place had a ton of WWF Coliseum Videos. One day, I decided to rent “WWF’s Most Embarassing Moments” which featured Funk in his short WWF stint in the mid 1980’s against Junkyard Dog. Although the Dog was a great character and fun for the younger fans, he was not a good wrestler and was very limited in what he could do in the ring. So, in these matches, you had to take your hat off to Terry Funk for bumping around the ring like a madman and selling the Dog’s weak offensive move-set. It seemed like the only guys in the WWF that could get a good match out of Junkyard Dog were Harley Race and Terry Funk.
He was much more than that. He beat Jack Brisco for the NWA Championship in Miami in 1975, and held the belt for over a year, before dropping it to Harley Race in Toronto in early 1977. His feuds with Dusty Rhodes, The Sheik and Jerry “The King” Lawler were legendary.
I did whatever I could to find out more about this crazy grappler. I found past issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Inside Wrestling, and found out more about his past accomplishments. I knew that I had to get my hands on some of his 1970’s and 1980’s matches.
Our video store also carried video tapes of other wrestling promotions, and luckily I was able to watch some Funk matches from the 70’s. He was so terrific, as a babyface or a heel. He even made a guy like The Sheik who basically just punched and kicked look like a million dollars. And his matches with actual good workers like Harley Race, Jack Brisco, and Jerry Lawler were magnificent.
In 1994, ECW had come on our cable service, and once again, I got to enjoy Terry Funk. At this point, he had to be in his early 50’s, and was having the best matches on the card. His Triple Threat Match with Sabu and Shane Douglas that same year was a classic. He still proved he had a lot of gas still in the tank. And for a while, he went back to WCW where he was managed by Colonel Robert Parker (Robert Fuller). After a short stint down there, he went back to Japan, where he embarked on perhaps his most famous and bloodiest feud ever, with another hardcore legend who would cement his place as one of the all- time greats this business has ever known.
That crazy kid was Cactus Jack (aka Mick Foley).
Even though these matches were for shock value, I think that their best match was in WWF in 1998, where there was no explosions or heavy violence. It was when Foley “sold out” and joined forces with Mr. McMahon. This might not be a popular opinion, but I could watch these guys just brawl and wrestle without all the extra weapons. I thought that competing in these “Death Matches” in Japan wasn’t necessary. They were good for the time I suppose, but I enjoyed Funk and Foley’s matches more in WWE.
In 1997, Funk had another crowning achievement when he won the ECW World Championship in a 4-way dance with Sandman, Raven and Stevie Richards at ECW’s first ever pay-per-view Barely Legal. The match mostly had brawling and high spots, but Funk simply pinned Raven with an old-school roll up for the victory. It was a perfect ending to an impressive pay-per-view debut for the company.
After losing the belt a few months later to Shane Douglas, Funk went back to the WWF, but with a new twist. His longtime nemesis Cactus Jack was needing a partner in his feud with The New Age Outlaws, so he brought out his old-time rival in a wooden box. Except, it wasn’t the normal Terry Funk the fans knew.
Say hello to Chainsaw Charlie.
His new persona looked like a character straight out of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Wearing overalls over red long johns, panty hose over his head, and wielding a chainsaw, Chainsaw Charlie teamed up with Foley to beat the Outlaws for the WWF Tag Team Championship at Wrestlemania 14 in Boston.
Unfortunately, the union between the two hardcore legends didn’t last long, as they dropped the belts to the Outlaws in a steel cage match the next night on RAW. Soon after, Foley went back to his third alter-ego, Dude Love, and joined up with Vince McMahon to help run “Stone Cold” Steve Austin out of the WWF. As one of the requirements needed to become #1 contender, McMahon ordered Foley to beat the hell out of his old foe Terry Funk.
One of my favorite moments meeting a wrestler was shaking Terry Funk’s hand. In 1998, I attended the RAW in Fresno, California where Mike Tyson had his infamous first confrontation with Steve Austin. We stayed at the hotel where the wrestlers were staying, and we were about to go eat when I spotted Terry Funk in the lobby. Usually, I don’t like to bug people, but I figured I would not get another chance to meet this wrestling legend. I just wanted to tell him thank you for entertaining me for years.
He not only shook my hand, but said, “Thank you very much, I appreciate that a lot”, and signed an autograph for me. He, along with Diamond Dallas Page, Howard Finkel, Pedro Morales, Arnold Skaaland, former WWE announcer Kevin Kelly and Jerry Brisco were some of the nicest people I ever met in the wrestling business. He totally was nice when he didn’t have to be.
If you get a chance, go on Amazon and get his book Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore. It’s an excellent read on a man who did it all in the wrestling business.
And not a bad actor either….