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  • Connor Ewens

In Memoriam: Terry Funk (1944-2023)

Yesterday, on the 23rd of August 2023, the wrestling world was heartbroken by the passing of Terry Funk, aged 79. Terry had a career spanning over 50 years, wrestling for over 30 different wrestling promotions and returning from numerous retirements. He is rightfully acknowledged as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, as well as a pioneer in hardcore wrestling that would inspire many wrestlers and organisations for years to come.


Funk began paving his career in his father's (Dory Funk) promotion Western State Sports back in 1965. He, alongside his brother Dory Funk Jr, rose up the ranks in both singles & tag competition. By the turn of the 70s, they were sought after stars. When WSS joined the NWA, he gained popularity and featured in other NWA-affiliated promotions such as CWF, JWA, GCW and the WWWF (WWE). Around this time, Funk also began appearing for All-Japan Pro Wrestling, getting into violent fights with many of their stiff fighters, mostly in 2-out-of-3 falls matches. After a plethora of various tag championship victories as well as a few territory specific singles titles, he began challenging for the NWA World title in 1973. He was unsuccessful at every opportunity for 2 years. After succesfully winning the NWA International Championship as well as the NWA United States Championship, on the 10th of December 1975 Terry Funk recieved his Christmas present early.


In 1975, Funk won his first major world championship when he defeated Jack Brisco for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He would go on to have a 14-month reign, where he would defeat legendary names like Rocky Johnson, Dick Slater, Pat O'Connor, Greg Valentine, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Snuka, Jerry Lawler and Bob Backlund, to name a few. He defended his title across many promotions as well is in Japan and Canada. Eventually, at a MLW event on the 6th of February 1977, Harley Race defeated Terry Funk for the 10 pounds of gold. Over the next several years, Terry continued to carve out his legacy, putting on captivating and violent performances wherever he went. He & Dory won the AJPW Open Tag League in 1977, he would go on to win more Tag team gold across territories as well as the NWA Florida Heavyweight title and the NWA Brass Knuckles title. In 1979 The Funks were successful in AJPW once again, winning the renamed Real World Tag League, defeating Abdullah the Butcher & The Sheik.


Terry Funk's next major programme would be a feud with Jerry Lawler throughout 1981 & 1982. The most memorable match in this feud was in April, Terry Funk claimed that Lawler had an advantage because he was being unfairly treated by the Memphis crowd. This led to (from my research) the first ever empty arena match to take place. Only a cameraman, a photographer and announcer Lance Russell were in attendance. It ended after a few minutes as Lawler knocks Funk's arm, causing him to hit himself with a broken 2x4. At the end of 1982, the Funk's won their third Real World Tag League, defeating Bruiser Brody & Stan Hansen by DQ. Terry continued to wrestle, fight and bleed from East to west until 1985 when he signed for the WWF. He was still allowed to tour with All-Japan, however he did not appear for any other American company.


He debuted with a bang on Championship Wrestling, defeating Aldo Marino as well as assaulting ring announcer Mel Phillips. This lead to his major feud with the Junkyard Dog which saw the inclusion of Tito Santana, brother Dory (billed as "Hoss" Funk) and fictional third brother Jimmy Jack Funk. They had plenty of matches on TV and the house show circuit throughout 1985 and into 1986. Alongside those matches, Funk had high profile matches against WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. At Wrestlemania II, The Funk brothers defeated The Junkyard Dog & Tito Santana. He wrestled his last contracted WWF match a month later, he and his brother losing to Hulk Hogan & the JYD at Saturday Night's Main Event #6.


Funk jumped back into high profile programmes after his WWF departure. He reached the final in a WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship, losing to Carlos Colon. He would unsuccessfully challenge Riki Choshu for the PWF Heavyweight Championship. He and Dory would reach the final four of the Real World Tag League at the end of 1986. Terry would make a one off appearance for the WWF, defeating Chavo Guerrero at Paul Boesch's Retirement Show. He would return to wrestling across the NWA territories and AJPW before signing for World Championship Wrestling in late 1989.


Funk was added to the J-Tex Stable which also featured Dick Slater, Great Muta, The Dragonmaster, Buzz Sawyer & manager Gary Hart. He appeared as a judge for Ric Flair's third 5 star classic against Ricky Steamboat. After the match, he challenged Flair for a match which was refused, so he brutally assaulted the Nature Boy. A piledriver through the announce table put Flair on the shelf (kayfabe) and unsure if he would return. Terry Funk had an awesome match with Ricky Steamboat at Clash of the Champions 7, losing via DQ. He feuded with Sting throughout July until Ric Flair returned to face him on the 23rd of July Great American Bash show. A wrestling classic that Flair was able to win, but Funk was far from done. They continued to fight on the house show circuit, leading to a Thunderdome cage match at Halloween Havoc, Ric Flair and Sting defeating Funk & Muta. A final challenge was set for Clash of the Champions 9, an I Quit match between Flair & Funk, the loser must retire. Another classic encounter which recieved a 5 star rating from Dave Meltzer. Funk lost the match, he shook Flair's hand out of respect and transitioned into an announcer/interviewer role for WCW.


Terry's announcer gig was short-lived, he left WCW early 1990 to work for the USWA, participating in a tournament for the Heavyweight title, losing to eventual winner Jerry Lawler in semi-finals. On the 5th of November 1990, Funk defeats Lawler in Memphis to become the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship. He would hold the gold for 126 days before dropping the title back to long-lasting rival Lawler. He would return for AJPW tours throughout 1991, his appearance in April would be his last until 2002. Terry Funk would debut for ECW on the 23rd of January 1993, defeating Eddie Gilbert in an I Quit Texas Death Match. He promised to use his notoriety & experience to help the promotion succeed. A notable match I came across was on FMW's 4th anniversary show against Japanese Deathmatch legend and innovator Atsushi Onita. It was a "No Rope Barbed Wire Current Blast Super Large Time Bomb Death" match. Catchy. By this point, Funk had fully transitioned from a traditional southern wrestler into a violent, bloodthirsty hardcore wrestler. This was largely thanks to his recurring appearances for both FMW & ECW.


At ECW Holiday Hell on Boxing Day in 1993, Terry Funk defeated Sabu to win the ECW Heavyweight Championship. He would hold the championship for 90 days, during this time he would defend the title in a historic Three-Way dance against Shane Douglas & Sabu. It hasn't aged too well, but it's an iconic 60 minute match that drew attention to ECW and elevated the use of 3-way matches in western wrestling. Shane Douglas credits the match as the first he recalls feeling really proud of. At Ultimate Jeopardy, Shane Douglas led a team to victory against Terry Funk's team in a WarGames match, which had the ECW Heavyweight Championship on the line. Funk would make a brief return to WCW as a part of a brief working agreement between them and ECW. He would wrestle twice on their Worldwide TV show, as well as facing Tully Blanchard in an enjoyable legends match at Slamboree '94. He would also appear at Clash of the Champions 28 alongside Bunkhouse Buck, losing to Dusty & Dustin Rhodes. Funk was a part of then losing Stud Stable inside WarGames at Fall Brawl. He & Buck lost to the Nasty Boys at Halloween Havoc, he would feature on one more WCW house show before leaving again.


In late 1994, Funk debuted for the International Wrestling Association, a floundering hardcore promotion in Japan. Funk was working a much lighter schedule, but working much more brutal matches. He alternated between working for IWA & ECW, as well as debuting for New Japan Pro Wrestling at Wrestling Dontaku in May of '95, teaming with Shiro Koshinaka against Hiromichi Fuyuki & Masahiro Chono. In August, Funk competed in IWA's most famous event, the King of the Death Matches. After surviving wars against Tiger Jeet Singh & Leatherface, Funk lost to Cactus Jack in the finals. The match was a "No Ropes Barbed Wire Boards & Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death" match. Funk competed for IWA in a tournament for the NWA World tag titles in a losing effort before leaving the promotion. Funk wrestled primarily for FMW throughout 1996, he appeared at ECW's November to Remember, making his first appearance for the company in a year. He teamed with Tommy Dreamer to defeat Brian Lee & Shane Douglas.


In 1997, Terry Funk made a one-off appearance for the WWF, appearing in the Royal Rumble at number 24. He lasted 15 minutes before being eliminated by long-time rival and friend, Mankind. He continued to work for ECW & FMW throughout 1997, being a major feature at ECW large events, primarily feuding with Shane Douglas and his affiliates. He was a part of a major storyline heading towards ECW's first PPV event, as a part of a Three-Way dance against Stevie Richards & The Sandman for a shot at Raven's World Championship immediately after. At ECW Barely Legal, Funk won the Three-Way AND his singles match against Raven to win the ECW World Championship at 53 years old. He would hold the gold for 118 days with successful defences against the likes of Stevie Richards, Raven, The Sandman & Sabu. He would eventually drop the title to Sabu at ECW Born to be Wired in a Barbed Wired match, a gruesome match where Sabu tore his bicep open. Did they stop? Silly question. He taped it up and they continued. His last ECW appearance would be at Hardcore Heaven '97, a rematch from the famous 60-minute Three-Way dance that Shane Douglas wins.


In September, a show was hosted in the Funk hometown of Amarillo called Terry Funk's Wrestlefest: 50 Year's of Funk. It was his own show to celebrate the careers of Terry and his family. The show featured various ECW & FMW talent, as well as 2 talents acquired from the WWF. Close friend Mick Foley as Mankind, and the WWF World champion Bret Hart. Hart defeated Funk in a non-title No DQ main event epic. Paul Heyman presented Funk with a custom made belt, declaring him forever an ECW World Champion. Funk would finish his touring agreements with FMW before resigning with the WWF.


After a pair of dark matches, Funk would make his televised return to WWF at the 1998 Royal Rumble under the moniker of Chainsaw Charlie. He would team up with fellow hardcore legend Cactus Jack to feud with the tag team champions the New Age Outlaws. They won a Dumpster Rules match at Wrestlemania 14 to win the titles, 12 years after his first Wrestlemania appearance. They lost the titles back to the Outlaws the next night in a Steel Cage match. Foley & Funk broke up and feuded, leading to an awesome No Holds Barred match on Raw is War. Funk formed a short-lived tag team with Scorpio and then Bradshaw, the latter turning heel on him at In Your House: Fully Loaded. Funk wrestled two house show matches against Foley before departing the Fed once again.


Terry Funk made a brief return to IWA Japan for the Great Kabuki's retirement tour (he would stay retired for 3 years, classic wrestler retirement). Funk wrestled for various smaller promotions for the remainder of 1998. Funk briefly returned to ECW to feud with former protégé Tommy Dreamer, however he fell ill and retired before they could have a match. In 1999, Funk would only wrestle 3 times, including a hardcore match against Abdullah the Butcher and a final hardcore battle against Sabu for Apocalypse Wrestling Federation. Funk's final match of the 90s was in November '99 for FMW's 10th Anniversary. Dory & Terry Funk defeated Naohiko Yamazaki & Yoshinori Sasaki.


3rd of January 2000, Terry Funk returned to WCW as the new commissioner, a promotion that was a farcry from the company he left almost 10 years ago. His return match was on WCW Thunder against Bret Hart. He would face Ric Flair at SuperBrawl 2000, a combined age of over 100 years old and they had the best match on the show. He would appear for WCW for about a year, winning their Hardcore Championship thrice and the US Championship for the first time in almost 30 years. His last WCW match was dropping the Hardcore title to Meng at Sin in January 2001. After a pair of appearances for IWA Puerto Rico & German promotion EWP, The Funks returned to NJPW in a losing effort against Bob Backlund & Tatsumi Fujinami. Over the following years, Funk would sporadically wrestle in Japan and across the indie scene. He appeared for promotions like AJPW, XPW & MLW. He even win the 3PW Heavyweight Title from Gary Wolfe in a triple threat also featuring The Sandman. He dropped the title to Justin Credible 2 months later. His team named the Funkin' Army defeated the Extreme Horsemen at MLW War Games in September 2003.


Funk would debut for ROH in September too, defeating CM Punk via DQ. He would debut for TNA in 2004, teaming with The Sandman in a losing effort against CM Punk & Julio Dinero. Funk would debut for Juggalo Championship Wrestling, teaming with the Insane Clown Posse to defeat Jerry Lawler, Kid Kash & Monty Brown. In July of 2005, Terry Funk won a battle royal to become the JCW Heavyweight Championship. He would drop the title the following day to Mad Man Pondo. Throughout 2005, Funk would appear at mainly reunion/legend shows. Terry Funk made a brief appearance for WWE in the summer of 2006. With the plans to revive ECW as a third brand, he was brought in to compete on two shows. He appeared on a TV battle royal featuring WWE & ECW stars, it was won by the Big Show. He appeared at ECW One Night Stand, teaming with Beulah & Tommy Dreamer against Edge, Lita & Mick Foley. He was part of the losing team, but this was a thrilling hardcore match that was excellent considering the age and limitations of himself & Foley. Funk, alongside his brother Dory, would return to WWE in 2009 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. After a match against Jerry Lawler for IZW, Funk would retire and not return to in-ring action for 3 and a half years.


He appeared at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom IV teaming with Manabu Nakanishi, Masashiro Chono & Riki Choshu to defeat Abdullah the Butcher, Takashi Iizuka, Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano. His next match would be a year later, appearing in a legends battle royal for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. In 2013, Funk would make his last AJPW appearance alongside brother Dory, wrestling Masanobu Fuchi & Osamu Nishimura to a time limit draw. In the same year, he would return to WWE to induct Mick Foley into the Hall of Fame. Terry would make his final appearance in Japan in 2014 for promotion Tokyo Gurontai. At their Tokyo Dream show, Funk teamed with Masakatsu Funaki & Mil Mascaras to defeat Kaz Hayashi, NOSAWA Rongai & Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Funk wrestled his last singles match against Jerry Lawler for USA Championship Wrestling in an All-Star Tribute Show for Lance Russell. Terry Funk made his final appearance for WWE in 2016, when he gifted a chainsaw to Dean Ambrose in a symbolic passing of the torch. Funk's final match was for Big Time Wrestling in 2017. He, alongside the Rock & Roll Express, defeated Brian Christopher, Doug Gilbert & Jerry Lawler.


Outside of professional wrestling, Funk appeared in 9 movies including highly acclaimed documentary Beyond the Mat which mainly followed the WWF & ECW during wrestling's peak popularity in the late 90s. He also appeared in 8 TV shows, including Quantum Leap & the Dark Side of the Ring. Funk has featured in 11 wrestling video games, he has released 3 soft rock albums two in the 80s and 1 as recent as 2018. He wrote an autobiography called More Than Just Hardcore in 2005 and a self-titled biographical comic book in 2022.


Terry Funk's impact on the wrestling business is long-lasting and unforgettable. He was a major factor in the success of promotions like ECW, IWA & FMW. He was a critical player in the popularisation and evolution of hardcore wrestling. He was a captivating character, an outstanding performer, a wrestling legend. Terry Funk will be sorely missed. My deepest condolences to his family and friends. Whilst we grieve our loss, let us remember Funk and everything he gave for our entertainment. Thank you Terry Funk, rest in peace to an icon of the wrestling industry.


Championships:

-3PW Heavyweight Championship

-ECW Heavyweight Championship x2

-ECW Television Championship

-JCW Heavyweight Championship

-NWA Amarillo North American Tag Team Championships x4

-NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship

-NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship x2

-NWA Florida Tag Team Championships

-NWA Florida Television Championship

-NWA Georgia Tag Team Championships

-NWA International Heavyweight Championship x2

-NWA International Tag Team Championships x3

-NWA Los Angeles World Tag Team Championships

-NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship

-NWA National Television Championship

-NWA North American Tag Team Championship

-NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship x2

-NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Championship x3

-NWA/WCW United States Championship x2

-NWA Western States Heavyweight Championship x10

-NWA Western States Tag Team Championships x3

-NWA World Tag Team Championships x3

-NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship

-SWCW World Tag Team Championships

-TAW USA Tag Team Championships

-USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship

-WCW Hardcore Championship x3

-WCWA Brass Knuckles Championship

-WWF World Tag Team Championships

-WWC Tag Team Championships x2

=58 Titles, 36 singles, 22 tag


Achievements & Awards:

-1971 NWA Florida Television Title Tournament Winner

-1975 NWA US Heavyweight Title Tournament Winner

-1976 PWI 3rd Most Hated Wrestler & Wrestler of the Year

-1977 AJPW Open Tag League winner

-1977 PWI 4th Most Inspirational Wrestler

-1978 NWA Georgia Tag Title winner

-1979 NWA Florida Heavyweight Title Winner

-1979 AJPW Real World Tag League Winner

-1979 Tokyo Sports Popularity Award

-1979 PWI 2nd Most Hated Wrestler

-1980 Tokyo Sports Best Bout Award (The Funks vs Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta)

-1982 AJPW Real World Tag League Winner

-1989 PWI Feud of the Year (Terry Funk vs Ric Flair) & 2nd Most Hated Wrestler

-1989 WON Feud of the Year (Terry Funk vs Ric Flair), Best on Interviews, Best Heel & Bruiser Brody Memorial Award - Best Brawler

-1994 PWI 2nd Most Inspirational Wrestler & 4th Feud of the Year (Sabu vs Terry Funk)

-1995 WCW Hall of Fame

-1996 WON Hall of Fame

-1997 PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler

-Ranked in the PWI 500 yearly from 1991-2000

-2005 Hardcore Hall of Fame

-2005 Declaration of Independents Match of the Year (Sabu vs Shane Douglas vs Terry Funk) & Inspirational Wrestler of the Year

-2009 WWE Hall of Fame

-2009 NWA Hall of Fame

-2010 George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

-2014 WWE's Top 100 matches to watch before you die (Ric Flair vs Terry Funk, Clash of the Champions 9)


Match Recommendations:

-Terry & Dory Funk vs Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta, 13/03/1975



-Jerry Lawler vs Terry Funk, No DQ match, 23/03/1981



-Jerry Lawler vs Terry Funk, Empty Arena match, 06/04/1981



-Ricky Steamboat vs Terry Funk, Clash of the Champions 7 (WWE Network)


-Ric Flair vs Terry Funk, I Quit match, Clash of the Champions 9 (WWE Network)


-Atushi Onita vs Terry Funk, No Rope Barbed Wire Current Blast Super Large Time Bomb Death



-Sabu vs Terry Funk, Barbed Wire ECW Championship match, Born to be Wired



-Bret Hart vs Terry Funk, No DQ match, Terry Funk's Wrestlefest



-Mick Foley vs Terry Funk, No Holds Barred, Raw is War 04/05/1998 (WWE Network)


-Terry Funk vs Chris Candido, Hardcore Title match, 30/05/2000 WCW Thunder (WWE Network)


-Jerry Lawler vs Terry Funk, 3PW A Funkin' Classic, 03/05/2003


(Timestamp 1:31:45)


-Edge, Lita & Foley vs Beulah, Dreamer & Funk, 6-person hardcore match, ECW One Night Stand 2006 (WWE Network)



Thank you for reading, please share your favourite Terry Funk moment or match. Take care everyone.

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