FightBox on Facebook
English (United Kingdom)Polish (Poland)Czech (Čeština)

September 2018: Never Meet Your Hero ... Unless it’s Terry Funk!

 

As young kids and teenagers, we all have our heroes. Some people look up to pop stars or football players. Others idolize movie stars, racecar drivers, basketball players, bodybuilders, rock stars, great thinkers, historical figures or any number of great men and women that have made an impact big enough to be recognized. But not me, I grew up idolizing Terry Funk.


Terry Funk - Middle Aged and Crazy, Me - Just a Kid


Terry Funk is 37 years older than me. In fact, on August 31st 1983, before I had even celebrated my second birthday, Terry Funk retired for the first time after a match in Tokyo, Japan. By that point in his career he had already been wrestling for nearly 20 years and both him and his brother Dory Funk Jr. had been NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He had also become one of the biggest foreign wrestling stars Japan had ever seen.

 

Terry Funk as NWA World Champion 1975 - 1976


Throughout the 80’s I grew up a more-or-less happy kid. I spent time playing sports, playing outside with my friends and, of course, watching wrestling. My mother worked for a radio station and when the WWF would come to town she would always manage to get her hands on a few tickets the radio station would get for giveaways and would take us to the show.

Terry Funk, on the other hand, spent much of the early 1980’s wrestling in Japan. Between tours he would work the territories in the Unites States, making history wherever he went. In Florida he drew huge crowds against “the egg-sucking dog” Dusty Rhodes. In Memphis he wrestled Jerry Lawler in an empty-arena match, a concept way ahead of its time. In Texas he made the fans so angry someone stabbed him in the neck one night. Funk still has the knife and keeps it on his wall in his office at home. As he says in his book Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore, he takes being stabbed as “a badge of honor” for being able to provoke such emotion in the audience.

In the mid-80’s Vince McMahon changed the wrestling world by getting the WWF on national television and pay-per-view with “Hulkamania” leading the charge. Funk joined the promotion briefly in 1985 and ’86, even wrestling on the WrestleMania 2 card. He also appeared in a few major films such as 1989’s Road House alongside Patrick Swayze. Funk came back into the national wrestling spotlight later that year when he feuded with Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship and their famous “I Quit” match.


Hardcore Icon and Backyard Wrestler


In the 1990’s things dramatically changed in my life and in Terry’s too. As a teenager I really started to become deeply interested in wrestling. For me it was an escape from the pain of losing my mother at age sixteen. I spent a lot of time alone during my high school years, compiling a collection of hundreds of VHS cassette tapes of pro wrestling. I’d watch them over and over, not only for entertainment, but also studying every detail of the matches - the fan reactions, the commentary, the body language - everything. In 1995 I started putting on mock wrestling matches in my backyard with my friends. My character was “Cannibal Dan” who would intermittently bite his opponents throughout the match. And although Funk was never known for biting people, the other aspects of my style were heavily influenced by Terry Funk.

Funk also went through a metamorphosis as a wrestler in the 90’s. During this time he was the first American wrestler to really endorse and bring to the States the new Japanese “hardcore” style of wrestling. Funk began taking part in matches where they remove the ring ropes and replace them with barbed wire. In 1995 he battled Cactus Jack in “The King of the Death Match” tournament in Japan in what was at the time, the most violent match professional wrestling had ever seen. He also helped ECW get on the map and rise to mainstream success. This is where I first became aware of him.

 


What drew me to Terry Funk and made him my favorite wrestler was how unorthodox he was is in the ring. He was the complete polar opposite of his brother Dory, who was a classic 1970’s technical mat wrestler. Terry, on the other hand, was an unpredictable wildman and a brawler. The secret of professional wrestling, when done correctly, is to put on such a compelling performance that the viewer is able to suspend their disbelief and get caught up in the moment. They are willing to put their analytical mind aside and just get emotionally invested in the match. Terry Funk was able to do that to me every time he stepped in the ring. And I’ll also tell you one other thing. Terry Funk is maybe one of the most underrated promo guys of all time.


Meeting “The Funker”


In January of the year 2000 I was a senior in High School and looking forward to graduation. In fact, you might even say I hated school. Unlike a lot of young people at that stage of their life, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a pro wrestler like my hero Terry Funk. That may have not been the best plan in the world and it may have not been a wise decision on my part. But for better or worse, that’s what I was going to do and no one was going to persuade me otherwise.

In January of the year 2000 Terry Funk was 55 years old. His body was heavily battered from years of physical abuse. As evidenced in the movie Beyond the Mat Funk shouldn’t have even been able to walk at that point in his career, let alone wrestle. He was way past his prime at that time and even past his glory years in the business. As Funk himself put it in his book, he was only in WCW at that time to “work my way through it and make a buck”.

It was January 11th, 2000 in Erie, Pennsylvania. WCW was in town, as they sometimes were in those days, for a smaller television taping. This time it was “Thunder”. Terry Funk wasn’t even wrestling that night. His on-air role was the Commissioner of WCW which allowed him to be on TV but only have to wrestle sporadically. He had a short encounter with Bret Hart, Kevin Nash and Jeff Jarrett at the end of the show where he charged the ring wielding a flaming branding iron.

After the show I went to the Avalon Hotel with a few friends. One guy whose mother worked there gave us a tip that a lot of the wrestlers were staying there, so we headed over in hope of meeting a few wrestlers. Walking up and down the halls of the hotel we came to a door that was fully open and we peeked inside and wouldn’t you know it, standing right there, on the far side of the room, next to his wife, with his suitcase on the bed, was my hero, Terry Funk.

Immediately my friends and I started shouting “Hey, Terry!”. He had a look on his face like “oh shit, I knew I should have shut the door”. He looked up at his wife and gave her a smile. He came out into the hallway and answered all our questions for what seemed like an eternity because of my excitement, but in reality was probably something like 10 minutes. He even took a picture with us and thanked us for coming to the show.

 

Erie, Pennsylvania, USA January 11th, 2000 - The Avalon Hotel. I'm on the far right.


He didn’t have to do that. That’s what really touches me. At 55 years old Terry Funk took the time to come out of his hotel room and give a young 18 year old kid a memory that would last with him forever. He could have easily just shut the door or told us to get lost and I wouldn’t have blamed him. For someone who has been bodyslammed, suplexed, sat on long-haul flights to Japan, driven in overcrowded cars through the night, been powerbombed though tables and set on fire night in and night out for his entire life - he didn’t have to do that. It just goes to show what a class act Terry Funk really is. They say that you should never meet your heroes because they'll only disappoint you. Well, they couldn't be more wrong in this case.

A lot of guys always say that it’s the fans that make them. They say that without the fans, they would be nothing. A lot of guys are also just blowing smoke up your ass. You can tell just by looking in their eyes. They’re saying it because it sounds good or because they’ve heard other people say it before them. They’re the same guys that will walk right past little kids that want an autograph in the airport. Not Terry Funk. He really proved that night what I’ve heard him say a million times in interviews over the years and that’s that what he really wants to do when he wrestles is give the fans their money’s worth. Well, he certainly gave me my money’s worth that night and he went a step further by being a great human being to a bunch of annoying teenagers who were stalking him in his hotel after the show.


Epilogue


One year later in February of 2001 I had my first match as a professional wrestler. My career lasted 15 years and took me all over Europe and a few other places. In 2009 I started Poland’s first ever pro wrestling promotion and training facility. Terry Funk was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame that same year.

I retired only once in my career. My last match was in March of 2015 in Poland. After 15 years my bump card was full, as they say. I’m now doing commentary for kickboxing and MMA nearly every weekend. Terry Funk is now 74 years old and claims (again) to be officially retired. His last match was in 2017.

After being a wrestler for several years and getting the chance to share the locker room with or even step into the ring with many of the same wrestlers I watched on TV as a kid, it kind of jades you. Your fandom fades away after a while and you start to just see those larger than life personalities as your colleagues.

They say that if you lose your passion, all you need to do is remember what inspired you in the first place. When I look at the picture of me and Terry Funk in the hall of the Avalon Hotel in the winter of 2000, I still remember what inspired me to pursue a career in combat sports. And most importantly, I remember the lesson he taught me that day, that no matter how busy you are or how awful you feel or how tired you are - never forget how you got there and who enabled you to live your dream.


- Daniel Austin (Don Roid)


daniel.austin@spiintl.com

www.facebook.com/FightBoxPodcast

www.instagram.com/the_fightbox_podcast

www.twitter.com/donroidDDW

www.fightbox.com/en/blog (blog)

www.fightbox.com/en/podcast (podcast)

 


 

  • Share on:
    Facebook Google Bookmarks