Circa Interview: Terry Funk - In His Own Words
By DENNY BURKHOLDER
I apologize for how long it's been since the last edition of Circa. A number of factors prevented me from keeping the normal column schedule the past few weeks, the greatest of which was my move from New York to Florida. I arrived in Florida a week before the moving company showed up with my research materials. I refuse to write Circa without researching. Thus, I haven't written the column for a while.
This week, however, Circa comes back with a bang.
Hardcore legend Terry Funk has been one of the most frequently requested subjects for Circa. As much as I enjoy recounting the careers and history of wrestling legends on my own, I'm trying something different this time. I caught up with the Funker at a Future of Wrestling indie show this past Friday, and offered him the chance to tell his own story. Terry graciously agreed. Here - for the first time - a wrestling icon will give his own perspective on his career in Circa, in his own words. The following is my two-part conversation with Terry Funk.
(PART ONE: Conversation took place Friday, August 25, 2000 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, backstage at a Future of Wrestling independent show)
DENNY BURKHOLDER: When did you debut?
TERRY FUNK: I debuted in 1965. It was like December, so I'd say 35 years but it's really been less.
DB: Your father [Dory Funk] was a wrestler. Your brother [Dory Funk, Jr.] is a wrestler. When did you decide you wanted to be a wrestler like your father, or was your father even a factor?
TF: Oh, it was a definite factor. I think you can't help but have your father's profession affecting you through life, no matter who it is. And my father definitely was a larger-than-life person to other people, but to me also, you know. I looked up to him and I idolized him. Anything that he would do, I would like to do, too. I mimicked him. And it was purposely that I mimicked him. I think we all do our fathers that way. But I also got an attachment to wrestling when I was very, very young. I used to go to the arenas when I was four years old. I would watch my father in Amarillo, Texas, in 1948, and watch him wrestle against the likes of Wayne Martin and Frankie "Heel" Murdoch, Dick Murdoch's father. Bob Cummings and Wayne Martin, Roy Shires, who later became a promoter out in the San Fransisco area, and the likes of those fellas. Which goes way, way, way back, you know. Back then, the territories were very small. Very, very small. You didn't wrestle on Sundays because it was a day of rest. And everybody recognized that Sunday was a day of rest, so there was no wrestling on Sunday. You didn't wrestle on Saturday most of the time, so wrestling was a five day a week profession. You would drive to the towns, but the towns weren't as far as you'd think they'd be.
DB: Pretty close?
TF: Yeah, a close radius at that time. The Amarillo territory at that time consisted of about as far south as Lubbock, and as far north as Borger, and small towns in between.
DB: Did your brother Dory start wrestling before you did?
TF: Yes he did.
DB: About how much longer was it [before Terry debuted]?
TF: Approximately three years, because I was a freshman in college whenever he was a senior in college. He came out of West Texas State and turned pro the year that I went to West Texas State. I went to a junior college my sophomore year, so he would have started about three years before I did.
DB: I know that for most of your career, off and on, Dory and yourself wrestled together.
TF: A great deal of the time.
DB: Describe for me the experience of wrestling for decades with your own brother. How was it to come up through the ranks with your kin right there with you?
TF: It was great. It was really great. It was very rewarding, family-wise. You have to remember that we came from Amarillo, Texas, which is a very small area. My father dug and scratched in his profession, and I'm very proud that I am a second-generation wrestler. And believe me, it made things easier for my brother and I because he was there before us. He opened doors for us back then. He opened doors with all the promoters that he had met throughout the years. He opened doors by being an honest individual, by being a good performer. And therefore, guys that were just starting, they were starting from nothing. It would take them at least three or four years to get to the position that we started at.
DB: I always hear stories about when wrestler first start - Hulk Hogan tells this story - just about every wrestler has a story about a veteran, when they were just starting out, that tried to discourage them, that shot on them, or was a little rougher on them than they should have been. Did you ever have an experience like that when you were really young?
TF: Oh, there were always guys in the ring that would try it with you. That was much more a part of the wrestling business in the mid-60s because it was a different profession. You have to remember that we were dealing with people that started in the 50s, back in 1950, back in 1955. So we were dealing with a different mindset. We were dealing with guys that if you didn't have a wrestling background, they didn't want you in their profession. Same way with Eddie Graham here in Florida. You better be able to hold your pride in check, or else you're not gonna be a part of his company. And it produced a good company, and it did around the country, too, for a lot of years. It was a stranger world back then. [It was] a tougher profession - in some ways - then. And now it's a tougher profession than it was then, in some ways.
DB: You won the NWA world title in Miami Beach against Jack Brisco . You held it for about 14 months. You're relatively young. You just hit the pinnacle. You are one of the three major world champions [along with WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino and AWA champion Nick Bockwinkel]. What's going through your head? Did you think "this is the best it is ever going to get?"
TF: Not really. I was looking, at that time, to accumulate as much money as fast and as quick as I could possibly accumulate it in the profession. So that year I wrestled... 310 times, I think. I had about 40 or 50 days off a year, so figure it out.
DB: Dory was also a former champion, right around the same time as you. Was there a rivalry there?
TF: Not at all, just tremendous elation. And if anything, what my brother did when he was champion was produce me with a fatter wallet. I would go in there, and so much as carry us across the country, and set up matches for him, you know, with the championship. Like the Brisco situation here [Florida]. Johnny Weaver in the Carolinas was very hot at that time, like Wahoo [McDaniel] in the Houston area, like Johnny Valentine in the St. Louis area. And on and on, across the country. Chavo Guerrero in the Los Angeles area. Gene Kiniski in the Canada area. So I would just set up the feuds, but in the process of setting up those feuds, I made good money.
DB: You've had feuds with just about everybody in the business at one point or another, The ones that stick out in my mind are the Briscos, Harley Race, Ric Flair....
TF: Dusty Rhodes...
DB: Dusty Rhodes...
DB: Abdullah the Butcher. Any of them stick out in your head as being particularly defining?
TF: All of them. All of them do. They stick in my mind because all of them are great. They stick in my mind as wonderful personalities. Harley Race was a wonderful personality, and a wild man, and a crazy person. Abdullah the same way, a great personality. I mean, these guys stood tall personality-wise. Sometimes in their craziness, sometimes other ways. All great personalities, and all of them were great performers.
DB: My first experience with you was as a child watching the WWF. One of the first matches I remember watching really intently was you as a heel against the Junkyard Dog in the WWF. I believe it was a Saturday Night's Main Event. That was around the time Vince McMahon was trying to bring the sport worldwide and unify all the territories. Did you find...
TF: Let me correct you, he wasn't trying to unify them. He was trying to take them over. [laughs]
DB: Well, unify them under his own...
TF: Under his banner, yes.
DB: Did you feel a definite effort on his part or the WWF's part to cartoonize your character? I mean, you were a wild, cowboy type of character. Did they try to cartoonize you a little bit?
TF: I think a lot of times, I have been faced with promoters trying to cartoonize the profession. I think that WCW has somewhat of a problem with that now, is cartoonizing it. I've faced promoters trying to cartoonize me. But I always try to be as serious as I can. I try to be Terry Funk. I try to maintain who I am at all times. I don't think it has ever been successful to "cartoon" myself. I don't think "cartoon" is a good thing for a profession, but naturally we need humor in everything. WCW needs humor. But we are not a sitcom. We are not clowns. If clowns were so successful, we'd have a number of them in every major town in the United States, and we don't. And you don't have many clowns running around in circuses anymore. They're almost gone. We need to keep that in our minds, that we must always maintain suspension of disbelief. That is very important in this profession, and the best way to do that is by being yourself, and having the performers be themselves. That's of interest. Just who they are, why they are there, how they got there. Pretty good story.
DB: Like Beyond the Mat. I just saw that a couple of nights ago for the first time.
TF: Definitely, definitely. Let me mention one thing else, because I'm gonna put in a plug right here. I'm gonna put in a plug for [FOW promoter] Bobby Rogers, very seriously. He's got some pretty good kids here. They enjoy what they are doing, and they bust their ass at it. I think that independents play an important part in my profession. I think that independents are a necessity to our business's longevity. Talent has to arrive at a point on its own. Not always be designated and dictated to it. In other words, you can't always create what the people want. These guys have much more liberation as to who they are. And they're being who they want to be, and I think that's pretty neat.
(Denny's note: At this time, my first conversation with Terry ended when he excused himself to prepare for his match. I finished my conversation with Terry Funk Tuesday night via telephone. In part two, Terry details his first impression of Mick Foley, his reasons for going "hardcore" in Japan, his time in ECW, and what the future holds.)
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