Inducted by Hustle
When it comes to naming the toughest men to ever step foot in a professional wrestling ring, you always run into a short list of names that everyone mentions.
One name that might stand out above the rest is someone who wasn’t necessarily physically imposing. With a billed height and weight of 6’1″ and 247 pounds, Terry Funk was never going to be confused with a lot of his larger-than-life counterparts in the wrestling business, but nobody was ever going to question the man’s toughness.
If you attended West Texas State University (now known as West Texas A&M University), it’s almost as if being tough was a pre-requisite to be there. The list of pro wrestlers alone who, at one time or another, were students there is insane. Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Tully Blanchard, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, Ted DiBiase, Stan Hansen, Manny Fernandez, Dick Murdoch, Tito Santana, Bobby Duncum Sr., Barry Windham… the list goes on and on. That is quite the impressive list of men, for sure.
After leaving college, Terry Funk’s pro wrestling career began in 1965, in the same way a lot of people began their wrestling careers… working for his father. Both he and his brother, Dory Jr., would start work for their father, Dory Sr., and his Western States Sports promotion based in Texas. We’re not talking about a David Flair or Erik Watts situation here, though. Even though he was the son of the Boss, Terry would become one of Western States Sports’ top talents very quickly based on his in-ring skills and how he could connect with the rabid Texas wrestling fans. Within a few years, he was winning titles and seeing his profile grow exponentially.
By the time the 1970’s rolled around, Terry was finding more and more work throughout the various territories of the National Wrestling Alliance, and he found success everywhere he went, eventually winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1975, defeating Jack Brisco to win the belt. To that point, Brisco had a stranglehold on the title, holding it for 866 of the previous 873 days before losing it to Funk. While it wasn’t the first title of Terry Funk’s career, this was the one that really helped to put him on the map. We’re talking about the NWA World Heavyweight Title here. Back then, there was no bigger achievement in all of pro wrestling than to be the man who held the NWA World Heavyweight Title. All the biggest names in the business were clawing and scratching their way to try and win it at the time.
Terry’s profile would only continue to grow as he would travel around the world, becoming a star in Japan working for Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. His wild style in the ring helped him to stand out in the country, but little did the Japanese wrestling fans know just how wild he could really be in the ring. More on that later.
By the mid-80’s, the World Wrestling Federation had taken notice, bringing Terry and Dory Jr. in for a brief period of time. He wasn’t there long, but Terry made an impression in the WWF, challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event in 1985, wrestling at WrestleMania 2 (teaming with Dory Jr. to defeat Junkyard Dog and Tito Santana), and then teaming with Dory Jr. again to face Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog on another episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event before leaving the company.
My first experience with Terry Funk came in 1989, when he returned to the NWA and was a judge for the NWA World Title match between Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Ric Flair at the WrestleWar pay-per-view. This, of course, was the infamous angle where Flair, the new champion, was being interviewed in the ring after the match, only to have Funk interrupt him and challenge him for the title. After Flair declined, Funk would attack him and piledrive Flair through a ringside table. That was an almost unheard of level of violence and physicality for that era. Terry was about to celebrate his 45th birthday then, and he was fully into his “middle-aged and crazy” character. You never knew what he was going to say, and you never knew what he was going to do. As a child, there’s no way to undersell how captivating that is to watch on television.
As a man in the back half of his 40’s, you would think he’d be wrapping up his in-ring career once he left the NWA. You could not be more wrong. Here is a brief list of the things he did in wrestling after 45…
Wrestled in some of the bloodiest and most violent “Deathmatches” in the history of the medium during a return to Japan, then brought a slightly toned down version of that style back to the United States with him.
He helped legitimize Extreme Championship Wrestling in the company’s fledgling days, winning the ECW World Heavyweight Title in the main event of their first pay-per-view, Barely Legal.
Appeared as the batshit crazy Chainsaw Charlie in the WWF, frightening a new generation of younger fans.
Bounced around between ECW, the WWF, NWA-TNA, Ring Of Honor, and just about any independent promotion that would have him.
Oh, and he retired approximately 57 times in that span.
Every single step of the way, the one word you could use to describe Terry Funk was “tough.” Working his way up the ranks to start his career, with the insane schedule that wrestlers had to keep back then? Tough. Becoming a star in Japan and working their no-nonsense in-ring style? Tough. Wrestling with barbed wire, glass, fire, and explosives? Tough. Busting his ass to help a new company make its mark in a crowded wrestling landscape? Tough. Continuing to wrestle the “Deathmatch” style into his 60’s? Tough.
Even now, at the age of 77, with decades of wear and tear taking its toll on his mind and body, Terry Funk still isn’t someone I would want to mess with. That’s a testament to the respect that he has fought for, and earned, during his career.
As someone who was able to utilize multiple styles of pro wrestling, and be successful at all of them over the course of six different decades, there’s no denying that Terry Funk is one of the greatest competitors that the sport has ever seen. He has seen it all and done it all. It is my honor and my pleasure to induct him into this year’s class of the LoP/WH Hall Of Fame.
Selected Career Accomplishments
- 10-time NWA Western States Heavyweight Champion
- 3-time NWA World Tag Team Championship w. Dory Funk Jr.
- 2-time NWA International Heavyweight Champion
- 3-time NWA International Tag Team Champion w. Dory Funk Jr.
- 3-time NWA Western States Tag Team Champion
- 2-time WWC Tag Team Champion w. Dory Funk Jr.
- 2-time ECW World Heavyweight Champion
- 3-time WCW Hardcore Champion
- 1-time WWF World Tag Team Champion w. Cactus Jack
- 2009 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee
- 2009 NWA Hall of Fame Inductee
- 1995 WCW Hall of Fame Inductee
- 1976 PWI Wrestler Of The Year
- 1989 PWI Feud Of The Year w. Ric Flair
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes Terry Funk into the Hall of Fame class of 2022.
Related Links: Terry Funk On The Art Of The Empty Arena Match: “The Empty Arena Was My Idea. I Was My Own Creator”
2016 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: Mick Foley
Wrestling Headlines/LOP Hall of Fame 2022: Luna Vachon