Home > Uncategorized > Are you Funkin’ kidding me? Lawler, Funk resume feud in the ’90s

Are you Funkin’ kidding me? Lawler, Funk resume feud in the ’90s

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Part III of III

I lost track of Terry Funk a bit following his performance as Jerry Lawler’s tag-team partner in January 1983. I was limited to

The Funk doesn't fall far from the tree: Dory Sr. and his boys.

Apter-mag accounts, which weren’t exactly known for their accuracy. I think I’d heard that Funk had retired in Japan. Then I noticed he’d served as special referee–wearing a tuxedo no less–during Jumbo Tsuruta’s AWA World title win Nick Bockwinkel in February 1984. Then…nothing.

As Vince McMahon continued his march across the country, signing every former NWA legend and repacking them in his own image, it was only a matter of time before he signed Terry and Dory Funk, Jr. Terry, who saw the writing on the wall years before when fans in Amarilla started asking about Georgia cable TV stars like Tommy Rich, actually called McMahon asking for a spot as he knew Junior was in position to take over the business, with the National Wrestling Alliance continuing to crumble. While the surviving promoters of the NWA were desperately attempting to organize a counterattack to McMahon and the ever-expanding tent of his World Wrestling Federation, former NWA champs Terry and Dory knew the Alliance was dead. Unlike many former NWA greats forced to adapt a new moniker, Terry Funk remained Terry Funk.

Terry did adopt a little more of an outlaw persona in 1985, always wearing a cowboy hat, chaps and vest to the ring (a getup he sometimes wore anyway in the ’70s and ’80s for publicity shots) and carrying a branding iron. As part of a memorable angle to get Terry over as a maniac with a short fuse in his new environment, Funk attacked ring announcer Mel Phillips, who jokingly put on the Texan’s cowboy hat after making the introductions for a TV-taping match. In keeping the frequent post-match humiliation of WWF jobbers at the time, Terry would also brand his fallen foes with the logo of his infamous Double-Cross Ranch in Amarillo. McMahon pretty much allowed Terry to be Terry, even pairing Funk with Jimmy Hart in the Former Fed, who had managed him in his feud with Lawler in Memphis. Dory wasn’t as lucky, taking the name of “Hoss” Funk. (Don’t even get me started about the masked Jimmy Jack Funk, Jesse Barr.)

Unfortunately, the highlight of his WWF run with with Dory as a win over Junkyard Dog and Tito Santana at WRESTLEMANIA 2. Terry also volunteered to put Hogan over clean in the middle in a WWF title match on NBC’s SATURDAY NIGHT’S MAIN EVENT after no other big name would agree to lose in convincing fashion in front of such a huge audience, a bout that garnered a tremendous rating. Interesting to note that the finish saw the champion retain with a lariat rather than the legdrop, perhaps because a Hogan/Funk match would be widely reported in the Japanese press and the former is regarded as more devastating finisher in the Land of the Rising Sun. Equally as rare as Hogan winning with anything other than the legdrop: He’s wearing blue trunks and boot as opposed to the trademark yellow and red, which had yet to become his trademark.

In his book, MORE THAN HARDCORE, Terry explained his heart wasn’t into it the business, and he quickly tired of the WWF travel, which was brutal at the time. Similar to how the late Jack Brisco gave his notice, Terry packed his bags one night and left the hotel room he was sharing with Jimmy Hart, telling his manager he was finished in the Fed.

I don’t believe I saw Terry Funk again until 1989, when he appeared ringside–again in a tux–for the NWA’s CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS show in New Orleans, serving as guest commentator for the classic two-of-three falls NWA World title rematch between new champ Ricky Steamboat and challenger Ric Flair. Terry’s enthusiasm was evident, and some have speculated that he decided to make his full-time in-ring return to the United States that very Sunday afternoon.

Terry returned in memorable fashion, appearing as one of three judges for the final Steamboat vs. Flair PPV rematch at WRESTLEWAR ’89. (Yep, the tux was back. Terry may be a lunatic, but he can be an awfully dapper lunatic.) In a prematch interview, Terry sounded completely sane, humbled to be included in the same company as fellow judge Lou Thesz, former “six-time” NWA World champion.

Following Flair’s title win over Steamboat that afternoon, Funk entered the ring to congratulate the Nature Boy on his sixth World title win. The two exchanged words, leading to Terry viciously attacking Flair and piledriving the new champ on a table–fairly hardcore stuff for the time. (Although Randy Savage performed the same move on Ricky Morton in Memphis about five years earlier, which looked far deadlier.)

With Flair on the shelf selling the injury until his return during the July GREAT AMERICAN BASH card on PPV, NWA/WCW booker Eddie Gilbert attempted to arrange a match between Funk and Jerry Lawler at the Mid-South Coliseum when the NWA made a stop in Memphis. Gilbert had grown up idolizing both wrestlers and knew such a match would be the NWA’s best shot at drawing in Memphis. But it was not to be.

Upon Flair’s return, the Champ and Funk had a memorable feud, culminating in an “I Quit” match at the NWA/WCW CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS in Troy, N.Y. in 1989. At the time, it was the highest-rated wrestling match ever shown on cable TV–just a tremendous, stiff match.

Following the “I Quit” loss to Flair, Funk was relegated to announcing duties, forming a brief yet memorable duo with commentator Chris Cruise, whom Terry affectionately referred to as “the Crispy Cruiser” on the air. Funk eventually left.

In the summer of 1990, Lawler was feuding with the Snowman (Eddie Crawford, who had a tremendous physique but couldn’t work a lick) over the Unified World title. Upset over his payoffs and placement on the card (Lawler was still working the main events vs. the returning Eddie Gilbert, yet Snowman was the so-called “World” champ), Crawford quit. Snowman supposedly attempted to blackmail the Memphis promotion., threatening to sell Lawler’s beautifully crafted Unified World title strap to drug dealers if his demands weren’t met.

The company instead stripped Snowman of the title and hosted a tournament, booking some the biggest names available who weren’t signed to WWF or WCW at the time to re-establish some semblance of credibility for the championship: Eddie Gilbert, who had returned in August and had a hand in booking Memphis at the time, Dick Murdoch, “Mean” Mark Callous (the future Undertaker in WWF), Dick Slater, Steve Keirn, “Hollywood” John Tatum, Austin Idol…and Terry Funk. It was the best wrestling card at the Coliseum in years, with the highlight for me seeing Funk live once again vs. Lawler in the semi-finals. Eddie’s interference led to Terry’s disqualification, leaving Lawler to beat Idol to win the tourney and strap.

But that wasn’t the last of Terry Funk in Memphis. Funk returned on Nov. 5, 1990, for a World title match against Lawler–more than 14 years after their first bout for the NWA title at the Coliseum. Funk won the title…and promptly left the area. The way it was presented on TV, I believe the promotion wanted to re-establish the belt as a true World title, with the story that Terry was busy defending the title all over the globe and wouldn’t return to Memphis for months.

Funk did made title defense vs. Lawler at the Dallas Sportatorium, which was a great old-school bout with excellent psychology. The two hadn’t lost a step working together. Following that bout, with Funk retaining, the storyline was that the champion  had placed a bounty on Lawler’s head to knock the King from title contention. Funk finally returned in March 1991, dropping the belt back to Lawler. Like Lawler’s AWA World title win over Curt Hennig in May 1998, Jackie Fargo served as special ref when the King dethroned Funk as Unified World champ. In this promo to hype the bout, Funk set Memphis tourism back 20 years with this frank analysis of the city and its inhabitants.

More than two years later, I got my start in the business as a referee. Working as referee for the Monday Night Memories reunion show at the Mid-South Coliseum in early 1994, I was anxious to meet the returning Terry Funk. I confided in Eddie Gilbert (my first mistake) that Funk and I had a mutual friend in Red West.
West is Elvis Presley’s former bodyguard and best friend, who’s forged a successful career as a character actor, including an appearance with Funk in the classic (ahem) Patrick Swayze vehicle ROAD HOUSE. West, a former member of Presley’s Memphis Mafia, had turned part of his home into a makeshift actor’s studio, located near my hometown of Germantown, Tenn. I had been a student at the Red West Actor’s Studio for a few months, adding to my busy schedule as an undergrad at the University of Memphis, a FedEx employee and part-time pro ‘rasslin’ referee. (I was about three months away from making my heel turn as Eddie Gilbert’s new manager.)

I later learned that Eddie had informed Terry that a nervous rookie ref would be approaching him, using the West connection as a way to break the ice. As I hesitantly approached Funk in the dressing room, his eyes widened before he said, “Who the hell are you?” I quietly introduced myself as the ref and quickly offered up Red West’s name. He looked at me incredulously, slowing saying, “I…don’t…know…any…Fred West.” I looked at the ground, shuffling my feet, before speaking up, “Um, no sir. I said, ‘Red West.” Funk’s reply: “I already told you: I…don’t…know…any…Fred West!” Needless to say, I was scared shitless. I looked over at Eddie, who began shaking his head and waving me off. Undaunted, I pressed ahead, a little louder this time: “No, sir! RED West!” Funk stared me right in the eyes before he cracked. He began laughing, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Oh, Red West! I know that guy! He’s a helluva guy!” We then talked for a bit about Red, as I noticed Eddie with a broad smile on his mug.

Later that evening, Tommy Rich piledrove me in the ring, signaling the end of a six-man tag involving Funk. Even though I was supposedly knocked out from the piledriver, Funk picked up my lifeless body by the hair, screaming, “C’mere, you sonuvabitch!” The former NWA World champ punched me before putting the boots to me. I was thrilled–one of the highlights of my career in the business. Not everyone can say they were stomped by greatness.

File under Terry Funk, Jerry Lawler and Memphis Wrestling.

  1. Cousar
    March 7th, 2010 at 15:05 | #1

    In the picture, that’s only two generations of Funks.

  2. admin
    March 7th, 2010 at 21:21 | #2

    Well, Tim, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. (Happy now? 😉

  3. Cousar
    March 8th, 2010 at 06:16 | #3

    Heh, yeah. Now I’m happy. 😉

  4. March 12th, 2010 at 12:25 | #4

    Here’s some promos and build up when the feud resumed in the 00s

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O55ZyvkYCPE

  1. August 11th, 2011 at 09:38 | #1