In the latest of what we hope to be a forthcoming series of dinners with the greats of the mat world.....
Last night myself and a group of friends had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a sitdown dinner//shoot the breeze//Q&A with former NWA World's Champion Terry Funk. I was honored to be ask to sit and chat with this alltime great, and want to thank our gracious host, who we refer to affectionately as "Mr Wrestling 2" and the man in charge of the guest list, Robert Mitchell. Also joining us for this special evening were Duane Long, Bob McKeon, Big John Menhennet and Howard Brody. Excuse some of the...ahem....salty remembrances of our honored guest.
We arrived at Chima, a well known Ft Lauderdale restaurant around 5:15pm last evening. The restaurant was pretty empty, as the dinner crowd hadn't really began coming in yet. After about 5 minutes, our group looked out and saw....the best word is "ambling" towards the front door, the legend himself. Greetings were quickly passed and I ended up being lucky enough (or maybe shifty enough is the correct phrase) to end up sitting right next to Terry.
After an initial getting reacquainted session (as some of us had met Terry before), I explained to Terry that myself and Barry Rose had prepared a list of questions that we thought would give Terry a good running start. Because honestly, that's all you need with Terry. Point him in a direction, and he WILL start talking.
"Ask me whatever you want," the champ told us.
And as we began, I remember a writer far better than me once remarking that a conversation with both Funk Brothers is interesting for totally different reasons. Dory Jr could explain to you the business side of the wrestling industry, and explain why a promotion or an idea did or didn't work---and have you completely fascinated.
And then Terry would tell you a story about the time that he and Dick Slater decided to lasso a 7 ft alligator in the middle of Alligator Alley one dark night. Like I said, interesting....for totally different reasons. But I'll get to that story in a minute.
lst question: How far in advance did you find out you were getting the NWA strap? And when did you know you were going to lose it?
"They told me 6 months before. Now, as far as when I was going to lose, it was really pretty much up to me.
But, as it happened, my wife and I were going thru a difficult period at home during that time and I just decided that it was best for me to get myself home. I just wanted to go home and be with my wife.
I'll tell you a story about when I got the belt. Of course there was a meeting of the Board of Governor's, you know...to decide who was going to get the strap from Jack Brisco. There were 9 people on that board.
And the vote was 4-4....4 each for myself and 4 for Harley Race. And Fritz Von Erich was the President of the NWA at the time. And Fritz said....'before I cast my vote....would anyone like to say anything?'
And my brother raised his hand and then stood up. 'I'd like to mention that of the two candidates, my brother is the only one with a college education.' And Fritz ended up voted for me. You think that didn't cause some heat? Holy shit!"
2nd question: What facilitated the sale of the Amarillo territory to Mulligan & Murdoch.
"I think I just saw what was coming, ya know? The cable out of Atlanta was such a powerful force.
I remember we had this big show in Houston or San Antonio. And we booked Tommy Rich to come out of Atlanta and be on our show. And we were pulling up to the building and I saw this group of young girls, just going crazy. And they came running towards me. And I was thinking, wow, these girls REALLY want to see me. And they got close....and ran right past me and towards Tommy Rich!! Haha! It was the damndest thing. And boy, I knew there was a change coming and I better get my ass ahead of it!"
3rd question: How much impact did you have with your CWF angles?
"Well, ya know....Eddie Graham was a brilliant man. And he had this way of manipulating people. He would sit two people down and ask for their input on an angle or the way a match was going to go. And the guys would offer their input and Eddie would nod his head, like he was listening....and then say, 'what about this?'
And wouldn't ya know....they would end up doing it his way. Ya know, he and my father were really great friends....and yet, they were very different men. Eddie used to do this thing every week seemed like, where he would have guys come down before the t.v. taping who decided that they wanted to be wrestlers. And he would go over to Jack Brisco, because Jack was Eddie's guy, and after a little while....those guys would end up deciding that they didn't wanna be wrestlers after all. And one day, Eddie came over to Jack and said, 'Jack, go show this guy about being a wrestler'. And Jack sat there for a minute and said, 'nope. I don't wanna do that anymore Eddie.' And Eddie sorta looked off...and then repeated himself, like maybe Jack didn't hear him. And Jack looked at him....and said, 'Eddie, I don't wanna do that anymore." And Eddie never asked him again. But what a mind for the business he had. Greatest finish man I've ever worked with.
4th question: Over the years, you've been around when Dusty popped as a babyface....and then Hogan...and then guys like Austin & the Rock. Can you compare them? Who's did you think was the greatest?
"Its hard to say. I mean, a lot of people don't remember the reaction as a babyface that Jack Brisco used to get...before he got the world title and then after he did. It was incredible.
5th question: Where, for whatever reason, was the WORST building that you ever worked in?
"Ya know, there was this building once in Colorado. We were working out of the Amarillo circuit and had driven all the way up there....and the damn ring didn't show. And we're thinking, well the hell with driving all the way up here and having to refund money and not get paid! So we worked the show without a ring and we spent the whole night taking bumps on the floor. It was horrible.
6th question: Tell us someone who was never considered for the NWA title that you think would've made a good world champion.
"Dick Murdoch. He was such a natural talent."
But, I offered, Murdoch was known for being great when he wanted to be....and maybe just as bad when he wanted to be also.
"Oh, no question about it. He could have some real stinkaroo's.
I asked him about a story I heard that Murdoch was a candidate for the NWA title at one point but had lost out in the final vote.
"Who put out that story? Murdoch? Haha. He had his own publicity department or something! Ya know that son of a bitch didn't even go to West Texas State...and still played in the alumni game every spring.
He was the damned middle linebacker. And never went to school there!"
7th question: Have you ever been in a building where the heat was so hot....that you worried about your personal safety?
"Well, I'll tell you. I've been stabbed in my leg, had a pen stuck into my neck....and I took it as a badge of honor that those people did that to me. I would've never called the cops on somebody for that! Don't get me wrong, if I had gotten them to the back I woulda beaten the shit outta them, but never called the cops!
Now, as far as the most dangerous place....I think we were in Nigeria once for a show....and we would get a police escort to the ring. And part of the escort was that they had these horses that were specially trained to deal with riots....ya know, they would rear up and swing their legs to keep people back. And damned if someone didn't shoot the horse that Junior was riding that night!"
Wait, I said. They shot the horse?
"Shot the damned thing right there dead. That made it a little harder to get back to the dressing room.
Puerto Rican crowds were always real bad. Oh, and the Bahamas. I remember in the Bahamas, there were these trees where the branches extended out over the wall (it was an outside show). And the damned promoter sees all these people in the branches, watching his show for free! So a couple of days later, right before the next time we have a show there, the guy goes up and saws the brances that held the people.
But only halfway. Then the night of the show, we see all these people up in the tree again. And midway thru the show, all of a sudden the branches break and all the people go falling to the ground!
Then it was time for some name association. In as few words as possible, (and that's not easy with Terry)
tell us about some of the following:
Bobby Shane: "Tremendous in ring talent." I asked him about stories about Shane as a tremendous wrestling mind who Eddie was grooming for the front office. Wasn't so sure about that.
Ted Dibiase: "Another incredible talent. I told him to go to the WWE ya know. I knew that Vince was going to give that character a huge push....because it was based on Vince!"
Great Malenko: "Ya wanna know something. The two guys who influenced me and my interview style the most when I was younger.....was Professor Boris Malenko and King Curtis. Malenko was the first guy I ever saw who would bring notes to the t.v. tapings. He would walk around and study his notes....and then go and give this 3 or 4 minute interview that was absolutely brilliant. He was a very good worker---not great....but holy shit could he put asses in the seats!
Dick Slater: "Oh man. What a crazy son of bitch." I ask him about whether or not Dick Slater would've been one of those guys you would want next to you when a bar fight broke out. "You heard that story about the football player, didn't you? Ya know.....Dick's having some problems right now, health wise. If you guys do another one of these dinners, it would be great if you could talk to Dick. It would really mean a lot to him.
We ask when was the last time he spoke to Dick. "Hmm....been 7....no, 9...no wait,.....12 years ago.
Hey, don't give him MY number. The guy is nuts!" (Laughing)
Gordon Solie: "The best t.v. announcer of alltime for my money. He and Eddie....they just worked so well together. Gordon was just able to convey everything that Eddie wanted to get out there. He was great."
Dory Funk SENIOR: "Ya know, my father was from Indiana. And he had won a couple of state titles as an amateur there. And I'll tell you....when Vince did the takeover, if my father had been alive....I really believe he would've killed Vince. Because, he was taking away people's livelihoods. I'll tell you about my father and Eddie Graham. Eddie was working Amarillo and one night, he and my father got into an altercation in the dressing room. And Eddie ended up sucker punching my father, and my father beat his ass....all the way under a table! But Eddie was one of the guys....who could never let anything go. And all of us went to Florida after Eddie was there, and remember, he and my father were friends. And we had gone fishing in Eddie's boat, and then we were back on the dock...and Junior and I were doing some snorkeling and out of the blue....Eddie sucker punched my father again! And then, my father got up...and beat his ass again!
Somewhere during the conversation, someone brought up tag team wrestling, and Mr Robert Mitchell, well known mark for all things Freebird....through out there for public consumption that the Freebirds..."were the greatest tag team in wrestling history". At this point, Terry put down his nice cold beverage and looked across the table at Robert. Someone else at the table mentioned that Robert was saying this in front of the man who was 1/2 of of one of the alltime great tag teams in wrestling history....and who had feuded with another alltime great brother tag team in Jack & Jerry Brisco.
"You may want to rethink that position, son." Terry said. (I wouldn't want to hazard a guess on whether he was joking here)
And finally, the Dick Slater story.....so one night, Terry & Dick Slater are crossing the Everglades in Florida on the old Alligator Alley, which was a two lane road that was the only way across back in the day.
"So we're driving...and we see this thing in the middle of the damned road. And we pull over, and we're out there and its the middle of the night, dark except for our headlights...no one else around. And its about a 7 foot alligator.....just laying there in the middle of the road. So Slater and I decide, ya know, we're going to be nice guys, right? So we get this rope out the back of my truck.....and we decide the best way to move the damn thing is to lasso it and then drag it until its off the road. So we get the lasso around the gator's head, and we start to tug and pull....to get it off the road. And then....all of a sudden....the fucking thing raises itself up onto its feet...ya know, so it can walk---or run. Do you know those damn things can run like 15 miles an hour?? And me and Slater haul our asses back to the truck and get the hell out of there as fast as we can. So let me just tell you....if you're ever out in the Everglades....and you see the bigger than shit gator with a lasso around its head.........."
Finally, I'd like to mention....that last evening as we first started, I mentioned that Barry Rose had mentioned on his CWF Tribute page on Facebook....that this would've been Gordon Solie's 85th birthday.
We each raised a toast to Gordon. Forever and always....the voice....of Championship Wrestling from Florida! —