Funk Whips Old Age
December 11, 2015 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Fifty years ago this week, Terry Funk had his first professional wrestling match. He retired in 1983, having held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for more than a year and nearly three dozen other titles (many of which were in territories *not* owned by his family). Retirement didn't agree with Funk, so he signed with the then-WWF, where he fought Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, and Hulk Hogan. He retired again a few years later, and then three more times in the 1990s. And in 2006. And in 2013. Maybe his most recent retirement match, wherein he lost by disqualification to Jerry "The King" Lawler on October 24th of this year at the age of 71, will be his last (he did, after all, take a fireball to the face).

Funk is a legend in the world of professional wrestling for his willingness to "put over" younger wrestlers (losing to them to make them look good), his hardcore brawling style (he often used barbed wire, "red-hot" brands, and virtually anything else at ringside to abuse his opponents or take such abuse), and his sheer longevity (lasting 50 years in a profession with an incredibly high rate of premature death) -- he called himself "middle-aged and crazy" in the last millennium, after all. He has wrestled well over 1300 matches around the world, been inducted into at least nine wrestling Halls of Fame, been featured in the acclaimed documentary Beyond the Mat, and played the villain in Sylvester Stallone's less-acclaimed directorial debut.

Oh, and the guy that Funk beat fifty years ago in his first match? Sputnik Monroe, a man so tough that he kicked Jim Crow's ass out of Memphis wrestling but eventually became a literal Hippie-puncher in later appearances.
posted by Etrigan (12 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
One of the great Terry Funk stories came from Mick Foley, who watched Funk's matches and marveled at how real Funk's punches looked. Man, I need to learn how to throw fake punches like that! he thought. Then came the day when Foley finally got in the ring with Funk and prepared to receive one of Funk's big left hands.


And Foley realized at that moment why Funk's punches looked so real -- because Funk had just reared back and punched him full-force in the forehead.
posted by delfin at 8:34 AM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

"because Funk had just reared back and punched him full-force in the forehead."

Or, at least, because that's what the script said Foley was supposed to do.
posted by uberchet at 8:49 AM on December 11, 2015

I'm sure you're lots of fun at parties, there, uberchet.

All hail the greatness and longevity of Terry Funk. His career is unparalleled in any sport or sports entertainment. What a guy.
posted by kuanes at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2015

ANTiSEEN's Funk U might be the second best punk rock wrestler bio jam, right behind Limecell's ode to Stan Hansen The Lariat. (Apparently only stiff workers get these kinds of tributes.)
posted by milquetoast at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2015

Apparently only stiff workers get these kinds of tributes.

See also Vader- and general wrestling-tribute band VADERBOMB, who of course makes the obligatory Stan Hansen reference in a song about Big Van Vader.
posted by shoe at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2015

Or, at least, because that's what the script said Foley was supposed to do.

Look, if Elijah Wood said that he was shooting a movie and that when the script called for Tom Hardy to punch him in the face, Tom Hardy actually punched him in the face, we'd take what he was saying at face value. Particularly if Hardy had a record of punching co-stars in the face, and was known to acknowledge that he punches co-stars in the face "because it looks better".

Mick Foley has never shied away from acknowledging that wrestling is scripted; he's very open about that. At the same time, he's lost an ear and all four front teeth in the ring, he's had multiple concussions, and you can see the barbed wire and burn scars on his body; if he tells you that something hurt, you can trust that he knows what he's talking about.

As far as I know, the only two guys that he says look like they're hurting you because they work that stiff are Terry Funk and Big Van Vader.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Or, at least, because that's what the script said Foley was supposed to do.

Yes, professional wrestlers are in the business of trying to make fake punches look real. Sometimes they are very good at it, as with this punch from "Dr. Death" Steve Williams that barely grazes Kenta Kobashi but which both of them make look like a million bucks. Sometimes they are... significantly less successful.

The point of Foley's anecdote is that he was preparing to feign being hit by a thunderous left hand and found that when Terry Funk is the one throwing it, pretending was not required.

Funk, Foley and others of their ilk are, to put it bluntly, more stuntmen than traditional wrestlers. They can pair up with traditional wrestlers and perform adequately, but they're at their best when they're sacrificing their own bodies for the good of the spectacle. Funk is not the biggest, the strongest, the most technically gifted or the prettiest out there, but he's a legend in the business for being willing to endure just about anything in the name of putting on a show.
posted by delfin at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Fantastic post. Thanks, Etrigan.
posted by thetortoise at 11:23 AM on December 11, 2015

Came for The Funk, stayed for The Sputnick. Man, there's a guy who needs an FPP. I'm shocked at myself for never hearing of him before. But I digress . . .

Terry Funk is one of those guys, like his protege Mick Foley, that Professional Wrestling needs but doesn't need too many of. His ability to take (and dish out) physical punishment in the ring is legendary and I'm frankly amazed that he has not paid the physical and mental price for working stiff for so long that so many wrestlers who didn't work so stiff for nowhere nearly as long did.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:40 AM on December 11, 2015

Something that separated Terry Funk from so many other heels was that he came off as genuinely scary. Definitely one of the all-time great heel interviews. When he wrestled Hulk Hogan at the height of "Hulk-A-Mania" I remember thinking for sure that he was going to be the guy to take the title from Hogan, since he came off as so much tougher and meaner than anyone else Hogan had faced, despite not being one of the biggest by any means.
posted by The Gooch at 12:13 PM on December 11, 2015

(In case it's unclear the phrase people keep using, "working stiff," means putting real force into your moves, intentionally or otherwise. Blows are of course planned/cooperatively improvised, but that doesn't mean they never hurt.)
posted by atoxyl at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Funk was well into his fifties when he did this back-flip from the top rope to the outside of the ring:

To quote my wrestling-hating dad: And you can't fake gravity.

Three cheers for the Funker!
posted by MrJM at 5:29 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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