The word ‘legend’ gets thrown around a lot in wrestling but if there is one star who can truly lay claim to that moniker, it is Terry Funk. The match from the Double-Cross Ranch in Amarillo, Texas has shed blood across six decades, proving his southern toughness. Funk has worked in pretty much every major promotion of the 20th century as the only worker to wrestle for the AWA, WCW, WWF/E, AJPW, NJPW, ECW, ROH, and TNA. During his life-long stretch in the ring, this iconic performer lays claim to more than a few wrestling firsts.
First Winner Of The World’s Strongest Tag Determination League
It may be hard to believe but back in 1977, Funk was a much more traditional ‘rassler. Funk had not yet crafted his hardcore style and was a more simplistic boots-and-tights worker, commonly tagging alongside brother Dory Funk, Jr.
In fact, as an aside, Funk retired as early as 1983; the same year The Iron Sheik was WWF champion, the year of the first closed-circuit wrestling broadcast, and the year the WWF hosted their first shows outside the Northeast.
Funk worked across Japan too, going on to win the first installation of the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League, the ill-translated All Japan Pro Wrestling round-robin tag tournament.
The duo prevailed by 14 points, just a solitary point ahead of the duo of Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta. The Funks won all their matches against other teams except for Baba & Tsuruta and Horst Hoffman & Billy Robinson—both of which went to time limit draws, hitting the 45-minute mark. This was enough to bag them the overall victory with the highest point total, taking home the presented trophies.
The brothers also collectively became the first multiple-time winners, also going on to win in 1979 and 1982.
First Brothers To Compete At WrestleMania
At WrestleMania II, The Funks faced off with Tito Santana & Junkyard Dog in a brawling tag encounter, probably the second-best match of the night.
Up to that match, two sets of brothers-in-law had competed at “The Show Of Shows” (The US Express at ‘Mania I and The Hart Foundation at ‘Mania II), on top of cousins in The British Bulldogs.
In the penultimate match of the Los Angeles portion of WrestleMania II, The Funk Brothers made history as the first blood-relative brothers to compete at the event, beating the future “El Salvador” and JYD in a match featuring an early table spot. Terry Funk won after pinning the ex-user of the theme Another One Bites The Dust after a well-placed shot with manager Jimmy Hart’s megaphone; it was followed by the main event.
A tidbit to note is that throughout his WWF run, Dory Funk, Jr. was renamed Hoss Funk.
In the years that followed, more relative tag teams competed including The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Owen & Bret Hart, and Jake Roberts & Sam Houston. This has only ballooned in modern times with everyone from The Hardy Boyz to Cody Rhodes & Goldust to Umaga & Rikishi.
First Participant In A Major Three-Man Match
Although now semi-regular, the triple threat match is a relatively new creation. Indeed, the first major three-way match took place as late as 1994.
At the time, Funk was the reigning ECW World Heavyweight champion, having won it about a month and a half earlier at Holiday Hell in December the preceding year.
At The Night The Line Was Crossed in February 1994, Terry Funk wrestled against both “The Franchise” Shane Douglas and Sabu in a three-way dance, the first in a major professional wrestling organisation.
Running for 60-minutes, it was quite the spectacle! Featuring run-ins from everyone from Sabu’s handler 911 to Sherri Martel to Paul E. Dangerously, it ran to a time-limit draw in a match that Douglas recalled thus: “I remember coming back to the back and thinking to myself ‘I don’t know how we did it, but somehow that was a pretty damn good match.”
ECW would utilise this match type many more times, especially before the WWF who had their first triple threat (not a three-way dance, there is a difference) only in 1997 in an Intercontinental title match featuring Owen Hart, Triple H, and Goldust.
As the match ended in a time-limit draw, Funk retained the title, having been an instrumental part in the first large-scale three-man match.
First Wrestler To Main Event An ECW PPV
Although ECW had had supercards previously, ECW did not have their first Pay-Per-View event until 1997. Their debut PPV had been pushed back, in fact, due to nervous twitches from PPV providers over the November 1996 Mass Transit incident, in which New Jack bloodied 17-year-old untrained wrestler Erich “Mass Transit” Kulas.
Going into the match, Funk was not part of the show; instead, protégé Tommy Dreamer gave up his place to “The Funker”. The subsequent match was built around the journey of Funk, with his vital role in ECW allowing his high-profile position in the promotion’s first PPV event.
The winner of a three-way dance would qualify to challenge ECW champion Raven in the main event. The three-way dance pitted long-time Raven’s Nest lackey Stevie Richards, long-time Raven rival The Sandman, and Terry Funk.
Funk eventually won the match, helping in the ousting of Richards before eliminating Sandman with a barbed wire-wrapped moonsault.
A whole load of camaraderie and chicanery occurred in the main event. Although Raven put Funk through a table, he managed to survive as Dreamer eliminated any external threats in the arena who may be associated with the grungy titleholder. Dreamer even hit a DDT but Raven kicked out, although the belt rang by mistake; Funk won with a small package.
This too made him the first to be victorious in the main event of an ECW PPV event.
First Wrestler In His 50s To Win A WWF Title
From what my research could find, Terry Funk was the WWF’s first wrestler to win a title in their 50s.
Whilst it’s true that in 1976, at the turn of his 50th birthday, Killer Kowalski was a holder of the WWF World Tag Team titles, he did not actually win the title in his 50s, having won it at 49 years old. Incidentally, Kowalski won it as part of The Executioners (with Big John Studd as #2 and later Nikolai Volkoff as #3).
Funk returned to the WWF in late 1997. Typically, it was only 11 days after retiring in grand fashion with his WrestleFest commemoration event. As the pantyhose-donning, chainsaw-swinging Chainsaw Charlie, he formed a team with ex-IWA King Of The Deathmatch rival Cactus Jack.
At WrestleMania XIV, Funk and Jack won the WWF World Tag Team title from The New Age Outlaws in a dumpster match. At the time, Funk was a not-unnoteworthy 53, making him the first—to my knowledge—WWF titleholder to win a belt in his 50s.
The reign was short, however, lasting less than a day as The Outlaws won them back the next night. Yet no matter how long, it gives us this historic first.
Before the decade (and millennium as a whole) were out, others in their 50s captured titles in the company, most famously Vince McMahon, who won the WWF title.
Funk’s career is filled with legacy-defining moments. Storied and lengthy, Terry has undoubtedly had a huge influence on the wrestling world that we see before us today.
“Middle-Aged & Crazy”, the Texan’s firsts are illustrative of his contributions to the business. Funk’s life is one filled with toughness, dedication and heartache. One of the very best to lace up a pair of boots, it is fitting we take time to remember a man whose legacy may live forever but whose body won’t
It is more than likely that the hardcore legend will be looked back on as one of the greatest for future generations. So, for all he has done to aid new companies, make careers and alter the business—here’s to you! Thank you for your service, Mr Funk.