Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore

Terry Funk WWF

NWA World Champion. Hardcore legend. Hall of Famer. Movie star. Terry Funk was lots of things to many people.

What is true of Funk is that he meant something to everyone.

When Terry Funk passed away on August 23, 2023, tributes poured in from across the world. Wrestling had lost one of its greatest-ever competitors.

Terry Funk: Early Life & Career

Funk had a pedigree in the wrestling business from the day he was born on June 30, 1944. His father was Dory Funk, a wrestler and promoter. Dory Funk promoted and later owned Western State Sports hailing from Amarillo, Texas.

It was in Western State that Dory’s sons, Dory Jr. and Terry got their start in wrestling.

Terry Funk debuted in the territory in 1965 at the age of 21. Eight years later, after his father died, Funk and his brother, Dory Jr. took control of the promotion. The Funk brothers were so successful in Texas, that Dory Jr. was selected to win the NWA World Title from Gene Kiniski in February 1969. Six years later, Terry would also get the call, which marked the first (and only) time two brothers would reign as NWA World Champion.

Funk bested Jack Brisco to lift the NWA World crown and enjoyed a celebrated reign, competing in numerous classic matches. He would hold onto the strap for 14 months before dropping the belt to another all-time great, Harley Race in February 1977.

Terry Funk NWA Champion

As much of a success as Funk was in the States he was also a significant draw in Japan. Indeed, when ‘The Funker’ announced in 1981 that he would retire in 1983, he did so to help his home promotion in Japan, All Japan at the box office. All Japan was engaged in a heated promotional war with New Japan and Funk’s vow was a boom to business.

As his retirement counter ticked down, every Funk match was a smash at the box office. That culminated in his first retirement on August 31, 1983. He teamed with his brother, Dory Jr. to defeat long-time rivals Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody in a heated and emotional encounter. At the age of 39, Funk had decided it was time to do something else with his life. At that point in time he had no intention of wrestling again. However, with All Japan’s business declining somewhat, he was invited back to make appearances for the company the following year. With the bloom off the rose, it was somewhat inevitable he would be enticed back into the ring. By the end of 1984, he had unretired.

Funk joined the WWF for the first time as an opponent for Hulk Hogan in 1985. They had a brief feud which culminated in a memorable encounter at Saturday’s Night Main Event on January 4, 1986. Funk made an appearance at WrestleMania 2, several months later. He teamed with his brother to defeat Tito Santana and The Junkyard Dog. Funk departed the company after WrestleMania.

‘The Funker’ then began to focus on movies, earning supporting roles in Over The Top (1987) and Road House (1989).

Terry Funk versus Ric Flair

However, wrestling was never far from his heart and he made an astonishing comeback in May 1989 in WCW. Funk was one of the ringside judges for the rubber match between NWA World Champion, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat and ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair at WrestleWar. Following Flair’s victory, Funk interrupted an in-ring interview to challenge the new World Champion. After Flair politely declined, citing a preference to against active roster members, a slighted Funk snapped. He brutally attacked Flair, nailing him with a piledriver through a table.

That electric angle set up a hot series of NWA World Title matches at The Great American Bash and an all-time classic “I Quit” war at Clash of Champions IX. Funk came up short on both occasions but earned rave reviews for his performances.

Terry Funk: Hardcore Legend

Sabu vs Terry Funk Born To Be Wired

After a quiet few years, Funk had another in-ring renaissance in the mid-1990s in Paul Heyman’s Philadelphia outfit, ECW.

Funk competed in the much-hallowed (but overrated) three-way match-up at The Night The Line Was Crossed against Shane Douglas and Sabu. The 60-minute time limit draw brought the regional outfit to national attention. When Douglas double-crossed the NWA later that year, ECW changed its name from Eastern Championship Wrestling to Extreme Championship Wrestling. Funk re-imagined himself as a Hardcore brawler. He began competing in astonishingly bloody and violent contests, far removed from his technical NWA World Title defences two decades prior.

‘The Funker’ did not limit himself to bloody brawls in the States either. He made his former employers in All Japan wince when he competed in the brutal King of the Death Match tournament for the IWA in the Orient during the summer of 1995. Battling with barbed wire, glass, and bombs, Funk advanced to the final where he lost to his protégé, Cactus Jack.

Funk also competed in Atsushi Onita’s renegade garbage outfit, FMW, where he competed in more nutty death match-style contests.

Back in the States, as ECW looked to establish themselves as the third biggest promotion in the country behind the WWF and WCW, Funk was called upon to give the group legitimacy. In the company’s first-ever pay-per-view, Barely Legal, held on April 13, 1997, he headlined the show against Raven and lifted the ECW World Title.

Later that year, Funk was considering retirement once more. In a special event, which was featured in the excellent documentary, Beyond The Mat (1999), Funk lost to WWF Champion, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. That was supposed to be his final ever match. However, ‘The Funker’ broke this particular retirement vow just 11 days later when he wrestled for FMW.

He resurfaced in the WWF in December 1997 and formed a team with his long-time friend, Cactus Jack. The pair defeated The New Age Outlaws to lift the WWF Tag Team Title in the best match at WrestleMania XIV, 12 years after his only previous ‘Mania match-up.

In a Dumpster Match, the teams battered each other with a wide array of weapons. Funk famously used a forklift truck to drop the Outlaws into a dumpster and closed the lid to win the belts. The reign was short-lived as they dropped the titles back to the Outlaws the following night on Raw, as the new D-Generation X was formed at their expense.

Funk would depart the WWF during the summer and return to ECW in the fall before illness appeared to retire him once more in early 1999. The following year he joined WCW once more and became a fixture of their fledgling Hardcore division between 2000 and 2001.

In 2006, Funk returned for a high-profile feud with Mick ‘Cactus Jack’ Foley which coincided with WWE relaunching the ECW brand. Funk and Tommy Dreamer lost to Edge and Foley in a brutal match-up where Funk and Foley were both dropped into a barbed wire board which they both had to be cut out of.

Terry Funk: Hall of Famer

Entering semi-retirement, Funk continued to wrestle (and retire) until 2017, when his declining health forced him to retire permanently.

Funk’s epic career was celebrated by WWE when he and his brother, Dory Funk Jr. were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009. He released an autobiography, Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore in 2012. Mick Foley wrote the foreword.

Terry Funk’s wrestling career spanned 52 years. Funk was one of the finest all-rounders in wrestling history. In his younger years, he was a technical marvel. In his later years, he was a realistic brawler. Throughout his six decades in the sport, he was one of the finest promos in the game. He was also a significant drawing card in the States and Japan.

Funk’s health declined in his final years and he lost his wife of 54 years, Vicki in 2017. He is survived by his elder brother, Dory Jr., and two daughters, Stacy and Brandee.

Funk passed away on August 23, 2023, at the age of 79. However, his legacy will live on for many years to come.

You can watch many of Terry Funk’s greatest moments and matches exclusively on the WWE Network.