In the 1989 Wrestling Observer Yearbook, Jeff Bowdren staked his claim as to the 100 greatest matches of the 80s. Over thirty years down the line and with the benefit of the internet and streaming services, Liam Byrne aims to take a look back at each match (where available) that made the list. With a focus on the context in which these contests took place, take a walk back through time as we look at The Wrestling Classic.
Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy vs. Dory & Terry Funk
August 31, 1983
It is easy to joke when it comes to discussing Terry Funk’s original retirement match all the way back in 1983. The idea that someone can even be in a position to have had a number of retirement matches, spread over the course of three decades and beyond, is laughable in and of itself, though imagine a world where Funk stuck to his word. No feud with Ric Flair in WCW; no run in ECW that helped cement them as a viable alternative to the big two; no bloody battles with Mick Foley in myriad different places. His career would have ended on a high if this was his final match, but it would have been us who ultimately ended up missing out.
Reading Funk’s biography, it is clear how important he believed the run to his retirement was in building momentum for All Japan in its war against New Japan. With the end of his career announced two years in advance, it gave the promotion a focal point whilst also allowing them to build a foundation in preparation for Funk’s eventual departure. Little did Funk know that when he first announced his plan to end his career, the wrestler who stood to benefit the most hadn’t yet stepped foot in an All Japan ring.
Enter Terry Gordy.
The Chattanooga native was not only having one of the greatest territorial runs with the Freebirds and opposite the Von Erichs, but he was about to burst on the Japanese wrestling scene, setting himself up for a number of memorable moments in his tragically short lifetime.
Fritz Von Erich had long had a working relationship with All Japan and Giant Baba. This included Fritz himself going out on multiple tours in the seventies, whilst a steady stream of World Class wrestlers were used to fill out the roster during the touring cycles for the promotion. The relationship worked both ways, which led to moments such as the involvement of Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu on the 1983 Wrestling Star Wars card earlier in the year.
Gordy had actually wrestled Baba at the Omni in 1982 for Georgia Championship Wrestling, a match that apparently led to his eventual involvement with All Japan. Baba had been impressed by what he saw; now he just needed the right time and set of circumstances. Though cut from a different cloth in terms of style when compared to Funk, Gordy had the physicality coupled with the wrestling skills to excite the Japanese audience. A partnership alongside Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody had Gordy positioned with like minds in terms of stylistics, as well as a worker in Brody that he already knew well from his run in World Class.
Terry Funk teaming with Dory Jr. in his retirement match made a lot of sense; in a pre-Triple Crown world and having only been involved in one Champion Carnival (1980), Funk’s best times in the All Japan ring from a kayfabe perspective had been winning the Real World Tag League alongside his brother. The choice of Stan Hansen as an opponent was also somewhat of a no-brainer. The two had been tag team partners at times during the 70s, but since Hansen’s arrival in the promotion, the two men had been pitted against each other in singles, tag team and six-man tag matches. Neither wrestler had been more dominant when it came to wins and losses, so this was as good a chance as any to settle the score once and for all.
Before Gordy could take his place in the main event on Funk’s retirement show, some work had to be done to present him to the All Japan faithful as someone worthy of their awe, fear and respect. A singles victory over Mighty Inoue was a start. However, it was a win alongside Hansen against Genichiro Tenryu and Jumbo Tsuruta really helped to cement the new duo as a viable threat to the Funk brothers. Very little changed from the presentation of Gordy in World Class to the visuals in All Japan. Still bedecked in the rebel flag and coming down to the ring to ‘Freebird’, an errant swing at a streamer hinted at his hair-trigger temper.
When the bell rang, it was clear that one significant thing had changed for Gordy: his selling. Whilst his over-the-top bumping in World Class felt like it was pitched at the people in the very back row of the arena, Gordy had toned things down considerably by the time he was battling opposite workers like Tenryu and Tsuruta. Not that he needed to do much selling in this bout: Hansen suffered at the hands of Tsuruta and Tenryu more significantly than his partner, though the gaijin duo were ultimately able to come out on top. They even created a variation on the Freebird double team that ended matches in World Class, though it wasn’t the most aesthetic as Hansen picked Tenryu up into a slam position and then passed him onto Gordy for a piledriver. It was a stiff-looking bump and good enough for the three count.
The night before Funk’s retirement match, Gordy teamed with a man who had been causing him all manner of problems in Texas. Bruiser Brody joined the duo as Giant Baba partnered the Funk brothers in a contest that unsurprisingly broke down into a wild ringside brawl. A pin over Tenryu had established Gordy as someone who was capable of getting the job done; this fight showed him to be cut from a similar cloth to Brody and Hansen, sending fans scurrying away with relative ease. More pressingly on the evening was the damage the heel trio did to Dory Funk Jr., who had to be helped from the ring. Gordy’s strong booking coupled with Funk Jr.’s suffering made what could otherwise look like an easy Funk win on paper into one with some clear tension as to who would come out on top.
The respect the promotion and the crowd felt for Terry Funk was evident from the start. The second his music hit the PA system, the fans were up on their feet in unison to make the most of what they perceived to be their last opportunity to see Funk wrestle. Inside the ring, numerous important people from within the promotion were suited and standing in a guard of honor, whilst Funk’s family was also in attendance and introduced to the crowd. Streamers, usually saved for the ring introduction, were already beginning to descend on the ring before their opponents had even begun to make their way down the aisle.
Some fans did hold back to launch their streamers as the wrestlers were introduced, though meaning that the opening brawl saw all four men wrapped up in a myriad of different colors. Hansen, in particular, began by swinging for the fences, setting the tone for the match – the bigger men throwing bombs whilst the Funks tried their best to curb the onslaught. This first helped build a hot tag to the retiring Funk, before pouring on the sympathy as he was overwhelmed. In a simple yet effective piece of heel work, Gordy even attempted the spinning toe hold on Funk, very much rubbing salt in the wound of a concerted attack on the knee.
Ultimately, it was Gordy who lost the contest for his team. A top rope splash saw Funk roll out of the way (though miscommunication meant that Gordy’s legs did catch Funk by mistake), leading to a top rope sunset flip for the rapturously received victory. The fans and the promotion both got what they wanted in the match: a ‘final’ victory for Terry Funk in an All Japan ring; Gordy raising his game as the new dominant gaijin worker.
It would be easy for what transpired afterward to sully the memory of this moment. Should this whole retirement, the ceremony and the match, be looked down upon due to Funk’s eventual return in just over a year?
Perhaps there are some people who think that that is a fair and just way to look at the turn of events. However, to me, it has always been a good match with greatness surrounding it. In a sporting world where workers all too often fizzle out rather than be celebrated at an appropriate time, this was a genuine outpouring of love for all involved. Watching Funk post-match, pouring with blood, sweat and tears, yell ‘forever’ to the crowd plucks at the heartstrings even today, as pure an indication as possible of the power of pro wrestling as there ever was.