It was on August 31, 1983, that Terry Funk first “retired” from wrestling. This decision was not only reneged upon within a matter of months but gave rise to many a joke and meme about the many retirements that followed.
Funk would walk off into the sunset, only to get that itch to get back into the ring. One retirement lasted less than two weeks, so quick was Funk to step back into the ring. For many, this first “retirement” created the longest-lasting legacy as he teamed with Dory to fight Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy.
In “More Than Hardcore” (Funk’s autobiography), he states that the idea around his retirement (announced in 1981) was to give the fans something to follow and promote something to build towards over two years. He also makes it very clear that he never said he was retiring from wrestling, just wrestling in Japan. Either way, the retirement only stuck for over a year, thus gifting the wrestling world with over thirty more years of Funk in the process.
However, it is worth thinking – what would we have missed out on if Funk stuck to an official, not-just-Japan retirement?
Terry Funk vs. Hulk Hogan
Saturday Night’s Main Event (1986)
Though this was two years into Hogan’s run as WWF Champion, he was yet to completely fall into the “formula Hogan” years. He was still willing to brawl and bleed in ways that became a rarity as the whole promotion moved in a different direction. Luckily for us, Terry Funk joined the WWF before this sea change took place. He met Hogan near the crossing point between the Hulkster’s in-ring ability and his drawing power. Funk was already “middle-aged and crazy,” affording Hogan a very different problem than many opponents and thus creating an engaging, if short, feud.
The height of their brief animosity was January 4, 1986’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Funk knew how to make his opponent look good and ‘showed ass’ during the opening exchanges, allowing Hogan to easily bounce him around the ring. A distraction by Jimmy Hart and liberal use of wrist tape in a choke gave Funk a brief time on top, which included a nearfall following a piledriver. A branding iron shot by Hart seemed to have Hogan out, but his foot was on the bottom rope much to Funk’s chagrin. This was 1986 Hogan, so nothing was going to hold him down. A distracted Funk fell prey to an Axe Bomber that was enough to keep him down for the three.
This was a fun television match and the house show matches that are out there are also worth a watch. Funk’s run in the promotion was brief as he left after WrestleMania II.
Terry Funk vs. Ric Flair
Clash of the Champions IX (1989)
Arguably the peak of Funk’s post-“retirement” was his feud opposite Ric Flair in WCW. Having spent time in the promotion as a commentator, Funk was chosen as a judge for the third encounter between Flair and Ricky Steamboat. With Flair finally able to beat his current nemesis, Funk saw it as a time to throw his hat back in the ring for a title shot. When the answer was unsatisfactory, he attacked Flair, infamously dropping him with a (rather sloppy) piledriver on a table. In kayfabe, this injured Flair’s neck and threatened to send him into an early retirement.
Funk was a man possessed on his NWA World Title hunt, injuring numerous jobbers and eventually taking on Gary Hart as his manager. Though Flair beat Funk at the Great American Bash, it was the I Quit match at Clash of the Champions that is often recalled as the pinnacle of their feud. Brawling in and around the ring, Funk and Flair sold all the animosity that they had been feeling towards each other these past months. This felt like the prototype for the type of I Quit match that would be seen more commonly in the late 90s/early 00s as submissions were rare and each man took opportunities to berate the other over the house mic. Funk’s moves targeted the already injured neck of Flair, but he was unable to get the champion to utter the immortal words:”I Quit.” Funk’s quest for the gold saw him come up short once again as Flair managed to apply the figure four, forcing the Funkster to quit in the center of the ring.
Not only did this draw a firm line underneath the feud as a whole, the match earned Funk his second (and last) five star rating in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack
Kawasaki Dream (1995)
This has to be one of the most traded events of all time. Back in the day when the commercial internet was very much in its infancy, wrestling fans worldwide heard rumour of a match that was so brutal and dangerous that it had to be seen to be believed. Watching 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation copies, each adding a further layer of green and blue to the increasingly blurry pictures, this was many peoples’ first introduction to the deathmatch. Barbed wire, exploding barbed wire boards, and a time bomb that was due to go off after ten minutes – it sounded crazy on paper and was in all reality as well.
Over fifty by this point, Funk was no stranger to a deathmatch or two, but this was a chance for him to help along someone who had become a friend. Whilst Jack had made somewhat of a name for himself in ECW, this was a chance to get different eyes on his brand of wrestling. Funk was only too willing to put his body on the line to make Jack look at least his equal.. A bandaged and bloodied Funker was the first to bump onto the boards; he was the one who took a number of blows from Tiger Jeet Singh’s sabre as he interjected himself into the match. When the ‘time bomb’ was more like a damp fart, it was Funk who communicated the need to up the ante, a decision that saw a ladder added to the mayhem. Eventually, it was all too much for Funk as he collapsed after knocking Jack off of the ladder. He stayed down for the three count, his face a literal crimson mask.
At a time in his life when he’d be forgiven for taking it easy, the Funker was going to even greater lengths to entertain the fans and to put people over.
Terry Funk vs. Raven
Barely Legal (1997)
Funk’s relationship with ECW begun in 1993. An ECW Television and Heavyweight Champion back when it was still Eastern, Funk had also dropped in for a number of notable matches in the following years as the promotion went Extreme. However, he hadn’t had a concerted run for the company since 1994. This changed in 1997 as not only would Funk wrestle the his most matches for the company during the course of one year, but he would do it whilst becoming one of the focal points of the promotion’s first foray into pay-per-view.
Neither the match against Raven or the proceeding triple threat match against Stevie Richards and the Sandman are particularly good. What they were collectively was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Terry Funk was the biggest ‘name’ on the show that might draw in the fans, whilst ECW got a chance to put Funk once more in the spotlight, winning a world title for the first time in over a decade. The introduction of a ladder in the triple threat match afforded Funk the chance to miss on a wild moonsault attempt as well as wipe both opponents out with his Three Stooges spot. After some weapon-based tandem offense eliminated Richards, it was left to the Funker to challenge Raven after a moonsault ended Sandman’s participation.
The match with Raven was all about showcasing Funk’s will to win. Against a fresher and younger man, Funk was up against it already and was soon bleeding badly after a drop toehold onto a chair. With pay-per-view time running out, there was still enough time for Terry to be put through a table at ringside and for Tommy Dreamer to get involved – first, sending Big Dick Dudley off of the balcony through a colletion of tables before hitting Raven with a DDT. Whilst these shenanigans took place, Funk was able to pool together every last ounce of tactical nous that he had and small package Raven for the victory and the ECW World Heavyweight Title.
Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack
Monday Night Raw (1998)
Somewhat of a personal pick to see out the five, I remember being a 12-year-old wrestling fan watching this episode of Raw live or close-to-live. This was at the beginning of the Funk/Jack versus New Age Outlaws feud, with the teams having met the previous week. Whilst I was very much of the age of someone that knew wrestling wasn’t real, there was something about this angle that really sold me that something had gone wrong or above and beyond what they expected. Following an eight minute brawl between Funk (as Chainsaw Charlie) and Foley – one that was violent by the standards of a WWF that had not yet overused ‘hardcore’ wrestling – both men ended up in a dumpster following an elbowdrop off of the Titantron by Foley…as you did during the Attitude Era.
It was at that moment that things kicked into a higher gear. The New Age Outlaws charged out, tied the lids down on the dumpster and sent it flying off of the stage. So what if it was only six or seven feet. So what if there were a healthy number of packing peanuts in the dumpster. So what if they shouldn’t have used ‘legit sad presentation’ on something that was a work. For a boy of my age, I was completely engaged as the locker room emptied, officials tried to calm the situation down, and things seemed out of control. The only thing that really ruined it in hindsight was sending Funk and Foley out to the ring during the main event, somewhat nullifying what could have been sold as something more serious and built up to the triumphant return of the crazy duo.
With a career as varied and as storied as Funk’s, there were a number of other potential options. Ultimately, Funk is in contention for being the greatest wrestler of all time, so you can fire up almost any era of his work and find something glorious.
Just be thankful he didn’t really call it quits in 1983!