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Week in Wrestling: Terry Funk on WrestleMania 33; Brian Cage on his Trump-loving character

Terry Funk discusses how hardcore wrestling has evolved and reminisces about his own career.

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. While Kevin Nash rehabs from shoulder surgery, this edition includes Terry Funk discussing the evolution of the hardcore style in professional wrestling; The Shoot with Rockstar Spud; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; Brian Cage sounding off on the controversy surrounding his Donald Trump-loving character in Mexico; exclusive coverage of the new line of WWE Mattel action figures; and Five Questions with Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones.

Terry Funk on the Evolution of Hardcore

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Terry Funk is the “Hardcore Icon” in professional wrestling. The native of Amarillo, Texas wrestled with the WWE, WCW, the NWA, throughout Japan, and was a two-time world champion with ECW. Funk, now 72, connected with SI.com to discuss modern day professional wrestling, as well as memories from his own career.

Far away from the confines of WWE’s Raw, or the “Road to WrestleMania,” is Terry Funk.

Funk is not on weekly television, nor does he have any plans to return. The wrestling icon is quite content with life in Amarillo, Texas, yet his senses for the business remain as sharp as a bowie knife.

Wrestling still runs through Funk’s veins, though he admitted to watching less these days.

“I still love watching it, which is maybe why I don’t watch it,” Funk explained. “I love it too much. I loved what I did for all of those years. What it’s evolved to? Am I happy with it? I really don’t know, but I certainly don’t dislike it. I certainly like the athletes that are in it right now, and I think there are a lot of talented people in the wrestling world right now. If they weren’t talented, they wouldn’t be producing at the box office the way they do.”

Funk enjoys watching an old-school talent like AJ Styles.

“I don’t know if everybody would agree with me, but I like the way that he’s risen to stardom,” Funk said. “AJ Styles is of a different genre, and he’s a wonderful part of wrestling, doing things that a lot of guys can’t do. No one can do what he does unless they’re in the ring with him. AJ Styles is an excellent in-ring performer, and he’s as good of a guy that they’ve got up there right now. He’s busted his ass. He busted his ass and made it.”

Funk, 72, was last seen on WWE television nearly a year ago, when he helped Dean Ambrose in his pursuit of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32 in Texas.

“Ambrose is a great piece of talent,” Funk said. “He’s got the ability to take the business where it is going—he’s a very sharp and wise individual. He knows the business and where it’s going.

Funk has witnessed firsthand the transformation of old-school professional wrestling into sports entertainment.

“I’m not really surprised,” Funk said. “What’s made it evolve is far more important, and that is the turnstile. What makes that turnstile turn? That’s what made wrestling what it has become. The fans dictate the direction of the wrestling industry.”

SI.com asked Funk if he believes it's problematic that older, part-time talents—like Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar—are scheduled to headline the biggest show of the year at WrestleMania 33.

“Are they old-timers?” Funk said. “I prefer to call them ‘fresh-timers.’ That means that they’re pulling people in from the outside with a fresh taste to it. They have a tremendous following from the wrestling universe. Who hasn’t heard of Goldberg? Who hasn’t heard of Lesnar? There are many people out there who want to see what is going to happen when you put those two into the ring.”

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Funk was a cavalier—or “Bolshevik,” as he describes it—in pro wrestling, moving from territory to territory across the United States and even exploring the scene in Japan. Vince McMahon, however, forever changed the business when he created a wrestling monopoly.

“It’s his vision,” Funk said. “He’s the one that exists. You better work for him if you want to make a buck. I’m from a different era, but right now, you better be on the boss’ side. If not, there’s not much room out there anymore. There are no more Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, with radical views, they’re very few and far between now. People were more of their own boss. When you got done with one place, you could get your shoes, socks, jock strap, and tights, put them in your bag, and drive to the next territory. Now there is just WWE.”

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1FMZlIIDSQ​]

Funk praised Paul Heyman, who currently works for the WWE and once ran Extreme Championship Wrestling, where Funk was a two-time world champ.

“Paul Heyman knows shock value, and he was able to find talent,” Funk said. “He could find guys who were great, but he could also pull guys out of a hat and make them successful. He has a great mind for the world of professional wrestling, and he certainly did because he existed when McMahon wanted to destroy everybody and was attempting to do so.

“ECW was a very physical form of entertainment. It was an era that was more physical than it is right now, and it also provided an existence for guys who didn’t want to be involved in the WWE Universe.”

Funk wrestled in a physical, believable style, which he developed by watching his father, Dory Funk, wrestle.

“When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be cowboys and Indians,” Funk said. “They wanted to be Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, but I didn’t want to be any of those a-------. I just wanted to get into a wrestling ring like my father. I came from a different era, a totally different era. I came from my father’s era. When I was a young man, I grew up believing: If people criticized the business, you beat them up. That was the way it was back then. I’m not saying that was the right way, but that was the way I learned the business.

“I felt I had to be believable, I had to be physical, and I had to give the people their money’s worth. That was all considered highly important to me, and that was because of the way I was brought up. I wanted to get into a wrestling ring, like my father, and I did. I also wanted to follow his beliefs about what the business should be, and I did that, too.”

When Funk reflects on his career in pro wrestling, he displays his pride. 

“I’ve enjoyed the way of life that I’ve chosen,” Funk said. “I’m very proud of what I accomplished in the business, and every time I got in the ring with somebody, believe me, they did their damndest to have a great match with me, and I did the same thing with them. Wrestling is truly my life, and I love being part of the professional wrestling world. I sure love the fans – I beat up a few of them, but I still loved them.”​

News of the Week

Follow the money.

Pro wrestling is no different than any other major corporation in sports and entertainment. Talent come and go due to salary, or a perceived slight in financial figures.

If you follow the money, you see that the Hardys are coming back to the WWE. The post-WrestleMania Raw would be a perfect landing spot for Matt and Jeff to return home to the WWE.

The Hardys continue to generate headlines. The Hardys have delivered genuinely compelling moments over the past 10 months, from the “I Quit Match” that saw “Big Money” Matt swantom bombed through a table by Jeff, then the emergence of “Broken” Matt and the Brother Nero storyline. Their match with Psicosis and Super Crazy, which aired this past Thursday on POP TV, was reason alone to watch Impact Wrestling.

It would seem a lock that the Hardys will re-sign with Impact, especially considering the brothers receive creative freedom in the company.

But look a little closer: Jeff Jarrett is now in control of Impact Wrestling, and his first mission is to slash salary. As a wrestling traditionalist, Jarrett is not enamored with the Hardys’ “Broken Universe,” and multiple sources close to Impact Wrestling told SI.com that Jarrett is receiving financial bonuses when he slashes salary at Impact.

Impact’s CEO is Canadian businessman Leonard Asper, and Asper’s goal is to continue to acquire more media content. The need for that media content is why Asper pursued Impact Wrestling, and that allows Jarrett to bring in talent at a lower cost from his Global Force Wrestling promotion. That's why the Hardys have received a contract offer for far less than they deserve. Creative control is also a factor.

The end result looks to be a return to the WWE for the Hardys.