Terry Funk is rooting for All Elite Wrestling.
Despite battling an abdominal hernia, not to mention a broken heart, Funk’s passion for the business of professional wrestling still brings joy every time he discusses it. Funk loves talking wrestling, especially when the topic is the Rhodes family.
“Dusty would be ecstatic watching this,” said Funk, who turns 75 in June. “It was no easy thing for Dusty to get in the business, but he was always up for a challenge. His boys are the same way.”
Cody and Dustin Rhodes delivered a phenomenal match at Saturday’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view. But the part that resonated most with the legendary Funk was the aftermath. Following his emotional win, Cody returned to the battered and bloodied Dustin, and told him he did not need a tag team partner or a friend. Cody said he needed his brother.
If the scene sounds familiar, there is good reason.
Dustin shared a very similar moment with the late, great Dusty Rhodes, to set up a tag team match at WCW’s Clash of Champions in August 1994.
“You must be very creative in our business,” said Funk, who wrestled against Dusty and Dustin in that ’94 Clash of Champions tag match. “Creating in this business is making something new, but it is also touching on something old. That’s what Cody and Dustin sure did, and it was necessary for that moment to work.”
Funk was forced to cancel his appearance at Starrcast, which took place over the Double or Nothing weekend in Las Vegas, due to the pain from an abdominal hernia. He is also suffering from a broken heart, following the death of his wife Vicki in March.
A proud founding father of hardcore wrestling, Funk is also a romantic when the subject is his wife.
“I loved her so deeply, and vice versa, for a lifetime,” said Funk, with the pain still audible in his trademark voice. “It’s been rough.
“We were buddies when we met in the fifth grade. We started dating in the ninth grade. Her and I, we were never involved in something we couldn’t get the best of, until now. She was the most wonderful person I ever knew.”
The Funks married in August 1965, proud parents to two daughters and grandparents to three. (“One grandson carries a 4.0 GPA, he’s never made anything but an A,” said Funk, beaming with pride. He’s a wonderful boy, all of them are wonderful.”)
Funk abhors saying farewell to his loved ones, but noted that he cherishes the memories in lieu of the conversations.
“I’ll tell you more about Dusty,” said Funk. “He tried to break into the business in Amarillo, but we wouldn’t let Dusty in. Back then you needed to earn it, so he traveled around to prove himself.
“Dusty would go to the arena every Thursday night with Dick Murdoch and Bobby Duncum. When they were in school, they’d go to the arena, buy a ticket, sit in the stands, and watch the matches. And they loved it. That love grew when they were able to walk into the dressing room and become a part of it. They were fans before they were wrestlers, they loved it.
“Dusty had his first match trying to prove himself. He was at a show in the northeast, and one of the guys didn’t show up. Dusty told the promoter, ‘I’m Dusty Rhodes, and I wrestled them Funk boys in Amarillo.’ That wasn’t true, of course. But Dusty, who’d never wrestled before, talked his way into it. After the match, the promoter quickly realized Dusty wasn’t smartened up.”
Dusty Rhodes worked for and competed against Vince McMahon, which youngest son Cody is now doing as an Executive Vice President for All Elite Wrestling.
“Dusty had no fear against Vince because he was so very sharp,” explained Funk. “He knew his profession. Dusty would love everything about what his boys are doing. And they needed him to get here.
“I really mean this, they couldn’t have done this without Dusty. Without their father’s genes, they couldn’t be doing something so special. He also went down the road with them and taught them to respect the business. Those boys are smart, just like their pop.”
Competing against the WWE seems like an impossible task. But Funk believes the time is ripe for a new challenger to Vince McMahon’s throne.
“Vince and WWE, they’re not fresh,” said Funk. “Yes, Vince does big business. They have the best talent in the world, but they have no fresh ideas. They should be selling out every arena. Vince thinks he’s fresh, he thinks he’s the best. That’s when you get knocked on your ass.”
In addition to a talented array of professional wrestlers, Funk believes that All Elite Wrestling will succeed for two specific reasons.
“They’re going to do something special,” said Funk. “They got the TV deal, plus they have Jim Ross.”
Ross was the lead voice of Double or Nothing, adding decades worth of experience, legitimacy, and fame to the new promotion.
“Jim Ross has such compassion for the fans,” said Funk. “That’s because this is natural for him, it’s a love, just like the love Gordon Solie had for the business. Jim is following what he loves and doing a god-damned good job. He’s the greatest announcer ever.
“Jim could make chicken soup from chicken s---. And these wrestlers are great. He adds quality, believability, and gives them everything they need. There is nobody else like him. He’s what they need.”
In order for AEW to succeed, especially once the show begins broadcasting live every week this fall, Funk stressed that one variable is necessary above all.
“They need believability,” said Funk. “They must believe in what they’re doing, they must believe in wrestling.
“I thought I could beat the s--- out of anybody in the world when I was wrestling. That’s how they need to think to run this new promotion. They’ve got to be smart about it, but after that show, they have it rolling.”
Few possess more insight or knowledge about the business of professional wrestling than Amarillo’s own Terry Funk. And as long as he still has air to breathe and eyes to see, so long will he give love to pro wrestling.
“Once you’re involved with it, you’re in love with it,” said Funk. “I’m still nuts about this stuff. I want to see the talent dictate who is the best and who is not. It’s my love and my life, it’s everything to me.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.