Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Gateway Interview: Terry Funk

Raleigh, NC - Dorton Arena - Friday, September 22 - Tickets
Spartanburg, SC - Memorial Auditorium - Saturday, September 23 - Tickets

Terry Funk   Kevin Nash   Jerry Lawler   Sgt. Slaughter   Tommy Rich 
Jimmy Valiant     George South   Rock & Roll Express    Magnum T.A. 
Many others!

Terry Funk
NWA World Champion
In a professional wrestling career that has stretched from the mid 1960s to the present, Amarillo Texas’ favorite son Terry Funk has done it all. And while Terry was never a regular performer in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, he nevertheless played a major role in one of the biggest events in the long and illustrious history of Jim Crockett Promotions. When United States Heavyweight Champion Johnny Valentine was badly injured in the horrific plane crash in October of 1975, a spectacular one night tournament was held at the Greensboro Coliseum to crown a new champion on November 9, 1975. Terry defeated Paul Jones that night in the tournament finals to become the new titleholder.

On Thanksgiving night 1975 Paul Jones came back to dethrone Funk, but Terry would quickly rebound and ace the NWA World’s Heavyweight Title on December 10, 1975 in Miami, Florida by beating Jack Brisco. Then during 1976 the “Funker” had terrific World Title bouts in the Mid-Atlantic area against top challengers Paul Jones and Wahoo McDaniel.

Raleigh Fri. 9/22      Spartanburg Sat. 9/23
Don't miss it this weekend!
This weekend Terry returns to the Carolinas as part of two gigantic wrestling events hosted by Big Time Wrestling. On Friday night September 22nd at Dorton Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina and the following evening at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium Funk will team with the Rock and Roll Express to battle the Memphis Mafia led by Jerry Lawler in main event action of two star studded shows. In this interview Terry looks back at his time wrestling for Jim Crockett Promotions, particularly in and around the time he was the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion. Funk talks about the glory days of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling of the early and mid 1970s, and his return this weekend to two historic Mid-Atlantic Wrestling venues that will be bursting with excitement much like the old days!

DAVID CHAPPELL:    Terry, thank you for visiting with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway today.  Everybody’s delighted to have you coming back to the Carolinas on Friday and Saturday this week for the Big Time Wrestling shows at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena and at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.

TERRY FUNK:    It’s my pleasure being with you.  [Promoter] Tony Hunter helped out a little bit getting me back to the Carolinas!

Chappell:     I’m sure!

Funk:    He did. He’s a good man.

Chappell:    He really is. With your coming back to the Carolinas this week, do you have any recollections of your earliest experiences of wrestling in Jim Crockett Promotions or the Mid-Atlantic area?

Funk:    Yeah I do. I came in there on a couple of different occasions to wrestle the number one contender when my brother was [World] champion.

Chappell:    Dory Funk, Jr. had a heck of a World Title run from early 1969 to the middle of 1973.

Funk:    I remember wrestling Jerry Brisco a couple of times late in Junior’s [World Title] run. It was in Greensboro and it was packed. Lots of top stars! Had a couple of wonderful nights there. They were great crowds, ecstatic! They were and still are, ecstatic about wrestling.

Chappell:    The Greensboro Coliseum had some of the greatest cards in the business back then. That building was like the Madison Square Garden of the Southeast!

Funk:    The Southeastern coast; that was the best of the wrestling world from Florida to the Carolinas. They had great promoters at that time. They had promoters that had visions; they had visions of what wrestling could be. They certainly did a wonderful job of managing their promotions.

Chappell:    For sure...

Funk:    Yeah, whenever Junior was champion, I’d come in there and wrestle the top contender. And it was just phenomenal! We’d go into Greensboro and sell it out, you know? You know, 17,000.

The old sign out by the Greensboro Coliseum (1988)
(Before expansion) Photo by Dick Bourne

Chappell:    The Greensboro Coliseum was Crockett’s largest venue, so there were some monster attendance numbers for sure. And Greensboro was where a lot of big national stars were brought in and showcased, such as yourself.

Funk:    Oh, Greensboro was huge! Like you said, that’s the one place you could compare with the Garden and it did compare with the Garden.

And the number one territory in the United States at that time was the Crockett territory, and the Crockett promotion. They were the number one promotion and the number one territory. And some amazing wrestlers that were down there, came out of there. And they were wrestlers that I respected so very much, you know?  It was just a great area; a thriving area!

Chappell:    No doubt about it! Now, a great friend of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway, one of your longtime friends, Terry….

Funk:    (laughs) Uh-oh, that sounds bad!

Chappell:    (laughs) No, not at all!

Funk:    I have lots of crazy friends!

Chappell    (laughs) Well, when this one found out that I’d be talking to you today he wanted me to take you back to the U.S. Title Tournament in November of 1975 in Greensboro. He said when I talked to you today, that he wanted me to let you know that he let you win on November 9th  in the finals of the tournament and then a couple of weeks later on Thanksgiving night, he kicked your ass!

Funk:    (laughs) Oh my God, Paul Jones!

Chappell:    Mr. Number One!

 Funk:    That was a huge couple of weeks. I got, honest to God; I got goose bumps when you were telling me about Paul and those Greensboro shows with him. It was pretty amazing, yeah! Great guy, wonderful in-ring performer. He was a great opponent…Paul Jones.

Chappell:    Terry, can you describe the atmosphere in Greensboro for those two epic battles with Paul in November of 1975?

Funk:    It was phenomenal, David! Like I said, it was the greatest wrestling in the United States. And that’s no bullshit. It was in the Carolinas. And that’s where the greatest wrestlers in the country gathered. And I’m not saying that’s where ... I would like to rephrase that. That’s where the great ones gathered because, boy, if you didn’t have any talent, you weren’t going to be on that card. You know, on any card that came out of the Carolinas it was the best and that’s just the God’s honest truth about it. It was the number one place to be in the United States at that time.

Chappell:    When you say the number one place, do you mean based on the talent level that was there, or who you worked with at that time, or was it the people that booked it or the owners or a combination of all of those things?

Funk:    It was based on the talent and the promotion, to the means of getting to the towns right on down the line to the pay. I mean it was the cream of the crop that came to the Carolinas. And that’s for certain. Just the greatest bunch of wrestlers in the world. I mean, look back at it ... Steamboat, Flair, McDaniels; you go all the way back to Johnny Weaver and that bunch. And oh my God, the great tag teams like the Scotts and the Andersons! I mean, my God!

Chappell:    A who’s who of professional wrestling, no doubt.

Terry Funk
NWA World Champion
Funk:    It was the hotbed for professional wrestling!  And believe me; the competition was great out there because you had great competitors like Paul Jones.  It was so good because the guys you were out there with were so competitive in the ring. And you know, I mean, they were such characters on television!

 Chappell:    Oh my God, yes!

Funk:    Not just characters, but bigger than life figures.

Chappell:    No question about it, I mean you’ve really hit the nail on the head there Terry because you know particularly back in that time frame in the Carolinas where you didn’t have major league sports teams, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was our major league sport!

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling was king!

Funk:    It was the place to be!

Chappell:    And the Mid-Atlantic towns you know, weren’t the biggest towns in the country either, so that says a lot that the money was so good.

Funk:    They were drawing huge numbers percentage wise. They were drawing a better percentile than anybody in the nation. And at that time I mean, where else could you go seven days a week and you go to a sell-out every night?

Chappell:     That’s very true….

Funk:    It was a heyday of wrestling in my era, and it was the place to be!

Chappell:    For sure!

Funk:    It was the heyday of wrestling...I want to explain one more thing.

Chappell:    Sure, please do.

Funk:    One more little thing, David. Back then, you had the Oklahoma territory. You had the Carolinas. You had Florida. You had the Canadian territories. You had the Texas territories. You had the Arizona territories. You had all of the different territories, about 30 of them at the time. And it was the ones that paid the most money was where the talent went. And the one that drew the most money could pay the most money.

And that area was the Carolinas. It was just phenomenal. And Flair was there, and Mulligan was there and on and on and on and on and on. Just from the top to the bottom to the prelims. And the fans would come out there, and they would get their money’s worth.

Chappell:     It was the golden era, there’s no doubt about it.

Funk:    It was the golden place.

Chappell:    Yeah, in more ways than one!

Funk:    Yes, it was. It was a golden place for the guys.

Chappell:    And even though you weren’t a Mid-Atlantic regular, the Crockett territory factored into your ascension to the World Title. You beat Paul Jones in the Greensboro tournament, two weeks later dropped the U.S. belt to Paul, and then two weeks after that won the NWA World Title from Jack Brisco!

Funk:    It was all in two weeks time, that’s right. I went ahead and I wrestled Paul Jones down there in Greensboro and he beat me. And then two weeks later, I substituted for my brother and I went to Miami and defeated Brisco. It was all in one short period of time.

Chappell:    It sure was. It was bang, bang, bang and you were all of a sudden the World Champion! When you came back to the Crockett territory in 1976 as the World Champion, I remember some really hot matches you had with Paul and Wahoo. Do you remember any of those championship matches?

Funk:    Oh, absolutely!

Chappell:    What stood out to you?

Funk:    The crowds were ecstatic…every time I went into the Carolinas. It wasn’t me.

Chappell:    Well, I think you had a lot to do with it Terry!

Funk:    From the first match to the last match it was intense.  And I tell you what, if you were on that last match, you had better be ready to get your ass in the ring and do something special because they had seen it all!

Chappell:    The whole cards were stacked.

Funk:    They were stacked. And every match was trying to steal that show!

Chappell:    That’s right, I mean and it was just sort of lightning in a bottle back then. We’ve talked about Paul Jones a little bit, but what about Wahoo? Do you have any memories of him in the Carolinas as far as being an opponent for your title?

Funk:    Wahoo was something else! What he did in Odessa, Texas was unbelievable. Again, you got a crazy Indian that was crazier than any other Indian that there ever was. I’m talking about from Geronimo on, you know? He really was. He was just crazy. I’ll tell you that. I mean, he did the craziest things in the world, you know? Wahoo was Wahoo and he was a tremendous athlete, really a tremendous athlete. What he did in football was phenomenal. He was a wonderful football player for the Jets and a superstar for them and wrestling at the same time. And I don’t think that’s ever happened since then.

Chappell:    There’ll never be another Wahoo will there? Nothing even close. They broke the mold when they made him!

Funk:    I just loved that guy so much. There was no other mold like him. There’ll never be another Wahoo. Wahoo was nuts. Yeah, Wahoo could definitely drive 120 miles per hour. All the way from one town to the next. Wahoo always went 120 miles an hour…in his car, in his life, in everything.

Chappell:    (laughs) And did it every night and lived to tell about it!

Funk:    (laughs) Lived to tell about it ...that’s exactly right.

Chappell:    I don’t know how you all went 120 miles per hour 24/7!

Funk:    And lived to tell about it. Wow.

Chappell:    Hearing about all the stuff that y’all did in the ring and out of the ring, it’s just amazes me, but you came out of it, you know?

Funk:    (pauses) Just talking about those people, you know, from the past. Sitting here with tears in my eyes.

Chappell:    It just amazes me Terry…we’ve been doing the Gateway website for 17 years now. The incredible legacy that y’all have left with people. You know, it’s still so real to everybody all these years later. I’m not sure you realize how special you were to a whole generation of folks. But it’s real. We’ve seen it for 17 years doing this website, you know?

Funk:    Well, the two most remembered things in the Carolinas are probably the Civil War and the Crockett Wrestling.

Chappell:    (laughs) I don’t think you’re off base at all there!

Funk:    (laughs) I don’t either!

Chappell:    Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling fans wish we would have seen more of you over the years, but it was really special when you made the trips in.

Funk:    Well, you know, I was up here in the Amarillo area…I just love my home up here. And it was always great to come into the Carolinas, it wasn’t a gift, but it was a wonderful place to go because I knew I wasn’t going to get a $25 payoff

Chappell:    (laughs) And you probably wouldn’t have minded staying around a little longer!

Funk:    Well, that’s exactly right!

Chappell:    Some of those other territories didn’t pay quite so well!

Funk:    (laughs) I’m not going to knock any of them.

Chappell:    (laughs) No, no, we’re not going down that road, but I know what you’re saying.

Funk:    Okay, I know that. I loved them all. I loved every minute of being champion. I loved every minute.  But it was special when you came to the Carolinas, no bullshit. No bullshit to you there.

Chappell:    And we felt the same way when you came in…it was a big, big deal. When Terry Funk came in and particularly when you came in as a World Champion, it was you know a can’t miss event to come to.

Funk:    And David you know my brother ... he was a phenomenal champion.

Chappell:    Oh yes, absolutely no question about that!

Funk:    For so many years.

Chappell:    And we were really fortunate to see him in the Mid-Atlantic area, you know more down into the early 80s when he came in and really stayed a while. That was terrific!

Funk:    Yeah, yeah!

Chappell:    Now, Terry, you’re going to be in Raleigh at Dorton Arena and at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium this weekend. Do those historic Mid-Atlantic Wrestling venues, which are still obviously up and running, come back to you memory-wise? Or is it sort of just a general Carolinas type recollection?

Funk:    Carolinas… Carolinas!

Chappell:    Yeah, I understand!

Funk:    The whole week was special.

Chappell:    Yeah, the whole Mid-Atlantic loop that you used to make.

Funk:    You know, I really mean that. I mean it was just ... it was a hotbed. Raleigh and Spartanburg were hot towns, but really it was the Carolinas. It didn’t matter what night you were there. It was the Carolinas. You know, it was just the place to be.

Chappell:    Do you have a…

Funk:    (laughs) And the beer was reasonable too!

Chappell:    (laughs) Always an important consideration! Do you have a particular story or recollection specific to the Carolinas that maybe folks wouldn’t have heard about before that you can share with us?

Funk:    (laughs) Just that Wahoo McDaniels was the nuttiest guy in the world!

Chappell:    (laughs)

Funk:    Wahoo, he was a man of action there. On the road, he drove 120 miles an hour, always kept a gun underneath his front seat, always shooting it out the window!

Chappell:    (laughing) Wahoo with a gun…now that’s scary!

Funk:    (laughs) I would hate to be a deer on the road if Wahoo was coming down there!

Chappell:    He was 120 miles an hour at everything he did, wasn’t he?

Funk:    He was…he was a wild! I tell you what; he was a character and a wonderful one.

Chappell:    Yeah, we were lucky to have him. Wahoo put down roots and kind of hung around the Carolinas for quite some time. That made it really special for Mid-Atlantic fans.

Funk:    Oh, God, that was wonderful. Yeah, then you had the superstar of all times…

Chappell:    Yeah, I mean Ric sort of stayed around the Mid-Atlantic area as well…

Funk:    (laughs) How’d you know that? How’d you know who I was talking about?

Chappell:    (laughs) I had a sneaky suspicion!

Funk:    There’ve been 5,000 wrestlers that you’ve heard their names through the years and whenever I said superstar…it was Ric Flair. How did you know which one I was talking about?

Chappell:    Yeah, his name sort of comes to the top of that list!

Funk:    He was a great star in the world of wrestling, a great character. Just a wonderful guy, you know. I can remember him, before he ever started in wrestling. I was here in Amarillo on my ranch, and Dick Murdock and Dusty Roads drove up here. And they just came out of the Minnesota territory. And they had this young kid, this young punk in the back seat with them. And, David, this is the God’s honest truth, they said, ‘Hey Terry, here’s this guy. He’s not in the business yet, but we want to go ahead and introduce him to you.’  And he got out of the car and he yelled ‘WOOOO’ about five times!

Chappell:    (laughing) And you probably thought what the hell?!?

Funk:    (laughs) That was it! What the hell? It was Flair. And that was before he got into the world of wrestling. He was riding around in a car, going to the towns with Dick Murdock and Dusty Roads and there could be nothing more dangerous than that.

Chappell:    (Laughing) He got an education real quick didn’t he?

Funk:    (laughs) Whew, whew! Did he ever get an education quick!

Chappell:    It’s amazing he even came out of that to where he even got into the ring!

Funk:    It’s amazing he lived through it!

Chappell:    Wrestling was a piece of cake once he got through that sort of training camp with those two. I understand they had Ric driving them around and Dusty and Murdock would just ditch Ric and leave him in the sticks and Flair would have to find his way back to civilization!

Funk:    (laughs) They would do that!

Chappell:    That’s unbelievable.

Funk:    (laughs)

Chappell:    Yeah, I mean we were lucky that Wahoo is the one that sort of put Ric over to George Scott, you know back in ‘74. And he just stayed in the Carolinas, which for us was terrific.

Funk:    God, y’all were lucky with that. He changed the entire identity of what the Carolinas were and the wrestling world.

Chappell:     No question Terry.

Funk:    He was a great one.  And there were so many great ones that came out of the Carolinas. You know, and so many guys that I didn’t even have the chance to wrestle that often.

And you know, so many that are gone now. You know, that I just want to give them my best up in heaven there and tell them that, ‘Damn, I’m glad you came around, and glad you got into the ring with me. And glad you made me look so good in the ring with you.’

Chappell:    And the fact that they came along and entertained us and made such a mark on our lives for all of us these many years later, I think says everything.

Funk:    Yeah, I agree.

Chappell:    Now, speaking of longevity…the “Funker” is going to actually be getting into the ring this weekend in Raleigh and Spartanburg!  Can you tell us a little bit about what the fans can expect from the one and only Terry Funk?

Funk:    I mean, David, I don’t know what they can expect…I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t know what to expect myself! You know? But you’re only as old as you feel, you know?

Chappell:    (laughs)

Funk:    (laughs) Yeah, I feel 105!

Chappell:    (laughs) Well, it could be worse, you know? Some days I feel about 150!

Funk:    Yeah, it could be worse. Yeah, I want to know they have steps to that ring? They better have steps to that ring. You tell them to get some steps out there!

Chappell:    (laughs) Tony Hunter, are you listening? Well, you have those young whippersnappers the Rock and Roll Express to help you out against Jerry Lawler and his Memphis Mafia in a six man tag team main event in both of the Carolinas venues this weekend! What battles they should be! Anything to tell the folks that are going to be coming out or thinking about coming out to see these events this weekend?

Funk:    Well, I just hope they get the best from everybody. I hope they get a bang for their buck.

Chappell:    I have no doubt that will be the case!

Funk:    I think that’s the most important thing is that each one of them gets a bang for their buck. And that’s what they deserve.

Chappell:    Well, you’ve been providing those bangs for so many years. I think I speak for everybody in the Carolinas, Virginia, the old Crockett territory, that having you coming back to these same old venues and doing it again is a dream come true.

Not only can you see Terry Funk in the ring this weekend, but the fans will have autograph and photo opportunities with a true wrestling legend. What a happening for the fans!

Funk:    You know, I’m going to tell you something David. It’s just going to be a happening. It definitely is. It’s not going to be a happening for the fans so much. It’s going to be a happening for me. I really mean that. I love seeing them and being around them and talking the old times, just like I talked with you.

And stepping in that ring and possibly making a fool of myself. I don’t know why. I hope not.

Chappell:    You will entertain us like you always have in the ring…the passing of years won’t change that!

Funk:    I hope not!

Chappell:    Speaking of your entertaining the fans of the Mid-Atlantic area, I remember when you came back to Jim Crockett Promotions as the World Champion in the Spring of 1976 and you and Wahoo had a TV match in the WRAL studios in Raleigh. David Crockett kept yelling that it was ‘Christmas early!’ And it really was!

You two just went at it on the floor, you know hammer and tongs, and you both ended up getting counted out by referee Tommy Young. And I still remember…

Funk:    Physically beat the hell out of each other!

Chappell:    Yes! You remember that?!

Funk:    I remember that.

Chappell:    Unbelievable!

Funk:    It was just the Carolinas again, David. That’s why it was the way it was every time that I stepped in the ring because of the quality of the performers. Wahoo and all of them, and all of them through the years. And I wish that I had a few more times in the ring with Steamboat. I didn’t have that many times with Steamboat as I would have liked. What a great performer he was.

Chappell:    Absolutely.

Funk:    It was just ... I just loved the guys. All of them were characters. They were bigger than life characters.

Chappell:    And you made a lifetime memory there for me Terry. That was in ‘76. We’re talking about 41 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Funk:    (laughs) How can that be ... You don’t sound that old!

Chappell:    (laughs) It must be the connection! But you know, stuff like that was so believable to a point that you still remember it 41 years later. That just says something about the quality of what y’all did.

Funk:    You know, we loved what we did back then.

Chappell:    Well, you had to have…to have that impact so many years later, you know?

Funk:    But we had a love. But whenever you’re back there in the Carolinas like that, you have a love for your audience. You have a love for your fans. And that love is whether you are coming in there to stay or not. You consider a wrestling fan a wrestling fan is what I’m saying.

Chappell:    Yeah, I see that.

Funk:    And whenever you come there and you just see them all out there and see them all ecstatic, you want to perform for them. And you want to give them the very best you can. Again, I keep on saying the Carolinas, the Carolinas, the Carolinas. But it was. It was the place to be then.

Chappell:    Well, we Mid-Atlantic fans are certainly partial to the Crockett product back then, but to hear you say it really puts a bow on it because it really was a pretty special time. I think we all feel collectively lucky to have been around when the lightning kind of got caught in the bottle and just took off.

Funk:    Well, you all really did catch the lightning in a bottle.

Chappell:    Yeah, and lucky to be there when it happened!

Funk:    Because I don’t think there’s that lightning now. And I’m not trying to hurt anybody or talk bad about anything, but I think the lightning was different back then. Of course, I’m an old fart you know. Talking about my era, you gotta remember that!

Chappell:    I’m the same way. I just think there are some things that you’ll just never recapture that way again. And that’s no disrespect at all to today’s product.

Funk:    I think that’s part of it.

Chappell:    Well, Terry, it’s been a real honor to speak with you and hear your thoughts about Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and your return to the area this weekend.

Funk:   Oh, gosh, I’ve loved every second of it!

Chappell:   Thank you sir.

Funk:    You know, I’m going to tell you something David. The important thing about it is you’re bringing back memories before the WWE era…they are trying to purposefully eliminate all other things other than them.

Chappell:   They do have the WWE Network now, but certainly a lot of that’s gone on.

Funk:  They don’t even like using the names of the wrestlers from the past. They want everything different. They want to erase the past. And that was not a past that should be erased. Because it was what it was…I’m going to tell you something, it was the good times. And the good times for the fans. For us, for the wrestlers and for the fans, it was the good times.
Chappell:  And speaking of good times, it’s been a great time talking with you. See you back in the Carolinas this weekend!

Funk:   I’ve enjoyed it immensely…see you down there!

Raleigh, NC - Dorton Arena - Friday, September 22 - Tickets
Spartanburg, SC - Memorial Auditorium - Saturday, September 23 - Tickets

Terry Funk   Kevin Nash   Jerry Lawler   Sgt. Slaughter   Tommy Rich 
Jimmy Valiant     George South   Rock & Roll Express    Magnum T.A. 
Many others!