Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Images Reclaimed: Terry Funk and the United States Championship

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The United States Heavyweight championship was defended in Jim Crockett Promotions from the birth of the title in 1975 until the company folded in 1988. While the title lived on in WCW and WWE, its 13-year history in Crockett's NWA promotion was arguably its most storied period, during a time when wrestling titles actually meant something. During those 13 years, there were 5 different versions of the belt, the first being cast plates on red crocodile leather used from 1975-1980.

While there are many photographs of most of the U.S. champions, there were a three that held the red belt for which no photograph exists at all, or at least none that we have ever been able to find. One of those men was Terry Funk.

Terry Funk in 2010 in Charlotte
Terry Funk held the U.S. title for less than three weeks in 1975. He won the title in the huge Greensboro tournament that took place following the airplane crash that ended the career of then-reigning champ Johnny Valentine. He defeated Paul Jones in the finals of that tournament and then faced Jones in a rematch weeks later on Thanksgiving night, dropping the title to him.

On the night Funk won it, the company did not have the original belt, thought to still be in the possession of Valentine recovering from the accident. They used a stand-in belt that night. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around three weeks later, JCP had the original belt back and Funk wore it to the ring only to quickly remove it and hand it to the referee before his title defense against Jones.

The 2010 NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest in Charlotte presented a unique opportunity to finally capture an image of Funk with a likeness of that belt, a beautiful replica crafted by Dave Millican.

When I handed the belt to Terry, he looked at it for a moment.

“Do you remember that?” I asked.

He looked at it a moment longer and said, “This was Paul Jones’, right? Did I beat him or did he beat me?”

“Both.” I replied, thrilled that he remembered something that long ago. I reminded him of the scenario that took place 35 years earlier in Greensboro. He held the belt out in front of him and smiled for the photo.

“There was never a photo of you with that belt,” I said.

“Oh, yeah?” Funk said, and with that he pulled the snaps apart and put the belt over his shoulder. “Well then, get this close.”

And with that he posed for another photo with the belt much as he might have done in 1975. A very cool moment indeed.

Taken from a larger article published in 2010 on the old Mid-Atlantic Gateway website, archived on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Archives.