Sunday, June 07, 2020

Connecting the Dots: Funk, Brisco, Race, and Rhodes

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

During the first years of my hardcore fandom of pro wrestling, 1975-1976, there were four main singles stars in the Mid-Atlantic area. Those wrestlers were Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Ric Flair, and Blackjack Mulligan. This was my "A-list."

But there was another "A-list" I was fascinated by, too, and that was a group of four wrestlers that were atop the NWA's world championship picture during those years. That group included Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, and Dusty Rhodes.

During the mid-to-late 1970s, these were the guys that dominated the NWA coverage in the newsstand magazines. And even though Rhodes didn't win the NWA title until 1979 (and really only seriously in 1981), he was always in the title picture, and the darling of the magazines. He was also a special attraction in our area, especially in the 1970s, as much or more than the NWA champions.

I was always fascinated by how these four always were interconnected from a storyline and title-lineage perspective. I remember this first really dawned on me when our TV programs showed the tape of Harley Race beating Terry Funk for the NWA title in Toronto in 1977, and Whipper Billy Watson (a former NWA champion and Toronto legend doing commentary for the match) made the observation that not only was Race now a 2-time champion, but he had defeated both of the Funk brothers in doing so.

From that point forward, the Funk/Brisco/Race triangle (with Rhodes thrown in there causing trouble) was one of my favorite subjects to dwell on.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently came across this wonderful little article from the Tampa Tribune published two days after Race defeated Funk in that very match in Toronto, and promoting the matches later that night at the Hesterly Armory in Tampa. The article is un-credited, but whoever wrote it knew their stuff, and it was a delight reading how he sorted through all of the these connections I used to think about as a young teenage wrestling fan, and related them beautifully to the current events in Florida.

From the article in the Tampa Tribune, February 8, 1977, via

Race Regains NWA Title, Defends Against Brisco

Harley Race won the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship against Terry Funk in Toronto Sunday night and will defend the title against Jack Brisco tonight at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

As far as Brisco is concerned, their championship fight is three nights too late. Brisco beat Race Saturday night at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.

The turn of events involving Funk, Race, Brisco and Dusty Rhodes make soap operas seem awfully dull.

Rhodes beat Funk in the featured title match Saturday night at the Bayfront, but Funk was disqualified for kayoing the referee and the title didn't change hands.

Funk, however, injured a knee in that match and against better judgment went ahead with his scheduled match with Race in Toronto Sunday night.

Race beat Funk in a quick 14 minutes, 10 seconds with an Indian death lock, which places pressure on the knee and ankle.

NWA rules require a new champion to fulfill the former champion's match commitments. Interestingly, this brings Race right back against Brisco on tonight's Gasparilla Championships starting at 8:30 at Hesterly.

Terry Funk defeated Brisco for the championship in Miami in December of 1975.

Race previously held the title by defeating Dory Funk Jr. - - Terry's brother - - in March of 1973 and Race lost it to Brisco the following July.

An interesting triangle.

And who does Rhodes, the popular "American Dream wrestle tonight at Hesterly? Dory Funk Jr.

So, tonight's intriguing lineup pits Race vs. Brisco and Rhodes vs. Funk -- one champion and two ex-champs in the top two bouts.

It was in the same Gasparilla week of 1969 that Dory Funk Jr., lifted the heavyweight championship from Gene Kiniski at Hesterly.

Race has been wrestling professionally for 17 years. He turned pro with the NWA at 16, the youngest wrestler ever to do so.

Race makes his home in Kansas City.

I learned another little NWA title history storyline nugget in this article, too. I never knew the bit about Terry Funk injuring his knee in St. Petersburg the night before the title change in Toronto. Maybe I'd read that before and just forgotten it, but it was a nice little twist to NWA title lore.