When the ring announcer calls out the introduction of Terry Funk, the tall, broad-shouldered wrestler with the weathered face and unruly mop of hair makes his way to the ring via either slow lumber or short-stepped run. His choice of entrances usually depends on how bad he’s hurting on that particular day.
“It’s not how old you are, it’s how old you feel,” says Funk, then adds with a chuckle. “And I feel about 80 now.”
Funk, who’s actually 54 and is featured in the new wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat, has been in the game for just over three decades, following in the footsteps of his older brother Dory, Jr. and their father Dory. Noted for his chaotic brawling style and microphone expertise more than for his technical skill, Funk has taken his share of bumps, both here in the States and in Japan.
“I truly believe that we’re blessed with certain things genetically,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of guys fall by the wayside because they break easier. But the Lord gave me a good strong structure. I’ve got these big bones and a thick skull.”
But in the same breath he goes on to list his injuries.
“I lost my right pec and a tricep to an injury in a match with Lanny Poffo; I broke my neck prior to that when I got hit in the head with a chair by Harley Race; I broke my back; I had a busted sacrum in ’85 and never missed a day; I’ve had both knees operated on.”
Looking at Funk, one of three veteran wrestlers followed in Beyond the Mat—there’s also Jake Roberts and Mick Foley—struggling to get out of bed in the film, there’s no doubt that he’s in constant pain. But watching him go about his work and interact with his often-concerned family shows that he’s also a very happy man.
“The film is as honest as you can be about me and my family,” he says. “I’m in love with life, I don’t ever want it to end. I love every day with my wife and kids and I cherish those moments. Thank God for giving me more than my share of entertainment time in the ring.
“And,” he adds, “it’s really fun.”
Funk, whose father started wrestling in Chicago and ended up running the Amarillo territory in Texas, says he knew he wanted to be a part of the scene when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“I remember sometimes bawling my eyes out watching my poppa, and sometimes cheering him on and loving every minute of it,” he says. “I’m sure other kids that age wanted to be a fireman or a cowboy. Heck with that. I wanted to be a wrestler. But my father made sure that I got a college education first. He would not let me or my brother turn pro till after we got out of college.”
His father, who died from a heart attack after wrestling an impromptu match at a party in his home in 1972, is still much admired and loved by Funk. He’s the man who taught him to wrestle and to love the game.
“My father was such a great man and a great teacher of wrestlers,” he says. “But out of all the time my brother and I wrestled he never told us that we had a good match. He would criticize the stuff that we did wrong in the ring. But whenever he didn’t say anything at all, we knew that we’d done very well.”
Funk readily admits that there’s too much wrestling on television these days but also says that he doesn’t watch any of it.
“I’ll tell you why,” he says. “If I was a plumber, would I want to watch somebody fix a crapper if they could fix it better than me or if they couldn’t fix it as good as me? Either way I don’t want to watch.”
And, though he actually announced the first of many “retirements” almost 20 years ago, Funk still doesn’t appear to be ready to hang up the boots. Besides his regular TV bouts on WCW’s “Monday Nitro” and at pay-per-views, he’s planning to go up against longtime Japanese foe Atsushi Onita in June for an exploding barbed wire match, which is exactly what it sounds like.
“I love the business and I love wrestling, but I also like to make as much money as I can in as short a period as I can,” he says in explaining why he would do such a match. “I’m at a period in my life where I don’t want to spend six weeks in Japan. So I can go to these promotions and make as much in one night as I can in a whole tour over there. Kawasaki stadium holds 45-50,000 people at $200-$300 ringside. You can get a lot more money in a shorter period of time and be away from home a lot less.”
With the popularity of wrestling currently skyrocketing and autobiographies by both Mick Foley and Dwayne Johnson riding high on best seller lists, is Funk ready to put anything down on paper?
“No book in the planning right now,” he says. “I’ve got some good stories to tell, but some of them better stay where they are.”