Dory Funk Jr. and Giant Baba
A Giant of a Man
I first met my future boss in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1963. He was a giant of a man, standing 6'10' tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds. He looked awesome. I reached out to shake a hand that reached around mine. I said, "it's nice to meet you." He looked into my eyes and offered a nod. I was shocked. I thought that all Japanese people were small. His company in Japan was only a dream, one that would have great success. The event in Albuquerque was professional wrestling. Giant Baba would go on to be NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pro Wrestler and President of All Japan Pro Wrestling Co.
A meeting was arranged in Las Vegas in the fall of 1969. At the meeting was Japan Pro Wrestling Representative, Charley Moto, my father, Sam Muchnick and me. Mr. Moto told us what the financial arrangements would be for me to wrestle in Japan. I took him at his word. In those days as was the case throughout my career in Japan, there were no contracts.
My father traveled with me on that first trip to Japan. In Hiroshima, we visited the Peace Memorial. I will never forget the dome, the statue of the woman protecting her child, and reconstructed scene of Hiroshima after the bomb. As we left, words could not describe my emotion. I felt totally inadequate as I wrote in the register, "Please God, Never again," and signed my name.
My first match for the World Championship in japan was in the winter of 1969 against Antonio Inoki. We were both in excellent condition and evenly matched. At ringside, I remember seeing Yoshimura, Young Riki Momota and Haru Eigen. In my corner were my father and Harley Race. As the bell rang, Harley Race growled, "Don't let that &%#@!* get the best of you." I remember thinking, "I hope these people don't speak English." I looked at Inoki. He was a dangerous wrestler. I looked at my father and Harley Race. They were more dangerous, and mean. I thought, "It is easier to fight Inoki than to face Harley Race and my father if I don't do a hell of a job against Inoki."
Inoki and I matched each other hold for hold,. It was the kind of match I enjoy, fast paced competitive, and for the highest stakes in the business, the world championship. I made an attempt to take him off his feet and he blocked, pushing me toward the corner of the ring. I released and turned using his momentum to crash him backward into the corner. I threw a forearm blow to the body, and one at his chest. In a flash o anger, he swung a punch at me and in seconds, this great wrestling match turned into a brawl. We fought through the ropes and on to the floor, both of us swinging wildly at each other. In an effort to red myself of Inoki's punches, I reached for his head, and wound up with a handful of hair,. I grabbed tight and threw him off. He landed against the announcer's table and sagged to his knees. With a breath of air, I returned ot the ring. As I looked back, my father was standing over Inoki. He reached out to help him back into the ring. When my father touched Inoki, the fans were on their feet protesting. They thought he would hurt Inoki. From the second balcony I could see a projectile hurdling toward my dad. It must have been thrown by a pitching ace for on of the Japanese baseball teams. Landing with a thud against my father's chest was an orange, it split open and there was fresh orange juice running down my father's new gray silk suit. In anger, dad shook his fist at the balcony.
The final 10 minutes of the match were bedlam. My dad was on the ring apron several times, the fans were on their feet, and periodically oranges would fly into the ring. Now, the bell was ringing. The one hour time limit had elapsed. This match was a drew and I knew I would retain the World Heavyweight Championship Belt. I walked to Inoki, shook his hand and told him, "Great match."
My second trip to Japan was in the summer of 1990.
The featured match of the tour was again in Osaka. My opponent was Giant
Baba. I knew Mr. Baba as an exceptional athlete and professional wrestler.
His athletic career began as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese
Professional Baseball league: however, he was soon attracted to professional
wrestling as the, "New Hot Hope" of the legendary "father of professional
wrestling in Japan," Riki Dozan. After the death of Riki Dozan in 1963,
Giant Baba had taken his place as the Number one wrestling star in Japan.
Dory Funk Sr., Referee Oki Shikina, and Giant Baba. At ringside on the right, Haru Eigan
Every seat had been sold in advance. The building was packed. NTV was there to record every move for a live television audience that would number in the millions. In Osaka, on July 30th, 1970, there was no air-conditioning, the temperature in the building was 105 degrees ferienhight and in the ring under the TV lights it was extremely hot. it was so hit in the ring you could fry an egg on the mat.
One of the other wrestlers on the card that night, Brute Bernard returned ot the dressing room after his match, dripping in perspiration. He said, "My god, anyone who is in that ring wrestling for more than five minutes in going to die." Thoughts raced through my mind, "I am not going to beat Baba in five minutes, and I'm not losing in five minutes. I am not going to die in the ring in Osaka, Japan, 8,000 miles from home." I knew the risks I faced. I also knew the planning, expense and hard work that goes into a major wrestling production. I decided to accept the consequences.
I entered the ring dripping in perspiration. Flower girls were in the ring, dressed in colorful kimonos. The ring announcer was wearing a black suit and tie. An official, dressed in suit and tie was holding a proclamation he would read before that start of the match. They were all dripping in perspiration. I looked over the audience fanning themselves with what ever they could find---- fans, programs, wrestling magazines--- but nobody was leaving. Giant Baba came into the ring. I wondered, "Are we all crazy"-- the TV People, Mr. Baba, the flower girls, myself and yes, even the wrestling fans too. The show would go on.
We fought from our hearts that hot sweltering night in Osaka, Baba would not quit, I would not quit, the people would not quit, and even the referee, Oki Shikina, who was over 50 years old, wouldn't quit. I remember it as a great wrestling match, after 55 minutes we fought through the ropes down on the floor and continued the match outside the ring. The referee counted us both out of the ring and stopped the match. It was a draw. I was thrilled with the decision.
That match was the most difficult and hardest physical event I have ever lived through. It was the toughest match of my career and it was that night in Osaka that I learned what a great competitor and athlete Giant Baba was. On that night, he was the best I have faced.
After the match as I laid, exhausted on the floor of the dressing room, unable to move, the referee from the earlier matches came in and said, "C'mon Funk, we party tonight. The cabarets are waiting, let's go." I just looked up and said, Turko, There is no way. I'm lucky to be alive tonight.
On my third trip to Japan, a meeting was arranged between my father, Dory Funk Sr., Sam Muchnick, myself, and Japan Pro Wrestling agent, Charley Moto. Arrangements were made for a return match for the World Championship in Osaka against Antonio Inoki.
I was happy to wrestle Inoki again for the World Championship. I came to the arena that night in Osaka expecting one of the most challenging matches of my career. I expected it would compare with the first match with Inoki in 1969. The match never happened. Inoki did not show up that night and was replaced by former World Judo Champion, Seiji Sakaguchi. I was fortunate to gain a victory and leave Osaka still the Champion of the World. Inoki claims he is Japan's greatest wrestler but, that night in Osaka, he was Mr. Chicken.
That third trip in 1971 was the last time I would wrestle for the old company, Japan Pro Wrestling. For reasons that I was not aware of the company had fallen on hard times and would go out of business. After the last match on that trip, I went ot get my pay for wrestling on the tour. Mr. Endo, representing Japan Pro Wrestling Company sat across the desk from me. He paid me first in $100 bills. He then reached into his inside coat pocket and continued to count my pay out in $20 bills, and then $10s. Finally he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his bill fold. He counted out the rest of my guarantee in five and then one dollar bills. He stood up and shook my hand. We had an agreement and he lived up to what he said he would do even if it meant taking money out of his own pocket. His word was his bond.
Japan Pro Wrestling Co. folded. Antonio Inoki had left the company. Giant Baba was soon to meet my father, Dory Funk Sr., in regard to securing American wrestlers to come to Japan to wrestle for his new company, All Japan Pro Wrestling.
In the 27 years of All Japan Pro Wrestling there has
never been a tour that did not have Funk's talent on it.
Fred Blasse, Jerry Kozak, Dutch Savage, Dominic Denucce, Terry Funk and Bruno Sammartino
(First tour ever for All Japan Pro Wrestling, Booker - Dory Funk Sr.)
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