The Ring Is Dory Funk Jr's Office
By: Richard Burton
Featured staff writer
May 18, 2001
Dory Funk Jr. has always been happy while at work. Wrestling has been a way of life for the Ocala resident throughout his life and the squared circle became his office where he practiced his trade in front of millions and millions of fans. "It has been a fairy tale,'' he said. "The part I never have gotten tired of was in the ring. That is more of a high than anyone could ask for. Sometimes it was difficult getting to all of those places, but once your in the ring it makes it all worth it.''
Funk began doing amateur wrestling at age seven at the Texas Boys Ranch, which was headed up by his father, Dory Sr. There were over 100 kids out for this program, which Dory Sr. started to give back to the community of Amarillo, TX. Dory Jr., meanwhile, learned how to wrestle and also became a standout football player, which helped him earn a scholarship to West Texas State University. Funk started at offensive tackle/defensive tackle for the Buffaloes, who would have future wrestlers Tully Blanchard, Ted Dibiase, Barry Windham, Tito Santana (Merced Solis), Terry Funk, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody and Bobby Duncum Sr. all come through the program. During Funk's senior season, WTSU made it to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX., and defeated Ohio University. The Buffaloes also earned wins that year against Arizona State, Texas Tech and Bowling Green. And while Chuck Bednarik of Philadelphia Eagles fame may have been the last 60-minute man in pro football, Funk was one of the last in the collegiate ranks. "I liked playing both ways because it was more of a game of conditioning,'' he said. "I felt that you should learn both sides of the ball anyway and I really enjoyed doing that.''
From there, Funk earned a degree in English from WTSU and turned pro right after his eligibility was up. One of Dory Sr's requirements for his son getting into pro wrestling was that he earned his college degree. Soon, Dory Jr., working the Amarillo territory against some of the biggest names in the business. Within three months, he faced Sonny Myers, Verne Gagne and Gene Kiniski and three months later he had added Pat O'Conner and Fritz Von Erich to the list. "Those guys were great,'' Funk said. "You really learned a lot by facing guys of that caliber.''
But perhaps a true lesson in how to win the fans over was taught to Dory by his father one night in Littlefield, TX. It was the night after John F. Kennedy was murdered and the crowd for a 2-out-of-3 falls tag team match between Dory and his father against Harley Race and Don Duffy was dead. "Nothing could excite the fans,'' he said. "They just sat there and then my father saw a copy of New York Magazine and picked it up. "He found a picture of Race with his eyes wide open and this big flamboyant robe and under it said The Great Mortimer, which was the name Race used when he was breaking in on the East Coast.'' Dory Sr. then said: "Your not looking at Harley Race, you're looking at the Great Mortimer.'' The crowd then started chanting 'Mortimer' and Race ran around the ring telling the crowd to 'shut up.' "They really got into it,'' Funk said. "And we went out and tore the house down for the third fall.'' The things his father showed him were principles, which he uses today and that have been followed by many in the wrestling business "My father was so creative,'' Funk said. "He never wrestled the same match.
His influence is still felt today. He always said 'if we are taking from the community, we have to give something back.' "Everything with him was built around the basis of wrestling.'' Dory Sr. gave 10 percent of the profits from each show he had to the Texas Boys Ranch. One of the young wrestlers in the territory at the time, who followed this was Eddie Graham. Graham followed the same principles and in fact donated proceeds to the Florida Sheriff's Youth Boys Ranch and built CWF on "a wrestling background.''
The trickle down theory continued as a young Bill Watts followed Graham around and wrote down everything he did. Watts then moved on to the Mid-South territory and met a young Jim Ross, who still talks of 'credibility,' and the 'athleticism of the wrestlers' on WWF broadcasts. "JR doesn't know where that came from,'' Funk said. "It came from my father's Amarillo territory. He gave the fans a base of wrestling and credibility.''
In 1964, Funk left for Vancouver where he learned more about the business. He was in a battle royal and jumped off the top rope and landed awkwardly and wound up tearing his knee. Fearing a serious injury, he saw a doctor and got checked out and was told he would need surgery. Funk then called Kiniski and told him that he would have to cancel the rest of his dates in Vancouver. Kiniski snarled: "Screw those doctors. Go out and get yourself some tough skin, shave your leg, get some tape and get some long tights.'' That night, Funk was told by Kiniski to show up at the arena an hour before everyone else. He did and when he got there he saw Kiniski, who taped him up. "I was real grateful to have (Kiniski) around,'' Funk said.
This practice kept up for almost a year before Funk was healed. Five years would then pass before the biggest meeting of Funk's life with Kiniski would take place. The two men would cross paths with the NWA world title on the line on Feb. 11, 1969. "It was a match we knew was going to take place,'' Funk said. "My father and brother (Terry) worked extremely hard with me in preparation for it.'' Kiniski was a very tough opponent recalled Funk. "He was so big and so strong that he almost hurt you when you locked up with him,'' he said. "He was 6-4, lean and mean and had came from the University of Arizona, where had starred in both football and wrestling.''
The match took place at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa FL; a building which was packed to the rafters and was sweltering inside. Dory Sr. was in his son's corner for the bout and at the 20-minute mark, Dory Jr. used the spinning toehold to defeat Kiniski to become the best in the world. "My father came in the ring and told me 'whatever happens the rest of the way in the wrestling business, you have accomplished a lot already,'' Funk said. This win started a four-plus year journey for Funk as the best in the world. "It was a fabulous time,'' he said. "I got to go so many different places and wrestle so many different people.''
The list was great as Funk faced each territory's champion. Race (Kansas City), Lonnie Mayne (Portland), Johnny Weaver (Mid-Atlantic), Fritz Von Erich (Dallas), The Sheik (Detroit), Hans Schmidt (Toronto), Kiniski (Vancouver), Waldo Von Erich (St. Louis), Jose Lothario (San Jose), Mil Mascaras (Los Angeles), Antonio Inoki (Japan), Giant Baba (Japan), Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel all were challengers he faced during the first year of his title run. "Every place I went they had a top guy capable of wrestling for the world championship,'' Funk said.
He was in the ring 320 times that year. As champion, Funk figured he would be working three weeks and get one week off, but this never happened. When he got home to Amarillo, Funk would work in Lubbock, Odessa and Abilene for his father, so his life was always very busy. "The wrestling part was always fun,'' he said. "It was somewhat difficult getting to all of those places, but from the time you leave the dressing room to the time you come back, you have no problems. "They always say the bigger the crowd the softer the mat. When you are out there in front of a huge crowd, you can't feel anything, but the flip side of that is if you are out there in front of 100 people, you give them the same type of show. Being champion became a way of life.''
As 1970 started, Graham began pushing former NCAA champion Jack Brisco. Funk faced him in Tampa and the fans went crazy. "They really liked the style of Funk-Brisco,'' Funk said. "They really got into it. Before we faced each other the first time, Championship Wrestling from Florida had a video on Jack in preparation for the match. "It caught on and everywhere we went, Jack and I had an automatic sellout.'' They also battled at Convention Hall in Miami, the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. The match at the Gator Bowl was a 90-minute draw. "I consider each match to be a workout,'' Funk said. "I would go out and first break a sweat. Then, I would perform for the people. Eventually, Funk-Brisco became a national phenomena. During his third year as champion, he faced Brisco in venues across the country. The two even faced off in Japan. "I would say that I wrestled him about 300 times during the time I was champion,'' Funk said.
Another wrestler Funk faced many times over the years was Race, the man who defeated him for the belt in 1973, but faced him around 90 times during his run as champion. "He spent a lot of time in the Amarillo territory during the beginning of his career,'' Funk said. "Harley's got a tough guy attitude and was fun to wrestle and fun to do interviews with.'' While holding the title, Funk fell in love with Japan. He faced Inoki in Osaka in 1969 and the two went to an hour draw. The following year, the two also went to a draw in a 2-out-of-3 falls match. The third meeting between the two was set for Osaka in 1971. Bell time was at 6:30 p.m., but Inoki had not shown up at 6. "It sort of left them up shit creek,'' Funk said of the situation surrounding Japan Pro Wrestling that night. "At the time there were two TV stations in Japan, one favored Inoki and one favored Baba. Inoki ran into trouble and left the company (Japan Pro Wrestling.'' Funk had to have an opponent, so he faced a 6-foot-4, 280-pound judo champion named Sakaguchi, who would eventually become the president of Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling. On that night, the two had a 45-minute war, which Funk won with a spinning toehold.
The face of wrestling in Japan, however, had changed as Inoki started New Japan and Dory Sr. helped Baba start All-Japan Pro Wrestling. This crushed Japan Pro Wrestling. "I remember they paid me off on time and they started with hundred dollar bills and then went down to fives and ones and then the promoter reached in his pocket for change to finish it off,'' Funk said. Meanwhile, Baba became quite a role model for what Funk does today with his Funking Conservatory fight camp in Ocala, FL. "His knowledge of wrestling was so great and I try and teach some of the techniques he used when i teach young people today,'' Funk said. "He was such a big man (6-8, 300) and when they speak of him in Japan they call him "Giant" Baba.''
As Funk and his brother Terry worked more in Japan, they saw the crowds change and the way foreign wrestlers were viewed. "They used to stack the Americans on one side and the Japanese on the other and have World War II all over again,'' he said. "The fans began to respect the style of myself and Terry and sort of broke the mold of the US always being the bad guy. "It was something new that the Japanese could back a foreigner and they thing about Japanese fans is that once they are your fan, they are your fan forever.'' It was the contrasting styles of the Funk brothers, which turned the Japanese fans on to them. "I enjoyed working with (Terry) in Japan,'' Funk said. "He was the crazy guy and I was the wrestling side of it and that contrast made us much more interesting to people had we done the same thing.''
The Funks won the Real World League tag team championship on three occasions. Promoters in America saw the allure of them as a tag team as well and booked them against the Brisco brothers. "I enjoyed every part of wrestling, but if I had to pick, I would have to say I enjoy singles wrestling more because you control your own destiny,'' Funk said. "I came from a team sport and in football as a lineman, you have 22 guys and you are fighting to get some kind of recognition. "It feels good to be in an individual sport and be responsible for what happens and whether the fans get their money's worth or not.'' The fans in Fukuoka surely got their money's worth and more when Dory and Terry met in the finals of a tournament in 1980. "It was like wrestling myself,'' Dory said. 'It was just like looking in the mirror. Terry is a very good wrestler and very capable.'' Dory came out on top, though, when he pinned his brother with a rolling cradle at the 50-minute mark of the match.
In 1980, Funk's also life changed in several ways. He moved to Florida and became the booker for Eddie Graham's Championship Wrestling from Florida. That same year, he met his future wife, Marti McKinley, who handled the merchandise for CWF. Funk was single at the time, but still had time for his kids, Dory III, Penny and Adam. Dory III, 40, is currently a doctor in Colorado, Penny, 39, has three kids and a husband in the concrete business and Adam, 35, the technology facilitator for Amarillo Independent Schools. Funk's kids, though, weren't really inclined into following their father into the wrestling business. "(Dory III) was an athlete in high school and junior high, but wasn't very tall and was real slender,'' he said. "He weighed 145 pounds and played football in high school, but he was pretty gifted in his school work, so we encouraged him to follow that.'' His daughter Penny was what Dory said was "the toughest of the three, but we didn't want her to become a woman wrestler.'' And finally his youngest son Adam, went into the Catholic Monastery before eventually leaving and going to work for the Amarillo school system. "(Adam) did a helluva job,'' Funk said. "His love of computers and his background helped him get that administrative position he has.''
Funk, meanwhile, had a lot on his mind as booker of CWF. Then one day, he and Marti had a talk. "She and I talked and she told me about what was popular with the fans and what was selling,'' he said. "She was very helpful to me as booker of the territory and we got to know each other and enjoy each other.'' At first, Marti wasn't all that interested in the wrestling business, but as she became more inclined to learn about it, became a huge asset to Dory. "We have done everything together as a team since 1983,'' he said. "And it has worked out well. "She's a photographer, videographer and she is the producer of our TV show (!Bang!). She does as much to free me up to work with the students (at the Funking Conservatory) as she can. So many guys have wrestling schools and don't get to spend much time with the students as they would like, but I don't want to delegate that to anyone else.''
Soon after the two married in 1984, Dory was off to the WWF along with his brother Terry to be part of a feud with Hulk Hogan, Santana and the late Junkyard Dog. "I had a great time (in the WWF),'' he said. "At the time, Hogan was drawing huge houses across the country and he had that charisma and was fortunate to have a lot of good talent there to support him.'' A match at WrestleMania II between the Funks against JYD and Santana ended in a victory for the brothers from Amarillo. A subsequent bout against Hogan and JYD drew huge ratings on Saturday Night's Main Event.
Wrestling had changed, though, and Funk remembers when. "We were all sitting in the locker room and someone comes in and says 'fellas, we have now taken in more money in merchandise than we take in it at the gate,'' Funk recalled. "It really caught fire.'' Funk spent nine months in the WWF and left to return to All-Japan Wrestling. Terry, in fact, left before Dory, which brought about the fictious Funk brother, Jimmy Jack, who was played by Jesse Barr.
Funk's next dealing with the WWF came as coach of the Funking Dojo in 1997. It all started when he had a phone conversation with Bret "Hitman" Hart. "Bret said 'I am going to leave Vince McMahon and they are going to ask me to come back,'' Funk recalled. "I thought 'how could a company as big as the WWF depend on just one person?" Soon after this, Funk got a call from Ross, who asked to put together a program for developing young talent. Wrestlers such as Edge, Christian, The Hardy Boyz, Test, Kurt Angle, Albert and many others all came through the WWF's Funking Dojo. Teaching wrestlers was something Dory had never really thought about doing. When asked where the inspiration came from he said: "Marti.'' Marti adds: "I had been trying to get him to do it for years because he is such a good teacher and it really takes a special person to be a teacher. He has always done so well with training amateur athletes.''
Today, Dory and Marti run the Funking Conservatory fight camp, which is now producing a weekly TV show called !Bang! The camp operates in the Dory Funk Arena. "This is the best setup that I know of for TV,'' Marti said. "There are just so many unique things here.'' As far as the future of !Bang!, Marti said: "We want to go national and we want to replace WCW. I think there is an opportunity to do this. They say when you cuss it is because you don't know English, well they are falling into that trap at the WWF.''
Currently, Funk's camp meets monthly for a week. This month's camp features 22 wrestlers and the May 26 show is called "Baptisim by Fire.'' As Funk begins his 38th year in the wrestling business, he can look back on many great things, but also will have the opportunity to see many more great ones in the future. "It has been a great ride through the business,'' Funk said. "I have enjoyed every single minute I have been in the ring. I am as comfortable in the ring as I am in my living room.''
So when Dory Funk Jr. begins his next camp on May 21, as soon as he
steps foot between the ropes, he will be home.