In the fall of 1972 my father, Dory Funk Sr. agreed to supply wrestling talent for Giant
Baba's new company All Japan Pro Wrestling. Wrestling for All Japan Pro Wres would be
Dory Funk Sr., Myself, at the time NWA World Champion, Terry Funk, Burno Sammartino, and
wrestlers from the Amarillo Territory which, at the time included a young upstart from
West Texas State University, Stan Hanson. Masio Koma and Mr. Okuma who had worked
Amarillo would Also be working for Baba's company. For a new company in Japan the
talent was the best in the business.
In March of 1973 at the peak of my career I had held the NWA World Championship for more than four years. I had many memorable matches during that four years, with Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki in Japan, Fritz Von Erich in Texas Stadium, Black Jack Lanza at the Arena in St Louis, and Jack Brisco on many occasions.
Saturday March 28 of that year was the beginning of my week off. During my time off as NWA Champion, I would wrestle a shot or two for the Amarillo Territory. I would not be working today but was going to Channel 10 Television to see if I could be of help with the production of the weekly TV show. I would meet the new wrestler Mr. Baba had discovered who had competed in the olympics in Munich in 1972 in Grecco Roman wrestling. Mr. Baba liked this kid, and had sent him to Amarillo to learn the finer points of professional wrestling.
As I entered the dressing room I was happy to see the familiar faces of the Amarillo Territory, Larry Lane, Dick Murdoch, young Stan Hanson, Ricky Romero, Scott Casey, Sputnik Monroe, JC Dykes and his Infernos. "Mr. Funk," I heard someone say from behind. I turned and there he was, Tall, lean, and wearing a crew cut. I had to look up to him even though he was slightly slumped over. He said, "Mr. Funk, My name is Tommy Tu-Tsuruta, It is easier to say than my Japanese name, Tsuruta Tomomi. I have never wrestled a professional match before in my life. This is my first time, please take care of me."
That Saturday at the TV taping, Tommy Tsuruta would be wrestling El Gran Tapia, a good wrestler out of Mexico. I didn't know that this would be his first match but there was no changing things now. I looked right at him and said, "Don't worry Tommy, you'll do fine.
Tommy went into the ring scared to death, but had a great match against El Gran Tapia and captured the victory in about eleven minutes. He went on the become the best student of professional wrestling I have ever had. Tsuruta learned fast. He had the basic experience in amateur wrestling with a mix of his Grecco Roman wrestling (Upper body throws) and great coordination from competing in basketball and swimming while still in school.
Tsuruta is the only wrestler ever outside the family to master the spinning toe hold, and is the only one who can throw the same fore arm blow every bit as hard as I do. (Years later he showed it to Misawa) His moves were so perfect that we did a special slow motion production of his three best suplexes, belly to belly, German suplex, and double arm suplex to use as an open for the television show.
Though his time in Amarillo was short, Tommy Tsuruta made many friends who never forgot his kindness.. He learned everything by just doing it. He told me his English was not so good and he really didn't want to do interviews. I told him, you must, you are going to be there and the announcer is going to ask you about your opponent, "you must say something."
Tsuruta's interview went like this. I know my opponent has a good heart, and I have a good heart too. I am going to do my best. He was wrestling our top heel Sputnik Monroe who had just said He would whup that puke just like eatin' boardin' house pie. I don't know what boardin' house pie is, but Sputnik was always going to whup somebody that way.
People in Amarillo loved Tsuruta for his sincerity, athletic ability, and kindness. He didn't have a bad word to say about anybody and his skills in the ring were unmatched. In his first year in professional wrestling, Tsuruta became a top star in the United States, something accomplished by only a few Japanese wrestlers including his boss, Giant Baba.
*** "C'mon Junior let's go, we got 17,000 people waiting for us"
It was my brother Terry Funk. ---My thoughts came back quick. It was October of 1992, Ni ju shu nen ki nen. Budokan Hall, twentieth anniversary of Giant Baba's company, All Japan Pro Wrestling special match, Myself, Giant Baba, and Stan Hanson against Jumbo Tsuruta, Andre the Giant, and Terry Gordy. My brother was to be in our corner.
The match was exciting, especially with seven traditional stars of All Japan Pro Wrestling there at the same time. I remember Terry Funk had words with Andre on the floor and Baba trying to separate them for fear of it getting out of hand.
I was in the ring with Jumbo at about the 20 minute mark. It was time. We were in the spotlight. Baba was now with Andre, and Hanson and Gordy were fighting on the floor. I had Jumbo down and applied the Spinning Toe Hold. As quick as I got it, he reached up grabbed my head, pulled me forward and locked a front cradle on tight. My shoulders were down. I heard the referee count One two and I reversed it. He counted One Two on Jumbo. He is a strong kid and was not to be denied. To my surprise, he pulled his shoulder up and reversed back on me and there was no escaping. I tried with all I had, but the count came one, two, three.---
Twenty years later, the student beat the teacher. I walked over, shook his hand and said, Tommy Tsuruta, I am proud of you.
Dory Funk Jr.
Of course back in the dressing room, I did tell him that if he would give it another go, this time maybe two out of three falls I think I could take him.
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