Putting Vince’s belt on a former NWA Champion
Hello and welcome to another installment of Making a Champion. This week we look at a little-known incident from 1985 that nearly changed the wrestling world and seeing what would have happened if things went a little differently. The subject f this article is the wildman from the DoubleCross Ranch in Amarillo Texas, Terry Funk.
Funk by this point was a name known to wrestling fans all around the world for over a decade. The younger of the two sons of Amarillo promoter and all around tough guy Dory Funk Sr. (Dory Jr. being Terry’s older brother) Terry had wrestled al over the world. He was a god in Japan wrestling for Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling, he had a huge run in Memphis fighting Jerry Lawler including the famous “Empty Arena” match, Had been a top guy for his father’s Amarillo territory, and had done very well in Florida first as a self-imposed “Roadblock” for challengers to his brother’s NWA World Title, and then as champion himself when he won the belt in 1975. A decade later he lands in McMahonland as the crazy (and subtly racist) cowboy from Texas who debuted on TV after beating the tar out of a (black) ring attendants for putting Terry’s hat on his own head. Ultimately he only stays less than a year, as we walked away from the NWA just after Wrestlemania 2, replaced by Jessie Barr under a mask as “Jimmy Jack Funk”.
But what if things went differently?
It is September of 1985 and the WWF is riding high. Company owner Vince McMahon is overjoyed as his push for national dominance has been a success so far. WWF programming is airing all across the country and he has a massive roster of the biggest stars he could get a hold of. His big gamble, Wrestlemania, had been a success and he was now working with NBC and a series of specials that air quarterly titled “Saturday Night’s Main Event”. He also has a cartoon show that airs on Saturday mornings all based around his biggest star, Hulk Hogan. But as good as things are, there is one major problem.
Hulk Hogan is injured.
Vince has just received the bad news. While the Hulkster can still wrestle sparingly, he will need to take some time off for surgery and recovery. A new champion needs to be made, one that could hold the belt for the short term and hopefully when Hogan comes back, he can be the guy once again.
Luckily this injury is not something that has gotten out to most of the fans. The only one reporting this injury is the Wrestling Observer newsletter and it’s subscription, while big for Dave Meltzer, isn’t going to blow the cover off this problem for the kids and families he wants to bring in.
Vince has to make a decision on who to put the belt on, but it is an easy one. Further down the card was a feud between the popular Junkyard Dog and newcomer Terry Funk. The idea was for Funk to become the next big challenger for Hogan’s belt anyway. The crazy one had been a champion for the NWA, so putting the belt on him, at least until Hogan came back, would be perfect.
The first part of the plan is to make Terry a contender in the fans eyes. While many of the old school and hardcore wrestling fans know of Terry’s background, or can read about it in the magazines, That doesn’t matter to Vince.
The match is scheduled for Halloween Night in Hershey Park Pennsylvania. Funk will face his hated rival, The Junkyard Dog, in the opening match of Saturday Night’s Main Event that would air 3 days later. A later match has Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan teaming up against King Kong Bundy and John Studd, a tag match that could hide Hogan’s injuries, along with a few shots of Cortisone and some steroids to boot.
Funk’s match is, as usual, a wild affair. Funk gets tossed around like a ping-pong ball for most of the match to the cheers of a rabid arena full of fans. Funk gets some moves in but looks ineffective against the big Dog. All during this match announcers Vince McMahon and Jessie Ventura repeat the point that the winner of this match is number one contender to Hulk Hogan and the World Title. And with a little help from manager Jimmy Hart, Funk scoops the legs and with his feet on the ropes scores the pinfall and wins the future title shot.
The Build Up
After the show airs, Funk’s win is replayed all over WWF TV. The point is repeated over and over that Funk is the next in line for a title shot. To help things along, Funk is given wins over Tito Santana, Pedro Morales, and Ivan Putski on house shows and episodes of the weekly programming.
On the flip side of that, Hogan mostly wrestles in tag team matches with Andre the Giant during the next month, headlining house shows against Bundy and Studd. While he can keep it up, Vince knows this can’t last forever. Thankfully Hogan doesn’t have to wrestle on TV as much as the others so the injury could be hidden from the mass market of fans waiting to cheer on their hero.
The place is the Sundome in Tampa Floria. The date is December 19, 1985, to be aired January 4rth.
With such an important match on the line, Vince does something different and schedules the match not to be first for the show, but fourth on the show of five matches. Both guys get interview time. Again, the injury is not mentioned and all appears fine as both guys enter the ring.
However, Funk goes ballistic right off the bat attacking Hulk from Behind. He starts throwing his wild punches and kicks and even throws Hogan outside the ring and slams his head against the ringpost as Jimmy Hart is screaming for Funk to get Hogan back in the ring. Funk rolls him in and goes right for the piledriver. He goes in for the cover as Vince and substitute commentary man Bobby Heenan go berserk at ringside. Funk makes the cover and 1….2….
Hogan kicks out!
Funk is stunned as Hogan pops back up and points a finger right at Funk. Hogan starts hitting him with punches and a big bodyslam before dropping a few elbows on the Texan. Terry gets up but Hogan whips him into the ropes and comes off with a running clothesline. Hogan looks to finish off the Funker with his finisher, the big legdrop, but as Hogan hits the ropes, Hart grabs the leg and Hogan crashes to the mat. Funk scrambles up and starts laying in some kicks and a reverse chinlock on the champion. After keeping the control for a few minute Funk puts Hogan in the Spinning toehold, the move that won him the NWA belt years before, but Hogan won’t submit.
After a few turns on the leg, Hogan pushes Terry off him and right into the ref. The fans think Hogan is going to mop the floor with Funk as he “Hulks Up” as Bobby Heenan pretty much already calls it on commentary. He slams Terry down to the mat and goes for the big legdrop but as soon as Hogan goes to the ropes.
The metal branding iron that Terry always carries with him cracks over the back of the head on Hogan and the champion goes down in a heap. Terry lays in some boots and gets the piledriver in as little Jimmy Hart scurries over and wakes the ref up and gets him in the ring just in time for Terry to cover Hogan. Three slaps of the mat and history is made.
Wrapping It Up
This was a heavily rumored outcome for Funk and Hogan as Dave Meltzer at the time reported it was a sure deal that Hogan would lose the belt, but like many “sure things” that the Observer has reported over the years, it didn’t happen. Whether Hogan was even really injured or not will probably never be answered but it’s always fun to think about what would have happened if things turned out differently.
Thanks for reading!
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