Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Story Well Told: Florida's Role in the Race/Funk NWA Title Change in Toronto (1977)


by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

We're always appreciative of newspapers that do a good job of presenting wrestling in a journalistic fashion. This is a particularly good article in the Tampa Tribune promoting an upcoming card for Championship Wrestling from Florida on February 8, 1977, just two nights after Harley Race defeated Terry Funk with an Indian deathlock to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. 

Who knows who wrote the piece. It doesn't really sound like it came from the office, but it sounds way too informed to be written by the a staff sports writer either.

The article captures all the complete twists and turns in the wonderful story leading up to this night at the fabled Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. There were actually two separate stories being told.

The first story cemented former champion Jack Brisco as Florida's top contender for the NWA title. Many of the fans coming to the Hesterly Armory that Tuesday night had witnessed Brisco cleanly beat Harley Race, also a former champion, that past Saturday in St. Petersburg. Surely Brisco could beat Race again, this time with his newly won NWA World championship at stake in Tampa.

The second story told answered a question many might have had following the finish to the title change match in Toronto. As a teenage fan watching wrestling in 1977, when the film of the match from Toronto was shown on Mid-Atlantic television, it seemed strange to me that Race had won by submission with an Indian deathlock. I had only ever seen our local hero Paul Jones win with that hold. In the wrestling magazines, it seemed the reports usually suggested Race typically won with various suplexes or his infamous flying headbutt from the top turnbuckle, resulting in wins by three-count pinfall. Why had Race instead gone for the submission for the win against Funk in Toronto? 

The answer, it turned out, played out the night before in Florida.

The main event of the card in St. Petersburg on Saturday night was Terry Funk defending the NWA title against Dusty Rhodes. As the article above reports, Funk injured his knee in the match against Rhodes, and "against his better judgement" went ahead with the scheduled title defense against Race the next night in Toronto.

The rest, as they say, is history. Race knew what most fans didn't about the night before in the St, Petertsburg Bayfront Arena. Funk was hurt, and Race took advantage. He defeated Funk in 14:10 with an Indian death-lock to capture the gold belt. (I can still hear ring announcer Norm Kimber make the famous call.) It was a hold Race used infrequently (if ever?) and seemed almost out of place as it happened that night in Maple Leaf Gardens.

As the author of the article pointed out. Brisco's victory over Race in St. Petersburg came three days too early. Race got the better of him in Tampa this night to retain.  

  • SAT FEB 5, 1977 - St. Petersburg, FL - NWA Champ Terry Funk injures his knee in a successful world title defense against Dusty Rhodes. On the same card, Jack Brisco defeats Harley Race.
  • SUN FEB 6, 1977 - Toronto, ON - Harley Race defeats Terry Funk to win the NWA World Title. Race deploys a rarely-used Indian deathlock to win the match, exploiting Funk's hurt knee from the night before in St. Petersburg.
  • TUE FEB 8, 1977 - Tampa, FL - New NWA Champion Harley Race defeats Jack Brisco to defend title, the result of the match written about in the article seen above.

The injury to Funk's knee in St. Petersburg gave Funk an excuse he could bandy about after his loss to Race in Toronto the next night.

The article also colors between the lines nicely, accurately reporting key dates in the NWA title history of Brisco and the Funk Brothers, and even including a reference to an NWA title change in the same building eight years earlier to the week.

It's just an all around amazing piece to be found in a newspaper, and one of my favorite clippings from the history of the NWA title changes during the domed-globe era. And for those curious, it explains one of the mysteries about the historic Toronto finish some fans may have had at the time. 

* * * * * 

Video of Harley Race's win over Funk in Toronto can be found on the Domed-Globe website here.

Late update: See three pages from the Florida program "The Grapevine" for the Feb. 5 show in St. Petersburg that set the stage for Toronto. (Thanks@bobbynorton9115 on Twitter.) 

This article was originally posted on our sister website, The Domed-Globe.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Jack Brisco defends against Dory Funk, Jr. in Japan (with Sam Muchnick)

A classic 2-of-3 falls contest in Japan in January of 1974 between reigning NWA World Champion Jack Brisco and former champion Dory Funk, Jr. from Japan. The video includes great pre-match footage of NWA President Sam Muchnick with Jack's brand new NWA World Championship belt, the original "ten pounds of gold" on the red velvet strap. 

 
 
This post was re-published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway on April 13, 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021

NWA Champs in Nashville (1989)

 

There are four amazing legends in this screen capture, one from broadcasting, the other three are former NWA World Heavyweight Champions.

L-R: Lance Russell, Lou Thesz, Pat O'Connor, and Terry Funk

The three former NWA champs were brought in to be judges in case the NWA World title match between champion Ricky Steamboat and challenger Ric Flair went to a 60-minute draw at the Wrestle War '89 PPV event in Nashville, TN in May of 1989. In the end, the judges weren't needed for a decision as Flair defeated Steamboat by pinfall to win the tile for a record-tying 6th time (as it was figured then.)

One of the greatest NWA title matches of all time, and widely considered the greatest Flair-Steamboat match of all time, it is also remembered for what happened afterward, where Terry Funk jumped Ric Flair after the match to set up a six-month feud between the two. 

It was the second time Lou Thesz was present for a Ric Flair NWA title victory. When Flair won his first world title (from Dusty Rhodes) in 1981 in Kansas City, Thesz was the special referee in the ring assigned by the NWA. 

Lance Russell, longtime legendary host of wrestling in Memphis, TN, had just recently begun work for Ted Turner's new WCW. He was backstage host for the Wrestle War PPV, and would go on to host or co-host NWA Main Event, World Wide Wrestling, and NWA Pro Wrestling, working with Bob Caudle, Paul E. Dangerously, Michael Hayes, and others.

Also published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Giant Baba (1979)


Giant Baba in the locker room after his victory over Harley Race for the NWA World Championship in Nagoya, Japan, 1979.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Baba's Champagne Celebration (1974)



Giant Baba celebrated in the locker room after his NWA World title victory 
over Jack Brisco in December of 1974.