Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Could Terry Funk Take The Champ? (Aug. 1979 in Florida)

Could Terry Take The Champ?
from "The Grapevine" Volume II, Number 34
August 1979 (Championship Wrestling from Florida)

Sports fans of the future will look at the decade which is the Seventies and see three names at the top of the roster in the area of professional wrestling. These are, Funk, Brisco and Race. Perhaps another will be added before 1980 is upon us, but time is drawing short.

And if the title does change hands before the end of the year, it seems quite possible that the new champion will not be entirely new at all.

"Handsome" Harley Race

Former title-holder Terry Funk who, along with his older broth-er, Dory Funk Jr., held the NWA crown for half of the current decade, has emerged as one of the biggest threats to confront reigning champion Harley Race thus far. It was Harley Race who brought the reign of Terry Funk to an abrupt end early in
1977. Unlike his brother, Terry was an impulsive, hot-tempered scrapper who seemed to feel that he had to prove himself every time he got in the ring, even after he had won the world heavyweight championship. It was this impulsive nature that Harley Race took advantage of the night he won the belt from Terry Funk.

Another factor in Funk's loss to Race cannot be overlooked, however, and that is the fact that Terry emerged badly-battered from a match with Dusty Rhodes the night before Harley Race beat him for the NWA title. It's hard to ignore this factor in Race's victory. Funk won't claim it--he's too proud to make excuses. Race won't admit it because doing so might damage his image as world champion. Rhodes doesn't even want to talk about it.

Nevertheless, it's there, and the question remains, could Harley Race have beaten Terry Funk if Dusty Rhodes hadn't "softened up" his fellow-Texan first?

The "experts" may still be arguing about this a hundred years from now, but for the moment we are left with two uncommonly tough Texans lined up in a determined effort to take the world heavyweight championship from Harley Race. It seems almost impossible to say which is first in line right at this moment, each having presented a strong case for himself as the "logical challenger."

Not to diminish Dusty in any respect, or any of the other challengers, for that mattter, it is only fair that we give Terry Funk some special consideration at this point. Terry is a former world champion, and because he has been active in other areas for the most part since Race took the title from him, we really haven't given Terry the coverage his status as a top contender merits. Terry Funk, it is said, didn't have to be slapped on the behind by the doctor who delivered him. He came into this world raising hell in a loud voice, and in all probability will go out the same way.

He grew up in the shadow of a father who did as much as Sam Houston and Billy The Kid to remind the rest of the world that Texans are tough. Terry also had an older brother who combined great athletic ability with a degree of intellectualism not always found among professional athletes. In other words, Terry Funk grew up with a lot of image to live up to. A lesser man wouldn't even have tried, but Terry Funk not only tried, he succeeded. He matched Dory Funk Jr.'s outstanding record as an amateur athlete at West Texas State University, and nobody anywhere made light of Terry's somewhat limited talents as a vocalist when he sang, 'Waltz Across Texas."

If Harley Race has to face Terry Funk -- and at this stage of the game it seems almost inevitable that he will -- the current world champion won't be going up against a man who has just finished battle with Dusty Rhodes. He'll be facing a more seasoned challenger who'll have a lot more reason to be confident than he had in 1977.

And just as much reason to be confident, it seems, as Harley Race had in that year. Time has a way of changing things.



Saturday, June 24, 2023

Wrestle Art: The NWA World Title Belt

The "Brisco Belt", the second version of the NWA World Title
"domed globe" belt used in 1974-1976.

Graphic art created by David Williams © 2019

By Dick Bourne, Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Art by David Williams

Back in late February of 2019, a computer artist named David Williams contacted me wanting to source some photos for a graphic art project he was envisioning. "I’ve been obsessed for several years with the thought of accurately rendering the classic NWA belt," he wrote me. "The problem is I want to make it as perfect to original as possible, or not bother."

Given my love and appreciation for that old belt, this certainly seemed like a worthwhile endeavor and I wanted to enthusiastically support Williams' project. The only thing David needed was some close-up hi-res photos of the belt, which I was happy to send him. Some of these photos I had taken myself, including the cover photo for the book "Ten Pounds of Gold" which showed close detail of the main plate, and others that showed the leather strap and details of the side plates.

With the help of some measurements Dave Millican made when he and I photographed the belt for the book back in 2008, Williams was able interpolate specific measurements for every element of the belt, all in perfect scale, in all of the title's iterations.

David Williams is a wrestling fan like the rest of us, growing up watching "Championship Wrestling from Florida," counting Jack Brisco and Buddy Colt among his favorites. Today he is a professional computer artist and career art director, as well as designer and publisher of the Ferrari Club of America’s Prancing Horse magazine. 

And let me tell you, this cat has mad skills.

Version 2A, end to end, every meticulous detail.
(David Williams)

After reviewing all the photos I sent him, he decided to attempt not only the original version, but a recreation of all four versions of the "domed globe" belt that were worn and defended by the great NWA champions of 1973-1986. The two images you see on this page are of the second version of the belt. It is always identifiable by several unique characteristics, primarily the white lettering on black background above the flags, the tight leather cut, and "NWA" letters that go straight across the globe (as opposed to the curved letters on later versions.)  You will also notice the "BRISCO" nameplate, which was on this version of the belt.

We collaborated on what should be included with regard to some of the details and in the end, David wound up with ten (10) different amazing images showing the progression of the belt from when it debuted in Houston, Texas on July 20, 1973 until it was retired in February of 1986. Each version features some change in the physical characteristics of the plates or the leather, even including the dents in the globes and the busted lacing around the edges of the leather strap.

I present here each of these 10 images, taking the opportunity to use David's amazing work to illustrate the evolution of the belt over the years, paired with information taken directly from the "Ten Pounds of Gold" book. You will see for yourself in some enlarged images the incredible detail of every single aspect of the belts, right down to the exact number of "beads" around the edge of the belt, the specific maps on the different globes, the lacing on the leather straps, the wrestlers on the plate, the fonts on the nameplates, and every other detail you can imagine. Just amazing work.

See all of David Williams incredibly detailed art after the jump!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Prelude to the NWA Title: Terry Funk Wins the United States Championship in 1975

The 1975 U.S. Title Tournament Belt - Mystery Solved!
by Dick Bourne,
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Originally Published February 2020

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett, and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

One of the longest unsolved mysteries in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history, especially for belt enthusiasts, involved trying to figure out what belt Terry Funk held high over his head the night he won the famous United States title tournament in November of 1975. Because it wasn't the United States title belt.

It was part of the a great story and angle that eventually led to Terry Funk defeating Jack Brisco to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

This tournament was held as a result of the October 1975 plane crash in Wilmington, NC that ended the career of then reigning U.S. Champion Johnny Valentine. This tournament that George Scott booked is the most famous and, arguably, the greatest tournament ever held in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling history, from an era when tournaments meant something.

Not only were the area's top wrestlers involved, but Scott booked some of the top wrestlers from other territories around the country including Red Bastien, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ray Stevens, Terry Funk and Blackjack Mulligan. Mulligan wound up staying in the territory taking Valentine's spot as the area's top heel. But it was another Texan that wound up capturing the U.S. championship that night - Terry Funk.

Terry Funk holds up the "mystery" belt after
winning the U.S. tournament in in 1975
(from pg. 59 in the book)

Funk wrestled four matches in that tournament, defeating Red Bastien, Rufus R. Jones, and Dusty Rhodes before topping Paul Jones in the tournament final.

But when the referee raised Funk's hand that night, the belt he handed him was not the United States Championship belt.

Oddly, there have never been many photos published from that night, but there was one key photo documenting Funk's win that was published in an early 1976 issue of "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine," JCP's in-house publication sold at the matches. There, bloodied and exhausted and leaning against the ring ropes in the Greensboro Coliseum, Funk holds the belt high above his head after defeating Paul Jones in the tournament's final match. But it was nearly impossible to tell in the low-resolution photograph just what belt this was standing in for the United States championship.
As fate would have it, the real U.S. belt was not in the building for a reason we will likely never precisely know. Johnny Valentine was the reigning champion at the time of the plane crash and had the belt in his possession at the time of the accident. The most reasonable and likely explanation is that, in the chaos that ensued following that tragedy, the office simply failed to get the belt back from him in the few weeks between the crash and the tournament. But regardless of the reason, the famous red-leather gold cast belt familiar to all Mid-Atlantic fans wasn't there.

Can you imagine at what point in the evening that George Scott, Sandy Scott, David Crockett, and Jim Crockett were all standing around looking at each other asking, "Who brought the belt?"

The promoters had a big problem on their hands. They had a high profile tournament taking place in front of a sold-out Greensboro Coliseum and on the night of the tournament had no belt to present to the winner.

So what explains the photo of Terry Funk holding a belt high over his head? What belt was it? 

While working on his book about the Canadian Heavyweight title in 2019, my friend Andrew Calvert (who publishes the respected Maple Leaf Wrestling website) wrote me that he thought perhaps he and some of his friends had solved the mystery.

Andrew had just finished reading my book "United States Championship." He closely inspected the photo of Funk and thought the belt looked familiar. He consulted two of his friends who were knowledgeable about Mulkovich belts, Chris Kovachis and Griff Henderson. They both concluded independently from each other that they thought the belt was one of the current WWWF Tag Team championship belts.

But what could possibly explain why a WWWF tag team belt would be in the Greensboro Coliseum that night?

When Andrew presented their theory, it immediately made sense to me. One of the "outside" wrestlers booker George Scott had brought to Greensboro that night was Blackjack Mulligan, who just happened to currently be one half of the WWWF Tag Team champions with partner Blackjack Lanza. Mulligan had worked for Jim Crockett Promotions for a three-month span in the spring of that year, but left to go to the WWWF to reunite the famous team of the Blackjacks.

Blackjack Mulligan on WWWF television wearing his WWWF Tag Team title belt.

For context, George Scott had already arranged to bring Blackjack Mulligan back to the Mid-Atlantic territory to take Johnny Valentine's spot as the top "heel" in the territory following Valentine's career ending injuries in the plane crash. But Mulligan was presently still working out his notice with Vince McMahon, Sr. at the time of the U.S. title tournament in Greensboro. During the months of November and December, he was back and forth between both promotions. And the night of the tournament, he was in for a single-night shot, his WWWF tag belt in his bag.

One can only speculate at what point that day everyone figured out that this was the belt they could use, but it seems clear that Blackjack Mulligan had reached into his bag and pulled out a WWWF belt that could be recognized as the United States championship - - at least for that one night.

Judge for yourself. Take a look at the belt Funk is holding in the photo above and compare it to the collage of photos of various WWWF Tag Team champions of that era below.

Three different teams wearing the WWWF Tag Team championship belts.
Mr. Fuji and Toru Tanaka, the Valiant Brothers, Sonny King and Chief Jay Strongbow

The photos seem to provide visual confirmation at the very least, and the argument is further buttressed by the fact Mulligan was on the Greensboro show and was the only possible connection to those belts at that point in time.

Thanksfully, by the time Terry Funk returned to Greensboro three weeks later to defend the U.S. title against Paul Jones on the annual Thanksgiving night card in Greensboro, the company had regained possession of the original familiar U.S. belt from Johnny Valentine.

For the better part of the last 45 years, I've wondered what belt Funk held over his head in Greensboro. No one had ever been able to provide a viable answer until now. PWInsider's Mike Johnson once wrote after reviewing my book Big Gold that I was the "Indiana Jones of title belt archaeology." That was a very nice compliment. I wish I had uncovered this information on the U.S. belt on my own, but all credit goes to the Canadian raiders of the lost ark, Andrew, Chris, and Griff. I will always be grateful to them. (Visit Andrew Calvert's website at mapleleafwrestling.blogspot.com.)

I regret not having this information before finishing my book on the United States title history. But I hope to include it in an updated volume at some point. 

For all the details on the rich history of JCP's United States Heavyweight Championship, the champions, and the five belts that represented the title, check out our book "United States Championship" available via the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store and on Amazon.com.


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Connecting the Dots: Brisco, Funk, Race, & Rhodes (1977)

by Dick Bourne
Originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

During the first years of my hardcore fandom of pro wrestling, 1975-1976, there were four main singles stars in the Mid-Atlantic area. Those wrestlers were Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, Ric Flair, and Blackjack Mulligan. This was my "A-list."

But there was another "A-list" I was fascinated by, too, and that was a group of four wrestlers that were atop the NWA's world championship picture during those years. That group included Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, and Dusty Rhodes.

During the mid-to-late 1970s, these were the guys that dominated the NWA coverage in the newsstand magazines. And even though Rhodes didn't win the NWA title until 1979 (and really only seriously in 1981), he was always in the title picture, and the darling of the magazines. He was also a special attraction in our area, especially in the 1970s, as much or more than the NWA champions.

I was always fascinated by how these four always were interconnected from a storyline and title-lineage perspective. I remember this first really dawned on me when our TV programs showed the tape of Harley Race beating Terry Funk for the NWA title in Toronto in 1977, and Whipper Billy Watson (a former NWA champion and Toronto legend doing commentary for the match) made the observation that not only was Race now a 2-time champion, but he had defeated both of the Funk brothers in doing so.

From that point forward, the Funk/Brisco/Race triangle (with Rhodes thrown in there causing trouble) was one of my favorite subjects to dwell on.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently came across this wonderful little article from the Tampa Tribune published two days after Race defeated Funk in that very match in Toronto, and promoting the matches later that night at the Hesterly Armory in Tampa. The article is un-credited, but whoever wrote it knew their stuff, and it was a delight reading how he sorted through all of the these connections I used to think about as a young teenage wrestling fan, and related them beautifully to the current events in Florida.

From the article in the Tampa Tribune, February 8, 1977, via Newspapers.com:

Race Regains NWA Title, Defends Against Brisco

Harley Race won the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship against Terry Funk in Toronto Sunday night and will defend the title against Jack Brisco tonight at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

As far as Brisco is concerned, their championship fight is three nights too late. Brisco beat Race Saturday night at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.

The turn of events involving Funk, Race, Brisco and Dusty Rhodes make soap operas seem awfully dull.

Rhodes beat Funk in the featured title match Saturday night at the Bayfront, but Funk was disqualified for kayoing the referee and the title didn't change hands.

Funk, however, injured a knee in that match and against better judgment went ahead with his scheduled match with Race in Toronto Sunday night.

Race beat Funk in a quick 14 minutes, 10 seconds with an Indian death lock, which places pressure on the knee and ankle.

NWA rules require a new champion to fulfill the former champion's match commitments. Interestingly, this brings Race right back against Brisco on tonight's Gasparilla Championships starting at 8:30 at Hesterly.

Terry Funk defeated Brisco for the championship in Miami in December of 1975.

Race previously held the title by defeating Dory Funk Jr. - - Terry's brother - - in March of 1973 and Race lost it to Brisco the following July.

An interesting triangle.

And who does Rhodes, the popular "American Dream wrestle tonight at Hesterly? Dory Funk Jr.

So, tonight's intriguing lineup pits Race vs. Brisco and Rhodes vs. Funk -- one champion and two ex-champs in the top two bouts.

It was in the same Gasparilla week of 1969 that Dory Funk Jr., lifted the heavyweight championship from Gene Kiniski at Hesterly.

Race has been wrestling professionally for 17 years. He turned pro with the NWA at 16, the youngest wrestler ever to do so.

Race makes his home in Kansas City.

I learned another little NWA title history storyline nugget in this article, too. I never knew the bit about Terry Funk injuring his knee in St. Petersburg the night before the title change in Toronto. Maybe I'd read that before and just forgotten it, but it was a nice little twist to NWA title lore.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Back in the Saddle


Ric Flair stands proudly in the ring in Japan in May of 1984 after regaining the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Kerry Von Erich.

They call Kerry Von Erich the 'Pride of Texas', huh? Well, I've never worn a pair of blue jeans, never wore a cowboy hat, never wore a pair of cowboy boots in my life. But there isn't a woman in the state of Texas that doesn't call Ric Flair 'the all around cowboy.'"     - Ric Flair

The Pride of Texas in 1984, No Doubt