Few pro wrestlers are revered more than Dory Funk Jr. and brother Terry Funk.
Both held the NWA world title when that belt was the most prestigious championship in professional wrestling.
They also claim the distinction of being the only brother duo to ever hold the coveted crown.
Sons of the late Dory Funk Sr., the brothers also captured numerous regional titles during distinguished careers that began in the ‘60s and continue today.
As respected as they are in this country, though, the Funks are perhaps held in even greater esteem in Japan.
With numerous trips to that country over the years, mostly appearing under the All Japan Pro Wrestling banner, the Funks returned this weekend to mark their first All Japan shot in 21 years.
It all happened in a span of a couple of weeks, says Dory Funk Jr., following a post he made on Twitter.
“It kind of shocked us. Two weeks ago we had no thoughts of what might happen.”
Well versed in the Japanese language, Funk recently sent out a tweet testing the waters. He posed the question if it would be a good idea if the Funks returned to Japan.
“It was crazy the way it turned out,” he says. “I just basically sent out a tweet to see what would happen.”
The response, he says, was overwhelming.
“They just jumped all over it. All of a sudden, I had two thousands tweets asking us to come back,” says Funk. “But that was the seed that got it started. It’s absolutely crazy.”
An executive with All Japan contacted the Funks and asked if they were really serious about making the trip.
Funk and his wife, Marti, were all in, but had to confer with Terry.
“We got in touch with Terry to see if he was in agreement. Terry was very happy and glad to be going back over there as a team. Everything just sort of snowballed,” says Funk, 72, who is three years his brother’s senior.
“We’ve been back over for several different companies. But this is the first trip back for All Japan (since 1991).”
The WWE Hall of Famers fought to a 20-minute draw with Masanobu Fuchi and Osamu Nishimura on an All Japan Pro show Sunday at Tokyo’s Sumo Hall. The event marked the 41st anniversary of the storied organization that was formed by Shohei “Giant” Baba and the Momota brothers, the sons of the legendary Rikidozan.
Over the years, dating back more than four decades, the Funks have been among the biggest American headliners in the Land of the Rising Sun. Both have defended their NWA world title there and have competed in the country’s most prestigious tag-team tournaments.
Dory Jr. and his dad went on their first tour of Japan in late 1969. As newly crowned NWA champion, Dory Jr. defended his title against the likes of Baba and Antonio Inoki, who would become legends in Japan and would later form the two major wrestling organizations in that country.
A year later, Dory would return to defend his NWA crown once again, but this time bringing brother Terry with him. The two engaged in a series of tag-team bouts against Baba and Inoki, setting the tone for a legendary run.
The Funks formed one of the first truly successful teams in Japan to come from America. Their accomplishments included an amazing three wins in All Japan’s annual Real World Tag League tournament.
“My father was the first lead overseas booker for All Japan,” says Funk. “That’s when Baba started it (All Japan).”
There’s a lot of memories,” he adds. “Some of them crazy memories.”
Over the years Dory Jr. trained a number of Japanese grapplers. Tommy “Jumbo” Tsuruta, a top amateur wrestler who competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, was the first, and he would become a top star in this country as well as his native Japan.
“Masa Fuchi came over with us to the Carolinas. A lot of memories and a lot of good friends and good fans,” says Funk.
One of Funk’s last matches with Tsuruta came two decades after training him.
It was in October 1992 at the 20th anniversary of Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling at Budokan Hall in Tokyo. Dory teamed with Baba and Stan Hansen against Tsuruta, Andre The Giant and Terry Gordy. Terry Funk was in his brother’s corner.
“The match was exciting, especially with seven traditional stars of All Japan Pro Wrestling there at the same time,” recalls Dory Jr. “I remember Terry had words with Andre on the floor and Baba trying to separate them for fear of it getting out of hand.”
Tsuruta scored the winning pinfall by reversing a cradle on Funk.
“Twenty years later, the student beat the teacher. I walked over, shook his hand and said, ‘Tommy Tsuruta, I am proud of you,’” says Funk.
“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,” jokes Funk.
Tsuruta, only 49, died in the National Kidney Institute in the Philippines on May 13, 2000, from complications of a kidney transplant.
Dory has wrestled brother Terry only twice, and both times were in Japan.
The first time was in Fukuoka in the finals of a tournament in 1980. Dory Jr. came out on top when he pinned his brother with a rolling cradle at the 50-minute mark of the match. The second match occurred on April 30, 1981. That night, Dory was awarded the vacant NWA International heavyweight title, a belt he would hold numerous times over the years. His first title defense was against Terry, once again defeating his brother, this time in a 54-minute bout.
Over a period of 30 years, the brothers would defeat some of the top international teams during their many tours of Japan.
Those teams included Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy, The Road Warriors, Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka, Abdullah The Butcher and The Sheik, Larry Hennig and Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood, Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid, Giant Baba and Tiger Mask, Mil Mascaras and Dos Caras, Gordy and Steve Williams, Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta, Hansen and Brody, The Sheik and Great Mephisto, Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu, Mark Lewin and The Sheik, Hansen and Ted DiBiase, Joe and Dean Malenko, Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada, and Kenta Kobashi and Johnny Ace.
Their last match as a team in Japan was in 1999 for Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling. They defeated Yoshinari Sasaki and Naohiko Yamazaki.
Dory Funk Sr., a top wrestler and promoter in the Amarillo territory who trained both his sons, died at the age of 54 of a heart attack in 1973.
Dory Funk Jr. continues to train wrestlers at The Funking Conservatory in Ocala, Fla. Funk, whose school is the official American training center for All Japan Pro Wrestling, began training wrestlers in Texas back in the ‘70s.
“Bobby Backlund came in when he was very young. Then there was Jumbo Tsuruta. But it started with Teddy DiBiase and Terry Funk. Terry was difficult to train,” jokes Funk.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.