Terry Funk was more than just the wild west Texas wrestler. He was a family man and a good friend, Lance Cardoza says.
Funk, a pro wrestling Hall of Famer, former NWA World Heavyweight champion, and movie actor, died Wednesday at the age of 79. His career spanned six decades, and he seemingly reinvented himself to stay ahead of the pro wrestling curve.
Cardoza, a Fresno wrestling and entertainment promoter, met Funk more than 20 years ago through mutual wrestling friends.
“He took a liking to me,” Cardoza recalls.
Bonding Over Wrestling
Funk’s family promoted the Amarillo, Texas territory in the 1960s and 1970s. Cardoza, the operator of Fresno-based Lucha Xtreme, leaned on Funk for knowledge.
“Terry had a very sharp mind of running the show, marketing the show, and as he put it, putting asses in seats,” Cardoza said. “I was like a sponge, listened a lot and just loved to hear what he thought, what he would say, certain things he said were just little diamonds in the rough.”
Funk would always take time to talk to people, Cardoza said. They talked weekly.
Conversations weren’t always about wrestling. Terry often talked about his family, and sometimes complained about being forced on a chicken diet
“I will miss that. I will cherish that,” Cardoza said.
Things were tough the past few years with Funk’s health decline. Things got worse with the 2019 passing of his wife, Vicki.
“I knew that was going to be very hard on Terry because they were just together all the time. His health declined a little after that and progressively with dementia got worse,” Cardoza said. “He tried to stay in the know and tried to stay in the conversation. It was just hard when you start to see it slip a little bit.”
About a Horse
Cardoza told a version of an infamous Funk story, often repeated in wrestling circles.
When WWE impresario Vince McMahon battled legal troubles in the mid-1990s, he called on Funk to help run the company and create storylines.
“Terry didn’t want to go to New York. He would be stuck there. He enjoyed his wife and his horses, the ranch. He didn’t want to do that grind again. Vince convinced him to do it,” Cardoza said.
It didn’t take long before Funk wanted to return to his west Texas ranch. He went to WWF headquarters in Connecticut. McMahon wasn’t in the office, so Funk left a handwritten note for his boss.
“He left. He gets on the plane. He got his connection flight heading back to Texas. At the airport he hears, ‘Terry Funk, please pick up the white courtesy telephone. Terry Funk, please pick up the white courtesy telephone.’ He knew it was Vince tracking him down,” Cardoza said.
Funk ignored the request and continued on his flight home, where he was met by his wife. Vicki was worried about the couple’s horse. Apparently, McMahon called the Funk home as well. Terry assured his wife everything was OK.
The note Funk left McMahon said his horse was sick and about to die, and he had to head home.
Fast forward to 2013, at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. Funk inducted his partner, friend, and in-ring enemy Mick Foley.
“Terry totally forgot what he did years ago to Vince,” Cardoza said.
Terry and McMahon met backstage and shook hands.
“Vince leaned into him before he was going out on the stage, whispered in his ear, and he said, ‘Terry, how’s that horse doing?’ And then Terry goes, ‘He’s still alive!'” Cardoza said.
“Vince respected his wishes because Terry was totally a family guy. He loved his wife. He loved the ranch, and he loved to be able to be Terry Funk because not many wrestlers were who they were in the ring. It was who they were outside of the ring. They lived that persona, that is who they were. They just turned it up 120 degrees when they were inside the ring,” Cardoza said.
Funk in Fresno
Funk wrestled around the world and became a legend in Japan. The (incomplete) wrestling record book shows only a few matches in Fresno, all during his WWF stints.
He appeared during his first WWF run in 1985, battling The Junkyard Dog to a double countout at Selland Arena.
He also wrestled two matches during his 1998 run with the WWF. Using his “Chainsaw Charlie” alter ego, he and Cactus Jack were disqualified against The Quebecers during a Jan. 19, 1998 match live on “Monday Night Raw.”
On July 26, 1998, during the “Fully Loaded” pay-per-view, Funk teamed with Bradshaw in a losing effort to Faarooq & Scorpio. Funk announced it would be his last match for a while.
The Fresno Grizzlies also brought Funk to Chukchansi Park for a 2013 autograph signing. Ever the showman, Funk threw out the first pitch, leading to a physical confrontation with another wrestler.
Funk also participated in Cardoza’s Lucha Xtreme event after the game. Funk nailed fellow veteran wrestler Manny Fernandez with a chair.
That chair, autographed, became property of a Grizzlies executive after the match.