By Adam Barnowski
Welcome back Gang!
In this first section of this special series on The Wrestling Observer Five Star Matches, we've been checking out the greatest matches of the man who, in my opinion, is the greatest “performer” in wrestling history : Terry Funk
In this third edition, we take a close look at his most “controversial” five star match on the list. Was it even officially a “Meltzer Rated” Five Star Match? No one seems to know for certain. The match took place on November 14th, 1992 in Wayne, New Jersey. For a company called The World Wrestling Association. My research turned up a number of different companies that promoted under the World Wrestling Association banner. All from different times, and based in radically different locations. There does seem to have been a (lesser known) World Wrestling Association, based in the Jersey area, operating from around 1988, up until sometime in the early nineties. Larry Shape is often credited as the promoter.
Sharpe is a retired pro wrestler from Paulsboro, New Jersey. He is currently running a wrestling school - www.monsterfactory.org - who's graduate list includes : Sheamus; Raven; Kevin Von Erich; Bam Bam Bigelow; D'Lo Brown; and Paul Wight (Big Show); among a long list of others.
This match was listed as five stars in the Wrestling Observer, tho there is some question as to whether this five-star ranking came from Dave Meltzer himself, or if it was possibly tacked on by a correspondent who was at the show live. The only version of the match that I could locate, was filmed by a hand held camera, with no commentary. On top of that, I have no idea what the back story of this match is. I searched, but couldn't find any coverage of the storyline of the match anywhere. So, I'm sure that I will miss some of the nuances of the story being told here.
All that said, I'll do my best to break it down for you right here.
Let's go to work!
Wrestling Observer Five Star Match : 11/14/92 ~ Terry Funk vs Eddie Gilbert : Texas Death Match
Gilbert is already in the ring, pacing around, as we join the action. He has a manager with him that doesn't look like any of the dozens of managers that I remember managing Gilbert over the course of his career. He is later introduced as The Cosmic Commander. He appears to doing a horrendous rip off of the Grand Wizard gimmick.
Funk is out, along with trusted branding iron, as the ring announcer fills us in on the rules of this match : “This is a special Texas Death Match. In this match there must be a winner. There will be no time limit. No disqualifications. No stopping the match because of blood, and no count outs. Falls can be taken anywhere in the ring, or anywhere in the building. Falls do not count in the outcome of the match. If one wrestler pins another, there will be a thirty second rest period, after which the wrestler will have ten minutes to answer... ten seconds(!) to answer the bell. If he fails to do so, his opponent will be declared the winner.”
Seems simple enough.
During the introductions, The Commander hands Gilbert the ring bell, which he holds behind his back. The referee chases Gilbert around the ring, trying to take the bell from him. Why (in this no-rules Texas Death Match)? Your guess is as good as mine. I guess that is the only bell they have, and they need to ring it to officially start the match. They do eventually manage to get the bell from Gilbert, and then ring it... and we are on our way.
A quick description of the setting is in order. This match is taking place in a High School Gymnasium. There's a few rows of chairs set up at ringside, and some wooden bleachers on both sides of the gym. I'm guessing that there's maybe 100 people in attendance. Most of whom appear to be teenagers, and small children.
So, eight years after his first four star match in a sold out arena in Japan, and three years after his second five star match, which aired live on WTBS... apparently Terry is going to put on another five star match, here is this gymnasium in Jersey... In front of nearly no one.
The two men circle each other for a while, and then they open this brutal Texas Death Match with... (sure enough) a Collar and Elbow Tie Up (*drink). Neither man gains an advantage. More jockeying for position, and then another Tie Up (*drink again). Funk backs Gilbert into the corner, and gives him a tentative clean break (sort of shocking). Gilbert comes out of the corner, and they go into yet another Tie Up (*drink yet again).
Gilbert backs Funk into the ropes, and does not return the clean break (sleazy manager + shady tactics = Gilbert is the heel here). Gilbert unloads with three stiff right hands. The third of which sends Funk tumbling backward out of the ring, to the floor, where he lands on his feet. Now at the age of 48, The Funker still makes that spot look completely effortless.
Loud fan in the bleachers : “We want blood!” ~ I believe that fan is going to get his wish.
Funk does the Aimless Wandering, and Gilbert follows him. Gilbert slams Funk headfirst into the wall of the gymnasium. The camera goes completely cattywampus here, and we can't see anything for a good thirty seconds. When the picture comes back, Gilbert is slamming a plastic chair over Terry's head. Terry (being Terry), sells this as if he has been struck by an anvil.
Lots more Blair Witch camera work here. I believe the camera man is trying to get closer to the action. Gilbert slams Terry into something at ringside, but we can't see what it is. Gilbert stops to mug the crowd a bit (*drink), while the cameraman tries to adjust for a better shot. Gregg Toland, he is decidedly not.
When the camera catches up to them on the floor, we see Gilbert standing on the back of Funk's neck.
There's a very large man, walking around the ringside area, yelling at the fans to : “Get a seat!”. Gilbert rolls Terry back into the ring, and hits an awkward Piledriver. Funk lands on the side of his head and neck, in a manner that doesn't look like much fun. Gilbert hooks the leg, and scores the first fall of the match at 2:25.
Funk now gets thirty seconds to recover, and answer the ten count. Terry's legs twitch, as he lies facedown on the mat. Gilbert mugs the crowd hard (*drink), and throws in a strut to boot.
Terry is on one knee by the time the ten count commences, and he is to his feet by four. Gilbert unloads with more straight right hands. By the fifth and sixth shot, they seem to be waking Terry up. Terry tries to respond, but misses wildly. Funk does the full on Spaghetti Legs Sell. Gilbert lands five more stiff right hands, before Funk finally falls flat on his face on the canvas.
Gilbert drops down into a cover, and Terry limply kicks his legs, but he still gets counted down for a second three count at around 3:45. Gilbert goes back to mugging the crowd, while Funk gets another thirty seconds to recover.
Funk in on his knees as the ten count begins, at six he rolls to the floor. Since he is on his feet, this is apparently good enough to break the ten count. Both men start circling the ringside area again. Gilbert slams Funk's head into a ringside table. More Blair Witch cinematography... and we're back in time to see Gilbert slamming Funk into the gymnasium wall. The quality of the video is horrible, so I'm not positive, but I believe that Funk has been “busted wide open” as they say.
Gilbert with more right hands, and they make a beeline for the wooden bleachers on the far side of the gym. We can't see what's going on, because the camera guy is stuck behind the group of fans that are following Funk and Gilbert. I once again notice here, that the vast majority of the fans in this “mob” are young kids.
We get thru the crowd in time to see Gilbert hit Funk with a clubbing blow, Funk wheels around, and stumbles directly into the camera man, which sends everything spinning again. When things settle, we see Gilbert rolling Funk (who is clearly bleeding now) back into the ring.
The big guy is back at ringside yelling : “Alright people, get a seat! Get a seat, or get it out! (not sure exactly what that means, but we'll leave it be). Gilbert is throwing more slow deliberate right hands, tho again, they seem to be rallying Funk a bit. Gilbert throws Funk over the top rope, and Terry crashes down on top of the ringside table. Gilbert comes out to the apron, and puts the boots to Funk, who is still laying on the table. Gilbert stands on Terry's neck again, as the (very) poor man's Grand Wizard cheers him on.
Funk rolls back into the ring, and Gilbert measures him for some more stiff right hands. So far there has been exactly one wrestling hold in this match. Terry is crawling around the ring on his knees, and Gilbert starts open handed slapping Funk, as if he's trying to rally him, screaming : “Come on, Terry” ... An odd fighting tactic, to be sure.
And, it works exactly like you would think it would. Terry wakes up... rallies to his feet... begins to no sell the right hands... and eventually launches into a full fledged “Funk Up”. Gilbert tries another right hand. Terry no sells it, and responds with a stiff Head Butt (the same one that dropped Flair, and The Bruiser). That is the first offensive move of the match for Terry, and Gilbert falls down dead.
Eddie rolls out of the ring, and Terry follows. Terry picks up a (plastic) chair, and hits a running (plastic) chair shot to the head of Gilbert, who falls down dead again.
Terry pulls Gilbert to his feet, and we can see the Gilbert has apparently been busted open by the plastic chair shot (not sure how that is possible, but let's go with it). Terry starts unloading with those Funk left hands, right on Gilbert's cut, which gets the blood flowing nicely.
Gilbert plows thru the ringside chairs, and makes his way to the wooden bleachers. Terry is right behind him, and has a few more straight left hands for Eddie. Gilbert is laid out on the bleachers, Funk picks something up in his left hand (a can perhaps), and slams it directly into Gilbert's cut. Hot Stuff is now sporting a full fledged “Crimson Mask” as they say.
The ref implores them to : “Get back in the ring!” Why? No idea...
Gilbert tries desperately to flee from The West Texas Madman, but Funk is right behind him. Terry grabs Gilbert, and then slips and falls on his own ass. Just then the crowd overtakes the camera, and we can no longer see what is going on.
We get a long shot of the back of the Unidentified Large Man, who is still shouting for the fans to : “Sit down, everyone!”
When we rejoin the match, Terry is chasing Gilbert up the wooden bleachers on the other side of the gymnasium. Terry catches up to Gilbert, about halfway up the bleachers. Funk hooks him into a Body Slam position, holds him there for a bit (letting him think about it), and then Funk gently sets him down on the bleachers. It's the safest, dangerous move that I've seen in a while. Gilbert rolls down exactly one bleacher, and lays there face down. Funk gets up, stomps Gilbert, which forces him to roll down onto his back. Funk then covers him (on the bleachers) and the ref counts to three. Funk scores his first fall of the match at the roughly 10:00 mark. Funk pushes Gilbert with his feet, so that he rolls all the way down the bleachers, and onto the floor.
Gilbert gets thirty seconds to recover, and a ten count to answer the bell. Funk stands over Gilbert, and counts down the thirty seconds. Once the ref starts the ten count, Terry leads the crowd (of mostly kids) in counting along with him.
Gilbert is up at eight, but he's not looking good. He's still bleeding everywhere, and doesn't seem to have regained his bearings. Terry toys with him a bit, before dropping him with a huge left hand ~ “from out of left field”, as they say.
Funk turns... and wanders away. No idea why, or where. He wanders out of the camera frame completely and disappears, while Gilbert bleeds on the floor for the next few minutes. Gilbert starts to get to his feet, then the camera shot goes all Blair Witch again, and we have no idea what is happening.
When the shot comes back into focus, Gilbert is about to get to his feet, and for some inexplicable reason, he is wearing a plastic chair on his head. Funk shows up, back from vacation, and gives Eddie a strange look, as if he is as perplexed by this as we are. Gilbert swings at Funk, but misses wildly, and the chair falls off his head. Gilbert takes another wild swing that misses Funk. Funk rears back, and hits a left hand, and Gilbert literally leaps into the air, and crashes to the floor in a heap.
At this point we hear someone near the camera say : “Tell him I'm going to kick his fucking ass! Fucking asshole!” Followed, almost immediately, by a small child politely saying : “Excuse me”.
Gilbert slowly struggles to his feet. Funk grabs him by the hair, and says : “Get back in the ring you chickenshit bastard!” as he hurls him back into the ring.
Gilbert slowly to his feet, and Funk hits another loaded up left hand (from *way* out in left field), that bumps Gilbert to his back, arms out at his sides... apparently dead.
At this point in this match, there has (still) been exactly one wrestling hold... Two, if you count the (sort of) Body Slam on the bleachers.
Funk rakes the eyes of Gilbert with his boot, pulls him up and hits a left hook, followed by three right jabs, and another big left hook that drops Gilbert again. Funk picks up Gilbert's right leg and hooks him into the dreaded Spinning Toe Hold.
Funk : “Yeah! You bastard! Try to escape! Ask him!”
The ref does as requested, and Gilbert quickly submits. Funk earns a submission fall at the 13:00 mark. Funk refuses to release the hold, reaching down to choke Gilbert, while still hooked in the Spinning Toe Hold, repeatedly screaming : “Say it! Say it! You bastard!”
Funk eventually releases the hold, and Gilbert gets a thirty second recovery period. The ref holds Funk back, and eventually starts his ten count. Gilbert is selling his leg big time, but manages to limp to his feet by the five count. Terry immediately kicks his good leg out from under him, and Gilbert is down again.
Gilbert slowly to his feet. Funk : “Come on Hot Stuff... You little bastard!” as he unloads with a Knife Edge chop, and another sweep of the leg, that sends Gilbert down again. Funk picks the right leg again, and goes right back to the Spinning Toe Hold.
Gilbert : “Ahh! I... I... I give... I give! I give!”
The bell rings again at the 14:15 mark, but Terry again refuses to break the hold. The ref eventually manages to pull Funk off of Gilbert, and the thirty second recovery period begins again. We can hear the camera man clearly say that he has : “About four minutes left, and then I'm dead”.
Gilbert rolls around selling his leg, while Funk bails to the floor, and appears to go after some fans at ringside. Eventually the ref starts another ten count, and this time Gilbert uses the top rope to pull himself to his feet at nine, barely beating the ten count.
Funk picks the leg again... and goes right back into the Spinning Toe Hold. Gilbert : “Ahh... Ye... Yes... I give! I give! My leg! You're breaking my leg! God Dammit! You're breaking my leg!”
Terry scores another submission at the 15:20 mark. The ref pulls Funk off of Gilbert again, and the thirty second countdown begins again. Gilbert clutches at his leg exclaiming : “He broke my leg! He broke my leg!”
Now Funk mugs the crowd (*drink), as the ten count begins again. Gilbert again manages to hook the top rope, and just barely pulls himself to his feet at nine. Funk grabs Gilbert by the hair, and unloads with four stiff left hands, and then proceeds to bite Gilbert on his forehead. Gilbert collapses to the mat. Funk quickly makes a cover, and scores another three count at the 16:35 mark. That's officially a pinfall off of a bite... which is awesome.
Funk sits next to Gilbert, and offers this friendly advice : “Come on Gilbert... get up pig! Get up! Get up! Get up!” as he paintbrushes Eddie across the face with open hand strikes. The ref pulls Funk off again, and the countdown begins again.
The ref takes Terry, while Gilbert struggles up to a knee. He is clearly searching for something in his trunks. Gilbert is up early in the ten count this time, and when Funk comes in to follow up, Eddie throws the dreaded powder into his eyes. Gilbert quickly rolls up a dazed Funk, grabs a handful of trunks for good measure, and scores another three count at the 17:25 mark.
Both men are down. Both men struggle to their feet during the thirty second break. Gilbert procures a plastic chair from his manager at ringside and, as soon as Funk in on his feet, Gilbert waffles him over the head with the plastic chair. Funk staggers around for a bit, before flopping to the mat. Gilbert runs over, and stacks up Funk awkwardly (hooking the tights again), for another three count at the 18:20 mark.
Both men are selling on the mat. An unidentified man in a long white coat, rolls into the ring, and tries to get Funk to rally. This man will becomes relevant in the story of this match, tho unfortunately, I have no idea who he is. Gilbert sees him, grabs the man by the back of the head, and dumps him over the top rope, and to the floor. Funk slowly fights to his feet, as the Man in the White Coat rolls back into the ring, and jumps on Gilbert's back, attempting to choke him.
Gilbert fades to one knee, but turns into the choke, and hits a blatant Ric Flair style low blow to the mysterious Man in the White Coat. Funk sells in the ring, while Gilbert takes the Mystery Man to the floor, and flattens him with some stiff right hands. Gilbert pulls the wooden ring steps aside, and slams the Man in White's head into them, just as Funk rolls to the floor, and tries to make the save.
Gilbert lays Funk out with some stiff right hands, and wanders off camera, to get some sort of foreign object, which he then slams over Funk's head. Gilbert pulls the Man in White to his feet, and lays him out with the same foreign object.
The ref admonishes Eddie here, saying : “Come on now! What the fuck are you doing?”
Gilbert slams whatever is in his right hand (looks like a beer can maybe?), over Funk's head again, and slams Terry's head into the wooden ring steps. Funk pops up, grabs the steps, staggers around with them, and hurls them toward the audience.
Gilbert throws Funk back onto the ringside table, grabs the announcer's house mic, and declares Terry a : “Son of a bitch!”, before repeatedly slamming him over the head with the mic. Gilbert covers Terry on the table, and picks up another three count, at the 20:50 mark.
During the thirty second recovery period, Funk sells on the table, while Eddie recovers the ring-steps, and drags them back into the ring. Gilbert's manager talks some shit to Funk. A dazed Funk rolls into the ring, where Gilbert is brandishing some sort of weapon (looks like a pipe). Terry sees this, and rolls out to the floor, and thus breaks the ten count at five.
Gilbert chases Terry to the floor, but Terry rolls back into the ring. Gilbert chases Terry into the ring, but Terry rolls out to the floor again. Gilbert chases Terry to the floor... but Terry grabs some sort of plunder (a board of some kind), and rolls back into the ring. Gilbert eventually catches Terry, and chokes him with the pipe for a bit. Gilbert grabs the board that Terry is still holding onto, and slams it into Funk's head three times. Terry goes down hard.
Gilbert grabs the pipe, and drags Terry to his feet, but Terry is still holding onto the board, and he manages to pop Eddie in the face with it. Gilbert is dazed, Funk falls back into the ropes, and rebounds with a resounding shot to the skull with the board. Gilbert goes down hard.
Funk throws the board down, grabs Eddie by the hair, and slams him face first into the board twice. On Funk's third attempt, Gilbert manages to counter, and send Funk face first into the board instead.
Both men collapse, and something very odd happens... Both men are down. Terry is slowly making his way over to Gilbert... and, even tho there is no cover of any kind, the ref checks Gilbert's shoulders, and then counts one, two, three... and the bells rings.
An awkward few seconds pass... and Funk quickly rolls over to the fallen Gilbert, shoots the ref a chilling glare, and covers him. The ref counts to three again, and the bell rings again at roughly 23:45.
At this point, it's probably a good thing that there are no announcers, because they would have been obliged to try and explain what happened there... and anything that they could have said, would have been patently ridiculous.
Terry crawls to his knees, appears to have a few words for the ref, and...
** Whoops **
There is a sudden “jump” in the coverage. Presumably the handheld camera battery (or tape) died (it is 1994 after all), and needed to be replaced. When we rejoin the action, both men are on the floor. Gilbert whips Terry into the ring post, and collapses face first on the floor. We get a long shot of Gilbert laying on the floor... before the camera eventually pans over to where Terry is also laying on the floor. Both men appear to be totally dead.
I presume both men have been counted down for a ten count...
At this point, an unidentified man gets on the house mic, and declares that : “There has to be a winner in this match... Texas Death Match... There has to be a winner... The first man to his feet, will be the declared the winner”. The ring announcer then comes on, to clarify : “In this match, there must be a winner, and therefor, the first man to his feet, will be declared the winner.”
There is no explanation offered as to why they have apparently changed the rules at the 25:15 mark of this match... but there you have it... the first man up wins!
Gilbert hears this, and immediately rolls to his knees. Funk hears this, and immediately rolls to his knees. Both men struggle mightily to get to their feet. Both men do reasonable justice to the the final scene from Rocky Two. Gilbert is almost to his feet, but his knee gives out (nice touch), and Terry manages to pop up, and win the match!
Winner at the 25:50 mark (after roughly twelve falls) ~ Terry Fu... Hey!
The ring announcer announces Funk as the winner, and Gilbert immediately stops selling his knee and/or exhaustion. He literally sprints over to Funk, knocking the ref aside in the process, and starts hammering on him. Gilbert rolls Terry into the ring, and slams his head into the wooden board six times. Some shirtless dude, in jeans and a headband (pretty sure that it's the Guy in White from earlier), grabs the Funk branding iron from ringside, and rolls into the ring. Gilbert immediately lays out this skinny loser, steals the branding iron, and proceeds to lay out the skinny dude, with repeated branding iron shots. Gilbert then turns his attention to Funk, and lays him out with a branding iron shot (to the temple) as well.
Gilbert follows up with more shots with the wooden board, before slamming Funk headfirst into the wall of the gymnasium again. Terry melts into a chair against the wall, and Gilbert gets another chair and smashes it against Terry's head and the wall. The ref tries to stop Gilbert, and eats a stiff right hand for his efforts. Gilbert unloads with five straight right hands, but Funk rallies, and answers with a left hand, and a poke to the eyes.
Funk and Gilbert begin to brawl toward the doors of the gymnasium, when someone hurls something from the top of the bleachers at them. We can't see what it is, but we hear it crash to the ground nearby. Whatever it is, it misses them, but prompts that Big Dude to ask : “Hey! Who threw that?”
Gilbert disappears thru the doors, Terry doesn't bother to ask questions, he just goes running into the bleachers, looking for the culprit. Lots of Blair Witch cinematography here, but eventually we catch up to Terry in the bleachers... looking every bit the Middle Aged Madman that he has become here in 1992.
Terry's pretty well spent, but still knows how to scare this audience into running like hell to get away from him. He stalks around, searching for the person who threw something at him. He threatens the few folks foolish enough to stay within striking distance, while the Big Man implores to the people to : “Get out of there! Get out of there!”
Funk eventually points to said Big Man, in an accusatory fashion, and The Big Dude backs off quickly, swearing that it was not him. Terry accuses him of being in cahoots with Gilbert, as he stalks him across the gym. Eventually Terry finds his branding iron, and his unidentified young friend, who has been bloodied up by the branding iron shots. He drags him up by the hair, and drags him toward to doors, saying to the fans : “He ain't much, but he'd whoop your ass in a heartbeat!”
A few folks are foolish enough to try and follow him, so he stops and threatens them with the branding iron as well. They wisely retreat to safer distance. Eventually a bloodied Terry, and his bloody friend, make their may out of the gymnasium, and this bizarre Five Star match fades to black.
Wow... That is, in fact, one hell of a match.
I cannot tell a lie. That is the strangest Five Star Match that I have witnessed to date (tho, we are early on in this journey). I'm certain that this match was infinitely more entertaining live, and would benefit significantly, from full camera coverage, and an announcer to explain who all the players were.
Without that level of support, I was left feeling impressed by the cleverness of match, but a bit perplexed by the circumstances. Why change the rules in the last minute of the match? That seems like terrible booking. Why not just put Funk over clean here? I'm left feeling that, as clever and entertaining as this match may have been, they may have out thought themselves into a somewhat muddled finish. Also, that Phantom Pinfall is hard to ignore. Clearly a major error of communication there.
This match (as with the last one that we looked at) lacked what you might think of as a “Five Star Move Set”. It had a few moves, and some fantastic psychology, that made those moves incredibly effective.
There's another fantastic (Five Star) post match meltdown from The Funker ~ He wrote the book on those. Tho this one is hurt significantly by the crowd. It feels weird to see Funk wildly lashing out at crowd of mostly kids... and it is impossible to believe (much as I might like to), that he might actually attack one of these children with his branding iron.
From start to finish, the crowd hurts this match. The type of match that they put together, just seems wildly inappropriate for the crowd. The shaky footage, unrefined lens, and lack of accessible backstory, also hurt the match. However, Funk is still The Mad Genius, and Gilbert is absolutely no slouch. They put together something special here. I personally enjoyed the complete lack of “near falls” ~ there were exactly zero two counts in this match.
It's definitely an awesome match, and I'm certain that if you were at this match live, it seemed like a Five Star match... therefor it *is* a Five Star match (perception is reality ~ read your Søren Kierkegaard)!
Does it hold up 20+ years later? Frankly, the footage doesn't seem to be Five Star level, but if you let yourself get into it ~ I have total faith that you'll see why this match is “special”. Official Dave Meltzer Five Star rating or not, I say check this match out! It is truly a unique spectacle. I think that you will enjoy it.
Back next time Gang, for a brand new match in The Five Star Series!
See you then.