Dory Funk Jr. has wrestled Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. But the WWE Hall of Famer of Ocala, faced his toughest match with a bear.
A 450-pound bear.
And they called him Victor.
Dory and Victor the bear wrestled to draw decades ago in Amarillo, Texas and he explained it this way.
“Understand, a bear doesn’t give up and you can’t pin his shoulders…It was hard to reach around the paw but (after it was over) Victor was happy and so was I. I shook the bear’s hand.”
The bear match is one of countless memories and wrestling personalities that Funk details in his new book, “The Last of a Great Breed.” It’s available on Amazon.
The book is a breezy, fun and sometimes emotional read that wrestling fans will enjoy. It tells how Dory and his brother of him — Terry Funk — became wrestling stars with the help, guidance and sometimes physical discipline of their father of him, Dory Funk Sr.
Dory Funk Jr., 81, is head of The Funking Conservatory, a professional wrestling school in Ocala that he operates with his wife, Marti. They also run !Bang!TV, which telecasts matches from the school. The next major wrestling event at the school is Aug. 13. For information call (352) 895-4658.
The school has been around for over two decades and its alumni include such famous pros as Kurt Angle, Edge, Jeff Hardy, Mark Henry and many more.
Funk says his method of teaching wrestling involves three major lessons: safety, ring performance skills and television skills.
There is also one more lesson that applies to Dory’s life.
“In order to make a living in this business, you have to devote yourself to wrestling,” said Funk, a former NWA champion. “It’s a very competitive business, and it takes everything you’ve got to make it to the top.”
In his career that started in 1963, Funk has seen wrestling grow from a sport run by smaller, local promoters around the country, to the giant TV and big arena spectacle it is today. Much of that growth can be attributed to Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.
“The WWE and Vince changed everything,” Funk said. “I admire today’s wrestlers. They know how to put on a show and tell a story. They make you want to come back and see them, week after week. That’s what makes wrestling work.”
Now it’s Dory’s destiny to teach and mold the new generation of wrestlers.
“I’m not in this just for money,” said student Nick Gene. He seems like a nice, well-mannered young man, but that all changes when he wrestles.
“When I get in that ring, I become a different person. I’m not a fighter in real life, but in the ring, I’ll fight anybody.”
Some say because wrestling is fake, it’s not really a sport.
“I don’t like the word fake—what we do is provide entertainment,” Gene said. “It’s tough in that ring. We take a real beating.”
Gene appreciates learning the business with Dory Funk.
“Dory has taught me self-confidence,” he said. “He makes me believe in myself. He taught me how to bring my ring character to life.”
There’s a saying that Dory and Marti Funk stress their students.
“You have to have excellence and execution,” Marti said. “That’s what makes you look believable.” The current crop of students includes: Jack Green, Christian Fernandez, Christian Hunter, Chad Casanova, Lazaro Carmarena, and Jake Powers.
Another is the masked wrestler who goes by the name Dragon Fly.
“I like the theatrics of being in the ring, and I like telling a story. To me, pro wrestling is like opera. It’s about telling stories and entertaining people.”
He grew up watching the Power Rangers and lives out his own fantasy as Dragon Fly. “I put on the mask and I’m a whole new person,” he said. “I become the character and the character becomes me.”
It has always been that way for Dory Funk Jr.
He may not move like he used to in the ring when he held the NWA and other championship belts, but the guy can still crack his trademark whip.
Despite his nasty, aggressive ring persona, outside the squared circle, Dory is softly spoken, and articulate.
He was an English major and star football player at West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M. He started wrestling in 1963 and did so until his retirement from him 5 years ago.
Now, his life is teaching wrestlers and spending time with Marti.
“If I have had any measure of success and happiness, it must be measured by my most cherished of all memories –the times spent with Dory,” Marti writes in the book.
Jack Green, an aspiring wrestler, described Dory this way: “He gives us knowledge, and he gives us hope.
Funk takes such words in stride.
“Wrestling is a hard business but a good business,” he said. And he offered this enduring lesson for all wrestlers when he stepped into the ring with the late Andre the Giant.
“Whatever you do,” Dory Funk Jr. said with a sly grin, “don’t make him mad.”
Tony Violanti covers arts and music for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into the Buffalo NY Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.