I recently spoke to WWE Hall of Famer about his time in the business, singing with WWF in the 80s, his his new Funking Conservatory Wrestling School and more. You can get more information about the Funking Conservatory Wrestling School at this link. Here is the interview, in its entirety:
Wrestling Inc.: Your father was a legendary pro wrestler. You started wrestling right after college. Did you know growing up that this is what you were going to be doing?
Dory: Maybe I did, but I guess I did. As a kid, I always dreamed of being a professional wrestler. I watched my father wrestle. I loved what he did. I thought a lot about doing it. As I went through college, I was always playing football and working for a construction company at the same time I was going to school. It came upon me that in those days, you couldn’t be a professional athlete, a wrestler and a collegiate football player at the same time.
So when our season was over, we won our last game against Ohio University, our season was over, the local promoter, Doc Sarpolis, wanted to have me wrestle for him. I signed a contract on the wheels of a TWA airplane when we landed in Amarillo after the game, the Sun Bowl. I never looked back. My career started in 1963.
Wrestling Inc.: You said you signed your first contract right after a college football career. Had you even trained at all until then?
Dory: Yes I had. It’s kind of strange but the trainer was, well a couple of em. My father, one, Dory Funk Sr. Ricky Romero. And a guy named Johnny Como, was very young. He was 18 years old, wrestling in the Amarillo territory. And Johnny Como went on to become Pedro Morales, the WWE/F World Champion. He was one of my trainers.
Wrestling Inc.: Did you ever have the opportunity to team with your father or work with him on any level?
Dory: Oh, yes. We were a six man tag team, my brother, myself and my father in St. Louis, Greensboro, North Carolina, the Amarillo territory. I also had the opportunity to work with him in Japan. He was in my corner, probably the most famous match I had was for the NWA Championship in Japan against Antonio Inoki. My father was in my corner that night. He was quite active and quite a great wrestler.
Wrestling Inc.: You defeated Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Championship in 1969. Back then, title changes were a big deal and didn’t happen that often. What was your reaction when you learned that you would be winning the title?
Dory: Well my reaction when I won the title, it’s still there on video tapes on YouTube. It was Tampa, Florida. My father and my brother put a whole lot of work into training me and getting me into shape and getting me ready for the big match in Tampa. Actually it was the very words from my father after I won the match, he came over, put his arm around me and said, “I just want you to know you did a hell of a job. If you do nothing else, I’m very, very proud of you.” I never forgot those words. He and my brother, Terry Funk, did a tremendous amount of preparation work with training me and getting me ready for the match.
Wrestling Inc.: You held it, I think you had the second longest reign ever for that title, correct?
Dory: Yeah. Four and a half years. That was an unbelievable trip. First class everywhere you go. We traveled to 30 different territories and we had the opportunity to work with the very best in each territory. It was every night a different opponent. It was just a fabulous experience.
Wrestling Inc.: You’ve mentioned Jack Brisco as being one of your favorite opponents, I think he had mentioned in an interview since that you were supposed to lose the title to him, but you ended up losing to Harley Race.
Dory: I had a pickup truck wreck accident and there was no way I could have been used to wrestle Jack Brisco. That’s the truth. Yeah. I was just unable to [wrestle]. I was in the hospital. I wasn’t able to go to Houston and wrestle Jack.
Wrestling Inc.: Yeah. You wrestled a lot in Japan in the 80s with the WWF when it really took off. You saw kind of the style that the business changed. In Japan, did you see the style change as much as it changed over here and continues to change over here?
Dory: In Japan it was my brother and myself, because when I first went there they was lining up Japanese wrestlers against three American wrestlers. The Japanese wrestlers were the good guys and the American wrestlers were the bad guys. Very fortunate for me, I had the opportunity to wrestle a match with Antonio Inoki that lasted one hour and supposedly, one of the most famous matches in the history of Japanese wrestling. What happened was the people accepted my wrestling and his wrestling, and they accepted both of us as a couple of athletes competing with each other. All of a sudden in Japan I wasn’t the bad guy, I was the good guy.
The same thing happened with Terry. It was shortly thereafter that the Butcher and the Sheik were in Japan. Terry and I were the ones that battled those two guys in some bloody, violent matches and the people picked our side in Japan. It became a situation where we were considered one of the Japanese. We dressed in the Japanese dressing room. We came out for the ceremonies on their side. Everybody else was in the other dressing room. It was a unique experience and it’s still to this day, we were not heels in Japan. We were very well liked and very appreciative of the Japanese fans. They’re some of the greatest in the world and they never forget. If you’re their favorite one time, you’re their favorite forever.
I’m very grateful for, like you said, the two big things in my career was my acceptance in Japan as a professional wrestler and a superstar over there, and came over here and was NWA World Champion. There were other really tremendous highlights too, one of them being going through the WWF with Terry Funk as my partner and given the opportunity to train up in Stamford, Connecticut with WWE, but it was WWF at the time. Given the opportunity right now to run the Funking Conservatory Wrestling School and being able to work with some of these really great kids that are coming up. We’ve had a lot of stars in the past that have gone to be superstars in the WWE and we’ve got a lot of future stars that will be coming up. They always say in this business there are no guarantees, but we’ve got a lot of kids that really have some talent and you will hear from them.
Wrestling Inc.: I want to talk more about your school. I did want to ask you first about your WWF run when you signed. You guys wrestled at Wrestlemania 2. Did you have any idea at the time that it would become this big juggernaut that it has?
Dory: Yeah. Wrestlemania was big. The production of WWE, back then and to the present, is the best that there is in professional wrestling and in just about anything.
Wrestling Inc.: What made you decide to leave WWF shortly after that?
Dory: It was commitment to Japan. It was one that I had made earlier and had to continue on with.
Wrestling Inc.: And what made you start the Funking Conservatory School?
Dory: There was so many wrestlers that I had trained just because I knew them, including Jumbo Tsuruta in Japan. Oh heck, going back to the West Texas kids, Stan Hansen. I had always been interested in training and teaching. It was many years ago, probably about 1996 or 97 I got a call from WWE and they wanted me to come up there and train their talent and exclusively work for them. That’s when I went up there. Wrestlers like Kurt Angle, the Hardy brothers, Christian, Mark Henry, Edge? just a tremendous crew that I had the opportunity to work with. [They] went on to become superstars.
Wrestling Inc.: Yeah. I remember back then when you were training Kurt Angle, and hearing about just how, what a prodigy he was, just how quickly he picked up the business. Was that pretty unique, or do you see that every now and then?
Dory: Kurt was unique. He was still with us for a good period of time before WWE felt he was ready to go on the road with the company. But yeah, Kurt was unique because he had such great amateur wrestling skills and the first thing I told Kurt was, “Whatever you did in amateur wrestling you should do in professional wrestling, but you just have to adapt your style to what we do and what we’re trying to do in the professional wrestling business.” He did a tremendous job. So did Christian. So did the Hardy brothers. So did Edge. Mark Henry is still going and doing a terrific job.
Wrestling Inc.: How has your training style changed over the years, because wrestling obviously in ring, back in the day, used to be a bit more snug, a lot closer? Now it’s a lot more high spots and building to false finishes before the finish. How has your training style adapted and how did you adapt it?
Dory: Okay it’s a mixture. There’s several things we do. One thing we do is we take care of our people. We don’t want them hurt. So we have a safety program which includes many of the things that WWE does. Basically blows to the head whatsoever, they don’t allow. We have a calisthenics program that conditions your body, to strengthen your knees and your neck. We work very hard on television because television is the heart and soul of professional wrestling. We use video almost every day in our training. We also train very hard on technical performance. Technical performance begins with the basics. For someone to walk and in and want to try backflips, flying off the top rope, they need to show that they know and understand the basics of wrestling first. There are WWE agents and WWE personnel and TNA personnel and Japanese personnel, but the first thing they want to know is do you know the basics? They can tell if a wrestler is good or not. They just want you to walk in the ring.
So we start with their entrances. We teach them the basics. Then we take them as far with the spectacular as they can show they’re able to go and still have a safety factor to it. We don’t want any crazy things like somebody flying out of the ring and a serious injury. We pride ourselves very much on our safety program.
Wrestling Inc.: When someone signs up, can anyone sign up? Or do you pick and choose who gets in? Or how does that work?
Dory: We have a screening system. We like to know what their athletic background is, what their goals are, what they would like to achieve. It is important to us, amateur wrestling is a real plus. Judo is a real plus. Football is a real plus. We’ve had baseball players that have come in and did a tremendous job. A good athletic background is necessary. A good attitude towards the wrestling business is necessary.
Wrestling Inc.: WWE recently opened the Performance Center. I know there are some people that are concerned this will cause wrestlers to only learn one style and only one way to work. What are your thoughts on that?
Dory: I think they’ve done a tremendous job with it. I think it’s, yeah WWE has to look for different styles. I mean my gosh, look at the talent roster. They have so many characters on RAW. It’s mind boggling. I don’t think everybody’s going to work the same, with the same style. I think a wrestling match is something that, it takes a lot of skill, it takes a lot of, you have to see with the audience. More than anything, you’ve got to listen too. You’ve got to hear the audience and know what they want, know what they’ll react to. Listening is one of the most important things of being a good worker, and we teach that too. We have the opportunity to put our kids in front of 100 people here in FC, that’s what our studio will hold. They get the same reaction out of these people as if you were working in front of 10,000.
Wrestling Inc.: I wanted to ask you also about being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 alongside your brother Terry. What was that experience like?
Dory: It was a fabulous honor. I really, really appreciate it because the bulk of my career was not with WWE, even though I was a trainer for them and I did work with them for almost a year. I thought it was just a tremendous honor and I thank the McMahon family and everybody involved with WWE and the selection. I just couldn’t believe it. I was very, very grateful. It’s right along with winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Being in the WWE Hall of Fame is my highest honor.
Wrestling Inc.: You actually once wrestled Terry, right?
Dory: Yes. I wrestled him once in Japan.
Wrestling Inc.: And you won that match?
Dory: Yes, I was fortunate
Wrestling Inc.: If you could have one last match, one last retirement?
Dory: Triple H!
Wrestling Inc.: Triple H?
Dory: Yes. I would like to challenge Triple H [laughter] Texas Death Match, inside a steel cage.
Wrestling Inc.: Thanks again for your time. Do you have any last comments for the readers of our website?
Dory: Just I would like to thank them so much for the support and for being wrestling fans. If they like what I do I appreciate it very, very much. And thank you so much for the interview and for the opportunity for me to have the interview for your website. Again, just I appreciate it and look forward to everything that comes in the future. Japan to WWE to TNA to the Internet [laughter] to whatever it is, the Funking Conservatory wrestling school. I just keep looking forward to a bright future in all directions.