In Funk's Corner: Jim Barnett
September 19, 2004 by Dory Funk Jr.
Jim Barnett was a legend. He broke into the wrestling business working for Fred Kohler in Chicago. Wrestling came to us in Hammond, Indiana on television from the International Amphitheater and Jack Brickhouse was the play by play announcer. It was 1946 and the hottest show on television was professional wrestling. I was 4 years old, My father Dory Funk Sr. was a wrestler working for Kohler earning $10 if he won and nothing if he lost. On the main event was Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Hans Schnabble and a young American Indian, Chief Don Eagle. Jim Barnett was the first to realize the power of television and its relationship to professional wrestling. Jim was able to get Wrestling from the Marigold syndicated across the United States and thus was born the first national wrestling television show.
Barnett became a power broker in wrestling early. It those days, television was distributed for syndication on something they called kinescope, or sixteen millimeter black and white movie film played directly into a machine for conversion to video on local TV stations. Barnett was in charge of the national television show through the Dumont Television Network. He put together his crew of wrestlers and came up with what was known in the wrestling business as a cut or kickback. The deal was he would guarantee his wrestlers $300. per week (Lots of money at the time) Everything they made over the $300 minimum, they would split with Barnett. This system was loved by the wrestlers that worked for Barnett and disliked by those who didn't.
My first exposure to Jim Barnett was in 1952 when Jim came to Amarillo traveling with Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne, both stars on the Chicago Television show. Barnett's match, Lou Thesz vs Verne Gagne sold out the Football Stadium in Amarillo. (10,000) people. This was a wrestling gate record for only a short time as it was soon to be broken by Dory Funk Sr. vs Gorgeous George that turned fans away from the same football stadium) At the age of ten, I remember how important it was that my father, Dory Funk Sr. got to meet Jim Barnett while he was in Amarillo. (At that time I didn't understand why.) My mother, explained to me that Jim Barnett was the most powerful man in wrestling.
In 1963 I broke into the wrestling business and by the middle of my first year, it became important that I travel to other territories and, "Get over," outside the Amarillo Territory. One of the places I traveled to was Indianapolis where I worked for Jim Barnett. My opponent that night was the father of Macho Man Randy Savage, Angelo Poffo. Dick the Bruiser and Tokyo Joe were the main event. Mr. Barnett told me that he thought I would do well in the wrestling business. He liked my work and said he would help me when the opportunity was right.
It was two years later in 1965 that he called and asked my father for dates in his territory, Australia. It was my first big opportunity in wrestling and to take advantage I had to travel half way around the world. Jim Barnett's promotion in Australia was one of the classiest promotions I have ever worked for. We traveled daily by the new 727 jet aircraft criss-crossing a country the size of the U.S. We worked five nights a week plus TV. Weekly we worked Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and sometimes drove ninety miles north to New Castle. All the wrestlers dressed suit and tie for travel across the country. (Barnett's dress code for wrestlers)
Jim always surrounded himself with quality and often young talent. In Australia it was young Paul Jones, Emil Dupre (Father of Renee Dupre) Young Mark Lewin, Ray Stevens, Tex McKinzie, Killer Kowalski, Hercules Cortez, Dominic Denucci and Mitsu Arakawa. Barnett always personally came to the dressing room before shows to motivate the wrestlers, encouraging them to put on a great show. He was a master entertainer but was deadly serious about the business of drawing money. I returned to work for Jim in Australia in 1967.
In 1969 I became NWA world champion and for four and a half years worked exclusively for the NWA. In those days, Jim was not a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and I did not work for him again until the Mohammed Ali vs Antonio Inoki mixed boxing wrestling match. Ali and Inoki fought in Japan, Andre the Giant fought Chuck Wepner at Shea Stadium in New York and once again working for Jim Barnett this time in Atlanta on May 25th, I wrestled Jack Brisco at the Omni in Atlanta. It was a closed circuit TV Broadcast originating from Tokyo, Atlanta and New York. After my match with Jack Brisco, I showered and watched the Ali / Inoki match from the Omni with Jim Barnett and Eddie Graham who had recently become partners in the Florida and Georgia territories.
After purchasing the Atlanta Territory, Jim became secretary of the National Wrestling Alliance. In fact, Jim volunteered to be Secretary on the NWA and did it for no salary. On several occasions, I arranged trips for Jim to travel to Japan. He was the special invited quest of the owner of All Japan Pro wrestling, Giant Baba. Jim liked to dress well and always made a side trip to Hong Kong where he ordered his taylor made suits.
In August of 1999 Marti and I started the Funking Conservatory training camp. One day in November of 1999 the telephone rang and Marti answered it. She turned to me and said, "You will never guess in a million years who is on the phone." I knew I had no chance. She said, "It's Jim Barnett!!" And he wants to come to the Funking Conservatory to see our wrestlers.
Jim Barnett came to the Funking Conservatory five times over the next two years. This, "Most powerful man in professional wrestling." Jim Barnett came to the Funking Conservatory to visit with and make our kids feel good about what they were doing. He encouraged Adam Windsor to follow his dream as a professional wrestler. Adam had been with us three months at the time. Jim saw something special in the Royal Stud. Jim took time to visit and talk to Adam and offered suggestions to improve his work. Jim told Adam to open his next interview with this line, "For the past 200 years, England and America have been the staunchest of allies. Adam did exactly as Jim said. Jim spent time with all of our young wrestlers. On that particular trip, Josh Wilcox, Dave DeJohn, "Rocket" Fred Curry, Chris the Bambi Killer, Deno Blade, Joey Bumps, Jay Sanders, Scott Ingrahm and the "Miss Guided Misfit" Mike Maggio all got to meet and talk with the, "Most Powerful Man in Wrestling." Jim Barnett.
Jim Barnett past away yesterday at the age of 80.
Marti and I knew him well. He will be missed.
We wish to express our condolences to his family and friends.
by Dory Funk Jr...
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