Funk’s Corner – A Tribute to Jumbo Tsuruta
In 1972 my Father, Dory Funk Sr. agreed to supply American wrestling talent for Giant Baba’s new company All Japan Pro Wrestling.Saturday was the beginning of my week off as NWA World Champion. Even though it was my time off, I would wrestle several shots for the Amarillo Territory. I was not working this day but went to Channel 10 Television to see if I could be of help with the production of the weekly TV show.
It was at the KFDA Channel 10 Studio that I met the new wrestler Mr. Baba had discovered who was a Japanese National Champion in amateur wrestling, Grecco wrestling and had competed in college in basketball and swimming. He had also competed in the Olympics in Munich in 1972 in Grecco Roman wrestling. Mr. Baba liked this kid, and had sent him to Amarillo to learn the finer points of professional wrestling.
I remember meeting Tsuruta for the first time. As I entered the dressing room I saw the familiar faces of the Amarillo Territory, Larry Lane, Dick Murdoch, Stan Hanson, one of the best babyfaces of all time, Ricky Romero, Scott Casey, Sputnik Monroe, JC Dykes and his Infernos, Rocky Smith and Frankie Cain.
“Mr. Funk,” I heard someone say from behind. I turned and there he was, Tall, lean, and wearing a crew cut. I had to look up to him even though he was slightly slumped over. He said, “Mr. Funk, My name is Tommy Tsuruta, It is easier to say than my Japanese name, Tsuruta Tomomi. I have never wrestled a professional match before in my life. This is my first time, please take care of me.”
Tommy Tsuruta was scheduled to wrestle El Gran Tapia, a good wrestler out of Mexico. I didn’t know that this would be Tsuruta’s first match but there was no changing things now as the cameras of KFDA TV would soon be rolling. I looked right at him and said, “Don’t worry Tommy, have confidence, just stay cool and you’ll do fine.
Tsuruta went into the ring scared to death, but had a good match against El Gran Tapia and captured the victory in about eleven minutes. Tsuruta became one of my best students and one of the best wrestlers of all time.
Tsuruta learned fast. He had the basic experience in amateur wrestling with a mix of Grecco Roman wrestling (Upper body throws) and great coordination from competing in basketball and swimming. He was also a fine student having earned a degree in Law from Japan’s Chuo University.
Tsuruta is the only wrestler ever outside the Funk family to master the spinning toe hold, and is the only one who can throw the same fore arm blow every bit as hard as I do.
One day at interviews I remember Tsuruta telling me his English was not so good and he really didn’t want to do interviews. I told him, you must, you are going to be on camera and the announcer is going to ask you about your opponent, “you must say something.”
Tsuruta’s interview went like this. I know my opponent has a good heart, and I have a good heart too. I am going to do my best. He was wrestling our top heel Sputnik Monroe who had just said, “I will whup that puke just like eatin’ boardin’ house pie.” I don’t know what boardin’ house pie is, but Sputnik was always going to whup somebody that way.
People in Amarillo loved Tsuruta for his sincerity, athletic ability, and kindness. He didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody and his skills in the ring were unmatched. In his first year in professional wrestling, Tsuruta became a top star in the United States, something accomplished by only a few Japanese wrestlers including his boss, Giant Baba.
In the summer of 1992, Jumbo Tsuruta was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and never fully recovered. Tsuruta had a degree in law and earned his teaching credentials in 1994 taking an Assistant Professor position at the University of Portland. Jumbo’s health deteriorated, however, as he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer which eventually spread to his liver and by the end of the year He was back in Japan. After traveling to Australia for an operation to remove the cancer, Tsuruta traveled to the Philippines in search of a kidney donor and transplant.
Jumbo Tsuruta passed away in the National Hospital in the Philippines on May 13, 2000 from complications of the kidney transplant.
Now on our website at www.dory-funk.com is a wrestling match between Jumbo Tsuruta and myself from Japan in 1974.
I will always remember him as one of the best athletes and friends I have ever known.
The official in the match is Joe Higuchi one of the best referees in the business.
Dory Funk Jr.
Coach of the Funking Conservatory and Jumbo Tsuruta.
For information on our upcoming show October 28th in our New Air-conditioned Arena, Support the Troops 20, “The Great Big Show” and to find out how you can become a professional wrestler and appear on !BANG! TV, call now – 352-895-4658 or visit our website at www.dory-funk.com.