Funk’s Corner – Gene Kiniski
My Father, Dory Funk Sr. always said you can never learn the wrestling business unless you face the best.
In my first year in the wrestling, I faced the best. I wrestled Verne Gagne to an hour draw, defeated Sonny Meyers, Fritz Von Erich, and Pat O’Connor and I wrestled Gene Kiniski to a one hour draw in what I still consider one of the toughest matches I ever had. At about the 40 minute mark, Gene grabbed both of my legs and gave me his “Giant Swing” until I nearly blacked out, then dropped me in the center of the ring and jumped on me with all 6′ 6 280 pounds, then crossed my face with his forearm and said, “Your Mother is coming to ringside, Dorothy is worried about you, here she comes to help you.” To this day I still consider wrestling Gene Kiniski the most demanding athletic event I have participated in.
In the finals of a tournament to see who would face Lou Thesz for the NWA World Championship. I went over Iron Mike Dibiase. Before a sellout crowd in Amarillo, Texas I wrestled Lou Thesz to a one hour draw for the World Heavyweight Championship.
In my second year in the business, (1964) it was my fathers opinion that I must prove myself a box office attraction in other places if I were going to climb to the top in the wrestling business. We chose the Vancouver Territory as the place to go. My father had built a reputation there a few years before wrestling as the Texas Outlaw.
My father made the trip to Vancouver with me for the first week. We were booked around the territory as father and son tag team. This was an introduction for me to the Vancouver Territory. After the first week, Dad returned to Amarillo and I stayed to work the Vancouver Territory. The loop included Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, New Westminster, Chilliwack, and Tacoma Washington.
After the first week I had a meeting with promoter Rod Fenton. He told me, “people here pay to see big men in the ring. Just look at my stars, Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Jonathan, Mike Sharpe, Dale Lewis, and Tex McKenzie.” I had some concern that maybe Rod Fenton was doing a favor for my father and doubted my ability.
The wrestlers in Vancouver were great to get along with. Mike Sharp, Gene Kiniski, and Don Leo Jonathan were my friends. In the dressing room I would hear Jonathan say, “Okay kid, lets get your pushups done, 300 of them, then Gene and Mike would make me lay on a bench and they would work my neck until I couldn’t turn it from side to side. Gene Kiniski would give me advice, “Listen kid I want to see you in a sport coat every night. Give these people some wrestling that is what they are paying to see, not a bunch of bull shit.” Mike would say, “Okay kid work my neck. He would lay down on the bench. “Work it Hell, I couldn’t even move it.”
After the first week, my father was gone and I was on my own. I received my booking sheet. The whole loop for that week I was scheduled against preliminary wrestlers on the first match every night. I did my best hoping I could move up the card the next week.
At the end of the second week I received my next booking sheet and saw that I was working second match with Peter Whickinoff. I had never heard of him, but I would do my best. Peter Whickinoff was substituted for all week by more jobbers. After suffering through my second week of mediocre matches, I went in to get my next booking sheet and saw that I was wrestling second match with Joe Noshow who turned out to be replaced by, you guessed it, more jobbers.
I had had it. I was 2000 miles from home with my wife and two kids trying my best and felt like I was going nowhere. I remember getting my pay from Tacoma Washington, it was an all time record low for me. $17 and promoter Rod Fenton looked at me and said, “Don’t tell anybody in Texas about this.” I told Mr. Fenton, “Please give me a chance. I promise I will do anything if you will let me show you what I can do. The next day I got my booking sheet, Monday in Vancouver was a battle royal and the rest of the week, I was on top wrestling Gene Kiniski. I was thrilled.
I wanted to be spectacular in the Battle Royal, “Impress the promoter.” I was in the corner on the top rope with Tex McKenzie and Mike Sharpe in front of me, both 6′ 9″ tall. From the top rope I jumped over the top of them, landing in the middle of the ring. As I jumped from the top, Mike reached up and grabbed at my leg, throwing me off balance. In an effort to land standing in the middle of the ring I reached for the floor with one leg only. As I landed, I could feel the knee break to the inside. As I set there on the mat knowing my knee was busted, my friends picked me up and threw me over the top rope and down to the floor. That’s what friends in wrestling are for. (You know, the show must go on)
The next morning I was in the doctors office. He said, “Check in the hospital tomorrow and we will do knee surgery.” Disappointed and Dejected, I called Promoter, Rod Fenton to give him the bad news. Fenton said, “Before you have surgery, call Gene Kiniski. I didn’t speak much to Gene, I just listened. “Kid, go to a sporting good store and buy some tough skin, some tape, and long wrestling tights. Shave your leg and show up for the show one hour ahead of time. I did what he said.
That night I had to cover up and sneak in the back door. I was on the main event wrestling Gene Kiniski and couldn’t let the wrestling fans see that I couldn’t walk. Gene was there one hour ahead of schedule. He taped my leg tight as a cast from top to bottom, then said bend it till you get a slight tear in the tape by your knee. As Gene left, he growled, “Okay kid, I will see you in the ring.”
Gene Kiniski was there every night that week one hour ahead of schedule to tape my knee before we wrestled, then we would go into the ring and he would whip the heck out of me but leave the knee alone. I owe it to Gene Kiniski that I did not have to have surgery on my knee in Vancouver and he may have saved my career, In fact I have been wrestling all these years and never had more trouble or surgery on my knees.
When time came to leave the Vancouver Territory and return to Amarillo, I was wondering what to give to Gene Kiniski for a gift to thank him for taking care of me and most likely saving my career in wrestling but as my advisor, Big Gene left nothing to chance. At my last show in Vancouver, Gene came to me and said, “Listen Kid, Before you leave for Amarillo, you need to go to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of Crown Royal and on your way out drop it off and my house in Bellingham.” (Washington) On the way out of the territory with wife and kids we stopped by Gene’s house with Gene’s bottle of Crown Royal.
Five years later in Tampa Florida on February 11, 1969 I went over Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. No one was prouder of my career as NWA Champion than Gene Kiniski.
At WCW’s Slamboree in ’93, Gene Kiniski was my manager in the legends match against Nick Bockwinkel. Verne Gagne was in Bockwinkel’s corner and John Valentine was commentating the match. As we walked into the ring at the Omni, Gene had his arm around my shoulder, still the boss and still telling me what to do. As we came to the center of the ring in the Omni in Atlanta, He stopped, looked at me and said, “Look up, Your father is up there looking at us now. Do you see Nick Bockwinkel over there?” “Give’em hell Kid.”
Now on !BANG! TV at http://www.dory-funk.com “Blast From the Past” Dory Funk Jr. vs Gene Kiniski NWA World Championship Match from the Tampa Armory February 11, 1969 / Photo of NWA Champions.
Dory Funk Jr. – Coach of the Funking Conservatory Wrestling School and Trainer of WWE, TNA and Japanese Wrestling Talent.
For training information and ticket information to !BANG! TV Tapings, call 352-895-4658 or visit http://www.dory-funk.com.