The Beautiful Thing: The Five Greatest Brawlers


Brawlers 2

Thank You

Thanks to everybody who wrote to express their opinions of my first two columns. A couple of people have asked why I didn’t get back to them. That’s my fault, I didn’t set up my insidepulse email account until after the first column had already been posted, if you read it and replied in the first couple of hours after it was posted, I never got your message. Sorry about that.

Otherwise, it’s great to see that so many people see what I’m trying to do with this column, and that I am far from alone in appreciating Pro Wrestling as an art form.

Thanks to everyone on the forums who contributed to this discussion.

A Dirty Dozen

Last week I wrote that there are easily a dozen wrestlers other than Bad New Allen who could have filled the number 15 spot on my list of great brawlers. Even though that wasn’t meant literally, a couple of people have asked me which dozen I had in mind.

So, here’s a list of wrestlers that almost made my list, with one reason why they received serious consideration, and one reason why they didn’t make it. Hopefully this will also help to further explain what makes the difference between a good brawler and a genuinely great brawler.

12) Mr. Pogo.
Pro: Always dished out, and took, sick amounts of punishment in the ring.
Con: Unless he was in the ring with a genuinely great brawler, Pogo’s matches were often little more than a series of disconnected and overly contrived high spots. The same could be said of Sabu, the Sandman, and many other garbage wrestlers. In fact, there are easily a dozen wrestlers who could have justifiably been given this spot, too.

11) Steve “Dr. Death” Williams.
Pro: A genuinely tough guy and a very stiff wrestler.
Con: Doc is very disciplined in the ring and almost always wrestles under control. The best brawlers usually work on the wild side.

10) Ric Flair.
Pro: Stiff, intense, and capable of going toe to toe with anyone.
Con: He is primarily considered to be a ring technician, and brawling is only a small part of his arsenal. Flair relies more on his brains than on his balls when it comes to winning matches.

9) Raven.
Pro: Very intense and always willing to throw his body around to tell a story.
Con: Although Raven has a real gift for getting himself over, he has never made it to the ranks of the true top-tier superstars.

8) Haku/Meng.
Pro: Intense, stiff, legitimately tough, nasty, and ugly.
Con: He wrestled in too many dull matches and very few classics during his career.

7) The Nasty Boys.
Pro: Helped to pioneer the North American Garbage Match style.
Con: Helped to pioneer the North American Garbage Match style.

6) Abdullah the Butcher.
Pro: A legendary figure that influenced an entire generation of bloodthirsty brawlers.
Con: He is too one-dimensional.

5) Harley Race.
Pro: A genuine tough guy and a great champion.
Con: He was wildly misused as a crown-wearing cartoon character in the WWF.

4) Toshiaki Kawada.
Pro: One of the stiffest workers of all time, and a personal favourite.
Con: More of a precision striker than a wild brawler.

3) Dory Funk Jr.
Pro: One of the greatest NWA World Champions, a legendary trainer, and a man who held his own in some incredible battles.
Con: He is not considered primarily a brawler, and he just didn’t look the part.

2) Sgt. Slaughter.
Pro: His classic Boot Camp and Back Alley brawls.
Con: There was just too much cartoon goofiness and not enough stiff action later in his career.

1a) Arn Anderson. 1b) Terry Gordy
Pro: They are both great brawlers.
Con: There were only 15 spots on the list.


In the beginning

Terry in the ’70s

Let’s start our story 40 years ago, in 1964, when a mean bastard named Terry Funk was playing offensive guard for West Texas State University. In December of that year, as Terry was presumably healing up from a tough season, a boy named Steve was born in small Texas town. As Terry was gearing up for his final season in June of ’65 a boy named Michael Francis Foley was born, not in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, but in Bloomington, Indiana.

After Terry left West Texas State to make a name for himself in his father’s Amarillo wrestling promotion, a new generation of tough guys joined the team, among them a Defensive Tackle named Frank Goodish and, later, a Linebacker named John Stanley Hansen.

Frank Goodish, before wrestling.

As the 1970s began, Terry Funk went on his first tour of Japan, where he teamed with his brother Dory Jr. against Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki in the JWA. In 1972, Baba left the JWA and started his own promotion, All Japan Pro Wrestling. The Funk brothers were among the cornerstones of the new promotion.

Meanwhile, former West Texas State Defensive Tackle Frank Goodish was trying his hand at Pro Football, and former Linebacker John Stanley Hansen was getting trained as a wrestler in Amarillo. Hansen wrestled his first professional match a year later.

Shortly thereafter, Goodish enetered the world of Professional Wrestling. In 1975, he was spotted by Killer Kowalski, who told Vince McMahon Sr. about the giant Texan. Goodish was brought to New York where he was programmed against Bruno Sammartino, and given the name by which he will always be remembered: Bruiser Brody.

Bruiser Brody, after wrestling

On December 10, 1975, Terry Funk beat Jack Brisco in a 2/3 falls 60-minute classic to win the NWA World title.

On April 26 of the following year, John Stanley, now know as Stan Hansen, made a name for himself during a match with Bruno Sammartino. The story was that Hansen broke Bruno’s neck with his deadly Lariat clothesline. Their June 25 rematch at Shea Stadium set North American attendance records, and made Hansen a star.

In 1977, Funk dropped his title to Harley Race and returned to Japan. The 1977 Real World Tag League finals pitted Terry & Dory Jr. Against Abdullah the Butcher & The Sheik. The match set the template for the eventual rise of Hardcore Wrestling and made the Funks into the first ever non-Japanese good guy tag team in the history of Japanese Professional Wrestling.

That same year, Hansen was sent to work for New Japan, where he feuded with Antonio Inoki.

In 1978, Brody’s star began to shine as he split his time between working for WCCW in Dallas, and Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis promotion. It is likely that the then 13-year-old Steve Williams of Edna, Texas was among the people watching as Brody developed his take-no-crap character. The next year Brody made his debut with AJPW.

In 1981 Stan Hansen jumped to AJPW and appeared at ringside in support of Brody & Jimmy Snuka, who ended up beating the Funks to win the RWTL finals in one of my favourite matches of all time.

Gordi: *marks out*

Hansen’s jump ignited a bidding war between All Japan and New Japan that lasted for years. Brody and Hansen joined together to form a main event tag team that took brawling to new levels of insanity. They won the RWTL in 1983 and the PWF tag titles in 1984.

Also in 1983, Terry Funk embarked on the first of many “retirement” tours, including his “final” match in Tokyo’s Sumo Hall on August 31. Terry teamed with his brother against Terry Gordy & Stan Hansen in a match so dramatic that many in the crowd were reduced to tears.

Meanwhile, Michael Foley had grown up enough that he was able to hitch a ride to Madison Square Garden to watch a wrestling match.

Michael Francis Foley: *marks out*

Terry Funk came out of retirement in 1984, and worked for the WWF until 1986, helping to usher in the ‘Mania Era.

In 1985 Brody left AJPW to feud with Inoki in New Japan. By the end of the year, his legendarily maverick and uncooperative attitude would get Brody into such trouble that he ended up walking out of the promotion.

On December 29, Stan Hansen beat Rick Martel to win the AWA world title.

Three years after watching Jimmy Snuka fly, Mick made his pro wrestling debut. Among other gigs, he worked as a jobber for the WWF under the name of Jack Foley.

During the late ’80s, while Steve Williams was playing Defensive End for North Texas State University, Bruiser Brody travelled the world raising hell wherever he went.

West Texas State University, class of ’68

Brody became a top star in Puerto Rico. His tendency to go into business for himself got Brody into such hot water with the promoters there that he was stabbed to death backstage on July 16, 1988.

In 1989, Stan Hansen helped Giant Baba to create the Triple Crown and secure the future of All Japan by putting over Jumbo Tsuruta on April 18, and Mitsuharu Misawa on August 22.

On November 15, Terry Funk fought one of the greatest brawls of all time, his “I Quit” match against Ric Flair.

Also in 1989, Mick Foley started to gain attention while working for WCW as Cactus Jack, and Steve Williams enrolled in Chris Adams’ wrestling school.


Terry in the ’90s