The Five Greatest Brawlers: The Rest Of The Story
1990 was one of Stan Hansen’s greatest years as a wrestler. He knocked Vader’s eye loose at the NJPW Super Card in February, beat Terry Gordy for the Triple Crown in June, and took the US Title from Lex Luger at Halloween Havoc.
In November, Terry Funk beat Jerry Lawler for the USWA Unified Title.
Meanwhile, Cactus Jack and Steve Austin were making a name for themselves, Foley with a series of bloody brawls against Eddie Gilbert, and Austin in headline matches at the Dallas Sportatorium against his mentor Chris Adams.
In 1991, Austin signed with WCW, where he beat Bobby Eaton to win the TV title.
Cactus Jack came to WCW in 1992, where he had his first classic match, the Falls Count Anywhere match against Sting, at Beach Blast in June.
Hansen was at the top of his game in All Japan, where he won the Champion’s Carnival in ’92 and ’93. In one of the most memorable moments of his storied career, Hansen put Mitsuharu Misawa over as a major champion by cleanly dropping the Triple Crown to him on Aug 22, 1992.
In March of 1993, Steve Austin’s star continued to rise as The Hollywood Blondes (Austin & Brian Pillman) tok the WCW World Tag Team titles from the tandem of Ricky Steamboat & Shane Douglas.
On October 1, Terry Funk helped to establish ECW and began his run as a Hardcore Icon by beating Jimmy Snuka for the ECW TV Title. Less than three months later, he would beat Sabu to win the ECW World Title.
In April 1994, Cactus Jack teamed with Max Pain for a highly influential Street Fight against the Nasty Boys. On March 16, he met Vader in Germany. During the match, Foley got his head caught in the ropes and ended up losing part of one of his ears.
Cactus Jack also wrestled for ECW in the mid-90s, and he and Funk met one another at Hardcore Heaven in August 1994, and at Hostile City in August 1995. In Novermber ’95 they wre involved in an all time classic garbage match as Funk teamed with Dreamer to beat Cactus & Raven. Even more notorious is the IWA King of the Death Match Finals from August, which saw both Funk and Foley bloodied and burned.
Terry Funk was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in March ’95.
That same month, Hansen beat Toshiaki Kawada to begin his fourth and final Triple Crown reign.
In the spring and summer of ’95, Superstar Steve Austin hurt his elbow while working in Japan, got fired by eric Bischoff, and made his ECW debut.
On May 5, 1996, Terry Funk & Mr. Pogo beat Masato Tanaka & Hayabusa in a No Rope Explosive Barbed Wire Time Bomb Land Mine Double Hell Death Match. The match is every bit as crazy as it sounds.
Also that year, Austin and Foley were working in the WWF, Austin as The Ringmaster, and Foley as Mankind the Mutilator. Neither gimmick worked very well at first, but big things were obviously on the horizon for both men. On June 23, Austin cut a classic promo on Jake Roberts at The King of the Ring, and in September, at IYH Mind Games, Foley contested a classic bump fest against Shawn Michaels.
Austin started 1997 off right, eliminating Bret Hart to win the Royal Rumble. Austin and Hart would go on to have one of the greatest matches in history in March at WrestleMania 13. At SummerSlam, Austin’s neck was broken during a match with Owen Hart. He made his comeback in November, beating Owen to win the IC title. By the end of the year, Austin was one of the biggest stars in Professional Wrestling.
Terry Funk also made an appearance at the ’97 Rumble as a special guest, which led to him joining the WWF later in the year, and forming a tag team with Mick Foley. The two would face off yet again at the 1998 Royal Rumble when Funk drew #2, and Foley came out as #1. The two spent five minutes bashing one another in the head with garbage cans before #3 came out. Austin won the Rumble by eliminating The Rock.
At WrestleMania 14 in 1998, The Hardcore Legends beat The New Age Outlaws to win the Tag Titles. They lost the belts back on RAW the next night.
Also at Wrestlemania, Austin became a major crossover star when he beat Shawn Michaels in a World Title match with Mike Tyson as the special referee. In May, at Over the Edge, Austin fought a great brawl against Dude Love that is another one of my favourite matches.
Funk left the WWF after the Fully Loaded PPV. He returned to Japan to work for FMW.
In June, Undertaker made Foley famous by tossing Mankind off the top of the Hell in the Cell at King of the Ring. Mankind was awarded the first WWF Hardcore Title in December. He then beat the Rock to win his first World title on December 29.
Stan Hansen & Vader lost the final match of the ’98 Real World Tag League tournament to the team of Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama. Hansen then teamed with Taue in the 1999 tournament, again losing in the finals to Kobashi & Akiyama.
In 1999, Austin worked a program with Vince McMahon that set the wrestling world on fire, culminating at WrestleMania 15 where Austin beat the Rock to regain the World Title.
With his body beginning to break down after years of abuse, Foley began to work a relatively subdued style, using Mr. Socko as part of his comedy act. He also became a best selling author, as Have a Nice Day made number one on the New York Times list.
Near the end of the year, Austin hurt his neck again.
Stan Hansen retired in 2000.
Funk resurfaced in the WCW as commissioner and head of the “Old Age Outlaws” Stable. It was not his finest hour.
Foley wrestled HHH in a street fight at Royal Rumble and a Hell in the Cell match at No Way Out, after which he “retired” from wrestling.
In September, Austin made his comeback and shot right to the top of the card to feud with HHH, The Rock, and Kurt Angle.
In January of 2001, Funk teamed up with Onita to beat Kamala & Abdullah the Butcher in a surprisingly entertaining match at the Giant Baba Memorial Show.
Foley had a dissatisfying run as WWF commissioner in 2001. His second book, Foley is Good, also made #1.
Austin won the 2001 Rumble, had a classic match against The Rock at WrestleMania 17, and beat Kurt Angle for his sixth and final World Title as part of the “Invasion” angle.
2002 was not a great year for our Great Brawlers. Hansen was retired, Foley was out of wrestling, Funk was refining his “Middle Aged and Crazy” Character on the independent scene, and Austin was languishing in a feud with the NWO as his marriage to Debra fell apart.
2003 was a year of comebacks.
Funk returned to the top of the card, beating Lawler on the May 3rd 3PW show, leading the Funkin’ Army to victory over the Extreme Horsemen at MLW War games, and beating CM Punk by DQ in Ring of Honor.
Austin returned to RAW in April as co-GM, then left, then returned again in December as the Sheriff of RAW.
Foley also returned to WWE, to put Randy Orton over.
Stan Hansen returned to Japan, to read the proclamation at the beginning of the RWTL.
Foley and Orton contested a fantastic Death Match at Backlash on April 18, 2004. It’s one of the best matches I’ve seen live.
In May, Foley fought Toshiaki Kawada at Hustle-5. Kawada won to retain the Triple Crown.
Funk is reportedly working on an autobiography. He continues to make appearances on the independent circuit and with TNA.
Hansen is happily retired.
And Here’s How I Rate Them
5) Terry Funk: Terry Funk has ahd one of the most amazing careers in wrestling history. In the 1970s he mixed technical wrestling ability with Texas toughness, and in the 1990s he added garbage style madness to his in-ring arsenal but through it all he has always worked from a foundation of intensity, stiffness, nastiness, ugliness, and toughness.
4) Mick Foley: Ric Flair may have been surprised that so many people were upset at him for dismissing Foley as little more than a stuntman. I respect Flair greatly, but if you actually watch Foley’s matches you can easily see that the big bumps are not the whole story. Foley has always understood how to use the basic principles of brawling to tell his story in the ring.
3) Steve Austin: Ironically, before Austin’s neck was hurt, he spent a lot of energy trying to be an above-average technical wrestler. After the injury, he was forced to work within his limitations, and it was then that his true gift for brawling came to the fore. It was similar to how Masa Chono had to develop his unique style after his neck was damaged in a match against… Steve Austin.
2) Bruiser Brody: Brody’s essential genius was in the way that he crafted a legend as an uncontrolable monster by actually refusing to be controlled. In the end, his devotion to his art cost him his life. He was the absolute master of mayhem, and there will likely never be another.
1) Stan Hansen: I have been going back and forth over whether Brody or Hansen would wind up at the top of this list. In the end, what it came down to was this: After making the jump to All Japan, Brody remained loyal to Giant Baba until the day Baba died. In a similar fashion, he was always true to his essential calling of being The Greatest Brawler of All Time. It didn’t matter if he was facing the up and coming Misawa, the popular good guy Rick Martel, the very green Leon White, or a monster brawler like Terry Gordy, what you got was a knock-down, drag-out brawl, every single time.
Pimp Salad & Reader Mail
Elswhere in wrestling, Goforth is really hitting his stride, Ditch wants to turn you on to Japanese hardcore, and really the whole zone has been on fire this week. The General Wrestling Forum has also been pretty interesting lately.
I have recieved a ton of feedback about this column, and it is a genuinely great feeling to hear from so many people who also love Professional Wrestling as an art form.
This is from a letter I recieved from a man named Dwight Thomas, who knows Terry Funk personally. I asked him if Funk was really as nice a guy as he seems to be in Have a Nice Day and Beyond the Mat. Here’s his reply:
I want to tell you a story about Terry
Funk that will show what kind of guy he really is. He had some friends
in my home town and he would come see their son play football on Friday
night. My hometown is maybe 1000 people, and everyone would be at the
game. Terry and Vicki would walk in and the little kids would
absolutely surround Terry. He would stand there talking to all of them
the entire night. He never got to sit down and visit with the people he
came to see, just talking and signing autographs for the children. He
never left before the kids would, and never said no to a picture, no
matter how tired he may have been. He would always stay till every
child was happy. I got to know him and his family through rodeo. His
daughters competed in them with me and everyone else. I have no
pictures or autographs of him because to me he was and is just Terry. I
never thought of getting one because it was just him and he was just
like everyone else, even though I was a huge fan and knew what he always
meant to the sport I have loved since birth, he was just Terry and that
is how he wanted it. I could never say enough about how nice he really
It’s something I’ve experienced dozens of times, genuinely tough people very rarely act like bullies, and very often they are gentle and kind.
NEXT WEEK: My interview with Bad News Allen, another genuinely tough guy who is also a real gentleman.
Purely as a favour to another IP forumer, I would like to let you know that David Cox is selling off a big chunk of his wrestling video tape collection, masters or first generation copies, at very reasonable prices. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information if you are interested.