Meltzer’s Classics: Terry Funk vs. Jerry Lawler, 3/23/81

A younger King with a cheeky glint in his eye.

After months of steady forward progress, I only went and found an even more definitive list of Meltzer’s five-star matches! So rather than continuing into 1992 and what would have been War Games – we’ll get there eventually – we’ve gone back to Terry Funk vs. Jerry Lawler in 1981. It’s a match that as far as I can tell wasn’t rated by Meltzer but Uncle Dave himself has called it the moment that saw wrestling move from a four-star scale to a five, so it would be a shame to skip it.

The version of this I found online was slightly edited, but it appears only to have cut out the down periods and there weren’t many of them. Put simply, this is a fight. 95% of the match is Funk and Lawler exchanging stiff fists in the ring. Neither man appears to be holding back and it’s a miracle that they’re both able to walk out after a brutal contest.

After Funk comes out hot with an atomic drop on the floor, Jerry regains momentum after a missed fist-drop and punches Funk to the outside. There, he throws him head first into the bell and busts him open. Suddenly Jerry’s fists have a perfect target and the crimson mask flows.

A much younger Terry Funk.

If Lawler was hoping to get out scar free then his dreams were dashed, however, as back in the ring, a Jimmy Hart distraction allows Terry back into it. The old maniac (although he’s only actually 37 here, but he’ll always be an old maniac to me) hits some crawling headbutts before appearing to start biting the man known as The King. This is the momentum changing moment and Funk is all over Lawler now with Hart even getting involved on the outside.

There is a hope spot for Jerry as he hulks up to the delight of the screaming crowd.  It leaves the two men trading wild blows which Jerry gets the better of before heading to the corner to hit the fist drop. It should be the end, but that dastardly Hart gets involved again and introduces a chair to proceedings. Funk proceeds to use it to buckle King’s leg and for the first time in the match, we move away from a brawl. Down on the mat Funk rips at the knee of the legend and locks on the spinning toe hold. Just when it looks like the King’s goose is cooked, he throws one final punch and Funk lurches away exhausted.

We now enter the finishing stretch as Funk grabs the chair again and looks to bring it down on Lawler. He misses! And suddenly Lawler has the chair himself and is delivering punishing blows to the legs of Funk. Terry escapes to the outside but King is right after him and he leaves him a crumpled mess on the floor as he wins by count-out.

Somehow these nutjobs are still wrestling each other today.

This match is a war but in a world where Minoru Suzuki and Kazuchika Okada slap each other so hard that I feel it, it’s not that impressive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, and it’s cool to see King and Funk work in front of a white-hot Memphis crowd in their heydey but, like many of these matches, it’s aged poorly. It’s worth watching but it’s by no means essential.

 

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