Terry Funk vs. Jerry Lawler (Empty Arena Match, 1981)
Terry Funk vs Jerry Lawler – Empty Arena Match CWA 1981
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Wrestling matches back then were often portrayed as life-or-death encounters, even if two fat, overall-clad hillbillies were going at it, but this match between Terry Funk and Jerry “The King” Lawler was different. Two superstars the caliber of Lawler and Funk could have easily filled the Mid-South Coliseum (Lawler did so alone most of the time for the better part of 30 years), but this wasn’t a wrestling match, and it wasn’t going to be easy to watch. That’s why there are no fans. That’s why the arena is empty but for the guys in the ring and the guys recording the action. Look at all those empty chairs. Jerry Lawler, heel or face, fed on the crowd. Terry Funk, crazy-tough bastard that he is, didn’t give a damn as long as he had a fight. Stretch your imagination, and it’s possible that one of these men could have killed the other with their bare hands.
This is one of my favorite matches. It’s a risk, I think, putting these two together and not selling tickets. Especially before Hulkamania, before WWF was the only ticket in town, before companies had to give away marquee matches on TV to remind the public that they existed too. Huge duels didn’t appear on TV all that often, but this one did, and both men make the most out of it.
Lawler has so long been a windbag behind a desk that its easy to forget why he was one of the biggest draws of the territory era. Terry Funk was so old by the time wrestling really went mainstream (and then really went mainstream again) that he was talked about as an influence, but, with the exception of a halfway decent run in the Attitude Era WWF and some pretty overrated-but-still-worth-watching stuff in ECW, never was remembered for being anything more than middle-aged and crazy, the 50-year-old doing bad-looking backflips from balconies. This may not be Lawler or Funk at their best, but its certainly the two of them at their most inventive. 20 years later, a pale imitation of this match featuring Mankind and the Rock would air during the halftime of the Super Bowl. Of course, Mick didn’t gouge Dwayne’s eye out, but imitation on such a large stage should say a lot about this one.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
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