Pro wrestling is predetermined and a script determines the outcomes. The popularity of a superstar is defined with the good or bad image of their character and at times we fail to realize what goes into that. It’s planned and milked into the storylines as to the extent of where and when the popularity concludes.
But pro wrestlers identify with fans, They become their heroes, icons, and it has always been this way since the glory days of the late “Gorgeous George” who was the first of the flamboyant stars to entertain crowds with his outfits and golden locks. The late Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino was my hero as a youngster and introduced me to the fantasy and reality of the rigors that comprise what is now known as sports entertainment.
Later on, Sammartino and the late Hall Of Fame “Captain” Lou Albano would fulfill my dream of working in the industry. I was finally aware of what was fantasy and reality, how the good and bad guys were all a family. This was a show, entertainment, and reality of their family. I saw first hand when Sammartino and one arch rival, the late “Gorilla Monsoon” were backstage in friendly conversation and talking about their families, rehearsing their moves for a match ahead. They engaged in a friendly card game.
Hours later, though, like all pro wrestlers, the animosity or storyline of a feud would culminate with hard knocks, body slams, and risking injury to each other. The crowd identified what was going on because this was pro wrestling and how it works. Even the blood was real and not staged as many conceive it is. Then it’s over and on the road to another town and venue. They do it all over again the next night.
But pro wrestlers are a fraternity in a fantasy world that does become reality. The fans also are a fraternity and in this new era they look at their superstars as family.
So the past few days we have mourned the passing of Hall of Famer Terry Funk, a longtime superstar who covered many territories and thrilled many with his mission to always take risks and entertain. Funk, the former WWE and WCW superstar, sold the moves, he entertained, and propelled the upcoming star to stardom.
Funk was a legend and passed away this week at the age of 79 at his ranch in Amarillo, Texas, after a career of 50 years that spanned six decades which is unheard of today in the industry. He was family to the guys and gals in the locker room, He was family to his millions of fans.
Quick reflection here, Terry Funk was never in character when he had some spare time to meet me years back when I lived in Las Vegas. He was family to me and up until a few years ago, before his memory faded, Funk and I would have some chats and discuss the business, stories, and memories of his classic matches. And he loved to talk about my passion for boxing and similarities of reality in another combat sport.
My point here, the pro wrestling superstar is real outside the ring. Terry Funk cared for his brothers in the back room, He cared for the many fans that identified with his character and never let fame ignore the reality of everyday life. Though away from what can be a nasty business the past few years, Terry Funk always wanted to make it better,
Then Thursday, a back-to-back loss of 36-year old Bray Wyatt (Windham Rotunda) another icon, this one even more shocking. WWE family and fans mourn the passing of an icon with a creative mind that could not be envisioned years ago. COVID and heart problems took Wyatt way too soon, and he was reportedly on the way back after a hiatus since his last mega event match at the Royal Rumble live event in January.
I never met Wyatt. I only heard and saw what his wrestling family witnessed during his successful tenure as a WWE superstar. He had that creative mind, took the risk, and the “Fiend” character was the supernatural storyline that propelled television ratings, sold merchandise, and packed the venues.
Wyatt had a say in his characters as leader of the “Wyatt Family” and later as that “Fiend” that preceded his entrance as the alter ego and host of “The Firefly Funhouse,” a comical stunt and horror story. That was the script and it worked but the tributes the past few days say that Wyatt was family.
He could wrestle and put on a show. The moves were impeccable and his superstars of the family said Bray Wyatt made them special.
So, I watched WWE “Smackdown” Friday evening and the entire locker room talent was on stage as the traditional 10-count of the bell towed in memory of Wyatt and Funk. There were tears and memories as the usual Smackdown storylines were canned in between to honor two of their family.
In many ways, I can compare Wyatt to Funk from two different eras. They performed, made their family of fans smile, cheer, and wonder what would be the outcome, predetermined as I said, but in reality they were providing entertainment.
They did it well. They will be missed and were family. Condolences to their real families. This is the reality of pro wrestling and the impact superstars have on others.
RIP Terry Funk and Bray Wyatt
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso