An article appeared
in the sports section of the February 1, 1971 issue of the CHARLOTTE
OBSERVER. It read, "A world championship match and a unique team
bout share the spotlight on the wrestling card tonight at PARK
CENTER. Dory Funk Jr. places his title on the line against Johnny
Weaver. It's a two-of-three falls bout with a one hour time limit."
And with this
match, in Johnny's own words, "the biggest and most prestigious
singles program of my career began."
A capacity PARK
CENTER crowd witnessed the match, which went to a sixty minute draw,
with each man gaining one fall during the contest. Since Johnny the
challenger did not defeat the champion in two falls, Dory Funk Jr.
left Charlotte still the NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION.
But the seed was
planted for an incredible program between FUNK and WEAVER which
would stretch out over a full year, with some very interesting plot
twists along the way.
The NWA WORLD
HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP was the "Mount Everest" of the professional
wrestling business. The AWA and the WWWF each had their own WORLD
CHAMPION, and was their key title as well. But the NWA represented
more territories and more geographical area than the other wrestling
organizations. Hundreds of wrestlers would have loved to be the
world champ, but few would achieve it.
But it should be
noted that the NWA World title elevated the careers of many
wrestlers who never actually wore the belt. The champ would often
come into a territory for a few days, wrestling several of the area's
top men, and leave. But if the local made a good showing against the
champion, be it a draw or being close to winning before a
disqualification occurred, fans would remember how well their guy
did against the WORLD CHAMPION. Thus, the challenger's reputation
didn't need the champ to "put him on the map". By 1971, Johnny had
been on top of JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS for nearly ten years, but
primarily as a tag team wrestler, most notably with George Becker.
"Big" Jim Crockett had put George and Johnny together back in
mid-1962, a few months after Johnny first arrived in JCP country. He
worked with other partners his first few years with Crockett; Cowboy
Bob Ellis, Haystack Calhoun, Nick Kozak, etc., but it was his
pairing with Becker that he is best remembered.
But, in 1971,
Becker was approaching retirement, so Johnny would have to make some
changes anyway. According to Johnny, Becker was booking Charlotte,
and it was George who had the idea to do the Charlotte program with
Johnny and Dory Jr. (along with the cooperation of NWA President Sam
Muchnick). "And while Dory Jr. wore the belt, Dory Funk Sr. had a
lot to say about Jr.'s bookings as well," Johnny said.
The Charlotte FUNK
/ WEAVER program went dormant for five full months (possibly because
of Funk's incredible schedule) until it was time for the annual
Fourth of July wrestling spectacular, which was usually held at the
CHARLOTTE COLISEUM, instead of the smaller PARK CENTER venue.
OBSERVER of July 5, 1971 carried the sports section headline: MAT
CARD PITS WEAVER AGAINST FUNK. "The featured wrestling event, which
sends WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION Dory Funk Jr. against Johnny
Weaver, is one of six clashes on the program at the Charlotte
Coliseum Monday night. Funk and Weaver have met before (February 1)
in a previous encounter here, going to a one hour draw."
The day after the
match, the newspaper reported that, for the second straight time,
challenger Weaver wrestled the champ to a one hour draw, with each
man capturing one fall apiece. Two matches with the world title at
stake and two Broadways. The challenger hadn't defeated the
champion, BUT the champion hadn't beaten the challenger.
It appeared (from a
Texas perspective) that Weaver was a SERIOUS threat to the Funk
dynasty. In film sent to WBTV's CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING program, Dory
Funk SR. declared, "That's it for Weaver! No more matches with my
son! Jr. will NOT defend the world title against Johnny Weaver
again, not in Charlotte, not anywhere!
Not to be denied,
Johnny had a plan. He went down to Florida, donned a mask and
secured a non-title match with Dory Jr. on TV's CHAMPIONSHIP
WRESTLING FROM FLORIDA.
"The going down to Florida was my idea. I went there
under a mask and called myself "MR. WRESTLING", because he (Tim
Woods) was coming into Florida and used the sleeper like I did. The
TV announcers were Gordon Solie and Don Curtis. I beat Jr. in the
match, unmasked on the air, brought the film back to Charlotte and
showed it on Charlotte TV." ---Johnny Weaver, September 27, 2007
So after three
matches, Johnny was now ahead 1-0-2 to Funk's record of 0 wins, 1
loss, 2 ties.
WRESTLING ALLIANCE ordered Dory Funk Jr. to meet Johnny Weaver in
another title match in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6,
1971. With the first two title matches ending in one hour draws, the
match was ordered to have a ninety minute time limit and a No
At this point,
it REALLY got interesting...
The senior Funk was
back on WBTV's wrestling show the next Saturday proclaiming that he
would make sure that Weaver did not make it to the September 6th
match. He was placing a BOUNTY on Johnny, offering big money to the
wrestler that put Weaver out of the wrestling business.
The first "bounty
hunter" to take the Funk family up on their offer was ex-Olympian
BOB ROOP. Roop challenged Johnny to a BOUNTY MATCH, which headlined
the PARK CENTER card on August 16, 1971. Roop failed to collect the
bounty. Johnny won the match.
Monday (August 23), the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER carried the story: "Terry
Funk will meet Johnny Weaver tonight at PARK CENTER*, hoping to
eliminate Weaver from contention for a match against his older
brother Dory Jr., the WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION. Weaver has a title
match scheduled in Charlotte on September 6." (The tag team match
this night would see GEORGE BECKER teaming with ARGENTINA APOLLO to
face THE MISSOURI MAULER and BRUTE BERNARD. APOLLO would become
WEAVER's tag partner in the fall of 1971 following the retirement of
Not yet having
reached his prime, Terry Funk failed in his mission, as Roop had.
"Johnny Weaver rallied after losing the opening fall and defeated
Terry Funk in the main event at Park Center last night." - -
Charlotte Observer, August 24, 1971
With the big match
only two weeks away, the elder Funk pulled out all stops in his
final chance to sideline Johnny. "The Great Malenko will earn a
$4000 bounty from Dory Funk Sr. if he can eliminate Johnny Weaver
from competition headlining the weekly wrestling card at Park Center
tonight." ---Charlotte Observer, August 30, 1971
Everyone in the
Carolinas remembered Malenko, as he had terrorized the Crockett
territory back in the mid-1960s, usually teaming with The Missouri
But Johnny would
not be denied his crack at the title and defeated the mad Russian,
as he had Roop and Terry Funk.
Malenko match, JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS sent Johnny and a camera crew
(headed up by Jackie Crockett) out "on location" to shoot some
footage to use on the WBTV CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING show which would
air Saturday, September 4th.
"We were just starting our local filming. We went to
the Charlotte YMCA with the camera, and they filmed me playing
handball with the race car driver BOBBY ISAAC and jogging up and
down Independence Boulevard. People blew their car horns and waved
and yelled 'JOHNNY WEAVER' as they passed us. I told Jackie to make
sure he had film in that camera because I didn't want to have to run
on Independence all day. It was summer and it was hot!" ---Johnny
Weaver, September 24, 2007
So September 6th finally came---Labor
Day---the "unofficial" end of summer, and not only the match of the
year, but also the end of George Becker's career as a JCP wrestler
in Charlotte. The tag team feature of the card featured Becker
teaming with Sandy Scott to face the duo of Gene Anderson and Art
what was billed
as Becker's retirement match. The only "Argentina Bola" match I ever
witnessed was scheduled with Argentina Apollo meeting wild man Brute
Bernard. They would be strapped together by a three-foot "bola"
strap. Ladies Barbara Nichols and Tammy Jones would square off, as
would Cowboy Lang and The Mighty Atom in a midgets contest.
(Art Nelson would later become WEAVER's tag partner after Argentina
Apollo left the territory.)
loved wrestling cards at the original Charlotte Coliseum, nicknamed
"The Big Dome." Driving on Independence Boulevard, from a distance
the roof of the building looked like a spaceship, particularly the
one in the great sci-fi movie THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
The parking lot was
packed. The building was packed. Forget getting a hot dog and soft
drink...the lines were way too long. So I headed to my ringside seat
for what I expected to be a great night of wrestling. The program
that had begun seven months earlier had come down to this night.
match...Bob Griffin pinned "Big" Jim Grabmire. One of the recently
unmasked Marvels took the toll of Jim Dillon (yep, the same J.J.
Dillon with whom Johnny would have his final program over fifteen
years later). Miss Nichols topped Miss Jones (a frequent opponent of
Penny Banner). Cowboy Lang disposed of The Mighty Atom, who was not
mighty enough that evening. Apollo beat the Brute in the Argentinean
Bola match (perhaps home-field advantage). And Johnny's long-time
partner, George Becker, wrapped up an incredible career winning the
third and deciding fall, getting a final win in the employ of
The main event
title match was everything a fan could wish for. Two tremendous
athletes and representatives of their business worked each other
like there was no tomorrow. When Johnny was introduced, I feared the
roof would blow off the building. Luckily, it didn't. World Champion
Funk received a respectful ovation (sort of like supporting the U.S.
President regardless of who it is, even though you voted for his
I kept hoping in
the recesses of my mind that maybe the NWA would let a Crockett
wrestler carry the belt. By the end of the decade, it would happen,
but not in 1971. Things weren't yet in place for that.
Johnny took the
first fall, but Funk came back winning falls two and three (both
clean finishes). It was a scientific match, with the
champion breaking a few rules in times of frustration.
Once again, Dory
Funk Jr. left Charlotte with his championship, and I left Charlotte
knowing I would never see George Becker and Johnny Weaver as tag
team partners again. And I also thought that I had witnessed the
final meeting of Johnny challenging Funk for the world title.
I was wrong.
6th, Johnny took a leave from wrestling in Charlotte.
"I worked Mondays in Greenville, S.C. or
Fayetteville, N.C. for several months." -- Johnny Weaver, September
Weaver would return
to Charlotte on November 22, 1971, where he teamed with Jack Brisco
to go against Dory Funk Sr. and Terry Funk in the semi-final match
of the night. Champ Dory Jr. wrestled Jerry Brisco in the main event
with "The Brown Bomber" Joe Louis as special referee. - - Dick
Bourne, September 24, 1971.
"The tag match working with Jack Brisco came about
because Dory Sr. had put a bounty on Jack, just as he did with me."
--Johnny Weaver, September 24, 1971.
"I went to
Amarillo on October of 1971, once that thing happened with the
bounty and all that. The Infernos were out there with J.C. Dykes
having a feud with the Funks. My idea was I put the mask back on and
then old man Funk added to this. When I got there, I knew I was
going to wrestle the old man. J.C. Dykes got this masked wrestler to
come and take care of old man Funk, collecting a bounty that Dykes
had put on him. The masked man ended up being me. So I show up in
Amarillo. J.C. picked me up at the airport and we went down there
that night and I put the mask on. And this gets to be a funny story,
too, how I used this all back in the Carolinas. I go out in the ring
and I got J.C. Dykes as a manager, right? Here comes old man Funk
and he's got Buck Robley as his manager. So when it comes down to
the finish, Robley and Dykes get into it and they roll out of the
ring down on the floor where the camera can't see either one of
them, right? And I got the old man in the sleeper and the people are
going crazy because they think he's going to get beat. Well, here
comes Terry from the back, clobbers me and they beat the heck out of
me and the old man covered me and Terry counted 1-2-3, put the old
man's hand up and they had to take the mask off, right? So then I
brought that footage back here and showed it, but they didn't see
Dykes and Robley. They just saw me with the sleeper on the old man
and they know we had that feud going from the bounties in Charlotte,
and all that. And so I showed the tape here. And we had a big tag
team just before Thanksgiving in Charlotte which always was a good
show and Jr. didn't want to wrestle me again, so it was Terry and
the old man that wrestled me and Brisco. It all tied together." - -
Johnny Weaver MID-ATLANTIC GATEWAY Interview, November 4, 2007
continued, when, on Valentine's Day night, February 14, 1972, Dory
Funk Jr. returned to Charlotte to face Johnny again. He refused to
put the title on the line, but instead, chose a specialty of his
family, a TEXAS DEATH MATCH. On the same card that saw Rip Hawk
defeat Jack Brisco for the Eastern Heavyweight Championship, Johnny
Weaver defeated the world champion in the TEXAS DEATH MATCH. I
remember it well. Johnny was out on the ring apron. Funk tried a
shoulder block, but Weaver moved and the champ hit the ring post
with his shoulder and fell to the Charlotte Coliseum floor.
got back into the ring. Jr. couldn't get up off the floor and was
counted out by the referee to end the fall. He remained on the
floor, couldn't answer the next bell, and Weaver's hand was raised.
A great match!
By virtue of his
loss in February, Dory Jr. returned to the "Queen City" on April 10,
1972, to face Weaver one more time, and this time, the world title
would be up for grabs. In a complete reversal of the Valentine's Day
card, Jack Brisco would regain the Eastern Heavyweight Championship
from Rip Hawk. Rip's manager, 'Playboy' Gary Hart was locked and
suspended in a steel cage. 7852 rabid fans saw Funk win the first
and third falls to retain his World's Heavyweight Championship over
Johnny Weaver. Jerry Brisco defeated Rip's partner, Swede Hanson,
that night, and soon, Hawk / Hanson / Hart would have a major
program with the Brisco brothers, a program that would also include
months, the Funk / Weaver program would come to an end in Charlotte,
and it was an incredible one that stretched from the Carolinas as
far south as Florida and as far west as Texas. Great booking from
looking ahead and doing what was best for the business, would use
his feud with the Funks to propel others into title matches with
Dory Funk Jr. In July of 1972, both The Missouri Mauler and Jerry
Brisco earned title shots with the champ by defeating Johnny.
During his long
career, Johnny would have title matches with a number of World
Heavyweight Champions. One would be in Lexington, N.C. when he
challenged Lou Thesz on June 27, 1964. In March 1968, Weaver worked
Gene Kiniski in Greensboro, N.C. Asheville. N.C. was the site of a
title match with Harley Race in July, 1973. And a number of
championship matches with Jack Brisco took place, mostly in South
The Master of the
"sleeper hold" and the "Johnny Weaver roll" held many championships
during his career. The World's Heavyweight Championship was not one
of them, but only a few would carry that title. But, judging from
the incredible outpouring of love, support and memories following
his February, 2008 passing, Johnny Weaver shall long be a champion
in the hearts and minds of thousands of people who knew him and knew
March 15, 2008
Special thanks to the following for their
contributions and assistance in the writing of this article:
Dick Bourne, Carroll Hall, Peggy Lathan, Mark
Eastridge and the man himself, Johnny Weaver.
2008 Mid-Atlantic Gateway
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