The following originally ran in the February 17, 2010 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Jack Brisco would have been 79 Monday.
Jack Brisco was eulogized on 2/11 in Tampa at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, just five miles away from the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory that he regularly headlined on Tuesday nights. And it was on the 41st anniversary of a night that went down in wrestling history.
Brisco defeated grizzled veteran Larry Hamilton of St. Joseph, Mo., better known as The Missouri Mauler, to win the Southern heavyweight championship, in what was the biggest win of his nearly four year professional career. He packed up his belt, and drove back to his new place in the city that he had just moved to the year, after criss-crossing the country working multiple territories in the nomadic life style of a pro wrestler in that era.
The truth is, with as many big matches that Brisco had around the world throughout his career, nearly any date would probably have been some sort of an anniversary of something major involving him somewhere.
Later that night, Dory Funk Jr., who would go on to be the name he would forever be linked with, used his family trademark, the spinning toe hold to defeat Gene Kiniski via submission and become the NWA world heavyweight champion, making him the premier name in the pseudo-sport in most parts of the world. Brisco was aware at that time that the NWA board of directors had chosen Funk Jr.,a former college football star at West Texas State University and the oldest son of the promoter of the Amarillo territory, to replace Kiniski, who had wanted out as champion after blowing up at the promoters at the 1968 NWA Convention.
With his good looks, his well-conditioned athletic physique, his quick adaptation to pro wrestling after winning his NCAA title, and being one of the top two or three all-around athletes in he sport at the time, Eddie Graham by this time was likely already thinking about Brisco as his first personally groomed world champion. But at this point, he wasn’t a big enough or well known enough star in enough of the country to be under consideration.
Funk Jr. was chosen over a small cast of candidates. There had been talk during the 60s of Fritz Von Erich as world champion, to the point that he would change his ring name to Jack Adkisson, his real name, because they didn’t want a gimmick name of a one-time Nazi character representing the alliance. He was an established draw and a tremendous interview and presence both in and out of the ring. But by that point, Adkisson was no longer in the kind of condition necessary to carry the belt. Plus, he was raising his children and was running his own promotion, and had no interest in traveling and taking on the grueling schedule.
Also under consideration was Cowboy Bill Watts, a 6-3, 300-pound bruiser was an established drawing card in many different territories, a national name for years, and an incredible promo. He had a reputation for knowing his wrestling, as well as being a tough street fighter, in a day when things weren’t so controlled. Brisco knew Watts from as far back as high school as both were top athletes in Oklahoma. It was Brisco, a wrestling fan from childhood, who had encouraged Watts many years earlier to try pro wrestling.
“Jack always wanted to be in pro wrestling, and in fact, he was always after me to get into pro wrestling, too, way before I had any desire to do so,” said Watts.
But for many reasons, Watts would not have been a good fit. He was not the level of worker of the world champions of the era. He was also physically overpowering looking in an era where they tried to sell title matches on the local challengers’ ability to win the title. Kiniski was a big, rugged former football star, but was a great worker with remarkable conditioning for a big man, a trait he maintained into his early 50s. Watts was unable to do the 60 minute matches the champions of that era were called upon to frequently do. In the end, only his home promoter, Leroy McGuirk of Tulsa, would vote for him.
The influential Florida office and Graham got behind Hiro Matsuda, who had a national name as the guy who was Danny Hodge’s biggest rival for the world junior heavyweight championship. Matsuda’s claim to fame was ending the four-year title reign by Hodge on July 11, 1964, in Tampa, which led to rematches in several territories. Matsuda had the ability in the ring, and was a renowned shooter, a trait many of the NWA promoters, particularly those who knew the history of wrestling and the in-ring double-crosses like Stanislaus Zbyszko beating Wayne Munn and Dick Shikat beating Danno O’Mahoney, liked to have as its main representative. Matsuda would have been revolutionary since he was Japanese, as the NWA had never in the past considered someone from that part of the world.
The choice was not without controversy. Dory Funk Jr. was a big star in his home Amarillo territory, and had also headlined in many other territories. His title win was largely because of the influence his father, Dory Funk Sr., who ran the Amarillo territory, had with the alliance. He was able to get more votes for his son than Graham was able to get for Matsuda. One of the leading promoters, Paul Boesch of Houston, was so upset over Funk Jr. getting the title that he refused to book the champion for six months.
“I admit I was reluctant, despite Dory’s credentials as a wrestler and a Texan, to be enthusiastic,” Boesch wrote in his autobiography about the title change. “For some time I dragged my feet when I had an opportunity to bring him to Houston for a title match. Finally, six months after he had beaten Kiniski, I signed him to face Johnny Valentine. On the night they met, I learned humility. I learned to say I was wrong and I made a vow never to prejudge an individual again. Humbly, I apologized to Dory for not having him wrestle in Houston sooner. I discovered in young Funk the qualities that make a champion, and so did the fans. Of all those I have seen in action, I consider him second best, behind only Lou Thesz.”
The world title was the position most in the game aspired to achieve. As a teenager, leafing through and studying the wrestling magazines at the newsstands that Brisco was too poor to buy, that championship was more real to him than the NCAA championship. In particular, he idolized Thesz, who was on the cover of many of those magazines, and was the long-time world champion. But he was aware of amateur wrestling as well, because as a high school wrestler in Oklahoma, how could you not know Danny Hodge? Hodge, like Brisco, came from a small town in Oklahoma, became the single most dominant college wrestler of all time, not only going undefeated, but going three seasons without even being taken down once, capturing three NCAA titles at the University of Oklahoma, and a silver medal in the 1956 Olympics. Later, Brisco’s third wrestling hero was Dick Hutton, who defeated Thesz for the title when Brisco was 16. Hutton was also from Oklahoma, and had been a three-time NCAA heavyweight champion at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State, as well as an Olympian, before winning the NWA title.
As it turned out, very early in Brisco’s career, Thesz took a liking to him. Brisco had only been in the business for a year and a half when he and Thesz defeated The Assassins (Tom Renesto & Jody Hamilton) on December 12, 1966 to win the United States tag team titles. The Assassins were arguably the best heel tag team in the business at the time. The territory run by McGuirk was struggling, and The Assassins were such strong drawing cards that they turned things around, and on good weeks, Brisco could make $600 as a headliner, in those days great money. It was only for a one-night pop, as they won the titles in Tulsa and lost them back the next night in Little Rock, and the title change may not have even been acknowledged on TV. Brisco always noted the coincidence that his childhood hero was the same guy who he credited with being one of the people who helped him the most in making it in pro wrestling. Thesz also always spoke highly of Brisco. Whenever he would be asked about the greatest wrestlers of all-time, Thesz shunned most modern American stars, but would always list Brisco, Billy Robinson and Danny Hodge on the short list of the greatest.
“Lou was not only my idol, but a close friend and mentor, as well,” wrote Brisco in his autobiography, “Brisco.” “I learned as much about the business, inside the ring and out, from Lou as I did from anyone. He was without a doubt the greatest man I ever saw in the ring. There was none better.”
But after beating the Mauler, he took his shower, packed his bags with his newly won title, and drove to his new place in Tampa, ready to get up the next morning and make the drive to Miami for his match the next night.
“Everything was still kayfabe and only the participants and the referee knew the outcome of a world title match,” wrote Brisco in his autobiography. “I went home and didn’t know how the match ended until I heard it on the news the next morning. Had I known what was going to be an event of that consequence, I would have stayed and watched the match. I was sorry that I missed it.”
Brisco, like most, didn’t figure they would change the title at the Armory in Tampa, where no world title had ever changed hands, but figured it would be in a larger arena like in St. Louis for Sam Muchnick or Toronto for Frank Tunney, which drew the biggest crowds and had six of the seven title changes up to that point in the 21-year-history of the National Wrestling Alliance.
Nor did he realize at the time just how important that day would be to his career. Brisco and Funk Jr. had already wrestled several matches in the Amarillo and Dallas territories. Funk Jr. was already established as a main eventer and title contender since his father had groomed him by having him headline against the best workers in the business in main events as a rookie. Brisco was brought in, pushed as a former NCAA champion, and in technical matches, Funk Jr. would beat him in every city on the West Texas circuit. The belief is Sr. trying to show that his son, who he was promoting as the clean-cut best young ring technician in the business, if he had been a college wrestler instead of a football player, he’d have been a national champion. In Dallas, they played upon the Texas vs. Oklahoma rivalry, Funk Jr. being a college football star and Brisco being a national champion wrestler.
Brisco’s first world title match came against Funk Jr., on July 30, 1969, in Miami Beach at the Convention Center, a mid-sized auditorium about two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Funk Jr. won, but the match went so well that Eddie Graham, who ran the Florida territory, brought back a rematch, and had it go to a 60:00 draw, with Funk Jr. caught in Brisco’s finisher, the figure four leglock, at the bell.
“When I won the title, I was a babyface wrestling a lot of heels,” Funk Jr. said about that time. “Wrestling Jack gave me the opportunity to wrestle as a heel and I really loved it. There was nobody better than Jack.”
The advantage of Funk Jr. being world champion and being part of a wrestling family was established at this point. After Brisco followed it up with his first win over Funk Jr., in a non-title match, as well as pinning Jr. in a tag team match, and being on the verge of beating him in another 60:00 draw, both his father, Dory Sr., billed as the undefeated King of the Texas death matches, and his younger brother, Terry came into Florida numerous times. The storyline was that Sr. put up a $10,000 bounty for anyone who could cleanly defeat Brisco in a match, and thus knock him out of the No. 1 contender spot. Sr. himself came in, for Texas death matches, and Brisco got over as not only being a great technical wrestler, but as a tough brawler to the local fans, by beating the King of the Texas death matches at his own game. Terry really established himself as a big-time player during this run, as he was the key opponent during a period where Brisco headlined 13 straight weeks of selling out the 5,500-seat Armory in Tampa. Terry would continually try, without success, to get the win that would enable Dory Jr. to avoid Brisco in a rematch. Or Brisco would beat other top stars with the same goal in mind, pinning Brisco to knocking him off the No. 1 contender perch, or injuring him, to collect Sr.’s bounty. The matches also frequently sold out the rest of the territory. It was the most successful run in the history of the territory up to that point in time.
“He was the smoothest, he was the slickest, he was probably the best babyface in the business,” said Terry Funk. “He was the best guy to get in the ring with if you were a heel.”
Between that night in Miami Beach, during Funk Jr. and Brisco’s long NWA title reigns that continued through the end of 1975, they probably met around 190 times in championship matches, including at least 55 one hour draws. They probably had 75 or more one hour title matches, because they did several one hour matches where there would be only one fall won in the hour, so they weren’t draws, not to mention a few one hour matches when neither was champion. When one considers that the world champion did so much traveling all over the world into different territories, and the depth of main event talent in that era may have been greater than at any point in wrestling history, that number is even more impressive. That doesn’t include non-title matches and frequent tag team matches, which often matched Jack and younger brother Jerry against Dory Jr. and either his father or younger brother. They continued to be regular opponents throughout the 70s and the early 80s in both singles and tag matches.
Even after both had lost the title, they remained each other’s biggest rivals. On July 25, 1976, the night of the Muhammed Ali vs. Antonio Inoki closed circuit match, most of the NWA cities saw on closed-circuit, an undercard from the Omni in Atlanta. The promoters picked as the headline match yet another Funk Jr. vs. Brisco match, even though neither was champion, going to a 30:00 draw, with the feeling that not only would it help draw, but that a lot of sportswriters and boxing fans who normally didn’t follow pro wrestling would be watching, and they wanted to showcase what they believed to be their best example of a main event match to represent the pro wrestling business.
Their last major run was a singles program in 1982 and 1983 over the Mid Atlantic heavyweight championship. There were feuds in that era that were big grudge matches and drew more at their peak, but none headlined in as many different territories nor could match its staying power.
It was one thing for a promoter like Graham, who was at the peak of his booking capabilities at this time, to decide to push someone, and give them wins, but it was quite another that person would click to this degree. A lot of guys were good looking and had nice physiques, and many could work well. Admittedly, few were even close to Brisco as athletes. But the key was turning those attributes into being someone fans would pay year-after-year to see in a headline position.
There are a number of factors that went into this, and with every major superstar that really breaks through, timing is a big part. It was an era where the polite, handsome boy-next-door type babyface was in vogue. He did what would not even be considered pro wrestling interviews today, but at the time, was considered one of the best babyface promo guys in the business. Plus Brisco was dynamic in the ring. The way he moved, his quickness, jumping ability, natural grace and timing stood out from almost all others. His legitimate background helped, because when he did wrestling moves, he did them with more crispness and speed than anyone else. Gordon Solie was the perfect announcer to get him and that style over, as the announcer in both Florida and Georgia. Graham’s careful booking and political protection were also factors, as he made sure Brisco was kept strong when he ventured out of the territory.
“What made him so good was his ability to make you believe,” said Terry Funk. “Once you got people in that frame of mind, you could do anything and it was easy. He was able to portray that wonderfully. He was the best wrestler of all at it. Gerald (Jerry Brisco) was right behind him. Eddie Graham tried to do it with a lot of people, but Jack was the epitome.”
But the fact was, Brisco got over everywhere, usually instantaneously, even without Graham’s booking and Solie’s announcing. In St. Louis, he lost his first three main events and still sold out when going for the world title. His good looks helped, and he had a decidedly athletic looking frame, looking like a fit college 191 pounder, except he was closer to 225 pounds at the time. The role of wrestling magazines in that era was far more important, and Brisco was always on covers because he was in that small group of stars who would sell the best.
You couldn’t compare him to anyone on the scene today. If Kurt Angle came along after the 1964 or 1968 Olympics, he probably could have been Jack Brisco. But because of the changes in the game, any comparison between the two would be limited to that they were both great amateurs and great workers inside the ring. They both adapted quickly to pro wrestling and were stars in their respective eras. But the similarities ended there. Wrestling itself was different. Television was different and the world was different. The closest modern replica, when it comes to presence, drawing power, ability to project athletic superiority, and even promos, would be MMA star Georges St. Pierre.
Brisco was the short-haired clean-cut All-American boy when he first hit it big in Florida, and then as long hair was in style, he had that rock star look. He was often compared with Tom Jones, the famed Welsh singer who was a huge television heartthrob at the time, or Joe Namath, a football quarterback with the New York Jets who was one of the most famous figures in the sports world.
Yet, he was actually a Native American, from the Chocktaw and Chikasaw tribes of Oklahoma. Unlike Wahoo McDaniel, who was actually only a small percentage Native American but played it up huge, wearing an Indian headdress to the ring, or Chief Jay Strongbow, an Italian who made it big in the 70s playing a Native American (and one of Brisco’s early mentors when he was Joe Scarpa, and in fact, Scarpa was the person who recommended Brisco to Eddie Graham in 1968), Brisco was never pushed with the stereotypical role. That role at first would have made it easier for him to get over, since Native American babyfaces with the war dances during comebacks were in vogue. But in the long run, he never would have been Jack Brisco. Still, it was never hidden.
And he had his own personal standards. He would never blade. It tells you just how big a star he was when you consider that, like Thesz, who also adamantly refused to use the blade, that he could headline everywhere and promoters even in heavy blood territories couldn’t convince him to bleed, and that he would approved to be world champion. It is believed Brisco bladed only once, toward the end of his career while working in the Carolinas.
Solie would regularly tout Brisco as the greatest American Indian athlete since Jim Thorpe, the 1912 gold medalist in the decathlon and pentathlon, a one-man college track and one-man college football team who went on to play pro football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and was even a national champion at ballroom dancing. Thorpe was still a household name in the 60s and 70s.
But where Brisco succeeded as a pro past the level of Billy Robinson, was not just his charisma, but he had the great fire in his comebacks. Robinson with his British style had flashier holds, but he didn’t sell nearly as well nor build comebacks. One promoter of the time when noting the comparison said Brisco was there for the betterment of the match, while Robinson was there to show off how good he was.
People were in awe of Robinson’s ability and they did believe in him as the real article, but they didn’t love him, like they loved The Crusher. With Brisco, it was both. They pushed his wrestling, such as his fireman’s carry, his bread-and-butter move in college wrestling, where he was portrayed as being able to hit it from any angle and at will. Solie understood the sport of wrestling, and often had help from John Heath, a well respected local high school football and wrestling coach with a great reputation who had done pro wrestling and was a spot show promoter. Heath, who in later years was deemed boring as times change, was the right guy to sit next to Solie because he’d be the forerunner of a top level sports analyst, in explaining what and why Brisco was doing with every move.
But Brisco had a quickness and coordination above that of almost everyone else, to go with a wide variety of offensive moves nobody else was doing. He did the crispest suplexes in the business, had some of the best comebacks, his dropkicks were as high and well timed as anyone’s, and nobody could match the speed and grace of his spin under takedowns (only Ricky Steamboat’s were better) and fireman’s carry takedowns, which Funk Jr., who has watched and been a part of pro wrestling for 60 years, said were the best he’s ever seen. He did a wide variety of suplexes in his matches at a time when only a few top wrestlers were doing them. While others did the figure four, none could match his quickness in the set-up and execution. He also popularized the sunset flip out of the corner, and may have invented the skin-the-cat move when Funk Jr. would get frustrated and throw him over the top rope in a last ditch effort to get disqualified, only to have him hang on and flip right back in.
But that was all the prelude in building the match. It was his ability to portray a constant struggle at every moment of the match, both on offense and defense, and build to his fiery comebacks, with his left handed forearms and punches. He would punch to the top of the head, where it was safe, and would land them with very minor force. People would see the punch land, but it was a safe punch to take. He would tell wrestlers he worked with, “I hope you don’t pull your punches, because I don’t pull mine.”
The comeback was a trait that even stood him apart from Funk Jr., who was probably the better ring psychologist and superior at playing subtle heel, which was the most important role for a world champion of that era. In many ways Brisco can best be compared with Thesz as far as presence, and Steamboat or a prime Barry Windham as far as in-ring ability. But Brisco was a far superior singles main event drawing card then either Steamboat or Windham.
But at the end of the day, he didn’t posses whatever Thesz, Race or Ric Flair possessed as far as ego and drive over the long-term. Not that he wasn’t confident. He may have been more than any of them. He obviously had a desire and drive to excel, you don’t get to be NCAA champion or the very different NWA championship without it. But he did not have the same type of ego that drives most of the most successful pro wrestlers, which also explains why he, and only him among every top wrestler of the last few generations, was able to walk away one day when he still could have wrestled for many more years and was still a top hand, and never come back.
“That story about Cael Sanderson (in the 2/8 Observer, when Brisco was asked after Sanderson set the all-time winning streak record of what would have happened if he would have faced Sanderson, and Brisco replied, “It would be the toughest victory of my career”), that’s Jack Brisco right there,” said Ric Flair. “He was the most confident guy I ever met.”
After Brisco won his world championship, he grew to hate the travel. While he had his issues with promoters, panicking some because he would often arrive late, the promoters in general loved him as champion. When he won the title, Don Owen sent Sam Muchnick a letter about how we “finally have a champion who can protect the belt.” They liked that his real sports credentials could garner media publicity that portrayed wrestling favorably. In social situations with media, he wore and suit-and-tie, was charming, polite, and not outlandish or braggadocios like most expected wrestlers to behave. His reign would have been longer had he not made it clear he wanted out. And when it was over, he had no intention of ever taking it again. He was content with wrestling an easier schedule and was no longer out there trying to prove himself nightly to be the best in the business, nor willing to travel to the level to be considered top five in the world, the kind of drive that kept others in the championship picture forever.
But there was a negative. Brisco may very well have been, during the Funk Jr. run as champion, the single greatest No. 1 contender in the history of the National Wrestling Alliance. But he was not the most effective champion. In the ring, as champion, he clearly projected the aura that a world champion should have, and in some ways, as far as walking into the arena and people believing this was really the greatest wrestler in the world, he had it more than any champion since Thesz. But his looks and style made it difficult to play heel. He had the timing and understanding, but he was so good and people knew it that it was difficult to get people to hate him and create the drama with the local babyface. He had many classic matches as champion, but during the Sam Muchnick era in St. Louis, he was the least effective drawing card of the long-term world champions, with 16 title defenses in the NWA’s main city, that averaged 8,631 paid.
Larry Matysik, Muchnick’s assistant and television announcer during that period, still believes Brisco was hurt by timing of winning the title in the summer, and not beating Funk Jr. as planned.
“The squabble about a supposed injury Dory suffered in an alleged truck wreck stopped all title matches, thus keeping the crown from going from Funk to Brisco in March, 1973, as planned,” he wrote. “The momentum was with Jack, who was hot, at the time. When the switch got delayed until July and the title went through Harley Race briefly first, Brisco never really got traction back, at least in St. Louis. Nonetheless, Brisco lured a few big turnouts and was a consistent attraction.”
Matysik also noted that the gas crisis hit during the start of Brisco’s reign, and it came during a bad period of the U.S. economy. While that may seem like an excuse, those factors played a part in destroying pro wrestling’s sister sports entertainment franchises, Roller Derby in 1973 and Roller Games in 1974. His title reign came during a decline in the pro wrestling business, particularly from the huge success almost every territory was having in the early 70s, in much of North America. The popularity of Roller Derby, Roller Games and pro wrestling on a national basis were all near all-time high levels during the the economically prosperous Funk Jr. reign when Brisco was the perennial top contender. Funk Jr. in St. Louis had 24 title defenses and averaged 10,703 paid, while headlining most of the time in an arena that couldn’t hold much more than that.
But in hindsight, Brisco really was better in the role of being the contender who came close. His best trait as a drawing card was his ability to project being the best and most talented athlete and his ability to get people to keep coming back because they believed he would someday be the champion. He was so good he could lose and stay over, but beating him came across as a great accomplishment and for most of his career, anyone who beat him automatically was regarded by fans as a much bigger star. In Florida, Paul Jones became an instant superstar through one win over Brisco.
“It wasn’t about going 60 minutes, it was about going 60 minutes in a way where you draw a better crowd the next time,” said Funk Jr., who had more of a business relationship with him. “I’ve read about him and his personal life, but I had to have known him better in the ring than anyone.”
The closest 80s equivalent would have been the Kerry Von Erich chase of Harley Race and Ric Flair in the early 80s. While Von Erich was nowhere close to Brisco’s level as a wrestler, he had the advantage of having grown up before the people’s eyes (and to a degree, in Florida, where Brisco arrived as an unknown and worked his way to being a national superstar while remaining based in the state, and having seen him through the long chase, there was that same kind of feeling). Von Erich did project the aura of athletic superiority and had the looks. While their physiques were entirely different, their frames were actually quite similar. In fact, if Brisco was into lifting weights for bodybuilding purposes, something he didn’t do because when he was a sports star the athletic community were of the mistaken belief it slows reflexes and makes one stiff, and if he had loaded up on steroids, there probably would have been a great physical similarity between the two. But for Brisco, it wasn’t an issue, because his look in the 1969-75 era was considered the prototypical athletic look by fans at that time.
In St. Louis, when Sam Muchnick closed his promotion down for a month, they aired television shows from other parts of the country. In the summer of 1969, they aired an episode or two of Championship Wrestling from Florida, at the time Brisco was the territory’s top star. He looked impressive enough that on the next show at Kiel Auditorium, on August 15, 1969, Brisco debuted in the semifinal, teaming with former world champions Pat O’Connor & Whipper Billy Watson against Blackjack Lanza & Bobby Heenan (in his first St. Louis match) & Moose Cholak in a unique elimination match. Brisco ended up left with Lanza and Cholak. He first pinned Cholak. The rules were that if it came down to one man on each team, they would meet in a two of three fall, 30 minute time limit match. Lanza, an established top heel in the city, and Brisco then split falls, and went to a 30:00 draw.
Brisco’s first appearance on Wrestling at the Chase was eight days later, to set up his first main event. Brisco & long-time area star Ron Etchison faced Kiniski, the former champion who was being groomed for a title rematch at Funk Jr., & Corsica Joe in a 2/3 fall match. Kiniski pinned Etchison in the first fall, Brisco pinned Joe in the second, and it ended in a draw.
“I remember my late mother’s comment when we watched his first match in St. Louis live at a TV taping,” said Irv Muchnick, Sam’s nephew. “It was just a semi-squash to get a new face over, but I remember Mom saying, `He’s really dramatic,’ which meant two things, he was good-looking and his athletic moves were smooth and well-timed and told a story.”
With just two appearances on television and one impressive debut on a major show, he was put in the main event on September 19, 1969, with Kiniski. Brisco’s job was to put Kiniski over to set up the Funk Jr. vs. Kiniski match they had been building. It drew 9,058 fans, not quite a sellout, but well above average for a show without a world title match. It was a very impressive showing for someone with such little exposure in the city. It was the start of a major storyline. It probably wasn’t in anyone’s mind on that night, but a few years later when it was clear Brisco was going to be world champion, he was always booked to lose to Kiniski, figuring it would pay dividends when he was champion. Also, the feeling was he got over in the match even though he lost. It became easy to use him as the last stepping stone of credibility to build contenders.
This reputation in St. Louis, where Brisco was used in that role before he became champion, but still drew in his title chances, and after he became champion, wasn’t lost on Race. In early 1983, when they were building up a Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich match, the booking idea was to have Von Erich beat Race for the Missouri State title to set up the win. On successive shows, Von Erich beat Race via DQ, the latter with the stips that the title could change hands via DQ so Von Erich became champion. Race made it clear that he was not going to lose to Von Erich in St. Louis, noting as a former champion, “I’m not going to become Jack Brisco here.”
Brisco returned on January 23, 1970, going to another draw with Lanza in a semifinal under a Pat O’Connor vs. Waldo Von Erich main event that drew so-
so. But it was strong enough that it was brought back two weeks later, this time as a main event, before 6,669. Brisco took the first fall in only 50 seconds, but Lanza won the second fall with a piledriver, which “injured” Brisco’s neck. Brisco came out for the third fall, but in selling the injury, ref Joe Schoenberger stopped the match.
He was used as a high mid-carder for a while. Lanza pinned him again in a tag team elimination match. On March 20, 1970, he got an easy payday, as Lanza challenged Brisco & Wilbur Snyder, saying he would beat one after the other, in less than 30:00. Snyder started against Lanza and lasted the 30:00. So Brisco ended up just standing at ringside.
He remained kept strong, including time limit draws with big names like Killer Kowalski, The Crimson Knight (Bill Miller) and O’Connor. On television, he unmasked the Knight, only to find that the Knight had a second mask underneath. His third main event was October 16, 1970, drawing 6,139 and losing to the Knight, which was a set up for Funk Jr. vs. Knight title vs. mask a month later. After Knight lost and was unmasked as Miller, it was Brisco’s turn.
On December 4, 1970, he won the annual Battle Royal, pinning Miller when they were the last two, and setting up the first Funk Jr. vs. Brisco match in St. Louis for January 1, 1971.
So after losing to the area’s top heels, getting some draws with top contenders, and his only main event win being in the Battle Royal, Brisco was booked in the city for his first title shot at Funk Jr. In the final angle before the match, a tape was shown of O’Connor going to Florida in the gym and drilling Brisco on how to counter the spinning toe hold.
It worked, and on the night where Brisco firmly established himself as a national star, the two drew a sellout of 11,587 fans to Kiel Auditorium, selling out in advance and causing a riot because of how many thousands were turned away. The belief is they could have sold 20,000 tickets that night, as the two did a one hour draw that was considered one of the greatest matches in the history of St. Louis wrestling. It was the first of their eight St. Louis main events over the next seven-and-a-half years, the first five of which all went 60:00.
They had to shut things down at 6:30 p.m. that night before the show. There were so many people being turned away that the police came with police dogs to quell those who couldn’t get in. At that time, they used portable structures to sell tickets, and with no tickets left, the rioters began turning over the ticket booths. When the police came, they said they had to get 4,000 people who didn’t have tickets to leave the area. It also led to Kiel Auditorium putting in permanent ticket booths.
“He’d never had a title match in St. Louis before,” said Funk Jr., who said he remembered that night well. “St. Louis was one of the best paying cities (Brisco, as the challenger in a world title match in St. Louis, would have gotten 8% of the gate). At one point I put him in a crossface and whispered in his ear, `Do you know how much you’re going to get paid?’ and then I told him.”
“If anyone ever got the classic build, it was Jack Brisco,” wrote Larry Matysik in his not-yet-released book, “Glory Days: The St. Louis Record Book. “ “Here was the former national collegiate champion, a charismatic and obviously talented young star. St. Louis could feel they were part of his growing up, as Brisco came so close over a year to bursting through to stardom, only to be stopped in nip-
and-tuck thrilling battles by salty, nasty competitors like Kiniski, Lanza and the Crimson Knight. But he kept coming back, getting victories, displaying his fire, coming oh-so-close. Therefore, when Brisco finally blasted through the ceiling, he was accepted and respected as a star. It was a status Brisco had earned in the eyes of the fans. Plus, look ahead to March 5, 1971, when Brisco was generous enough to set up Lanza for Dory. If Brisco could hold the champion to a draw, and Lanza beat Brisco, wasn’t it logical that Lanza could beat Funk?”
Brisco and Lanza first had a draw on television, to build for another main event. However, rather than going back to Funk Jr. vs. Brisco, the idea was to wait until later in the year, and go with Lanza next. Lanza beat Brisco, but more importantly, the show drew another sellout of 11,766, which, ironically, was more than the Funk Jr. vs. Lanza cage match, the cage to keep Heenan from interfering, for the title drew, pulling in 11,033 at the larger Arena.
“I saw them (Funk Jr. and Brisco) do five one hour matches and every one was different,” said Matysik. “They all told different stories.”
The first Brisco Brothers vs. Funk Brothers match in St. Louis aired on Wrestling at the Chase on October 30, 1971. The teams went the time limit, with one fall taken, with Jack pinning Dory as the natural set-up for their second title match.
It’s hard to say what happened. For obvious reasons, they moved the November 19, 1971, match from Kiel Auditorium to the larger Arena, and drew 12,614 fans, the biggest crowd of the year, but based on how many were turned away for the first match, it was a disappointment. Dory won the first fall at 19:15, and they wrestled 60:00 without another fall being taken.
However, when Matysik was asked about his favorite Brisco vs. Funk Jr. match, he said it was November 15, 1974, the last one hour match the two did in the city. In this one, Brisco was the champion. Lou Thesz was referee. Funk Jr. was working as the babyface, and bleeding heavily. Brisco threw him over the top rope at 51:30 in the only fall of the match which went the time limit.
Funk Jr. said the ones that stood out to him was a 90 minute match in Jacksonville, a match at the famous Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, a match in Osaka, Japan on NTV and a match in Abilene, TX, where the ring collapsed late in a match, and the two and the fans just ignored it since the championship was a bigger deal then the spectacle of seeing guys exchange holds in a ring split in two, continued working until the 60 minutes expired.
Clips of their classic long matches in Tampa, and sometimes other cities around the state, would be edited into the Florida television show. Gordon Solie would push certain points, noting that the amount of actual time in play of a football game was about eight minutes, so he’d note at the 55 minute mark how the two had just done the equivalent of seven football games, but without the rest between plays. He’d note that at the time, college wrestling matches were nine minutes. What was pushed was the idea these athletes had a level of conditioning that elite athletes in the major sports couldn’t match. Once, Solie asked the two to weigh in before one of their long matches and again after, and would bring up how Brisco lost ten pounds and Funk Jr. lost 12 pounds during the course of the match.
Brisco started hitting his stride in 1970, as he and Funk Jr. wrestled roughly 45 championship matches that year, at least a half-dozen of which went 60:00, as well as a few non-title matches during the year. Most were in Florida. The first time the two were brought to Charlotte, they did a near sellout, and they also headlined in Puerto Rico. The feud outgrew the Jacksonville Coliseum, and a May 23 match was moved outdoors to the Gator Bowl.
In 1971, they had close to 20 more matches, about half of which went 60:00. It was during that year that Brisco had his program with Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woodin). It was a unique program as Mr. Wrestling was portrayed as an AAU national champion, which he was, and one of the great pinners in history (Tim Woodin’s pinning percentage in college at Michigan State of 71% was believed to be the second best in college wrestling history behind Danny Hodge).
The making of Brisco in Florida was built around portraying him as the greatest technical wrestler in the world. Brisco’s first Florida title win in 1970 was over Masa Saito, who was billed as the 1964 Olympic gold medalist (Saito actually tied for seventh place). He also won a program over Dale Lewis, a two-time Olympian and two-time NCAA champion, and another former Olympian in Bob Roop. Mr. Wrestling was brought in as a completely scientific heel, who would only use heel tactics at the very finish of the match, which as it turned out, for a psychological standpoint, at that point, worked out better than the full-fledged heels he’d go against.
In his promos, he would claim he was equal to Brisco in every physical aspect, but superior to him mentally, as he would be able to get Brisco to lose his temper, and capitalize. It was pushed as the two best technical wrestlers in the business battling over the No. 1 contendership.
The program started with matches under amateur rules, with Heath as referee. They would be tied after two periods, and Brisco would take the lead late, and Mr. Wrestling would, in the middle of the match, throw an illegal punch or elbow to get disqualified, ultimately getting more heat since he had bragged of his ability to get Brisco to lose his cool. Later, Brisco used a figure four leglock on Mr. Wrestling, but he refused to submit and the match went the distance. They sold it as Mr. Wrestling tearing knee ligaments. When he returned, he began wearing a knee brace. It was sold that the knee brace allowed him to withstand the figure four. He also would use a knee with the brace to the head behind the ref’s back to get wins. In later matches, Brisco would get disqualified as, when his figure four didn’t work, he would go to remove the brace, and when the ref would try and stop him, he’d hit the referee. This put even more heat as Mr. Wrestling would brag that he agreed to wrestle Brisco even though he had a knee injury, and Brisco at 100% couldn’t beat him at 60%. After Brisco unmasked Mr. Wrestling, Brisco had another round of matches with him, usually positioned as battles for the No. 1 contender spot, as the unmasked Tim Woods.
In 1972, Brisco and Funk Jr. worked regularly in Florida and the Carolinas, as well as expanded the feud into new territories, most notably the Amarillo territory, where Brisco played heel, and Georgia, where a promotional war started at the end of the year. They had about 30 championship matches that year, and about another half-dozen going 60:00.
The most famous was February 8, 1972, at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, which was very controversial at the time. Jack Brisco called it the best match of the series (a tape of this match, which aired as a one-hour television show on Championship Wrestling from Florida, still exists and is available on the Wrestling Classics web site). Solie once referred to it as the greatest match he ever saw.
Every major city in Graham’s circuit had seen the match probably five to ten times by that point. Because of how the world championship was promoted in the Florida territory, the crowds were almost always significantly up when Funk Jr. came to town, and Brisco was easily his best drawing opponent, hence they kept going back to the match and it kept drawing.
Graham moved the show from a Tuesday night in Tampa, where the match would routinely do about 5,000 fans, packing the Armory, to a Saturday night in St. Petersburg. Tickets in those days were $5 ringside and $3.50 General Admission. They would be raised $1 for a world title match, since the champion was supposed to get 10% of the gate, and Sam Muchnick, who booked the champion, was to get 3% of the gate as a booking fee. Graham promoted the match heavier than ever, and put ticket prices at $25 and $15, unheard of at that time. He also announced there would be no disqualification, on the heels of Funk Jr. losing via DQ to Brisco in previous matches. He thought, and it turned out to be the case, that the higher ticket prices would draw more fans because they would believe with the higher prices they were going to get a title switch. He was right and they were wrong.
It was so controversial that the local newspaper wrote an editorial decrying the idea of ticket prices that high for pro wrestling. Wrestling fans in the area were furious when the prices were announced. Still, they drew a full house of 7,000 fans and set the state gate record, and did yet another one hour draw.
Many people consider Funk Jr. vs. Brisco in their minds as what early 70s pro wrestling was. The reality was very different. Wrestling was absolutely not about two guys exchanging holds in a contest that looked real, except when the top guys went at it. What made Funk Jr. vs. Brisco is that they did a style different from almost everyone.
The other thing was, because generally they drew crowds in most cities well above usual, the promoters would shoot big angles, have run-ins, blood and wild brawls underneath, trying to build angles for their future shows when Funk Jr. and Brisco weren’t there. Then the two would get in the ring, and exchange holds while telling a story where the match portrayed a constant struggle for something tangible.
“I think a lot of fans must have thought with the ticket prices that high, there was a good chance they would get to see me finally win the title,” Brisco wrote. “I was sorry to disappoint them, but they got one hell of a show.”
“It was the fastest one hour I’ve ever seen,” noted John Heath, when the match was in its last few minutes. Neither man took a fall. At the finish, Brisco caught Funk Jr. in an abdominal stretch with about 55 seconds left. Funk Jr. refused to submit. Brisco then dropped him to the mat in a lateral guillotine with about 25 seconds left. The finish was closer to amateur wrestling with Brisco trying to force Funk Jr.’s shoulders down. It wasn’t one-two-kick out like pro wrestling. It was one-two and Funk Jr. barely getting the shoulder up while Brisco was forcing it down. The whole thing was a struggle until the time limit expired.
It’s easy to say the match more closely resembled an MMA match than a modern pro wrestling match. But it wouldn’t be accurate. It actually had elements of amateur wrestling, such as the last 30 seconds, with the basic pro wrestling moves, arm drags, body slams, suplexes and the like. It didn’t resemble the UWF-style wrestling that was popular in Japan with all the submissions, as fans didn’t know them and submissions were limited to moves like the spinning toe hold and the figure four leglock. The audience reaction to this was closer to MMA than modern pro wrestling. But it was more the reaction at an intense high level college wrestling dual meet, except with participants who were like MMA headliners as celebrities. But it didn’t have the modern pageantry and the music. There was no playing to the crowd. But it took very little, such as Funk Jr. escaping the ring for a breather in slipping out of the figure four, to get intense heat. It wasn’t intense heel heat, but frustration from the crowd.
“Funny thing about the payoff that night, even with a full house and a record box office, our pay envelopes weren’t any heavier,” he recalled. “Eddie thought it was all his idea so it was all his money. The boys were in disagreement about the split and I went to Eddie to try to negotiate a better payday. The conversation didn’t last long. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was the boss and we all worked for him.”
But it was a lesson.
“The one bright spot about the pay that night, it made me realize all the more who really made the money in wrestling and it certainly wasn’t the boys. Not even the champion pulled in what a good promoter did, so I began to devise a plan to buy into the territory. Why not be part owner and top card (top draw) at the same time? The money would be at least double, maybe more.”
Later that year, the two wrestled to a 90:00 draw in Jacksonville. They did two other 90:00 draws, one in Houston in June of 1973 when neither was champion in a match to determine the No. 1 contender for Harley Race. After Brisco beat Race, this draw set up natural Brisco vs. Funk Jr. rematches. They did another 90:00 draw on September 20, 1973, this time with Brisco defending and playing heel, in Funk Jr.’s home turf in Abilene. The two likely did more one hour matches with each other than any two wrestlers in history. The three 90:00 matches, as well as a Funk Jr. vs. Wahoo McDaniel 90:00 match for the title in Houston, are believed to be, along with a Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham title match, the longest major promotion singles matches of the past 40 years in North America.
In early 1972, Graham directly asked Brisco if he was interested in becoming world champion. Before Brisco could answer, Graham pointed out the pitfalls, the pressure on him to draw everywhere because he’d be getting 10% of the gate, and the ridiculous worldwide schedule. The positives were the money, as he’d become the highest paid wrestler in the business. As it turned out, due to the emergence of Andre the Giant as an attraction and the contract Bruno Sammartino signed when he returned for his second run as WWF champion, Brisco was not necessarily the highest paid wrestler in the world during his title years. Plus, he’d have an aura that would stay with him for the rest of his career, the prestige of holding the title which few men held, and it would elevate him on a worldwide level to a level that he’d maintain with promoters and fans long after he lost the title. But as someone who grew up leafing through magazines and seeing Thesz with the belt that he was being offered a chance to carry, he couldn’t say “Yes” loud enough.
It was at the NWA Convention in August of 1972, that Brisco was chosen to be the next champion. It had been expected since early 1971 that when Funk Jr. would either give it up or be replaced (Funk Jr. eventually gave it up because of the difficulty of having any kind of family life on the schedule), Brisco would be the choice, although there was nothing official about that until the convention. Funk Jr was a great draw as champion coming up on his fourth year with the belt. Other names were brought up, most notably Race, championed by his promoter, Bob Geigel, and Terry Funk, championed by Dory Sr. Funk’s name was rejected because at that point in time, the idea of having Terry beating Dory Jr. to become world champion was considered too “fake” to be considered. Graham, Muchnick, Nick Gulas, Shohei Baba and Mike LeBelle, who were the others on the NWA board that decided the champion, with Geigel and Funk Sr., all voted for Brisco. There was also an underlying power struggle between Dory Funk Sr. and Eddie Graham as far as carrying influence on all the promoters was. The two had a unique relationship where they were best friends one minute, and literally could be in a fist fight the next, and then do business again the next day.
In 1973, because they were doing the title change, there were only a few matches between Funk Jr. and Brisco scheduled before the March 2, 1973, scheduled title change in Houston that didn’t happen. In many territories, on television, the big world match in Houston would be mentioned in passing, some places on television, others just in the local programs sold at the matches, so having the same match elsewhere didn’t make sense. In the Los Angeles program sold at the matches at the Olympic Auditorium, they wrote it up that it was the match LeBelle wanted, but that he was outbid by Boesch for the big world title match. Unlike four years earlier when Funk Jr. won the title and nobody, even the wrestlers, knew it was going to happen, while by no means was it common knowledge in the business about this change, it was hardly a secret either.
Leading up to the match, Brisco’s role was to travel all over the world, billed as the No. 1 contender, and lose to the local top star or stars in every promotion. The idea was those losses would pay off when he got the title. The only exception was in Houston, where the title change would take place, and to build up the gate locally, they portrayed Brisco as a wrestler on a hot streak like no other. Brisco scored wins over Red Bastien, Jose Lothario, McDaniel (considered a huge win at the time since McDaniel was the area’s top babyface), Valentine and the Missouri Mauler, among others.
The other territory where Brisco didn’t lose, was the WWWF. Because Championship Wrestling from Florida aired in several WWWF cities, they would bring the top names into New York, Philadelphia and Boston as guest attractions.
Brisco, billed as “The All-American Boy,” was the main outside attraction brought in for the September 30, 1972, show at Shea Stadium underneath the Bruno Sammartino vs. Pedro Morales match. On that show, he beat local wrestler Mr. Fuji, who was half the tag team title. But usually, Brisco would be brought in against one of his main opponents from Florida, like Paul Jones or Bobby Shane.
“On January 24, 1973, at the Philadelphia Arena, Jack Brisco and Bobby Shane tore the house down,” remembered former record company exec Mike Omansky. “Brisco won with the figure four and it was one of the biggest reactions, other than for Bruno Sammartino, that I ever saw at an East Coast arena at the time. This was an amazing wrestling match and Brisco came across as a major main event level babyface.”
In fact, the part of Brisco’s legacy that was never talked about the past few weeks was the effect he had on Vince McMahon Sr. A few years later, when Sammartino asked out as champion, Sr. was looking for a replacement. By this point, Brisco was older, burned out on travel and there was no way he’d do the necessary schedule to be WWWF champion. McMahon Sr. asked Eddie Graham and Muchnick that he wanted someone as champion who could be like Jack Brisco. Both recommended Bob Backlund, and McMahon even gave him the same “All-
American Boy” moniker he’d given Brisco four years earlier.
Two days before the title change was to go down, as Brisco was getting out of the shower after his match in Miami Beach, Graham told him he just got a phone call from Dory Funk Sr., saying Jr. rolled his truck on the ranch, separating his shoulder, and he would be out of action indefinitely.
“It appeared to me that Dory Sr. was bound and determined that his son was not going to drop his world championship to me,” said Brisco. “I am not sure if it was because he just didn’t like me, the fact those years earlier that he was putting Junior over me in two minutes, my amateur background, or the fact that they were Texans and I was from Oklahoma. I also knew that he didn’t want Junior losing to a babyface. Losing to a babyface would mean that he lost to a better wrestler, so Sr. wanted him to lose to a heel so he could be screwed out of the championship (particularly in creating a still champion but without the belt aura around Jr. as he would return to be the top full-time star in the Amarillo territory). That way, he could always claim that even though he no longer held the belt, he didn’t lose it fairly.”
Of course the skepticism was high given the nature of pro wrestling, and probably should have been. The Funks to this day maintain the accident was legitimate, pointing out that besides ruining the truck, there were medical bills, and Funk Jr. missed some big paydays while out for nine weeks, as rematches would have been held around the country, plus it hurt the home territory because he couldn’t headline.
“Fritz Von Erich and Sam Muchnick were going crazy trying to get me back in the ring instead of being concerned that I was hurt,” said Funk Jr. “I went back to the ring early.”
“First, there was a wreck, I saw the truck,” wrote Terry Funk in his autobiography. “The truth is, the truck was totally torn up, and Junior was hurt. He and our father were at a creek on the ranch. The creek had a good, steep bank, and he went off the bank and into the creek. That same shoulder had been bad for a long time. He’d even had surgery on it previously after hurting it in college playing football.”
Dory Sr. sent medical records to the NWA office immediately after informing them of the accident. Sam Muchnick was skeptical. Matysik, who noted that things in the NWA got really tense at this point, said medical evidence was sent by The Funks but it was not detailed and they were not convinced about it.
Part of it was because on August 20, 1965, the main event on a Kiel Auditorium show was scheduled to be Dick the Bruiser vowing he could beat both Dory Sr. and Dory Jr. in consecutive matches within 30 minutes or he would forfeit the match. Before the match, Sr. claimed he suffered an injury in an auto accident on the ranch and couldn’t wrestle, although he did appear at the show. The main event was changed to a singles match, where instead, Bruiser vowed to pin Funk Jr. two straight times within 30:00. Bruiser won the first fall, but Funk Jr., in pinning Bruiser to win the second fall, took the match. At the time, scoring a win over Bruiser in St. Louis was a big deal in Funk Jr.’s career. It is entirely possible for two accidents on the ranch, but in wrestling, the suspicion given that history was also natural, like perhaps the ranch accident was a part of somebody’s play book.
When Muchnick released information to the local media, he used words like alleged all over the release, careful that if somehow it came out that it wasn’t legitimate, that he’d at least shown skepticism rather than have the media believe he was lying to them. Brisco never believed the accident was real, nor did Paul Boesch, although he was more political about it in his autobiography than he was privately. In talking with him before he passed away in 1989, he was still irate about how things went down before the Funk Jr. vs. Brisco match more than a decade later, and this from someone who couldn’t sing the praises of Funk Jr. as a performer loud enough.
But with Funk Jr., injured, there was no champion. Brisco went to Houston and beat sub Fritz Von Erich that night. He was scheduled to tour as champion, so he took many of the championship dates he was going to go on, including going overseas. Terry Funk also took some of those dates. Both men went around the country, usually losing to the top stars in every territory over the next nine weeks.
Funk Jr. returned on May 9, 1973, working his home West Texas territory, mostly (although he did work dates in Florida with Tim Woods and for McGuirk against Danny Hodge and The Spoiler) before going to Kansas City to lose to Race. It was made clear to Race from Muchnick that under no circumstances was Funk Jr. to leave the ring as champion. Race had a reputation as a street fighter par excellence. Most of the wrestlers of that era talked with great respect of Race’s bar knockouts when trouble brewed with wrestlers and fans who wanted to challenge them. Plus, there was the long-time friendship of Kansas City promoter Geigel (who was a partner with Muchnick in St. Louis) with Funk Sr., dating back to the early 50s, along with Race’s relationship with the Funk family. In the end, there were no problems.
Funk Sr. was able to manipulate his son to lose to a guy who was a heel, with a finish where there was a ref bump. Referee Richard Moody went down. Funk Jr. had Race beaten and pinned for a visionary three count after a knee off the top rope. As Funk Jr. went to help up the ref, Race came from behind, delivered his finishing vertical suplex and got the pin. In doing so, it actually strengthened the Funk Jr. vs. Brisco feud, because Funk Jr. could claim that Brisco chased him for years, but never beat him. Due to the nature of the finish of the match he lost, plus the story of him coming back early from the injury, he could claim that he was still the rightful top man.
“That was fantastic for business,” said Funk Jr. “Jack beat Harley Race for the belt. He didn’t win it from me. When we brought the match into the Amarillo territory, everywhere we did capacity business. It was unfortunate the pick-up truck accident took place, but it was good for him. ”
While it was not the plan, there was an argument that it ended up being better than the plan, at least when it came to the Funk Jr. vs. Brisco feud.
But Matysik noted that it hurt Brisco as champion at least in their city. Originally, Brisco was going to beat Terry Funk in his first defense, which would have likely been a great match to kick off his reign. Instead, he felt having Brisco beat Race after a short run didn’t have the impact of beating Funk Jr. after four years with their rivalry. Plus, Brisco’s first title defense instead ended up against Bobo Brazil, a 60:00 draw, which he rated as one of the worst St. Louis main events ever, and probably the only bad Brisco match he ever saw. Brisco had always been a babyface, but tried to work heel, using punching and kicking because you couldn’t wrestle Brazil for 60:00. While the people booed him, they didn’t understand why Brisco didn’t wrestle, since it was his forte. It made sense in that it was the only way to go that long with the very limited Brazil for 60 minutes, that in of itself was a booking mistake, but from a fan perspective, why would he abandon everything he did to win the title the first time he had the title?
But even though it was only for two months, world title changes were so rare that just being a champion made Race into a national star, and he was mentioned in the same breath as Funk Jr. and Brisco, and in many parts of the country, they became the big three stars. The Brisco-Funk Jr. feud had another layer. The storyline was that Funk Jr. claimed his shoulder wasn’t healed, and it was the pressure of Brisco, who in storyline was also questioning the reality of the injury, that he came back too soon and lost the title. Race came to Houston for wins over Ivan Putski and Lothario, and his storyline in that city was he refused to wrestle Brisco, saying Brisco’s role as top contender didn’t apply any longer since Funk Jr. wasn’t champion. This set up the Funk Jr. vs. Brisco 90:00 draw to determine who was the top contender. Then, Race refused to wrestle Brisco because he didn’t beat Funk Jr. Finally, the story was that the NWA ordered the match, which explained why all the NWA dignitaries would be coming to town for the July 20, 1973, match at the Sam Houston Coliseum. The location was to pacify Boesch, mad about not getting the title change in his city that he had been promised.
By that point, Brisco was also a partner in both offices, owning 8% of the Florida office and 5% of the Georgia office, buying in at well below what would be the real market value of that stock. He was such a hot commodity that Graham, who maneuvered Brisco into getting stock in both companies, wanted to make sure he remained based in that part of the country.
Muchnick came in for the match, bringing with him the famed “domed globe belt,” also known as “the ten pounds of gold,” with the flags of several different countries on it, replacing what was called in the profession, the “Thesz belt.” The belt actually dated back to 1959, to Pat O’Connor’s reign, but was known as the “Thesz belt,” because he carried it from 1963-66. The new belt, which was red (it was later changed to black because the red coloring didn’t hold up well over time), was scheduled to be debuted for the original tile change date, and ironically, the first major U.S. star to carry the belt was Brisco, who was given it by Mike LeBelle in Los Angeles and flew with it to St. Louis to give to Muchnick before the scheduled March 2 match.
The belt remained in play until 1986 when Jim Crockett Jr. replaced it with the belt most associated with Ric Flair, the first man who wore it, the design of which is the same as WWE’s current world championship belt.
Before the match started, in the ring, Race, who came into the ring wearing the old belt, handed it to Muchnick, and Muchnick handed Race the new belt to hold, if only for a few seconds.
Race won the first fall in 12:00 with a vertical suplex. Brisco won the second fall at the 25:00 mark with the figure four leglock. Brisco won the third fall at the 40:00 mark, using the Thesz press.
“I had planned to win the belt with the finishing move that Lou created,” Brisco said. “It was no secret that Lou was my idol and had the most influence on my career. It was because of him and Danny Hodge that I became a professional wrestler. Using the Thesz press to win the title was my way of saying thanks to Lou.”
Announcer Boyd Pierce announced Brisco as the new champion while photos were taken of his hand being held up by referee Bronko Lubich, and with Muchnick.
For his role in the title switch situation, Race was promised a run with the championship. Brisco himself felt that when it was time for him to drop it, he wanted to drop it to Race.
The local newspapers covered it, not like it was a huge story (it was on the second page of the sports section of the Houston Post the next morning), but like it was a sports story, noting Brisco became the first person to win the world heavyweight championship in a Houston ring since 1942, noting two previous title changes in the city as Bobby Managoff beating Yvon Robert that year, and Bronko Nagurski’s title win over Thesz in 1939. The story noted Brisco’s high school and college sports success.
“Jack was the most naturally gifted athlete to ever be honored with the NWA championship,” wrote Jim Ross, who said being asked to speak at Brisco’s funeral was “honestly one of the biggest honors of my life.”
“The funny thing is I didn’t want to leave the ring. I wanted to savor every second of what had just happened. I knew no matter how many times I may win the title, it would never be like this. I thought of Lou and the champions who went before me. I wondered if they all felt the way I was feeling at that moment.”
It would be a long night. He and Eddie Graham, who flew in for the title change, went out for a steak dinner before Brisco caught a 2 a.m. flight out of Houston back to his condo in suburban Atlanta, where he had moved in 1972 because it was a hub airport and he was traveling all over the country putting over contenders before winning the title. On his way home from the airport at about 5 a.m., he was pulled over, and the officer saw a big case, holding the championship belt. He figured it was a case holding a machine gun. He told Brisco to open the case, and then grabbed his gun. When the officer saw it was the world title belt, everything was fine, but then he wanted to talk pro wrestling for a half hour. With barely any sleep, he went to the WTCG studios in Atlanta, where at the onset of the morning tapings for the show that aired at 6 p.m., Gordon Solie announced that Brisco had won the world title last night in Houston and brought him in with the belt to start the show.
Surprisingly, the match was not taped. It was the only major NWA world title change from 1969 on that wasn’t taped. Brisco in his book blamed it on Funk Sr. screwing him one last time, but that explanation makes no sense since Funk Sr. had passed away on June 3, 1973, from a heart attack at the age of 54. After a Funk family cookout with the Amarillo wrestling crew, with food and beer flowing, Funk Sr. and Les Thornton, a noted shooter from the U.K. who was later a multi-time junior heavyweight champion, got into a discussion over who was the toughest shooter. Thornton bragged that Funk Sr. couldn’t hold him in a front facelock (which would now be called a guillotine). He gave Funk Sr. the move and both started struggling for all they were worth, until Thornton eventually passed out. But Funk Sr. had a heart attack a few moments later.
After a day off, something that would be a rarity over the next two-and-
a-half years, Brisco went to Orlando for his first title defense, pinning his idol, Lou Thesz.
“It was almost surreal for me that night,” Brisco wrote. “In all the times I dreamed of being the world champion, I had never imagined I would be defending my title against Lou. When I entered the ring that night, coming last, as the champion does, Lou was waiting for me, grinning from ear-to-ear. When they introduced me to the crowd, the place went wild. It was the first time I’d been back to my territory as champion. As I waved to the crowd, I glanced over to the opposite corner, where Lou was standing. He was applauding along with the rest of the crowd. He had helped train me and taught me about the business and all its pitfalls. And there he was, applauding me as much as anyone.”
All told in 1973, Brisco and Funk Jr. did another 15 to 20 matches, a half dozen of which went 60:00. They were in Florida, Georgia, the Mid Atlantic territory and Texas, including headlining the annual Thanksgiving show at the Greensboro Coliseum and drawing the biggest crowd of the year.
The program continued in 1974, with matches in both Texas promotions, Georgia, Florida, St. Louis, as well as their famous match on January 29, 1974 in Osaka. During that year, they did roughly 40 matches together, with 25 going the time limit. In 1975, they did roughly another 30 title matches.
During the first half of the 70s, the general feeling was that the best wrestlers in North America as far as performers inside the ring who could also draw money as headliners were Race, The Funks, Brisco and Valentine. Both Dory and Terry Funk had told me at different points the two best wrestlers they ever faced during their careers were Brisco and Valentine. Don Leo Jonathan once said he believed Brisco was the best wrestler he ever saw.
“I never had a bad match with Jack,” said Dory Jr. “Every single match was spectacular for the wrestling fans. He was an ideal challenger for me to work with. It was always a pleasure to be in the ring with him. And he always had a super attitude.”
“I’d say Jack Brisco was right at the top of the list with Ric Flair and Lou Thesz,” said Dory Jr. “During the four-and-a-half-years I was NWA champion, I felt Jack Brisco was the No. 1 guy in the sport.”
Jack Brisco was born Fred Joe Brisco, known as a kid as Freddie Joe, on September 21, 1941. The name Jack came from his grandfather, who gave it to him as a nickname because as a kid he was always chasing jackrabbits. He ended up hating the name Fred, refused to answer when people called him that, and before long he was Jack.
He was the third of six children. His father, an alcoholic, disappeared when he was nine, leaving his mother, a waitress at Bob’s Grill in Blackwell, OK, to try raise and support four children, since two older brothers had left, one for college and the other for the marines. She couldn’t do it so two sisters moved in with an aunt, and he and Gerald became inseparable. From the age of 8, Jack was Gerald’s brother, his father, and his best friend.
“Jack was the best big brother in the world,” said Gerald, who currently works for WWE and followed his brother as a wrestler at Oklahoma State, although quit school in 1968 once he got a taste of pro wrestling during the summer. “When I faced tough times as a youth, he was always there for me. He paved the way for me in both amateur and professional wrestling.”
He was a football and wrestling star at Blackwell High School. He was 185 pounds as a sophomore, and wrestled as a heavyweight because in those days the top high school weight class before heavyweight was 165. Even though he was usually outsized, he went 17-1 as a sophomore, and never lost as a junior or senior, winning three state titles. He was also a two-time all-state fullback, leading his team to the state championship game in that sport, which they lost.
He was heavily recruited as a football player, and signed with the University of Oklahoma under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson and was told he could wrestle during the off season. That clinched the deal, the idea he would be training in the same mat room that Danny Hodge did a few years earlier.
After signing with Oklahoma, Myron Roderick, the Oklahoma State coach, tried to convince him to change his mind, telling him he could win a national championship in wrestling. Times were different, as it’s hard to believe today someone with a full scholarship to a major Division I football program would turn it down to be a wrestler, but his goal since eighth grade was to be a pro wrestler, and Roderick, himself in his mid-20s, had won national titles in 1954-1956, and had connections with McGuirk, who himself was a former national champion in the 30s. Another factor is Ted Ellis, a football and wrestling teammate who was two years older, started wrestling at Oklahoma State and won the NCAA heavyweight title in 1959, beating Robert Marella (Gorilla Monsoon) of Ithaca College in the finals.
Brisco said the decision came down to his lifelong goal, to become a world champion in pro wrestling, and he felt as a football player on a powerhouse team that would likely go to Bowl games, he’d start wrestling in mid-season, and thought he probably couldn’t win a national title. Roderick was able to get Jack’s mother out of Bob’s Grill and get a better job at a hardware store in Stillwater, and moved into a small house in Stillwater, earning enough that his sisters could move back.
Freshman weren’t eligible in those days for varsity competition, so Jack wrestled on the freshman wrestling team, winning the national championship, and also beat the varsity 191 pounder in a freshman-varsity meet on campus.
But a wrinkle was thrown at him. As a freshman, he fell in love, got married, and not long after that, had his first child. He needed to support his family and couldn’t find a job in Stillwater, so moved to Oklahoma City as a carpenter’s helper. Roderick told him to save his money and a scholarship was still there for him. He worked there for two years, before getting a job in Stillwater cleaning toilets and mopping and waxing floors, which enabled him to return to school in the fall of 1963, but with the gap in time, he lost a season of eligibility, and would come in as a junior.
Brisco continued working at the job through college. After school and practice, even after appearing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which carried the NCAA tournament, he was still cleaning toilets at night. Brisco was part of the Cowboys team that won the 1964 national championship, led by Yojiro Uetake, the Japanese Danny Hodge. Uetake was a three-time NCAA champion, one of the greatest college wrestlers of all-time, who won gold medals for Japan in both 1964 and 1968 Olympics.
In his second match in 1964, he faced Ken Hines, who place fifth in the nation the year before, and ended up as a draw. He won the Big 8 championship and went into the NCAA tournament unbeaten, and ranked third in the nation, behind Harry “The Snake” Houska of Ohio and John Gladish of Lehigh. He breezed through the competition, beating Gladish 5-1, before losing 6-3 to Houska in the championship match that aired on Wide World of Sports, devastated that his first time on national television was his first loss since his sophomore year of high school. It was also the last real wrestling match he would ever lose.
Brisco, when asked about that match, for years would only say, “I lost to a better man.”
But years later, in his autobiography, Brisco said that when he went out for his favorite fireman’s carry, his hand slipped off, and all of a sudden, he saw Vaseline all over his hands. He claimed Houska covered his arms and shoulders with it.
He was dominant as a senior, undefeated and ranked first in the nation going into the NCAA tournament in Laramie, WY. He beat Hank Schenk of Oregon State 7-2, pinned future pro wrestling opponent Larry Lane of Northern Colorado, pinned Allen Keller of Colorado State, decisioned Al Rozman of Western State, and on Wide World of Sports, pinned Dan Pernat of Wisconsin to capture the title.
But after his win, the national title was still on the line, however future pro football superstar Jim Nance of Syracuse beat Cowboys heavyweight Russ Winer in the final match of the tournament, which meant Oklahoma State fell one point shy of Iowa State in the tournament.
He immediately turned pro in the McGuirk territory, and had his ups and downs, such as a short stay working for Nick Gulas and getting payoffs of less than $20. He debuted in Japan in 1967, and toured Australia in 1969, where he worked a program with Billy Robinson over the WCW world heavyweight title.
It was during this period that Brisco and Robinson had their famous hotel room challenge. The two became friends in Australia because both loved wrestling. Robinson thought his submission style learned at the Snake Pit in Wigan, England was the superior style. Brisco had worked out with submission wrestlers, and none had ever been able to do anything with him.
One night in a hotel room in Melbourne, both were drinking beers while talking wrestling. After last call, they grabbed a few six-packs and went to his room. It started with each man demonstrating moves on the other, and then it got rougher, and all of a sudden it got competitive.
They’d wrestle, drink some beers, wrestle some more, and started hurting each other. By the time the sun came up, Robinson had a few broken fingers on his right hand. Brisco nearly had a broken foot and had a badly sprained ankle. Their faces were swollen, both were hung over, and they missed their flight to Adelaide, although they made a later flight.
Brisco was actually hurt worse when they wrestled, slammed hard in a boxing ring, blacked out and was rushed to the hospital, scared to death because he couldn’t feel his legs for a few hours.
Jerry Lawler told Scott Bowden that Brisco was one of the three best wrestlers he ever faced, which is saying a mouthful given all the wrestlers he was in the ring in during a career that has spanned the past 40 years.
“Jack was in that same class as Dory Funk Jr. and Nick Bockwinkel,” said Lawler. “He was so smooth inside the ring. Jack never rushed things. He never got flustered and always took his time in building a match. Just a pleasure to work with. He made it appear that even a local kid like me could beat the world champion. He was the first world champion I ever faced in Memphis, which really was the start of the program that we always went back to, with me chasing the belt. All the NWA champions of that era were great, Terry Funk, Harley Race, but Jack was special. Because of his amateur background, he truly carried himself like a sportsman, which added to the prestige of the NWA title.”
Their first match was on September 16, 1974, before a near sellout of 10,125 fans at the Mid South Coliseum, with Eddie Graham at that show watching with Jerry Jarrett. Lawler pulled out a chain and knocked Brisco out and pinned him to apparently win the title, until Jerry Brisco told the referee Lawler had used a chain and the decision was reversed.
“Eddie Graham and I stood at the back of the Mid South Coliseum,” said Jarrett to Bowden. “We were both very emotional. Brisco was Eddie’s man. He loved him. He groomed him and he nurtured him to become the world champion. Lawler was my man. That night, it almost felt like our sons were out there really fighting for the world title. That was such a fun time in my life.”
During his two-and-a-half years as champion, the list of Brisco’s opponents was virtually every major star of the worldwide NWA promotions.
The names included The Funks, Thesz, Valentine, Paul Jones, Buddy Colt, Bobby Shane, Watts, Woods (both as Tim Woods and as Mr. Wrestling), Race, Mark Lewin, John DaSilva (a former member of the New Zealand Olympic team who was New Zealand’s biggest star in that era), Spyros Arion, Billy White Wolf (who became better known years later as Sheik Adnan El-Kaissie), Bob Armstrong, Johnny Weaver, Ole Anderson, Lord Jonathan Boyd, Mr. Wrestling II, Ricky Romero, Eric the Red, McDaniel, Kiniski, The Brute (later to become Bugsy McGraw), Bob Harmes, Ken Lucas, Don Carson, Rip Hawk, Abdullah the Butcher, Dick Murdoch, Dick the Bruiser, The Mongolian Stomper (under both that name and as Archie Gouldie), Steve Kovacs, Nelson Royal, Lawler, Assassin #2 (Jody Hamilton), Bob Roop, Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, The Destroyer, Bobo Brazil, Stan Stasiak, Rufus Jones, Dusty Rhodes, Jose Lothario Curtis Iaukea, Ron Fuller, Red Bastien, Moondog Mayne, Siegfried Stanke, Cyclone Negro, Bill Dromo, Sonny King, Dan Kroffat (the original), Jimmy Snuka, Dale Lewis, Al Madril, Killer Tim Brooks, Rocky Johnson, Ivan Koloff, Superstar Billy Graham, Bob Backlund, Edouard Carpentier, Ivan Putski, Ron Wright, Hans Schmidt, Greg Valentine, John Tolos, Don Leo Jonathan, Leo Burke, Larry Hennig, Killer Karl Kox Rene Goulet, Jimmy Golden, Pat Patterson, Toru Tanaka, The Spoiler (Don Jardine, and also Jardine as Super Destroyer), Blackjack Mulligan, Mad Dog Vachon, Jos LeDuc, Mil Mascaras, Blackjack Lanza, Kim Duk, George Gordienko, Ken Mantell, Pedro Morales, Roger Kirby, Mike George, Don Muraco, Pak Song, Larry Lane (who he had beaten in the 1965 NCAA tournament), Danny Little Bear, John Quinn, Dutch Savage, Tony Parisi, Domenic DeNucci, Tony Borne, The Sheik, Billy “Red” Lyons, Karl Von Steiger, Guy Mitchell and Rasputin.
“I met him when I was first breaking in here (in the Carolinas),” remembered Ric Flair. “He was the world champion when I got here in 1974. He’d show up late, drive Jim Crockett Jr. crazy, smoke his pack of Marlboro’s, do five jumping jacks and go out and do a hard, physical 60 minutes. He didn’t even warm up. Then we’d go out and have fun. He had a lot of fun in his life until his health went bad about ten years ago.”
“He had it a lot harder than I did,” said Flair, in comparing title reigns. “He was in there, night-after-night, doing long matches with The Funks, Race, Valentine. Those were physical grueling matches. He never had a day off. I had matches with guys like Bulldog Bob Brown, or working 60 minutes with Dusty, which was easy because he was so over. By the end of his run, he got so worn down and skinny. He was down to about 196 pounds.”
I can recall once when Brisco was to wrestle Moondog Mayne at the Cow Palace in 1974, in the days before cell phones, that the show started at 8:30 p.m. and there was no Brisco. After the first match, ring announcer Allan Bolte made the announcement, actually telling the truth, that Shire had not heard from Brisco in weeks, and at this point the only thing they could presume is that he’s not going to be there. He announced that fans could get ticket refunds, and announced a restructured card. It was about 9:30 p.m., when Bolte rushed to the ring and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the world champion has arrived! Jack Brisco has arrived! The pop was enormous.”
Brisco arriving late became enough of an issue that Muchnick wrote him a letter, saying, “I love my wife, too, but take care of your business.”
There were other minor issues. Brisco kept putting off taking publicity photos that the NWA would send to the various promotions. There was a disagreement, as the idea was that the champion paid for them, and Brisco wanted the NWA to pay for them, so kept avoiding doing them. But they eventually got done. Another source of problems between Brisco and Muchnick was the Giant Baba title change in Japan. Still, despite whatever difficulties there were, both always spoke highly of each other. After Brisco lost the title and did very little traveling, rarely wanting to work outside the territories he was part owner in, he regularly worked St. Louis, at least the arena shows.
“He hated to travel,” said Matysik. “Even when we made him Missouri State champion, it was very difficult to get him to work television dates.”
Terry Funk, one of the All Japan bookers, was the conduit in getting Baba his one week title run. Funk offered him a $25,000 bonus to drop the title for a week, and suggested not letting anyone know ahead of time, lest they try and politically nix it. He said they could work a story where he took a bad bump, was knocked out, and they had no other alternative but to pin him and win the title.
Brisco said he’s only do it with the NWA’s approval. Brisco told Muchnick, Eddie Graham and Jim Barnett ahead of time, and told all of them that he was getting $25,000 plus his regular fee and he was going to do it, and said none had any objections about it. On December 2, 1974, in Kagoshima, Japan, in what was billed as a PWF vs. NWA title match, Baba became the first Japanese wrestler to win the NWA title winning two of three falls from Brisco. Baba won the first fall with a dropkick and Russian leg sweep, while Brisco took the second with a vertical suplex followed by the figure four leglock. Baba won the third fall at 24:46 with a flying clothesline. Brisco got a souvenir from that match, as when he went for a shoulder tackle, Baba’s clavicle hit Brisco in the mouth, causing his lower teeth to bite completely through his lower lip,
Three days later, a rematch was held in Tokyo with both titles at stake. Baba won two of three falls in 26:36.
On December 9, 1974, in Toyohashi, Baba won the first fall with a backbreaker, and Brisco the second with the figure four. Brisco took the third fall with a rolling reverse cradle, the O’Connor roll.
Brisco and Muchnick had a disagreement, since Muchnick thought, as Brisco’s booking agent who arranged for the Japanese tour, he was entitled to a percentage of the $25,000. Instead, Brisco only gave him a percentage of his weekly guarantee, which was the deal Muchnick had negotiated. A few months later, Brisco asked out as champion. For all the minor issues, the promoters liked him as champion, because he was the closest thing in the business to Thesz, the guy who, to the promoters, was the prototype of what the world champion should be. But he showed he was serious when he no-showed the 1975 NWA convention, and was incommunicado, spending the weekend on his boat at Lake Lanier near Atlanta. With him not there, they had a vote on the replacement, and Terry Funk got four votes to three for Race. Interestingly, Brisco was vocally in favor of Race, thinking Funk’s wildman style didn’t suit the championship.
As irony would have it, Brisco’s title loss was chosen for December 10, 1975, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the same site where six-and-a-half years earlier, he had his first title shot. For storyline, it was advertised as Brisco vs. Dory Funk Jr., although it was never to be the case, as Dory was actually in Japan at the time. This was Eddie Graham’s storyline, to protect Jack, with the idea he had trained for Dory, but the Funks pulled a double-cross and sent Terry, a completely different style wrestler, who had trained for Brisco. Funk scored the spin as Brisco went for the figure four, Funk used an inside cradle. While Brisco was waving his arms, acting as if he was struggling unsuccessfully to get out of the hold, he nailed referee Sonny Myers, breaking his nose. Brisco was so mentally burned out by this time that he dropped out of sight. He did one rematch in Tampa, and then disappeared from wrestling for several months.
When he returned, things were different. He moved back to Tampa. Wrestling had changed in the mid-70s. The polite and humble babyface who relied on being a clean wrestler as the top star of the promotion had given way to the wild brawlers almost everywhere. Dusty Rhodes had replaced Brisco as the top star in Florida.
Brisco remained a major star in Florida, but worked on his own time. He and brothers Gerald and Bill (who never wrestled) in 1973 opened up the Brisco Brothers Body Shop in Tampa. He held singles titles, but more often, worked as a tag team with his brother, by choice, as it was more fun. He met the future Hulk Hogan, at the time a bass guitarist in a band, in a Tampa night club. He also met the future Jan Brisco, who he married in 1980, and remained married to until his death. In his autobiography, aside from those things, it was almost as if the period from 1976-1980, where he was still a top star, and Funks vs. Briscos was still a big deal in singles and tag teams, didn’t exist.
He lived rather quietly with his wife in a cabin in Odessa, FL after his retirement. He became a big pro football and NASCAR fan, but over the past ten years battled serious health problems. When he left pro wrestling, he never looked back. After leaving the business in 1984, even though his brother was a WWE executive, he never attended a show. Finally, in 1997, his brother and Jim Ross convinced him to be honored at a PPV show in St. Louis, but it was very difficult to get him to do it, finally only agreeing when he found out they were also honoring Muchnick, who was such a big part of his career and he hadn’t seen in more than a decade.
In 1999, while tossing a large piece of asphalt into a truck, he threw out his back. Soon, it got so bad he couldn’t move his legs. He had a growth in his spine, and was told without surgery, he would probably die. He underwent the surgery, but in doing so, picked up a bacterial infection and ended up on life support for six days. He survived, but spent about six months mostly in a wheelchair, before graduating to a walker. He also battled circulatory problems and emphysema, caused by years of heavy smoking. He finally quit smoking in recent years, but was suffering from heart problems. He never fully recovered from open heart surgery on Jan. 2, and passed away on 2/1.
There was a famous story when Brisco was working a program with Roddy Piper where Flair said he’d give Piper $100 if he could take Brisco down without Brisco knowing it. Brisco was well-known to have the philosophy that if you’re working, you can take him down as many times as you want, but the minute you start shooting, you aren’t getting the takedown. Piper went for it with Brisco unaware it was coming, and he snatched a high single leg. Brisco then started hopping on one leg with almost no balance but Piper couldn’t do anything to get him down.
Dory Jr. liked to bring out the fire in Brisco by messing up his hair, which he would demand people stay away from. With Terry, it was a different story.
“He said, Goddamn Terry, blankety blank, blankety blank, blankety blank, don’t touch my hair,” said Terry Funk. “I didn’t ever touch his hair again.”
Terry Funk noted that he was so smooth, that he watched at times when Brisco was playing the role of house shooter, having to hurt people who said they wanted to be pro wrestlers in Florida.
“He was so smooth that when he was shooting with people, it looked like he was working.”
Jim Wilson described those encounters in his book “Chokehold.”
“Jack got in with a young guy with a nice body but didn’t know anything about wrestling. Jack got him in a full nelson and dragged him down to the mat. With the guy’s arms hanging upward, Jack pushed his face into the mat. BLUUP. He mashed the guys’ face farther into the canvas, as the blood flowed across the ring. He broke his nose.
It was the first tie in my life I witnessed deliberate, sadistic breakage of human bones, legs, arms , jaws and noses. As my stomach turned, Eddie Graham experienced near orgasmic excitement as he stood nearby, sweating a little and giggling. It was a weekly ritual that appealed to Graham’s perverse sadism and functioned as bizarre public relations for Championship Wrestling from Florida. When guys who were beaten up got back on the street, they told their friends, `hey, that shit is real.’”
“We were having a few beers with one of Jack’s oldest friends in the business, Chief Jay Strongbow, and they were talking about guys that they had wrestled over the years,” said Mark Nulty of WrestlingClassics.com, who became a good friend of Brisco’s after his career ended. “The name Pat O’Connor came up. `I couldn’t stand that sonofabitch,’ Strongbow exclaimed. Strongbow complained about a move O’Connor would catch that would stretch his opponent.
“Yeah, he tried that with me when I wrestled him,” Jack remembered. “I sat out, reversed and rubbed his face in the mat. He didn’t do that anymore.
Strongbow just looked at him and said, “Jack, not everybody won the NCAA’s.”
There was also a famous story, and who knows the exact details, but when Ernie Ladd held a title in the Florida territory, and he was asked to drop it, he agreed, as long as it wasn’t taped for television. While Ladd was wrestling, he noticed a camera was filming the match, and then changed the finish, refusing to do the job.
Later that night, he got a surprise visit from the Brisco Brothers. Not leaving anything to chance, he went to the trunk of his car, and hid a crowbar. Before they could make a move, he nailed both with it, knocking them both out. The story ends with him putting both brothers in the trunk of his car and driving them either to the local hospital, which is probably accurate, or dumping them on Eddie Graham’s front lawn, which is likely the romanticized version.
“Jack never displayed any ego in all the time I knew him,” said Nulty. “He was the most comfortable person in his own skin I ever met. He always exuded a quiet confidence and never felt any need to impress on anyone his status as a champion or a celebrity. He loved professional wrestling and was proud of his career. But he never let his professional wrestling or his accomplishments define him as a person.”
He ended up going back full-time when Funk Jr. was booking for Jim Crockett Promotions doing his last major singles program with Dory, as well as working with the likes of Flair, Piper, Paul Jones and others. The most well-known angle of that period was the Brisco Brothers as heels, trading the world tag team titles with Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood.
Steamboat & Youngblood, the top babyface team in the Carolinas, had just finished their landmark program with Sgt. Slaughter & Don Kernodle. The matches started out with a babyface vs. babyface feud, with a few “mistakes,” in particular a title match on television where Jack had Steamboat in the figure four, but Steamboat was refusing to submit. Gerald accidentally fell down on both men’s legs, with the idea doing so injured Steamboat. The rematch saw Gerald have Steamboat in the figure four, but this time, as referee Tommy Young wasn’t looking, Jack clearly deliberately splashed onto the legs, turning them heel.
It was Steamboat who asked for the program and suggested the Briscos go heel. Crockett was skeptical a Eventually, the Briscos went full-fledged heel, including stealing Youngblood’s Indian headdress, which Gerald would wear to the ring and on interviews. The feud is well remembered because all four were great workers and they had strong matches. But the truth was, Gerald’s ability to be the obnoxious little brother who would talk big, while Jack, the supreme wrestler, smirked behind him with the idea that he could take care of business, couldn’t follow the heat of the prior feud. Still, they were a major part of the original Starrcade event on November 24, 1983, where Steamboat & Youngblood regained the titles. Jack’s last big singles run in 1984 came in winning a tournament on Atlanta television to become the No. 1 contender for Flair, and getting a title shot in Baltimore, in one of the first NWA shows in that city.
“My second show in Baltimore, April 1984, featured Ric Flair’s first appearance there,” said Gary Juster. “He was to defend the title against the winner of a tournament on TBS, which was won by Jack Brisco. So my first title match as an NWA promoter was Flair vs. Brisco (which also wound up being Brisco’s last NWA title match). As it was the end of Jack’s career, I was glad to have had that opportunity. Little did I know he would soon orchestrate the sale of Georgia Championship Wrestling to Vince.”
McMahon had just started going national in early 1984. His first expansion was going into California after the folding of the LeBelle promotion in 1982. But that was considered minor, since there was no major league wrestling in that city. The game had already started becoming survival of the fittest. The talent started migrating to a few places, WWF, the Carolinas, Dallas, Mid South and the AWA were strong. Georgia and Florida, which Jack still had stock in, were starting to struggle. The Georgia group had successfully expanded into Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, after The Sheik had largely gone belly-up. Because of the success, Jack wanted Barnett to go national to take advantage of their platform of having national television on TBS. Barnett didn’t want to complete with the other promoters, saying they were his friends, while Jack argued that this was wrestling and none of these people were really his friends.
But the Georgia company started losing money, blamed on Barnett’s heavy spending. The stockholders forced Barnett out and turned the company over to Ole Anderson. Brisco and Anderson had their issues from the past. Then, as the company started getting profitable again, the Briscos weren’t getting any dividends, while Anderson was making a big salary.
By 1984, McMahon started going nationally, first making a deal in St. Louis to get the time slot for “Wrestling at the Chase.” Sam Muchnick retired on January 1, 1982, and things remained strong for more than a year, but suddenly, Matysik left to promote on his own and ratings for the Chase show nosedived.
The sale to McMahon, according to Jack’s book, started out of the blue. He called up Vince, largely to check on rumors that Piper was seriously injured. He said McMahon then brought up wanting to buy the Florida and Georgia offices. Rumor had it that the Briscos wanting to sell the Georgia stock to the Murnick brothers, who helped promote house shows for Crockett, but they were overextended having opened up some night clubs. After some conversations, the Briscos were able to get proxy for a controlling interest in Georgia, which also meant the TBS contract, at the time the most valuable time slot for wrestling in the country. Two days after Brisco had headlined the first NWA world title match ever held in one of the WWF’s core cities with Flair in Baltimore, McMahon flew into Atlanta on April 9, 1984, and after 14 straight hours of negotiations, purchased controlling interest in the company for a reported $750,000.
To say the least, the same Briscos that nobody would say a bad word about, were being maligned everywhere. It was regarded as they had sold out the NWA in the middle of what was becoming the most serious wrestling war in the modern history of the business. It was the same NWA that had made Jack world champion, employed both brothers and allowed them into a partial ownership role of a closed business. At the time, they were even world tag team champions. In what was typical NWA fashion when someone left the fold to compete, both Jack & Gerald’s wives started getting phone calls claiming marital infidelities on the road. Once the word got out about the sale, which took a few weeks, Crockett had them drop the tag titles and fired them.
A little while later, McMahon brought them into the WWF for what turned out to be the last run of his career. They were babyface working with heel tag team champions Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis. And gone was their entire past. The Briscos, Jack was now 42, about to turn 43, and Gerald was 38, were billed as two young wrestlers just out of Oklahoma State where they were college wrestling stars. Even though Jack was one of the biggest names of the 70s, a world champion who had headlined worldwide including in most of the cities McMahon was no running, and a household name in parts of the country, he was a fresh-faced guy a few years out of college now.
The run didn’t last long. In the middle of a blizzard, at the Newark Airport, Jack Brisco’s career ended. There were a number of factors, but much of it was that he recognized he had lost a step. He had other business interests and he was a proud man who didn’t want to be seen as that guy who used to be Jack Brisco. Most of all, he wasn’t consumed by money. Even before he became world champion, he used to drive the accountants at several of the wrestling offices he worked for crazy, because he would be so late in cashing the checks. Jim Wilson in his autobiography noted going to Jack’s place in Tampa, and unopened checks for his matches were all over the place.
He and his brother were getting picked up by Don Muraco, who forgot where he parked, and by this point all the cars were in the parking lot were covered in snow.
“The wind was blowing, snow was falling, and my face had gotten so cold that my lips were frozen,” he wrote. “In fact, my entire face was stinging and all this time we were freezing. Walking around the parking lot, I kept hearing all those planes heading south. It was almost comical, if it wasn’t for the fact that I couldn’t feel my face or my hands. I turned around to Jerry and told him, “Jerry, you see all those planes heading south? The next one leaving–I’m going to be on it.”
And he was.