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Terry Funk v. Jumbo Tsuruta

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Terry Funk v. Jumbo Tsuruta (6-11-76)


This match has often been considered the greatest match of the 1970s. For those who don?t know, Jumbo was trained by the Funk Bros. and this is a teacher vs. student matchup. It has received universal praise on the net so I am not trying to make an argument on whether the praise is deserved. Instead, I hope to examine the match closely and understand all of the little things that make it so great.


First Fall

The first fall is the longest and most interesting fall but not in the way you would expect. The atomic drop is the highest impact move executed, yet these two work together so skillfully you don?t really mind. To start things off, they have one of the most interesting collar-and-elbow tie-ups, I have ever seen. Funk keeps trying to gain the high ground position on Jumbo and failing and a stalemate results. Eventually, Jumbo uses his strength to slide Funk (who is on his knees) across the ring. I?ve seen a few wrestling matches and this was a simple way to keep a simple lock-up interesting.


The next segment sees Funk gaining the advantage by working an armbar. Instead of just holding the move in place, Funk always keeps working (pounding on the arm, elbow drop to the shoulder, leg drop while holding the hand, dropping the knee) and keeps the match moving. All too often, in older matches and new, we?ll see wrestlers apply holds while not actually doing anything. This complacency and irreverence for holding the fans attention can mean the difference between a mediocre and great match. Instead, we see the subtlety of a great wrestling match as Funk attacks and Jumbo counters with an awesome escape. While Funk is still applying the armbar, Jumbo positions him in a fireman?s carry point on his shoulders and sits Funk in the corner to get the hold broken. At this point, Funk demonstrates his experience by always going back to the arm even as Jumbo attempt to gain the advantage.


After the early portion of the match where Funk controls with the armbar, Jumbo gains an advantage after a struggle for a surfboard. This spot would continue to be utilized well into the 90s where Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi would also use this spot in their matches. Early on, Funk maintains control, working the hold by giving headbutts to Jumbo?s back and keeping him on his knees. This is another situation where Jumbo?s strength comes into play by reversing the hold and putting a knee in Terry?s back to increase the pain. Funk breaks the hold by kicking Jumbo?s forearm but Jumbo maintains control with an armbar of his own.


At this pivotal point, Jumbo is now working the armbar. Unlike today?s matches, where punches and kicks are used as transitions, these two mix in a nice array of holds and counter-holds while using the armbar as the focus. Funk escapes the armbar with a hiptoss, they exchange arm wrenches and pinning attempts. Even as the first pinfall has yet to be scored, this match has always kept its focus and never lets the viewer wander since the wrestlers are always operating on each other. Later in the segment, in an absolutely gorgeous sequence, Terry tries to escape the armbar by throwing Jumbo out of the ring. Jumbo gets tossed but yanks Funk out also by never letting go. Jumbo maintains the hold and tosses Funk inside the ring, over-the-top rope, by the arm! If any other two wrestlers were in, the armbar would have been released and the advantage would have switched to the other wrestler. Even when Terry Funk unleashes an atomic drop (the biggest move of the entire first fall), Jumbo still goes back to the arm, At this point, we know that the armbar is the focus, each guy attempting to damage the shoulder and arm, making future pin escapes more difficult. If you turn away, you may miss something that leads the viewer to another place. For example, early on in the match, Jumbo would get to the ropes and Funk would give a clean break. Later, when Jumbo reaches the ropes, he now lets loose with his patented punches but still can?t maintain control against the more powerful Jumbo.


Another theme begins to manifest itself beginning with the armbar exchanges. This is also where you can really start to understand the teacher-student dynamic that makes this match so intriguing. Every time one of the wrestlers works a hold or hits a move, eventually the other wrestler will do the same. It becomes a contest of one-upmanship. They exchange shoulder blocks, each man falling to the other?s force. Eventually, Funk hits a double-underhook suplex for a two-count. This is important later on in the match when Jumbo hits Funk with his own move, but at this point in time, the two exchange leap frogs and Jumbo is able to get a roll-up for two and a follow-up Sunset Flip for the three count.


Second Fall

The beginning of the second fall marks a turning point in the pace of the match. In the first and longest fall, the ?highspots? were kept to a minimum but the transitions and control segments were intriguing enough to keep you glues to the TV set. In this fall, Funk decided he needs to be more forceful in his strategy and take his student to task. After a test of strength appears to end in a stalemate, Funk headbutts Jumbo to set-up a swinging neckbreaker. Jumbo sells the weakened neck and Funk attacks with some great offense (jumping knee to the neck, piledriver). After failing to get a pin, Funk throws Jumbo outside and continues to inflict damage. Even if this fall is abbreviated, it sets the stage for Jumbo?s weak neck that plays such an important role in the third fall. Jumbo tries to fight back with European uppercuts and a suplex but after an Irish whip, the two battle for the abdominal stretch in which Terry segues this into the rolling cradle, picking up the three-count. I love the second fall. Funk plays dirty on the outside (which I love to see him do), he keeps his focus on the neck and head, and it continues the theme of each wrestler exchanging the same move to determine who can inflict more damage. In the end, Terry?s ability to turn the abdominal stretch battle into a rolling cradle effectively exploited Jumbo?s inexperience and helped Funk even up the score.


Third Fall

In the early part of the third fall, the combatants maintain the pace established in the second fall. Jumbo, shown up at the end of the second fall, eventually locks in an abdominal stretch to show that he will not allow the rolling cradle to happen again but Funk still has a counter. He tosses Jumbo out of the ring in order to recuperate. Jumbo, despite having the strength advantage is having difficulty sustaining any real control since the first fall. It is clear that the faster pace is favoring Funk and that Jumbo, too eager to show-up his trainer, is not capitalizing on the moves like he should.


Inside, we see the exchanging moves theme displayed again as they each hit gut wrench suplexes and nearfalls. Jumbo hits a double-underhook as repayment for Funk?s earlier attack. After failing to score the fall, Jumbo attempts to slow the pace down with a headlock but Funk easily counters with a back body drop. With each move, you can see the desperation grow in Jumbo. This is the main theme of the third fall. Jumbo is too eager to put the match away and it ultimately cost him the match. He attempts another double-underhook. He follows with a back breaker and release German suplex. Unable to get the pinfall, he whips Terry and ducks a Terry leapfrog as he is gaining momentum. Jumbo attempts the Thesz press but Terry drops him throat-first on the rope. Jumbo, with injured throat, is easy prey for Terry to pick up the victory.

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Heh, this is why I purchased the Jumbo '76 disc from Ginnetty. My VHS copy was in bad shape and now I have it in near perfect quality. If you need an upgrade, Tim, let me know.


I know we call it the greatest match of the 70s but it could probably stand the test against any match from any time period. Just smart, smart work all around. The fact that they teased the rope drop spot in the Jumbo-Tenryu match 13 years later AND still used the fight over the surfboard in the 90s glory matches shows how muc staying power it really has.

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