During the territory days, wrestlers had to endure constant back-breaking punishment to their bodies inside the ring and a hellacious travel schedule of 350 days a year or more, which led to much boredom in-between shows. So what was a wrestler to do to pass the time? Rib each other, of course! This particular story on Terry Funk ribbing Rick Martel has become the stuff of legend over the years.
JJ Dillon is a former wrestler who debuted in 1968 and wrestled in over 3,000 matches. Still, most fans will remember him as the manager of one of the most successful stables in wrestling history: The Four Horsemen.
The Horsemen became official in the Fall of 1985 after Ole, Arn, and Flair tried to break Dusty Rhodes’ leg at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia.
Arn Anderson later proclaimed at a television taping, “The only time this much havoc has been wrecked by this few people, you need to go all the way back to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!”
In his book To Be The Man, Ric Flair said, “What made our group unique was that everyone held a championship, and each member had a particular style of punishing their rival.”
Even though few will deny JJ Dillon’s essential place in the Horsemen, he is self-deprecating when the topic arises, always saying, “I was at the right place at the right time!”
A Legendary Rib Pulled on Rick Martel
In the critically acclaimed documentary 350 Days: The Movie, we learned about the trials and tribulations that wrestlers endure on the road and how it affected them and their families. JJ Dillon is one of the various legends that candidly speak about the above and how he was unfaithful to his wife.
Although the film is chockful of great anecdotes, a story not on the documentary involved Terry Funk, Roger Kirby, himself, and a naked Rick Martel years before becoming known as “The Model” in the then-WWF. In an interview with The Hannibal TV, JJ Dillon shares this amusing story.
“We were working the Florida territory and going to Melbourne over to where the turnpike exit is in Ocala. Then you continue on a two-lane road through the swamps to get to the coast in Melbourne. Roger Kirby and I were tag partners, we’re riding together, and Terry Funk had Rick Martel with him. So I mean, there are no cars on that two-lane road, and it’s the middle of the day.
“All of a sudden, I look in the mirror, and I see someone coming up behind us, and they’re flying. And as the car goes [shoom!] past us, Kirby says in that that slow drawl, ‘That’s that craaazy Terry Funk.’ Then, all of a sudden, we see a car stopped right in the middle of the road.
“It was on the highway, on the stripe where you can’t get around, and you don’t want to run into him, so I slowed down. I realize it’s Terry Funk, so we stop a couple of car lengths behind him, not knowing what’s going on.
“Once we came to a complete stop, the passenger door opens, and Rick Martel comes out on the passenger side butt-naked! He’s doing a dance going around the back of the car for our entertainment.”
When retelling this part of the story, JJ smiles and looks upwards, motioning with his arms in the air as if dancing to a tune only he can hear.
“And before Martel gets to the front, Terry Funk floors it [shoom!] and takes off!
“Rick Martel at that moment seemed to realize: ‘The car that I was in, that had all my clothes, just took off,’ and he turned and saw that there was nobody else in this desolate highway except for Roger and I.
“So we ease up [near him], and I cut the wheel to the right to try and go by him. Martel reacts, and is running along beside us and grabs ahold of the side mirror. I just want to go, so I gradually pick up speed, and he’s running faster [trying to hold on], and all of a sudden, his fingers slip off the mirror.
“I look in my rearview mirror, and Rick is bouncing and slipping off the asphalt, falling while butt-naked. Roger, in his sloow humor, says, ‘Oh my God, I think we might’a killed him!'”
Dillon continues, “So we rode ahead, and now Terry Funk has started to drive back, and we make a U-turn as well and go back. Everyone’s laughing [except Martel] because he realizes that somewhere during the rib, he had lost a cat’s eye ring that his sister gave him that he’d wear on his pinky.
“It had great sentimental value, been in the family or something, and had fallen off while he was running. Now we all feel bad because of the rib, and now he lost his ring. So we go, ‘Okay, it’s gotta be right here; we’ll look for it, it’s here somewhere.’
“Fate would have it; one of those storms comes through as it happens in Florida. All of a sudden, the clouds come in, and it is pouring rain, and we’re walking along the edge of the road quickly, hoping we find that ring. We are DRENCHED, and finally, right on the grass’s edge, there’s a little twig on it, and there’s the ring sitting on it.
“So he got the ring back, we all get in the car, we’re all soakin’ wet, going through to Melbourne. Of course, that story has lived on and on!
Some will retell the story differently, claiming that it happened at night, on one of the various known ‘Alligator Alleys,’ which are highways that go through the vast swamp areas in Florida. These alternate versions have Martel trekking in pitch-black darkness across these gator-infested swamps to finally reach a lonely gas station where an attendant inside helped him with some shorts and a t-shirt that probably said: “I heart Florida.”
Ribs and Practical Jokes in Wrestling
Depending on who you ask, pro wrestling stories can vary greatly, but one thing is sure: Ribs have always been a part of the locker room culture, and wrestling will always have their practical jokers.
JJ Dillon admits having mixed emotions when retelling this great story and emphasizes that this was early in Martel’s career. But also mentions that “Martel is a great guy, extremely successful, saved his money, carved his niche and Gagne made him the world champion up there,” referring to when Martel won the AWA World Championship on May 13th, 1984.
We didn’t try to reach Rick Martel for a quote on this story, but we feel that he wouldn’t want to provide one either! But just in case, Rick, you can reach us here– we’d be happy to chat!
Bonus info: Many might not be familiar with Roger Kirby, the fourth person in this story. He was a former Golden Gloves boxer before becoming a pro wrestler. He became the NWA (Mid-America) Tag Team Champion with Les Thatcher and later obtained the Gulf Coast version of the belts with “Cowboy” Dennis Hall in the late ’60s.
In 1971, he became the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion after defeating Danny Hodge in what he considers the peak of his career. Kirby also held the NWA Central States Tag Team Title in late-’72 with Harley Race. He’d sadly pass away on March 18, 2019, at the age of 79.
For more stories on ribs and practical jokes in wrestling, be sure not to miss:
- Ribs and Practical Jokes in Professional Wrestling – The Best Stories
- Owen Hart – The King of Ribs | Stories of Heart, Humor, and Humility
- Austin Idol, Stu Hart’s Stolen Plane, and Dennis Condrey’s ‘Stiff’ Ribs
- B Brian Blair – Paul Orndorff, Shoot Fights, Ribs, and More!
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