The hard-nosed Western States Sports wrestling territory out of Amarillo, Texas, has its heart tracing back to one man: Dory Funk, Sr. He, alongside his sons, Dory Jr. and Terry, and a plethora of top performers, took wrestling and the NWA to great heights.
However, changing times and an attempt to revive the territory by two notable names in the business in 1980 ultimately led to its fate.
Here is the story of this great territory’s rise and ultimate demise.
Welcome back, wrestling fans, as we take another look back into the history of the Wrestling Territories. Our last stop saw us traveling through Memphis, Tennessee, to the United States Wrestling Association (USWA). Buckle up as we’re headed down route I-40 to wild and wooly Amarillo and the stomping grounds of the legendary Funk family: Western States Sports!
The Rise and Fall of Western States Sports (Funk Territory in Amarillo)
The Funks changed the business in many ways and left behind a rich legacy. Each family member had a hand in taking things to another level. However, the man who got the ball rolling was the clan’s patriarch, Dory Funk.
Dory Funk, Sr.
Dorrance Funk was born just south of Chicago, in the town of Hammond, Indiana, on the eve of the Roaring Twenties in May 1919.
Dory had been Indiana State wrestling champion three times while he was in high school and found some wrestling glory at the university level before the breakout of the war.
Like most of the young men of his generation, he went to serve in WWII. He spent his time in the Navy and, upon returning, looked to professional wrestling to make ends meet.
He got most of his training in the NWA’s Southwest and Central States Territories as a junior heavyweight.
Then, in 1955, while working in the Texas area, Dory was presented with an opportunity that the young father couldn’t refuse.
Western State Sports Gets Its Start
Western States Sports, as an entity, pre-dates the Funk family by a few years. It was started in 1946 and ran shows out of the local fairgrounds for the next several years.
Five years after its inception, in October 1951, the parent entity of Southwest States Enterprises became a member of the NWA and thus began its slow rise as a territory of note in that area.
Dory Funk made his way through Texas at just the right time.
Western States Sports was bought from SSE for the hefty sum of $75,000 by Karl Sarpolis.
Sarpolis had spent some time as a wrestler but decided to take a position in the office and offered Dory the chance to buy into the new upstart he was forming.
Sarpolis featured Funk as his headliner.
For the next five years, Dory faced many of the greats of that time, including Verne Gagne and the man with the hands of steel, Danny Hodge.
He gained enough prominence in the NWA that many people, Karl included, believed that Funk was a natural successor to Pat O’Connor.
O’Connor was at odds with part of the management of the NWA and began to freelance out to other territories, including Vince McMahon’s Capitol Wrestling.
At that time, the President of the NWA, Sam Muchnick, decided to back Buddy Rogers instead of Funk, and a rift was created between the Amarillo office and St. Louis.
Sarpolis chose to support Gene Kiniski as his champion instead. However, he continued his defiance of Muchnick’s insistence to recognize Buddy Rogers as champion for the following year.
A Groundbreaking Moment
In what many believe was a political ploy by the other board members, the NWA elected Karl Sarpolis as President in September 1962. However, he was not swayed by this appeasement and continued to thumb his nose at Rogers and recognized Kiniski as his champion in Amarillo.
He was a groundbreaker in this, as he was the first president to promote a champion that wasn’t the NWA’s.
After another meeting by the brass up in St. Louis in August 1963, Rogers was finally recognized as the unilateral champion for the NWA.
However, two young men had designs on taking that title and making it their own.
Dory Funk., Jr.
Dorrance Funk, Jr. was born just before his father’s departure to WWII, on February 3, 1941.
After relocating to Texas, he became engulfed in the Texas football scene. He attended the famed West Texas State University, which churned out countless professional wrestling greats from its football program.
After football, Dory Jr. took up the family mantle and headed to the ring. He worked for Western States Sports under his father’s leadership, where he learned the agony of being stretched and locked in holds for long periods.
When he felt he was ready, he began to travel to other territories to learn the lessons of politics and getting over.
He worked in Missouri and Florida and eventually went to Japan and worked with Giant Baba and Rikidozan at All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Dory Jr. returned to Texas in 1967 for a brief period when Karl Sarpolis passed away.
Shortly after Sarpolis’s passing, his family sold the Western States Sports promotion to the Funks.
A year-and-a-half later, Dory Jr. won the coveted NWA Heavyweight Title by spinning toe hold from family friend Gene Kiniski on February 9, 1969.
His father would accompany him to the ring for many of his title defenses, with Dory Jr. decked out in his signature red, white, and blue Texas jacket with simple black trunks and boots.
The Funks always portrayed the solidified unit in the face of opposition, holding that same ideal in everyday life and the wrestling business.
Funk held that title for the next four and a half years until May 24, 1973, when he lost it to Harley Race in Kansas City. This was the second-longest uninterrupted reign in NWA history, second only to Lou Thesz with a run of almost seven years.
However, it would not be long before the title heavyweight champion followed the name Funk again.
Not long after he arrived home from the war, he and his wife Dorothy brought baby Terry into the world in the height of an Indiana Summer, on June 30th, 1944.
Growing up around the business made it second nature to the young Funk, who attended Western Texas State under its football and wrestling programs.
Terry broke into the business in 1965 at his family’s Western States Sports promotion in Amarillo.
It wasn’t long before he made a name for himself, not only as a singles competitor but as a feared tag team with his older brother Dory Jr.
For years, they tore up the tag team rankings all over the territorial map.
In 1975, Terry captured the NWA Heavyweight Title from Jack Brisco in his brother’s stead when Dory Jr. couldn’t compete.
Terry held the title for a little over a year and defended it all over the United States and beyond to Australia and throughout Asia.
Like his brother before him, Terry lost the belt to Harley Race on February 6, 1977, when he was submitted by referee’s decision while in the clutches of an Indian Deathlock.
Did you know? The Funk Brothers have the distinction of being the only brothers ever to hold the NWA Heavyweight Title. Unfortunately for them, they never held the title again.
The Funk and Brisco brothers that battled so many times weren’t the only family legacy to be present and working in the Western States area.
When most people hear the name Guerrero, their minds almost always snap to Eddie, but his father laid the groundwork for all his children that followed him into the business.
Salvador Guerrero Quesada was born in the small Arizona town of Ray at the beginning of 1921. After the death of his mother, the family moved to Mexico, and he started life anew south of the border.
He joined a gym intending to become a boxer, but the popularity of Lucha Libre was ever-present, as it is today, and he was swayed into training as a luchador.
Gory got his first match at sixteen, and he was hooked. Over the next forty years, he cemented a foundation that all of his sons would build on and their children in the likes of Chavo Jr.
It became the family business, and the Guerreros are at the top of that list of family legacies that influenced the wrestling business.
Gory Guerrero was Middleweight Champion across the Mexican territories and held that version of the NWA Championship. However, his run would culminate in his greatest claim to fame when he faced Lou Thesz for the big prize in 1954 but failed to bring home the World Title.
In the early ’60s, he went to work for the Funks, helping with the booking and working in the office.
After finding success there, he also booked for NWA Hollywood and at WCCW for a time working with Fritz Von Erich. He knew how to book and showcase Lucha Libre and took that to the bank.
All of his sons, Mando, Hector, Chavo, and Eddie, had careers in and around the wrestling business.
He is also credited with creating the Gory Special and the Camel Clutch, two moves that are still used in prominence today. He is genuinely one of the men that shaped not only West Texas wrestling but also Mexican Lucha Libre.
Gory passed away at the age of 69 from the complication of cirrhosis of the liver.
Beginning in the ’60s, Western States Sports formed a working relationship with the local television station in Amarillo. They aired their wrestling product on Saturday afternoons on Channel 7. They broadcast into Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. It had a strong following and lasted up until the end of the promotion.
It wasn’t enough to keep the Funk boys from taking to the roads, though, and they soon left to ply their trade in new markets.
Western States Sports continued in their absence with a bevy of local talent and big money draws that were making their way from territory to territory.
One of the leading local workers for them during these years was “Rapido” Ricky Romero. He was well known in all the Texas territories and had drawing power with Mexican fans that lived throughout Texas and in the neighboring states of Colorado and New Mexico.
He began his in-ring career in the late ’50s, and for the next fifteen years, he traveled the wrestling circuits. He formed popular tag teams with several big names, such as Nick Bockwinkel, Pedro Morales, and Terry Funk, to name a few.
Ricky got his first big opportunity when Dory Sr. brought him to Amarillo to Western States Sports in the late ’60s. It was a time of turmoil in the country, and Texas wasn’t held abject from the racial and political strife the nation was going through.
Using good psychology, Romero turned this negative into a huge positive for himself and his career in the ring. Building on the momentum he gained from his television exposure, in 1972, he bested Terry Funk by winning a popularity contest among the fans, who had affectionately begun referring to him as “SuperMex.”
He also met Giant Baba during that time and, like many of the Amarillo crew at WSS, had a run in Japan for AJPW. He wrestled under the mask there as Mexico Grande.
Romero retired from professional wrestling in 1983, but the family legacy was carried on by his four sons, only under a name you may be more familiar with. Ricky Jr., Chris, Matt, and Steven all wrestled under Youngblood.
Steven, better known as Jay Youngblood, had a storied career in the NWA and all along the East Coast and Northwest. Jay passed away suddenly in Australia in 1985 from pancreatitis and resulting complications linked to sepsis from the condition. He was only thirty years old.
His father Ricky followed him in death in 2006 at age seventy-four from diabetes. Both are buried with their family in Amarillo. The Cauliflower Alley Club honored them with the Family Wrestling Award at their gathering in 2015.
The Brass Knuckles Championship
After the popularity of their television program began to grow, the territory started to expand its title base and added some gold to its list of championships.
In 1962, their version of the Brass Knuckles Title was launched, with Dory Funk, Sr. its first holder. The title drew in the likes of Fritz Von Erich, Thunderbolt Patterson, and Dick Murdoch, to name a few.
“The Lawman” Don Slatton
One man took the title, held it on numerous occasions from 1967 to 1975, and made his bones as a tough, no-nonsense brawler under the shadow of a cowboy hat.
Don Slatton was born on August 4, 1935, in the dusty town of Cisco, Texas.
Taking a note from his daily job as an Abilene police officer, Don started using The Lawman gimmick, working the local Texas territories and cutting his teeth into the business. He used the old marshall cowboy look to draw in the fans and represented the hard-hitting, loyal babyface to a T most of the time.
The Brass Knuckles Title lent itself to the brawling style of The Lawman. He had a series of matches over the title with Ray Stevens in the summer of 1975 that left people clamoring for more as Stevens was making his way through the area.
I uncovered one story that I would like to share about a Lawman and Harley Race encounter.
The Lawman and Harley Race Encounter
Harley Race was headed into the Texas territory to face “The Lawman” Don Slatton in Amarillo when he was contacted along the way by Bob Geigel. The latter was in the offices of the NWA and co-owner of the Central States territory along with Race.
Geigel proceeded to warn Harley that there was a rumor that Slatton may try to shoot on him (try to hurt him for real) in the match and take the title, to which Race replied by saying, “Hey, I’m Harley Race. I got this under control. Don’t worry about it.”
Race was well known for being able to handle himself and was also famously known for carrying a piece with him as he traveled.
However, Geigel was not wrong in his concerns, as the Texas Strap Match was one of the Lawman’s fortes, and he was well adept at winning them.
Just as Geigel had feared, in the heat of the match, The Lawman had touched three out of the four corners. Then, as Race was using the strap to choke him over his shoulder, the ref got in the mix, and The Lawman was able to hit the fourth turnbuckle and technically win the title from Race.
The Lawman bolted from the ring to the back before Harley could say anything, with Harley in hot pursuit. I’ve heard stories from the legends that Harley nearly beat him half to death in the back!
The NWA said there was interference and had the win overturned, with Race keeping the Ten Pounds of Gold.
But they never knew when someone local would try to go into business for themselves.
After he retired from wrestling, Don Slatton opened up a bail bondsman service and continued bringing right with might and chasing down fugitives and bail jumpers until 2007, when he retired.
He passed away on August 23, 2013, at the age of 78.
Recommended read: Harley Race – 10 Tales on His Tenacity and Strength
Flourishing Tag Team Division in the Western States Sports Amarillo Territory
The tag team ranks were also very active in the Western States Sports territory, with its original NWA World Tag Titles being the premier tag belts in the area from 1955 to 1969.
There were numerous changes between ’55 and ’60 between Dory Funk and Bob Geigel, Art Nelson and Eddie Graham (working as Rip Rogers), Dizzy Davis and Sonny Myers, and Gory Guerrero and Ricky Romero, to name a few.
The ’60s saw Gene Kiniski and Fritz Von Erich take the titles and Harley and Larry Hennig in May of 1967, only to drop them to Bearcat Wright and Thunderbolt Patterson the following month.
The Von Brauners made their way into the area and won the titles; they were about to be deactivated in favor of the new Western States Tag Team Belts that better represented the growing territory. As a result, they became sought-after belts in the Texas area for the next twenty years.
Soon teams like the Infernos, The Kozak Brothers, and The Continental Warriors were vying for the gold and the division heated up even more.
Another man that tore up the territory and the southern United States from Texas to Florida was the man they called Ciclón Negro, or the Black Cyclone.
He was born Ramon Eduardo Rodriguez in San Felipe, Venezuela, in the spring of 1932. The Cyclone started in the boxing world and even faced future world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in the 1951 Pan-American Games.
However, he had a taste for bigger things and looked to see the world, and that’s just what he did. His massive size and agility lent him to professional wrestling. He won titles in every country he made his way to.
Breaking boards and displaying feats of strength garnered him attention, but his in-ring ferocity kept people’s attention once their heads were turned.
It was in early 1970 that Ciclón Negro blew into Amarillo and left his footprint in his wake.
Capturing almost every belt that was there for the taking, he saw tag team gold with Karl Von Steiger when they won the NWA Western States Titles.
He had a strong run in the brass knuckles division as well. He won that title on four different occasions during his time there.
However, his battles over the NWA Western States Heavyweight Title with a young Alfred Hayes in 1971-72 wowed the Western States Sports fans more than any of the rest. They exchanged the title five times back and forth over that year and a half.
Ciclón also defeated Terry and Dory Funk, Jr. for the title in that same span. It was the hot and sought-after strap in the early ’70s.
He would go after other gold and then return to take it his last time from King Curtis just after the Fourth of July in 1973.
Ciclón Negro had his other most significant run in Florida and chose to retire there in his later years.
He had a storied career and impacted the lives of many wrestlers along the way.
He died on February 20, 1983, in Melbourne, Australia. He was eighty years old.
The Final Days of Western States Sports
Dory Funk Sr. passed away on June 3, 1973, only weeks after his son Dory lost the NWA Title to Harley Race. He died of a heart attack as he demonstrated a wrestling hold to a guest in his home. He lived the business until his last breath. He was only fifty-four years old.
The Funk Brothers sold Western States Sports in 1980 due to low ticket sales and television ratings. Blackjack Mulligan and Dick Murdoch purchased it from them for $20,000 in the hopes of turning the promotion around. Unfortunately, they were unable to, and Western States Sports closed its doors in early 1981.
Dory Jr. and Terry made their way to the WWF in the 1980s when they faced Tito Santana and the Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania II. Dory Jr. worked there for a short time while getting over the character of Jimmy Jack Funk (Jesse Barr) and establishing him under the Funk moniker.
Dory Jr. left not long after but would return in 1996 as a short-lived entrant in that year’s Royal Rumble.
In the interim, he had a memorable match with Nick Bockwinkel under the WCW banner at their 1993 Slamboree pay-per-view.
Dory Funk, Jr. retired from competition in the United States in 2008 and lives in Ocala, Florida, with his wife, Marti. He operates the Funking Conservatory, a wrestling school.
In March of 2017, he was announced as the new Chairman of the Pacific Wrestling Federation while he was in Japan, working a tag match with his brother Terry. He has had a few matches in Japan since his American retirement.
He was credited with creating the Texas Cloverleaf hold
He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2009 alongside his brother Terry. Besides the WWE, Dory is a member of every major pro wrestling hall of fame.
Even at his wise age, Dory Jr. still has a lot to offer to the sport. He teaches the young up-and-coming wrestlers and offers his knowledge of the business.
He is one of a dwindling group of men that can say that they had been there and done it all before the fall of the territorial system.
Not to be discounted, Terry Funk has forged a crucible of achievement into which he has grounded his body and soul for the sport. Few men have given more back to the business than has Terry Funk.
After leaving Western States Sports, he traveled all over the United States and beyond and left a trail of legendary matches.
In the IWF King of the Deathmatch Tournament, Terry Funk and his friend Mick Foley became household names in Japan.
This whole time he was doing shots for AJPW in between his other runs.
Finally, in 1993, Terry made his way to the NWA: Eastern promotion and took a group of dedicated young workers to another level.
Terry Funk’s time at Eastern saw the promotion change its format and drop its hallowed NWA affiliation.
It was christened Extreme Championship Wrestling by its benefactor and leader, Paul Heyman. Alongside the heel heat of Shane Douglas, the dedicated heartbeat of Terry Funk was the fire that led them to greatness.
Over the next two decades, Terry bounced back and forth between the independent circuit and the WWE. The love of the ring and performing for the fans kept bringing him back from retirement, though, time and time again.
That winds up this edition of the Wrestling Territories. We’ll be heading down to the West Coast shortly.
Until then, brothers and sisters, never forget that our wrestling history is gold!
Listen to Pro Wrestling Stories’ own Jim Phillips, Dan Sebastiano, and Benny Scala discuss the glory days of the Funk Amarillo Western States Sports territory on Dan and Benny In The Ring:
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