Professional wrestler Terry Funk, known for his longevity and hardcore style, died last Wednesday. He was 79. An active wrestler for nearly five decades, Funk revolutionized extreme wrestling in the late 20th century, paving the way for many more legends to come.

His death was confirmed by WWE shortly after fellow wrestlers Ric Flair and Mick Foley noted his death on social media.

“Terry Funk is gone,” Foley said. “I just talked to Terry’s daughter, Brandee, who gave me the awful news. He was my mentor, my idol, one of the closest friends. He was the greatest wrestler I ever saw.”

Funk got his start in the industry in the 1960s, when he and his brother, Dory Funk Jr., began working for their father’s Western States Sports promotion. By the 1970s, the Funk brothers were touring internationally, making regular appearances for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) from 1972 to the early 1990s.

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Funk, a Texas native, gained a profound appreciation for Japanese culture and its wrestling during his tours there. He was massively popular with crowds and over time, he gravitated more and more to Japanese wrestling’s proclivity for “death matches,” or especially extreme wrestling matches involving blood and weapons-related violence.

He gradually incorporated this into his style and became one of a handful of American wrestlers who brought the style back to North America. In 1995, with extreme wrestling well established in the U.S., he and Foley returned to Japan and fought in a “no ropes barbed wire exploding barbed wire boards and exploding ring time bomb death match.” It was overwhelmingly well received by Japanese audiences, which had always appreciated his biggest risks.

During his career stateside, Funk competed for the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE), World Championship Wrestling and many independent promotions, and competed in his final match in 2014. His most notable stint, however, may have occurred between 1993 and 1997, when Eastern Championship Wrestling became Extreme Championship Wrestling, an entire promotion dedicated to hardcore wrestling in Philadelphia.

WWE bought the promotion in the 2000s, but to this day, “ECW” chants are often heard at wrestling events around the country. With his well-established reputation, Funk gave the promotion credibility in its early years through a number of iconic extreme matches with the likes of Foley, Shane Douglas, Sabu and other hardcore legends.

Later in his life, Funk was a constant presence at independent wrestling events, attending even as his health failed. All professional wrestlers must put their bodies on the line in order to perform, but there are few who took more risks than Funk, who had a unique way of turning predetermined violence into an art form.

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