WWE Hall of Famer Dory Funk Jr. is the coach of the Funking Conservatory Wrestling School in Ocala, Fla. A longtime pro wrestler, he made his debut at age 21 in 1963. He is now 71. Not only does he train wrestlers, but he runs shows and occasionally gets in the ring.
Does age matter?
Funk responded: “How old is too old to run track, play basketball, do karate, work out at the gym, swim 200 meters, snow ski in the mountains, surf the big waves, throw a football, jump on a trampoline, play tennis or walk the high wire? If you are happy and enjoy doing what you do, why would you ever quit?”
Former WWE world champion John Bradshaw Layfield feels age hasn’t stopped some of the greatest athletes from performing at a high level. Why should pro wrestlers be any different?
“You look at [boxer] George Foreman who won a world championship in his mid-40s,” Layfield said. “[Boxer] Bernard Hopkins is still fighting and still fighting very well. [UFC fighter] Randy Couture is another one. [Golfer] Tom Watson wins a major at almost age 60. I think it’s a case-by-case basis.
“When you look at some guys who are in their early 20s, you see it in the NFL, you see it in boxing and all kinds of sports where they should not be continuing. Jerry is a non-smoker, a non-drinker and what everybody thought was a pretty healthy guy. He never drank from what I understand. I certainly never heard of it. He never smoked, and he wrestles every single weekend. So I really do think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis.”
Of course, health is important.
Funk added: “I am under the care of a doctor with regular physicals. With the help of my wife, Marti, I am very careful on watching my diet. No salt, no trans fats, maintain my wrestling weight of 220, no alcohol, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs.
“In addition to training our wrestlers four nights a week, I am in the gym every other day for one hour with a weight and cardio program that far exceeds what I do in the wrestling ring. Complete warm up and stretching before going into the ring are a must. If I am wrestling, no food later than lunch at noon.”
Bauer believes the closest thing to any kind of company program to monitor the health of talent so intricately is WWE. He says the company has done an incredible job in being proactive and not reactive when it comes to their talents’ well being.
“MVP had his life saved due to the WWE’s enhanced medical testing,” Bauer said.
“They are also proactive in rehabilitation for talent dependent on drugs and prescription pills. There’s not an organization more dialed in to this issue than WWE. Could they even get more proactive? Sure, but the rest of the industry has a lot of catching up to do before they can even touch WWE’s comparatively high standards.
“No other organization, whether it’s TNA or the local indy [promotions] does wellness testing ranging [from] prescription and illegal drugs [to] cardio and neurological baseline med testing.”
Bauer understands not everyone has the immense capital of WWE.
“If you care about the sport, the talent, the fans and the brand you’re building, you should be doing all you can, but it often becomes a matter of economics,” Bauer said. “Should a promoter spend their budget on drug testing or cable TV advertising? Cardiograms or bringing in a former WWE wrestler fresh off TV? The answer is easy for a promoter. They’re desperately hustling to build their company and that means profit, profit, profit.