Desperate housewives have their One Life to Live, but they may not know their sons are hooked on another kind of dramatic serial: professional wrestling. With story lines, characters and intrigue to match any Hollywood production, the question no longer centers around wrestling's "reality" but its entertainment value. WWE television shows are, essentially, a soap opera for boys.
"That's an accurate assessment, but you have to realize that allmales are boys," says Terry Funk, author of Terry Funk: More than Just Hardcore, about his four-decade career inside and outside the ropes. "We just don't want to grow up!"
For Funk, wrestling is more than a passion -- it's a family tradition, with his father and brother also joining in. But what makes the book interesting is that it's not just about Funk's career and experiences -- with cameos from Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, Ric Flair and other many others -- but about the sport's drastic changes.
Back in the day, it was boxy, stout guys going at each other in nothing but tight shorts. Today, the characters, costumes and astonishing feats make wrestlers more like fanciful superheroes than athletes.
"We had better wrestlers technically during the [old days], but I think we have better athletes today," Funk says. And while matches are scripted and choreographed, they still require a high level of physical endurance and real risk. Owen Hart's 1999 death from a botched stunt fall is the most obvious example. Funk had his own close brush when he was in the ring as Chainsaw Charlie. A cap came loose from his chain saw and covered him with gasoline -- while sparks flew from the tip of the blade.
Funk also notes today's cookie-cutter wrestler personalities and the uniformity of the stories they act out. "Our characters used to be extensions of our personalities, but now they're handed to us by a creative team. And a lot of that came about with [WWE honcho] Vince MacMahon," he says. And aside from the Rock, it's not like wrestlers are thespians. "[Most] wrestlers are lousy actors, and actors are lousy wrestlers. Let's keep them separate."
But Funk himself has "crossed the line" on occasion, acting in numerous small roles for TV and film (Paradise Alleywith Sylvester Stallone and Road Housewith Patrick Swayze). "Well, I can't be Laurence Olivier, but before you play a concerto, you've got to master 'Chopsticks!' " Funk laughs.
In the book, Funk singles out Houston as one of his favorite tour stops, thanks to legendary local promoter Paul Boesch. "He was just ahead of his time. Other promoters would watch what he was doing and copy it," Funk notes. "He had a real feel for the fans, and he was an incredibly honest man." Funk recalls how less scrupulous promoters, attempting to play down a match's attendance -- and thus pay him less -- would tell him the packed house was merely an illusion.
"I'd hear, 'Oh, there's a lot of fat people in the seats, that's why the house looks full,' " Funk roars. "Can you imagine that?"