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Wrestling Observer news report
One of his bigger matches: http://www.veoh.com/watch/v18295349JseyQAJCThere are reports circulating that Doug Furnas, one of the regular stars of the 1990s All Japan glory period, passed away in his sleep last night. Furnas was 50.
The first report was listed by David Haskins, a Tennessee area pro wrestler who said he got the information from Mike Furnas, Doug's brother, who was also a pro wrestler.
Furnas was a college football star at the University of Tennessee who became one of the greatest powerlifters of all-time, breaking more than two dozen world records during his career. He then switched to pro wrestling when Kevin Sullivan was booker of the Knoxville territory.
He wrestled all over the world with stints in both WCW and WWF, but was best known for his tag team with Phil Lafon aka Dan Kroffatt, in All Japan, WWF and ECW. In the All Japan days, the two were one of the best tag teams of all-time.
Furnas had been battling Parkinson's Disease for many years.
He was allergic to lifting chalk. Ed Coan said it was as amazing to watch him hold on to a clean steel bar than to watch his freaky squat workouts. Pretty good FB at Tennessee too.
"Start slowly, then ease off". Tortuga Golden Striders Running Club, Pensacola 1984.
"But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses."-Lex
"But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses."-Lex
Doug Furnas, man whose combination of power and agility was freakish in nature, and matched by few men in history, was found dead in his home in Tucson on 3/3, at the age of 52.
Furnas wrestled professionally for 15 years, best known for his tag team with Dan Kroffat aka Phil Lafon, as part of the Can-Am Express with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Furnas was actually the second choice for the spot, as the original team was to be Kroffat & Tom Zenk, but Zenk signed with World Championship Wrestling. The move opened the door for Furnas to be a full-timer with the promotion during its most successful business period, which was really the perfect place at the perfect time for him to have a successful career.
The team during its All Japan days was one of the greatest in-ring teams in pro wrestling history. Kroffat was among the most underrated in-ring performers of this generation. Furnas was the guy who get the “whoa!” reaction for his athletic ability, for a combination of power moves and freakish agility.
Furnas was found dead on Friday morning at 10:16 a.m. according to the Pina County Medical Examiner’s office. His body had been badly decomposed by the time it was found, to the point that the examiner’s could not even estimate when he actually passed away. Furnas was a supporter of the Sports Legacy Institute, and had signed to donate his brain after death because of the belief that the number of concussions he had suffered between football and pro wrestling may have caused the Parkinson’s disease that he had suffered with for the past several years. Sadly, decomposition had set in to the point that examination of any of his organs would not be possible.
The cause of death was atherosclerotic disease and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with Parkinson’s Disease being a contributing cause. In short, the arteries pumping blood from his heart to his internal organs had narrowed and it forced his heart to have to work extra hard to pump, which resulted in heart failure. That is a common cause of death of pro wrestlers, and is very similar to the cause as the death of Eddy Guerrero. The coroners were unable to establish the size of his internal organs, but he was about 250 pounds at the time of his death, and the kind of strength athlete that he was would likely have an enlarged heart and possibly other organs. There were no toxicology reports taken and the case was considered closed.
His life in recent years had been a struggle. According to his wife, Martha Furnas, he was still a freak in being able to recuperate from physical problems because he had an amazing mind to muscle connection, developed from being one of the strongest men in the world in the 80s. Due to injuries from football, powerlifting and wrestling, he had both of his shoulders replaced, his hip replaced after he suffered a fall and broke the hip (the replacement was from damage from all the sports, not the fall itself), and one knee replaced. But he had recuperated to where, on a good day, he’d wake up in the morning and do “the century,” which was his term for going out in the morning, riding his bicycle 100 miles, and getting home at night. He recovered from the surgeries in ridiculous amounts of time, to the point his doctors talked with him about coming to symposiums to explain how he did it. After his hip replacement, he was off the walker in three days and off the crutches soon after that, and bicycling in record time. When he had one of his shoulders replaced, he ditched the sling three days later. He also had a ridiculous tolerance for pain, and was quiet, internalizing things and never complained. In the shoulder replacement, the surgeons cleaned out a full pound of bone spurs.
But the Parkinson’s, and medication to combat it, was making it impossible to keep his training program. He insisted on taking what was told was the strongest medication possible to alleviate the disease, even though after taking it at times he would be throwing up for as long as two days straight. He had always had some form of a consistent training program since high school and didn’t do well when he couldn’t control his fate.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004, but knew something was wrong long before that and believed it had started years earlier. At the time, he was living in Tucson and working as a social worker with troubled teenagers. But he was told that in battling the disease, he had to avoid all stress, and hearing the stories constantly of kids in trouble weighed too heavily on him and in recent years he had to stop, and became frustrated with his limitations. In particular, he was keenly aware that no matter the medication, the Parkinson’s was not a broken leg or a broken back, and something he could will his way to recovering from.
Furnas had set more than 20 world powerlifting records over a four year period. What would happen is that during that run, in just about every meet, he’d break one or more world records that he had set in the previous meet. It was during this period when he met Kevin Sullivan in a Knoxville gym.
Sullivan was the booker and top heel for Ron Fuller’s Continental Championship Wrestling in a gym. Furnas was living in Knoxville after college. He was a star fullback at the University of Tennessee a few years earlier who had a lot of local and some national notoriety, first, for being the strongest college football player in the nation in 1981 and 1982, and later, for being one of the strongest men in the world.
Football was like a religion there, with every home game drawing in excess of 90,000 people. Football stars and strongmen had often been big draws in pro wrestling, and Sullivan saw a local guy who was both, but with Furnas, there was something different. Sullivan recalled that once, in the gym, he saw Furnas effortlessly jump from a standing position to the top of a 30 inch high box, and realized this guy was an athlete like nobody he had ever seen in wrestling. Sullivan, who teamed with “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, and wrestled with and against Jack Brisco, said he considers Furnas the greatest athlete he was ever in the ring with. Furnas had 35 inch thighs, but was ridiculously flexible, able to do the splits, run a 4.6 40 at 5-10 and 240 pounds, and had a 36 inch vertical leap. Unlike most powerlifters, he was built almost like a bodybuilder, except with his disproportionate gigantic legs.
Sullivan recalled seeing Furnas in the gym doing two reps on the squat with 1,005 pounds. It was not in a regulation meet and may not have been a full competition squat, but Sullivan said he went pretty deep.
Before meeting Sullivan, Furnas knew Bob Polk, who was the local wrestling promoter. They did a number of angles to build to his debut. The first was never on television, the type of angle that would be done in a different era, or maybe in this era, but not in this business. Furnas went out to dinner with Polk at a well-known restaurant in town. Sullivan “ended up” at the restaurant at the same time. Normally the idea of the promoter and the lead heel being seen in public in the same place was a no-no, and in those days that garnered some weird attention from the people who watched local wrestling. Then Sullivan, after finishing eating, sent his check to Polk to pay for it. Polk said he wouldn’t. Sullivan came to the table, got loud, and caused a scene saying how, “You’re buying this goof’s dinner and you won’t buy mine.”
Furnas got up, and Sullivan called him a football player muscle-head goof, but then left. The word of the incident got all over town and even made the nightly news one night where Phillip Fullmer, an assistant coach at the time who later became a nationally known head coach, was asked about the story and said how pro wrestling may be fake, but Doug Furnas is very real.
They did a few more things. Furnas started attending the weekly shows at the Knoxville City Auditorium. He would sit with Polk at the matches and it was established the two were social friends and he was a wrestling fan. He also made one television appearance, where they brought him on as the world’s strongest man, he did an interview, and when they asked if he was ever interested in being a wrestler. He said he’d thought about it, but was training for the world championships in powerlifting.
It led to a cage match where Sullivan was wrestling and beat down his opponent and continued after the match. Sullivan also posted the ref. Polk, who had the cage key, opened the door to stop it. Sullivan didn’t stop. Polk had left the key in the door and Sullivan got it, slammed the door shut and attacked Polk while putting the key in his trunks so nobody could get in. Polk had never bladed before, and was carved into being a bloody mess. Furnas hopped the rail and tore the gimmicked locked door off the cage and made the save.
The novelty of Furnas wrestling at first drew big houses in Knoxville, selling out the first week with 6,500 fans, and doing more than 5,000 fans several straight weeks. Furnas was not a full-time wrestler at the time, working maybe one or two shows a week as a sideline while continuing his powerlifting career.
At the next world championships of powerlifting, on June 28, 1987 in Bloomington, MN, Furnas did a 980 pound competition squat, a 600 pound bench press (pausing with the bar on his chest for two seconds) and an 823 pound dead lift. His 2,403 pound total was yet another world record in the 275 pound weight class, his 29th world record. For a comparison, Mark Henry, who is considered among the strongest men who has ever lived, and outweighed Furnas by more than 150 pounds, totaled 2,335 pounds at his peak. Furnas was only 27 at the time, and had he stayed in the sport, he very well could have continued setting records. Even today in the 275 pound weight class, the three-lift total record is 2,468 pounds, and if you consider Furnas’ rate of improvement year-by-year, had he avoided a serious injury, it is in the realm of possibility he could still hold the record a quarter-century later.
But at that time, it was the second highest total in history for anyone of any size at that point, trailing only Bill Kazmaier, who had totaled 2,425 pounds in the three lifts six years earlier. Kazmaier was 330 pounds when he set the super heavyweight world record, while Furnas was 260 pounds when he set the 275 pound weight class world record. Even today, only three men in his weight class and one in the class underneath him has ever topped that mark in drug tested (which is not to mean drug free) competition. That’s astonishing when you consider all the advances in training, nutrition, supplementation and drugs as well as humans in general over time becoming bigger and stronger.
The key, besides, obviously strength and his mind-to-muscle focus ability was an unusually thick bone structure, in that he actually weighed more than he looked to weigh. That really wasn’t known until he had body parts replaced and the surgeon remarked how he had never had to cut through bones so thick.
It’s more amazing when you consider that at the age of 15, he was told by doctors that he would never walk again.
Furnas was born on a farm in Commerce, OK, and would go on to become the second most famous person to ever to live in the small community. The town of farmers and ranchers had 2,378 people when Doug was born on December 11, 1959. But it was undoubtedly the single most famous town of its size in the United States. When Furnas was growing up, the most popular athlete at the time in the United States was the “Commerce Comet,” Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees.
He and his brother, Mike, who was also a football star, a powerlifter and later became a pro wrestler, became super strong from a young age throwing around 100 pound bales of hay and doing heavy work on the farm.
Doug and his girlfriend, who later became his first wife, were in the bed of a truck as their parents came back from a rodeo and got in a terrible auto accident. Doug broke both of his legs, broke his back and suffered head injuries. He had multiple surgeries and was told he would never get out of his wheelchair. It was a full year before he could return to school. Most people thought he and Mike were twins, since after he missed the year of school, they were together in the same grade in high school, junior college and major college, playing on the same football teams.
It was after recovering from the accident that he took up lifting weights. He became a star fullback, with his brother, an offensive guard, as his lead blocker, at Commerce High School, Northeast Oklahoma A&M, a junior college, and later at the University of Tennessee. In 1980, Doug & Mike led the Northeast Oklahoma A&M Golden Norsemen of nearby Miami, OK, to an undefeated national championship season, and Mike was a first team JC All-American offensive guard. This June, both were to be inducted together into the school’s Hall of Fame.
They both went to the University of Tennessee. Furnas was starting fullback, described in news articles at the time as a bruising runner who was used mainly as a powerhouse blocker. He gained 630 yards on 136 carries (4.6 yards per carry) on a team that included future NFL stars Willie Gault and Reggie White. In his junior year the team went 8-4, winning the Garden State Bowl, beating Wisconsin.
During the off-season, he concentrated on powerlifting. On March 26, 1983, at a meet at the University of Tennessee, he did an 882 pound squat, a 766 pound deadlift and a 425 pound bench press, setting college records in the latter two lifts as well as a record with a 2,073 pound total in the 242 pound weight class. Nearly three decades later, the squat and deadlift college records still stand. He focused his concentration on the bench press, his weakest lift, over the next few years, training it with narrow, medium and wide grips heavy to directly stimulate different sections of the chest, shoulders and triceps, which resulted in 175-pound gain in the lift in the next four years.
He went to the Denver Broncos in 1983 as a free agent but suffered a hamstring injury and never played in a regular season game. He decided against continuing to pursue a pro football career in 1984 to concentrate on powerlifting, which was his mentality. In all of the sports he did, as well as pro wrestling, he did them, and when he felt he had accomplished all he could, he left, and never looked back, figuring it was time to start a new phase in life. Some 18 months later, he won his first national championship in his new sport.
He gave up powerlifting in competition when his wrestling career took off when he started as a regular for All Japan Pro Wrestling.
While Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas never main evented at Budokan Hall, they were inside the ring, one of the greatest tag teams of all-time. They headlined house shows, but on the big shows, worked in the middle, mostly against Japanese opponents, including regularly with Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada on big shows when all three were climbing the ladder. They had a long program with a tag team called The Foot Loose, named after the song from the 1984 movie, of Kawada & Samson Fuyuki over the All-Asia tag team title.
Furnas always maintained during the early 90s, that working for All Japan was the greatest job in pro wrestling. The tours were stress fee. Your hotels were taken care of, transportation was taken care of, Japan became like a second home, and he learned how to live cheaply on the road. While most of the American stars from that era were party animals, Furnas was known for not being wild, and for being good with his money. He avoided eating out as much as possible, and was known for bringing cans of tuna from the U.S. in his luggage every tour. The money was very good, not great, but he’d note that he had 24 weeks off per year. With most of his road expenses taken care of, the money he could save was equivalent to what main eventers were making in the United States at the time plus have time to get completely away from wrestling and lead a normal life for weeks at a time.
At the time in All Japan, there was great competition, particularly at the big shows, to have the best match. Even though Kroffat & Furnas were in the middle at most of the big shows, they usually worked with top notch workers and often were in matches that stole the show. In 1992, a match where Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi beat them for the All-Asia tag title was named match of the year.
Kroffat, who had more experience, laid out the in-ring in their matches. Furnas was there to do impressive physical things, whether they be power moves, or agility moves. While Furnas would often press opponents overhead, he didn’t do the typical strongman spots because his agility spots were far more impressive. His leapfrogs never failed to shock the crowd. He could fly off the top rope with the best of them. He could snap a Frankensteiner in the middle of the ring out of nowhere. And his dropkick, where he would not only get high, but spin on contact and almost land on his feet, was right at the top tier of the best dropkicks in the history of pro wrestling. He was a great athletic worker, but he lacked facial expressions and Kroffat was the better pure worker. But the mix, inside the ring, was one of the best. In Japan they didn’t have to do interviews, and they complimented the other, and had the advantage of working with some of the greatest pro wrestlers in history, many times on a nightly basis.
The partnership was that Lafon handled everything that happened inside the ring, and Furnas, one of the most intelligent men in the business, handled everything outside, such as the contract negotiations. For years Furnas would praise Giant Baba as the best boss in wrestling, saying simply, “Baba’s word is always good.”
The relationship with All Japan ended because after years in the middle, Baba told them that as a reward, he was going to move them up to the main event level. After a year, when it didn’t happen, I can remember Furnas calling me and telling me that they were going to leave. A man of few words, he said, “For the first time, Baba’s word wasn’t good.”
They had frequent talks with WCW about coming in, since Furnas had worked in WCW between tours a few years earlier but when pressured to make a choice about full-time chose All Japan. What they were making in Japan for 28 weeks was more than they could make in WCW working a full year at the level they would be expected to be at. Plus, until the collapse of the peso, they were able to augment that income by frequently working for Carlos Maynes in Mexico between tours, where they were used and paid like main eventers.
Jim Ross, who first knew of Furnas as a high school football star at Commerce High in the 70s, and actually officiated a few of his games, signed them for what was by the standards of that era, a pretty high-end guarantee, since Ross was determined to make it worth their while to get out of Japan. The two were to come in as babyfaces and work with the company’s top heel team, Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith.
For a number of reasons, it didn’t work out. By that time both were physically beaten up by the hard style of All Japan. Kroffat, who went by his real name, Phil Lafon, in WWF, had slowed down significantly due to serious knee problems, and he was the real workhorse of the team. Plus, neither were good on interviews. The obvious role for them was to be heels with a manager doing the talking, similar to The Midnight Express with Jim Cornette years earlier. It was talked about, and Cornette, who Furnas knew from Smoky Mountain Wrestling where he sometimes worked between Japan tours, was in WWF at the time. But it never got past the talking stage. He was considered a model employee, who did his job and never complained, but he was not at home in entertainment wrestling.
Furnas didn’t like the difference between WWF and All Japan. Although the contract was good, very good for its time, he was frustrated by a lot of things. Mentally, he was more athlete than actor, and the nature of Japanese wrestling was such that he could view it as an extension of his competitive sports career. WWF was not that. Instead of the mentality of going out and stealing the show, Owen Hart & Smith, who were both talented when they wanted to be, wanted to do the exact same match every night at the house shows. That’s just how it was done in WWF in those days. That frustrated him because they came from a different environment with a totally different mentality. He also complained how in All Japan, you were sent out there with an idea of how long you were to go but the rule was to build the match until you hit the peak of the crowd and then go home. In WWF, while that was nice if it happened, he felt that the agents never cared if the match was good, bad, or terrible, and only cared if you hit your time cue perfectly.
In 1997, he was in the backseat of a rental car driven by Sid Eudy (Sid Vicious) near Ottawa when they got into a bad accident. Furnas was taken to the hospital, and quickly checked himself out, said he was fine, and flew home. His wife, Martha, herself a competitive powerlifter, noticed that while he was acting like he was fine, he was having trouble putting on his clothes the next day, and she made him go to the hospital. He had both another broken back and a broken shoulder. Lafon suffered serious injuries as well. They came back, but the injuries didn’t help things. After the Montreal incident in 1997, there was talk of putting the two of them in Owen Hart’s New Hart Foundation stable, but the decision was made to drop the idea of a New Hart Foundation without Bret, so they again had no role. They were instead given the kiss of death, heels where their gimmick was that they were boring.
Eventually they had a run in ECW, which included one day as transitional ECW tag team champions between the FBI and Chris Candido & Lance Storm. Furnas lasted longer than Lafon in ECW, but his body was banged up, and when ECW stopped booking him, at 40, he retired from wrestling and like with the other sports in other phases of his life, didn’t look back.
He and his wife had no children. After wrestling, he ran a group home for troubled teenagers out of his house in San Diego, while his wife worked her way up the corporate ladder with Geico Insurance. When she was transferred to Tucson, eventually working her way up to a Vice President and overseeing a staff of 830 associates, he continued to work with troubled teenagers, doing social work.
We will have a more complete biography of Doug Furnas in a few weeks when we are less limited in space.