When “Play That Funky Music” hits, the crowd goes wild.
Parents are brought back to their youth, when Jimmy Carter took office and Rocky came to theaters. As for their children, the Asbury United Methodist Church is often the first place they’ve heard the ‘70s hit. Over the past year, that song has signaled the arrival of arguably the most popular wrestler in ECWA. It means you leap to your feet, wiggle your booty and high five the Funky White Boy.
The 42-year-old Delaware native is quite different from most professional wrestlers you see today. He doesn’t have a long, bushy beard; nor is his body cloaked in tattoos. He doesn’t dive or flip. As a matter of fact, when he climbs the turnbuckle, you know the match is over because that’s part of his finisher. You won’t find him through a table or tangled in barbed wire. That doesn’t mean he won’t go fisticuffs outside the ring – he’s still a fighter.
But he’s primarily an entertainer. As Wild Cherry blasts throughout the building, Funky White Boy busts a move. He greets his adoring fans like their old buddies, handing out his trademark visors and encouraging them to join his party train. They dance around the ring before the action, and if their hero is victorious, they celebrate inside it.
In an era where “workrate” and star ratings are part of the daily discourse, Funky White Boy is a throwback to a simpler time. He’s a classic wrestling character, literally dressed in black and white. The very definition of a white meat babyface, he’s family-friendly and appeals to all ages. Kids regard him as their cool uncle, their mothers trust him with car pool and their fathers would grab a beer with him.
“His entrance gets fans on their feet, but the emotion and joy it brings lasts throughout his whole match,” says Joe Zanolle, matchmaker at ECWA. “I don’t think you can watch one of his matches and not feel good. And that has a lot do with the man behind the character. He’s just a sweet and good-natured guy, which bleeds through to his in-ring persona.”
Tommy Walsh has been the Funky White Boy since the first time he stepped foot in the ring, exactly 20 years ago. Grooving to the song at a family wedding a week before trying out, he was instantly inspired. His cousin JD Smooth found a flyer for “pro wrestlers wanted,” went to the practice and brought Walsh the next time. They began training with a group of 30 in Philadelphia. At the end of the first week, that group whittled down to just seven.
“The first thing I learned in wrestling is if you can make the person you’re working with look good, they’ll always want to work with you,” Walsh says. “The second thing I learned is if you own your own ring, you’ll always get hired.”
Walsh says he and his cousin bought the first ring that ECW used (built by 911) for around $1,500. They traveled throughout the tristate area, honing their craft and building a buzz around their flashy personas. They wore ADIDAS three stripes with wife beaters and shell tops, leather jackets and pimp hats, along with canes and cigars. Their team was called Self Employed 1099. “We came up with the name the same night we watched Owen Hart fall,” Smooth says. “We tagged until I turned heel and then we had the biggest feud Delaware ever saw. No matter where he went, he would be more over than anyone as a good guy. He has always stayed true to his gimmick and makes the fans his priority, especially the kids.”
In the mid-2000s, the pimp hat went out of style, so he switched to the upside down visor. It’s become as synonymous as Jimmy Hart’s megaphone and Jim Ross’ cowboy hat. Walsh orders a bunch from Oriental Trading Company – costing him about a dollar a piece – and gives dozens away each time he performs.
“Self-advertising, you have to,” he says. “Branding and marketing is huge. At a show in New Jersey about a decade ago, I gave out visors two months before Halloween. About a month after, a little kid came up to me and said ‘I was you for Halloween.’ At that moment, I knew the visor has sticking power.”
A savvy businessman, Walsh understands the power of promotional products. He also knows not to put his eggs all in one basket, especially one as flimsy as pro wrestling. Independent promotions could shut down at any time (ECWA, considered the longest-running independent promotion in the United States, went on hiatus earlier this year) and one wrong move in the ring could sideline you for months, or even end your career.
That’s why Walsh doesn’t rely on wrestling for his income. Since 2004, he has owned the Aerus Electrolux franchise in Wilmington. The company specializes in healthy home products, selling air and water purifiers, floor and central vacuum systems, and allergy control items. “That’s my bread and butter,” Walsh says. “It’s a great business and provides a great life for me and my family. If you take wrestling so seriously and you depend on it, it’s not fun anymore. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth me doing.”
A proud family man, Walsh’s business has kept him grounded. Although he has had several opportunities to take his wrestling career farther (he says he passed on three tryouts with WWE over the past six years), he refuses to follow the nomadic lifestyle and be away from his wife and five children. Having his first kid at just 17 years old, he always prioritized family over wrestling.
“All I knew was I was going to be a good father; I’d make sure I could provide for my family,” Walsh says. “I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’ve seen what this business can do to people. With all that traveling, I’d never see my family. I value that work/life balance. I’d love to be the guy coming down the aisle at WrestleMania, but at the same time, I’m being the guy locally. The guy at the Dunkin Donuts still knows who I am and that’s just as gratifying for me.”
Family is the most important thing to Walsh – both the one at home and the fraternity he’s been part of for two decades.
“I’ll joke with people and call him my wrestling dad,” says Ty Awesome, his partner in Delaware-based 1CW Wrestling. Collectively known as Funkin Awesome, they’re former Tag Team Champions. “He’s a leader and motivator. He sees the bright side to everything. Whenever I have a problem, I can go to him and he’ll hear me out and always know what to say. He’s a true friend and role model to us younger talent. He shows us how to treat life with a smile and be yourself, all while being a class act and professional.”
When he was 8 years old, Walsh went to his first pro wrestling event. It took place at the Clarence Fraim Boys & Girls Club in Wilmington, and at the end of the night, everybody ran into the ring. It was mayhem and magical.
He wouldn’t return to that ring for over 30 years.
Despite being well-known on the indie circuit, Funky White Boy had never worked for ECWA. There doesn’t appear to be any animosity; both parties claim the timing was just never right. That changed in September of 2018, when Marcus Waters, a powerhouse on the rise in ECWA, recommended that management give the veteran a shot.
“In other places, he wasn’t getting his just due,” Waters says. “You could always see the talent was there and the kids were always behind him.”
For several years, ECWA had been running shows mostly in South Jersey, but when the area became oversaturated with rival promotions, ECWA relocated. Returning to Delaware with a local favorite like Funky White Boy was a “no brainer,” according to Zanolle. “Once he debuted, we saw exactly why he was a favorite. He has an undeniable chemistry and connection with the fans.”
Debuting at the ECWA 51st Anniversary Show, Funky White Boy immediately made an impact, defeating Rob Ziccardi and captivating the New Castle crowd. On that same show, Waters lost to Adam Chandler the Great after dealing with the troublemaking #DRAW group. Seeking vengeance, the next month Waters recruited Funky White Boy to challenge the #DRAW for the ECWA Tag Team Titles. Despite never partnering before, the unlikely duo won the gold.
“After years of going to battle with somebody, you get a good feeling for them,” Walsh says. “Marcus has a good head on his shoulders and he’s fast and strong. Working with him and Ty has been a blessing. They’re great guys.”
Billed as Delaware’s Finest and coined “Salt and Pepper” by the fans, the team has become a staple of ECWA. Over the past year, they’ve successfully defended the titles against a variety of opponents, such as Primal Fear, Sons of Savagery and Nick Curry & Vinny Talotta.
“The pairing was a bit of an odd one at first,” Zanolle says. “Marcus was a more no-nonsense brawler, but it didn’t take long for Funky White Boy to rub off on him. Before long, they were dancing to the same beat.”
Their toughest challenge came in the form of Unstable, a deranged pair of Halloween decorations come to life. Led by Dr. Carl Martin, the creepy duo of Geddy Cahoon and “Michelle” forced the champions into a double count out in September. A month later at Witching Hour, they waged war in a Texas Tornado match, in which Funky White Boy admitted to having his bell rung early on. Despite constant interference by Martin, the champs overcame the odds and vanquished their foes to celebrate a full year with the gold.
“What makes them such a dominant team, other than their talent, skills and experience, is that both wanted to be part of ECWA for a long time,” Zanolle says. “Even a year after holding the Tag Team Titles, they still are on that high. They still have that eye of the tiger. It’s going to take a powerful force to knock these guys down.”
That powerful force may be Black Wall$treet, comprised of Drolix and Chuck Lennox. An experienced and highly decorated team from Maryland, they’ll be challenging for the ECWA Tag Team Titles at ECWA Toys For Tots on December 7.
“Black Wall$treet are no pushovers – they’re the real deal,” Water says. “We’ve been so successful because we have the ECWA faithful behind us. We’re not trying to let them down. There’s strength in numbers. They give us an extra boost to get us over the hump.”
Getting better with age, the Funky White Boy is about to enter his 21st year in the sport. He’s as popular as ever, he’s in a great spot in the company he’s always wanted to be in and his 5-year-old grandson is just getting to the point where he likes wrestling. Thus, the music won’t be turning off anytime soon.
“You don’t get paid much in this wrestling business,” Walsh says. “Fifty dollars or a hundred dollars is a good pay day. If it was about money for me, I probably would have given this up a long time ago. There are times I know the door is short and I’ll tell the promoter to keep the money. I’m just happy to be here.”