Jim Cornette Speaks On TNA/ROH Return, WWE Continuing Kayfabe, Mid-South
The following are highlights from a recent interview with legendary pro wrestling personality Jim Cornette:
On Mid-South being unique: “I had been a wrestling fan since I was nine years old. I had been around the wrestling business in Memphis for six years from the time I was fourteen as a photographer, part-time ring announcer and general all around gopher. I had been a manager for about fourteen months at the time that I got to go to Mid-South Wrestling and I was not prepared for the level of credibility that the company was run. I do a column for a magazine in the United Kingdom called “Fighting Spirit” and the level of credibility that pro wrestling had as a legitimate sport in the Mid-South Wrestling during the late 70’s and early 80’s was unmatched anywhere else. We didn’t just have the typical stereotypical “rasslin” fan, although we did in Oklahoma, Texas and in Louisiana but we had banker, attorney, and television executives. They wouldn’t say: “You put on a good show”, they would say: “You had a great match” or they would wish us luck and “hope you win the belts”. Bill Watts went to incredible lengths and down to minuet details to see that his matches, his matchmaking and his booking had logic, everything had reason and there were no loop holes left outside the ring. The guys were expected to hold up the credibility of wrestling to put their lives on the line and it was a military school for wrestling and if you were like some of the main event talent or that had been elsewhere that thought they knew everything, wanted to do their own thing and you can into Bill Watt’s rules, regulations, commandments and if you rebelled, you didn’t last long. But if you went in there with the thought that I’m going to learn from the guy who learned from the masters like Eddie Graham who was a genius in Florida and I’m going to see how booking is done, how television is produced, how bigger arenas are run every two weeks, twenty six times a year and sometimes more on a regular basis and all of these major markets in the area and if you went in like that, you got a degree in the college of wrestling knowledge and you got a degree that was unmatched. Here is the extent that Bill Watts went to keep the credibility to the wrestling business, his business and that he imparted to the guys. Junkyard Dog was blinded by the Freebirds and he came back to New Orleans with goggles on and he was sitting at ringside so the guys that he was in the corner of got revenge on the Freebirds for blinding him so he is allegedly blind at ringside and the big Superdome show was coming up that JYD and Michael Haynes drew thirty thousand people to see the Dog Collar Match and this was the big angle to set it up and the Freebirds dispatched the babyfaces in quick order and they were all down and it was the three Freebirds standing in the ring in New Orleans in the “Dogs House” downtown Municipal Auditorium where the people would chant “Who Dat” and that’s where the (New Orleans) Saints got it from. It wasn’t the other way around, they started it for JYD. “Who dat talking about beating that Dog. Who Dat!” The Freebirds are menacing the Junkyard Dog and they look at him sitting at ringside, vulnerable, blinded at ringside and they pointed at him and everyone in the crowd knew they were fixated to kill the blinded Junkyard Dog and a guy runs out of the crowd, over the guard rail and is right at Junkyard Dog’s shoulder and pulls out a handgun. He points it at the Freebirds and Junkyard Dog told me this story himself, and the fan says: “Don’t worry Dog, I got him!” and he levels the gun at the Freebirds and Dog is now faced with a quandary. He has to figure out if he blows the angle, shows he can see and saves the Freebirds from getting mowed down by this guy with a handgun or whether he sits there and sells the angle by being blinded and does nothing and to the extent that Watts stressed upon was to uphold the credibility of pro-wrestling as legitimate at all times was as such that he was conflicted as to what he should do and just then security tackled the guy and the Freebirds were not shot and they drew thirty thousand people at the Superdome but that was the atmosphere that the fans over all took the heroes and villains at face value and guys like JYD, the Rock N Roll Express, “Hacksaw” Duggan and there pictures were in wrestling fans homes next to Jesus and conversely heels like Ted DiBiase when he turned on JYD in New Orleans had to be taken out of the arena in the trunk of Grizzly Smith’s car to avoid a lynch mob. We used to be regularly walked out of the Lake Charles Civic Center by riot police with German Shepherd’s to disperse the hundreds of people that were waiting to lynch us and we were followed down the Interstate, Dennis Condrey was attacked at a convenience store. If I was traveling along, I never got out of my car. I went to fast food drive thru and made sure I had some gas. Mainstream wrestling and sports-entertainment has acquired a fan base. Since I’ve been off from wrestling for a year, I go to a lot of comic book conventions since I’ve been a lifelong comic book collector and a pop-culture nerd and nut and I just stayed away from wrestling but I took to a lot of people who are no longer active wrestling fans but they used to be and I found that the younger fans that like sports entertainment that if they go back and look at the older footage on YouTube or like the Mid-South wrestling DVD, they can get into that. But the old-time fans that like wrestling back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, they generally have disdain for what wrestling has become because if you parody something long enough sooner or later people can’t take it seriously and to me, I look at sports-entertainment as a parody of professional wrestling where obviously John Wayne didn’t shoot all of those Indians in the movies but at the same time he didn’t dusted them off and shake their hand for taking a great bump of the horse unless on-screen. There is something to be said for the fact that everything is done for winking at the fans that stay on the internet and live off of the websites that know the inner workings and there is not enough done for the guy in Des Moines, Iowa that works at the Jiffy Lube who just wants to see a good wrestling show or goes to see a good fight and ultimately the UFC is the most successful wrestling promotion in the world because wrestling is not using the old tricks to hype up a fight so they will. They build the champion and the challenger up as the two baddest assholes on the planet and they are going to fight for a belt and for some money and we are going to see who wins that used to be wrestling, now its UFC and now wresting has become sports-entertainment where: “What’s going to happen in the soap opera?” The passion has been rung out of it and the emotion has been rung out of it. My climb to the top started in Louisiana as a manager and we figured out that the Midnight Express about a hundred people willing went to jail by taking a swing at me and often connecting in the presence of a police officer and those people were so mad at me and believed what the Midnight Express were doing and believed in our opponents and worshipped them as heroes therefore they veiled us as villains to the point where they were willing to go to jail just to get a crack at me and it was a different time but that’s what kept the people coming back. The emotion and the emotional investment to where in 1986, we were in Crockett Promotions we figured out that just in Charlotte, North Carolina alone sold over a hundred thousand tickets to see live wrestling events and grossed well over one million dollars in that city alone. You don’t get that repeat business and that wasn’t an unusual story in those days and now it’s a traveling show. It’s a network television and when we come to that town once a year, let’s sees how it unfolds in a wrestling ring but it doesn’t have the same feel and this Mid-South DVD and believe me folks, when you watch it, if anything it’s understated.”
On whether or not Mid-South Wrestling was the best territory: “Well, was the Rolling Stone or Led Zeppelin the greatest rock and roll band ever? That’s always subjective. For me and the Midnight Express at the time, it was because Bill Watts took young guys but inexperienced guys that had potential and he put them through this rigorous test both inside and outside the ring and made starts of them if they had what it took and you see can see all of the hall of famers from Junkyard Dog to Ted DiBiase, the Midnight Express, Rock N Roll Express, Hacksaw Duggan and on and on that was there first territory where they drew money and there I was at twenty two years old kid, main evening the Superdome in front of twenty five thousand people, I was shitting my pants but he can do that with guys. A bigger territory was the Carolina’s and obviously the New York territory known as the W.W.W.F was still a much bigger territory, you can make bigger money but if you were a young guy and had confidence in yourself and you can take a death march literally through that backwoods territory, those horrible roads and those angry fans, it was the place to go to get your degree in wrestling. Based off the year we spent there, we could write our own ticket and go anywhere we wanted and that’s how we ended up in Charlotte, the NWA and Jim Crockett promotions, national television and even more money but I made a hundred thousand dollars main eventing as the top heel team for Bill Watts for one year in 1984 at twenty two years old and that beats a poke in the eye with a shark stick as my mother used to say and that wasn’t a contract. That was based off of pay offs from the gate and the wrestlers, especially the ones who had been around had a saying: “You’ll make twice as much money working for Bill Watts as you will mostly anywhere else and half of much as you are to.” ”
On WWE’s attempt at continuing kayfabe: “Also, as my mother used to say, the horse has already left the barn cowboy. Unfortunately, so much is out about the wrestling business being exposed as predetermined or manipulated or a work or choreographed or I hate to even use the word, fake because there is nothing fake about what the guys do but actually boxing the same thing can be applied, they just taken care of their business better but we all know and anyone that’s smart and had any background that a number of major boxing matches have been manipulated. Wrestling business was first exposed by in the 1930’s but it was exposed by outsiders, sports writers, newspaper people because they were talk about how ignorant the fans were to believe this obvious work and in doing so they insulted the people in great numbers and when television came along it became greater numbers but wrestling in the 20th century drew major crowds so people would take those exposes from people outside the business that were also question their own intelligence and they would discard them. The wrestling business was never exposed by insiders, wrestlers, promoters and people who were actually been there and done that until the 80’s when Vince McMahon basically said: “We are going to open this thing up because its entertainment” then everyone fell in line to get exposure for themselves and then the internet came along and I know Chris Angel didn’t get run over by the steam roller, picked up by a spatula and turned back into a living, breathing human but I’m not sure how the fuck he did it. Now, I want to keep watching this shit because how are they doing this? But once it’s been told then it becomes: “Well, yep. I heard about it once and they did it.” ”
On his thoughts of any past Mid-South wrestlers going into the WWE Hall of Fame: “That’s a shock that the Firebirds aren’t in! I figured with Michael Hayes politicking for the last few years it would had happened by now. Nod body has called me. I have not been to complimentary to the WWE’s product and business practices over the last couple years mainly because we got sideways of their treatment towards Ohio Valley Wrestling back a number years ago but if you want to discuss of who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams definitely deserving, unfortunately it has to be posthumously but still deserving. The Freebirds are deserving, the Midnight Express and Jim Cornett and if you’re in New Orleans, Louisiana had one of the two most famous matches in the history of New Orleans wrestling. The Midnight Express and the Rock N Roll Express were the greatest tag team rivalry of all time and drew more money than any other tag team rivalry probably in history and I did manage the WWF champion and WWF Tag Team champion at different points in time but my phone hasn’t rung and I haven’t lost sleep over it. I’ve mellowed over the last year that I’ve been out of wrestling because once again, Jerry Jarrett said once he quit the wrestling business a few years later: “I discovered I didn’t hate the wrestling business, I just hated the people that were involved in the wrestling business.” But I’ve mellowed a little bit, I lost weight, I’ve got in better shape and got in better mental health just from being away from all the stress and aggravation. I would never go back on the road full time and I really do not want to subject myself to that again but at the same time especially since none of us are getting younger and one of the reasons why I got into this health kick over the last year and got off the road because no one of us were getting younger and people were getting heart attacks. If the Midnight Express were getting honored, I would be right there with it. I don’t care if Satan or Saddaam Hussein is going to honor the Midnight Express they deserve it and I’ll be up there with them.”
On going back to Ring of Honor or TNA Wrestling: “Oh my God! If she called and asked me to take this place over, I would hang up quickly and take three Xanax. As one top star that shall remain nameless who worked for the WWE for many years and is now semi-retired, I’m not going to say you’re never going to see him in public again but he is not out there every week said: “If I go to TNA, it’s a cry to be euthanized”. To answer your question, with Ring of Honor, I’m with in spirit. I believe in the style of wrestling, I believe in those guys, I believe in the young guys who are getting a chance. I was the executive producer of television for three years. I oversaw the sale to Sinclair Broadcasting in the first year and a half on the air. I’m not going to knock people but let’s put it this way, they bought my concept but they didn’t execute my concept. I’m not talking creatively; I’m talking how the business can be structured and where the tapings can be and the entire concept of how it can work. Some were good reasons that it didn’t work, some were no reason at all and some were really stupid reasons but I got to the point where I said: “I’m working way to hard, I’m on the road a hundred plus nights a year for being over fifty years old, I’m in bad shape, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s time for me to bow out. I hope they succeed. I think those young guys and I like to see a promotion that treats wrestling credibility, as a sport and as an athletic endeavor which it definitely is. I would like to see them succeed but the last year of my life has been the most stress free and happiest of the last thirty. If Dixie (Carter) called, the first words out of her mouth better: “I apologize to you for lying to you and to your face and over the phone and about you when I departed the company.” Then I might listen to what she had to say but not to go on the road anywhere near close to full time and I don’t know why I’m saying that right now cause it might make her call me. Probably not. I told Dutch Mantel one time: “The people that have the money don’t know how and the people that know how don’t have the money.” That’s why wrestling is in the state that it’s in and unfortunately Dixie has listened to the wrong people and continues to and has been led to the prim roads path and I would feel sorry for her except that she lied to me in the last conversation that we had and I don’t like that very much. People that lie to me generally get banished or vanished to the planet Pluto in my mind.”
Check out the complete interview online at Facebook.com/bustedopenradio.