Jim Cornette on the state of wrestling today, the role mangers play in wrestling, his new book, and more
Jul 12, 2013 - by Steve Gerweck
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Iconic wrestling manager and former WWE, NWA, WCW and Ring of Honor personality Jim Cornette joined “2012 Award Winning Best New Show” the Rack Thursday Night. In a nearly 40 minute interview, he discussed his upcoming induction into ‘The Hall of Heroes’ at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest, his memorabilia collection and what his favorite piece from the collection is, his recent weight loss and what brought it on, what inspired him to write his book “Rags, Paper and Pins–the Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling” and where the title came from, his thoughts on the role wrestling managers today and of the climate in wrestling as a whole, could wrestling ever be taken seriously again, if he knew Kane/Glenn Jacobs would be a star back in the day, working with Owen and Davey Boy Smith, his opinions of the Bashams and who the worst trained performer he’d ever seen was, if he ever caught the WWE bus from his infamous video and more.
On his upcoming induction into ‘The Hall of Heroes’ at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest: “I’ve been to almost all of them since the start; haven’t been there in a couple of years because I had commitments with Ring of Honor but this year, he () told me that he wanted to induct not only the Midnight Express and I but the Rock N’ Roll Express, and we kind of go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly. So, he told us that and really it’s a great honor because I’ve been to so many of the banquets and so many of my personal heroes and guys that I looked up to and I was a fan of when I was young or in there; it’s almost like ‘Me? Up there, together, with the likes of the Fabulous Fargos and all these people?” But it’s going to be great, it’s going to be fun and we are looking forward to it.
Plus, I’ll always enjoy the chance to see the boys again; I guess we’re going to call each other ‘The Boys’ until we’re all 80. Bobby (Eaton) and Dennis (Condrey) will be here; Stan (Lane) could not be there due to a prior commitment with his annual boat race, but he’s already sent a video in. And, I’m looking forward to seeing the Rock N’ Roll Express too, because I still have got a tennis racket with Ricky Morton’s name on it.”
His recent weight loss: “I’m living vicariously now through our (www.jimcornette.com) food reviews because I’ve also, over the last 6 months; with so many guys my age and even younger having health issues and heart attacks. Jerry Lawler, who I’ve known since 1976, actually died on live television on RAW last year, as everybody knows of course; he was right next to an EMT crew and down the street from a hospital; if it had been me, I’d have been at Wartburg, TN at the county fair and the guy running the Ferris Wheel would have been standing over me going, ‘He ain’t gonna make it’. So, I’ve revamped my diet and my personal habits and have lost 50 pounds; I‘ve gone to the doctor and gotten all my blood tests done: my cholesterol is down, my blood sugar is down; everything that should be down is down and everything that should be up is up, so I’m happy with myself and I’m debuting my new girlish figure at the NWA Charlotte Fanfest as well.
And see, I’m the only guy in the wrestling industry that can go to rehab without leaving the house. Basically, I just got off the road and stopped eating triple cheeseburgers three times a day; you’d be amazed what that will do for your cholesterol level.”
His inspiration to write his new book ‘Rags, Paper and Pins–the Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling’: “As most collaborations do, it came from a mutual interest and admiration. Mark James, is the gentlemen who does the Memphiswrestlinghistory.com website and he has done some fantastic books on the history of Memphis Wrestling; the old cards, programs, newspaper ads, etc. and really kept the old Memphis Wrestling alive, for the dedicated fans it still has. And, of course, I’ve got the huge wrestling collection so we got together this past winter and he came up to the house and saw what was here and said ‘I see about ten books’ without flipping through anything.
The state of wrestling as a whole today: “Well, to be honest, wrestling is becoming a lost art, to be quite honest. You know, the business has constricted, there’s fewer places not only for top wrestlers to make big money but also for aspiring wrestlers to get in and involved with the sport and learn the right way. There’s a show on every corner, but the question is is anybody running it or if anybody featured on it know what they’re doing and have been properly trained in the particular job their performing. And with managers, it comes down to, and people ask me the same thing with tag-team wrestling, the WWE is the industry leader now, though they don’t call themselves ‘wrestling’ and actually they have achieved their goal; they pretty much aren’t wrestling anymore. I draw a delineation between wrestling and sports entertainment; they aren’t the same thing. I believe Matt Striker, who was recently released by the WWE, made the statement that ‘he understood that the WWE is not a wrestling program, it’s an entertainment program that uses wrestling as a backdrop’ and unfortunately, that’s the case.
So, when they (WWE) decide that they’re not going to feature tag teams, or they’re not going to feature managers, or hell, if they decided one day ‘We’re not going to set the ring up; we’re going to do the whole show without a ring’ pretty soon, everyone in the whole world would be following their example and nobody would have a ring because instead of trying to do something different, everyone tries to copy the industry leader and to me, if I was going to open a restaurant, and everyone was selling steak, I’d sell chicken. But you know, that’s what we were trying to do with Ring of Honor and I would have loved to stay and seen that through but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it was better for my health and other people’s health that I was about to choke, that I step back from that for a while.
But that’s the thing, a manager, just like a great tag team match, just like great variety; I want to say characters in wrestling are gone and the problem now is that there are no characters in wrestling because everyone is given a character. ‘Hi Lindsey, I think you look lovely and you’d look even better if you wore a Catwoman suit and purred during your interviews.’ Well, that’s your character; No. Characters in wrestling were organic in the old days because you found a guy; Dick Murdoch was a character, I don’t care if he was in wrestling. They used to say ‘Aww Dick, what a character he is’ when he was walking down the street because he was a character. Abdullah the Butcher was a character. These guys were characters; you had to pay to see people like this because you didn’t see them walking down the street and you didn’t come across them in daily conversation. And now that people are given characters, simply made up and imagined by somebody who has a degree in creative writing that’s worked on a soap opera, as I roll my eyes and try to put as much sarcasm into my tone as possible, it’s almost impossible for the guy’s real personality to come through and the only problem with that is that having their real personality shine through is what makes a mega-star. Steve Austin’s real personality came through, The Rock’s real personality came through, Ric Flair’s real personality came through, Jerry Lawler’s real personality came through and that’s what made all these guys and so many more be as big as they were and that’s why they sold so many tickets and that’s why so well remembered. I mean, the Charlotte Fanfest guys; if you went up to Tully Blanchard and said ‘This will be your character”, he would have looked at you like you had steaming turds hanging out of your mouth.”
The state of managers in wrestling today: “That’s lost too because let’s face it, a lot of guys are great athletes and are not very good public speakers and so the manager filled that role because the manager, obviously, and there were exceptions to the rule; Bobby Heenan was not only a great talker but also was probably a better wrestler than most of the guys he managed except (Nick) Bockwinkel and (Ray) Stevens. The manager was not a great athlete but a great public speaker; you put the two together and you had the package. And, unfortunately, now even though Vince himself grew up watching guys like The Grand Wizard and Lou Albano and all the way back to ‘Gentleman’ Bobby Davis in the 50’s, great managers drawing great crowds; he’s chosen to go in a different direction because of whatever his vision of wrestling is, which changes sometimes, but generally is that it isn’t supposed to be taken seriously and it’s a shame.
I think you could see a resurgence; like I said Vince could decide tomorrow ‘We’re taking the ring out’ and then, in three years, no wrestling promotion would be using a ring. If he decided tomorrow ‘Hey, we’re going to have a bunch of managers and we’re going to make them mean something’ then everyone else would be following suit. Now, the question about whether they would be any good or not, that may still be open to debate because you can’t just say ‘Ok, you’re a manager; go out there and be great’. You have to find people who understand wrestling, who follow wrestling, who understand what the role is. It came naturally to be because I had been around so many great managers in my teenage years; not only as a fan from the time I was 9, but then being around the guys 3 to 4 days a week, doing photography or ring announcing, whatever. I watched great people do their thing and paid attention and as a result, was able to say ‘ok’ and when you get into the business itself, it’s an entirely different learning process. But I wasn’t just thrown out there like a lost ball in high weed screaming ‘Find me’.
So, then the question is will them become any good or not and it would have to be an effort, just like tag teams. A tag team is not usually instantly great; they have to get together, they have to get experience, they have to learn reach other inside and out and how to work with each other and that takes time. So, it would have to be not only a change in what’s being used today, but also it would have to last for a while so that people would be able to get experience with it. You could see anything again, it’s just that unfortunately, the one thing that can’t be changed about wrestling anymore is I don’t think we’ll ever see a day, and I wouldn’t have even said this last summer but unfortunately I have come to grips with it, much like a bad relationship that you don’t want to end but it just has to; I don’t think we’ll get to a point where people on a wide-mainstream basis will take wrestling seriously again, like they did for over 80 years because it’s now been a generation that wrestling has parodied itself, that’s been presented as entertainment and show instead of sport. You can take something serious and parody it to great effect, but you can’t take something that’s been parodied and suddenly make people take it seriously again. And unfortunately, I think we’ve gotten to that point; there’s a generation of people out there who have not yet seen, or have never seen, wrestling treated seriously as a sport and as a result, I don’t know if we can go back from that one.”
You can follow Jim through his Twitter (@TheJimCornette) or his website (http://www.jimcornette.com) for all the latest on his news and notes. You can pick up Jim’s new book “Rags, Paper and Pins–the Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling” through his website starting August 5th. Jim will also be a part of the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fan Fest in Charlotte, NC on August 1st-4th, go to www.NWALegends.com for all the information of attendants, events and ticketing information.