James E. Cornette
May 23, 2011
Before anyone gets upset, or Vince Russo pops the cork on his bottle of Champagne, let me assure you this is not an obituary commentary; Jim Cornette is still very much alive and well. By “well” I mean he is in the same physical and mental state he is normally in; I’m not sure the best word to describe that state is “well”, but you know what I mean.
I’m writing this commentary because I’m in a somber sad mood. As you’ve no doubt read Randy Savage passed away on Friday after reportedly suffering a heart attack behind the wheel and crashing his vehicle. I wrote a tribute commentary about Randy’s death, as I try to do when ever we lose someone I knew in the business. Expressing my feelings on the page helps me deal with the loss and come to terms with everything. I always feel sadness from the loss but often too I feel anger. The anger often comes from the needlessness of it all, but it also comes from the frustration that I never expressed my gratitude, respect, and often love I feel for the individual, while they were still alive.
I’ve written a few “Thank You” tribute commentaries in the past and I’m going to make a real effort to write even more of them in the future. There are a lot of great people in this industry that I care dearly about and we need to celebrate them every day they are alive, rather than wait to do so after they are gone, which is what I’m going to do here, for one James E. Cornette.
I first stumbled across Jim Cornette as a fan in 1987. I was a big wrestling fan by this point but growing up in Northern Ontario I never had the chance to see any NWA until 1987 when a local TV station finally started carrying a weekly NWA show. I was a huge Road Warriors fan at that point first seeing them in the AWA so I was stoked to finally get NWA television. The first week the NWA was on was the week the Road Warriors did the bench press competition with the Powers of Pain and just my luck they do an injury angle with Road Warrior Animal and my favorite tag team is on the shelf.
I was so disappointed, but that disappointment didn’t last long because The Road Warriors were not the only great tag team in the NWA. Truth be told there were a lot of great tag teams in the NWA and the one that grabbed my attention immediately was the Midnight Express and their manager James E. Cornette. I was never a “true” fan if you will, cheering faces and booing heels, I just liked who I liked and my God did I like the Midnight Express. I suppose I should clarify that in 1987 the Midnight Express was Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane; I never got to see the version with Dennis Condrey till several years later watching old tapes. I liked Stan Lane, thought Bobby Eaton was about the best wrestler I’d ever seen, and could listen to Jim Cornette cut promos all day long.
For my money Momma Cornette’s baby boy was one of the greatest managers of all time. The gimmick of being a spoiled rich little Momma’s boy was perfect. No matter how entertaining he was on the mic. you still wanted to see him get punched in the mouth. To me he was, or rather still is, a genius. Jim Cornette managed to be so entertaining, I loved him and tuned in every week to see him, yet he still garnered heat and made me want to see someone kill him. He made me laugh and did comedy, yet NEVER made his team or the titles they often held a joke or seem trivial. He was exactly what this business is supposed to be; he was the Entertainment to Bobby Eaton’s Sport, he was the Sizzle to the Midnight Express’s Steak. He was one of the main reasons I was a fan of professional wrestling.
Jim Cornette and I first crossed paths in 1993. Jim was promoting SMW and I sent him a tape of my work hoping to get booked. I think I sent the tape in 1992 but I never heard back form him until 1993. I found out afterwards that Cornette used to get a ton of tapes sent to him and it took him forever to watch them all. By the time he got to mine, I had moved and changed my phone number so when he liked what he saw and tried to call me, my contact information was no longer any good. You have to keep in mind this was before email and cell phones were very common. Later in 1993 Cornette met a young Justin Credible (then jobber to the stars PJ Walker) and managed to pass his number to me through Justin.
I was in Europe working for CWA Catch at the time so Justin passed JC’s number to my wife who passed it on to me the next time I phoned home; I was so excited. I was in Hanover Germany at the time and had to get up in the middle of the night in order to return Jimmy’s call at a reasonable hour. Since I was calling from a pay phone in Germany I couldn’t leave him a number so I spent weeks leaving messages on his answering machine before finally making contact.
If you’ve never called Jim Cornette at home you are missing out. JC always had (and I assume still does) the funniest answering machine messages I’ve ever heard. He changed them often so it was a different one every time I called and it got to the point where I was almost disappointed when he finally answered because I was enjoying the answering machine so much. When I did finally reached him we talked for a while and he asked me to call him when I finished up in Europe because he would like to bring me in to SMW.
By the time I got home plans for SMW included Chris Jericho and Cornette flew both Chris and I to Knoxville Tennessee in February of 1994, to meet with him about coming in full time. James E. picked us up at the airport himself and took us out to lunch. It was at this lunch that JC introduced us to a Southern dietary staple, know as the awesome Blossom, which was a gigantic onion carved open to look like a flower, and then deep fried like onion rings. This thing was gigantic and a very early indication that Jim Cornette and I would live our lives eating from very different menus. It also went a long way in explaining why we wore very different wardrobes through out our careers.
Dietary differences aside, this was one of the most exciting days of my career. I was having lunch with Jim Cornette and talking about coming in to work a tag team program with quite possibly the greatest Tag Team Manager in the business.
We of course agreed to come in and I moved to Knoxville, TN the beginning of May that year. Getting to work with Jim was so much fun. JC was there when we shot all those cheesy introduction videos (several of them are on the Chris Jericho DVD), and I also got to ride up and down the roads with him a couple times. I was in the van the night of the infamous Dairy Queen incident, and defeated Jim Cornette in the wrestler’s name game on another long trip, still to this day one of my proudest fluke victories.
When we finally got around to working the big program with Jim on TV I again was like a kid in the candy store. Our first on camera confrontation was a promo segment, which in old school wrestling fashion involved a cake presentation. Verbally jousting with the great Jim Cornette was a dream come true. This was not a competitive joust mind you. I have no illusion of being on Cornette’s level verbally. This jousting was a battle featuring two men, one armed with a lance (no pun intended) and the other a pen knife. My unarmed battle of wits aside the crowd popped huge when Cornette ended up face first in the cake, while I was marking out silently on the inside.
I got to work several matches against Jim Cornette and his SMW duo of the Heavenly Bodies (Jimmy Del Rey & Tom Pritchard), my favourite being the “Fire on the Mountain” event in Johnson City, TN, the night after the more famous “Night of Legends” show. This was a crazy day as I spent the morning and afternoon at the hospital in Knoxville with Jericho who was having surgery on his broken arm. The surgery was supposed to be a day surgery so I was waiting at the hospital to take him to the show in Johnson City (he would be in my corner, not wrestling).
There were issues at the hospital and Jericho decided to spend the night so I had to leave him and race to the show, arriving I believe after the show had already started. I worked a handicapped match against the Heavenly Bodies and the match and the crowd heat was off the charts. It was an amazing night in so many ways but also too one of the biggest regrets of my career. I almost never screwed up in the ring. I’ve always had a great ring presence and memory for spots and finishes, but on this night my brain was not at 100%. I blame the stress of Jericho’s surgery and the late arrival and the building but at the end of the day, there are no excuses, I screwed and 17 years later it still bothers me, because I missed my chance to punch Jim Cornette in the face.
The finish to the match saw Tom Pritchard garb me from behind while the ref was distracted. Cornette hopped up on the apron with his trusty tennis racket. Jimmy then takes the big swing, I duck and Cornette clobbers Tom Pritchard over the head with the racket. At this point I’m supposed to punch Jimmy in the face, who will no doubt take a huge bump off the apron enabling me to turn around and cover the KO’s Tom Pritchard for the win. Unfortunately I forgot the punch. So as Cornette looks on with this stunned look on his face, I just cover Tom Pritchard for the win as I hear the faint plea of “punch me” from a horrified Jim Cornette. The crowd went nut, but inside I felt horrible.
I left SMW in November of that year parting on very good terms and would not have the privilege of working with Jim again until I “retired” and took the head trainer’s position in OVW, WWE’s developmental system at the time. Jim was part owner and booker for OVW and working together with him again was every bit as much fun as our SMW days. Getting to work with Jim Cornette, both in SMW and OVW was one of the true highlights of my career. Jim’s passion and love for this business is unparalleled and contagious, and for that I truly thank him.
I thank him for the entertainment he provided me as a fan. I thank him for the opportunity he gave me as a young worker, and I thank him for all he taught me over the years. I even thank him for the times he yelled at me. You’ve no doubt heard stories of all the raging tirade promos he’s cut on people over the years, well I’ve been on the receiving end of a couple, and witnessed first hand many more. The thing most people over look is that Jimmy is yelling because he cares and actually gives a damn, and once you get past being called a, “mouth breathing, knuckle dragging, stupid bumble f—k” and you get over the horrible things he threatens to do to you and the horse you rode in one, he’s really just trying to help and he’s more often than not actually right, and giving you good advice. Anyone who cares enough about this business to risk a brain aneurism and heart attack to give me advice is okay in my books.
As a fan, a worker, and friend, let me just say thank you. Thank you Jimmy for your near 30 year contribution to this business May you live long enough to contribute another 30 more. The wrestling business is a better place from you being a part of it, as so is my life. In return I offer you my appreciation, gratitude, and respect.
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