An Uncensored Interview with Pro Wrestling’s Jim Cornette
James E. Cornette has been a staple of professional wrestling for decades. He’s worked with every major name in the business and has never been afraid to speak his mind. I met up with him at Scarefest in Lexington, KY to talk about his career as well as some of the most controversial moments in the history of professional wrestling. He covered everything from the Montreal Screwjob to Vince Russo’s shoot on Hogan at Bash at the Beach. No matter how you feel about him, it’s hard to disagree with him.
Mandatory: Just so you know I’ve been a fan since way back in the Smoky Mountain Wrestling days.
Jim: Did you go to the events?
Mandatory: Oh absolutely. In Harlan, Kentucky.
Jim: Oh my gosh, yes! At Cawood High School’s gymnasium.
Mandatory: So what do you think is the biggest difference between wrestling now and during its peak in popularity in the 80s and 90s?
Jim: Well, the TV networks got involved and figured out that they could make a lot of money with wrestling. With that comes change and it’s had the passion stripped out of it. It’s so controlled now, and manipulated, and tightly choreographed, and sketched out that there’s no room for the passion and the individuality of the guys to come through.
Mandatory: So it’s basically a TV show.
Jim: Exactly. I think people are realizing that whereas now the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” has taken over what people used to like about pro wrestling in the 70s and 80s. We just want to see who’s going to fight for the title. Two guys that are mad at each other going at it. You know, throw a little trash talking in and give us a fight. Now it’s all this dramatic talking and no fighting and it doesn’t translate.
Mandatory: Who were some of your favorite guys to work with?
Jim: Oh gosh, well obviously the Midnight Express that I managed for so long. The Rock n Roll Express and the 80s NWA crew; Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen, Magnum TA, Dusty Rhodes. That was a great crew of talent and they were all so great to work with.
Mandatory: What do you think about the current guys? Do you think they have the same level of talent?
Jim: Yeah they have the level of athleticism and ability, but the problem is they don’t get a chance to get as much experience as the guys used to because now they might wrestle two or three times per week. It was seven days per week for us. Plus, before you got on national television you had been wrestling for years. Now it’s just that the guys are a little bit more inexperienced at being in front of crowds and also, to be honest, they’re not allowed to do their own thing as much. I mean back then no one was telling us what to do.
If there was an interview, someone handed you a mic and said, “Here, talk about the Rock n Roll Express.” They didn’t tell you every word to say. If you had a match they’d say, “You’re wrestling the Rock n Roll Express. The rest is up to you.” Now they have people that tell you what foot to put in front of the other so it’s hard to learn that way.
Mandatory: I want to ask you something that I’ve debated with my friends about for years. What really happened in Montreal with Bret Hart?
Jim: 100 percent.
Mandatory: 100 percent what?
Jim: It was absolutely legitimate that Vince screwed him and Vince serendipitously found a way to make himself better for it afterwards.
Mandatory: Either way, it was a brilliant move using it to turn Vince into a heel.
Jim: They did not pre-plan anything but definitely took advantage of it afterwards. It worked out for everybody.
Mandatory: What about the Vince Russo shoot on Hogan at the 2000 “Bash at the Beach?”
Jim: I was happy to see it because anytime Russo can make someone mad that can beat him up or sue him because they’re pissed off, I’m in favor of it. (Laughs) And he got sued over it too, so fine by me. It was great.
Mandatory: What matches stand out the most for you?
Jim: That I’ve seen or that I’ve been involved in?
Jim: One of the greatest matches I ever saw was Jerry Lawler against Terry Funk in the Memphis Midsouth Coliseum, but there was Flair vs. Steamboat in Nashville back in ’89. Some of the ones I’ve been involved in were great as well. Anything with the Rock n Roll Express, like their scaffold match against the Road Warriors. There’s a bunch of them so it’s hard to pick out my favorites after all this time. They were all great if I was involved. (Laughs)
Mandatory: I don’t think people realized how innovative you guys were in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. It was the launching point for so many careers and you guys pushed the boundaries with gimmicks as well. Do you think the industry gives you the credit for that?
Jim: Probably not. (Laughs)
Mandatory: You guys were doing things that others didn’t do until years after.
Jim: We were in the middle of a wrestling recession at that point and nobody was doing very well. You know, the steroid trial with Vince and WCW being mismanaged really hurt. At the same time, I’m glad I gave it a shot. I don’t want to do it today because I’m too old. I can’t deal with all that aggravation anymore.
Mandatory: Would you ever get back into it?
Jim: I’m only going to visit. I’m not going to live there.