The legendary Jim Cornette considers himself among the biggest pro wrestling fans in the world.
That is why the outspoken figure will fit well with fellow longtime pillars of the industry and others who come from all over to attend the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend in August in Charlotte.
The Midnight Express manager is bringing his new book “Rags, Paper and Pins the Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling.” The project was done in collaboration with Mark James of the MemphisWresltingHistory.com website.
“I love wrestling,” Cornette said. “Its sports entertainment that makes me want to tear my freakin’ hair out, and I don’t have enough of it to tear out. The wrestling business is gone, and I’ve finally come to terms with that. Whatever it is they try to call, they don’t even try to call it wrestling any more. TNA tries to call it wrestling. Vince [McMahon] calls it sports entertainment. After you’ve parodied something so long, nobody can ever take it seriously again.
“I mean look what Dave Chappelle did for Rick James with the whole, ‘I’m Rick James, *****!’ Now every time somebody thinks of Rick James they don’t think about that cool king of that punk funk that had all the great outfits in the 1970s. They think of Dave Chappelle going, ‘I’m Rick James, *****!’”
For Cornette, the damage to the business has been done, and there is no turning back.
“It can never be taken seriously after you’ve parodied something for so long,” Cornette said. “Now when the guys break into the business, they think they’re experts because they’ve read about everything on the Internet before they ever had gone to wrestling school. The fans think they’re all experts because they’ve watched all the shoot interviews and read everything on the Internet, so they can pick apart how people that have been in the business 20 or 30 years are doing wrong.
“It’s almost impossible to have anybody take anything seriously anymore. So I’m the biggest wrestling fan in the world, but for my own mental sanity had to come to terms that wrestling is gone and not able to come back. I’m not going to be able to single-handedly save it because what I would do is kill myself in the process. So I choose now to be a wrestling fan and do cool books and publications for wrestling fans like the ones at the Fanfest in Charlotte.”
Cornette enjoys going to conventions as a guest and a fan, whether it be for wrestling, comics or horror.
“I had a huge thrill where I really went back to my mark days,” Cornette said. “Do you know who Felix Silla? Felix Silla is the midget who played Cousin It on ‘The Addams Family.’ It turns out he is a wrestling fan because he started in showbiz as a circus acrobat midget. He is like 75 now, and he came up to me and got a copy of my book. We exchanged autographs. So I can die happy now that Cousin It is a fan of mine.”
Cornette is excited about heading to Charlotte again for the Fanfest, which is celebrating 30 years of the Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, Stan Lane and Cornette) and Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson). They are all being inducted into the 2013 Hall of Heroes. The Midnight Express corner man felt the two teams clicked right away in their first match.
“It was on Mid-South Television at the first part of 1984, when we had first gotten there, and the Rock-n-Roll was there after the talent trade in Tennessee. They basically decided to put us on TV for about six or seven minutes to see what would happen. Then Nikolai Volkoff and Krusher Kruschev ran in and interrupted it, so there was no finish.”
The history between the rivals dates even further.
“We had known Ricky and Robert from the Tennessee days for years,” Cornette said. “I knew Ricky before he actually started wrestling because he was the son of Paul Morton, an old referee here for 100 years. I met Robert when he was 18. We had almost grown up around each other. So the guys just got out there [in their first encounter] and for six or seven minutes the people were screaming and were on their feet because they never stopped moving.
“It was boom, boom, boom. Bobby, at that time, was a greyhound, and his bumps were amazing. Dennis was the general, and Ricky could sell, and Robert had the fire of a blast furnace. It was just amazing. As soon as we came back, everyone was saying that’s going to be the program.”
Looking back, the Louisville native says they didn’t know how big it was going to be at that point. It was their natural chemistry that led to their success. They created tag team wrestling magic together.
Cornette said: “Bobby and Dennis had never, even though we had all known each other, teamed up together, even though they worked in the same territories for years. They were always opponents. Ricky and Robert, even though they had been in Tennessee for years, Robert had been partners with his brother, Ricky Gibson.
“Ricky Morton had been partners with other people, until I believe March of 1983 when they put them together as the Rock-n-Roll Express. When they got a chance to be the team, they just blossomed. That was the first match we ever had, but as soon as we had it, we knew it was going to be as good as we thought it was going to be.”
Even though there have been some bright spots, tag team wrestling isn’t what it used to be. Cornette attributes Vince McMahon and WWE as a factor in why this type of action isn’t given the attention it deserves.
“Vince doesn’t like tag team wrestling, so if the industry leader doesn’t feature tag team wrestling then everybody else follows suit,” Cornette said. “Vince wants everybody to be an individual star. Going back to the days when you were a tag team and you decided you wanted to leave the territory, you left together. That’s what Midnight and I did all the time we were together.
“Now with contracts, if you are not signed at the same time, your partner may be under contract while you’re not. That’s why when Stan and I quit WCW, Bobby was still under contract. We all were, but we just quit, but we understood Bobby had three kids and a wife where as we didn’t. We just couldn’t put up with them anymore. So the contracts have partially given it a problem and also Vince not concentrating on tag team wrestling.”
With his experience observing and holding seminars, Cornette says tag team wrestling has become a lost art. This includes basic fundamentals of a tag team match such as building to a hot tag.
“Have you ever noticed during every WWE tag team match they beat one guy and one of the babyface guys up forever. Then suddenly something happens, and they make a simultaneous tag. Two new guys come in to start it over again,” Cornette said.
“You can’t stop other guys from doing that because they see it on TV, even though it is completely ****in’ stupid and wrong. Rip Rogers calls it ‘As seen on TV’, where they see it on TV and copy it, even though it is wrong…You don’t see real hot tags anymore because they don’t do that in WWE.
“Here is another thing they always see, which is completely ridiculous. The heels can’t feed the comeback. When the fresh babyface comes in from the tag the first thing you’re supposed to do is punch every opponent he has in a comeback. If you watch WWE, he just beats the guy in the ring. It used to drive me out of my mind all the time because that is the excitement of the tag team match.
“So between the industry leader not supporting tag team wrestling and nobody knowing how to do it anymore more and between trying to copy what is seen on TV, which is wrong and guys being able to travel with each other when they are partners tag team wrestling is dead, along with most other things about wrestling.”
Another aspect of tag team wrestling that has become the norm is breaking up duos before they get a chance to see if there is anything there long-term.
“Unless you are exceptional wrestlers and tag team wrestlers, you don’t get to be a good team for the first year,” Cornette said.
“…That’s the problem with wrestling as a whole. Everyone does the same thing. Everybody has been taught the same way. Everybody steals what they see on television or on independent shows and try to do one better. If he did 360, I’m going to do a 450. We could go on all day.”
Cornette says the business evolved into a game of can you top this, having dug itself into a hole because of it.
“There is also the chair thing,” Cornette said. “I remember in Ring of Honor about a year-and-a-half ago we had a deal where guys were supposed to come in and the babyfaces were supposed get revenge on getting beat to death by whacking the heels with chairs.
“There would be a big brawl and whatever. I think it was [Charlie] Hass and [Shelton] Benjamin. I think it as Hass and Benjamin that ended up beating the Briscoe Brothers with chairs, but also the entire web audience going, ‘How can they do this with what we know about concussions? How could they allow that?’
“The guys have ****ed themselves because for 50 years guys were hitting each other over the head with chairs and made it look good without hurting each other. Then suddenly, when that ECW horse **** came around, that was really the start of the ruination of the business 20 years ago. They thought to just hit each other over the head without putting their hands up and totally unprotected to show people how hardcore they are.
“In the process they not only gave each other concussions and brain damage, but also then the people are thinking, ‘Now we know what a real chair shot is like.’ They wouldn’t fall for the fake ones unless you were really good at it.
“Then if you do one that is really good and hit them over the head without hurting you, there is an outcry on the Internet a mile long that the promotion should be shut down for contributing to the brain damage to the wrestlers.
“Then in this bizarro world of logic, with the situation we as a wrestling company have to come out with a wrestling statement that they really didn’t hit each other. It’s so ****in’ stupid. Basically the Internet, Vince McMahon and ECW pretty much finished off the wrestling business. I’m a very logic-minded person. I like everything to have an explanation and make sense and everything to be neat and orderly.”
Cornette argues that there is not only a complete lack of logic these days, but corporate ownership has taken over.
“Business people don’t understand show business and vice versa,” Cornette said. “That don’t work…Also, when I talked to Vince Russo when he came up with the ‘Brawl for All’. I said, Let me get this straight. You have been spending the better part of two years trying to tell fans everything we are doing is completely phony, so now you are going to have the guys go out there to fight for real where nobody is going to believe it, but they’re still going to get hurt?
“For 75 years the object of professional wrestling was to simulate a fight and make it look as real as possible without actually hurting each other and the people believed it. Now the guys are really hitting each other and really hurting each other and nobody believes it. It overwhelmed me. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Catch the candid Cornette and a full lineup of wrestling stars Aug. 1-4 at the Hilton University Place in Charlotte for the Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest Weekend. Festivities include question-and-answer sessions, autograph signings, photo opportunities, karaoke, the Hall of Heroes, matches and more.
For information or to get your tickets, visit www.midatlanticlegends.com.
• Visit www.JimCornette.com , which is expected to be updated through the summer.
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