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  • ITR On The Go: The New NWA Could Learn from Its Predecessor

    Photo by HighSpots.com

    This January, the NWA World Heavyweight Title turns 65. When Orville Brown defeated Sonny Myers to win the belt for its initial run, it’s hard to believe that the men involved would have thought the belt they were dueling over would go on to to have an almost uninterrupted lineage (and none at all until 1994, more on that in a second) and become arguably the most important title in the history of the sport.

    My how times have changed.

    The NWA Title is all but dead, the concept all but buried. Only in the world of professional wrestling–where basic economic principles are seemingly turned on their heads–could this have possibly happened. In theory, the NWA title should at least be competing for the honor of being the World’s second most important title–behind the WWE and possibly NJPW titles–and should be lending itself a group of increasingly strong promotions, not increasingly fractured ones.

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  • ITR On the Go: Heck in a Kitty Carrier and Survivor Series is Big Again

    Alright. So nobody was expecting any bleeding, and “Heck in a Kitty Carrier” is taking it a bit far. Fine. On to the big picture.

    Pay-per-views are weird things. Sometimes, a great one never really seems to get its due recognition (Wrestlemania 2 comes to mind). Other times, one gets embraced as being good, even though other people can’t really seem to understand why (pick any Spring Stampede you want). But, if you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible to put together a solid show, with good matches top-to-bottom, and accomplish nearly everything you needed to, without leaving people unsatisfied, yet still have the show be difficult to get through, congratulations! Hell in a Cell 2012 shows that is possible.

    Let’s start with the little matches. All the matches were solid, even that Divas Division match. Kaitlyn really stood out as an improved wrestler, and Eve kept the belt–a move that seems for the best for now.

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  • ITR On the Go: October is TNA-WWE Comparison Month

    Last week, I sat down late in the evening on a Sunday and wrote a column following TNA’s Bound for Glory for this spot. While I’m happier to be writing earlier this week, in all honesty, I’ll be sitting down at about 10pm local time again next week to write a column centered around the upcoming Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The time I start writing is about the only thing those columns will probably have in common because the contrast between Bound for Glory and Hell in a Cell is staggering when you think about it, even from the perspective of a wrestling column.

    Think about it: Last week, I was writing about one of the important promotions in the United States’ biggest show of the year. TNA should have put out its best possible matchups, had its biggest crowd, and heard its most vocal fans of the year. It should have felt like a major event–and sometimes it did.

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  • ITR on the Go: TNA is Bound For…Something Anyway

    If you’re trying to grade a pay-per-view, there are two ways you need to look at the event.

    The first way is to look at the event as a stand-alone, individual occurrence with no bearing on the past or future. Look at the matches and promos for what they are, and look to see if the crowd is hot or not. You ask if the matches would have made sense if they were someone’s first exposure to the company. Does the event, stripped of outside meaning and context, work well overall–or at least more often than not? Does the company in question display at least a rudimentary sense of backstage technological sensibility, thus allowing us viewers to focus on the match and the crowd instead of peripheral things? (For your information, despite the fact that I’m a total mark for what they theoretically stand for, Ring of Honor has yet to get full marks for that last one.)

    Getting positive answers to those questions is a sign that–at the very least–the show in question wasn’t a complete disaster. By and large, TNA did that. As a stand-alone event that was completely independent from everything else, Bound For Glory wasn’t a bad little show. Sure, the crowd died for a little while and there were a few hiccups when it came to psychology, but I never found myself questioning the spending of my time on the show despite my panning of the Tenay-Taz booth for all three hours on Twitter. (A brief aside: Tenay and Taz are an undeniably and unforgivably horrible broadcast team. Taz in particular has no place in a booth.) By and large, it was three hours of reasonably solid matches…and something involving Al Snow and a retro porn star.

    The second way you need to look at things is in a broader sense. Look at the past and toward the future and ask if what you watched made sense. Do the matches–and the event itself–feel as big as they were supposed to feel? Does the company appear to be headed in a positive or negative direction? Were the ideas presented fresh, or at least exciting re-makes? Are your company’s important slots in good hands? Was this, in the broader and more complicated picture, a good event?

    It’s there that I think my colleagues and I start to differ. It wasn’t a bad show, but it was a letdown with some questionable decisions which should make any objective observer question what exactly it is that TNA plans to do going forward. Yes, as stand-alone events the matches were solid. Ten years from now someone might even pop this into their DVD player to introduce someone to wrestling and actually succeed in making them like it. But for us big picture folks, this event just didn’t live up to the hype or deliver the kind of breakthrough moments we keep waiting for TNA to have.

    If you were looking for a grade from me, I’d say it could probably range anywhere from a 75-80 out of 100 depending on how generous you want to be and what you plan on scoring. Like I said, despite my sardonic commentary throughout the night this wasn’t a bad little show. But this column isn’t about giving TNA a grade on a pay-per-view. This is about TNA not treating their supposed answer to Wrestlemania like it is an answer to Wrestlemania; this is about TNA making the same mistake with its primary title that it has made time after time after time.

    Regardless of how one feels about hardcore matches (I don’t), you’ll be hard-pressed to make the argument that they don’t take a lot out of a crowd. Roode-Storm was no exception to this principle. While that’s not a problem in-and-of-itself, the rest of the show was allowed to plod along while while the then dead crowd contributed to it not feeling like the company’s biggest event of the year. Sure, some of that is out of the company’s hands, but Roode-Storm was the third match on a card that opened with RVD challenging and defeating Zema Ion for the X-Division title, and Magnus challenging, but losing to, Samoa Joe for the television title. (Aside: Isn’t the point of a Television title that it is defended on Television?) Surely they could have spaced the better matches out to give people time to breathe. That’s not me being a nitpick, that’s Card Building 101.

    It’s a shame that happened too, because while I have problems with the Aces & 8’s angle, the reveal of Devon as a figure within the group should have elicited more than the tepid gasp it got. Even the smartest of the Smarks should have at least given polite applause to TNA for keeping something fairly under wraps. That sort of leads into the problem of what TNA plans to do long term, because there are concerns that should arise with this new reveal.

    So Devon is the leader of the group–or at least is a power figure within it. What’s the payoff? Is it Devon versus Bully Ray? Does Sting somehow factor in at the end? It wouldn’t be out of the question for that to happen. But the reaction is “so what” no matter what. Just as importantly, when is the final payoff for all this? Logically it’s next year’s BFG, but that’s a long way off for three guys whose combined average age is almost 45. In the mean time, what happens from here? Is Aces and 8’s going to run out of control from a creative standpoint?  I, for one, fear it will. This whole thing feels too nWo-ish for me. And how do you keep the angle going for a year?

    And why did everybody play so nice in a no disqualification format? Yeah yeah, suspension of disbelief and all that jazz, but I’m not saying the Aces should have showed up with shotguns either. It’s No DQ and if you lose you’re “gone.” Break counts, use weapons–hell, if you watched the matches before yours you’d know they were available to you–don’t just stand around and hope something good happens for you. The Aces seemed to spend a lot of time doing that. Why show up to a match with no rules if you plan to spend the whole night following them?

    If there was ever a pay-per-view that shouldn’t leave people asking all these questions, it’s your promotion’s premiere event of the year. I’m not against a big reveal at your biggest show, but the questions I’m asking border on being basic procedural stuff. And while I shouldn’t be able to predict what’s going to happen step-for-step, I should at least be able to say “Ah, okay, I have (compelling angle 1 and 2) to look forward to now!”

    But speaking of basic procedural stuff, we get to what really soured the show for me: The Main Event.

    Much like the rest of the show, the match was great as a stand-alone event with no implications to the future, nor any past fears to dig up. If it was just a one-off event that happened independently, it was actually a really great match. I’m saying this even though I still see absolutely no wrestling skills in Jeff Hardy’s possession, or even a reason to be interested in him for that matter. He’s wrestling’s answer to the Mexican Jumping Bean, and I commend Austin Aries for getting an otherwise really good match out of him…it…whatever.

    Still, this makes the second time in three years that Hardy has won the TNA WHC at BFG. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine he’s staying clean and he definitely hasn’t remained uninjured, or under contract, or even interested in wrestling. Hardy isn’t only older, he has harder miles on his body and at the end of the day has never been someone whom could be trusted to have a company built around them. He’s definitely over with a lot of people, but that should tell you something when someone so over still gets shoved aside by an even bigger promotion with a more driving need for that sort of thing.

    Seriously, four years (ish) ago, Vince McMahon sat down and said something to the extent of “Jeff, you’re really over and we almost don’t even have to try to make gobs of money off you. But we’re going to go with four other people: a guy who can’t even get over in his hometown, a former reality tv personality with almost no wrestling background, CM Punk, and something my son-in-law calls Sheamus. I don’t know. Anyway, good luck doing your painting or whatever.”

    Meanwhile, Austin Aries got the call to be Ring of Honor Champion as it made its initial move to television and held the belt during what was arguably its most successful period to date. And while I can’t truthfully say that I know for sure why he left Ring of Honor, if I said “Ring of Honor is kind of cheap” none of you would really call me on it either.

    The match was a microcosm of the entire night if you think about it. Fun to watch in isolation, painful when you begin realizing what it all means.

    I sure hope TNA knows what they’re doing. It would be nice to have them prove me wrong for once.

    Quick Hits

    – During my live tweeting of the show I took some shots at the laughable TNA Hall of Fame video package with sting. This got me called out by wrestler Joey Image. The conversation went as follows…(edited only to remove superfluous Twitter things)

    Me: “When I was a kid I dreamed of being in front of tens of thousands of people.” – Sting. Not all dreams come true.

    Image: did WCW not draw tens of thousands?

    Me: Numbers vary, but WCW was lucky to get 15k at a ppv. at best, that’s “ten of thousand.”

    Image: He didn’t specify “at a PPV”. He just said “in front of”, and that dream came true.

    I didn’t really have the space to respond on Twitter, so I’ll do it here.

    Fine, Joey, I concede your point. In a mindbogglingly reductionist world you’ve managed to split a microscopic semantic hair with me and sort of eek out a philosophical victory. Never mind that even in the world of professional sports broadcasting the phrase “in front of the crowd” almost always refers specifically to the on-location attendance. Never mind that ten year old Sting couldn’t have even been aware of the concept of being viewed on a pay-per-view or closed circuit television format in someone’s home. (PPV wouldn’t even become a recognizable and sustainable technology until 1980, by which point Sting was around age 21 and CCTV never caught on as a method for home viewing.) And speaking of ten year old Sting, never mind that no ten year old has ever thought in such broad platitudes.

    Actually, I don’t concede that point. You’re humorless.

    – It will be really interesting to see how guys get time distributed on Raw tonight. I say this because of something we sort of touched on during ITR last week, but didn’t really get into a whole lot.

    Based on last week’s numbers, Vince knows the following things: 1. Ratings were up once he came into the picture. 2. These were the ratings which were up during CM Punk’s time. 3. John Cena seemed to have no impact on ratings, but that could be a red herring because of when Cena’s airtime was.

    Vince and crew will need to see if they can find tangible evidence of who does and does not impact ratings the most. That will dictate a lot of what is going to happen between HIAC and the Rumble, and by proxy Wrestlemania.

    – I’m getting really, really tired of all these Steve Austin comeback rumors. Please…for the love of Jesus…stop.

    Thoughts Completely Unrelated to Wrestling

    – Nice to see the Packers get back on track, at least for a week.

    – Thank God I’m not a big UFC fan because I could never do those late pay-per-views.

    – “People of the CTA” is an interesting Facebook Page. While I will absolutely deny your friend request if you find me, you should check it out anyway.

    I <3 The 80’s Song of the Week

    “Golden Brown” – The Stranglers

    Ray Bogusz is the co-host of the In The Room Show and a syndicated wrestling columnist. You can reach him via his Twitter @RayITR. To get his column on your website, email intheroompodcast@gmail.com.

  • ITR On the Go: When Undertaker Returns, There is Only One Feud He Should Want

    Photo by WWE

    About a month ago, in my monthly column for The Color Commentator, I made a passing comment that the Big Show had done something I’d thought wouldn’t happen: He completed the Grand Slam by winning the Intercontinental championship in April. I realize that that’s an odd way to start off a column that features the Undertaker in the title, but I’ll get to that.

    At some point, the Undertaker is going to come back to WWE. It may not be until November—it might not even be until January—but at some point this winter, Undertaker is going to come back to the ring. That’s just what he does. That’s just how his schedule works. And because he’s Undertaker—because he’s pretty much done it all and been one of the all time greats—he can do that; for better or worse—right or wrong—we’re going to watch.

    We’re going to watch because the Undertaker is one of those transcendental stars—like Savage or Sammartino—who will be looked at decades later as being one of those who reached a level of greatness unattainable to nearly all wrestlers. But we’re not going to get anything out of it.

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  • WWE’s Market Oversaturation Leaves Nobody in a Good Spot

    Hi I’m from WWE, and I’d like a minute of your time. Actually, I’d like between 510 and 690 minutes of your time depending on if this is a pay-per-view weekend or not. You see, we’ve added more programming to our already staggering air block—even though our entire experiment where we made Raw three hours long seems to be a miserable failure. Our ratings are slumping and we need eyeballs. So why not invest a little time in our product; you are a fan, aren’t you?

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  • For WWE, Tag Teams May Be Future and Refresh Pay-Per-Views

    An interesting conversation broke out on Twitter this Saturday night. In the midst of  UFC 152, people started talking about pay-per-view oversaturation. It’s not a problem unique to one promotion, and it’s not an opinion held by a scant few people. There has been a vocal contingent for years decrying the continued devaluing of pay-per-views as they appear more and more frequently. I’m among them, and I thanked those who started the conversation for proving I’m not alone or crazy–I’ve been saying this for years. This isn’t a column about UFC though; it’s a column about pro wrestling.

    Criticisms of WWE come and go, and by and large they tend to fade over time and re-appear with astounding, clockwork like precision. Whether it’s the ability to develop talent, the PG or Not-So-PG nature of the content, selection of champions, or any of the other litany of grievances typically leveled against the premiere wrestling promotion on this planet, we tend to pick and choose which ones to focus on in an alternating rotation.

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  • WWE’s Lack of Direction with Ziggler is Disservice to Entire Roster

    Photo by WWE

    Being Dolph Ziggler must be interesting.

    On one hand, you’re constantly being featured against other current top of the card talents. You can read just about any wrestling publication in the world and see stories about how you’re an underutilized talent and that you’re one of the guys WWE needs to guarantee its future dominance. You are told you are world caliber talent, even though you once were part of the Spirit Squad.

    These kinds of positive sentiments regarding Ziggler are espoused frequently and found everywhere. Some of them are even signed with my name.

    However, on the other hand, if you’re Ziggy, you’ve had the Money in the Bank briefcase for months and been given precisely squat to do with it. You’ve never held the WWE Championship and your only World Heavyweight Championship reign lasted an underwhelming nine-ish minutes before dropping it right back to Edge in a title-switcharoo angle that made no sense to anybody *with* sense. You get prime slots on television, but let’s face it: When pay-per-view time rolls around, you’re going to lose.

    Sometimes, in column writing, you’re better served beating around the bush a bit to draw readers in. Not today.

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  • TWD Inside the Wrestler’s Studio: ITWS: Why Jerry Lawler Should Win the WWE Championship

    By this time next year, Jerry “The King” Lawler should have a reign as WWE Champion under his belt.

    That’s a weird idea, isn’t it? In an era where there’s so much emphasis on making new stars and building up the next generation of talent, it would seem counterproductive to put the company’s most prestigious championship on a 62-year-old Hall of Famer who’s spent most of his WWE career at the announce position instead of the ring.  Nevertheless, it should happen. Putting the title on Lawler gives WWE a chance to tell a story that’s not only compelling, but also inspiring and heart warming.

    Despite being an announcer first, Lawler has always had a presence in the ring during his WWE career. Over the last 15 years or so that presence has increased and decreased depending on story lines, roster depth, and whether a young talent could benefit from working with him. Only recently have we seen him lock up with main eventers like the Miz and CM Punk. Lawler even challenged Miz for the WWE Championship on his 61st birthday in November 2010, then again at the Elimination Chamber pay per view the following February. And of course, his lengthy feud with Michael Cole made for some memorable and even emotional television, if not a fantastic pay per view match.

    What this has all equated to is a gradual shift in the way fans have been trained to perceive Lawler. Three or four years ago, putting the title on Lawler would have been a cheap stunt to get some quick attention from old school wrestling fans. Now? You can certainly argue that it would still be a stunt, but it would also be the fruit bore from a seed planted and nourished over the course of several years. From a mark’s perspective, Lawler winning the title would still be a long shot, but it’s not nearly as far fetched as it was a few years ago.

    Mind you, it can’t happen any time soon. CM Punk’s reign as WWE Champion needs to last through the year at the very least. My assumption is that he’s going to drop the belt to The Rock at the Royal Rumble, then we’ll see Cena take it at Wrestlemania. I’m thinking some time in the summer of 2014. Assuming Cena is still the all America hero at that point, you probably don’t want him to be the one Lawler beats. These days the King’s old school wrestling persona works best when it’s matched against a conceited, disrespectful villain who can cut scathing promos. That makes CM Punk the most likely candidate for the job, but we shouldn’t forget guys like Alberto Del Rio, the Miz or even Wade Barrett. Lawler could also be put into a multi-man title match, which would allow the creative team some leeway in terms of having him beat a current superstar.

    "Did anyone else pick 'He Hate Me' in the first round of this year's fantasy football draft?"

    But man, oh man…what a moment it would be. Fans have a much more personal connection with Jerry Lawler than they have with any other wrestler, because he spends most of his television time indirectly talking to them via the announce position. He’s been with us for so many amazing, memorable, funny, and even tragic moments. When Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Batista won their first WWE Championships, he was there with us. When Mick Foley flew off the cage, he was there with us. When we mourned the loss of Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, he was there with us. Consider how many times we’ve invited him into our homes over the years. We know him so personally that to see him with the WWE Championship would almost be like seeing a brother or an uncle win it.

    Having Lawler hold the title would also give the image-conscious and kid-friendly WWE a nice inspirational human interest story to feed to the press. A 60-something-year-old wrestler wins the big title after over 40 years in the business? That’s PR gold, right there.

    Lawler obviously wouldn’t be a long term champion. Give him a month with the title, at most. But it has to be the WWE Championship, or more accurately, whichever title is associated with Monday Night Raw. They can’t chicken out and make him the Smackdown champ. No disrespect to Smackdown. But if they’re going to do this, they have to go all out.

    Clearly, Lawler isn’t a saint. He’s had his issues over the years, mostly with women. But can you honestly tell me that after all these years, and all he’s done for the business, that he doesn’t deserve it? Imagine the crowd reaction. Imagine Lawler’s reaction! Think of the raw emotion that it would emit from all parties involved. It could very well go down in history as one of the most touching moments in WWE history. Would it fit in with the company’s youth movement? No. Would it make for some interesting television and a great story? Absolutely.

    Rob Siebert was the Associate Deputy Chief of Breaking News and Noteworthy Events for the website formerly known as The Wrestling Daily. These days he is part of the “brain trust” over at PrimaryIgnition.com.

  • JJ Dillon: The TWD Interview

    As one of the most iconic figures in the history of professional wrestling, legendary manager J.J. Dillon has experienced just about everything that the business has to offer.  Whether he was in front of the crowds and cameras as manager of Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen, or he was working behind the scenes at WCW and WWF during the legendary Monday Night Wars, J.J. Dillon set an industry standard for the pop culture phenomenon known as sports entertainment.

    Although officially retired from wrestling since February 2003, J.J. still makes occasional appearances with independent wrestling organizations from time to time, including Chikara and Ring of Honor.  He recently published Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon (Crowbar Press, 2005) which chronicles his experiences in the world of professional wrestling.

    J.J. Dillon generously agreed to participate in an interview for The Wrestling Daily to share a little about his celebrated past and his current endeavors.

    Mike Bessler, September 2009

    TWD:  J.J., your book Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls is truly an impressive undertaking.  Not only is the book packed with candid and insightful recollections of your decades in the business, but you’ve also included a wealth of great photos from your personal archives.  Please tell us a little about the writing process for the project and how it felt to look back through time at your distinguished career.

    JJ:  I was introduced to Scott Teal by a close friend in the business.  I had given passing thought about someday writing my memoirs, but never gave it serious thought until meeting Scott.  The whole process took almost a year.  We spent months recording extensive phone interviews.

    I had kept detailed daily journals from the beginning of my career which gave us a documented basis from which to touch on details of each venue in the various territories I worked including the names of the wrestlers I worked with.  Scott had our phone conversations transcribed by Philip Varriale, and Phil injected additional information about my career that added more depth to the final draft.

    Scott broke my life story into chapters to make it easier to read, and added photos from my personal collection and photos of other wrestlers to coincide with references to specific individuals.  (Scott Teal is a gifted author and a respected wrestling historian.)  My story was told with brutal honesty including a hard look in the mirror at my own strengths and shortcomings.

    I am very proud of the book.  It has been very well received by all those that have read it.  It is not available in book stores and you can only get a copy through www.jjdillon.com (or Crowbar Press), or at one of my personal appearances.  I try to attend Cauliflower Alley Club each year, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame functions, and at any other appearances, and I always try to carry a few books with me.  For copies ordered through my website, I continue to sign (and personalize, if requested) the book at no additional charge as my way of saying thanks to all that have picked up my book.

    J.J. Dillon, November, 1975; Image credit: J.J. Dillon

    TWD:  In the process of delving into such a vast array of material, were there any “time capsule” moments in which you unearthed a particular memory or two that had been long forgotten?  How did it feel to revisit some of the more difficult times in your career, such as your personal disputes with folks like Dusty Rhodes and Vince McMahon?

    JJ:  When I sat down in one-on-one exchange with Scott, as I reflected back I did tend to remember specific dates or matches in great detail.  In real time, one is often so busy wrapped up in the moment that one doesn’t appreciate the significance or impact of what is taking place.  As Scott and I discussed the whole of my career, I found that I did develop a greater appreciation for certain highlights of my career that I had never focused on before.  I realized just how lucky and blessed I had been.  I had a lot of help from many people along the journey and I felt it was important to acknowledge that help and I tried to thank each individual by name.

    I’m glad you asked about Dusty Rhodes.  I’d like to set the record straight.  In Seagulls, I did say that I often found it difficult working with Dusty at times over the years because of his intense ego.  I still stand by what I said.  However, it would be wrong to characterize our relationship as a personal dispute ever at any time.  To the contrary, Dusty was very kind to me and to this day I respect and admire Dusty.  I want it known that I acknowledge my gratitude to “The Dream” and I attribute a large part of the success I enjoyed at the peak of my career to the opportunities available to me from working with Dusty.   I have also come to understand that the ego is a big part of what has made Dusty an icon in the wrestling business.  It is an essential part of the make- up of “The American Dream.” I consider Dusty a friend.

    As for Vince McMahon; though at the time we parted company in 1996, our individual emotions were charged and intense, I don’t harbor any ill-feeling towards Vince.  I appreciated that I was asked to participate in the WWE Horsemen DVD; that I was invited to the Flair retirement celebration on RAW in Orlando following the Flair-Michaels match (and I wrote Vince a personal letter congratulating him and the WWE for a job well done for Flair, and for inviting me to be a part of it); and that I was invited to participate in two recent taped sessions of the WWE Legends of Wrestling Roundtable that took place in Stamford.  I guess time does soothe old wounds.

    TWD:  You’re best known for your work with The Four Horsemen through Jim Crockett Productions and NWA, but in the mid 1980s, you also did some work in the Memphis/CWA territory.  I recently revisited some of the promos you shot for the old Championship Wrestling show in which you dish out some serious verbal abuse at Jerry Lawler and his devoted fans.  You brought every last bit of your signature style and swagger to the Memphis territory and the fans seemed to respond well to your personality and presence.  How much input and influence did you have on the creative process when you crossed over into Memphis and other productions and territories?

    J.J. captures the International Heavyweight Championship, May 1984; Image credit: J.J. Dillon

    JJ:  My role as Leader of The Four Horsemen was certainly the pinnacle of my career, but also just a snapshot of my career.  Remember, I had over 3000 wrestling matches throughout my career.  I had a great time the first time I appeared in Memphis at the studio with Lance Russell.

    As is often the case with special moments in one’s career, it came about through a series of events.  Lawler had worked a big show in Florida and faced Kendo Nagasaki for the Southern Title, and I managed Kendo at the time.  Business was so-so in Memphis at that time, and Lawler had the Florida match with Kendo taped to air on Memphis TV.  Kendo and I stole the title from Lawler and a return match was ordered for Memphis.  I was asked to do a promo for Kendo for the Memphis rematch, but I didn’t appear myself.

    It jumped the house significantly in Memphis and I think that Kendo and Lawler ended up getting three matches out of the deal.  Each week I got a call in Florida to do just one more promo for Memphis.  Lawler eventually took back the Southern Championship, and Jerry Jarrett wondered why they hadn’t created their own Kendo-like character.  Kimala the Ugandan Giant was born.

    Again, I was asked to cut a promo for someone I had never met or seen since it was a natural transition from Kendo.  The new character continued to grow in Memphis as did my mystique.  The fans started asking when they were going to see me in person in Memphis (remember, this is all before cable television changed the landscape).  Arrangements were made with the Florida office for me to be booked a few dates in Memphis.  My first appearance was the Memphis TV, and how could I miss with a front-story like mine prior to showing up?  Jerry Jarrett gave me free reign, and the rest is history.

    TWD:  The Memphis/CWA area was a hotbed of pro wrestling in the late 1970s and early 1980s and an impressive roster of heel managers left their mark on the region during that period.  From Jimmy Hart to Tux Newman to Angelo Poffo, some of the biggest and best names in the business did their share of memorable work in Memphis.  Did you feel like you had to work harder to draw in the fans or did your reputation already generate a fair amount of heat for you?

    JJ:  As I already indicated, my work on the promos I cut from Florida for Kendo and for Kimala spoke for itself.  You hear people say that they were in the right place at the right time and then capitalized on the opportunity.  That is what happened with me in Memphis.  I had a blast in Memphis, helped draw a few bucks and I was treated with the utmost respect and professionalism. They took good care of me.  Jimmy Hart was there at the time and he briefly formed an unholy alliance with Jerry Lawler and Jimmy and I worked against each other a few times.  Jimmy is a great talent and he went on to bigger and better things and is a credit to our business.

    TWD:  In your book, you mention that the last time you spoke or corresponded with Vince McMahon was prior to your departure from WW(E) in 1996.  Was it a difficult decision to return to a WWE ring for Ric Flair’s farewell show in 2008?

    JJ:  It was not a difficult decision at all for me.  I did say in my book that I would never again work for the WWF (now WWE), or for Vince.

    For me personally, I see a distinction between appearing at the Flair farewell celebration (or to appearing on the WWE Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen DVD, or participating in the Legends of Wrestling Roundtable) and becoming to a full-time employee of the company (or a consultant, etc., on any basis).  In fairness, I should make it clear that I have never had an offer or any type of overture for any type of employment from the WWE, nor do I ever expect any.  I would never consider going back, so my feelings remain the same as they were in 1996.

    I am not splitting hairs, and I’m not trying to search for some basis to justify my recent decisions.  I knew that I owed it to my fellow Horsemen and to all the fans that supported me so well throughout my career, to put any personal feelings from the past aside and to do what was right for the business.

    TWD:  Your book also provides a candid look at some of the most infamous debacles in the history of pro wrestling, such as the 1998 “Road Wild” main event which involved the ill-conceived showdown between industry superstar Hulk Hogan and talk show host Jay Leno.  You described this moment as “the beginning of the end” and “a sad day for the wrestling business.” With the recent introduction of regular “guest hosts” on Monday Night Raw, WWE has seemingly resurrected the idea of integrating celebrities into the wrestling world and a good deal of these appearances involve some degree of physical interaction with wrestlers as a kind of impromptu, on-the-fly booking.  Has WWE learned from the mistakes of Bischoff and WCW or are they simply repeating a regrettable chapter in sports entertainment?

    JJ:  I don’t agree with a lot of the things Vince has done and the direction he has taken the wrestling business, but I also cannot ignore his success.  The problem as I see it is that once you go down a certain road, you can’t reverse and pretend you were never there.  I refer to the use and treatment of females, the all too frequent changes in title holders (as often as two or three times in the period of one show), and the emphasis on being perceived as purely sports entertainment.

    If you acknowledge that everything is scripted, and if you show that the title (any title) no longer has any real meaning, how can you expect me to get emotionally involved in who is to be the winner of a title match when you’ve already demonstrated that the title itself doesn’t mean anything anyway?  What are they fighting for, and why?

    TWD:  I recently spoke with someone who had the pleasure to meet you while working an indy show a short time ago and he was thoroughly impressed with your warmth and professionalism.  He said that you went around the locker room and personally greeted each and everyone there, suggesting that your genuine interest in talent and staff is uncommon in the business today.  Do you feel like you have a distinct or unique philosophy when it comes to pro wrestling?  Who were your most important influences in the area of business relations and behind-the-scenes work?

    JJ:  I don’t know that I have a distinct or unique philosophy about professional wrestling, but I do have a distinct appreciation for how I got to where I am today.  The purpose of doing this interview is not to sell my book, but you really have to read my life story from beginning to end to understand where I’m coming from.

    I was never the biggest or the best, but no one wanted it more than I did or was willing to work any harder than I did.  Even with hard work and dedication, I had the benefit of a lot of help from lots of people throughout my career.  Please find a copy of my book even if you borrow a copy from a friend.  I owe so much to so many.  I’m hesitant to start listing names, because I can’t begin to list them all.  They are listed in my book.  You also have to be lucky, and I was often fortunate enough to be the right place at the right time.  I also owe the fans everything.  Wrestling fans are the best fans in the world, and the most loyal.

    Whatever success I’ve enjoyed in the wrestling business, I owe first and foremost to the fans that supported me and supported professional wrestling throughout my career.

    Happy in retirement, December 2004; Image credit: J.J. Dillon

    TWD:  You seem to be very happy in your retirement, devoting as much time as possible to your children and grandchildren.  But wrestling fans always enjoy seeing you back inside the squared circle and we’re always eager for the next chapter in your storied career to unfold.  What can we look forward to in the coming months and years from the magnificent mind of J.J. Dillon?

    JJ:  I have slowed down a little bit.  I look back on the era of the Horsemen and the lifestyle, and I wonder how did I do it?  I had full, left-knee replacement two years ago.  A year ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  It was detected very early, I had excellent treatment and today I am cancer free.

    I continue to work full-time for the State of Delaware.  I am active in Cauliflower Alley Club and again this year I will be the MC (along with Terry Funk) for the awards banquet in Las Vegas in April.  I am on the board of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, NY.  We have our annual induction (the 11th) coming up in early June of 2010.

    The PWHF is an amazing place.  Just as every baseball fan must someday make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown, every true wrestling fan owes it to his or herself to make a similar pilgrimage to Amsterdam to see pro-wrestling’s only true brick and mortar Hall of Fame.  I don’t have the words to describe it; you must see it for yourself. (If you go to www.jjdillon.com you will find convenient links to CAC and PWHF.)

    I am also scheduled to appear at WrestleReunion 4 in Los Angeles the last weekend in January of 2010.  I also look forward to the NWA Legends FanFest presented by Greg Price in Charlotte.  I believe it is the first weekend in August. The Original Four Horsemen were all together this year in Charlotte and the turn-out and response was overwhelming.  What an event!  You never know when I may show up at one of the local events.  Life is good for J. J. Dillon.  I am blessed and I have much to be thankful for.

    Please visit J.J. Dillon’s personal homepage to read more about his life and work.  JJ. Is also available to be booked for personal appearances and he can be contacted through his official website.  His book Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon is available for purchase through Crowbar Press for $25 plus shipping.

    (This article was originally published under the title, “Riding Shotgun with the Four Horsemen:  TWD Interviews J.J. Dillon.” Minor revisions were made for publication on thebradyhicks.com.)

    Mike Bessler was a co-founder of The Wrestling Daily. Like JJ Dillon, Mike has much to be thankful for.