411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2008: Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette is a lot more than just the current Commissioner of TNA. He is even more than just one of the most famous managers in the history of professional wrestling. He has also made his mark as a booker, trainer, promoter, and is generally seen as one of the most knowledgeable people in the business. However, let us begin with his accomplishments as a manager.
He got his start in Memphis as a ringside photographer at shows his mother would drive him to from his home in Louisville. His work caught the attention of Jerry Jarrett, who had Cornette brought backstage one night so he could meet the young fan. Jarrett gave him his start as a performer by making him a manager and giving him the gimmick of a spoiled rich kid, and even though he was the second string heel manager behind Jimmy Hart, Cornette was immediately put in an enviable position as a rookie in the sport who was given the opportunity to work with not just Hart but also Jerry “The King” Lawler. During his time in Memphis, he managed such names as Sherri Martell, Dutch Mantell, and Crusher Broomfield, who would later go on to be known as the One Man Gang and Akeem.
However, Cornette’s story as a manager really began in 1983 when he moved to the Mid-South territory where Bill Watts put him together with the team of Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey as the Midnight Express. They quickly won the Mid-South Tag Team Title and began a famous feud with the Rock N Roll Express that produced some of the best tag team matches of the era. The feud between the two teams would continue off and on for many years and they would work one another in pretty much every territory they wound up in, and it’s a match that’s still being booked on Indy shows to this day. After Mid-South, they moved on to World Class Championship Wrestling, and though their stay was a short one, they did capture the World Class Tag Team Title and had another hot feud with the Fantastics. The matches with the Fantastics were so good that, according to Cornette, they started being put on at the end of the night after the Von Erichs because the matches got more heat than the Von Erichs, and there was no way the Von Erichs could follow them.
They left World Class and moved on to the NWA, where they would get the greatest exposure of their careers. The feud with the Rock N Roll Express lit up again, and the Midnight Express won the NWA World Tag Team Title from Ricky and Robert in 1985, and held the title for several months before dropping it back to the RNRs. From there they moved on to a feud with the Road Warriors that culminated in the infamous and incredibly dangerous Skywalker scaffold match at Starrcade 1986, during which Cornette legitimately blew out his knee when he took a tumble off the scaffold and his bodyguard Big Bubba Rogers wasn’t able to catch him properly. Things got worse from there as Dennis Condrey disappeared in 1987 with no notice or word of where he was going, he just didn’t show up to work one day and nobody knew where he went, leaving the Midnight Express one man short.
Bobby Eaton needed a new partner, and they ended up pairing him with Stan Lane and, for as good a team as Condrey and Eaton had been, Lane and Eaton perhaps meshed even better. They won the United States Tag Team Title and then defeated Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard for the World Tag Team Title in 1988, becoming the first team to hold both titles at the same time. They turned face for the first time when the Road Warriors turned heel and squashed them for the World Tag Team Title, after which they found themselves in a unique feud with the Original Midnight Express of the returning Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose (whom Condrey had teamed with before being put with Eaton), who were managed by Paul E Dangerously, a man whom Cornette would come to intensely dislike both in storylines and in real life. The feud produced some good matches and had some promise, but was prematurely killed when Condrey pulled another disappearing act, and Lane & Eaton won the feud when they defeated Rose and Jack Victory in a loser leaves town match.
They turned heel again after a short feud with the poorly conceived Dynamic Dudes and regained the US Tag Team Title shortly afterward. They lost the title to the Steiner Brothers, and Cornette and Lane left WCW shortly afterward due to problems with new WCW President Jim Herd. After a brief stop in the Global Wrestling Federation in Dallas, Cornette opened Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which was designed to be an old-school territory in a modern world of national TV promotions. A lot of future stars such as the Gangstas, Al Snow, Balls Mahoney, the Thrillseekers (Chris Jericho & Lance Storm), Chris Candido & Tammy Sytch, D’Lo Brown, and Brian Lee worked in SMW before going on to national fame elsewhere. Unfortunately, the territory didn’t take off as well as Cornette had hoped and was pretty much running in the red from day one, so Cornette signed a talent exchange deal with the WWF in order to try and salvage the situation. Cornette himself appeared in the WWF as part of the talent exchange, first managing the Heavenly Bodies in a feud with the Steiners before moving up and becoming the manager of WWF World Champion Yokozuna, the first and only World Champion Cornette ever managed. He would go on to manage Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith to the WWF World Tag Team Title as well, and also managed Vader to several high profile matches and PPV main events, including a WWF Title match against Shawn Michaels as Summerslam 1996. Later, he would manage a group of NWA wrestlers consisting of NWA Champion Dan Severn, Jeff Jarrett, Barry Windham and his old rivals the Rock N Roll Express in a short lived “NWA invasion” storyline that was probably most famous for tarnishing the Midnight Express name by putting Bart Gunn and Bob Holly together as the “New” Midnight Express, though the team would fall apart within months.
After years of losing money, Smoky Mountain finally closed in late 1995, but Cornette moved on and transitioned into the WWF office as a booker and talent scout, and also worked as an announcer on Monday Night Raw and other shows for a short period. He eventually bought into Ohio Valley Wrestling in his hometown of Louisville, and the promotion became an official developmental territory for the WWF, with the WWF made him the head of developmental in that territory. Over the course of the next several years, Cornette helped to train and guide future stars such as Randy Orton, Ken Kennedy, Bobby Lashley, MNM, John Cena, Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch, Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin, and Batista.
However, Cornette was becoming increasingly frustrated with the direction the business had taken and his frustrations manifested themselves in several outbursts at OVW, causing WWE to suspend him in May of 2005. He came back after the suspension ended, but still wasn’t able to keep himself under control and, after an incident where he went off on a developmental talent and slapped him, WWE had enough and fired him. Even though he was still part owner of OVW, he was essentially shut out of his own promotion and had to find work elsewhere.
He ended up working in Ring Of Honor, where he had made several prior appearances in 2004 and early 2005, first being reunited with Condrey, Lane, and Eaton at the Midnight Express Reunion, and later working with and against such names as Bobby Heenan, Samoa Joe, and the Briscoes, whom he helped guide to their first ROH Tag Team Title. Now free of his WWE obligations, Cornette came back on the scene as the Commissioner of ROH, and was a key figure in leading the ROH side in the war with CZW and, after CZW had been defeated, began feuding with Homicide and managed several wrestlers against him in an attempt to block Homicide, whom he saw as unworthy of being ROH World Champion, from winning the title. He was eventually fired (in storylines), and moved on to TNA where he is working in a similar position today as the Commissioner of TNA.
Why Jim Cornette was selected…
Throughout his career, Jim Cornette has been everywhere and done everything one can do in this business without actually being a wrestler. He has been a manager, booker, trainer, promoter, commissioner, announcer, and talent scout. He has been a key player in every stage of the modern business going back to the territorial days, through the boom period in the 80s, the dark ages of the early 90s, and through the second Golden Age of the late 90s and he is still important and relevant today. Due to his vast experience and importance in every area of this business, we are proud to induct Cornette into the 411 Wrestling Hall OF Fame.