Many of you know that September was a very eventful month for ol' JC. I was released by TNA on the 15th, and went to work for Ring of Honor in a surprise appearance in New York City the next week. Somehow in between I became the "most controversial man in wrestling" for about 4 days. I got so many requests for radio and internet interviews I just went on weekend vacations for two weeks to stay away from the phone. Then they caught up with me, and I had to start answering all the questions. It occurred to me that instead of trying to tell this longwinded, complicated story on every blog and broadcast in the multiverse, I would waste much less of my life if I wrote it down, and just said "See jimcornette.com for the answer".
That way, I also give you, my loyal fans and followers, the rest..of..the..story.
Now, with my history of bluntness and a slight tendency toward anger management issues, everyone was waiting for me to unleash an avalanche of vitriolic verbal venom on TNA Wrestling for daring to pick my old pal Vince Russo over me. And people have been surprised when it really didn't come. Now, not to disappoint those of you who won't read the rest of the commentary unless I'm lambasting somebody, because the knockin' WILL come, but it's not directed at the company.
I would have to be truly angry at the turn of events to really vent at TNA because I do want the company to succeed. Many of the employees have been friends of mine for 20 years or more, and great people I met working there have become friends. They have a wonderful and talented roster of wrestlers, and their crew of young stars is a match for or greater than the WWE's. Most importantly, the WWE cannot have a complete monopoly on wrestling, and TNA is best positioned to keep that from happening. But I am not particularly angry at TNA. Surprised, amused, bewildered, one or more of those would cover it, but not angry.
When I first went to work for TNA in June 2006 I was very excited. After my flameups with the WWE in 2005, I was sick of wrestling, and did very little for a year except legends reunions with the Midnight Express, and a very enjoyable run with Ring of Honor. Dutch Mantell had been calling me for about 6 months, but with my ROH commitments, and a knee injury and subsequent surgery, I could not start with TNA until summer. I had never watched TNA specifically because I knew Vince Russo had some part in it. But he had been fired some time before this, and so I began watching the TV show, and got fired up because they had great potential. Good talent, national TV, PPV, all the tools. I agreed to a deal as the TNA authority figure, the position that I have occupied most of the last three years.
Unfortunately, my excitement was tempered early. Dutch called me in September 2006 to let me know there was an "addition to the creative team.......Vince Russo." "No! It can't be!" I thought to myself, as my mind boggled. "I've done everything right! I moved from Connecticut to Kentucky in 1999 to get away from him and his paper-carrying sycophant Ed Ferrara! I've lived in a Russo-free zone for 7 years! I only took a job with TNA because they had already fired him! I'm supposed to be safe!"
But alas, I was not. No wrestler or wrestling fan was safe. Russo was back.
Jeff Jarrett called me personally to try to convince me it was somehow a good move, and that we could really all work together, just to give it a chance. No, in answer to the question I am asked constantly, NO ONE has ever explained to me exactly why, to quote your emails, "in the flying fuck" Vince Russo gets hired in the wrestling business. Besides a vague "he has good ideas", I've never gotten any real details. Anyway, I mulled this over for a week until the next taping, and when I saw Jeff and Dutch in person, I told them I'd decided to give my notice. They could have a heel attack and injure me, and I could finish up until such point that Russo was gone, which I couldn't grasp would take very long. I felt having us in the same place would distract from business, I had no desire to BE in the same place with him, and there has never been a day when his opinions on pro wrestling and what he thinks it should be have ever coincided with mine.
I have to give it to Jeff, he inherited a silver tongue. Of course, it helps that his grandmother made it possible for me to be in wrestling. His father gave me my start and gimmick. Dutch Mantell talked me through my first TV angle when I had been in the business three weeks and was scared shitless, and has been my friend for 30 years. Jeff refused my notice, told me I'd have to no-show and be the heel because I was still working there, and they proceeded to somehow convince me that Russo and I could coexist and made me promise to try.
Jeff followed this up shortly after by asking me to start fulltime as an agent/producer as well as my on-camera role. I took this to be evidence that what I had been told, that Russo's influence would be tempered by wrestling people, was true. It was at this point that I made the one mistake I regret, going the more-money, more-stress, more-Russo route with TNA, instead of sticking with the less-money, less stress, more fun and satisfaction route with Ring of Honor. I was genuinely convinced that the Russo thing would be an experiment that didn't work, and that I could still help be a part of TNA becoming a successful contender to Vince McMahon's position as the industry leader. Looking back, I see that I was delusional, possibly the same syndrome that sees kidnap victims bond with their captors or something. But by cracky, I had given my word!
Well, it didn't take real long before the excitement wore down a touch as I began to watch the same Russo effluvia permeate the TV formats, and I must admit the check was a huge help in making the experience more palatable. On some occasions early on, as I sat listening to what this idiot had written for the wrestlers to perpetrate at that particular taping, I began thinking I could just get in the car and drive home, that my hopes for TNA becoming a real contender were fruitless, because even if Russo was replaced, it may very well be too late to save the company. Anything that followed was doomed because the promotion would forevermore bear his stench. We were wasting our time. I gradually, over the past few years, began to try not to take the product so personally, and concentrate instead on the positives--working with a lot of other people that I really like and having fun talking with them about anything BUT wrestling, teaching the younger talent and helping them gain experience, being a part of keeping McMahon away from that monopoly. I reconciled myself to the fact that even if Eddie Graham came back to life tomorrow, the wrestling business will never recover from some of the things that have been done to it, so why should I have a nervous breakdown over it? Jeff and Dutch were still there to temper the more offensive or ridiculous things he might do, but obviously, from the lack of real forward progress in the past three years, it's been heavily Russo-ish the whole time.
I don't want to give the impression I was ever going through the motions with my work. My on-camera appearances have always been praised, I put a lot of effort into making them as logical and credible as possible even under some trying and downright silly situations. As an agent/producer, I would lay out matches and situations to the talent, and sometimes in doing this, either the talent, myself or both would make changes in Russo's original format, for wrestling reasons, or just so they would not be so embarassed performing whatever was being asked of them that night. Jeff was the final authority in making the change, which he usually did. I always wanted the segments I was responsible for to do as much good for the talent, or the angle to sell tickets, as possible.
Vinny-ru and I even began speaking. Not about wrestling, of course, but we were putting the effort out there, having cordial conversations about trivia, even shaking hands when saying hello and goodbye. But we are doomed to clash at some point, because there can be no two people in this universe more polar opposite of each other on a subject than Russo and I are about pro wrestling. Eventually, we will be like matter and anti-matter colliding. Or, perhaps like Bob Armstrong once said, "We're like mind over matter--I don't mind, and he doesn't matter." I would have to sit in the production meetings and watch people roll their eyes or shake their heads as Russo's brilliant scriptwriting and compelling angles were read aloud. I would sit in embarassment as the Spike TV representative zoned out on the nonsense, thinking "he's going back to the UFC shoot and telling their crew that the guy that writes our wrestling show can't even spell." I would see big money PPV matchups given away for free and lasting 4 minutes, talent not getting over, Pay-per-views not selling, people confused as to who the "good guys and bad guys" are, the giant brawls, the bad comedy, the weirdness toward women, and all the other things associated with Russo's style of booking. I would have to look promising young talent or experienced veteran talent in the eye and explain to them what that night's format was asking them to do, and then stand there defenseless and ashamed as they vented their frustrations, telling me what I already knew about why it wouldn't work, why it was crazy or insane or counterproductive to the company's best interests. In media interviews I would do songs and dances around the constant criticisms of the booking, not wanting to knock the company just because they employ this one guy, but finding it impossible to defend the indefensible.
Other than this awkward Bizarro world I was existing in with the presence of my doppelganger, TNA was a box of fluffy ducks. Early this year, Keith Mitchell and David Sahadi, the producer and director of the TV show, asked management that I be the only agent working with them in the truck. Usually, whatever segments an agent produced with talent, he would sit in the truck for and help the director not miss shots, especially on live events, as well as music cues, working with the referee on headset, etc. With all respect to the other agents, I had more TV experience in giving them what they needed because of my advanced age and obsessive-compulsive wrestling knowledge. Being the only agent in the truck meant I did all my matches, then got with the other agents and got all their info as well, so I had to know EVERYTHING for the whole night. This promotion was not accompanied by a raise, but in all honesty I have fun in the TV truck so I actually wanted to do it. I was gratified when some young talent would tell me I was making a difference in their game or their careeers with my advice, when some veterans would ask me for help in changing what was written or enlist my help in doing so. I resigned myself to the fact that I could be no major help to TNA as long as Russo was around, but I could certainly help it's talent, have fun away from the ring and be paid somewhat reasonable money to do so.
This is where things began to take a turn for the conspiracy theorists. When Jeff Jarrett had issues with TNA this past Summer that have been covered elsewhere, he was taken off creative and not present at TV's. Soon after, Dutch Mantell was released after 7 years with TNA. With Jeff not present, the usual "final authority" was gone, and five or six people could qualify as the "final authority" in one way or another. I was asked by at least two people of stature in the company to step up in making sure the tapings came off properly in Jeff's absence. I generally produced the segments of most difficulty (the 30 man, 4 location brawl), or most importance (involving the main event talent). As well, I began efforts to convince everyone to push the younger TNA roster, the newer faces, and began producing all of Matt Morgan and Hernandez's matches and promos. I was hoping to do the same with Bobby Lashley. Some had thought because I was not on camera for the past several months my work in TNA had diminished but, in fact, it increased over the summer, and I had requested to be taken out of an on-camera role because I thought my work backstage was more important. My agent reports were praised by management as informative , detailed and "exactly what we need."
The final set of TV tapings I made for TNA was at the end of August. I had called Russo aside at the previous tapings, and told him that regardless of what had gone on between us in the past or our differences about wrestling, I would help him with finishes and getting these young guys over if he would listen to me. I don't know if it would have worked, (I wasn't there long enough), but I really offered and didn't even make it sound like I was telling him he didn't know what he was doing. So he calls me, for the first time ever, on my way to the tapings and says he needs my help on a match for Monday. I had seen the format, and it would be something awkward for the wrestlers to execute, so I suggested something that kept his result and one of his main points, but made it easier for the talent to do and the viewer to understand. We agreed on this.
On Monday at the meeting, I saw the formats, and this match was completely changed with yet a third version, nothing like what we had discussed and three times as confusing. After the general meeting, in the agents meeting, I lobbied to change it back to what we had agreed on on Friday. I gave all the reasons, that the wrestlers could not execute it, the crew shoot it, or the viewers understand it as written, it was too busy, and it got no one over. After I explained what I thought was wrong, and why the Friday version would work better, there was discussion and everyone agreed to it. It is always frustrating trying to get 8 people to agree on the same thing. It's like writing a murder mystery, it's a lot easier to write your own than to have someone else write the crime and then you have to figure out who did it. But the discussion was no more vehement than usual, and there was no screaming, personal slurs, threats or physical violence. The segment ended up better than it would have been if the other version had been attempted, but still nothing to write home about. Over the Labor Day weekend, I sent in my report covering these tapings, including the discussion about and execution of the aforementioned segment in detail. Terry Taylor of TNA Talent Relations emailed me on Tuesday "good report--sending it in just as is."
Seven days later he called to release me.
His exact words were "Bad news, we've gotta let you go." My response was basically along the lines of, "What the fuck did I do?" He explained that "the company" felt that I wasn't all the way behind TNA and the direction they wanted to go. After a brief conversation which didn't clarify much, I asked to speak to Dixie Carter the next day. Speaking to both Terry and Dixie, here is the bottom line. They said I wasn't 100% on the TNA team. I illustrated how I was, never missing shots, first guy in the building even though I drive over 800 miles, etc. They narrowed it down to I wasn't behind the CREATIVE direction, to which I had to honestly reply, "No, I'm not. I'm behind TNA but I can't be behind Vince Russo's creative." There was mention that I was "not behind pushing the young guys", which was patently ridiculous as that's all I had been preaching, and apparently came from my being against Eric Young laying out Sting and Hernandez with a baseball bat and then standing over them cutting a promo on the PA mic. Because I was against that particular young guy getting pushed in that particular segment, it had apparantly been used to convince folks I was against pushing the young talent. You can see where the Green Acres flavor in these exchanges could be amusing. We left the conversation halfass pleasantly with Dixie saying I had done "a great job" and the door was always open if I could commit 100% to the direction, and me saying I would love to work with TNA again sometime but never with Vince Russo. At this point, I was just bewildered that a guy who can barely speak English had once again convinced a person of importance that he is a benefit to their wrestling company. Then it got stranger.
A story went out on the internet, later traced to someone sympathetic to the Russo cause (I don't have a name but that qualification narrows things down) who was apparently afraid TNA, Russo, or both would look like heels to the fans for letting me go in his favor. It claimed I had screamed and yelled at Russo in that meeting and/or physically went after him, and had been fired as a result. It spread around far enough in two days that I had to have TNA issue a statement denying it, and after more people started reporting it never happened, it died down, but it's still out there if you look for it. I'm not saying it's not plausible, but if it had happened I'd be telling you every word I said. Just as I was getting unhappy about this, Ed Ferrara showed up at their Sunday PPV and everything became clear.
For those who don't know, Ferrara is the other half of my eternal torment, the Lou Costello to Russo's Bud Abbott on the standup stage in my own personal wrestling Hell. They split for a few years, but apparently have kissed and made up. I have not seen Ed Ferrara since I vented my disgust on him in 2002 over his mockery of Jim Ross' Bells Palsy on national television. It's safe to say he doesn't want to be around me, and especially in the absence of Dutch and Jeff and the presence of Russo, there's no way I could tolerate him either.
In the previous seven days, Russo and/or his supporters had convinced Dixie Carter that reuniting the team of he and Ferrara would cause something good to happen and/or that the changes I had been making in his product was the cause of TNA not being more successful. A number of people have remarked that I had to be making Russo uncomfortable just by doing my job, by pointing out what was wrong with his writing and pulling something halfway better out of my ass on spur-of-the-moment notice. Well, I believe I would have won this one with the popular vote, but I lost it in the electoral college. Vince remains a genius at selling himself and incapable of selling a ticket. I did tell Terry Taylor that I was disappointed that they couldn't tell me, "We're hiring Ed Ferrara" and give me the opportunity to resign. But other than that disappointment, and frustration over what was a wasted effort on my part at trying to get some good done in a few different areas of the company, I'm not mad. Not angry. Not pissed.
Bewildered, as I said, at how he does it. How he convinces people he can do something that he's never actually had any success at doing. Amused, at the preposterousness of it all. Relieved, that a burden is off of me of having to coexist with someone I dislike and trying to avoid criticizing the company I work for. More relieved that I'm avoiding a 1700 mile round trip drive twice a month. Excited, to get back into the pro wrestling business with Ring of Honor. But not pissed. I'm not going to knock anything else about TNA besides Vince Russo, because I want my friends and associates and proteges to succeed and make a lot of money. I don't want Vince McMahon to own wrestling. I don't want to tear TNA down. But my frustration there has always existed because the company, it's talent and crew deserve so much more success than the "work" Russo turns in has allowed them to have. I can only imagine my blood pressure at having to work with the same writing team that made WCW the biggest money-losing company in wrestling history in 2000.
I admit that I am guilty of what many of you have accused me of--consorting with Vince Russo, working for a company that employs Vince Russo, going against everything I have ever believed or said publicly. I hope this column somewhat explains the position I was in, and halfass vindicates me. If not, I deserve and will accept your scorn and ridicule. In my defense, the one thing I never did was defend any of his writing or ideals--I still had to be able to look myself in the mirror. But it is not without shame that I have spent the last three years fighting the battle of whether the money I earned and the good I was able to do for others justified my tacit approval of this knuckledragging cretin having a job in the sport so many of us love.
Many people reacted to the news of my release like it was a funeral. As you can see, there were a few bright spots for me. I was pleased with my compensation for the amount of days I worked per month but I've had, and quit, and been fired from higher-paying jobs. I am looking forward to my new position with ROH because I want to do anything I can to help a wrestling company that's trying to grow. I have this website, jimcornette.com, and another book project I am working on to follow up the Midnight Express book. I have plans to make my wrestling collectibles business, cornettescollectibles.com, even bigger in 2010 with a landmark series of authorized classic wrestling DVD's. I'm doing a few fanfests and dealer's shows with my merchandise booth, and still reuniting with the Midnights a few times a year. I am in no imminent danger of being evicted from my home, and am taking most of the winter off on purpose, so everyone can relax, I have plenty of things to keep me occupied.
As always I appreciate everyone's support, and the hundreds of emails I have received from all of you with similar viewpoints of Russo's talents have been encouraging and entertaining. In my next Commentary, I hope to take a more positive tone, with my thoughts on my position with Ring of Honor, why I am a fan of the promotion, and where I see it going in the next 5 years. Don't miss it!