Jim Cornette was born September 17, 1961 in Louisville, Kentucky. At age 10 he discovered pro wrestling on TV and was instantly fascinated. By age 12 he began attending the weekly live matches at Louisville Gardens, and within two years, he was made the official ringside photographer by local promoter Chrstine Jarrett, who began selling his pictures at the souvenir stands at matches in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Over the next six years, literally hundreds of thousands of those photos would be sold to fans all over the Memphis Wrestling circuit; Cornette's photography would be featured in major wrestling magazines including the London Publishing titles led by Pro Wrestling Illustrated; he would become a regular freelancer for GONG magazine in Japan; write the arena programs sold in the Memphis area; write and publish his own magazine exclusively covering the Memphis territory; and end up working on three to four live events per week as a photographer or ring announcer by the time he turned 20.
In 1982, just a month before Cornette's 21st birthday, Memphis Wrestling owner Jerry Jarrett offered him the chance to be an on-air manager. Jumping at the chance, Jim forsook his photo business and dove head-first into his new career.
Making his Memphis TV debut on August 21, 1982, Cornette spent the next 16 months managing a variety of wrestlers in towns large and small, getting valuable on-the-job training from veterans like Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee and more. In November 1983, Mid-South Wrestling promoter Cowboy Bill Watts imported a number of wrestlers from Memphis to his Louisiana-based circuit, pairing Jim with wrestlers Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey as the Midnight Express. The team clicked with Mid-South fans, and the Express with Cornette, over the next twelve months, reigned as Mid-South Tag Team Champions twice for a total of 6 months, set box office gate records in 14 Mid-South markets like Houston, Oklahoma City and Little Rock, and main-evented before nearly 25,000 fans in the New Orleans Superdome while propelling Mid-South into having it's most successful financial year ever.
Hot off this success, the team spent the first half of 1985 in the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling, reigning as American Tag Team Champions and getting their first national TV exposure through WCCW's syndicated network. Their tenure included championship matches before 18,000 fans in Reunion Arena and 20,000 in Texas Stadium.
In July, 1985, the Midnights and Cornette debuted in the Charlotte-based Jim Crockett Promotions, and their careers skyrocketed. Seen several times per week on Atlanta's Superstation TBS and a strong syndicated network, the team spent the next five and a half years with Crockett Promotions and its successor, World Championship Wrestling (Stan Lane replaced Dennis Condrey in 1987).
Becoming two-time NWA World Tag Team Champions (for a total 8 months) and three-time NWA United States Tag Team Champions (total 16 months), the Midnight also rekindled their Mid-South rivalry with the Rock and Roll Express, and set numerous attendance records across the country in a tag team rivalry still viewed as the in-ring gold standard to this day. The Midnight also faced the Road Warriors in the feature match at Starrcade 1986, a Skywalker Scaffold Match, that drew 60,000 fans between the live and closed circuit audiences. Jim famously blew out the ACL in his right knee when falling twenty feet from the scaffold.
During this time, Cornette also served as a color commentator on TBS and syndicated broadcasts, as well as Pay-Per-View events beginning in 1988 when Crockett was purchased by Turner Broadcasting and became WCW. For a time, Cornette served on the matchmaking committee as well, but disagreements with upper TBS management led him to quit the company in October 1990.
Cornette's next project was to bring Southern-style territory wrestling back to an area with a rich grappling tradition, East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky. With financial backing from legendary record producer Rick Rubin, Cornette launched Smoky Mountain Wrestling, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, in early 1992. Cornette served as promoter, matchmaker, TV producer and on-camera manager, with a talent roster mixing veterans like Bob Armstrong and Terry Funk with promising newcomers getting their first breaks, like Glen Jacobs, who would become famous as Kane in the WWF. SMW had success in it's main markets, including crowds of over 4,000 for it's major events in Knoxville and high local TV ratings, but was burdened by rapidly rising TV air time costs and an inability to break into new markets, and closed down in 1995 after a four year run.
However, since 1993 Cornette had also been working as an on-camera manager for Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), in order to facilitate a talent exchange between SMW and the Connecticut-based WWF. After SMW closed, Cornette accepted an offer to join McMahon's creative team in Stamford, which he did in February 1996, also becoming an off-camera talent producer while maintaining his on-air managing duties.
Cornette's on-camera highlights in the WWF include managing WWF Champion Yokozuna, WWF Tag Team Champions the British Bulldog and Owen Hart, and appearing in the main event at the Wrestlemania 10 Pay-Per-View at a sold-out Madison Square Garden in 1994. Jim also did extensive color commentary on Monday Night RAW on the USA Network as well as nationally and internationally-syndicated telecasts, and was also involved in talent scouting and training during his WWF stint in Connecticut.
It was the latter position, and Jim's burning desire to move back South, that led to his next venture--working with WWF Talent Relations head Jim Ross, Cornette returned home to Louisville in July 1999 to develop and oversee the WWF's first official training, or "developmental", program. Cornette became partners with old Memphis Wrestling friend Danny Davis, who had founded Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville in 1993 as a wrestling school and local promotion. They, along with veteran Rip Rogers as head trainer, set about expanding OVW into both a more high-profile regional promotion and the training ground of wrestling's future stars by contracting with the WWF to train prospective talent.
Cornette served as matchmaker, television producer and on-air play-by-play announcer for over three hundred one-hour weekly OVW TV episodes, four two-hour prime-time TV specials and over 750 live "house show" events between July 1999 and July 2005. As a TV show, OVW, airing Saturdays at 11PM on a Louisville (then-WB network) station, became for several years the affiliate's highest-rated Saturday program. OVW staged major live events, with three cards in a twelve-month period in 2000-2001 at the Louisville Gardens selling over 12,000 tickets and grossing $150,000 at the gate. When the Gardens closed, OVW began an annual summer series of events at Kentucky Kingdom's outdoor amphitheater that became the park's biggest-drawing regular entertainment events.
As a training program, OVW would graduate names like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Randy Orton, and over a hundred more stars that would be seen in the WWE and other promotions around the world. In July, 2005, Cornette and the WWE parted ways after multiple disagreements over the amount of control WWE wanted over OVW's business; Cornette spent the following year taking the opportunity to do fanfest reunions with the Midnight Express before selling his part of OVW back to Danny Davis in early 2007, while the WWE began taking steps to take training in-house and would use the OVW template to institute what would become today's Performance Center and NXT.
In summer 2006 Cornette joined TNA Wrestling as an on-air management figure and behind-the-scenes TV producer, appearing or working on around 150 episodes of IMPACT on the SPIKE (now Paramount) Network, as well as three dozen Pay-Per-View events over the following three years. Jim was recruited for the position by wrestler/TNA minority owner Jeff Jarrett, the grandson of Christine Jarrett, who gave Cornette his first wrestling job in 1976. However, in a 2009 clash with the majority owner, Jarrett was sent home, and all his hires released, JC being the last in September 2009.
One week after leaving TNA, Cornette debuted for Ring of Honor in New York's Manhattan Center, announcing he was the promotion's first executive producer, a post he'd hold both on and off camera. The struggling promotion, owned by Jim's friend Cary Silkin, was looking for exposure, revenue, or whatever it took to reach the next level. Cornette was able to network his connections to find interest from the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which ended up buying ROH outright in 2011. After helping with the sale, Jim served as head of talent relations and executive producer of the new ROH TV program on more than 60 Sinclair stations for the first 18 months. By the end of 2012, however, Jim was once again not thrilled with a certain member of management and generally burned out after 30 years in wrestling, and he and Sinclair mutually decided to part ways. It would be Jim's last full-time wrestling position, by his own choice.
Since 2013, Cornette has limited his wrestling appearances to one-offs or short stints, most notably returning to WWE for one night in 2017 to induct the Rock and Roll Express into the WWE Hall of Fame; serving as an on-air management figure again in IMPACT for a 12 week TV story arc in 2017; serving as color commentator for MLW TV on Bein Sports for 26 episodes in 2019; and a 2019 Midnight Express 35th anniversary tour of selected cities.
Cornette shocked many in 2014 when he made his first tour of the United Kingdom. Noted for his lifelong hatred of flying, Jim hasn't flown domestically since 2001 and had never appeared outside the United States and Canada, but he made an exception for a highly-publicized series of six one man storytelling/Q&A events in England, Scotland and Wales, the highlight being his event at London's Leicester Square Theatre. These events were well received by the fans AND Cornette, so much so that he returned to England in 2016 to join old friend Jim Ross for a live London Q&A session, and then provided color commentary to Ross' play-by-play on a Pay-Per-View event broadcast via the internet.
Instead of actual wrestling events, Cornette has spent more time over the past decade at legends fan-fests, enjoying seeing old friends and fans and adding to his vast collection of vintage wrestling memorabilia, or comic cons, as a longtime comic book and pop culture collector. Having already decided to reduce his traveling schedule a few years ago, Cornette has yet to decide when or if he'll resume making live appearances post-pandemic.
He hardly has time, however; Beginning in 2014, Cornette established a podcast--the Jim Cornette Experience--that in 2021 has aired over 350 episodes and is heard by over a million listeners a month, along with a second weekly show, Cornette's Drive-Thru. His YouTube channel has over ten million views per month and over 249,000 subscribers, and his controversial views on modern pro wrestling--he finds most of it silly and little more than a parody of pro wrestling--inflame some fans today even more than his antics in the 1980's with the Midnight Express.
As an author, Cornette has written four books; the Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook in 2009, which because of it's limited print run of only 5000 copies has become a sought-after eBay collector's item; Rags, Paper and Pins, about his teenage years selling wrestling photos and merchandise; Tuesday Night at the Gardens, a history of the Golden Era of Louisville wrestling; and Behind the Curtain, a graphic novel of true wrestling stories in conjunction with IDW Publishing.
These books, and other items like T-Shirts, action figures and more are available periodically on his website, jimcornette.com. As Cornette is a notorious perfectionist he handles all his merchandise sales himself, from hand-signing everything to order to doing his own shipping, so his Cornette's Collectibles web store is often closed while he handles the backlog of orders.
An avid pro wrestling historian, Cornette's stories, insight and first-hand knowledge have seen him become the favorite "talking head" on VICE TV's "Dark Side of the Ring", having been featured in multiple episodes in each of the fisrt three seasons as of 2021. The program is VICE's highest-rated series.
As he turns 60 in September, 2021, Cornette intends to enjoy being off the road and concentrate on his broadcasts and related home-based businesses. He lives in the house outside Louisville he has dubbed "Castle Cornette" with his wife Stacey and loving Pomeranian Harley Quinn. He STILL doesn't know what to do in his spare time as he never has any, but says he has enough projects in his office closet to keep him busy for the next several years.