October 22, 2009
Wrestling Managers Vol. 1
Sometimes things just happen.
Like, outside of your control, whether good or bad.
Other times, you try to manufacture things into happening and it just doesn’t work.
And then there are those rare occasions where things happen to fall into place at the right time, for the right reasons, and they leave an indelible mark on everyone that you come into contact with.
Confused? Me too, and I wrote it! Let me explain.
I have been a wrestling fan for over 25 years, starting with World of Sport in the U.K., through to the old NJPW video tapes that I have and right up to ROH, 2009 A.D.
And sometimes things grab your attention. For me, it was the men and women managing at ringside who helped get me into wrestling. Yes, I loved watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks on screen (hey, I was young and naïve!) but when Princess Paula Finlay accompanied Dave ‘Fit’ Finlay to the ring, the place would go mad! Fit was, and is, superb in the ring and at provoking a response from the fans (especially as a heel, hint, hint, Vince) but so was Princess Paula.
And so, I was hooked.
As many of you will know, I have been hoping to put a piece together for some time on how notable people from within the industry have helped shape it, and finally it has come to pass!
Over the last two weeks or so I have been fortunate to interview several of the foremost managers in the last 20 years of the business, if not the history of it. While asking them how they saw themselves as having played a part in influencing the industry I also took the time to find out from them some of their favourite moments, as well as how they see the industry today.
Truth be told, I was going to pick and choose which of their responses to use, but after re-reading and re-listening to their thoughts I simply couldn’t do them justice without including all of their interviews.
Had they not been involved in the industry, some by choice, some by good fortune originally, then it’s entirely possible that some major parts of the business would not be as we know them today.
Their responses may make you laugh. I know I did.
They may make you smile. Again, I definitely did.
But more than anything they will make you see what has helped to make them some of the most well known and influential wrestling managers and personalities that have ever graced our TV screens.
Jim Cornette (www.jimcornette.com)
First off, a question I’m sure you’ve not been asked in the last few weeks (!) – how does it feel to back in Ring of Honor?
You know, I always enjoyed Ring of Honor because I always talk about the atmosphere. The guys work hard, they have good matches, but the people also, the fans, it’s a great atmosphere. They throw streamers, chant – it’s an infectious atmosphere live, I think, and more people need to understand how much fun it is to go to one of these live events.
Do you think, or is there a worry, with the like of WWE having signed Danielson and McGuinness and TNA looking at some of the guys as well, is there a worry that if anyone else is taken it might cause them too much destruction?
Well, the thing is, with Bryan and Nigel leaving that just creates another opportunity for guys like Tyler Black, the Briscoes and Davey Richards. Just like when Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels left, and Homicide, then Bryan and Nigel stepped up. You know, the thing is that Ring of Honor, I see, is a great place to create stars. For stars to get notoriety, because they let the wrestlers go in the ring and wrestle and do their thing, and they let the fans decide whether they like them or not. They don’t just tell people ‘This is the guy that’s gonna be the star.’ The fans really get to pick and choose, and as a result I think that means better quality of talent, and you’re always making new stars. You know, they’re just a hungry bunch of guys, and they really like to perform.
I was just thinking, before we get on to the main stuff, that at the rate that Vince expanded in the eighties and killed the territories as such, how big a negative impact do you think that’s had?
Oh it’s tremendous, and we’re only just realising it now, because we’ve gone a complete generation without having a place for guys to really go and get experience on a full time basis. And, as well, the stars on top don’t last as long now because they can’t go from Florida to the Mid-West, to California, to Texas, to the North-East or WWF or AWA. What you’re seeing, you’re seeing them nationally, everywhere. And people get tired of people after 30 or 40 years! (laughs) It’s really that the game has changed, the guys are younger, the careers are shorter. You can make a lot more money if you make it, but by the same token the training grounds are not there anymore.
I don’t know if you have had the chance to see the interview that Mike Bucci/Simon Dean did recently for PowerSlam here in the UK?
I have not witnessed it.
There’s one part of it, especially, where he is talking about how he feels that in (WWE) developmental, when the guys walk in to Florida they see this superb facility and think that they’ve made it, and no-one is pushing themselves. He was saying that guys aren’t really having the chance to do their thing around the world, that WWE especially are taking people who have a look, whether it be Koslov or someone like that…….
The thing is that they’re going for look. They’re not going for whether the guy has dedication, to learn, to excel or to perform. It’s all about the look, and unfortunately you lose a lot of passion that way. That’s the difference in when Jim Ross recruited college football players and wrestlers – they were trainable and coachable and athletes. John Laurinaitis recruits lingerie models because they look good. (laughs) No joke. As a matter of fact when I was here in OVW in Louisville, about 5 years ago, they sent down two girls. He was flipping through a lingerie catalogue and saw two 19 year old girls and called their agent and hired them. They’d never seen wrestling! One of them threw up just trying to hit the ropes.
That’s what I was thinking as well – do you think that the lack of male managers in wrestling is more because there’s just not the talent there or is it because the like of Titan seem to have a preoccupation of women with big boobs?
Oh, yea. You know, once a manager had to look good in a bikini me and Paul Bearer were pretty much history! (laughs) And that’s what it is – until they, until the industry leader, uses a male manager who’s effective and in a spot and shows that it’s ok, that it can work, then nobody is really going to. And I don’t think he’s going to.
A lot of people thought that James Mitchell would get picked up after TNA let him go, but he never….
I’m speechless at some of the decision making, otherwise then……..if you brought Sigmund Freud back to life he could psychoanalyse Vince McMahon and they’d need to commit Sigmund!
What are your thoughts on the Midnight Express finally being put into the (Wrestling) Observer hall of fame?
Well I’m really happy, obviously, I’ve been rooting for them and voting for them, and not because I was involved but because they were obviously the pre-eminent tag team of the 80’s and people just saw them so much and so long that they forgot how good they were and what kind of records they put up at the gate and in terms of attendance. And so I think that it just happened that this year people were looking back, and maybe my book had something to do with it, just reminding people how good they were, cause the facts weren’t exaggerated. As far as the criteria – in ring, or at the gate, or longevity, or whatever – they succeeded on all levels.
Totally. Speaking of Hall of Fames – and how likely this is, I’m not sure – if Vince came calling for the WWE HOF, would you think of it?
(laughs) Well, ok - a lot of people are going to day he’s just knocking it because he’s not going to be in it – if (the WWE HOF is) not real, some great wrestlers and some emotional moments have been inducted and made there, but ultimately it’s who Vince decides. It’s either who he’s selling a video of that year, or will be a big draw, or, you know, we’re in Detroit so we gotta induct The Sheik, or we’re in Texas so we gotta induct the Von Erichs – not that those people shouldn’t be in a hall of fame – but it’s just Vince’s decision. No-one votes. Bruno Sammartino – Bruno is not in the WWE Hall of Fame. I actually was prouder of being in the Observer Hall of Fame, because at least somebody voted!
I was just wondering – when Vince brought the NWA title onto Raw, back in 1998, did he do it just to stick two fingers up at WCW or the NWA or did he actually have big plans?
I think at that point they just decided well, we’ll make fun of the old time wrestling and then it started working a little bit, because it was new and different, and Barry Windham was good, etc, but it never really went anywhere. I think, because, he just really wanted to make fun of it and wasn’t going to give it a chance anyway, to be honest.
One last thing, how do you see yourself as having influenced wrestling to this point?
You know, hopefully I did because hopefully I did 3 things. As a performer, hopefully I did some memorable things, especially with the Midnight Express. As a promoter, operating Smoky Mountain Wrestling; it wasn’t a financial success, but it was an artistic one, and I gave the guys a place to work and/or to get seen – Chris Candido, Kane, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, those guys. And then with OVW so far, and hopefully with Ring of Honor, at least I will have had, and am, teaching the guys that are going to be the stars of tomorrow, because wrestling constantly need new stars. So that’s probably the best thing I can do, is teach some guys how to do it right on the way up!
Firstly, how are you enjoying your time in the wrestling business these days?
Everything's good. I’m now in my 20th year in this business, and it all seems like it started yesterday. Time has gone by so fast, it makes you wonder where all that time went. I'm just lucky that I have something that no one else can claim... that I am the “Original Diva”, and that will always keep me as a commodity in this business.
You appeared in all of the major companies (WWE, WCW & ECW) during wrestling’s hottest period of recent times. Did you ever think this would be the case when you started in SMW with Jim Cornette?
Absolutely not... When Jim asked me to work for him in SMW, I was a pre-med student at the University of Tennessee. I only took the job to make a couple extra bucks while in school. It was supposed to be a 6-month deal, then I was out.....Now, 20 years later, lol.
On screen, you have managed some of the best wrestlers in the world (Chris Candido) as well as some of the biggest names in the world (LOD) - which of the times as a manager were your favourite?
I had great times managing all of my wrestlers...but I do have to say that managing the LOD was probably one of the coolest...I mean, come on, they were the ROAD WARRIORS!!!
You were the first proper ‘sex symbol’ type of female manager of the modern era, with a very memorable on screen character. Who played a part in helping you develop this throughout your career?
I always said that “Sunny” was just an exaggerated version of myself... but Vince helped me bring out the sexy in Sunny. He would always push me that extra mile, even though I was actually very shy and reserved. I always thought of myself as that sexy girl-next-door, the kind you want to bring home to Mom....not the over bearing out-there in-your-face sexpot type.
You reappeared on WWE TV at this year’s WrestleMania as part of the Diva Battle Royal. It’s safe to say that you were the participant that most long time fans were looking forward to seeing return. Unfortunately, all of the women in the match, returning or full time, were overshadowed by Kid Rock and the entire match was basically a waste on so many levels. Do you have any regrets in doing it, and had you or any of the returning girls had any promises about how you would be highlighted during the match?
I was very excited to be asked to be a part of it...I mean, it IS WrestleMania!! I knew going in that there was no way in hell they would push us girls not under contract over the girls that are. So many people were like, “They have to let you win...you're the original!” I had to explain, even to my boyfriend, that the WWE would never have someone not under contract full time have such a big part in such a big show. I went in knowing that I was going to have fun, and I was going to get paid. That's it.
Is there anything that you would change from throughout your career?
Not a thing...I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and you make mistakes to learn from them....Okay, maybe one thing....I wouldn't have let that evil hypnotist Paul Heyman convince me that ECW and his paychecks were better than the WWF...and I probably wouldn't have left like I did. Oh well, c’est la vie.
Would you consider a full time return to the wrestling business, whether it be with WWE or TNA?
I honestly have no desire to go anywhere full time...I was on the road for 9 years straight....300 days a year. Believe me, it’s not a barrel of monkeys. Been there, done that. It’s very difficult, and that's not what I want in my life right now.. I like being normal from Monday through Friday, and going away and playing on the weekends. I play the housewife role, and I play it very well...I enjoy being home, with my boyfriend and my 2 dogs.
How do you see yourself as having left a mark on the wrestling business?
I'm the Original Diva....I began this crazy trend for girls in this business. Those who came before me were wrestlers or valets...I was the first completely marketable entity for women....For all girls who have followed in my footsteps....take that ball and run with it for as long as you can....because that ride isn't going to last forever!!
(I hope to have another few of these pieces up within the next couple of weeks. It does just go to show you the passion that people have for the industry, and how it isn’t always the case of not wanting to give back to the industry that they have helped to shape in recent years. If the business is to continue to develop and grow then we must see the current and new generation of wrestlers listening to those with vast experience, like Jim and Tammy. Only then will the performers be able to develop to the best of their abilities. To be continued……)