October 24, 2009
Wrestling Managers Vol. 2: An Interview with James Mitchell
As a lot of you will have read, I have had the privilege of interviewing some of the top names in the business that have acted as on screen managers & mentors, as well as helping out behind the scenes in the business. My previous piece, with Jim Cornette & Sunny, provided an interesting insight into some of their thoughts and views from their vast involvement in the wrestling industry.
With this interview we are continuing that trend.
You will be genuinely surprised at some of the things that Jim Mitchell says here, but he has been undeniably honest in his responses. Enjoy!
Oh, just before you enjoy it (and enjoy it, you will) I have to let you know that for my next column/interview I am going from outside the ring to inside it for some views from someone very special within the industry. Watch this space…..and without further ado, here’s my interview with Jim Mitchell.
You have appeared in some of the most well known promotions in the world – WCW, SMW, quite notably ECW & most recently in TNA. Which of the times was most memorable? (surely not Prince Kharis?)
They were all memorable, including my run with Kharis in SMW. Every step taught me valuable lessons, which I tried my best to apply during each successive climb up the ladder. Because I bullshitted my way into the business on the strength of my gift of gab, I had to learn as I went.
If I had to pick one, I guess I'd say my run in TNA because it was during that time when all the pieces came together and I learned how to steer my ship, so to speak. I had moments of brilliance from day one in the biz, but I didn't exactly know why or how I did so. Around 2003, during my feud with Raven, I figured out how to consistently work my mojo on command. I was in control and not just relying on the crap shoot that had been my muse.
When you got involved in the business did you ever think you would have the success & notoriety that you have had?
Well, those terms have to be graded on a curve. By the time I finally made a blip on the radar screen the business had changed and managers were an endangered species. The opportunity to be factored into things that might have given me a chance of possibly allowing my name to be spoken of in the same breath as the legends who preceded me was never going to happen. I can't count the number of marquee performers who have all essentially told me it's too bad I wasn't around back in the day or during their particular era because I would have drawn some serious money. However, I think it's safe to say that I outlasted my "graduating class" of managers, for lack of a better term. It's not as if I had politics or nepotism going for me, so I must have had something unique to bring to the table that kept me visible and stubbornly trying to further the art of managing on a national platform.
To answer your question, the reality of being able to pursue my life-long passion exceeded my wildest dreams and there were some wild ones. I am eternally grateful to Cornette, Bischoff, Heyman, and Jarrett for having enough faith in me to give me a shot, regardless of how things eventually worked out. I got to live my dream and was eventually immortalized in plastic as an action figure, which was an incredible validation for all of the sacrifice and effort I put into what I had always been told was a pipe dream.
Has the death of kayfabe or the explosion of the internet damaged the industry to a great degree?
I wish there was more kayfabe but I don't think allowing people to know it's entertainment hurt wrestling from a business standpoint, because wrestling had it's most successful cycles, in terms of sheer revenue, after the cat was formally let out of the bag. People still want to suspend their disbelief. A well booked angle that doesn't insult fans' intelligence, with the right performers, can still make that possible.
The internet? You have to take the good with the bad. The biggest problem from the internet comes when promoters sometimes make poor, knee-jerk, reactions and cater their direction based upon internet chatter. Also, a lot of nonsense and groundless rumors get misinterpreted as factual.
Beyond that, since the Benoit debacle, wrestlers can no longer get away with sliding under the radar for their misadventures. They're now fodder for TMZ and Smoking Gun, so it's certainly got to have an effect on their off-camera shenanigans. Or so one would hope.
Many people thought that when you were released from TNA that WWE would be dying to hire someone with your level of experience and abilities, but it never happened. Do you hope to get back into the business full time, or are you enjoying your time away from it at the moment?
It's no secret that McMahon thinks managers are a product of old, dirty, carny, southern 'rasslin', so I wasn't surprised to not get a spot. I do wonder though, given the huge role managers played in the fortunes of WWWF/WWF/WWE over the years, if Vince considers his business to have been a southern 'rasslin' promotion prior to the last decade or so. In a lot of ways I think Vince is a self-loathing carny, but he constantly reinvents himself and is the most successful promoter of all time. The reality is that unless the industry leader changes his mind and direction, managers are essentially done. I wish he felt otherwise, but might is right- even if it's wrong.
If the right opportunity came my way financially and creatively I'd certainly consider a return to wrestling but I'm not holding my breath.
You have managed & been associated on screen with some of the biggest names in the business. Is there anyone that you saw in your time in that you thought would be a future top guy but never made it?
Too many to name. Unfortunately, several of them died too young.
And, conversely, was there anyone that you were surprised made it as big as they did?
Dallas Page. I say that because back when I was still trying to get a break, I was jealous of anybody who had a spot as a manager, so he was on my shit list. When he started wrestling, I goofed on him even harder. He was blowing bubblegum and smoking cigars, but over time he learned his craft. I think even DDP would admit that his eventual wrestling prowess far exceeded his managerial chops. He busted his ass and got over for real. Regardless of what some folks think, his friendship with Bischoff didn't get him over. He connected with the people and was more over in WCW's glory days than his critics give him credit for. I was there. I felt the electricity. He earned his spot.
The irony of my initial statement is that DDP was responsible for getting me my break in WCW. The lesson I learned from that was like something out of Aesop's Fables, and I've never forgotten it. Page catches heat for some of his eccentricities, but in a business driven on self-promotion, that's par for the course. Most folks bitching about him weren't as over as he was. At bottom, he's a damned good guy with a heart of gold. He helped a lot of guys on the way up. My debt to him in immeasurable. He got to live his dream and was subsequently gracious enough to help me live mine, even though he didn't know me from Adam. It was truly humbling.
There seems to be a lack of male managers in WWE & TNA at the moment. Do you think that it is due to a lack of talent coming through, or is it that because WWE in particular seems to have a fixation with big boobed women with no other discernable talent appearing at ringside (or heaven forbid, in the ring!) and therefore not allowing room for any male managers to make their way through?
In asking the question, you answered it. Obviously, I'm biased. I don't begrudge anybody a spot and I try to learn from anybody more successful than myself, but getting a sex change isn't an option at this point. The positioning of some ladies over the years has been puzzling, based upon what I've always considered the criteria for being a manager. In my opinion, some of them were about as qualified to be cutting promos for main event talent as I would be as a model featured on the cover of Playboy.
What advice would you give to anyone who was looking to get involved in the business as either a wrestler or a manager?
Have a backup plan that allows you something resembling the same freedom you will have as a wrestler and pays similar money. Master a craft that doesn't feel like work. Most wrestlers find it impossible to punch a clock when the business has passed them by. Sort of like Mickey Rourke in the deli scene from "The Wrestler".
How do you see yourself as having influenced & left your mark on the business?
That's a tough one because, as I said earlier, the opportunity to make a real impact never existed. I've been around long enough that a handful of managers are ripping off my gimmick on the indy circuit and I'm fairly certain that some folks who went on to bigger things would say I enlightened them on the art of crafting a promo, but none of that really matters.
I suppose I stand as a shining example of someone who stubbornly fought a losing battle to the bitter end. I think I could also be pointed out as someone who managed to make that most out of what he was given to work with and could usually rise above the often outlandish scenarios. I couldn't always make the wrestlers wrestle to my satisfaction and had no control over storylines. Many guys see a flawed storyline as an indictment of their talent or position and act accordingly to their detriment. I always looked at it as an opportunity and a challenge to prove myself. That's why, all modesty aside, my promos were usually among the most entertaining parts of any show that featured me. The fact that I was different from the status quo probably helped my longevity. I suppose there is a lesson in there somewhere.