Published on June 18th, 2013 | by Andrew Lutzke0
Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Guest Booker Jim Cornette (Part 1)
Presented by Sean Oliver and the Kayfabe Commentaries Crew
The Man (part 2): With WCW and the rotating Turner corporate leadership behind him, Cornette was ready to attempt to live out another professional dream of his – booking a territory. In order to achieve this Cornette had to find funding, which he scored by convincing the record industry’s Rick Rubin to be a silent partner in this new promotion. Jim took on Sandy Scott – a former wrestler and JCP/WCW office worker as a co-promoter, as well as perennial jobber Tim Horner as another member of the staff.
The promotion was founded in late 1991 and dubbed “Smoky Mountain Wrestling”. Designed to work like an old fashion territory, the SMW crew would travel across Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, The Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The two towns that were mainly featured for big cards were Knoxville and Johnson City, both in Tennessee.
In 1992, the initial roster featured Paul Orndorff, Ivan Koloff, Robert Gibson, Dutch Mantel, Scott Armstrong, “Prime Time” Brian Lee, Jackie and Bobby Fulton, Rip Rogers, Bob Holly, Hector Guerrero, Tony Anthony, Terry Gordy and Jimmy Golden (Bunkhouse Buck). The early weeks were also spent pushing “The Heavenly Bodies” – a team that would be built up to create a buzz. This would be the tandem of “The Doctor of Desire” Tom Pritchard and “Sweet” Stan Lane.
The Bodies were managed by Cornette, and spent much of the year feuding with The Fultons and The Rock and Roll Express. Tony Anthony and Brian Lee traded the heavyweight title on the top of the card.
By the end of the year talent such as Ronnie Garvin, Kevin Sullivan, Bob Armstrong, Tracy Smothers, The Nightstalker (Adam Bomb) and even the Mongolian Stomper made their way into the SMW scene.
In early 1993, Jim Cornette attempted to expand the promotional base and went to his old friend Bill Watts, who was leading WCW at this point and worked out a deal to bring SMW talent into WCW. This would lead to a Rock and Roll Express versus Heavenly Bodies match on the WCW PPV “SuperBrawl 3”.
As part of this deal, WCW sent Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton to SMW for a wild angle:
1993 also saw Stan Lane choose to leave the promotion, despite being half of the top heel tag team. He lost a loser leaves town match to the Rock and Roll Express and would soon be in the WWF as an announcer. Jim Cornette would end up in the WWF in the Spring of ’93 as well (but we’ll cover that later). This would lead to the “New” Heavenly Bodies (Pritchard and “The Gigolo” Jimmy Del Ray) to enter the WWF as well. SMW meanwhile added Ron and Don Harris to replace The Bodies as the top heel tandem. The Armstrong Family would start to take on key roles in SMW on the babyface side – battling Cornette’s teams for several months before “Armstrong’s Army” added the Rock and Roll Express as partners for a big clash with the Bodies, The Harris Boys and Cornette. Young Chris Candido was added to the heel side of SMW and would develop into a key talent for Cornette until the WWF swooped up him and his valet, Tammy Synch. Big names such as the Big Bossman and The Steiner Brothers made appearances to try and pop a house as well during the year. SMW got one last chance at national exposure that November when the Rock and Roll Express faced The Heavenly Bodies on the WWF’s “Survivor Series” PPV event.
1994 was the closest SMW ever came to being a profitable company – twice during the year the group drew over 4,000 fans to a single event and big time talent such as “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Cactus Jack, Terry Funk, Road Warrior Hawk and Jake “The Snake” Roberts came into the area. Candido and Brian Lee would form a top heel tandem to clash with the Rock and Roll Express, along with the SMW’s most controversial talent: The Gangstas. Mustafa Saed and New Jack, with D-Lo Brown in tow as back-up entered into SMW and were used as race baiting heels – using O.J. Simpson, watermelon, fried chicken and such in promos and declaring “affirmative action” allowed them to win via only 2 counts. Booker Cornette felt that such an angle would rile up his southern base and bring them into the arenas to see the brash black men taken down by southern super heroes like the Rock and Roll Express, Tony Anthony and Tracy Smothers (the T.H.U.G.S.) and others. Other talent unearthed by Cornette this year included Chris Jericho and Lance Storm – The Thrillseekers. The two young men were probably being developed to be the replacements for the aging and perhaps overexposed Rock and Roll Express, but they never caught on to that degree. Longtime jobber and journeyman Bruiser Bedlam was also brought in and given a solid push by Cornette – helping Cornette in his feud with Commissioner Bob Armstrong.
1995 would see Eddie Gilbert enter SMW and bring along “Unibomb” (Kane) as his partner to clash with the Rock and Roll Express. Gilbert would quit almost right away and force Cornette to find unheralded Al Snow to be Unibomb’s new partner. Snow’s history was intriguing as he broke in the business in 1982 and made an early appearance on TV as a jobber, and then failed to make TV again for 12 years. Snow was a prime talent though and boosted the SMW roster right away.
The Headbangers, Mosh and Thrasher also went from TV job guys in the WWF to a pushed talent in SMW, adding more fresh talent to the tag division. The future Bull Buchanan was brought in under a mask and used as “The Punisher”, solid but unspectacular Bobby Blaze was moved up the cards, Buddy Landell, long considered a talent in the ring – but unreliable out of it, was brought in and pushed hard – getting a run as SMW champ and given the prime spot at the “Super Bowl of Wrestling” super card, facing WWF IC champion Shawn Michaels.
Long time top draw Ricky Morton had a falling out with Jim Cornette in late summer after Morton failed to show for an event and Morton was temporarily fired from SMW. Upon his return, his partner Gibson turned on him and joined “Cornette’s Militia”. They would feud until the very end of the promotion.
In a desperate bid to strum up interest, Cornette agreed to work a cross promotional angle with the USWA – this led to Jerry Lawler winning the SMW title and many brawls occurring between the two rosters.
The inter-promotional angle never had an official ending as Rubin lost interest in losing money on wrestling and dropped his funding of SMW. Faced with losing his own money, Cornette closed down the promotion in late November 1995 – after taking a beating from much of the roster as a show closing angle on the final card. The SMW title lived on for a few more weeks, being used in the USWA before being won and retired by Jerry Lawler.
Next time: Cornette’s career in WWF, ROH and TNA…
The Shoot: The concept of this edition of Guest Booker is that Jim Cornette is given the job of booking the WCW vs WWF Invasion angle that occurred in 2001 after WCW was purchased by Vince McMahon.
Cornette feels wrestling booking and writing are two completely different things – booking is putting two divergent personalities into a situation where fans will come to see the outcome or expansion upon their grievances. Writing is overly producing the athletes into a situation where there natural charisma and skills are erased and made to fit another’s concept and words.
Cornette blames Ted Turner’s buyout of JCP in 1988 as part of the start of the problem as then we had corporate suits pretending to know what was going on in wrestling.
Jim worked for Memphis for 6 years – he wasn’t allowed in the locker room until a week before his debut.
He learned about “blading” after taking pictures ringside and seeing Jimmy Valiant’s “sharpened fingernail”.
Jim learned “carny” from simply being kept in the dark from the workers who spoke it around him to keep kayfabe.
Over 100 people went to jail for attacking Cornette during his career.
Dusty Rhodes was a “big picture” booker who gave the guys he trusted a brief talk over what was expected and let his guys go be creative.
Cornette says up until 1989 he was quiet about his opinions – then he started being micromanaged by corporate suits who hired know-nothings to work over him.
Making the new guys memorize a script affects a lot of guys because they have to focus on recalling the words instead of working on crowd interactions, etc.
“It used to be grown men pretending to be hurt and people believed it, now the guys really do get hurt and the crowd thinks it’s all bullshit.”
“I spent a few days in a Louisiana jail and I enjoyed that more than living in Connecticut”.
Cornette convinced Jim Ross to get Ohio Valley Wrestling set up as a developmental territory after Corny visited the warehouse that Tom Pritchard was training new WWF recruits in.
OVW would pay for WWF guys to work the occasional feature match.
Harsh words are offered to Johnny Ace for the way he disassembled the developmental system.
Ace liked to lie and pass blame, in addition to plucking talent from OVW without warning.
The WWF office also made Jim use their rings and ropes, which led to Mark Henry snapping a rope and being injured.
The WWF also ordered them to not use certain sponsors, and micromanaged OVW to the point of what flavor of Snapple to sell in the concessions. All the while the WWF really didn’t own the place and barely accounted for 30% of OVW’s gross.
Matt Morgan’s plight is gone over: Seven foot tall, good looking, muscular athlete – good promo, 3.7 GPA in college, etc etc. Booked in OVW as the perfect specimen of athletic prowess and intelligence, Jim makes him the top babyface – WWF says make him heel – WWF calls him up and teams him with Big Show briefly, eliminating his size as selling point, then sent him back to OVW and told Cornette to put a mask on him to help him learn “body language”. WWF then calls him up again and kills his promo skills by making him a stuttering goof, because the fans were supposed to appreciate the irony of the perfect prospect having such an obvious flaw.
The WWF writing team came to OVW and didn’t ask Cornette about the ins and outs of the guys- mainly they were there to look at the guys and come up with gimmick ideas, without asking for strengths and weaknesses.
Cornette believes Vince McMahon is embarrassed to be a wrestling promoter. This started way back in 1985 when the “sports entertainment” term was coined.
Kevin Dunn was convinced nobody was going to know who Cactus Jack was when Foley brought the gimmick back in 1997.
The Invasion was screwed from the start as WCW’s main eventers were under Turner contract and not part of the sale. Vince would lose millions on the WBF, the XFL and other ideas, but wouldn’t buy out the big names for 5-10 million it would take to make his core business a lot of money.
Having Buff Bagwell versus Booker T trotted out as a “WCW” match – along with Arn Anderson and Scott Hudson being a first time announcing team – was a recipe for disaster as Buff vs. T was hardly a marquee “WCW” match plus it told the fans “We own these guys – no worries about invasions”.
Cornette rants about what marks the ECW hardcore workers were, since they would maul their bodies for a pop. “I miss the days when the marks were in the stands.”
Jim rants on “The Wrestler” movie and explains that he doesn’t want to be around people who would pay to see guys staple dollar bills to one another’s heads.
Cornette claims to be calmer now and can even talk to Russo as long as wrestling isn’t the subject.
“God Bless Jim Herd – he ain’t dead yet, but I got my fingers crossed!”
The booking begins:
Rule 1 to make this WCW vs. WWF angle work is to make the fans believe it.
Week 1 – Vince cuts a promo burying WCW, and warning all the wrestlers that he’s going to make each wrestler pay for trying to put me out of business. Bischoff interrupts him and buries the WCW guys and asks for a job. Ric Flair comes from the audience with WCW guys and lets Vince know that they aren’t going down without a fight. Flair implies that the WCW guys will shoot on the WWF guys if need be.
Steve Austin interrupts with some WWF guys and tells Vince that the WWF guys aren’t happy that Vince is trying to bury the WCW guys and setting up his own guys to be beat down.
The Undertaker then comes out and promises to fuck up anyone who tries to mess with him – on either side. (Cornette cuts the promo for each guy and it’s pretty good – especially Vince’s part.) A surprisingly “shoot” heavy angle for old school Cornette to propose.
The next 2 or 3 weeks have nothing occur as the announcers state Vince is reconsidering WCW’s fate. Vince ultimately chooses to make SD! Into WCW Nitro and not mix up the talent.
There is no point in hot shotting angles as the competition is gone. Skits are eliminated from the shows. PPVs are alternating.
Chris Benoit jumps to WCW. Vince sends Regal over to WCW to teach him a lesson. They agree to work very stiff to put the angle over.
Arn Anderson comes out and shows Benoit bruises and questions why Regal broke “wrestler’s code” and legit hurt another guy, when it’s just making more millions for Vince.
Vince defends himself to Flair and Bischoff- Flair is ordered to wrestle that night against rookie trainee Brock Lesnar. Brock no sells everything and Brock works take downs and Flair desperately claws at Brock’s eyes – Lesnar locks a chickenwing on Flair’s bad shoulder and injures him. – Brock then returns to OVW now that Vince’s point is made. Jim Ross walks off the broadcast in protest and Vince sends Ross to WCW as punishment. Foley quits the WWF in protest as well.
Terry Funk is called out by Vince that June – Vince has been nursing an old grudge for Funk quitting in the 80’s. Funk is put on PPV against Kane. Kane “roughs him up” but Funk “shoots” and small packages Kane and clinches up tight and the ref has no choice but to count the pin, giving Funk the IC title.
Now a pissed off Vince tells Kurt Angle to get ready to kill some WCW bastard as revenge – Rick Steiner accepts and in July Angle/Steiner have a stiff bout. Malenko and Saturn “save” Angle and Scott Steiner charges in to chase off the WWF guys.
That’s Disc One! Come back Thursday and we’ll see where all these fake shoot matches lead to…