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Jim Ross on Jesse Ventura, Jim Cornette
WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross shares his thoughts on working with Jesse Ventura and Jim Cornette in the broadcast booth.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, WCW would occasionally team manager extraordinaire Jim Cornette and me on a variety of broadcasts. Cornette, without question, was one of the most talented antagonist broadcasters that I ever worked with and certainly was as headstrong and convicted in his fundamental beliefs of the pro wrestling business as anyone with whom I ever teamed.
Cornette was similar to Paul Heyman inasmuch as both were lifelong fans who sort of backed into the biz by starting out as ringside photographers before losing their cameras and becoming managers. While Heyman grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y. watching the WWWF, Cornette grew up in Louisville and cut his teeth on “Memphis Wrestling.”
The “Louisville Lip” is best known as the incomparable manager of The Midnight Express and ranks with Bobby Heenan as one of the greatest, wrestling managers of all time. Cornette was always well prepared and was very glib much like one of his role models, Jerry Lawler, specifically when The King was a villain broadcaster in his early WWE days.
Even though Corny was naturally funny and entertaining, he liked his wrestling to be taken seriously and was never the first man in the humor line. I can recall a WCW Halloween Havoc PPV when the theme was, duh, Halloween and I dressed as a gangster and J.C.went as, befittingly, a Confederate Army officer. The costumes were rentals and the perturbed Kentucky native made sure that by the time that the night was over that his attire would never be worn by anyone again. During an in-ring skirmish the “Kentucky Colonel” got most of his uniform significantly torn in an act of defiance. So, Turner Broadcasting bought a tattered and torn Rebel uniform perfect for a “Gone with the Wind” party.
Jim Cornette had impeccable timing and a fascinating understanding of the business — specifically, the old school applications of the genre that few of his peers could rival. Cornette’s skill set was a great motivator for me, because if one wasn’t on top of their game, Cornette would make you look like “Ned in the First Reader.”Cornette knew how to verbally frame a wrestling villain and how to position the heroes in a manner that was both believable and memorable.
I’m grateful that J.C. and I came along when we did on the national scene at TBS, because in today’s marketplace we would seen as “too southern" to be a broadcast duo.
Cornette is known within the business for his combative personality and the occasional rant. None of it was an act as Jim Cornette is as passionate as anyone that I’ve ever met within the wrestling business. I’ve kidded him that when he "went off" that he could only be described as being like Eb, from the old "Green Acres" TV program, on crack. J.C. reminds me of the current Joe Walsh hit “Analog Man” where Joe sings, “I’m an analog man in a digital world.”
When I talk about announce talents and in-ring talents being at their greatest when they were natural extensions of themselves, Jim Cornette is a perfect example.
Jesse “The Body” Ventura and I had two occasions to collaborate — in 1992 in WCW and again in 2001 in the XFL. After leaving WWE under less than perfect circumstances, Jesse was out of the wrestling game for an extended length of time until K. Allen Frey, then the WCW head honcho, signed Ventura to a hefty contract and brought the former WWE broadcasting star to the dysfunctional WCW in 1992.
Jesse and I became a broadcast team and did our first PPV for WCW in February 1992 in Milwaukee at Super Brawl II. I remember that event as much for the Brian Pillman versus Jushin Liger bout as teaming with The Body for the first time. However, if one takes a look at that card, it was dotted with future Hall of Fame level talents.
1992 was a tumultuous year in WCW. Kip Frey was fired and my old boss and mentor Cowboy Bill Watts was hired to run WCW. Bill had a rocky tenure that resulted in his eventual resignation and the residual fall out on yours truly was something that I wouldn’t wish on my own worst enemy. Politics. Never liked them. Still don’t.
As a result of Jesse being hired to work a very limited schedule for big money, there were issues that I will readily admit that I did not embrace. I was happy Ventura got a big money deal, but I wasn’t happy that I was doing much more work, serving as VP of broadcasting, working on the creative committee and hosting multiple hours of TV per week while earning less than half of Jesse’s pay. Was the future Governor of Minnesota and WWE Hall of Famer twice as good as me? Perhaps he was, but even with JR’s BBQ Sauce poured on that particular corporate dish, it didn’t taste good.
So, as a result of the politics that many of us endured in WCW in 1992 it was, to put it mildly, not a good year professionally for the “Baron of BBQ.” I was hopeful that Jesse and I could form a great broadcasting team and that we could somehow approach the magic that Ventura had with Vince McMahon and the late Gorilla Monsoon in The Body’s WWE years, but that did not happen, at least in my opinion.
It wasn’t that we were horrible. We certainly weren’t, but I expected so much more from our ringside partnership. Perhaps my expectations were too high or I simply wasn’t a good fit with Jesse. Hopefully, those that remember our WCW run look back upon those broadcasts more fondly than do I. Maybe I’m being too critical.
In no way am I demeaning Jesse Ventura as a broadcaster, because that would be inaccurate. The Body had a magnificent delivery and excellent instincts, which he gained through his years of working in multiple wrestling territories and performing with some amazing talents. Working with Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersole on NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event broadcasts had to be an amazing learning experience for any broadcaster.
Plus, Jesse was very bright and I got to hear MANY of his conspiracy theories long before they were made into TV shows or before Jesse wrote about them. The experience working with Jesse Ventura wasn’t a negative one for me personally, but I’ve always thought that we should have made a better team.
Hopefully, I’m underselling Jesse and my short tenure as a broadcast team, however, I wish that wrestling politics and my own ego had not been a deterrent to what should have been one of the better broadcast teams to come along in the business in generations.
I wanted JR and The Body to be perfect, but we simply weren’t. I’ll take responsibility for that one.
However, near perfect days would lie ahead . . . next “The Brain” and “Gorilla.”