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Where Are They Now? J.J. Dillon
J.J. Dillon had just been hit in the head with a steel chair when he had an epiphany.
It was 1969 and Dillon was refereeing a match between WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino and Killer Kowalski in front of a rabid, sold-out crowd in the historic Boston Garden. Suddenly, the villainous, 6-foot-7 Kowalski grabbed a chair and swung it at the legendary Sammartino, but accidentally plastered Dillon.
It was a brutal hit and Dillon went down hard. But laying there covered in blood under the hot lights of the Garden, he knew this was what he wanted to do with his life. (PHOTOS)
The seeds of this dream were first planted in Trenton, N.J. in the 1950s where Dillon grew up enamored with the wrestling he saw on his family's old black and white television.
"There was one wrestling program on at that time, which was Thursday nights from the Capitol Arena in Washington, D.C.," Dillon remembered. "It was the era of Argentina Rocca and Chief Big Heart and Haystacks Calhoun and Buddy Rogers. I was 15 at the time and just in awe."
It wasn't long before the young fan got involved in the business, visiting shows at the local armory and asking to help out anyway he could.
"I did everything," Dillon revealed before listing off a long line of odd jobs, including selling programs and handling the performers' robes and jackets. It would take a disaster, however, to finally get Dillon in the ring.
"There was a snowstorm at a TV taping in Philadelphia," Dillon recalled. "Enough wrestlers came, but they had no referee. Looking around, they said, 'Hey, kid, can you do that?' That became the next step."
Dillon was a natural in the position and became a regular official for WWE while still a college student. The kid who once sat in front of the television admiring the Italian Superman was now standing next to him in the ring. Still, Dillon's goal was to wrestle the champion — not just count his pinfalls.
After college, Dillon worked a series of fulltime jobs, including selling insurance and teaching school while competing on weekends. It wasn't until a friend recommended him to a promoter in North Carolina that Dillon's childhood dream would finally come true.
"I packed everything I owned in an old beat-up Chevy and drove day and night until I got to Charlotte," Dillon said. "That's when I started my fulltime wrestling career."
Now 29, the blonde-haired grappler made up for lost time by competing in more than 3,000 matches during the next two decades.
"I think I wrestled in 44 of the 50 states," Dillon told WWE.com. "I lived in Australia for a year when I was wrestling. I went to New Zealand, I've been to Europe, I wrestled in Kuwait."
While Dillon's talent took him all over the globe, it was his ability to talk that had the fans coming back for more. This gift for the gab would lead him into yet another realm of the wrestling business.
"I got a call from The Stomper," Dillon said of the feared Mongolian grappler. "He said, 'I got a main event spot in Dallas and I need a manager. Let's go for it.'"
While he competed as Jim Dillon, he became James J. Dillon in his new role — a pompous, tuxedo-wearing blowhard who talked tough, but ran from the slightest hint of danger.
This persona opened up yet another door for Dillon as he would begin a lucrative career as one of the most sought-after managers in the country. A shortlist of competitors he oversaw included Abdullah the Butcher, Black Bart, Big John Studd and many others. But it was his relationship with a young talent named Tully Blanchard that would change sports-entertainment forever.
"I was managing Tully and we were doing a program for TBS," Dillon recalled. "Tully was the National Champion, Ric Flair was the NWA World Champion and Ole & Arn [Anderson] were the World Tag Team Champions. We all went out together for one interview and Arn said, 'Take a good look at your screen right now, because never have so few wreaked so much havoc on everyone else. You'd have to go back in history to the four horsemen of the apocalypse.'"
Dillon then held up the four fingers on his right hand, mimicking Anderson's hand gesture, which would quickly become one of the most recognizable symbols in all of wrestling.
"We ran with it from there and it just grew and grew and grew," Dillon revealed.
What began as a throwaway line in a TV interview became one of the hottest things in the National Wrestling Alliance in the mid-80s. The Four Horsemen raised hell in the ring, battering opponents like Dusty Rhodes and The Road Warriors. Outside the arena, the five men were even wilder. The jet setting and limo riding that Flair spoke about in interviews wasn't simply materialistic boasting — it was a way of life.
"I probably killed a few brain cells trying to keep up with him," Dillon said, laughing.
By the end of the decade, Arn and Tully had left NWA and were competing in WWE under the tutelage of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as The Brainbusters. When he found out that Mr. McMahon was looking for an experienced thinker to help out with operations, Blanchard recommended his old friend Dillon for the job.
"They offered me a chance to step off camera and use my creative skills," Dillon said. "It seemed like a dream come true."
In 1989, Dillon began working for WWE as the Vice President of Talent Relations. For the next eight years, he would enjoy a successful run as a major behind-the-scenes player.
"Undertaker and Triple H were hired when I was here," Dillon said, proudly.
When his time with WWE came to an end, Dillon found himself headed back down south to work with the white-hot World Championship Wrestling. Business was very good, but Dillon would quickly find out that not everything was as it appeared.
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