Former Manager of the 4 Horsemen
Yes, JJ Dillon.
There probably isn’t anyone on Earth who has more interesting stories to tell than JJ Dillon. He managed the 4 Horsemen during everybody’s favorite era of classic NWA. After that, he became the modern-day Jim Ross and Paul Heyman of the WWF, being Vince McMahon’s head of talent relations/booker/writer from 1989 – 1996.
But that wasn’t enough, as he headed to WCW for their huge run in the 90s, and played the on-air commissioner role. He was also in WCW during their Russo-era demise. Summary? He didn’t just read about wrestling history’s most interesting events pathetically like the rest of us; he lived them.
And if you think that’s impressive, JJ was also a wrestler and manager during the 60s and 70s. The Sheik, Sammartino, Kowalski, Valentine, the Funks, Murdoch, Abdullah the Butcher, Japan, Australia, Canada… you name it, JJ has a story about it. He had the career all of us merely dream about.
This interview was conducted via telephone on June 28, from the Prudential office in Atlanta, GA. JJ is out of the wrestling business now, and currently sells real estate in Atlanta under his real name, Jim Morrison. But that doesn’t mean wrestling isn’t in his blood anymore, or else he wouldn’t have agreed to this interview. Jim is a very professional, down-to-Earth guy, and he took time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. So please sit back, relax, and enjoy picking the brain of one of the most important figures in wrestling of the past 20 years.
1. First things first. Please take this opportunity to plug any websites, businesses, or projects you’d like to promote.
JJDillon.com. It’s a 2-fold thing. First of all, it gives me a chance to talk about my background when I was actually an active wrestler. I’m better known from when I was a manager, but I met some fascinating people and wrestled some of the most fascinating people in the history of the business. So it gives me a chance to talk about that and thank some people who really helped me out early on in my career, and at the same time, use it as a springboard to my new business for anyone who may be interested.
2. Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first. How did you end up in real estate, and how many of your clients recognize you from the days when you managed the Horsemen?
I’ve been in wrestling all my life, and what happens is all of a sudden you reach a stage of your life where you say, ‘What did all this experience prepare me to do in the business world outside of wrestling?’ And that’s kind of a scary thought, because wrestling was always kind of a closed community.
I like the thought of real estate, just because it gave me some flexibility with my schedule, and it’s something that no matter where I relocate, it’s knowledge I can take with me to keep myself busy somewhere else. Those were kind of the reasons I leaned toward real estate.
Sometimes I do (get recognized), sometimes I don’t. I’ve been off TV for so long, and especially using my real name, I get more comments about Jim Morrison of the Doors than I do about wrestling. Except when we sit down and keep talking about ‘What did you do before?’ and somehow it comes out. A lot of times that does become a topic of conversation like, ‘Oh yes, I remember’ and that kind of thing.
3. You were in Detroit at the height of the Sheik’s drawing power. Were the crowds as wild and crazy as people say they were, and were you ever involved in any dangerous situations with the crowds?
Not me per se, but it was an exciting time for me, and I was saddened by the passing of Eddie Farhat. He was very, very instrumental in me breaking into the business. I actually started as a fan, and then refereed. The Sheik came to the New York territory, and worked some dates with Bruno Sammartino. Just in talking to him I knew he had his territory in Detroit, and just in casual conversation one time told him that I not only wanted to referee, but my real dream was to wrestle. And though I hadn’t been trained by anyone in particular, I kind of learned just by being in the ring as a referee, and I played judo in high school. One day he said, “Hey come on out and you can work for me.” And I said, “As a referee?” He said, “No, come out and wrestle and I’ll give you a chance.”
I actually had 2 professional matches, but they were add-on matches to a local card, and that was in ’62. This (Detroit) was in ’68, and I took a long holiday weekend, called him in advance, and he just put me on TV to do jobs. Which was fine, so my actual first match was on a Friday night in Dayton, OH in a little… it looked like a phone booth on TV. It was only 2 rows of seats, and the “Grand Wizard” Ernie Roth was the ring commentator, and I was in a tag match against the Hells Angels: Ronnie Dupree and, I can’t remember the other guy’s name. And the next day, I went to Pittsburgh. I did all right, and on Saturday they said they were short a couple of guys who worked TV in Pittsburgh, and I got in the car and drove over to Pittsburgh. I worked with Killer Kowalski in what I call my first booked singles match, and of course I thought I was gonna die that day with all the emotion and excitement of being on TV. Then on Sunday, I went up to Walden Lake where they used to do TV up there for the Big Time Wrestling show, and I wrestled a couple of times up there. Ernie Ladd, and I don’t know who else, but I stayed there for about 6 months; that was in ’68, and I went back the following year and I spent a week’s vacation.
Then in late ‘69/early ’70, I moved to Detroit. My father worked for General Motors, and I went out there with the idea of pursuing my dream after working some vacation time. His (Sheik’s) business was a little slow at the time, and he said, “If you got a job, I got people here who are trying to feed their families who are working full-time, and I can’t afford to give you additional bookings; it’s a sacrifice for them. So keep your job and I’ll book you when I can.” I ended up working a couple of days a week, and I stayed there 6 months doing that. I always appreciated that he gave me a chance, that he was honest with me. You always heard certain promoters knock the Sheik, Nick Gulas… I never met Nick but I can never knock the Sheik for what he did for me. He doesn’t owe me a dime to this day. He always paid me for every day that I worked. I worked some Cobo Hall shots, and it was a wild place. Wild Bill Curry was there at that time, Dr. Jerry Graham, Bobo Brazil, it was a hot time. It was an exciting place to work, but I don’t remember any really specific incidents of fan riots or that sort of thing that I was in the middle of.
4. What did your father think about your getting into wrestling?
He was always very supportive of me with whatever I wanted to do. They were just worried that I would never do something where I’d get seriously hurt. I always felt that I was in control of the situation and that I was never going to put myself in a situation where I’d do something foolish or get seriously hurt, because I was in control of it. Like I said, I played judo so I knew how to protect myself while falling. And in those days, 99% of the guys in the business, there weren’t guys in there that hurt you. They took care of you, even guys who were very physical, they didn’t hurt you.
5. You were a huge fan of Johnny Valentine growing up, even joining his fan club. Looking back, what is your favorite memory of Valentine?
When I first started watching wrestling, they only had one night a week, which was the Capitol Arena out of Washington, DC on Thursday nights for like an hour and a half. In that era, Argentina Rocca was the big favorite; Karl Von Hess was the villain. Dr. Jerry Graham and Professor Roy Shires, and then Shires left, and that’s when Eddie Graham came in as the Graham Brothers. Chief Big Heart… it was a great time.
And then around ’57, I think, Valentine came in. There was just something about him that I admired. He took, and this was typical of his career, he took awhile to get over wherever he went because he was very slow and methodical. But he was very, very believable in the ring. I mean when he hit people, you could hear the WHACK. Sweat would fly, and if you didn’t hit him back the same way or as hard, he would gobble you up. Which is why Wahoo McDaniel and people like that, those were classic matches. He could come out, and just stop with a look, and he could elicit such a response. And when he got in the ring he’d hammer someone down with a hold, whereas nowadays somebody would yell Boring. And the first time somebody yells Boring, the two guys get up like they were hit with a cattle prodder and do a bunch of meaningless things just to not hear the people say Boring.
Valentine was from an era where, if that were to happen, he’d sit there until they were ready for him to do something, and he would eventually have the people out of the palm of his hand. He was as good a psychologist as anyone I ever saw. I was actually so enthralled by him that I started a fan club for him. I didn’t join the fan club, I started it. I’ve got an old picture somewhere of me at that age, walking out of the arena with him, and he signed it for me.
That, and another guy the Zebra Kid was very kind to me. He traveled all over the world and I befriended him. In fact, he was the one who said to me, “If this is really what you wanna do, you need to go to school, go to college, get your education, go out for the wrestling team, learn the fundamentals of amateur wrestling. Once you have the education under your belt and learn the fundamentals of wrestling, if this is meant to be then it will happen and you’ll have all the tools.”
And that’s what I did, I went to college. I had never seen an amateur wrestling match because in New Jersey, where I was born, they had no amateur wrestling program in the state at that time, because somebody had been hurt years before. I went to college in Redding, PA and went out for the wrestling team. It was a small school, so even though I had no experience, I ended up making the team. It was great to learn the fundamentals of wrestling, which combined with my judo training, it really helped me throughout my career as an active wrestler.
6. Let’s play “favorites.” We’ll give you a list, and you tell us your favorites.
Favorite version of the Horsemen: I know the original version with Ole didn’t last too long. The constants were Ric, Tully, and Arn, and it was a revolving door after Ole, with Luger, Windham, a whole bunch of them came through. I had a lot of respect for Ole. I know a lot of guys didn’t understand him and had trouble getting along with him, but I liked Ole. If I had to pick one, I’d pick the original version for that reason.
Favorite Flair-Steamboat match: I came at a time where Flair-Steamboat had already happened. I was in Florida when Steamboat went to the Carolinas and had that run, and I don’t even know if I ever saw the two of them wrestle each other.
Even in ’89? Yep.
Favorite place to eat when touring Japan: I love Korean BBQ. There’s a couple of different restaurants. Not one that stands out in particular, like a neighborhood in Tokyo where you can go out in the nightclub area. I never went to a Korean BBQ restaurant that I didn’t enjoy.
Favorite promotion to work for: You know I always, I think I said this on my website, I have a certain fondness for the Amarillo territory. It was a very hard territory to work because the towns were so far apart. I went there after the Carolinas, then the Maritimes in Canada for the summer, and then went in to Amarillo and stayed a year for the first time. I found the Funks to be very helpful to me over my career. Dory’s one style, Terry’s another style. Terry in particular had a very insightful perspective on the business. He’s always been ahead of what is going on and the trends. The talent that worked the Amarillo territory, the guy that was in the opening match one week was in the main event the next week, because they all had that kind of capability. Karl Kox was there, Ciclone Negro. It’s like the who’s who of wrestling came through Amarillo. Just a great, great territory to work.
Favorite city to perform/tour in: I liked Amarillo, and I liked Dallas. I guess my favorite arena to perform in was the Sportatorium, just because of the history there. The ring was hard as a rock, but I really enjoyed the Sportatorium.
Favorite year of Starrcade: It’s funny, I don’t have one that really jumps out at me. Probably the first one (1983) only because it was a new concept, and it was WrestleMania for all practical purposes, for another promotion aside from WWF.
Favorite member of the McMahon family: I don’t really have one. I always got along with and respected Linda.
Favorite non-Horseman performer to watch during your Crockett days: I remember going out in the Charlotte Coliseum and watching Funk and Brisco. The chemistry between the two of them was great.
Favorite job in wrestling you’ve ever held: The years in Charlotte were good, Jimmy Crockett was always good to me. I spent 7 years at Titan Sports (WWF), and that was a learning experience. From there, I felt I really could’ve helped WCW, but that’s where the business really, really made a turn, and not for the better. It was non-wrestling people who had taken control of the wrestling business. The corporate people who understood nothing about the product got involved, and that was the beginning of the end.
7. I have to hand it to Vince for having the gusto to fire Ultimate Warrior after he held Vince up for more money at SummerSlam ’91. Did you see it happen, and why do you think Warrior’s return in ’92 failed to draw money like many had expected him to?
I think it was in Madison Square Garden where Warrior held up Vince for whatever. Vince just decided that day that he was going to be gone, and I think he brought in Sid, if memory serves me well. Vince was just… Vince was successful because he was always in control, and at least as long as I was ever around him.
As an example, in the absence of that, what happens is really what WCW was all about. The inmates ran the asylum, and they controlled management. That added to speeding up the timetable for their demise. But Vince in those days would not have tolerated someone like Warrior doing that. You just couldn’t do it and survive in the business. It was a business decision, and I think Vince did the right thing. And I regard Jim Hellwig as a personal friend, and I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing, too.
8. I was really impressed with the hype and buildup for WrestleMania VIII (Flair vs. Savage; Hogan vs. Sid), which was pretty much your pet project. Were you happy with the way it turned out, and why is it we can’t seem to get an accurate figure for the paid attendance at that show?
I can’t answer that, I don’t know why. They always wanted to guard information that went out, and why that was a big secret, I don’t know.
I was very happy with that build-up because, prior to that, was when all the controversy with Pat Patterson and Terry Garvin came into play. Terry, who was a friend of mine in the business for a long time, was let go. That was a sad situation. Of course Pat was on hiatus for about 6 months so… I don’t think he was ever off the payroll, but he was kind of put out on the sidelines. I was the one who single-handedly worked with Vince McMahon to do the build-up for that promotion, write the actual show, and it was an exhaustive time for me because we were very short-handed. I remember when the show was over, being in the car with Vince going back to the hotel. He made the statement to me about having respect for me for my knowledge of the business and my work ethic and so forth. I still remember that conversation, so that particular show meant a lot to me for that reason.
9. In the 80s, the Southern NWA crowds would provide heat that was off the charts. Today, you can hear a pin drop during Raw tapings. Why the big difference?
I think it’s the trend in this business, away from kayfabe and reality to sports entertainment. And there’s a difference between Vince McMahon going before an athletic commission hearing in New Jersey and saying that this is a staged event and therefore shouldn’t be taxed like an athletic event… that is a business decision and I have no problem with Vince doing something like that.
To me, the secret of the business is very simple: magic. I was always fascinated by magic. When FOX did that show on the secrets of magic and showed how things are done, the answer is simple, almost too simple. Its like it loses its mystique, and you somehow lose respect for it. Even the person who exposed it all wore a mask, like they were embarrassed to be part of that community, because they would be ostracized by the others because you’re only demeaning yourself. I use that as an example in the wrestling business.
When I was a kid, I was smart without being smart. In other words, no one had to smarten me up. And when I was with a circle of wrestlers, I conducted myself in an appropriate manner. I never asked them questions. In time, they respected me because they knew I was smart without being smartened up. When the business got away from that, and everyone wanted to be smart and say they were smart, then the public as a whole lost respect for the business.
Once it’s stuck in your face that this is all a show, then when you go to an arena… the phrase I once heard was the ‘temporary suspension of disbelief.’ And by that I mean a father wants to take his son to see wrestling because his son is excited to see what’s happening. The father knows in his mind this is all make-believe, but wants to go with his kid. If the performance is very well-done, and all of the sudden the father there with his kid gets caught up in all the emotion that is happening, the next thing you know, he’s cheering, he’s mad, he’s wanting to throw something. Now when the show’s over and he goes home and goes to bed and turns the lights out, does he now believe wrestling is real? Nah, probably not. His opinion hasn’t changed, but because the performance is so well-done, for the time he was there, he temporarily suspended his disbelief and got wrapped up in the emotion of it.
And that’s really, to me, what wrestling at its best is all about. But when you constantly say, ‘This is a show, we’re putting you on,’ then that person who goes gets embarrassed to get wrapped up in the emotion, because he knows they’re constantly getting slapped in the face. ‘This is nothing but a show, why should I cheer, why should I care,’ no matter how real it may seem. They keep reminding people that it’s a show. For that reason, I think that’s contributed to the demise of wrestling. Shows like Tough Enough, where people like Al Snow and Hugh Morrus are in the ring with people learning the business. These are established guys who are wrestlers, who now give credibility to the show that really is an exposé. That’s where Vince, because it’s extra programming that he makes money from, is a mistake, where greed sets in. ‘Here’s another show I can sell for an hour, even though it’s an expose.’ I’ll get off the soapbox.
10. Yes or No, has JJ Dillon ever:
Been to Ric Flair’s house: Yes.
Taken a vacation while working for WWF (and if so, did Vince resent you for it?): Yes, and yes.
Argued with Dusty Rhodes about finishes or ref bumps: It was an interesting situation with Dusty. Dusty has an ego, and never liked to be questioned. I was always in a situation where I was working in the office side by side with Dusty, and yet at nighttime, I’d get in the car and be on the road with the Horsemen and be in the heel dressing room.
I know there were times when they’d say, “Can’t he see that he’s killing us? He’s killing our heat, we get beat every night. We’re bloodied, laying, and getting beat and he never gets anything back into us.” And it would build up where there’d be tremendous tension, and Flair would be the focal point on the heel side, and Dusty, because he was the booker, would be on the babyface side. And I would go to Jimmy Crockett in private and say, “Jimmy, you got a situation that’s about to blow up in your face. Ric feels this, and Dusty feels this.”
Jimmy would then all of a sudden call Ric and say, “Hey Ric, why don’t you come by the house and come out to dinner.” Ric would get a chance to vent to Jimmy, and if there was some validity to what he was saying, Jimmy would look at it differently. He would sit down with Dusty and say, “Dusty, I’d like to do this, do that.” He would kind of put a band-aid on the situation that would fix it, and Ric would come back and say, “Man it was like old times, I had dinner with Jimmy and everything’s gonna be OK!” And I would just sit there and never say anything. That’s how these situations would get ‘fixed.’ Six months would go by and all of a sudden it would happen again. As time went on, instead of every 6 or 9 months, it would be 4 months.
Discussed religion with Tully Blanchard: Never.
Called up Jerry Jarrett and told him NWA TNA doesn’t stand a chance as long as Russo is booking: By all means. I did tell him that.
Met Ted Turner: I met Ted Turner back when we used to wrestling in the studio back in the ‘70s. They’d put up cardboards over the windows up in the lobby, and it was not uncommon on a Saturday morning for Ted to come in with a gal on each arm from having been up all night. He used to love to come in and say, “These are my wrestlers.” I met him on a couple of occasions.
11. What was it like watching the classic 45-minute Flair-Sting match at the first Clash of the Champions from a cage above the ring? Did you know back then you were witnessing a classic match that would help catapult a young babyface to superstardom?
No, as I look back I did not recognize the significance of it at that point. I think when it started it was more of a mental thing. “Jeez I’m up in the cage, I hope I don’t have to go to the john.” Of course when you’re at ringside the same thing can happen, and it never happened to me. “Jeez I gotta go real bad,” and run to the back, at least you had that option. Now that I was up in the cage, I don’t have that option. It was a unique perspective to watch the match. Just like being at ringside, only more so.
I always tried to be low-key at ringside and never be the focus of attention. It was always what was going on in the ring. My job was to tell the story to get people to the arena to watch the match, and once the match took place, my job was not to steal the spotlight. But my job was always to react to what went on in the ring. I always took pride that I did that well, or at least tried to. Being in the cage put you in a different light, where people wanted to see what you were doing. It’s a different kind of involvement and it was quite a challenge. As I look back, it was a tremendous classic and it was great to be a part of it.
12. Like you, Zane Bresloff contributed way more behind the scenes at WWF/WCW than anyone will ever realize. Zane recently passed away after fighting for his life following a tragic car accident. Since few of us know much about him, please take this moment to tell us something about Zane that would tell us what kind of person he was.
He was a very, very good businessman and a very kind-hearted person. I collect baseball memorabilia, and Zane was the kind of guy, when you went out of your way to do something to help him, even though it was within the scope of your job, if it was a good show or he did well, he would like to find out from somebody if there was something you particularly liked or wanted. If it was a gift or something, the next thing you know you’d get a package in the mail from Zane and a Thank You note, and that’s the kind of guy he was. It was really, really sad for him to pass away, especially at such a young age.
13. Please tell us whether each of the following is true or false:
Arn Anderson came up with the idea of the 4 Horsemen: I don’t know. It was kind of a spontaneous thing and I don’t know how we all ended up out there doing interviews at the same time. I think the concept was to use Flair’s notoriety in the territory as a world champion to rub off onto others. When the Andersons were tag champions, and Tully was singles champion, we had all the belts. It was great for bragging rights and it kind of took on a life of its own, but it was not something that was put together by design.
Vince McMahon had no desire to bring in Mick Foley until Jim Ross convinced him to: Yep. I was the one who kind of took a lot of the heat for things. I remember Mick Foley coming up there, interviewing with Vince, and Vince having no interest in him. At that time, Mick was kind of heavy and not athletic looking, but he was a great performer. Somebody like Lex Luger, who had so little to offer other compared to someone like Foley, except for physique, and that’s what Vince got off on. Mick came up and it was like, “We don’t have anything for you, but we’ll keep you in mind,” and it was a polite way of saying No. Vince would never tell a guy, “I just don’t get off on you because you’re fat and out of shape.”
That’s where Vince had narrow vision a lot of times with talent and who he hired. I think Mick Foley made the same assumptions a lot of others make, in that I was the messenger and he felt that maybe I had something to do with it. How do you tell a guy, “Vince won’t hire you because he only gets off on guys that are muscle heads and you’re a fat guy?” And that was the truth of it.
Putting the NWA belt on Ron Garvin was a bad idea: I don’t know. You do things in business that you think are a good idea, and looking back on it, I don’t know. Ronnie was credible and, I don’t know that it was a bad idea.
In booking wrestling, simplicity = success: Yeah, I think simple is better. I think that’s where Russo gets into trouble a lot, because he’s real complicated and always trying to outsmart everybody. In terms of surprises, he does surprises for the sake of surprises. I think simplicity is a better way to go.
You were responsible for bringing Tully & Arn to WWF in 1989: I think Tully and Arn left and preceded me to the WWF, actually. They had a chance to go up there and, obviously the money. Everybody made the assumption that you go up there, you’re gonna get rich, and that was always the epitome.
Actually, Tully and Arn went when I was still in the Carolinas, and I got a call, and that was right around the time Crockett was going under and was bought out by Turner. I got a call from Tully Blanchard who was up there, and he said, “Vince and Pat do all the booking and writing TV’s, and the business has grown so much that it’s really stretched them thin and they need help.” Terry Garvin had mentioned me because we worked together in Amarillo and Kansas City office, and thought I would be a good blend with my personality and my ideas. They said, “If you’re interested, you need to call Terry Garvin.”
Which is what I did. I called Terry and he said, “Oh God, you’d do great up here, you and Pat Patterson would get along great. I want you to meet Pat.” He put me on the phone with Pat, and this was right at the time the (Turner) buyout was taking place. I had already arranged to go to New York for a shopping trip for the holidays. While I was up there on my own at the Marriott in Times Square, Vince sent a car in and I went up to Greenwich to his home. I met with he and Pat, and Linda was there too, and that’s how I got hired.
14. You were great as Flair’s manager, but I thought you were even better as a duo with Barry Windham. In 1988, Barry defined the word, “cool.” Black hat, black vest, black glove, long blond hair, tall, methodical, and an awesome worker. But after you left for WWF, he was never the same. Do you still talk to Barry (or his father, Blackjack Mulligan), and why do you think he never reached his full potential?
I don’t talk to Barry that often. Some guys you get along with better than others, and I always got along with Barry because when I was in Amarillo, he was haulin’ the ring. He palled around with Murdoch, so I saw Barry mature from a skinny kid haulin’ the ring to one of the great performers in our business. It’s just (a situation) I never had a personal closeness with. I don’t know why he didn’t do better than he did, I really don’t know.
15. The one word that all real estate agents hate is “fizzbo,” ie, For Sale By Owner (FSBO). In 2001, 15% of all homes in this country were sold without an agent, and that percentage is growing every year. Are you worried that agents will soon become obsolete, or will the FSBO trend eventually go away?
I don’t have the numbers in front of me but, I think it was below 15%, but it’s probably close to that. Where you said that FSBO’s were increasing, and I’m quoting an article that they gave us at Prudential that came out of USA Today in the last 60 days so it’s something that’s pretty current. It was something that came out of USA Today and not generated by Prudential as a means of talking about this topic, and their spin at USA Today was that the number was actually declining. It was 1 out of 8, and 25% of those that fall into that category are homes where someone sells to a relative or to a neighbor, and never actually goes on the market. So that’s not even a true number. A lot of it is, somebody passes away and someone says, “Oh you’re gonna sell the home? I’d like to buy it.” So it’s a FSBO that’s not really advertised and put on the market.
I got into the business and understood what the value is of a really good realtor. Just as an example, 40% of the homes sold in Atlanta are sold from out of the area to people coming in. So it’s very important, if you’re dealing with professional realtors… there’s two Multiple Listing Services here in Atlanta. It almost divides the city in half. At Prudential, we use both services, but we have a big relocation division too. So someone here locally loses 40% of the market because, no matter how heavily they advertise locally in newspapers or whatever, they’re losing about 40% of the market to people coming in from out of state that go immediately to the MLS services.
16. Every day in the local paper, there are stories on the real estate bubble. In my local county (San Mateo, CA), the average price of a home is $555,000! When will the real estate bubble burst, if ever?
I don’t know, that’s a good question. One of the reasons I got into it as well is, here in Atlanta, the housing is still affordable. You live in California, and I know there, people here that come from California talk about prices have gotten so outrageous that the average person can’t buy a home anymore. And that’s not the case in Atlanta, it’s still very affordable here. Even though the economy is struggling, and every day you read the headlines another company shuts down and lays off 500 people, but generally in Atlanta, the economy is good and projected to be good to solid for the next 10 years. The overbuilding is there to a degree in the North of the city, but there’s a whole area West and to the South that has yet to develop. For someone getting into real estate, the Atlanta area is good because its affordable housing and there’s still room to grow. And the economy here, with as many people out of work as there are, is still healthy.
17. You weren’t in the WWF during the infamous Bret Hart double-cross in Montreal. If you were there, would you have left the company as a result of it? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on that whole Montreal situation?
I don’t want to step in and say, “Oh I would’ve left,” because I probably wouldn’t have. And there’s 2 sides to the story. I understand doing the right thing on the way out, and I also understand that somebody like Bret Hart is on a different plane than the average guy. I always got the feeling that it wasn’t Bret Hart that refused to do the job or put the belt on somebody before he left, but I just think he had concerns that I thought were legitimate where he didn’t want to lose it in Canada because it was his home where he had so much support. There are 2 sides to the story, and I think they got painted into a corner where Vince made a move and did something which in his mind he can justify. Yet, I think there’s some validity to Bret’s side of the story, too.
18. Do you still watch wrestling today, and if so, who are your favorite performers?
I watch very, very little today because, like you say, you watch Raw and you can hear a pin drop. I was shocked even 15 years ago when I went up there because post-production sweetens the product so well on TV, and even on live shows they’re able to slide in canned sound. They’re great at marketing because the instant that the theme music hit for an entrance, there was this roar because there was this association with the music and persona. But the person would come out and the minute he got to the ring and the bell sounded, you could hear a pin drop then. Because the product in the ring never compared to, and I think this is what made the Horsemen era with the Crocketts, because not only the Horsemen, but everybody delivered every night. People got value for the entertainment dollar that they spent.
Titan and the WWF was a tremendous marketing success because of the huge numbers and certain key people that were over, they did very well financially and were successful. In time, people come to the arena to be entertained, and when they don’t get that consistently, that’s when they drift away and watch other things, and that’s where WWE has gotten to today. Now they don’t have any fresh talent, because the talent pool is all dried up. Vince put the minor leagues out of business but fed his promotion for the future, so he shot himself in the foot.
Jim Cornette, as great a job as Jimmy is doing out there, he can’t create enough talent to feed that system.
19. Have you heard that Vince is trying to make amends with Bruno Sammartino?
I’m very proud of what I did, and very saddened. Somebody called me the other day and said he talks to Bruno Sammartino 2 or 3 times a week. Bruno was very, very kind to me when I was a referee. When I went to work for the Sheik, I was only there for 6 months, and the company moved me to Warren, OH, which was halfway between Detroit and Pittsburgh. I thought, “Here’s my chance to get booked with the Sheik,” and now I’m not in Detroit, I’m in the middle of nowhere. Actually I was a little closer to Pittsburgh, and Bruno was running his territory at the time. Long story short, I called Bruno and he booked me starting that very same week I moved there. He used to run Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. I worked 2 out of the 3 nights that I stayed there, and the experience I got there allowed me to go to Charlotte and the Crocketts and actually break into the business when I was 28 years old. So I’ll always have a real fondness for Bruno because he was very kind to me when I was a referee, and picked up the pieces when things started to fall apart with the Sheik. Bruno said recently that the business will never, ever be like it once was. And I think that’s probably a very, very good assessment.
Vince, you know, Vince uses people. Roddy Piper, and I don’t know the whole story, but there’s another example. It just… Vince uses people. Vince used to get satisfaction out of taking people and putting them on a pedestal as high as they could go, and once they got up there and thought things were really going well for them, he’d like to knock the pins down from under them and watch them topple down. He got some sort of perverse joy out of watching that happen. I saw that happen many, many times with different people, and that’s just the kind of person he is. If he’s talking to Bruno Sammartino, it’s because he’s desperate and thinks Bruno has something that he needs, and if that was the case, once he thought he had what he wanted, or once he was back in control, he’d be just as devious with Bruno as he’s ever been. He’s been that way with everyone he’s ever done business with.
But he’s also been very successful, so he just has to be able to look at himself in the mirror in the morning and live with what he sees. And I guess he’s doing that, and if it was me, I couldn’t. But he’s got a lot of money and I don’t.
(Editor’s note: At this point, I had to turn over my audiotape and missed 10 seconds of recorded conversation.. JJ said something about Bruno saying the business needed to shut down completely for about 4 years, and then slowly start up again. JJ said that would be good for the business.)
20. And finally, did you see the HBO “Real Sports” special with Vince?
No I didn’t, but I heard Vince came off, and again wherever it was reported, he made it seem that Vince didn’t come off too well.
That has got to be the biggest, baddest, and best Pick My Brain we’ve done yet. They just don’t come more powerful than JJ.
A billion thanks go out to Mr. Dillon. He’s got nothing to plug, nothing to sell. He just loves the business. If you or anyone you know is moving to the Atlanta area, be sure to use Jim Morrison as your real estate agent.