With his loud mouth and short fuse, Jim Cornette became a fixture in the local and national wrestling scene in the '80s. Best known as the manager of the Midnight Express, the Louisville native led the rule-breaking tag team to multiple championships thanks in part to his ever-present tennis racket and ability to distract opponents. His well-being was often threatened, most notably during a scaffold match at the Omni where he took a 20-foot drop, sustaining a serious knee injury. In addition to being a career commentator and manager, Cornette has also served various behind-the-scenes duties. Today he portrays an authoritative role on screen for Philadelphia's Ring of Honor while also helping run the show in other ways. As ROH comes to Atlanta for the first time, Cornette talks about his local history and how ROH compares to other promotions.
You've been involved with pretty much every modern wrestling promotion and a lot of your history happened in Atlanta. Are you looking forward to creating more history here as Ring of Honor comes to Atlanta for the first time?
Oh, definitely. When I was a kid and teenager, I tried to watch Georgia Championship Wrestling every chance I got on TBS back in the '70s. My uncle lived out in the sticks in east Tennessee and he was one of the first people with cable, so I was able to see the Saturday night TBS show. Later on, before Louisville had cable, they had it across the river in southern Indiana and I used to drive 25 miles one way to a friend's house to watch those shows. I went to the Omni when I was 17 or so to cover some of the matches as a photographer. Even before I got in the business, Atlanta wrestling was a big deal to me. So to come back now with Ring of Honor, I get a kick out of it.
How has working with Ring of Honor compared to the other companies you've worked for?
It's a combination of complete difference and sameness. It's the same in terms of, when I got in the business there was no sports entertainment or any of this horseshit that they pass off as wrestling these days on the national cable networks. I don't watch because I'm embarrassed and it raises my blood pressure. When I got in the business, professional wrestling was treated somewhat seriously and you knew you were going to see a fight, not a monologue or a soliloquy or a comedy skit. So, Ring of Honor brings that back for me, the kind of wrestling I got interested in as a kid, in terms of the flavor of it. There was serious, credible athleticism and fights.
At the same time, it's completely different because it's this younger generation of athletes that have brought the in-ring product up two notches. It's not that hardcore wrestling that we went through after the ECW phase of the '90s, which was, once again, embarrassing with people attacking each other with fluorescent light tubes and staple guns. That right there, ought to be reason enough for admission to the nearest mental institution. Guys like Davey Richards, Roderick Strong, Eddie Edwards and Christopher Daniels — I've seen Davey Richards and Roderick Strong have some matches over the last year that I would qualify as this century's version of Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. As state-of-the-art as they were 20 years ago for their in-ring performance, that's what these guys are doing now. Ring of Honor really stands alone to me. It's not independent wrestling where you see guys on the downhill slide of their careers, a lot of young guys who've never been trained properly and a lot of guys who don't even own tights. Then you look at WWE and TNA and you see a lot of folderol, you might accidentally see a wrestling match every once in a while, but it's all soap opera and drama scripted by comedy writers. Ring of Honor showcases the cream of the crop of the new wave of wrestlers who are young, athletic and haven't been burned out. It's not pretty, but it's definitely real.
It reminds me of those shows at the Omni in the '80s where people paid to see people fight. That's why UFC has taken over so many old wrestling fans, but some of those fans have found Ring of Honor and it's brought them back to wrestling.