THE FIRST QUIT IS THE DEEPEST---FSM#130

In a recent conversation with the incomparable Starmaker Bolin, I presented the theory that most wrestling fans these days are like the United States' Democratic and Republican parties--they're not just in disagreement on the course to take, they're hemispheres apart in agreeing on the destination. My comments, whether on my podcast The Jim Cornette Experience on MLWRadio.com, or on Twitter @TheJimCornette, or even the transcripts of something I've said--usually out of context and partial in nature--either make people stand up and cheer and join the Cult of Cornette, praising me as a beacon of truth, or hate me even more than they did already, tweeting me pictures of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the clouds. The problem is, they're having these reactions to the same statements.

Part of the reason some folks like me has to do with my unfiltered comments about pro wrestling. I'm not auditioning for a job anywhere so I can say what I think. I cut very good promos, whether worked or shoot, and people have come to expect it. The fans in my corner are also usually wrestling fans who think the business should still be presented in a logical, realistic way not involving blowup dolls, dick spots and grade school kids. The group who DISlikes me generally are fans of sports entertainment and how wonderful it is that now that all those stuffy old secrets are out, we can all enjoy wrestling with dolls, dicks and kids because it's all entertainment in the end.

The point is, I'm noted for my pointed opinions, usually delivered in what has been described as the "classic Cornette promo". It's become almost legendary, repeated in whispers, "You shoulda heard the promo Cornette cut on him". People expect me to be mad at someone, or browbeating someone, or ranting about something, in all my appearances. Truthfully, that's not hard to do a good bit of the time, but even for me, staying righteously angry about something all the time is hard work--and tiring!

Of course, as I have lamented on my podcast many times, when I say something GOOD about somebody or something, it gets nary a second's thought, but when I verbally eviscerate some numnuts with a rusty fishing knife of a promo, it's news heard round the world. As a result, most people think I am a raging lunatic--albeit an entertaining one--and the fact I have readily admitted I have not "managed my anger" well in the past certainly lends well to the legend.

I hate to expose my own business, but those who know me well know I'm just an old softie, and my favorite thing to do is play fetch the ball with my little puppy Harley Quinn. I get a tear in my eye when the first blooms come in on my dogwood tree every Spring, and I get choked up watching our local charity telethon in June. Especially as I've gotten older, I've learned to remove myself much more quickly from situations that make my "Corny sense" tingle, which is why I limit my time on the road and spend a lot of time cultivating the grounds at Castle Cornette.

But yes, I have gotten mad and cut a promo on a lot of people in the past. Generally, that person had either lied to me or disrespected me personally or professionally, and probably deserved it. As I have mentioned before, you run into a lot of those people in the wrestling business. Also, as an owner, a booker, and a trainer in several places, I've yelled at a lot of people for reasons ranging from the time-saving factor in urgent situations to the need to impress on some knucklehead not to do something anymore because it cost me a lot of money, but those "promos" probably weren't personal--at least on my end.

But the "Cornette Promos" that seem to attain the greatest fame are the ones preceding my exit from a particular promotion. Whether it be the Battle of Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, at the end of a disastrous ROH taping, or in OVW slapping the asshole about a dozen times--these are the ones that become legendary, and even if nobody knows what was actually said, they can hear it in their minds. The myths have grown to the point that whenever someone wants to knock me on Twitter, they'll say "He's just bitter because he's been fired by every promotion he ever worked for!" Then the fans who like me will return fire by saying all those promotions "couldn't handle the truth". So, at the risk of breaking kayfabe and hurting my own gimmick by dispelling the myth, I have to announce publicly that my record in the I Quit/You're Fired sweepstakes is only 1-1-1, that's one I Quit (WCW), one You're Fired (WWF), and one simultaneous mutual agreement we should not work with each other anymore for everyone's sanity(Ring of Honor).

Of course, I don't categorize TNA in that equation since it was an office manipulation by Russo, and not any blowup on my part, that led to my ouster at TNA. Some folks who saw the story planted in The Sun by the Russo stooges, trying to pre-emptively make him the babyface, never saw Dixie's uncredited retraction printed a few days later and still think I blew up at him, which has led, of course, to my incessant knocking of all of them since then. It WAS a believable story, that I would scream at Vince Russo, and it's one of the great regrets of my life that people think I was fired for screaming at Vince Russo without my actually GETTING to scream at Vince Russo.

When I blow up at a promotion, it's generally in a Popeye moment, where the words "I've had all I can stands and I can't stands no more" flash in front of my eyes. It's probably been building for a long time, and one person is probably at the center of the hostilities. With ROH, it was the strain of co-existing with the office manager for a year and a half. With the WWF, it was bubbling for over two years over the amount of control they wanted--almost complete--over Ohio Valley Wrestling despite not wanting to buy it from Danny Davis and I, and when I slapped Marella I was looking at John Laurinitis' face. Other than that, out of all the countless major and minor wrestling promotions I have worked for over the past 35 years, I have never been fired, and never quit--I have never failed to give notice and/or work any advertised shots--except once. In WCW, after the infamous Six Days of October 1990. And therein is the rest of our tale.

Many murderers say after the first one, it gets easier. Perhaps that's true with blowups in wrestling, too. By 1990, I had been working in wrestling in one fashion or another for almost 15 years, and while I had a few unhappy periods during that time, had never really had a "blowup" with management. For one thing, while I may not agree with something a Jerry Jarrett, or Bill Watts, or Dusty Rhodes, or Bill Dundee, etc., may want to do, what kind of putz would I be to tell them they didn't know what they were doing? I always had respect for our bosses, bookers and leaders. That ended with WCW.

The Midnight Express, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, and I had endured almost two years under the new Turner regime after their purchase of Crockett Promotions in 1988. The reason for WCW's failure under Turner to that point, and the source of our personal and professional hostilities, was the head man hired by TBS, Jim Herd. The topic of this column is not to indict Herd, but in short, he's the man that enabled Vince McMahon to win the war.

My first interaction with Herd was when he offered the three of us a contract renewal at a whopping 33 percent of our previous salary. Whether we had been amongst the biggest money drawing talents in the modern history of Crockett Promotions or not was of no import. Herd didn't see anything in the Midnight Express and once remarked to Jim Ross about my demands to stay with the team, "I haven't seen such loyalty since Korea". My interaction with Herd grew more miserable when Ric Flair named me to the booking committee, and I had to work with him on a weekly basis. My exchanges in meetings with the brainiac behind gimmicks like the Ding Dongs and the Hunchbacks got quite lively, until I quit the committee about a month after he had driven Flair himself to resign. The Express were buried in the undercard, and I was seldom on TV by the time of our contract expiration in Spring 1990, when we were intending to take some time off and I had begun serious thoughts of establishing Smoky Mountain Wrestling.

One night in Norfolk, Virginia, Wahoo McDaniel walked in and announced to us that he, JR, and all the other road agents and booking committee members had outvoted Herd and he agreed to renew our contracts for another year. Wahoo dropped his teeth when we started cussing and throwing our bags down--we were going to make another six figures that year, but we were stuck in WCW making it, being beaten and buried and disrespected. When Herd handed me the team's contracts to sign, his only comment was "You know I was against this." My response was "So were we."

Over the Summer of 1990 Herd named Ole Anderson as booker, and pushing the Midnights and I against Herd's wishes was not a hill Ole was going to die on. Ole had been incredibly successful as a booker and main event talent for the previous 20 years, but this stint would not be his most shining work either, and the Express seldom even appeared on TV, mainly doing jobs at house shows. I was rarely on TV either, sometimes driving hundreds of miles by myself to tapings for a single two minute interview segment. By Fall, I had even asked Herd to pay the three of us half of what he was contracted to pay us through the following Spring and we'd just go away, but he said he didn't want to "set that precedent." Shortly after we were gone, he set that precedent with Jimmy Garvin. Then, Jim Ross got a little more pull on formatting the TV's, so he tried to help us by getting us on more TV's, which backfired, as it materialized into more chances for us to do jobs on TV and be buried further.

So by October 1990, I was a cranky person when it came to WCW in general and Jim Herd in particular. On October 25th, we had worked 17 days that month already, which wasn't nearly as bad as our old schedules, except that we had been getting beaten in preliminary matches on every card, by the Steiners, the Southern Boys, even the makeshift team of Ricky Morton and Allen Iron Eagle. In a time when they shot 5 hours of Tv a week, we had had two wins on TV for the month. The checks were still cashing, but we were dragging our bags in the back doors of the arenas, heads down andafraid we were about to be asked to put the popcorn guy over. We couldn't even get any heat in our matches anymore, as even the fans who weren't really smart were sympathetic to us over how obvious it was we were being buried.

We left our homes in Charlotte the morning of the 25th, flying to Norfolk to put the Southern Boys over in a preliminary match, then renting a car and driving to Richmond to do the same thing the following night. Tracy Smothers and Steve Armstrong were a great team to work with and we had wild matches, but the Midnight had been losing so much for so long we were losing the ability we once had to get other teams over just by beating us. With six months left on our contracts, I was afraid the team would be completely beaten to powder by the time I might be able to use them as the top team in SMW. By that time, I already had a verbal commitment from Rick Rubin to finance the promotion, at least in theory, when I was free of WCW.

From Virginia, on October 27 we flew to Chicago, for the Halloween Havoc Pay Per View. There, we were thrilled to find out that our match would be opening the show--back when that was an insult instead of "let's start out hot"--and we'd be doing a job for Ricky Morton and Tommy Rich, since Robert Gibson was out injured. We loved Tommy Rich too, but at this point our former World Championship tag team couldn't beat two guys who had never teamed before in the curtain-jerker of the big show. The Express still shone, though, with Bobby coming off the top with a rocket launcher on Ricky on the wooden entrance ramp in a devastating move, and the match overall being possibly second best on the show. In one spot, I was trying to roll in the ring to avoid Morton and got delayed by detouring around a floor cameraman, and didn't stand up quickly enough to take the tackle from Bobby properly. His shoulder got me on the point of the chin, gave me a little gash, and popped my jaw out and back in. I couldn't chew for the following two days, which didn't help my mood.

But the "highlight" of that show, if you will, was the Pumpkin story. Before the show, while we were trying to figure out how to possibly stay over while going twenty minutes in a cold (non-program) match with a makeshift team and losing, Ole called us into the room with the Southern Boys. Clearly bending to the Herd requests for more "entertainment", Ole wanted to do the ha-ha he hated with the prelim talent he wasn't going to try to draw money with anyway, so we got elected. TBS had decreed because it was Halloween Havoc the announcers and even some talent would wear goofy costumes and put over a Halloween theme. Ole wanted me to go to ringside in the Southern Boys' match, dressed as a Confederate general, distract them and cause them to lose. Our stock was so low, even the opponents in our matches that we put over weren't allowed to beat anyone else.

Then, in revenge, the Southern Boys would rush me, bump me somehow, and then take one of the jack-o-lantern pumpkins from ringside and in Ole's words, "put it over your fuckin' head so you're running around with a fuckin' pumpkin on your fuckin' head!" I called bullshit.

Besides the obvious logistical problem of finding a big enough pumpkin to cut a big enough hole, etc, fuck that. We had had almost every drop of heat and credibility wrung out of us on a long losing streak in preliminary matches with no plans for that to change, I was not now going to begin doing silent movie comedy on the PPV.

I said, "Ole, I'll do the finish, they can bump me however they want, but I'm not putting the pumpkin on my head." Ole hated, and always knocked, Tennessee wrestling as being too cartoon, so he came back with, "Why not, Nick Gulas would've done it!" I responded, "There's a difference, Nick Gulas drew money!" There we were, six grown men discussing hitting a guy over the head with a pumpkin, while the company's ratings and houses had never been lower. Then, I was handed the General's uniform, with pants two sizes too small and a hat two sizes too big, and told to "take care of it, we have to return it Monday morning and get our deposit back". The first thing I told the Southern Boys was to take me down and rip the jacket right off me into pieces. They did, and the pants didn't fare too well either, but we finished the "bit", and I slunk off to my hotel to drink dinner and ice my jaw.

The day after Havoc we were in a rental car and headed to--I'm not kidding--a show at a high school gym in the town of Farmland, Indiana. That's right, WCW and it's national television and stars ran a show in a town so small that a local indy would have trouble filling the gym--and WCW didn't fill it either. We were there to lose to the Southern Boys in front of a very small crowd that we could have outdrawn in a school 40 miles from Charlotte, but instead we spent another night on the road, our fourth in a row, to do it.

The next morning we finally got to fly back home to Charlotte--but by the time our delayed flight landed, we had no time to actually GO to our homes before we had to leave for the TV taping that night in Anderson, South Carolina. Bobby, Stan and I left directly from the airport parking lot in Stan's car for the show, arriving just a few minutes after the call time of 3PM. There, we found out that no one had told us, but Bobby wasn't working that night. In those days, if you weren't booked on TV, you didn't have to go. He could have gone home, spent the night with his wife and kids, and joined us the next day. Now, he was stuck with us, 140 miles from home, waiting for Stan to lose a singles match against Steve Armstrong late in the taping before we drove the two hours further to Atlanta, Georgia. I recall having a gourmet dinner at the Waffle House that night, involving painful chewing of a chicken sandwich, before getting to bed with indigestion at 4AM. I don't know which was taking a worse toll on me, the endless boring hours in locker rooms waiting to go get beaten, or the nights in hotels being unenthusiastic about going to work the next day.

By 2PM the following afternoon, we were in the car heading to Center Stage for the TBS tapings when I recall, sitting in the back seat, hating pro wrestling for the very first time in my life, and really not wanting to do a wrestling TV show that day. It was a completely alien feeling, as the passion for wrestling had consumed my life, and it was a feeling which I hadn't fully shrugged off by the time we got into the locker room. I went to brush my teeth and check the schedule, hoping we might be getting out early as we were a 4-plus hour drive from home.

According to the lineup, since they were taping several TBS shows that night, the Express would be wrestling--and losing--FOUR matches during the evening! That was my Popeye moment, the sore jaw and the burial of our careers and the week away from home and the Waffle House dinners having combined to become something I couldn't "stands no more!"

I went into Ole's office still carrying my toothbrush, and this is where the story becomes a letdown. Yes, I was hot and cut a promo on him, but it was tame for Cornette standards, because while I wasn't happy with Ole to say the least, it was Herd I was yelling at, he just wasn't there so Ole was standing in. I told Ole that I couldn't believe that even if they wanted to beat us like job guys across the country and back again, they couldn't get their shit together enough to even tell Bobby he was off so he could have spent one night that week with his family, instead of having the best wrestler in the business sitting in a locker room not working. I couldn't believe that they couldn't even shoot a couple of the damn matches the night before, so we didn't have to get beaten up and beaten four times in one night. Or that the best tag team in the business was getting shit on every night.

Ole just looked at me and said, "If you don't like it, go home!" Suddenly, all my stress went away, a heaviness left me. I said, "Ole, that's the best idea I've ever heard!" I turned toward the door and he said, "Where are you going?" I said, "Home!" He said, "You'll be sorry!" and I responded "No, I won't!" I saw Stan in the hallway and asked him for the keys to his car to get my bag, as I intended to rent a car, and he said "Hold on, I'll come too!" So we both left--obviously after a quick conference with Bobby, who we understood had to stay because he had a wife and family. Obviously, we thought the team would only be apart until the following May, but as history shows WCW would keep Bobby for another ten years, seldom using him well, but the road agents and creative always having too much respect for him to let him go. Bobby told us that Ole had come to him about an hour after we had left, asking "Where are those guys, and when will they be back?", to which Bobby answered "About halfway to Charlotte, and they ain't coming back!"

I had never felt more relieved to get something over with. I'd never intended to break up the Express, but I could not work for WCW another day in my life. I had a few gruff phone conversations with Herd, where I basically told him to send me a release because I had some things I wanted to do and I was going to do them with or without it--which was true, as I was already planning on working the Memphis territory and going ahead with setting up SMW. He said he wasn't going to let me "just walk into the WWF", but I assured him he had no worries, that I had just left one place that made wrestling a cartoon and didn't intend to head to another. And with that, my WCW career was officially over.

Some people say you shouldn't burn bridges, but I've always looked at it another way, and applied this approach throughout my career. If I was so miserable working somewhere the first time, so unhappy that I hated wrestling, hated people in the company, hated the experience in general enough that I was experiencing anxiety, anger, chest pains, binge eating, or any of the other things I have come to associate with symptoms that I have had enough and am about to go off and try to choke someone, I DEFINITELY do not want to go back for a second helping.

But, anti-climactic though it may be, and tame by "modern" standards--we didn't have Twitter back then--that was my WCW "blowup". It doesn't really seem like the violent or juicy conflict that people would expect from me, being such a psycho with a bad temper and anger management issues, but after all it was my first. And it does get easier after that.

Or maybe people have just gotten more annoying.