The SmarK Rant for the RF Video Shoot Interview with JJ Dillon
– Well, in a nice surprise with my latest shipment of Ring of Honor to be reviewed, I also found a shoot interview with JJ Dillon, which as anyone who knows me can guess, is right up my proverbial alley. And since I’m a media whore who’s always happy to send business the way of anyone nice enough to send me the tapes, let’s give this puppy a spin
– Filmed December 10 / 02, according to the introduction.
– JJ got into wrestling because he was a fan, more or less.
– He was part of the Johnny Valentine fanclub, and basically hung around the arenas as a result until he became a program vendor and got to know the boys.
– Once he got into college, he became a ringboy (insert Pat Patterson joke here) at the NBC studio wrestling show, and took over as a referee when one of them no-showed. He did that for about 6 years.
– He never had any training, and basically just moved into the wrestling side of things by way of osmosis until he was learning in the ring from guys like Bruno and Killer Kowalski.
– Finally, the Sheik offered him a job as a wrestler in Detroit in the 60s and he was off from there. His first singles match was against Killer Kowalski and he thought he was going to die.
– Never had any problems with the old-timers hassling him. Messed up a bodyslam due to inexperience once, but was immediately taught the proper way in the dressing room.
– He drifted out of the business for a while and worked for a trucking company, until the bug bit him again when he was 28 and he called the Sheik and started doing a few shots to get back in the groove again. The trucking company transferred him to Ohio, so he called up Bruno in Pittsburgh and called in a few favors. Bruno immediately started booking him, and he split his time between that and Detroit.
– Around 1970, he met a contact for Jim Crockett Sr., and got booked in the Carolinas as a result, with enough money to quit his day job. First match there was against Gene Anderson, and he hung around for 2 years. Again, no problems and a great learning experience for him all around.
– First big break was a TV match with NWA World champion Dory Funk, and they shot an angle where JJ had an interview talking about how he was nervous about the first match, but he might win the rematch if it was 2/3 falls, and they did a few rematches off that angle. This led to JJ’s first real push on top.
– Talks about doing a shot in Canada as a replacement for Johnny Weaver and working heel against Leo Burke, which impressed them enough to invite him back for a bigtime heel run the next summer.
– He talks about his first foray into booking, as he pitched an idea about being a sneaky heel who outsmarts the babyfaces, which created a new gimmick for him as a Nature Boy and drew some pretty good money for the territory.
– After a taste of working on top, he realized that he couldn’t do the marathon matches and brutal travel required of main eventers at the time, and that his strengths were in talking and booking and made the transition to being a manager.
– Talks about the extreme segregation of heels and faces at the time, which led to midnight meetings in the middle of the desert as the only way for guys to share ideas. Relates a funny story about a trash can match with Killer Karl Cox (loser gets shoved in the can), as Cox encouraged the redneck fans to dump their dirty diapers and chewing tobacco into the can in order to really milk the heat. Of course, Dillon cheated at the last second to win the match and Cox ended up with the can on his head.
– He made a storyline racist comment about Mexicans on TV and almost got the promotion thrown off the station as a result.
– To further an angle with Dick Murdoch, he did a promo running down cowboys using cowshit as visual aid and got a 6 month program out of it.
– Talks about how getting other people to put words in your mouth tends to water down the character and how he is a big proponent of wrestlers writing their own promos. He had such a passion for the artform of the promo that it became his focus, moreso than the in-ring aspect of the business.
– Onto Florida, as he moved down there to keep the character fresh, but first relates a story about an idiot fan who charged the ring against Blackjack Mulligan a match with Dillon, and got absolutely demolished as a result. The kid’s father sued, so Dillon was advised to stay the hell away from Texas while that blew over, and thus off to Florida he went.
– Relates a story about a hellish flight to Florida in a downpour, as the other plane crashed in the bay, nearly killing Gary Hart and Buddy Colt. Bobby Shane was found dead in the wreckage later. JJ stayed in Florida for a year, and that was the last territory he worked fulltime as a wrestler.
– He made the move to managing Archie “StomperÃ¢â‚¬Â Gouldie in Dallas because Archie needed someone to talk for him, and that lasted until Archie went crazy (as usual) and went back to Calgary. They liked him as a manager, however, and kept bringing in new guys for him to manage.
– He moved to Atlanta under Jim Barnett, managing Gouldie again when he realized his mistake in leaving, and that’s where the JJ Dillon image really got created. He moved to managing Abdullah the Butcher and that worked so well that the Funks asked them to come to Texas again and revive the territory. This was where he officially retired as a wrestler.
– Talks about Abby for a bit and how he had sleep apnea and would tend to fall asleep out of nowhere, meaning that long trips were too tough on him. So he stayed in Japan most of the time, and always made sure that Dillon was taken care of when he was over there.
– Booking with Ole in Georgia: JJ apparently speaks dumbshit-ese, because he got along fine with Ole despite his tendency to piss off everyone around him.
– Goes off onto a tangent about the current WWA tours and how Andrew McManus doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing because of shitty 5-minute main events that are going to kill the towns in the long run. Relates it back to the good ol’ days and guys like Flair doing 30 minute matches for the hell of it.
– Started bouncing around as a manager to all sorts of weird places like Australia and the smaller Japanese islands. This leads to a weird story about watching a snake and mongoose battle as part of an island tradition.
– He went back to the Crocketts and had a great run in the 80s in the glory days. Talks about the spontaneous formation of the Four Horsemen and how Arn came up with the name and hand sign.
– His first program in the NWA was managing Buddy Landell against Ric Flair in the “real Nature BoyÃ¢â‚¬Â deal. Buddy, being an eternal f*ckup, flushed the biggest moneymaking chance he ever had down the toilet as a result of drugs. As an example of the Landell Experience, Dillon talks about how he got a shot at a big money deal with the WWF, but walked into a door and tore up his leg.
– The formation of the Horsemen: Dillon was managing Tully and inherited the Andersons when Gene left, and it went from there. The Horsemen basically had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted in their promos because there was tons of time to fill on TBS and Flair had tons of energy to burn.
– The basic idea behind the group was to use Flair’s celebrity to elevate everyone else in the group by rotating the mic time and treating everyone as equals. TAKE NOTE, HHH.
– Onto the famous Dusty-Flair ego clashes backstage and how Dillon’s job was to make Dusty look as good as possible behind the scenes. This led to Flair griping about doing so many jobs to Dusty, that Dillon would go to Crockett behind both their backs and plead for sanity. Crockett would then play peacemaker and convince Dusty to put Flair over a few times. Dillon often felt torn apart because he was booking with Dusty by day and working with Flair by night.
– Doesn’t really have any favorite angles from the big period, he just enjoyed doing it.
– Talks about the Big Collapse in 1987 and how a few small towns dying became a harbinger of the death of the entire promotion until Turner was forced to step in and buy Crockett out in 1988. Dillon thinks that the ultimate downfall was Crockett’s retarded decision to move the whole operation to Dallas after buying the UWF in 1986. In particular, the plane trips were brutally expensive, with no monetary return.
– Into the Turner era, as Jim Herd came in to run the promotion and Dillon was having bad vibes, so he jumped to the WWF after the Brainbusters. At any rate, he switched from on-screen to off-screen and became a writer under Vince.
– Back to TBS, and the influence of cable TV on the wrestling business. In particular, fans being exposed to things outside of their own territory and thus killing the appeal of bringing in outside stars for temporary programs. For instance, fans in Texas getting tired of the Funks could watch Tommy Rich fighting Buzz Sawyer on TBS for free, and thus a new business model was needed. Vince McMahon had that model. JJ thinks that cable TV killed the territories more than Vince Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the WWF was just the nail in the coffin.
– Back to the Four Horsemen in general. Flair lived the gimmick and he was a dream to work with. Flair actually bought a limo and driver for himself and made sure to always be seen in it. Dillon regrets that Flair never got his big final run due to the collapse of WCW. Talks about having to remind Sting to howl and beat his chest before the Stinger splash.
– Resentment from the Horsemen after all the selling for the faces? Not really, but they did feel that all the losing would eventually hurt the territory if it wasn’t kept in check. Thinks the old “gone to the well once too oftenÃ¢â‚¬Â theory ended up killing it for everyone once the fans no longer viewed the Horsemen as the elite threat to the babyfaces.
– Onto Dusty and his screwy booking Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but like everything else it was just too much of the same thing. Like Dusty, JJ credits Eddie Graham with the creation of the Dusty Finish and incredibly intricate finishes in general. The difference between a manager holding the ref on the apron for an eternity and a manager distracting the ref for the split second needed for the heel to cheat is huge.
– Talks about the famous parking lot beating of Dusty. JJ has a problem with all the backstage stuff today where you have to first ask why the hell a camera is there in the first place. The explanation for the camera being there for the beating is that the Horsemen wanted to make an example out of Dusty and hired someone to film it. Great point.
– Onto an angle where Dillon confronted Dusty & Blackjack Mulligan at their ranch, but he’s confronted with a shotgun and is forced to spend the night sleeping outdoors and fighting off armadillos. The key, he says, is to laugh on the inside but not let the fans know you’re laughing. It’s all about suspension of disbelief and wrestlers being real-life superheroes who can carry the character through to public appearances, unlike someone dressed up in the Spider-Man costume at a mall. That’s why he hates all the backstage segments with wrestlers pulling up in limos backstage and hanging out in the dressing room Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if there’s no mystique to the business, there’s no reason for fans to lose themselves in the moment during the show. He also thinks Tough Enough is a spectacularly bad idea, especially when you show how the highspots are done.
– He thinks, however, that things will go full circle at some point and things will go back to the basics of two guys battling it out in what the people consider to be a real fight. Case in point Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson drawing a huge house despite all the overexposure of the sleaze involved in boxing. I’d also add Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz to that list. The basic point is that in the end, if you can convince 20,000 people that while the rest may be fake, THESE two guys REALLY hate each other, then wrestling will always survive in its purest form.
– Talks about guys like Scott Steiner using a club to beat up guys when he’s a friggin’ MONSTER and should be manhandling the faces, and also the use of catchphrases and entrance pops are confusing the fans and leaving the matches heatless. This is REALLY great stuff, folks, and exactly the kind of thing that the WWE should be paying close attention to. It all comes down to one guy being good and one being evil, and scripts aren’t needed. Non-wrestling people getting involved in the business and trying to make it something it’s not have screwed things up. The simple ideas work the best. The challenge is figuring out the what a given audience wants to see and delivering, rather than doing your little routine verbatim night after night without knowing how to tell a story. Awesome stuff.
– WarGames: Just kind of the logical continuation of the whole Dusty v. Horsemen feud, and another way to present the same story in a different package. Sustained the worst injury in his career during one of those matches when Animal dropped him on his head because of a low ceiling.
– Magnum and the accident: Terry Allen had unlimited potential, and visiting him in the hospital after the crash was a moving experience. Life went on, however.
– Doesn’t really remember Nikita’s babyface turn.
– The decision to remove Ole in favor of Luger was made because it was hard to establish babyfaces and it was an easy way to give the Horsemen a natural opponent.
– Doesn’t remember much about the 45-minute draw with Sting aside of the usual need to tutor Sting on his own gimmick. Thinks that Sting changed to the Crow gimmick in order to attract attention from Hollywood.
– Wasn’t really part of the decision for Tully & Arn to jump to the WWF, and thinks it just came down to money for them.
– Talks about his dreams of wrestling in MSG and getting one chance against Tito Santana in 1984, and thus living his dream.
– Jim Cornette: Respects the work ethic, and respects that he doesn’t have to work at being annoying.
– He kept a journal of all his experiences as a wrestler and manager for tax purposes. Talks about his favorite guys to manage and relates a road story about a disastrous drinking session that Dillon had to cover up for one of his guys so as not to incur the wrath of Paul Boesch.
– Goes into a story about Lawler popping into Florida for a shot against Kendo Nagasaki that popped a house and turned the one shot into a week, and another, and on until the blowoff. This led Lawler to create his own facepainted monster using down-on-his-luck jobber Jim Harris as an African witch doctor. His new name was Kamala.
– He values his privacy away from the business, and doesn’t take the gimmick home.
– Back to the NWA’s death, as he talks about Crockett not being able to see the inherent weaknesses in the people he had handling his money. When Crockett started needing one and two million dollar loans to make it through the week, Dillon knew the ultimate end was near. Talks about Vince’s similar downturn in fortune in the 90s because of the legal fees, but Vince knew enough to trim the fat at Titan Towers and pinch every penny possible to make it through the lean times. Dillon himself was a victim of that and had to declare bankruptcy as a result. Lord Alfred Hayes quit and hasn’t been seen by anyone since. The Vince giveth and the Vince taketh away.
– He retired as a manager because of the travel demands eating into his family time. Dillon’s experience with doing live TV for WCW were sorely missed when he left and in fact Clash VI ran long and cut off the Sting and Luger matches as a result. The WWF wanted his experience in that area and he wanted to be reunited with Tully.
– He was never asked to be talent rather than an office guy because it was felt that he couldn’t do justice to both. He’s shocked Jim Ross hasn’t bowed out as announcer at this point because of his workload.
– He was brought in slow because he was regarded as a Crockett guy and Vince didn’t want resentment from the talent. His time working creative with Vince & Patterson was a tremendous learning experience for him. Talks about the nuances of booking TV that he picked up from Vince like not putting tag matches back-to-back and keeping guys with similar looks apart. Also relates the difference between NWA and WWF house shows.
– Vince has no life outside of wrestling and JJ couldn’t keep up with that kind of drive. Vince resented people who took vacations and didn’t understand the need for them. He hasn’t spoken with him since leaving because of “philosophical differencesÃ¢â‚¬Â. He doesn’t want to get into details, but basically he was just a heat shield for Vince and ended up having no individual input in the long run. He was the designed fall guy when talent was pissed, so that Vince wouldn’t have to deal with it personally. Thinks a lot of guys get screwed over in terms of credit for great ideas. The paranoia about staying home and getting passed over got to him and he finally quit outright.
– Talks about how it amazed him that audiences would stick around for 4 hours at a TV taping on the promise of seeing Hulk Hogan at the end of the night. Vince would paint in the empty seats on Hulk’s posters and photos.
– Talks about the whole creative process and how Vince would throw out TONS of stuff and how people would just not pitch stuff because they knew it didn’t fit with Vince’s narrow view of what wrestling is. Credits Jerry Jarrett’s brief run there with the pushes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.
– Didn’t have any real problems working with talent in the WWF. Some guys were better prepared than others, but that was just another challenge for him. Toughest challenge was pinning down Ultimate Warrior for promos, and they ended up barricading him in the building until he taped them.
– Atmosphere during the trial was very stressful, and Vince was convinced that he was gonna do time. Vince’s feeling was that the government was going to make an example out of him for political reasons and find him guilty of SOMETHING. Contingency plans involved Vince booking via prison phone. Thus, Jerry Jarrett was brought in and eventually Jeff, and Dillon rekindled his friendship with Jerry.
– JJ’s role in the drug tests: Vince made a lot of noise about holding the wrestlers to a higher standard than other sports, and JJ wishes he hadn’t been involved but can’t comment further on the situation. Damn, that’s where all the REALLY juicy stuff (no pun intended) happened!
– He became VP of Talent Relations (JR’s current job) in 1992 while doing most of the creative end of things with Vince. Wrestlemania VIII was pretty much his baby with Patterson on hiatus. He doesn’t remember the whole Flair blade controversy.
– Talks about how Vince used to negotiate insanely lowballed contracts (like $500!) with promises of merchandise and exposure driving the rest of the revenue. Bischoff’s guaranteed contracts of course forced him to drastically change that strategy. Dillon’s job was basically to go to the talent and say “Here it is, take it or leave it.Ã¢â‚¬Â Most took it. Negotation was not an option.
– JJ v. The Clique: He thought HHH had talent but he wasn’t really in the trenches and thus didn’t see what was going on with them so much. The MSG Incident didn’t sit so well with him, however. Ditto Vince, although he didn’t find out until a few days after. He wasn’t in on the decision that left HHH as the whipping boy for the incident.
– He left in 1996 for “other reasonsÃ¢â‚¬Â, a combination of paycuts and Vince’s endless bullshit. He didn’t give notice and had no clue what he was going to do afterwards.
– He ended up in WCW because he figured it was worth a shot.
– First time he met Bischoff was when he went to WCW in 96. All Eric ever talked about was putting Vince out of business. Conversely, all Vince ever talked about was putting Ted Turner out of business. If Eric was a better leader and organizer, he might have done exactly what he wanted with Dillon’s help. However, JJ thinks that Eric was all about selling the sizzle and had no steak to back it up. Bischoff got threatened by Dillon’s ability to see through his bullshit and things were touch-and-go from the beginning.
– Talks about Eric’s “creative resumeÃ¢â‚¬Â and how he used people already inside WCW as references, and then fired them once he got into power so they couldn’t expose him. The promotion was a huge mess and Dillon ended up being powerless. A lot of it came down to not being able to keep the spending in check and hiring useless people like Harvey Schiller to run the business aspect.
– Onto Bischoff’s departure in 1999 and Bill Busch arriving. JJ and Kevin Sullivan knew what was going to happen well before it did because it was just a bigger version of the same stuff that happened in the smaller territories. Excess and greed from the television people who wanted to keep milking the ratings ended up doing them in. He uses a bizarre analogy about watermelons to illustrate how WCW was bleeding money so fast.
– Bischoff tried getting involved with creative during Nitro’s peak, but couldn’t get past a blank piece of paper. As a result, the usual suspects manipulated him towards their own goals because he didn’t understand wrestling. The general rule for wrestling is that talent is 25% of the budget. WCW was approaching 60% and simply couldn’t stay in business.
– Talks about the futility of trying to cut talent costs with ironclad guaranteed contracts and guys like Stevie Ray making main event money.
– Thinks that stuff like Scott Steiner going off on a rant about Ric Flair on live TV was death to the company and needed to be made an example of. Steiner was given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, but called his lawyers and had JJ & Busch overruled.
– Bischoff talked himself into another job, and that leads JJ to talk about being the go-between in the Vince Russo hiring. At the time, he thought it was at least worth a shot, but his opinion QUICKLY changed. So he started taking notes on what Russo was doing with Nitro, and charting the ref bumps and screwjobs, and his head exploded. The in-ring time dropped from 40 minutes per show to 15 minutes, and Dillon started getting seriously worried. The key was that the WWF was maintaining the PPV revenue stream whereas Russo had no clue about building to shows and thus the bottom fell out. Talks about the disaster on Nitro where Jarrett wrestled Santana, George Steele and Jimmy Snuka in the same show and ended up getting injured and thus ruining the PPV. Russo then wanted to do an angle with Terry Funk and a flaming branding iron, and asked Jim Crockett how much it would cost to bribe the fire marshal and BURN DOWN THE ARENA. You can’t even make this stuff up.
– Russo got all indignant about Standards & Practices and finally Brad Siegel pulled the plug after all the injuries and wasted money. The talent roster was basically down to Jarrett, Sid and Lex Luger by the time Russo crashed and burned. Bill Busch told Brad Siegel outright that he’d quit if Russo was brought back, and did so. JJ talks about the difference between scripting ideas and creating stars and how the higher-ups never understood it. The final losses projected were $62 million. Dillon can’t understand how Siegel dodged the bullet for those losses.
– Talks about Russo’s pathetic cheapshots at him on live TV when he returned in 2000, although JJ felt better in the long run seeing what a disaster that run was for Russo. Talks about the Fusient deal and how no one told them about the contract situations until after the press conference announcing the sale. They called him for clarification, and he blew them off and suggested they call Bischoff instead. The deal was dead a month later.
– He wanted to put the belt on Benoit in 2000, and even Sullivan was on board with that call. Talks about the Radicalz departure that resulted, but feels that management had to stand their ground for the good of the company. He thinks that the other three manipulated Benoit because he was the only real asset out of the team, and turned on Shane Douglas for the opposite reason. Thinks that the WWF overpaid for Guerrero considering the downtime. The bottom line: They wanted to keep Benoit, and didn’t care about the other three, but didn’t want him badly enough to undermine management in order to do so.
– He returned as talent under Bischoff (which I don’t even remember, which shows how closely I was watching from 2000 on) in a commissioner role. He was just following orders.
– The final days of WCW: They couldn’t drop the losses any lower than $62 million without cutting contracts, and legally that just wasn’t possible. Points out that a $210 million gross isn’t that impressive when you’re spending $205 million. Talks about stupidity like hiring a guy with an actual crow (including plane ticket and handling costs) for $5000 for a five-second shot.
– He was surprised that Vince bought WCW because of a lifetime of branding wrestling in general as “WWFÃ¢â‚¬Â, and the costs of bringing in the fatcat contracts was prohibitive. So now you’ve got a handful of guys as your “invasionÃ¢â‚¬Â force and Vince unwilling to let his WWF brand ever be put in jeopardy, and thus it was doomed to fail from day one. Also thinks bringing in Bischoff a year late was useless because there’s payoff for the fans Ã¢â‚¬â€œ no one pays money to see Bischoff.
– Worst days in each promotion: Getting his pay cut in the WWF in 1996, and the Vince simulcast on the final Nitro, as he proceeded to get his final shots in at Turner. Dillon thinks that had Turner used the same strategy with WCW as he did with the Braves, they’d still be around.
– Talks about the problems faced because of the deteriorating main eventers in the WWE without anyone to replace them, and he thinks that the business is in real trouble. When business sucks and you still have to pay 50 guys, you’re in trouble. And if you start cutting talent, you can’t fill up your four hours of TV anymore, and it turns into a downward spiral.
– JJ hopes that NWA-TNA succeeds, if only to give Vince competition. If Vince goes under, it’ll take a new crop of talent and a Ted Turner to jumpstart things again. It’s all about making new stars, and without stars to make other stars, you’re dead.
– He thinks that TNA can succeed, but not without TV and Ted Turner backing them. He has no interest in working with them.
– JJ wraps things up and thanks RF for the opportunity to ramble about the business for 5 hours.
The Bottom Line:
FABULOUS shoot interview. It takes a little while to get JJ going, but once he starts going into the front office politics of the WWF and talking about the WCW downfall, it’s incredibly fascinating stuff that reveals a side of the creative process that you don’t often get a chance to hear about. His thoughts on what went wrong with WCW and what’s wrong with wrestling in general today are absolutely must-hear and such deceptively simple ideas that you have to wonder why no one is doing them.
Highly recommended for old-school NWA fans and those interested in the backstage workings of the business alike. Check it out at RFVideo.com, or here’s a direct link: http://www.rfvideo.com/merchant/index.cfm?action=moreinfo&id=7762