Perhaps no one has personified or portrayed wrestling’s heel manager better than Jim Cornette. He had the attitude and the quick wit to pull the gimmick off. His promos were legendary and the lines that were used were so clever and crude to the opponents of whoever he was managing at the time.
But before Cornette was famously known as a great manager in the world of professional wrestling, he was known as a huge wrestling fan. Cornette frequently attended shows in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, at the Louisville Gardens, where the Continental Wrestling Association based out of Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee was running shoes. It was there that he got to know Christine Jarrett who was the mother of the promoter Jerry Jarrett.
The Early Years
Not only did Cornette attend the matches but he put in the work. At age 14 he was ring-announcing, working photography, a timekeeper, and a magazine correspondent. In 1982, he traveled to Memphis to see a match between Ric Flair and Jerry The King Lawler. It was there where he was offered his first role as a wrestling manager.
It was there that the on-camera persona of James E. Cornette was born.
Cornette makes his Ringside Debut.
Cornette would go on to make his debut as a manager. He started his career by managing the late great Sherri Martel. His gimmick was so easy to despise. He played the spoiled rich kid turned clumsy manager whose clients (the wrestlers) would fire after just one match. Cornette worked with big names as part of this angle. Guys such as “Dirty” Dutch Mantell and Crusher Broomfield who was later “The One Man Gang,” and Akeem “The African Dream.”
After this, Cornette would put together his first stable called the “Cornette Dynasty.” It consisted of Carl Fergie, Norman Fredrich Charles III, and the Angel. Later on when Cornette returned to Memphis, he and Jimmy Hart were both co-mangers, two of the true greats in the buisness.
The beginning of Cornette & The Midnight Express.
November 1983 would begin a revolution in tag-team wrestling and every great heel team needs that one great leader and spokesman and Cornette was that guy. Mid-South Wrestling promoter Bill Watts needed to find new ways to freshen up his product and The Cowboy saw the chemistry he had in the tag-teams of The Midnight Express & Rock N’ Roll Express during this era in the promotion.
Watts would go on to pair Cornette with Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey to form the Midnight Express. They would feud with Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, or famously known as the Rock N’ Roll Express. This feud printed money at the time and is easily one of the greatest feuds in all of pro-wrestling history. This feud reignited the tag team scene not only in the Mid-South Territory but in all the wrestling territories around the United States.
Cornette & Midnight run in WCCW & JCP/WCW
During the years of 1984-1985, Cornette alongside the Midnight Express would work for Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling based out of Dallas, Texas. In WCCW the most notable feuds they had were with the Fantastics and the Von Erichs. Cornette and the Midnight Express drew huge money with the hometown heroes, the Von Erich Family in Texas.
After WCCW the trio continued to look to make a name for themselves around the wrestling industry. This saw them find their way to Crockett Promotions. Once the Express came through the Crockett territory in the Carolina’s they were unmatched. They had legendary rivalries with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A, and the best that Jim Crockett Promotions had to offer.
It was there that Cornette famously started carrying around a tennis racket to the ring. The biggest match in the history of wrestling at the time came in 1986, when The Road Warriors battled The Midnight Express in a scaffold match at the Great American Bash. This was a match that no wrestling fan had witnessed before. What made this match even more famous was when Cornette fell off the scaffold and suffered a severe knee injury.
Cornette would explain that Dusty Rhodes convinced him to do the dangerous stunt.The idea was for Paul Ellering, the manager of the Road Warriors, to chase Cornette up on the scaffold. This is the spot where he would be met by Road Warrior Animal. Cornette was also afraid of heights, which did not help matters. Big Bubba Rogers who was aligned with Cornette and the Midnight Express was supposed to catch Cornette as he fell off the scaffold.
Out goes Condrey, in comes Lane.
Starting in 1987, Dennis Condrey left the company leaving Eaton and Cornette and in comes Stan Lane. Lane was already familiar with Bobby Eaton and was once in a tag-team himself as part of the Fabulous Ones. This was the perfect fit and fix to the situation. The Midnight Express would win the NWA Tag Belts from Four Horseman members Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard on September 10th, 1988.
Cornette’s Promos were the BEST.
Cornette was magic on the mic. You just knew that the action was about to be great because Cornette was so good on the mic that he made you believe everything he said. He was ready and he pumped you up. His promos were untouchable and would always get massive heat from the crowd.
Cornette would also be known for his creative mind and knowing the wrestling business inside and out. Whether he was a manager, a commentator, or a booker Cornette just had “it.”
Cornette would go on to create Smokey Mountain Wrestling and around the same time he also went to work for Vince McMahon and at the time, his World Wrestling Federation. While he was there, he managed Big Van Vader, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, and many others.
Cornette would also serve a role as a commentator and was apart of the creative team in the WWF.
Then he and Danny Davis led the famous OVW, Ohio Valley Wrestling where guys like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Batista, and Shelton Benjamin all started training before being called up to the main roster.
We will cover in long form more about the other promotions Cornette was involved with and his run in the WWF and Smokey Mountain Wrestling on the newest edition of the Tyler’s Take Podcast.
This piece was written to show respect and to honor one of wrestling’s most brilliant minds.
Jim Cornette is truly the last of the pure wrestling traditionalists. I commend him for the success and longevity he has enjoyed in his career.
Cornette’s Podcast is an amazing listen for any wrestling fan. You can enjoy both the Jim Cornette Experience and Jim Cornette’s Drive Thru as both he and his co-host Brian Last are incredibly entertaining.
Thank you Jim Cornette. Thank you for years of entertainment and for keeping true to yourself and the wrestling industry to this day.