An Article By Mike Mooneyham
Published Dec. 10, 1995
“If Smoky Mountain Wrestling does not succeed, then I will concede that the world will not support and does not want real wrestling anymore, in which case I’ll find something else to do.”
- Jim Cornette
- – Nobody loves the business of professional wrestling more than Jim Cornette. As a youngster growing up in Louisville, Ky., he followed the sport with a passion, putting out the wrestling programs and running the concession stand for the local promotion. He later became a photographer for wrestling magazines in the United States and Japan.
- Cornette pursued his dream and went on to become one of the top managers in wrestling history. But when the dynamics of pro wrestling began to change, when pro wrestling became more of a politically charged environment and a byproduct of a large company structure, Cornette decided to launch his own promotion. Cornette, abandoning the big-money contracts and national exposure on TBS, returned to his roots in 1991 and formed Smoky Mountain Wrestling, a regional promotion whose trademark became “Wrestling – the way you like it and the way it used to be.” Along with Sandy Scott and Tim Horner, and backed financially by the record industry’s Rick Rubin, Cornette banked his future on the hopes that wrestling could again thrive on a regional basis.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]- Nearly four years later, Cornette came to the painful conclusion that Smoky Mountain Wrestling could not survive. On Nov. 26 during a house show in Cookeville, Tenn., Cornette met with his crew and made the announcement that the territory was shutting down.
- “I’ve done everything I think I can do,” Cornette told The Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “Up until last year we were showing good growth. This past year we cut expenses, but every time we would get extra money, some costs would come up to offset it. We cut costs this year but we took in less and never could come out ahead. I couldn’t foresee an upturn in business and had exhausted every possible source for new revenue.”
- The promotion, which debuted on Oct. 30, 1991, in Greenville, had its high points – among them one-night spectaculars such as the Night of Legends in 1994 and the Super Bowl of Wrestling in 1995, shows that packed nearly 5,000 fans into the Knoxville Coliseum, and testaments that Cornette’s old style of wrestling still, in fact, worked.
- “Everybody is talking about Smoky Mountain Wrestling being a throwback to the ’70s,” Cornette said in a 1992 interview. “We’re not consciously, on anybody’s part, trying to be old-timey, but that was the last time wrestling was done right. We’re trying to do wrestling the right way on everybody’s part – the announcers, the wrestlers, the managers, the officials, the whole nine yards. That’s the way people categorize it. We’re not going back to the ’70s. We’re just doing wrestling. Nobody’s interested in the ’80s and ’90s version of wrestling. It’s not very entertaining or very exciting.”
- Cornette also said at that time that he would never entertain offers from the major mat companies – namely WCW and the WWF.
- “Not a chance,” said Cornette. “This is the only promotion that’s come along in the last 10 years that has consistently gained in interest, ratings, attendance and quality of talent. Everything that we’re doing now is better than when we started.”
- Money talks, however, and Cornette was eventually forced to compromise some of those principles when he signed a working agreement with Vince McMahon’s WWF to trade talent, manage and serve as an on-air talent for that company. To many of his Smoky Mountain followers, Cornette had sold out to the enemy, working for a promotion whose style he had openly opposed.
- Although the compromise benefited SMW financially, with some of the WWF’s top stars occasionally venturing into Smoky Mountain territory for special shows, it also tended to downplay the importance of Smoky Mountain’s own top performers, in many cases young talent who didn’t have “the name” but whose workrate and interview ability exceeded that of the WWF superstars.
- Cornette had initially envisioned a territory reaching from Kentucky into as far as South Carolina and Georgia. Those plans, however, never materialized. With the promotion’s biggest towns being Knoxville and Johnson City, most of the stops on SMW tours included high school gyms and fairs in small cities off the beaten path such as Pikeville, Ky.; East Ridge, Tenn.; Lenoir, N.C.; Saltville, Va., and Bluefield, W.Va. The strain and pressure of running Smoky Mountain Wrestling, for the most part on a shoestring budget, took a personal and professional toll on Cornette. Widely known in the business as one of its hardest-working proponents, Cornette attacked the job with a vengeance. Ultimately, it cost him in severed friendships and relationships, and a loss of sleep that constantly produced burnout.
- Cornette was arrested last year on a misdemeanor charge of vandalism after allegedly pounding a 1992 Toyota Tercel with a baseball bat. The car belonged to a former office employee at SMW who Cornette claimed took his video camera and refused to return it. In vintage Cornette fashion, a message on his answering machine the week after the incident included this greeting: “Hi, this is Richard Kimble and I swear it was a one-armed man with that baseball bat. If you’ve got a message about Smoky Mountain, leave it. If you’ve got a message about my new paint, body and auto glass shop, leave that, too.”