Jim Mitchell is one of the most talented performers in the wrestling business to have never worked for WWE.
He's enjoyed successful runs in a number of promotions and territories over the past 19 years. As Daryl Van Horn in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, James Vandenberg in World Championship Wrestling , Sinister Minister in Extreme Championship Wrestling or Father James Mitchell in Total Nonstop Action, Mitchell has more than proven his worth.
That's why it's always been a mystery that Mitchell, one of the best talkers in the business, has never landed a job in World Wrestling Entertainment.
But it hasn't been for a lack of trying.
Managers, once a staple of the industry, are a disappearing breed in today's pro wrestling landscape. Mitchell is a proud member of that fraternity and is quick to point to such names as Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette and J.J. Dillon. He grew up on acts like those and, recognizing his size and athletic limitations, took the managerial route into the wrestling business.
And he's made a name for himself over the years, with his stints in ECW and TNA over the past decade earning him recognition as one of the most effective mic men in the industry.
Mitchell, a native of Columbia, has many supporters in the wrestling community. One of his biggest over the years has been Paul Heyman.
"The best backstage promo artist in the business, bar none. A brilliant spokesman who can articulate the merits of the opponent without selling his own act short," Heyman says of Mitchell. "The Sinister Minister's delivery is defined by a composure that only top-notch thespians can master, and his timing is nothing short of awe-inspiring. A compelling character whose attention-grabbing look is surpassed only by his wealth of talent."
Pretty high praise.
Mitchell believes managers - in the form of GMs or simply effective communicators - can still play an integral role in the business.
That's why he headed down to Tampa recently to test the WWE waters.
In a blog late last year, former head of WWE Talent Relations and current Smackdown announcer Jim Ross compared Mitchell's talent favorably to that of Heyman's and stated that Mitchell would be a valuable acquisition to the WWE roster.
Mitchell wrote Ross to thank him for the plug and asked about the current procedure for submitting a resume. Ross directed him to contact WWE's developmental facility in Tampa, Florida Championship Wrestling, which is run by retired wrestling star Steve Keirn.
"It went to hell in a hand-basket from that point," laughs Mitchell.
Mitchell had e-mailed Keirn in early February and made it clear that he was a wrestling manager with more than 19 years experience looking for a position in that role. He even included video clips with his resume.
Keirn wrote Mitchell back, simply telling him to be in Tampa on May 1 for a tryout. Mitchell wrote back asking for further details and was told by Keirn, "You are trying out for WWE, what else?"
A few weeks later, FCW announced that it was doing a four-day talent evaluation clinic for professional wrestlers which cost $1,000 on the same day Mitchell's manager tryout was scheduled. When Mitchell wrote Keirn to ask if they had intended for him to pay the $1,000 fee, due to the overlap in the date, he was told, "If you want to try out that is the time." No mention of money was made.
Mitchell wasn't prepared for what happened when he arrived at the Tampa facility.
"When I showed up, Steve told me that they weren't doing manager tryouts on that day because they had already done them back in January and, furthermore, I had never registered or paid the thousand bucks for the tryouts going on that week. I explained that I had e-mails where he told me to be there on that date, and I had even asked about the fee but had received no answer. Essentially ... I was politely shown the door. I walked out of there after all of two minutes, shaking my head and asking myself, 'Did that really just happen?'"
Was it an unfortunate oversight? A careless omission? Or, sadly enough, a total lack of professional courtesy?
The logic, or lack thereof, is baffling.
Manager tryouts had supposedly been done in January, but a month after they were finished, Keirn scheduled Mitchell's for May and then informed him that he was four months too late and told him that he didn't register and pay the fee to tryout as a wrestler.
If it weren't so insulting, it would sound like the sort of bad dream wrestlers laugh about over breakfast at Cracker Barrel.
It certainly wasn't behavior Mitchell had experienced before - even on the indy circuit.
"When I did the One Night Stand pay-per-view for WWE in Manhattan back in 2005, I couldn't have asked for more courteous and professional treatment," says Mitchell. "WWE may not be manager-friendly creatively, but personally and professionally they treated me with total respect. I have nothing but fond memories of the experience."
Mitchell, a native of Columbia, says the manner could have been easily handled in a more professional manner.
"WWE has told me in the past they didn't have a spot for me, so I don't understand why Steve Keirn didn't just say so when I first contacted him instead of wasting my time. It's not as if I feel WWE owes me a tryout, much less a job. Even if they were going to actually do manager tryouts on that day and I had been told I was expected to pay for the privilege of doing so, I would have politely and respectfully declined with no hard feelings. I don't think I'm being arrogant when I say my talent, experience and exposure places me well beyond the point of paying for an audition."
It didn't even necessarily bother Mitchell that Keirn didn't know who he was.
"I don't expect that everybody on earth should know who I am. The other people who work with him there - Dusty Rhodes, Norman Smiley, Tom Prichard, Billy Kidman - they all know me. Had I gotten past the lobby I would have said 'hello' to them."
It still struck Mitchell as being strange, since his last exposure on national television with TNA had only been about a year earlier.
While Mitchell isn't losing any sleep over the incident, he's still puzzled by his treatment. And he's still interested in seeing how he could contribute in WWE.
"Of course I'm curious to see how I would get over in WWE. I think I could enhance some of the talent by serving as a mouthpiece. However, I learned a long time ago that wrestling is a fickle mistress, so I no longer depend upon it to pay the bills," says Mitchell, who makes a living singing at Florida resorts.
"I've consistently made more money in singing than I have in wrestling," says the 43-year-old Mitchell. "But, to me, the wrestling business is still a labor of love."
People in the industry who know Mitchell know he's a model employee.
"I don't have a reputation as being a troublemaker. I'm friendly to everyone. You won't find me passed out backstage or no-showing dates. I show up on time, prepared and ready to do my best. When given an opportunity to carry the ball, I score. What happened to me in Tampa was odd, but that's wrestling for you."
WWE may not owe Mitchell a job or even a tryout. But someone does owe him an apology.
- Recently crowned WWE champion Batista underwent surgery last week in Birmingham to repair his torn tendon. He reportedly will be sidelined for four months.
He currently is in Tampa recovering.
- A four-way match for the WWE heavyweight title will headline Monday's three-hour Raw. The participants will be John Cena, Triple H, Randy Orton, and Big Show. Also featured will be a triple threat match for the WWE world title involving C.M. Punk, Edge and Jeff Hardy.
- WWE fired Umaga (Eddie Fatu) on Monday. Umaga had lost to C.M. Punk at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view the night before.
Sources say the wrestler was released for failing a drug test for a second time and then refusing to go to rehab.
Umaga, who had just returned from injury in April, was originally brought in WWE in 2002 as part of Eric Bischoff's "Three Minute Warning" team with cousin cousin Matt Anoa'i (Rosey). He was scheduled for a series of matches with The Undertaker later this year.
- Vickie Guerrero is leaving WWE to spend more time with her daughters. She quit her storyline general manager position last week on Raw.
Guerrero, widow of the late Eddie Guerrero, was a top-level heel and enjoyed considerable success as the woman the fans loved to hate as "wife" of Edge and GM for Smackdown and later Raw.
- Former WWE diva Victoria (Lisa Marie Varon), now known in TNA as Tara, posted on her MySpace page last week that she left the company because she wasn't happy with her role on TV and didn't see it changing anytime soon.
"That, in addition to the brutal travel schedule, made it an easy choice for me to walk away and leave the opportunity available to one of the scores of female wrestlers who were anxiously awaiting their chance."
She added that the less rigorous TNA schedule and the opportunity to wrestle "to the best of my ability with no limitations" attracted her to TNA. She also will be allowed to continue her MMA training.
"Several people have debated whether this will affect my chance at one day being elected into the WWE Hall of Fame. I am flattered at my name even being mentioned with such an honor. And whether or not you believe that I am worthy, I really don't think that WWE will hold it against me for doing other things after I left."
The two-time WWE women's champ included one parting shot: "Believe me, in nine years with that organization, I have been aware of behavior so deviant that it would shock the devil himself."
- Ric Flair joined former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee at a GOP district fundraiser in Kings Mountain, N.C., on Thursday. Nearly 400 attended the event at the H. Lawrence Patrick Senior Life and Conference Center.
Flair supported Huckabee's presidential campaign last year and made several appearances on his behalf in North and South Carolina.
- Shaver Hansen, son of Stan "The Lariat" Hansen, was a sixth-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in last week's Major League Baseball draft.
The 6-0, 185-pound Baylor shortstop hit .330 with 17 home runs this year as a junior.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.