Few pro wrestling celebrities are more sought after on the speaking circuit than the always entertaining Jim Cornette.
Cornette's appearances are few and far between, but the fiery “Louisville Slugger” will be in the house on March 7 at Coastline Convention Center in Wilmington, N.C.
And he'll be there all day and most of the evening, especially since he's the honored guest at an event aptly titled “Lasting Legacy: A Tribute to Jim Cornette.”
A tribute to Cornette wouldn't be complete without his Midnight Express cohorts. Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, regarded by many as the greatest version of the Express, will join Cornette, along with WWE Hall of Famers Harley Race and “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, pro wrestling journalist Bill Apter and others.
And really, it still wouldn't be a true tribute to Cornette without The Midnight's most famous rivals, The Rock 'N Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson), who will be on hand for the festivities, which include a fan expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a dinner from 8-10 p.m.
Former wrestling star and MMA legend Dan “The Beast” Severn will serve as host of the event.
Cornette, who makes his home in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, is looking forward to the show.
“You can meet all the guys, get pictures, autographs, the whole nine yards. They want to honor my career, and I sure wasn't going to turn down being honored. That should be fun with everybody there,” says Cornette.
“I'll start when the doors open in the morning and I'll be there all day at the booth. And then we'll do the evening event, and I'll be there until everybody's happy that they've tributed to Cornette enough.”
With Cornette's cachet in the wrestling business, honoring Cornette was a no-brainer, says promoter Bambi Weavil.
“Jim has a history in our industry from managing great tag teams as well as singles competitors,” says Weavil. “He also has given so much to the business as a promoter and booker behind the scenes in every major promotion in the U.S. His contributions to the business have been underrated since the 1980s, and we felt that he should be honored for all he's accomplished, especially his legacy as a pro wrestling manager and being a major part of the success of the hottest tag-team storylines in the NWA.”
Cornette admits he ate, lived and breathed pro wrestling until he made the conscious decision to curtail his breakneck schedule a couple of years ago.
The stress of the wrestling business, he admits, had taken its toll.
His final full-time stint in the business — helping produce Ring of Honor — was the turning point for Cornette.
“I didn't have the passion and enthusiasm I had always demanded of everyone else. I was always the first one in the building and the last one of the talent to leave. I was starting to dread it. I was either going to jail or the hospital.”
Stepping aside from the pro wrestling pressure cooker for the first time in years, Cornette used the time off to recharge his batteries and implement a healthy eating regimen.
“Since I left the wrestling business and got in the Jim Cornette business, my blood pressure is down considerably,” he says. “I can stay under 215 pounds, which is pretty good for me, if I stay off the road. If I go on the road, I invariably eat garbage and start to lose my girlish figure. In the wintertime I try to eat better.
“The biggest thing I want to do is not travel as much as possible. I enjoy not traveling very much. If I do a fanfest or a legends reunion now, it's make a trip, do the show, and I'm home for a few weeks.”
Cornette still finds time to lend his talent to various wrestling projects despite his self-imposed exile from the wrestling business.
“It's been a little over two years since I've tried to be officially out of the business. It is my erstwhile goal someday to be officially out of the business, but I haven't made it yet. I'm trying to stick to intermittent projects that I enjoy with people that I want to help that actually take my advice if I give it. That narrows down my work to part-time.”
There really never was a time in Cornette's life when he hasn't been involved in the wrestling business — as a fan, writer, photographer, manager, booker, promoter or producer.
But he's also had another passion, and that's collecting comic books and horror movie memorabilia.
He boasts a collection of 10,000 comic books, 4,000 wrestling tapes and thousands of wrestling magazines and programs.
“From the time I was 5 years old, I collected comic books. When I got into wrestling and I turned 17 or 18 years old, there wasn't enough time, but I still kept everything. I have 10,000 Silver Age comic books — all bagged and boarded and catalogued. Basically every Marvel and DC from the Super Hero Silver Age era is sitting in my vault.”
The man who once proclaimed he was always “as busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest” now actually finds free time.
Much of that time, he says, is combing through his vast collection, and attending numerous comic book and horror show conventions with wife Stacey.
“It's cool and you meet cool people,” says Cornette. “I'm now a celebrity dealer. I'm not going as Jim Cornette the wrestling guy. I'm going as Jim Cornette Collectibles.”
That's a far cry, though, from all the years he was dodging chairs and other foreign objects that were being hurled in his direction by irate fans.
Does he miss the adrenaline rush?
“No, because whenever my adrenaline rushes, that means I'm going to be sore the next day,” he laughs.
Cornette got together with some of his old cohorts at a recent nostalgia show at the old Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.
“After Spartanburg, I felt like I had been beaten by a sack of wet hammers the next day,” says Cornette. “I could barely get home and get on my couch. I was sore for three days. I was having fun at the time, but once you cool off and your adrenaline stops rushing, it's tough. I don't miss that very much because usually it ends up causing me to be in pain for several days.”
Cornette will have items available for purchase at the Wilmington event.
“I will have the entire array of Cornette's Collectibles available to the fine folks of Wilmington that day. For the aficionados of old Carolinas wrestling, I'll have the Carolina Classics DVD set with me, which has been the topic of so much conversation.”
Cornette says he always looks forward to getting together with his old wrestling partners in crime.
“It'll be fun to see those guys. I look forward to seeing them every so often. That way we can prove to each other that we're still breathing,” he laughs.
Cornette, whose sweet forehand with his infamous tennis racket earned him the moniker “The Louisville Slugger,” doesn't have to think twice when asked what his favorite time in the business was.
“My time with The Midnight Express,” answers Cornette, whose team was regarded as one of the greatest in wrestling history.
“A close second,” he adds, “would be my time with OVW (WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling) because I found something else I really enjoyed — doing both television announcing and trying to train guys. Working with (OVW trainer) Danny Davis was enjoyable too.”
Cornette, regarded as one of the best talkers in the world of professional wrestling, says the Wilmington event will afford a rare opportunity for fans in that area.
“It is flattering and I hope everyone will come out for that reason. I will be there the whole day. For the folks who want to come out for a day and see a lot of these people that they never actually got a chance to meet in person, but watched 30 years ago, this is a great chance. A lot of folks bring their kids. It's a family thing. I know all the Cult of Cornette will come because I haven't been on the coast in 20 years. And I'll be there to BS, tap dance and entertain until the wee hours for everyone who shows up.”
Weavil also expects a big turnout for the event.
“In fact, we have fans traveling from out of Wilmington for this show, which is a great and humbling feeling for us. Jim is part of the collective memories of everyone who has ever loved the pro wrestling business, especially in the Carolinas. There is no neutral feeling about Jim — you either love him or you hate him, or you love to hate him.”
Masters of Ring Entertainment's Pro Wrestling Fan Expo will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For VIP ticket holders, there will be a special VIP Hall of Fame Q&A Panel hosted by Apter, featuring Race, DiBiase and Severn, and a special VIP Q&A with Cornette and a meet and greet. Tickets: $15 early bird pricing for general admission (includes gift bag); early bird pricing for VIP tickets for all-day access to both events is $99.
The evening event, “Lasting Legacy: A Tribute to Jim Cornette” will be from 8-10 p.m. Must be 18+ to attend. Dinner options will be available to purchase for all guests. Tickets: $25 early bird pricing for general admission; early bird pricing for VIP tickets for all-day access to both events is $99.
To purchase tickets, visit http://www.MastersofRingEntertainment.com.