Most wrestling fans fondly remember James J. “J.J.” Dillon as the colorful manager and strategic leader of the famed Four Horsemen.
That elite unit, with Dillon at the helm, is universally regarded as one of the greatest factions in the history of the business.
Some fans might be surprised, however, to learn that Dillon had been an accomplished wrestler in his own right with an impressive resume.
Did you know that Dillon once defeated Mr. Wrestling No. 2 (Johnny Walker) for the Florida heavyweight championship and held the Florida tag-team title with Roger Kirby?
Or that he had the opportunity to don the tights inside “the Mecca of pro wrestling” — Madison Square Garden? “It was my one and only time. It was late in my career against Tito Santana,” Dillon recalls.
He had his first televised match in Pittsburgh against the great Killer Kowalski.
Dillon even wrestled the legendary Mexican star El Santo — twice. “He was bigger there than Hulk Hogan ever was here or anybody else anywhere else in the world,” notes Dillon.
In fact, the mercurial manager took part in more than 3,200 professional matches during his career, and held a collection of impressive titles.
But Dillon actually broke into the business as neither a wrestler nor a manager, but as a referee who spent the first few years of his career officiating inside the squared circle.
He had dreamed of being a wrestler since the first time he watched the spectacle on his family’s black and white television.
“I was hooked,” says Dillon, whose early fandom included serving as president of the Johnny Valentine Fan Club back in the late ‘50s. “I realized he was great without really understanding why at the time because I was just a kid.”
Dillon went on to enjoy an illustrious career in the wrestling business that was highlighted by an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. The honors will continue with Dillon’s induction into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, N.Y., in May.
Another event that Dillon is excited about is the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest this summer in Charlotte.
Dillon will be on hand to induct an old buddy and partner, Les Thatcher, into the Hall of Heroes.
“He was right there in the beginning with me, and I always look forward to seeing him. I’m honored that he wanted me to do this,” says Dillon.
The two first crossed paths in the Carolinas during the early ‘70s, and Dillon credits Thatcher with teaching him the ropes.
“Les and I were tag partners. He taught me the right way to be a professional, and I never forgot that,” says Dillon. “We’ve remained friends over the years.”
Dillon points to Thatcher’s impressive track record in the business.
“Les has done it all, and he’s very respected. Look at the totality of his career. A great in-ring performer who did some bodybuilding, a great commentator, a great teacher and promoter. There’s no phase of the business that he hasn’t excelled in.”
Dillon, 70, is personally looking forward to the event for a number of reasons.
He admits there was a time in his life when he wondered what he had accomplished.
“I wasn’t a doctor, so I didn’t save lives. I didn’t discover a medicine that was going to cure cancer. I was a wrestler. And what did I do that was so special?”
Events like Fanfest, he says, provide the answer.
“You meet these fans and see the looks on their faces. Each of them has a specific memory that you were a part of. It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction knowing that when it was all said and done, that I touched the lives of so many people. In doing so, I had accomplished something with my life. That’s what Fanfest means to me.”
Dillon, who has missed only two Fanfests since its inception in 2004, says he enjoys the event as much, if not more, than the thousands of fans who attend the annual gathering.
“Whatever I give in terms of time and being there, I take away much more than I give. It means every bit as much to me — as someone who made a living in the profession — as it does to the fans who come there. It’s a win-win situation, and that’s why I look forward to going as often as I do.”
In a way, says Dillon, he’s making up for those many years when wrestlers were members of a closed society and were insulated from fans.
“We came in the back door and had no interaction with them unless we stopped at a convenience store and somebody at the matches also happened to pull in there. Other than that, they didn’t meet you and knew nothing about you.”
Nowadays, he says, he enjoys the camaraderie and wouldn’t think of missing the event.
“It’s amazing the things people bring to you to sign that they’ve kept for all these years. I’m especially looking forward to this year since there was a hiatus last year. I have very good feelings that this year will be spectacular, and I’m happy to be a part of it. And I’m thrilled to be there to induct Les.”
Dillon is grateful for all of the experiences he has had through the years.
“I had a storybook career. When opportunity presents itself, you have to seize it. I certainly had the desire and the passion, and I had the luck to be in the right place at the right time.”
J.J. Dillon, real name Jim Morrison, looks back on his career with fond memories.
Spanning several generations of pro wrestling, he has enjoyed a birds-eye view of the many changes that have occurred over the past half century.
In addition to being a referee, wrestler and “Manager of Champions,” he held key office positions in both WWE, where he worked closely with Vince McMahon, and later WCW, where he watched that company’s monumental collapse.
Dillon discovered wrestling as a teenager growing up in Trenton, N.J.
“Television was still in black and white,” says Dillon, who saw Argentina Rocca wrestle Karl Von Hess in his first live match.
The youngster never looked back.
“Some kids want to join the circus or be a cowboy. Wrestling was my dream. I don’t think anybody took me seriously, but I hung around.”
Dillon faithfully attended all the local matches, selling programs and handling the wrestlers’ robes and ring jackets so he wouldn’t have to buy a ticket.
Then, through a quirk of fate, it happened. One night a referee didn’t show because of a snowstorm, and Dillon was called into action.
He was a natural in the position and became a regular official for WWE (then WWWF) while attending college.
“I ended up being a referee and did that for eight years on a part-time basis,” he says.
Dillon, who was never formally trained, had met and become friends with The Zebra Kid (George Bollas) during the late 1950s. The youngster told Bollas that wrestling was his dream and asked for advice.
Bollas, a top-ranked pro who had been an All-American wrestler at Ohio State, told Dillon two things.
“First of all, get your education. Go to college and get your diploma. You can stuff it in your back pocket. It may be something you never use. But it will always be there for you to fall back on, and if you’re serious about wrestling, wrestling will always be there.
“Secondly, learn amateur wrestling. The basic fundamentals apply and will serve you well as a professional.”
“I went to college and went out for the wrestling team. I wasn’t very good, but it was a small college (Albright College in Reading, Pa.) and I was on the team and learned the fundamentals of amateur wrestling,” says Dillon.
Dillon was married and a new father shortly after getting out of college.
“You have this wonderful life planned. It sometimes doesn’t turn out as simple as you think,” he says.
Dillon began his part-time job as a referee in 1962. He even worked a couple of unofficial matches that same year at a show headlined by Miguel Perez against Hans Schmidt. Dillon used the name Jim Valance — in honor of Johnny Valentine — and had a return match a month later.
Dillon got a career break when he was approached by The Sheik (Ed Farhat) and offered a job as a wrestler in Sheik’s Detroit-based territory.
“The Sheik said I could put the tights on. That had always been my dream.”
Dillon’s first sanctioned match was in 1968 in Dayton, Ohio, inside a tin shed that was so small that the ring only had room for chairs on two sides and a couple of rows for fans. He competed in a tag-team match with Ron Sanders against The Hell’s Angels. The commentator, he remembers, was the great Ernie Roth (aka The Grand Wizard).
Dillon jumped into his car and headed for Pittsburgh for a televised match the next day. It would be his first sanctioned match on TV, and his opponent would be Killer Kowalski.
“How many people can say they had their first singles match against Killer Kowalski?”
Dillon already had been working part-time on weekends for Bruno Sammartino, who had been helping promote shows in his hometown of Pittsburgh, and learning the ropes while officiating many of the Italian strongman’s championship matches.
Dillon was working in a management training program for a trucking company in Niles, Ohio, about 90 miles from Cleveland, when he contacted Sammartino.
“I had learned the basic knowledge of wrestling from being the third man in the ring for so many of his championship matches. I got a hold of Bruno and went down to a show at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. Bruno told Ace Freeman that he wanted him to start me the next weekend even if he had to add a match to the card. I stayed there for a year.”
It was there that he met Ohio-based journeyman Jim Grabmire, who knew of Dillon’s dream to break into the wrestling side of the business. Grabmire worked primarily in his home base during the winter, but would travel to promoter Jim Crockett Sr.’s Charlotte territory in the summer to help beef up that area’s sizable roster.
Grabmire took one of Dillon’s publicity photos to Crockett and, based on the veteran’s word, Dillon got the job.
Leaving behind his jobs teaching school and selling insurance, Dillon was on his way to achieving his childhood dream.
“I packed up everything I owned in an old, beat-up Chevy,” says Dillon. “I had never been south of Richmond, Va., in my life. I drove to Charlotte where you could have a room for 15 bucks. It was right up the street from Crockett Sr.’s office.”
Dillon immediately was thrown into the fire, as his first match in the territory was against the rugged Gene Anderson.
Dillon, working as a babyface, made a favorable impression with his new bosses.
“That first night they were looking for a five- or six-minute match with Gene Anderson. It ended up about an 18-minute match. The referee later came over and had a big smile on his face. Gene had gone back to the dressing room and said, ‘This kid’s got something. You want to keep booking him.’”
Dillon credits Thatcher with helping him during those early days.
“Les was in the territory at the time. He was a couple years older than I was but obviously had more experience. He kind of took me under his wing. Les was the guy that taught me how to conduct myself like a professional. I showed my lack of maturity on more than one occasion, and Les kind of straightened me out. We’ve been friends ever since, and that was 1971.”
Dillon says the opportunity to hone his craft in such a highly regarded territory was the experience of a lifetime and the real beginning of a dream that was about to come true.
“I was just thrilled to be booked. I was several months short of my 29th birthday. At that point I wasn’t a kid.”
His maturity level, he says, helped him initially.
“My whole attitude was different. I had a respect for the business. I kept my mouth shut. Those days there were no shortcuts to getting into the business. You didn’t have any schools. Most of the old-timers were reluctant to help a young guy because they looked at you as a threat who might take their place.”
Dillon, however, earned the respect of the territory’s veterans and proved to be a steady hand in that area for more than two years.
“Johnny Weaver was working in the office, and he and George Becker were the top team. I was like a sponge. There was a nucleus of guys that really helped me out. Johnny was a huge, huge help to me, as were guys like Art Nelson and Ole Anderson. I’ve been a friend of Ole’s since that time. Everybody thinks of him as being old and miserable, but I just understood him. We got along, and we’ve been friends to this day.”
Jim Dillon would make many several more stops as a wrestler before his transformation to J.J. Dillon the manager.
Dillon became such a reliable hand in the Carolinas that Weaver suggested him for a rare TV match with then NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. It was a set-up bout for Weaver, who at the time was the territory’s top challenger for Funk’s crown, but Dillon was impressive in his loss. He even got another crack at Funk on a show in Norfolk, Va.
“Of course I have to admit that the other featured match was Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson with Homer O’Dell against Thunderbolt Patterson and Jerry Brisco,” Dillon laughs. “They sold the tickets, but I was listed as the co-main event because it was a world title match.”
Unfortunately, three nights earlier in Greenville, Dillon severely sprained his ankle while working a tag-team match against Gene and Ole Anderson.
“The next day I was in a tag-team match with Les in Raleigh. Les told me to go down to the ring with him and put one hand on his shoulder, and try and hold the tag rope, and he’d take care of the rest. That was the mindset back in those days because if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid, The guys helped each other.”
By Thursday, the night of the world title match, the swelling had gone down a little, but Dillon was at best 60 percent.
“To show what a great champion he was, he managed to get a credible match out of a crippled young guy in his first territory,” Dillon says of Funk.
Dillon recalls marveling at the classic series of world title matches during that time between Funk and Jack Brisco.
“I remember being on early and going out and sitting up in the bleachers in the back, and for one hour just watching. You could learn so much just by watching two masters of their craft.”
The newcomer was a true student of the game, and the Mid-Atlantic power brokers were taking notice.
When Weaver had to cancel a summer tour working for the Cormier brothers in their Nova Scotia-based Eastern Sports Association, Dillon got the call.
“Johnny Weaver would go up there periodically, and they’d bring him in as an attraction. At the end of that season, Weaver was supposed to go up there. But somebody got hurt, and he had to stay. He told Crockett Sr. he wanted to send me up there in his place.”
Dillon, though, had little money to make such a trip. Seeing Dillon’s predicament, Weaver suggested he talk to the veteran promoter.
“It was $620 for a plane flight from Charlotte to Halifax. I would have loved to go, but there was no way I could afford it,” says Dillon.
Dillon took Weaver’s advice and paid a visit to Crockett. Problem solved.
“Jim Sr. reached in his pocket, pulled out some cash, counted out $620, slid it over to me, and told me to get that ticket and go up there and they’d reimburse me. And when I got back, he told me to come and see him.”
When Dillon returned to Charlotte, he gave Crockett the $620 that had been reimbursed to him by the Cormiers. Crockett told him, “You will always have a home here. And you can come back and stay as long as you want.” The venerable promoter, however, would pass away during Dillon’s next season working in Canada.
Dillon made such an impression on the Cormier brothers that they invited him back for the next tour.
“They wanted me to be featured with Freddie Sweetan, who lived up there, and give him a fresh partner.”
Dillon, now billed as “Nature Boy”Dillon, would get his chance to work as the territory’s top heel.
“They did everything to get me over. There was no backup ... there was no plan B. You either got it done or you didn’t. The idea was that I used a chain out of my tights and knocked out The Beast (Yvon Cormier) to take the title. Then I wrestled Leo Burke (Cormier) in a cage match for the (North American heavyweight) title. You had the same match every night for six or seven nights. I don’t think we went quite the hour in the cage, but for five or six of them I lost about 20 pounds. It was one of their hottest summers.”
Dillon also would team with Sweetan to take the territory’s International tag-team title from The Beast and Bobby Kay (Romeo Cormier).
Dillon got over so much that the Funks invited him to West Texas.
“It seemed like the other side of the world to me, but I had always dreamed of going to Japan, and they had the deal with Baba, so I went and stayed in Amarillo for over a year and had an unbelievable run with Dick Murdoch. Being around the Funks, Ricky Romero, Cyclone Negro and Killer Karl Kox was a great experience. I also got two trips out of Japan.”
Dillon, who briefly held the Western States title after defeating Kox, followed his Amarillo run with a stint in Florida working for Eddie Graham.
“Wrestling in Florida also was a dream because I had seen Dr. Jerry and Eddie Graham at the Garden as a kid, and I knew what Eddie had done in Florida. For a chance to there and be around him was great.”
Dillon hooked up in the Sunshine State with The Stomper (Archie Gouldie), whom he had met in Canada working for the Cormiers, and the two teamed up on a few small shows. Several months after Stomper left Florida, Dillon got a call asking him to go to Texas and be his manager.
Dillon had never managed before, but Stomper was confident that Dillon’s gift of gab could get him over in the Dallas territory.
“I said one door in life closes behind you and another one opens in front of you, so let’s do it,” Dillon recalls. “I left and went to Dallas in the latter part of 1975, started my managerial career and never looked back.”
Along with his experience working in the Maritimes, he was slowly but surely becoming a complete, well-rounded performer who could work heel as well, if not better, than babyface.
Working for promoter Dory Funk Sr. in Amarillo and promoter Eddie Graham in Florida, the villainous Jim Dillon would emerge as a bad guy the fans loved to hate.
“The Maritimes were special because I got a break so early in my career. Amarillo because the trips were long but the talent and being there with the Funks and the trips to Japan. And Florida because Eddie Graham had such an impact on me and just being around him.”
Without doubt, the Jim Dillon most fans remember was the pompous, tuxedo-wearing James J. “J.J.” Dillon who managed the original Four Horsemen — Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard, and later, Lex Luger, Barry Windham and others — during the mid-’80s.
His stint as leader of The Horsemen was the pinnacle of his career.
The infamous stable evolved from an interview. Dillon was managing National champion Blanchard, and they were joined by NWA world champ Flair and NWA world tag-team champs Arn and Ole Anderson.
“Take a good look at your screen right now, because never have so few wreaked so much havoc on everyone else. You’d have to go back in history to the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” Arn declared during an interview. Dillon then held up the four fingers on his right hand, mimicking Anderson’s hand gesture, which would quickly become one of the most recognizable symbols in all of wrestling.
“It just grew and grew from there,” he says.
Dillon says he will never forget the series of classic War Games matches involving the Horsemen in 1987.
“It was two rings together with a cage around the whole thing. It was so violent that the first one at the Omni on July Fourth set the tone for the others doing so well.”
That bloody, five-on-five match that could only end on a submission saw Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering defeat Flair, Arn Anderson, Blanchard, Lex Luger and Dillon.
As the heel manager, Dillon was the “sacrificial lamb.”
A not-so-textbook Doomsday Device finishing move, with Hawk coming off the top and Dillon precariously perched on Animal’s shoulders, resulted in Dillon suffering a separated shoulder.
“It didn’t break it, but I was off six weeks. I still have hump up in my collarbone. They said that night that I could have surgery to fix it, or I could have it immobilized for six weeks and it would heal but I’d always be able to see it in the mirror.”
The pain, he says, was worth the memories of that special time.
“Without a doubt the Horsemen run was the pinnacle of my career.”
And when that run ended, another different one was about to begin.
Blanchard, who along with Anderson had taken a job in WWE, gave Dillon a call.
“Tully said that they were running three towns a night up there (WWE), and all of the matchmaking and booking was being done by Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson. And they needed help.”
Blanchard told Dillon that his name was being mentioned, and wondered if he might be interested.
Dillon knew that he might be working on borrowed time. TV mogul Ted Turner was in the process of purchasing Jim Crockett Promotions.
“That was right as the transition was taking place to Turner. My contract had expired. (Jim) Barnett was pressing the issue, but I always managed to avoid the subject.”
Dillon decided to make the trip to New York and listen to the offer. McMahon sent a car to Manhattan, and the two met at the WWE owner’s home.
“He said that we’d keep it quiet, and that if I wanted to use this as a means to getting a better deal for myself down there, he understood. But he offered me a job and said he hoped I’d take it on that basis.”
Dillon, 46 years old at the time, didn’t have to think too long or too hard.
“How many more special matches could I have with Paul Ellering? I got crippled up pretty good in that first War Games match. It was the worst injury I had ever had. I knew it had to end sometime.”
In a way, says Dillon, it had all come full circle. He had started with Vince McMahon Sr. as a referee in the early ‘60s, and now, nearly 30 years later, he was returning to work for his son.
In 1989, Dillon began his new job as Vice President of Talent Relations. For the next eight years, he would enjoy a successful run as a major behind-the-scenes player. The Undertaker and Triple H were among those hired during his tenure.
After his front-office stint with WWE ended, Dillon again joined World Championship Wrestling, taking an office job behind the scenes and playing an on-camera role as WCW Commissioner.
There’s another moment in Dillon’s illustrious career that he will never forget.
Dillon’s induction last year into the WWE Hall of Fame was a tremendous honor, but at the same time represented a huge burden that was lifted off his shoulders.
Dillon, who had parted ways with WWE under less-than-favorable terms, had no idea that he would ever be invited back into the fold. But last year at a show in New Jersey, Dillon made it a point to speak to former Horseman Barry Windham.
Windham, son of WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan (Bob Windham), confided that WWE had plans to induct the Horsemen later that year.
“I didn’t see it coming. It floored me. But I couldn’t tell anybody,” says Dillon, who was sworn to secrecy.
Several weeks later Windham suffered a massive heart attack and stroke.
Dillon wondered if those Hall of Fame plans might be altered.
“Knowing how the nature of the business is, what seemed like a good idea today is not a good idea tomorrow. With Barry’s health in question, who knows?”
Dillon will never forget the day he got the call.
He had picked his daughter up from college to do some shopping for winter clothes when his cell phone rang. It was from WWE.
“(WWE Talent Relations Vice President) John Laurinaitis said it was happening. They would fly me and my guests to the Hall of Fame. I was stunned.”
Time passed before he would hear from WWE again, and Dillon admits he did some major sweating, not knowing if the company might have scrapped the plan.
He recalls watching Raw on a Monday night when he got another call from Laurinaitis.
I’m here (in San Antonio) for live Raw, and I want you to know we’re making the announcement tonight,” said the WWE executive. “We’ve got a package, and it’s very well done, and we’ll send you a copy of it.”
Dillon’s voice cracks with emotion when he thinks about that moment.
“I thought, if it happens tonight, it’s real.”
About 30 minutes into the show, Dillon recalls, an announcement was made about an upcoming Hall of Fame reveal.
“They come out of commercial, and they announce Edge.”
Dillon’s heart sank.
“I’m sitting there stunned.”
Later, though, they would plug a second Hall of Fame announcement.
“It was about 25 minutes after 10 going into a break,” he says. Then, to his relief, the announcement was made. The Four Horsemen (Flair, Blanchard, Arn Anderson and Windham) — manager J.J. Dillon included — were in.
“There it was. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I remember waking up the next morning after a sound sleep and wondering if that really happened or was that something I dreamed.”
Dillon was unsure if Flair, who was under contract with TNA at the time, would be allowed to make the ceremony. But a phone call to the Nature Boy answered that question.
“When I called Ric, he said, ‘Before you ask me the question, I’m going to give you the answer. Hell, yeah, buddy. And I’m going to be up on stage with you.’”
“Ric was the first person inducted into their Hall of Fame twice,” says Dillon. “There would have been a time when it was unheard of to induct somebody working under contract for another company.”
Dillon now looks forward to old friend Bruno Sammartino finally being inducted in two weeks.
“I’m glad it worked out for Bruno to be inducted because he’s been special to me for 50 years. It’s added credibility to their Hall whether they ever have a building or not.”
Dillon recalls meeting with Sammartino in Toronto shortly after his induction last year.
“I met privately with Bruno and told him I didn’t want him to think that because I was gracious about this honor that somehow I had compromised my principles. I knew how strongly he felt. He put my mind at ease and told me he fully understood. He was happy for me. And then I felt relieved.”
Dillon says he sent a message to Sammartino earlier this year congratulating him on his long-awaited induction.
“When the word was out that they were talking to Bruno, I called to congratulate him. I was probably one of about a hundred calls. Two days later he left a message at work apologizing for not calling me right back, and told me he never backed down. They (WWE) had to make things right, and they did.
“How could they have a Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden without Bruno? I don’t have a ticket yet, but I would like to go to the Hall of Fame to share that moment. Putting him and (Bob) Backlund in is giving them a step forward. You’re starting to see some of the influence of Triple H’s transition.”
Three months shy of 71, Dillon hasn’t slowed down much.
He still works full-time, and has been employed by the Delaware Department of Corrections for nine years.
“I went through the academy like everyone else. It’s funny because no one knew who I was at that point. There were 35 in the class. I was 61 and the next-oldest was 47, and then were a couple who weren’t even 20 yet. It wasn’t until we did a walk through the prison that the prisoners did a double take and recognized me.”
Like most of his colleagues in the wrestling business, his home life hasn’t always been stable.
“Married three times, divorced three times,” he says.
Dillon moved to Delaware at the age of 61 after his third divorce 10 years ago. His father had just passed away and his mother, who was in her late 80s at the time, was living alone in a small, two-bedroom home.
He had worked for Jerry Jarrett for two years in the real estate business following the closing of WCW, so the timing was right, he says.
“It was a stopping off point,” he says. After his mother passed away of complications from a stroke at the age of 92, he and his sister sold the house, and he moved into a condominium only five miles from his job.
“The cost of living is reasonable here. It’s a small state with no sales tax. At this point I’ve got an apartment that was just built. I’ve been so fortunate my entire lifetime. And my luck has continued.”
The location, he adds, keeps him close to a pair of 20-year-old twins that attend the University of Delaware.
He was 50 years old when the twins came along, and 52 when his next child was born. He also has a 46-year-old daughter from his first marriage. His four granddaughters are 22, 21, 18 and 5.
His second wife was five years older than Dillon and had three children of her own.
“Her being a little older, the thinking was that I would have never have more children, so I got a vasectomy in Amarillo. I was married to her 17 years,” says Dillon.
“My last wife was 13 years younger and wanted children. Eleven years after I had the surgery, I went back to Amarillo and had the same doctor reverse it. Two years later, with a little help from fertility, I had kids. After that, I didn’t think anything about it, But as I was ready to go to Japan, my wife tested positive. I refer to my youngest one as my little miracle.”
J.J. Dillon now lives life one day at a time. He still gets emotional when talking about his many friends in the business who have passed away.
It’s one of the main reasons he goes to events like Fanfest, the annual Cauliflower Alley gathering and the Gulf Coast Legends Reunion.
“It really affects me,” says Dillon. “It’s really hits home when a guy like Bill Moody (aka Paul Bearer) leaves us. I tell my kids that you have to live each day to its fullest.”
Dillon thinks about the thin line between life and death, and the risks that wrestlers take each and every time they step into the ring.
While wrestling can be one of the most exciting professions in the world, it often comes with a price.
“I can remember years ago when Ric (Flair) would go to the ring. In the corner I’d take his jacket, and he’d have a little piece of paper that he would hand to me. He’d say there’s a phone number or something on here where he’d have pictures of his kids that were in his wallet that he’d look at. And that was the last thing before he went to the ring. And that was 25 years ago. But it was in his mind even back then.”
Dillon thinks about the time he missed with his own children.
“When she (his twin daughter) first came up here to go to school, she would spend some time here. Half of her life I wasn’t there. It was a phone call or a card. I would fly down there for a short visit. We would go to dinner or go shopping, and I’d be back on a plane home.”
Things are different now.
“Every day when I talk to her, I tell her I love her. You can’t make them love you, but you can try to be the best parent you can be. And it reaches the point where if you’ve done everything right, then you hope things work out.”
His children, he says, help keep him young at heart.
“When they were born, I was walking around with my chest puffed out. I was pretty proud of myself. Especially when I had another one two years later. She’s with her mother in Atlanta, and she graduates in May from Woodward Academy. But I’ve slowed down in these past nine or 10 years. I’ve been very, very fortunate health wise. All the vitals are good.”
Dillon, whose last official match was in 1989, says he was fortunate that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries during his days in the wrestling business.
He and Terry Funk had their knees replaced on the same day five years ago.
“I had my left knee done in Delaware. He had his right knee done in Amarillo. Every day we called each other and checked on our rehab. We were very supportive of each other.”
A year later Dillon was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“It was caught very, very early. I’m cancer-free now. The doctors keep telling me that the one thing I’ve got in my favor is good genes. My father was 85 when he died of congestive heart failure. My mother was 92. That’s something that you can’t buy.”
Dillon, whose 2005 autobiography “Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon” chronicles his colorful life in the business. will be inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame on May 18. He calls it the most prestigious honor of all.
“It is an honor in itself just to have your name appear on the ballot for consideration for the Hall of Fame. This recognition is so special because I have been selected by vote of a panel of respected wrestling historians, along with a group of my peers, which included many prior inductees.”
Dillon, the recipient of several Manager of the Year awards, has earned the respect of his peers through hard work and a burning desire to succeed.
“I always say that I was never the biggest and never the best. I didn’t have a Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior/Superstar Graham type of body. I hated going to the gym to work out. I just was at the right place at the right time. I wasn’t the biggest or the best, but nobody wanted it more than I did. You have to have desire and determination. There are always going to be setbacks along the way, and if you want it bad enough, you can get it.”
From referee to wrestler, from manager to front office, and now elder statesman, there isn’t much that Jim Dillon hasn’t done or hasn’t accomplished in the wrestling business.
“For me, at this stage of my life, I am so grateful for all the good things that have happened to me. As for the changes, change happens with everything. Change is not always for the better. But change is inevitable. And one thing that doesn’t change is the memories. I see them with the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, I see them with the Cauliflower Alley, I see them in Mobile (Gulf Coast reunion) and I see them with Greg Price and Fanfest. Those are our memories. The memories don’t change.”