James Mark Cornette is an American podcaster, former professional wrestling booker, commentator, manager, and occasional professional wrestler. As a manager, commentator, member of the booking committee and member of the creative team, he has worked for Continental Wrestling Association (CWA), Mid-South Wrestling (MSW), Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (now called WWE), and from 1991 to 1995, was the owner of Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW). He has also worked as an on-screen character in an authoritative role; as "Commissioner" of Ring of Honor and "Management Director" (and off-screen road agent) for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Cornette always loved wrestling, reportedly installing a ten-foot antenna on top of his house as a youth so he could watch as much regional wrestling as possible. He began working at wrestling events at the age of 14, serving as a photographer, ring announcer, timekeeper, magazine correspondent, and public relations correspondent. During this time, from attending matches at the Louisville Gardens, Cornette got to know promoter Christine Jarrett, who was also the mother of Jerry Jarrett, promoter of the Continental Wrestling Association (commonly known as the "Memphis" territory). His dedication was such that he timed television shows with a stopwatch and would present her with typed formats for every show.
By 1982, Cornette was now also writing programs for arena shows, having photos published in wrestling magazines, and contributing to Championship Wrestling Magazine. In August, he travelled to Memphis to see the TV match between Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair. After the show ended, Cornette was tapped on the shoulder by promoter Jerry Jarrett, and asked if he wanted to become a manager on television. As Cornette has recalled, despite his presence being tolerated at shows and TV tapings for nearly a decade, the first time he was allowed into the locker room was only after he had become a manager.
Before making his managing debut Cornette decided to go by James E. Cornette in tribute to legendary wrestling promoter Jim Barnett. Cornette made his ringside debut on September 25, 1982, managing future manager Sherri Martell. Cornette was given the gimmick of a rich kid turned inept manager whose clients kept firing him after one match. The most notable wrestlers in this angle were Dutch Mantell and Crusher Broomfield (who would later gain fame as The One Man Gang and Akeem,"The African Dream"). Over the next 14 months Cornette also managed Jesse Barr, and the Exotic Adrian Street. Other wrestlers included a trio in Nashville consisting of Carl Fergie, Norman Fredrich Charles III, and the Angel, a trio that he called the "Cornette Dynasty". After a short-lived run in Georgia through a deal Jarrett had with Ole Anderson, Cornette returned to Memphis in July 1983, and worked as co-manager alongside Jimmy Hart.
In November 1983, Mid-South promoter Bill Watts recognised his business was down, and was looking to reinvigorate his territory. Watts asked Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler to visit a TV taping and offer their opinions. Jarrett suggested a talent trade, and invited Watts to Memphis to see who he liked. After watching a Memphis TV taping, Watts took singles performers Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton to create a new tag team, and also took the existing team of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson as the Rock and Roll Express. Watts also noticed the brash young manager in Cornette, and in his own words, recalled "He was so obnoxious I wanted to slap him", and "I knew he was instant box office if he could get me that riled up". As the more senior Jimmy Hart was still required by Jarrett, Watts took Cornette to manage his new team, who decided on the name The Midnight Express. Notable wrestlers in the trade who left Mid-South for Memphis included Rick Rude and Jim Neidhart.
Mid-South Wrestling had to that point been a territory featuring bigger wrestlers, and Cornette has stated that The Midnight Express, the Rock and Roll Express, and himself were probably the five smallest members of the roster when he arrived. The influx of the new talent had an immediate impact, and business first rebounded and then skyrocketed. It was during this time that Cornette acquired his tennis racquet which became his trademark. He has stated he had seen a college movie at the time with an obnoxious rich kid carrying a badminton racquet with him (most likely the 1983 film Screwballs), so he decided on a tennis racquet. At times Cornette loaded the racquet with a horse shoe to guard against aggressive fans.
Cornette and The Midnight Express debuted on Mid-South television on November 23, 1983. After the first few weeks in the territory the team faced the Mid-South tag team champions Magnum TA and Mr.Wrestling II. At a TV taping for a contract signing for an upcoming championship match, the Midnights and Cornette attacked Magnum TA and tarred and feathered him. The feud continued through to early March 1984, when The Midnight Express won the Mid-South tag team titles after Wrestling II walked out on his partner during a match.
At a TV taping on March 14, 1984, Cornette and the Midnights staged a celebration for winning the tag team titles, complete with champagne and birthday cake. While Cornette's back was turned, The Rock 'n' Roll Express ran in and shoved Cornette's face in the cake. Cornette was enraged afterwards when Bill Watts replayed the incident on TV as he thought it was funny. This led to a heated altercation between the two, which ended with Watts slapping Cornette. In following weeks, the Midnight Express and Cornette attacked and bloodied Watts leading him to come out of retirement. In a series of matches termed "The Last Stampede", Watts and a masked teammate in Stagger Lee (suspected to be Junkyard Dog under a mask) faced the Midnight Express and Cornette all through the territory. The stipulations were simple; if the Midnights won Cornette would run Mid-South Wrestling for 60 days; if they lost, Cornette would be stripped down and forced to wear either a diaper or a dress (the outfits varied by venue). Over 5 weeks, the Last Stampede series shattered box office records for Mid-South, with a record gate and attendance at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Texas, combined attendance of 20,000 people in Tulsa and Oklahoma City (on the same day), and a crowd of 23,000 people at the New Orleans Superdome.
Cornette's time in Mid-South was also notable as it marked the beginning of the rivalry with the Rock and Roll Express. Starting in May 1984 immediately following the Last Stampede series, the two teams feuded all through the remainder of the year to packed crowds all through the territory. In particular, the two teams set attendance records in Houston, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, making 1984 the most successful year in Mid-South history, and The Midnight Express and Cornette national stars.
Cornette has consistently acknowledged that Bill Watts's philosophy of believable and credible wrestling, with an unwavering emphasis on toughness, athleticism and serious presentation, has had a major impact on how he thinks the business should be promoted. He has described the promotion as a military school for wrestling, where Watts' strict enforcement of kayfabe, exhausting travel schedule and passionate fans made it a learning experience like no other. Cornette maintains enormous respect for Watts as a promoter, citing his ability to attract huge TV ratings and consistently sold out arenas in a low population area, and describing Watts as a genius. At the same time, he acknowledges the grind of constant matches, long drives, and fan riots was a grueling test of endurance. At one point Cornette worked 103 days straight before being ordered by doctors to have two–four weeks' bed rest. As events transpired, he took six days off before returning to action.
In describing Mid-South Wrestling, Cornette has offered the following example: "Two weeks of our lives, fourteen days, we did two one hour TV shows, fifteen house shows, two all day promo sets, drove 4700 miles in a car while doing that, and I can't speak for anybody else, but I made - and I was only 22 years old, and just pleased as punch to be there - $5600 for two weeks. In 1984. Not bad."
The Midnight Express with Cornette had a short stay in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in Texas where they feuded mainly with The Fantastics (Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers). When opportunities in WCCW looked to go nowhere, The Midnight Express started to look elsewhere for employment and what they found would give the team national and international exposure. Cornette later reflected that they were willing to give Dallas a try, as they welcomed living in a modern city, as well as the easier travel schedule when compared to Mid-South. However the inability to get any rivalry with the Von Erichs - and therefore main event money - made the decision to leave for Charlotte an easy one.
With Cornette as manager, the team were two-time National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Tag Team Champions and two-time NWA United States Tag Team champions. As a manager, Cornette was known for both his loud mouth and for his ever-present tennis racket, which Cornette often used to ensure victory for his wrestlers, with the implication that the racket case was loaded. Cornette was at his best as a heel manager; fans loved to see the constantly yelling Cornette and his equally annoying charges beaten and humiliated. He and the Midnights were so hated, in fact, that they had to be escorted by police to and from the ring at the house shows and have a police escort to the city limits for fear of being attacked by overzealous fans.
Additionally, Cornette suffered a severe knee injury during a scaffold match between The Midnight Express and The Road Warriors at Starrcade '86. In a shoot interview, Cornette recounted that Dusty Rhodes convinced him to perform a dangerous stunt where he would fall off of the high scaffold, which Cornette estimated was twenty-five feet off the floor of the arena but about five feet less when measured from the ring mat to the top of the scaffold. The idea was that Paul Ellering, the manager of The Road Warriors, would chase Cornette up the scaffold. Once he was there, he would be met by Road Warrior Animal, who would assist him in getting underneath the scaffold, where Cornette would hang and then drop when ready. Cornette, however, suffered from a severe case of acrophobia and decided that the drop, which he estimated was a total of fourteen feet when he factored in his total body length of eight feet (height plus extended arm length), was, as he put it, "way too Goddamn far."
Condrey, Eaton, and Cornette discussed an alternative: Big Bubba Rogers, another wrestler of Cornette's, would catch the manager. However, as Rogers was wearing dark sunglasses inside the arena he misjudged his position and Cornette actually landed flat on his feet, three feet away from Rogers. Cornette tore all the ligaments in one of his knees, broke a bone and damaged the cartilage. The injury was so extensive that when Cornette finally saw a doctor to have the knee drained, the amount of blood and fluid filled an entire bedpan. Cornette later said that he knew he might get seriously hurt when he was told he would have to fall off a scaffold, but that performing in front of such a large audience was more important than his own health.
In 1989, Cornette became the color commentator for Jim Crockett Promotions' nationally syndicated NWA television show, and later took over the same role on the Saturday night TBS broadcasts alongside play-by-play announcer Jim Ross.
In 1989, Cornette became a booker on WCW's creative team. As such, Cornette helped write storylines and shape the format of its television shows. Due to friction and animosity between himself and WCW head Jim Herd, Cornette quit the company after Halloween Havoc 1990.
In January 1993 Cornette briefly returned to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) when WCW was doing a talent trade with Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW). Bill Watts, who was the current WCW Executive Vice President, brought The Rock 'n' Roll Express back to WCW and billed them as the Smoky Mountain tag team champions. This incensed Cornette since his team the Heavenly Bodies (Stan Lane and Tom Prichard) were the current champions at the time. On the February 6, 1993 episode on WCW Saturday Night, Jim Cornette, the Bodies and Bobby Eaton (who Cornette once again began to manage) confronted the Express during an interview. Bill Watts came out and suggested the Bodies should wrestle the Express. Cornette objected since he claimed that they weren't dressed for it, but the match still took place. The Express won the match by DQ when Eaton interfered in the match, and after the match while Lane held Morton, Cornette put his tennis racket over Morton while Eaton delivered his "Alabama jam" on Morton. Cornette then struck referee Nick Patrick, and then Cornette helped his men beat up the Express.
The following week, Watts came out with the SMW commissioner Bob Armstrong, who stated he was very upset with Cornette's recent actions, and demanded that Cornette come out to apologize for what he had done. Watts stated that the Express was scheduled to wrestle the Wrecking Crew (Rage and Fury) at SuperBrawl III, but then said the Express should wrestle the Bodies instead. Armstrong agreed with Watts and then told Cornette if his Bodies did not wrestle the Express at SuperBrawl III that he would be heavily fined, the Bodies would be stripped of the title, and that he would be suspended. Cornette was very angry and claimed "That he hated WCW!" and later came out to the ring with his men, and attacked two jobbers after a match, one being Joey Maggs. The Express then came out and attacked Cornette and his gang.
During Cornette's second stint in WCW, his Heavenly Bodies teamed with Steve Austin and Brian Pillman in 8-man tag team matches against the Express and the Unified tag team champions Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas. The Bodies, Austin and Pillman lost two of those matches, one on a February 27 episode of WCW Worldwide by DQ when Cornette interfered, and one by pinfall. The feud between the Bodies and Express would take place in both SMW and WCW. Bobby Eaton would go to SMW where he would team in 6-man tag team matches with the Bodies. In one of these matches, the Express had a person covered by a sheet in their corner, and after the match Cornette with his men came to the ring to see who was under the sheet and began poking, and kicking at the sheeted man. When Cornette pulled the sheet off, it was Arn Anderson, Eaton's former tag team partner in The Dangerous Alliance, who was underneath; Cornette then fell over in shock. Eaton then tried to shake Anderson's hand, but Arn decked him. Arn said the reason for this was because after he was injured by Erik Watts at a gas station, Eaton never once called him to see how he was doing. Cornette belittled Anderson and claimed that his men were far superior to him. Eaton was also very successful in Smoky Mountain, and under Cornette's guidance he won the SMW TV title. When the Bodies faced the Express at SuperBrawl III, Eaton came out with Cornette, he was despite Cornette's protests forced to return to the dressing room. Like almost always Cornette tried to interfere in the match. When Cornette climbed onto the ring apron and began to argue with the referee, the Express won the match by pinfall when an illegal outside attempt from Eaton, who had since come back to the ring failed.
A firm believer in "old-school" territorial wrestling, Cornette began the Smoky Mountain Wrestling promotion in 1991. SMW promoted shows in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. By this point, however, the nature of wrestling in the U.S. had already changed irrevocably, leading Cornette to seek a working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation in 1993. This did not change the new national perception that regional promotions were "minor league". The move also did not help the federation's finances, and Cornette closed SMW's doors in November 1995 and sold all SMW rights and videos to the WWF. Cornette later said that he chose the wrong time to start a wrestling federation because the business as a whole was in a recession.
Cornette went to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1993 while still serving as promoter of SMW. As he had done in other promotions, Cornette held several positions in the WWF, including manager, color commentator and member of the booking committee. Cornette's most notable managerial role in the WWF was as the "American spokesperson" of WWF Champion Yokozuna. Cornette joined the WWF full-time in 1996 after the demise of SMW, and had a major role in scouting and developing new talent.
On screen, he led a top heel stable of wrestlers referred to as "Camp Cornette". At any given time, Cornette's charges consisted of Yokozuna, Mantaur, Vader, Owen Hart, and The British Bulldog. He also served as the manager of Tom Prichard and Jimmy Del Ray during their brief stint in the WWF. In 1997, Cornette became a member of the WWF announce team where he served as a color commentator. It was during this time that he also began performing a series of controversial "worked shoots" where he would praise what he felt was right and condemn what he felt was wrong in professional wrestling. Although the segments were produced by the WWF, Cornette did not hesitate to give praise to WCW wrestlers that he felt deserved it. Cornette also became active behind the scenes working on the booking committee for several years before being removed after frequently butting heads with head writer Vince Russo.
In 1998, Cornette led an NWA invasion, based on the old Crockett Promotions territory, with a stable including Jeff Jarrett, Barry Windham and The Rock 'n' Roll Express. Later that year, Cornette managed Dan Severn and The New Midnight Express before he stepped back from managing. Cornette then did some color commentating, primarily on Sunday Night Heat, before disappearing from television. Cornette returned to WWF television for one night at WrestleMania X-Seven in Houston, where he took part in the "gimmick battle royal" but was quickly eliminated by Hillbilly Jim.
Cornette later became lead booker and part owner of Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE's lead developmental territory at the time, run by "Nightmare" Danny Davis. As a talent developer, Cornette had previously been instrumental in developing current and former WWE Superstars such as Kane, D'Lo Brown, Sunny and Al Snow during his time running SMW. WWE credits Cornette with helping foster numerous successful superstars including John Cena, Dave Bautista, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar.
In May 2005, Cornette was suspended for several weeks by WWE after slapping OVW developmental wrestler Anthony Carelli backstage after Carelli had "no-sold" fellow wrestler The Boogeyman by laughing at him during a live OVW event. Shortly after Cornette returned from his suspension, a separate incident occurred and the WWE released him from his contract in July 2005. In the spring of 2007, Carelli, who had since been called up to the WWE as Santino Marella, appeared on a Canadian radio program where he publicly challenged Cornette to a match despite Cornette working for rival promotion TNA at the time.
In 2006, Cornette joined TNA Wrestling as the new face of TNA Management. He held the title of "Management Director" according to the press releases following his premiere at the Slammiversary PPV event on June 18, 2006 in Orlando, Florida. After a brief speech, he departed, but returned at the end of the show in light of the "Orlando Screwjob", taking the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt after Jeff Jarrett, Larry Zbyszko and Earl Hebner successfully executed a screwjob on Christian Cage and Sting.
As the figurehead "Management Director" of TNA, Cornette did not usually take up more than ten minutes of the show, which can be attributed to both his quick tongue and TNA's lack of desire to create another Mr. McMahon. Matt Morgan had also become Cornette's on-screen bodyguard to prevent harm to his physical being, until leaving that post to become a full-time wrestler. Part of Cornette's gimmick was that when multiple situations build up at once, he often takes care of them all swiftly by getting all the TNA wrestlers to come out to the Impact! Zone for a "company meeting" to hear his decisions, or exasperatedly deal swiftly with people who barge into his office. The clear impact of this feature was made evident right from the start, as the first "company meeting" (which aired on the edition of June 29, 2006 of TNA Impact!), where every wrestler was asked to come out and stand at either ramp, saw Cornette clear up several issues:
- Forcing The Latin American Xchange to start wrestling again under the threat of termination.
- Booking Raven and Zbyszko in a hair vs. hair match against each other for Victory Road 2006.
- Disbanding Team Canada as a result of their overly cheating ways (he would later offer them a match which, if they won, would allow them to stay as a unit, with the winner to get a future shot at the championship of their choice; they would lose the match).
- Firing Earl Hebner for his role in the "Orlando Screwjob" at Slammiversary 2006. (Hebner had since been rehired, due to a lie detector test on Jeff Jarrett)
- Booking America's Most Wanted and Gail Kim in a match against Sirelda, A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels in an intergender six-person tag team matchup with Styles and Daniels' NWA World Tag Team Championship on the line.
- Booking a fatal four-way between Christian Cage, Sting, Scott Steiner, and Samoa Joe for Victory Road 2006.
- Finally declaring Jeff Jarrett the official NWA World Heavyweight Champion given that Jarrett defended his title against the winner of the fatal four-way at Victory Road.
Cornette was released from TNA on September 15, 2009. He has said that he was released because he was not "100 percent" behind TNA's creative team, headed by Vince Russo.
In 2009, Cornette signed a contract with Ring of Honor to be their Executive Producer for the Ring of Honor Wrestling show on HDNet.
Cornette made his surprise return to ROH at Glory by Honor VIII: The Final Countdown on September 26, announcing he was the new Executive Producer for the show. Cornette made his first appearance on Ring of Honor Wrestling on the December 7 episode and immediately made waves by putting ROH champion Austin Aries into a 4-way title match later that night and created the Pick 6 contender series.
On September 8, 2010, Ohio Valley Wrestling announced that Cornette would resume his duties as the head booker of the promotion. Cornette left OVW in November 2011, when the promotion announced a working agreement with TNA. On the edition of January 21 of Ring of Honor television, Cornette announced that chairshots to the head were banned and anyone that did so would be fined $5,000. On the February 4 telecast, Cornette made another ban in which the piledriver—in any form—is banned.
On October 8, 2012, it was reported that ROH had replaced Cornette as the head booker with Hunter Johnston, a wrestler who performed under the name Delirious. ROH wrote Cornette off television by having him suffer storyline injuries at the hands of Jay Lethal. As of November 2012, it was revealed that Cornette had left the promotion. The reason for Cornette's absence stems from a outburst he had at the November 3 ROH television taping. At the taping, ROH talent Steve Corino suffered an injury, and no ROH officials were still at the venue to be able to pay for Corino's immediate medical attention or even arrange for an ambulance to be called. This left Corino in pain for hours and Cornette to be the only person there with enough power to handle the situation. Following his departure from Ring of Honor, Cornette decided to take an extended break from professional wrestling to focus on his health and work on personal projects.
On March 31, 2017, Jim Cornette made his first appearance with WWE in 12 years when he inducted The Rock 'n' Roll Express into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Cornette was also featured in an episode of the WWE Network Original series "Table For 3" alongside Eric Bischoff and Michael Hayes. Since then Cornette made another appearance for WWE, starring in an episode of the WWE Network Original Series "Photo Shoot" in March of 2018.
Cornette returned to the newly rebranded Global Force Wrestling, previously known as both TNA and Impact Wrestling, on August 17, 2017, at Destination X and fired Bruce Prichard. Cornette stated that he was put in charge by Anthem to resolve the Unified GFW World Heavyweight Championship situation. Cornette made the decision to book Low Ki as the twentieth entrant in the GFW World Heavyweight Championship gauntlet match. On September 18, Cornette confirmed he was done with GFW. He had been brought in by Jeff Jarrett and the original agreement only included one set of tapings. With Jarrett out of the company, the new GFW creative team was said to be more focused on in-ring action and less on authority figures. According to Cornette, there was no "heat" between him and GFW.
Cornette and his longtime girlfriend Stacey Goff were married October 31, 2007. Stacey was a former independent wrestling manager who went by the name "Synn". Synn was the OVW manager of the Disciples of Synn which included Dave Bautista.
In September 2009, during a podcast interview on Who's Slamming Who? he voiced his support for President Barack Obama's health care reform plans. He also condemned what he considered "fearmongering" from the Republican Party as well as calling former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin "a useless twat". He acknowledged having voted for Obama in the 2008 election and considers himself a Democrat. His political statements have led to media attention, including an appearance on Internet talk show The Young Turks. On December 17, 2017, Cornette stated that he is a democratic socialist.
Knox County, Tennessee mayor Tim Burchett declared November 17, 2014 "Jim Cornette Day" during a Southeastern Championship Wrestling taping in Knoxville.
In June 2017, former WWF/WCW/TNA writer Vince Russo filed a restraining order (EPO) against Cornette for "stalking". They have had a 20-year off-screen rivalry. Cornette then began selling autographed copies of the restraining order on his personal website.
Cornette is an atheist; in the past he had been highly critical of religion. Cornette has a criminal record which includes a number of assaults, mostly stemming from incidents involving fights with fans who attacked him while he was a manager in the 1980s. The record has made it difficult for him to work in Canada, which resulted in him being turned away from the border in November, 2010 resulting in a lifetime ban.