JJ Dillon Interview

JJ’s Early Days

Jim Dillon’s Early Days in Charlotte

 

Younger wrestling fans today mostly associate James J. Dillon with his stellar run as the leader of the “Four Horsemen” in Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s, or his time as an authority figure during the “Monday night wars” when things were so hot for WCW during the Nitro era. What those fans may overlook is that Jim Dillon, as he was known during his grappling days, was a fine pro-wrestler before his managerial and front office career got started.

He wrestled in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Ohio before coming to Jim Crockett Promotions in 1971, and it was right here in the “Charlotte territory” (as it was known before the days of “Mid-Atlantic Wrestling”) that Dillon’s career really began to take off. Not only did he get the opportunity to learn here, he got noticed by other promoters as well. Many doors were opened that eventually led to one of the most fascinating, diverse, and successful careers ever in the pro wrestling business.

 J.J. is now one of the Crockett Foundation’s “tag team partners” and so it got me to thinking about his early career and what his recollections were of the Charlotte office and Jim Crockett Promotions during the two years he wrestled there from 1971-1973. We recently had a chance to talk about Jim Crocket, Sr., the Charlotte territory, the bookers, and those people that made an impression on him and his career at the time.

Dick Bourne: You wrote in your book that one of the first impressions of Jim Crockett, Sr. was how well he related to his audience and his customers. For example, how he drove a Buick and didn’t have a big fancy office. There were none of the trappings of the wealth he actually had. Was Jim Sr. the same with the boys?

James J. Dillon: When I started as a full-time wrestler in Charlotte in 1971, I got to know Mr. Crockett.  I only ever saw him in a suit and tie.  The McMahons were also always dressed in suit and tie, but they didn’t interact with the fans. The big difference was that Mr. Crockett did interact with the fans … his customers.  As I said in my book, Mr. Crockett clearly knew that a significant part of his fan base were ‘blue collar’ workers and not wealthy.  He also realized that the Charlotte fans were very loyal and most attended every week and had regular seats.  Mr. Crockett went out of his way to not flaunt his financial success.  He related to the wrestlers in the same way and he was very highly respected by the fans and the wrestlers.  However, everyone knew he was the ‘boss’ and treated him with the same respect he had shown everyone else. When I came to Charlotte I was approaching age 29, and I had already figured out that in wrestling and in life in general, you had to give respect to get respect.  Mr. Crockett just reinforced what I had already figured out on my own.     

Bourne: What are your memories of the wrestling office on East Morehead Street?

Dillon: I remember 1111 East Morehead Street quite well.  Until I got an apartment, I stayed at the YMCA which was a few blocks from the office on the same street. Many of the boys worked out and played handball at the YMCA and many would stop by the office just to say hello.  I don’t remember any signage indicating that it was the wrestling office. It was a nice house in the middle of a row of nice houses in a good neighborhood.  I remember taking the driveway alongside the house and parking in the back. I remember a very long set of stairs up to the office which was on the top floor.  Mr. Crockett would usually be there seated behind a very large executive desk.

Bourne: Who were some of Jim Sr.’s “lieutenants” in the years you were there that you might have seen around the office?

Dillon: You would see the referees around the office with regularity, Lucky Roberts, Angelo Martinelli, and Sonny Fargo and others whose names escape me.  “Bunk” Harris, too. The running joke was that George “Two Ton” Harris would bring donuts to the office every day for Mr. Crockett to stay in Mr. Crockett’s good graces.  I don’t recall who else had offices there.  I would see Johnny Weaver, but seldom saw George Becker.  

Bourne: You wrote about booker George Becker making you a babyface when you first came to Charlotte.

Dillon: My autobiography was published in 2005, and as time passes some memories fade.  Asking me today, I recollect that when Jim Grabmire called me from Charlotte after having left the Pittsburgh area, he told me that they were looking for talent, but I thought it was Grabmire that told me they were short on the ‘babyface’ side.  I had been working the Pittsburgh territory, and Detroit on some weekends, and had been pretty much just a ‘heel’ that whole time. However, I told Grabmire it didn’t matter to me, that I felt confident that I could work either side.  Grabmire may have mentioned that came from George Becker. I don’t remember for sure.  

Bourne: Becker wasn’t booker for too much longer during your two-year stint in Charlotte, leaving in October 1971. What are your memories of George Becker?

Dillon: I saw very little of Becker.  I remember hearing that George had a brother and the Becker Brothers were very successful in the territory years earlier.  When he did work during my time there, it was in tag team matches with Weaver.  Johnny did all the work and George would get the hot tag and the match would go home. George was much older than Weaver.  Funny how one remembers the little things: when George got the hot tag he would throw a punch and his hair would fall in his face and he would keep brushing it aside and keep going.  I don’t remember the circumstances of George leaving and he may have just retired.  That would explain my recollection of doing almost all my dealings with Johnny Weaver during my two-plus years in Charlotte.

Bourne: I want to ask you about Weaver, who took over the book when Becker left. You wrote that it was Johnny Weaver that gave you a huge break putting you in a short program with Dory Funk, Jr. on TV setting up your first ever NWA world title shot in Norfolk, VA in 1972. What are your thoughts on Weaver?

Dillon: Johnny was very good to me. That NWA title match, my first ever, was a big moment for me. I had great respect for Johnny and all that he did to help me in my career.  He was the top challenger when the NWA World Champion came in to the territory and I don’t feel that Johnny gets the proper credit for being the great performer he was in the ring. The fans loved him.

Bourne: You also had a memorable “scientific” match with Johnny Weaver on Charlotte TV in August of 1971 where you went hold-for-hold with him, which further elevated you in the eyes of the fans, going against a top star like Weaver. Weaver, as booker, obviously allowed you to get that rub from him. You certainly came though and held your end up. Do you recall that match?

Dillon: Funny that I don’t remember that TV match with Weaver.  If fans remember that match and the fact that Weaver had me match him move for move until the finish, well that would have been vintage Weaver.  He did so much for me. It was a sad day when I heard of his passing.  

Bourne: Who else made an impact on you working the Charlotte territory at that time?

Dillon: I have such fond memories of Charlotte and all those that helped me grow professionally.  Les Thatcher, Art Nelson, Gene Anderson, Ole Anderson, Sandy Scott, Jerry Brisco, Danny Miller and so many more.  I hate to start naming names for fear that I will forget to name someone.  If you asked me if there were any that didn’t go out of their way to help me, I could probably count them on one hand and have fingers left over. Gerald Brisco and Les Thatcher remain close friends forty-plus years after that first night I walked into Park Center in Charlotte.

Bourne: Your first match in Charlotte was with Gene Anderson, right?

Dillon: Yes it was, in 1971 at the old Charlotte Park Center. Gene was a man among men. We worked together many years at Jim Crockett Promotions, including behind the scenes in the 1980s, and we became friends. He was a good man.

Bourne: Just weeks before you left the territory in the spring of 1973, Jim Crockett, Sr. passed away. His death obviously had a huge impact on the territory and the community. He founded the family business and ran it for nearly 40 years. What do you remember about that time?

Dillon: I remember wrestling in Spartanburg, SC on that Saturday night when Mr. Crockett died.  We had heard that he was in the hospital but there was no indication of anything major.  Mr. Crockett was a big man physically, but always appeared to be in good health.  The news of his passing was shocking.  It was front-page news in the Charlotte newspaper and the lead story on the local TV news.  The Crockett family name was highly respected in Charlotte.  The Monday night matches at Park Center were cancelled.  I attended the funeral and everyone that was anyone in the wrestling world attended.  

Bourne: It has been generally reported that his son-in law John Ringley was thought to be his successor to run the company. He was a big part of promoting the company’s non-wrestling events such as the Harlem Globetrotters, concerts, etc. But he had his hand in the wrestling side of the promotion as well. He was very forward thinking, and is credited by David Crockett as the one who came up with the name “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” in 1973. What were your interactions with Ringley during your time in Charlotte on the wrestling side of things?

Dillon: I don’t remember there being any fanfare as John Ringley became the successor to run the company.  I had never met him before he assumed his new position.  My first impression was that he was bright and had a handle on things.  As saddened as we all were that Mr. Crockett was gone, John Ringley put everyone at ease that everything was going to be fine.  Life goes on and we were in good hands.     

Bourne: Is it fair to say that your two years in the Charlotte territory were the real foundation of your career? You obviously had several years under your belt in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Detroit as a referee and wrestler. But it was in Charlotte where you made some of the connections that really opened other doors in your career. I’m thinking of Halifax and Amarillo here, and then the opportunity to tour Japan with the Funks. Is it fair to say that Charlotte was the “gateway” that led to bigger and better things for a young Jim Dillon?

Dillon: Anyone that has spent any time with me has heard me say over and over that I am the luckiest guy in the world.  I was never the biggest or the best, but no one wanted it more than me or was willing to work any harder than I did. Charlotte and Jim Crockett Promotions was the perfect place for me and was indeed the gateway for all the bigger and better things that followed in my career. Every step of my journey I had many people willing to mentor me and to help me there.  Without that help I don’t know if I would be standing where I am today.  

Bourne: It’s all about timing, isn’t it?

Dillon: I had the good fortune several times to be the right place at the right time when an opportunity presented itself.  Many talented people who loved this business and paid their dues never have that right moment come their way.  

Bourne: Wrestling fans were certainly always supportive of you, and you have a large group of fans still loyal to you to this day.

Dillon: As I look back, it wasn’t about me or all those people that helped me along the way … it was about the fans.  Thank you for supporting me and professional wrestling throughout my career.  Wrestling fans are the greatest in the world. 

Bourne: You recently signed on to help out with the charitable efforts of the Crockett Foundation as one of their “tag team partners.” Are you excited about that opportunity?

Dillon: Very much. The Crockett Foundation does great work and I am very happy to be able to “tag in and help out.” It is also very satisfying to be able to be connected to the city of Charlotte again. I have such fond memories of working there over many years.

* * * * *

Dick Bourne publishes the Mid-Atlantic Gateway (midatlanticgateway.com), which celebrates the history of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1970s and 1980s. He is the author of “Ten Pounds of Gold” and other books on pro-wrestling.

 

11 responses

Very nice interview with the legendary Jim Dillon. He will always be known mainly for his association with the Four Horsemen, but his story is a very interesting one and he accomplished so much more than just being the manager of Horsemen. His answers here show how much he loved and appreciated his time in Charlotte and the people that he was associated with during those days. Thanks for this interview. Always love to hear the stories and background of the Crockett Wrestling days. They were truly the best of times for professional wrestling.

I remember when Jim Dillon came to the Crockett territory. He was a perfect fit. I’m sure Mr. Crockett saw then what we all eventually witnessed. Jim Dillon had the qualities it took to become a star, and he did!!!
Thanks for this interview from a golden wrestling era!

I would like to see Mr. Dillon receive more credit for his talent as a wrestler. He is very humble which makes me respect that much more. The time he spent in Jim Crockett promotions is very memorable. I remember well the tv match he had with Johnny Weaver. It didn’t matter if Mr. Dillon was in singles competition or in a tag match with a partner such as Les Thatcher or Big Boy Brown, Jim Dillon will always be remembered by me as a top hand.

Excellent interview. JJ has always been a class act and deserves every accolade given to him. Just the mention of those legendary names brings back lots of memories for me.

Professional wrestling needs more folks like JJ Dillon! In the ring, on the outside, or in real life JJ is such a quality individual. He is deserving of this feature and so much more. Great job to everyone involved and thank you to the Crocketts for making this available to us fans who just crave “the good ole days!”

J.J. thank you for all you have given to the business over the years. What a great read, thanks for sharing such wonderful memories. As you said, there are too many to mention and we surely do not want to leave any out. I have been a wrestling fan for over 40 years and people like J.J. Dillon always made that enjoyable. You mentioned Johnny Weaver and indeed there are so many memories for us Mid-Atlantic fans. I remember the program you worked with him later in the 80’s and he placed you in the “Weaver Lock” or as we fondly called it the sleeper hold. The crowd went nuts. I can only imagine how much fun that was. Again, great interview and thank you for being a part of my youth and in fact, my lifetime as a professional wrestling fan.

I remember when Jim Dillon first came in to the Crockett territory. Mr Crockett must have realized then what we would see later on. That was that Jim Dillon had what it took to become a star…. And he did!! Thanks for this interview from a golden era in wrestling.

James J. Dillon is such a classy individual, and is the epitome of everything that makes professional wrestling so great. Many people don’t realize how good J.J. was in his early stint in the Crockett territory in the early 1970s, and this article is fantastic in bridging that historical gap. The Crockett Foundation has a terrific “tag team partner” in Mr. Dillon!

A lot of the people don’t realize how good he really was in the ring.I remember a Fri night in my hometown of Lynchburg,Va,he&Ronnie Garvin took on Freddie Sweetan&Mike Dubois&stole the show that night from the Weaver-Nelson vs Royal Kangaroos.It turned out it was a set up for the next weeks main
event a rematch between the 2 teams.Sweetan-Dubois won both matches with their dreaded loaded boot&JJ took the fall each time.Good memories of god times.

Great interview, amazing how far back JJ’s career goes. Neat hearing how he meet and worked his first match in JCP with Gene Anderson, then seeing how 15 years later he was working on air with Ole and a big part of AA;s early career. Sounds like he was taking notes during his time with Jim Sr about how to interact with fans and run the behind the scenes. I’ve never met a classy man in the wrestling profession the JJ Dillon. Hope to see some interviews up of his later stint in JCP. Great read!!

This is a tremendous interview! I love learning more about wrestling’s rich tradition. There is no period of wrestling that compares to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions. Mr. Dillon is truly one of the nicest people in wrestling. I highly recommend his book as well! Thank you for posting this interview.

Leave a Reply

*

Be sure to include your first and last name.

If you don't have one, no problem! Just leave this blank.