JJ Dillon was a professional wrestler who won numerous Championships during his career in the ring. However Dillon will be best remembered as manager of Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn and Ole Anderson, better known collectively as The Four Horsemen, one of the greatest stable in the history of professional wrestling.
The 69-year-old was this year inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame along with the other members of the original Four Horsemen.
We caught up with JJ Dillon to talk about being inducted into the Hall of Fame, being a member of the Four Horsemen and what it was like limousine ridin and jet flyin with Ric Flair plus the lack of managers in wrestling today.
JJ Dillon shows off his autobiography to Smashing Pumpkins legend Billy Corgan
What was it like being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the Four Horsemen?
It was a great honour, the arena in Miami was sold out and to be up on the stage and looking down in front of you are the McMahon family, John Cena, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, and Pat Patterson behind them are other legends, the Roddy Piper’s of the world, Harley Race and Dory Funk Jr, then our families are all there as well. You then look up and can see and hear a sea of people, 15,000 plus giving us a standing ovation, I’ve had some goosebumps moments throughout my career but I don’t think anything will ever top the Hall of Fame.
The next day to actually go to WrestleMania and in front of 78,000 plus fans, in the middle of the show after a great match between The Undertaker and Triple H, to get an intro and a round of applause from all those people it was a different high but almost as exciting but in a different way.
How did it all begin for you?
I just had a dream to be a wrestler and to get into the business and that is all I was focussed on when I began because I was a fan. I have often said I was never the biggest, never the best, never the most talented but nobody wanted it more than I did and was willing to work as hard as I did. I persevered and like everything there were hurdles along the way, a lot of it is pure luck, being in the right place at the right time and getting help from people.
When I began wrestling full-time it wasn’t long before my 29th birthday and I was very appreciative of the opportunity and had tremendous respect for the business and the people in it. In those days there wasn’t wrestling schools and a lot of the old timers weren’t really helpful to guys looking to break through in the business because they saw it as someone coming in to take their place.
I got a lot of help because they saw I had a good attitude and was respectful and kept my mouth shut. I say I had a storybook career but never thought about the Hall of Fame but that is like the cherry on top of my Ice Cream Sunday.
Who were some of the wrestlers that inspired you to get into the business?
That would have been in the fifties and I grew up in the North East which was the largest area in the country for wrestling promotions. Back then we never had cable television or the internet; wrestling was only on TV one night a week, live on a Thursday night.
It was the era of Argentina Rocca, Karl Von Hess, Haystacks Calhoun, Bobo Brazil, Brute Bernard, Chief Big Heart, and then a bit later Eddie Graham, the original Sheik, just the names read like the who’s who of legends in our business and the one guy that really caught my eye when he came in was Johnny Valentine and I actually started up a fan club for him.
How did it all begin for the Four Horsemen?
It was a spontaneous thing, I would like to say that someone came up with this brilliant concept and then we went out and did it but as I said in my Hall of Fame speech at that particular time Ric, Arn, Ole, Tully and myself were all working in Crockett Promotions and I was only managing Tully at the time. Ric Flair was the Heavyweight Champion, Ole and Arn were the World Tag Team Champions, and Tully was the National Champion.
Basically those guys held all the championships and we were doing programming for TV every week which was going out nationally on TBS and there was a spare slot, and someone said to us, you guys have all the belts, why don’t you all go out there and you can talk about what your going to do the following week etc.
The guys all went out to the ring and I was there because I was managing Tully. During the course of the interview Arn said, “You people at home watching on television take a good look at your screens because never have so few reeked so much havoc on everyone else, you’d have to go back in history to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. And he held up four fingers.
The fans picked up on it and whenever any of us went out there they were yelling ‘four horsemen’ and holding up the four fingers and it just grew from there. We had no idea when it started it would become as big as it did or it would last as long as it did.
What have you made of the other reincarnations of the Four Horsemen stable?
I spent so long in the business that I knew with something of the level of success we had, it was typical for wrestling promoters to ride it like a horse until it drops. Like most things that are successful it has been reincarnated in one form or another.
Nothing however has been as good as what the original was, you can imitate but you can duplicate.
Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, JJ Dillon, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson
Ric Flair would often refer to the limousine ridin, jet flyin and riding space mountain, what were those days with the Nature Boy like?
Ric has been in the business for nearly 40-years and he is still the same guy, he’s joked about being married four times and his wife asking when are you ever going to grow up and his reply was ‘I’ve never really given it any serious thought’.
He just enjoys life, Ric was always a fun guy to be around and maybe he set the tone for the rest of us and we just joined in and had a great time together.
The Four Horsemen were of course a great stable and held numerous tag team titles. But there is currently a lack of tag teams and stables in both WWE and TNA, what do you feel this is down to?
I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of depth in the profession today, you don’t have the regional territories, you don’t have WCW that will allow 70 guys to be employed full-time, doing TV and working every night, from which the better performers would ultimately go to work for Vince McMahon.
It is a situation where opportunities are nowhere near what they use to be when I came into the business but the flip side of the coin is for those that are persistent and want it bad enough and eventually make it the financial awards for those few are just so much greater. They’re making more money now than we would have ever thought possible.
There has also been a lack of managers in recent years.
It is a different era, back in the day we were independent contractors and we all basically responsible for defining our own personas, that led to a diverse group of bizarre characters in the profession. It was the Mongolian Stomper that introduced me into managing, the managers served as an important function because they would be the wrestler’s spokesperson and forge the storylines, a manager would become an integral part of a wrestler’s character.
Nowadays you don’t have those bizarre individual characters so the need maybe is not there for the manager as it used to be. There was a spell where they went down the route by introducing the woman valets, and Miss Elizabeth and Sherry stood out from the pack. However with the passing of time things change and the role wasn’t there for the quote unquote manager.
You spent some time working as a front office executive for the WWE, what was it like working with Vince McMahon?
Vince was the first to have a vision once the Turner cable network started up and began showing wrestling nationally as an alternative product to all the little territories as we had known before. Vince had this vision and saw what was coming and he pioneered it, I often wonder what if it hadn’t been Vince McMahon, what if it had been Bill Watts, Jimmy Crockett or Eddie Graham where would the business be today, would there even be a business?
Vince had a vision of what he thought wrestling should be and saw it as sports entertainment, a lot of people were angry at him because he took that approach but he was looking to appeal to a much broader audience and in the early WrestleMania’s he brought in a lot of celebrities for crossover appeal not just for what happened in the ring.
If you watch the television programming today and put a stopwatch on to count how many minutes of actual ring action there is in a two hour show, it’s not all that much, but again it’s down to the lack and depth of talent there is in the industry.
Terry Funk with JJ Dillon
After leaving WWF you had a spell with WCW, what was it like working with Eric Bischoff?
I went to WCW right at the start of the Monday Night Wars, and it was 84 weeks in a row that WCW beat the Vince McMahon product in the ratings. The biggest difference between Vince and Eric is that Vince is a wrestling person, and was in the fourth generation with his children becoming involved in the business.
Eric Bischoff on the other hand had very little experience and it was obvious from the first time I met him, just after leaving the WWF. In our first meeting I thought as a businessman he would want to pick my mind about how the company was run and the philosophy having been with the WWF at the top level for eight years but all he wanted to talk about was how much longer Vince McMahon would last. Eric was obsessed thinking he would but Vince out of business, but I knew after that first meeting with Eric that was never going to happen, but wasn’t going to say that to his face.
Do you feel TNA will ever be able to compete with the WWE?
I would like to think that the possibility exists but they have been around for ten years now and I always say you have one opportunity at a first impression and when they first began Vince McMahon couldn’t hire everybody that was in the wrestling business, so TNA picked these people up.
You then had a few people leaving the WWE and joining TNA, but the first thing they did on television was not talk about how good TNA was but instead they would talk about where they had just come from and why they left because they were being held back and it became a forum for individual grudges.
For the fan watching it was an opportunity for an alternative product, but the more time that has gone on it has become harder to take it to the next level.
For more information about JJ Dillon visit JJDillon.com