Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura Interview

Jesse Ventura is one of the greatest wrestlers to ever step foot inside the squared circle. He’s had memorable matches against the likes of Jimmy Snuka, Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino and more.

As well as his in ring work ‘The Body’ has also worked behind the announce table with the likes of Vince McMahon, Gorilla Monsoon, Bruno Sammartino, Macho Man Randy Savage and Jim Ross.

The 62-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota has had an extraordinary life outside of the wrestling business as a member of the US Navy during the Vietnam War, an actor, an author and a politician as well as teaching at Harvard as a visiting fellow!

We caught up with Ventura to talk about his relationship with Vince McMahon, working with Macho Man Randy Savage and Gorilla Monsoon, his son inducting him into the Hall of Fame plus much more.

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How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?

Well I couldn’t sing or dance, when I got out of the Navy I went to junior college for one year and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I got very interested in theatre and I actually did the college play.

As I started looking at the physicality in myself I thought pro wrestling would be perfect because it combines theatre as well as athleticism, so I was able to do two things that I loved, being an athlete and participating in theatre.  

When growing up who were some of the wrestlers that you enjoyed watching?

I grew up in Minnesota and like all kids when growing up you loved wrestling and it was the AWA at the time. You had the likes of Verne Gagne and Mad Dog Vachon who I grew up on as a child and teenager.

When I got out of the Navy there was ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham on the scene and he is the one who really inspired me to become a professional wrestler. When I was still in the Navy I didn’t have anything to do one night so I went to the wrestling hall and bought one ticket and asked for the best seat they had and got one in the front row.  ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham was on the card that night and when he walked out and I watched him in the ring it was at that moment I said this is what I want to do.

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How did you come up with the name Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura?

I wanted to sound as though I was from California, I had always loved the name Jesse and then I started looking at a map of California and trying to fit Jesse to the names of towns and when I saw Jesse Ventura the light went off, and that’s who I was going to be in pro wrestling.

I was a villain and in pro wrestling in those days you really had to take another name for your own protection and the protection of your family. In the earlier years of wrestling you had a lot of crazy fans out there that you had to be careful of.

Early on in your career you had great feuds with Dutch Savage and Jimmy Snuka, what was it like working with those two guys?

Those feuds were during the territory days and I spent three years in the mid-west and of course Jimmy Snuka and Dutch Savage where there. I was a villain and they were both heroes naturally. I was pretty much married to Jimmy for a couple of years, and when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004 I stated that night that the two favourite people that I liked wrestling the best were Jimmy Snuka and Tito Santana.

You formed a team with Adrian Adonis winning a number of tag titles and went to the WWE together, what was it like working with Adrian?

My partner before Adrian was Buddy Rose in Portland and then when I left Portland I already knew Adrian because he was wrestling in Vancouver. So when I got to the AWA Adrian came in and we hit it off straight away and of course Verne Gagne saw the dollar signs, with Adrian coming from New York City and I came from San Diego we became the East West Connection.

Adrian was phenomenal in the ring, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner, he was a great performer. The reason the team broke up was because of matters outside of the ring not in the ring.

What were some of your highlights from your in ring work during your time with WWE?

The highlight naturally was selling out Madison Square Garden three times with Bob Backlund, when you are headlining the show with 22,000 fans in the mecca of ring sports that would certainly be a highlight.

The other highlight would be when I switched and went onto the broadcasting side of things becoming the first villain on the mic. I really had lots of fun with Macho Man Randy Savage and all the other talent that I got to work with being the announcer.

Another highlight would be participating and broadcasting the first six WrestleManias and certainly the one that I consider to be the biggest one of all time and that is WrestleMania III from the Pontiac Silverdome, where we drew 93,000 people and broke the indoor attendance record, ironically that the Rolling Stones held. [Ventura once worked as a bodyguard to The Rolling Stones]

What was it like to work so closely with Vince McMahon at the announce table as well as him being your boss?

Vince is like any boss who owns a large powerful corporation, the corporation comes first, they have to be that way. We had our ups and downs, we butted heads occasionally but I will say this, Vince was very professional and he put me in a position where I was on national TV and able to insult my boss and he never let his ego get in the way when it was selling the product.

We left on bad terms because I’m very independent and I wanted to market myself and he wouldn’t allow me to do that and that is what caused our separation. I had a deal outside of the WWF and he wouldn’t allow me to do it, I told him he didn’t own me in which he replied if I did the job that was me done with the WWF, and I said, fine, I’m done and moved on. I sued him in federal court and beat him and now I’m paid royalties for everything that I participated on by the WWE and there is nothing Vince can do about it because it is court ordered and I get a cheque from them every three months. I call it my wrestling retirement fund, I’m the only wrestler that has one.

Someone else you got to work with behind the announce table was Gorilla Monsoon, what was that like?

Terrific, he was my first broadcast partner when they had me on the B team when Vince was trying it out. He had needed to put a bad guy on the mic and he didn’t want to put me on the A team with him and Bruno (Sammartino), so he put me on the B team with Gorilla.

We became so powerful it didn’t take long for Vince to put me up on the A team and poor Bruno got bumped, which I fought for, I did not want Bruno gone, I needed Bruno, I wanted Bruno, I was able to bounce things off him because Bruno in his own way is naive and you can shoot stuff at him, that is hilarious and he doesn’t always get it, which is great. I have great respect for Bruno and I disliked it when they got rid of him.

You had a spell in WCW, how was your time there?

It was strictly down to money, when I left Vince they offered me a contract and it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse, it was silly money. They gave me a big chunk of change and a legitimate contract that I had negotiated and by negotiating that contract with them that had a percentage of royalties so when I went to court with Vince the jury just applied that percentage to Vince and that is how they determined what I was owed. It had its benefits but I will tell you in WCW, I didn’t really have a love for the business when I was down there, I was like a prostitute for the highest bidder at that point.

During your time in WCW you worked with Jim Ross, what was he like to work with?

For me working with Jim Ross was horrible, I think there was jealousy on his part because I had come in from the WWF and I’m sure I was being paid tremendously higher than he was. He wouldn’t respond to me on the air and he admitted it later, he said that he didn’t behave very well and that he wasn’t very professional about it. He held it against me and he wouldn’t respond to me when we were on the air, when you announce with someone there has to be chemistry and I had no chemistry whatsoever with Jim Ross because I don’t think he would allow it to happen. I’m just being honest there, it’s nothing personal against him, he has had a long great career and I wish him luck.

Were you surprised when Bruno was inducted into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame?

I thought it was good, I even appealed to him, I told him to set aside his differences with Vince McMahon. Bruno had such a tremendous fan base and he owed it to his fans to go into the Hall of Fame and I’m very pleased to hear that he did. How could I go into the Hall of Fame ahead of Bruno? I was inducted in 2004 and Bruno only got inducted in 2013, give me a break, Bruno should have been there way before me.

What was it like getting inducted into the 2004 WWE Hall of Fame by your son?

One of the things the WWE offers you when you get inducted into the Hall of Fame is that you get to choose who will induct you. I asked my son if he would like to do it because my son has been a huge wrestling fan his whole life, anything I want to know about the wrestling today I go to my son and he tells me. When I got inducted into the Hall of fame I thought who better to induct me than my son, at the time I was teaching at Harvard. We came down from Harvard to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Madison Square Garden.

During your stint as Guest Host on Raw in 2009 you returned to the announce table alongside Vince, what was that like?

It was fun because everyone assumed that I’d come back and be a babyface but I thought hell no, and I came back and I was a heel that night. Even though I had been Governor and had been doing all these other things I wasn’t going to change my wrestling persona. It was really like déjà vu for me, it gave me one night to turn the clock back and be the Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura of old, so it was a lot of fun, it was done as a cross promotion for my TV show and that is the only reason I did it, otherwise I would have charged Vince a whole lot more money.

Jesse’s latest book ‘They Killed Our President: 63 Facts That Prove a Conspiracy to Kill JFK‘ is out now and can be purchased online from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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