1Wrestling.com Article – Four Horsemen, Three Radio Hosts, Two Hours, One Incredible Interview
In previous articles here on 1Wrestling.com, I’ve tried my able best to describe in detail just how much I wish I’d been able to be a part of the territory days of pro wrestling. Without treading on old ground once again, it’s worth stating that I am routinely fascinated when reading or looking back to old clips, seeing things we now take for granted as original ideas come to life. For example, would the flamboyant gimmicks we have grown so accustomed to be as prevalent (or even exist) were it not for the character and antics of one “Gorgeous” George Wagner? Would we have seen even half of the current roster of WWE and TNA referees honing their own unique characters and even taking bumps if Tommy Young hadn’t paved the way for interaction with the wrestlers, such as Ric Flair?
In a nutshell, there was a time when intricacies of the pro wrestling business were distinctly fresh. Whereas Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart had groups of wrestlers they managed, in the AWA and Memphis respectfully, The Four Horsemen gang which exploded onto NWA screens in early-1986 is widely considered as one of the first true wrestling stables.
Ric Flair, Ole & Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and James J. Dillon made up the first iteration of the group, with Dillon acting as the manager of all members. What made this one stand out from the Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart examples, was that The Four Horsemen were very much presented as a collective, solid group. This wasn’t simply a heel manager leading a gaggle of talent strewn across the card, this was the top heel talent in the entire company, an elite if you will, all united with one common purpose.
Painted as characters who loved a party just as much as they loved to wrestle, the Horsemen have been used as a venerable blueprint for stables ever since. Indeed, Triple H himself has stated that the Evolution faction – HHH, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista – was based on the same principles as the Horsemen. Long story short; many fans may look to the NWO or DX as the main stables in wrestling, but The Four Horsemen were there first.
In wrestling history, there are not many people who can claim to have upstaged Ric Flair. Styling, profiling and having some of the best matches the industry has ever seen, Flair was, for lack of a better term, a pro wrestling deity long before WWE inducted him into the Hall of Fame. What made the Horsemen unit special was that intangible quality. Put into modern terms, the members were strong separately, but untouchable when together. That ‘X Factor’ we hear so much about in entertainment nowadays? Every member had it in spades, only heightening when they came together.
Various incarnations would come and go, with many fans having their own individual favourites, but the original incarnation has left a lasting impact on pro wrestling, so much so that the stable were inducted into the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame (a second induction for Flair).
Speaking to various wrestling personalities has thankfully become a regular occurrence for us over on the Ministry Of Slam radio show, hopefully with more to come! An obvious thrill, speaking to some of the current top stars is fantastic. As my co-hosts will tell you however, some of my favourite interviews have been conducted with those who are able to trace their steps in the business for decades before I was even born.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was apparently a huge pro wrestling fan, who could be found with a beer in one hand and with the other fist clenched, shouting merrily at the TV screen. Unfortunately, he passed away before I was born, but I always sense a real sense of wonder when my mother tells me about him, as though I may be a chip off the old block. I often think what it might have been like to be a young kid, sitting watching wrestling with my grandfather and revelling in this grown man getting so emotionally involved.
For that reason, but not that reason alone, I’ve always been fascinated listening to the older generation talk about their experiences in wrestling. The passion flows from each and every word, painting a picture strung together verbally. It’s not fair to say I listen in a, ‘go ahead, old timer’ sort of fashion, simply that I enjoy how stimulated they become when talking. The enthusiasm for something they may have been involved in for decades really appeals to me, and I’m sure there are other fans of a similar age who feel the same.
With all that in mind, you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of interviewing James J. Dillon, one of the founding members of The Four Horsemen. One of the most highly-regarded managers in history, JJ was also a wrestler from 1968-1989, although his generally polite tone means he undersells his own abilities. Having worked for everybody from the AWA and WCW, to WWE and TNA, there are few with the true lifelong experience Dillon has. Almost as soon as the initial pleasantries were out of the way, and it was onto the wrestling, the man was keen to point out that he was just like us – he’s a fan of professional wrestling.
“I always tell everybody; I started out as a fan and remain a fan of wrestling to this day. That’s maybe the reason why I’ve had people refer to be as being someone who is very fan-friendly. I go to signings and functions, and people sit down to engage in conversation and find me very open. I’m willing to talk because I never forgot the fact that being a fan is how it all started for me”, Dillon stated.
Referring to his post as President of the Johnny Valentine Fan Club in the late-1950′s, JJ also describes how he first came upon this colourful, crazy world of pro wrestling.
“I was born in Trenton, New Jersey, which is around 30 miles north of Philadelphia and 60 miles south of New York. This is back before cable television, where people now have hundreds of stations to watch and choose from. At that point, we didn’t have very many, although we did have more than most other locales – due to picking up stations broadcast out of Philadelphia and New York. I was a baseball fan, as well as a player and a swimmer. It’s fair to say I wasn’t particularly a super athlete, but I enjoyed athletics, also practicing Judo for three years in a private gym with a friend. That experience later payed dividends for me, because it taught me a lot about balance, leverage and how to instinctively fall whilst protecting myself.
In those days, there was wrestling on one night a week, each Thursday. I remember it almost like it was yesterday, beaming live from the Capital Arena in Washington, D.C. This was the era of Argentina Rocca, Haystacks Calhoun and Killer Kowalski, guys like that. These are the characters that immediately come to mind. If you could go back in time, to see these characters, they were not usual looking people. Nowadays, you can walk down the streets of any city in the world and see similar characters, but back then these people stood out as being different.
The first time that a live event came to my hometown, to put on a show at The Armory in Trenton, I went along and could see these larger-than-life personalities for myself. The atmosphere with the fans was indescribable. You hear so many people saying they’d like to grow up and join the circus, well I was just enthralled by professional wrestling and immediately identified it as something I wanted to pursue.”
As even an isolated transcription of his comments, it’s clear to see that Dillon was hooked on pro wrestling quickly, much like we all are. Personally, I’ve always found that fascinating; the people we marvel at on television were once doing exactly the same thing for their heroes. It’s part of the beauty of wrestling, that even 50 years on, Dillon still speaks with the same energy he likely did as a young boy.
At over an hour in length (JJ was very courteous with his time, even giving us close to two hours off-air), I’d encourage any wrestling fans, young and old, to head on over to mosradio.podbean.com/author/mosradio and check out the full interview. Speaking openly about his own career, including The Four Horsemen, as well as the WWE Hall of Fame and even addressing his own take on whether or not TNA can compete with WWE, please enjoy it as much as we did interviewing the man. Quite literally, the Ministry Of Slam team could have spoken to J.J Dillon for as long as he was willing to speak with us!
The Ministry Of Slam wrestling radio show is LIVE every Monday from 9pm GMT/4pm EST over on www.MinistryOfSlam.com. Don’t forget to check out the Facebook page – www.Facebook.com/MOSRadio and follow on Twitter @MOSRadio. This week’s show features an exclusive interview with TNA’s Bully Ray, along with a blockbuster announcement on our guest for next week.