James J. Dillon had one of the most successful careers in pro wrestling history. His 50 years in the business saw him work as a referee, main event wrestler, manager of many champions, being a member of the legendary Four Horsemen and planning out cards with genius bookers such as Dusty Rhodes, Eddie Graham and Vince McMahon Jr.
ESPN.com caught up with the wrestling legend to find out about his entrance into the industry, his favorite moments and what he's doing today.
How did the J.J. Dillon name start?
I was Jim Dillon the first five years of my wrestling career. Red Bastien (the booker in Dallas) said, "Let's see -- the Mongolian Stomper managed by Jim Dillon. Something in that story doesn't reach out and grab me. You need to sound more like a businessman, an executive, so how about if you were James Dillon?" I said I have no problem with that because James is actually my legal first name. He said to expand it further we should have a middle initial. I said, well, like James J? He said, "Yes! The Mongolian Stomper managed by James J. Dillon. That grabs me." That was the beginning of my new identity and it followed me for the rest of my career,
What does the middle initial "J" stand for?
Jerry Prater used to write a ghost program in Florida and attribute it to me. In his articles I would say all of these outrageous things and he would always refer to me as "James Julius Caesar Dillon", so any time someone would ask me, I would say I'm James Julius Dillon.
What path did you take to become a pro wrestling manager?
When I started my career, I was a referee for eight years and then due to a casual conversation with The Sheik, Eddie Farhat, I had a chance to go to Detroit and put the tights on for the first time. That opened the door to what my initial dream was, which was to become a professional wrestler.
I eventually went to Florida and The Mongolian Stomper (real name Archie Gouldie) was there. We teamed up a few times and he left and went to Tennessee and was managed by Bearcat Wright. That didn't work out. Archie was not the easiest guy to get along with, he was very moody, so he called me in Florida and said I got to get out of Tennessee and I made some calls and I've got a main event spot in Dallas.
He said I'm assured a main event spot, but I don't have a manager. He asked if I had ever given any thought to managing, because I've been around you and am really impressed by your ability to promo. I said I've never really thought about it, I'd have to ask Eddie Graham if he'd be willing to let me go on short notice, and Eddie gave his blessing and I went to Dallas.
What was your mentality as a manager?
My philosophy as a manager was always less is more. I wore a suit or dress clothes. I didn't wear a flashy costume or cape. Jimmy Hart has his megaphone and Jim Cornette has his racket and I didn't really have any props as such other than in my early days I carried a cigar that wasn't lit. I remembered as a kid I used to see these guys from Little Italy riding around in convertibles and smoking a big cigar. The cigar was just a heat magnet, as somebody smoking a cigar like that meant they thought they were somebody special.
Was Arn Anderson the most underrated member of The Four Horseman?
By all means. He was usually the first one out there and he went out and left everything in the ring. He would come back and [pass by without saying anything, as too] say "guys, try to follow that." And we would all go out there with the mindset that he set the bar for tonight and we've got to measure up to it and if possible try to exceed it.
You mentioned in a podcast with Jim Cornette about an element called silent heat. Did you ever get that? And is it the most dangerous heat?
I'm from the era where we had situations where we would have silent heat. When something happens that the fans take exception to, they'll get mad, they'll boo, they'll throw trash, they'll come up to the ring and pound on the apron. That can be dangerous enough, where sometimes we had to fight our way back to the dressing room, or security would have to come out and try to open a path for us to get out, but the most intense heat is when all of a sudden it is silence. That's when it's about to boil over and, brother, here they come. Now it's reached beyond that point where it's peak emotional heat. That's when it's getting bad. It didn't happen many times in your career but that's the most intense heat.
Heels were trained to turn white heat back into red heat by having the babyface start beating them up. Could the same thing be done with silent heat?
Sometimes you could do that, but sometimes you'd knocked the guy down or have done something to him where it's awkward for him to get back up and be aggressive and now you're stuck with the heat that you created. Usually the guys in the back can sense that and they need to come out.
White heat led to the worst riot that I was ever in over my entire career. It was with Andre The Giant. I was in Sydney, Australia managing Brute Bernard and the town we wrestled in was outside the Sydney suburb. It was like a tin shed that was used as a wholesale produce market during the week, and on the weekends they would clear it out and put the ring up. They would have folding chairs for the seats and they would use construction barricades to form the perimeter and the sides of the aisle going back.
Andre was in the area for nine days and was going to be able to do two appearances in the major towns that included Sydney. The promoters were trying to figure a way to make his first appearance stretch out to the next week and give the promotion a second great house.
In the match, Andre picked up Bernard and put him in a bearhug. The crowd figured there is no way that Bernard would ever get out of this. I, in the role of Brute's manager, figured that things were hopeless and rolled into the ring, removed my shoe and took it like a baseball bat and hit Andre in the head.
Andre dropped Brute and fell to one knee and put his head down. All of a sudden he comes up and there is a stream of blood trickling down his face and he got up and bellowed like a bear that had just got shot but not killed and was more mad than mortally hurt at that point. Brute then charged at Andre and took a punch and rolled out of the ring and I did the same thing.
We went to exit to keep that heat for the following week and everybody was with the program except the fans in Sydney! They didn't want us to leave. They wanted to see us get our butts kicked that night. So here come the flying chairs. The barricades were picked up and thrown like Lincoln Logs so we had no aisle to get out. It got so bad that the guys from the dressing room were knocking people down and trying to create an aisle for us to get out.
I got hit with a chair and had a welt on my back, but Brute got hit in the head. He had gauze on top of gauze to try to stop the bleeding and the next morning we took him to see a doctor. I remember when the doctor took the last layer of gauze off, he said, "Oh my God, what did they do to you?"
You don't expect a doctor who is treating somebody to say something like that and I could see that Brute turned white. The cut was probably six inches long and down to his skull bone. It took two layers of stitches to close it up. That was the worst riot I was ever in.
You worked with Vince, Dusty and Eddie, three of the greatest storytelling minds in the history of the business. What were the similarities and differences between them?
I see Vince as one thing, Eddie as one thing and Dusty as another.
I always regard Eddie Graham as my mentor, and maybe that's because he was regarded in the industry as a true genius because of his attention to details. For example, during manager cheating situations, Eddie would make sure the cheating happened in a logical way so that the people were mad at the heel for cheating, instead of being mad at the referee for not seeing the cheating.
Dusty was a big idea guy. I was a detail person that gave attention to the other things that made the story the absolute best it could be. We were together for a long time because it was a successful collaboration with the two of us.
Vince was different because a lot of the credit for the success of the WWE actually goes to Pat Patterson. Pat was one the true geniuses of the business that I was around. A lot of the success of the WWE, which has continued on to this day, was the result of Pat.
What's James Julius Dillon up to today?
My career ended when WCW closed down. A couple of years after that I was living in Delaware and saw an ad in the newspaper for the state Department of Corrections.
Working for the state was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. The state of Delaware is the biggest employer in the state so the benefits that they offered were phenomenal. I retired Dec. 1 of this past year with just short of 13 years of service. Life is good for me.
Do you still do public appearances?
Yes, I still go out and do personal appearances. Back in the day we didn't have any interactions with the fans, as we had to go out the back door of the arena after events. Now fans can go to these things and know that they can come and get memorabilia signed and interact with us.
I always make it a point to thank the fans because there would be no professional wrestling industry and there would be no Four Horsemen and there would be no J.J. Dillon without the fans. I never lost track of that through all of these years. A big thank you goes out to the wrestling fans that to me are the most loyal fans in the world.
You can find out more about Dillon and his autobiography, "Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon," at his website jjdillon.com.