Next year the wrestling legend that is Jim Cornette will visit UK as part of a spoken word tour with one of the stops being my hometown city of Glasgow, Scotland. It will unquestionably be a night to remember as one of the most interesting, and outspoken, people in wrestling will be let loose on a Glasgow crowd.
What we can expect is many tales from up and down America during the territory days, through to his association with WWE at the height of the Monday Night Wars as well as his long running (never ending?) feud with Vince Russo. As someone that spends a great deal of time trying to watch as much old school random wrestling as possible, I wonder how much of a mention Smoky Mountain Wrestling will get.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling (SMW) was formed in 1991 when Cornette left WCW, along with Tim Horner, Sandy Scott and ‘Sweet’ Stan Lane with financial backing coming from celebrity wrestling fan, and music producer, Rick Rubin.
The promotion were based out of Tennessee in the South of America and began to run TV tapings in late 1991. Their first show took place at the Memorial Auditorium in Greeneville, Green County on October 30. A total of 9 matches were recorded for broadcast in February of the following year with Paul Orndorff, The Fantastics (Bobby & Jackie), Dutch Mantell and Robert Gibson as well as future WWE stars Brian Lee, Bob Holly and current referee Scott Armstrong.
The first SMW tag team champions were crowned in April 1992 – although the match wasn’t broadcast until the following month – when The Heavenly Bodies of ‘Doctor’ Tom Pritchard and ‘Sweet’ Stand Lane defeated The Fantastics of Bobby and Jackie Fulton.
Later on in May 1992 the group held ‘Volunteer Slam’ at the Civic Coluseum in Knoxville Tennessee infront of 1000 fans. At the event a tournament was held to crown the first SMW Heavyweight Champion with ‘Primetime’ Brian Lee defeating Paul Orndorff in the final.
The wrestling landscape had changed from the old territory days and knowing that SMW needed something special to survive, Jim Cornette orchestrated a working relationship with the WWE in 1993. This saw him, as well as several SMW stars appear on WWE television as well as their events being promoted.
At the 1993 Survivor Series the SMW Tag Team Champions The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express faced The Heavenly Bodies – then made up of Pritchard and ‘Gigolo’ Jimmy Del Ray – but lost via pinfall after Del Ray struck Gibson with Cornette’s ‘loaded’ tennis racket. It was the second time that that year that the two teams had faced each other on non-SMW TV with WCW Superbrawl 3 saw The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express defeat The Heavenly Bodies, then made up of Lane and Pritchard, via pinfall.
In the fall of 1994 SMW became associated with the National Wrestling Alliance who had just lost their flagship promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling. A ten man tournament, largely featuring SMW performers, took place to crown the new NWA Champion. On the 19th of November 1994, at the end of a three day tournament, it was Chris Candido that was the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion having defeated Tracy Smothers in the final. He would largely defend the title on SMW shows until 24 February 1995 when UFC star Dan Severn, depriving the SMW of the championship.
Although largely well thought of, the company was unable to secure a lucrative TV deal and in December 1995 Cornette shut the promotion down in order to work full time with the WWE. The final SMW show was held at the Community Center in Cookeville, Tennessee and the show ended with the entire SMW crew attacking Cornette and allowing long time SMW employee Mark Curtis to pick up the pinfall.
At the time of the company’s closure Tommy Rich was the SMW Champion, The Heavenly Bodies were tag champions and Bobby Blaze held both the SMW “Beat The Champ” Television Championship and the United States Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Impact and legacy
Despite operating in the early 90s the promotion was very much a throwback to the old territory days. Taking place in sparsely lit community centers and featuring a card predominantly made up of face v heel matches. The shows were aimed at old time fans who still wanted to cheer the good guys and jeer the bad guys.
That isn’t to say that SMW didn’t have its share of controversial booking decisions. It was, afterall, where The Gangstas gimmick was born. New Jack, Mustafa and “Uptown” D’Lo Brown would cut promos about such things as civil rights activist Medgar Evers and O.J. Simpson in order to antagonise what was largely a white Southern American crowd.
It wasn’t just the promos that set them apart as the trio would use fried chicken and watermelons as props and win matches via a 2 count – as opposed to the standard 3 count – with the explanation being affirmative action.
The promotion saw a lot of talent come through that would make names for themselves in the world of wrestling. Stars such as Chris Jericho, Chris Candido, Tammy Lynn Sytch, Lance Storm, Glenn Jacobs (Kane) and Al Snow all had runs with the promotion.
In the end, though, it’s probably fair to say that many wrestling fans wanted a much edgier product than what SMW offered. The wrestling landscape had changed dramatically by this point with the debut of promotions such as Extreme Championship Wrestling meaning that an old-school group like Smoky Mountain Wrestling were always going to be swimming against the tide.
What they did do was combine veterans and young talent to make an interesting TV show – still largely available on YouTube – especially for those that were growing weary of the OTT nature of WWF and WCW and were nostalgic for the territory days of wrestling.
For more information and to buy tickets for Jim Cornette’s UK tour go here.