Interview With J.J. Dillon: Manager Of The Four Horsemen And 2012 WWE Hall Of Fame Inductee
I was recently granted the opportunity to interview one of the greats of the wrestling business, Mr. James J. Dillon. As an avid follower of the Four Horsemen, this was definitely a thrill for me. J.J. was the longtime manager of the most dominant faction in the history of sports entertainment, and the angles and interviews he participated in during the Horsemen era are the stuff of wrestling lore and still stand up to this day. The WWE announced in January that J.J. would be inducted into the WWE's Hall of Fame class of 2012 as a member of the Four Horsemen, a well-deserved honor for a group that has had a lasting effect on the business.
Throughout the course of our interview we touched on various aspects of J.J.’s career; how he got into the business, his years as a performer, some of the wrestlers he worked with and territories he worked in, the Four Horsemen years, his time working in the front office of the WWE for Vince McMahon, his return to the WCW in the late 90’s and the dysfunction present under Eric Bischoff’s watch, and his post-wrestling career. I will release our full interview in an upcoming podcast, but for the time being please enjoy an excerpt that contains a discussion of J.J.’s time with the Four Horsemen.
Q: How did you end up getting paired with Tully Blanchard, and how did that pairing lead to working with the other Four Horsemen and the formation of the group?
A: I working was in the Maritime territory for a while and when I decided to leave there I called Dusty (Rhodes) who was just leaving Florida and said I got a job for you in Charlotte working for Crockett, and he said just pack your bags and come there and I’ll make the deal for you. So I joined him in Charlotte working in the office and I originally managed Ron Bass, Black Bart, and Buddy Landell, and then the opportunity came up to get involved with Tully. When the Horsemen were formed I actually was only managing Tully Blanchard at the time. He was a Champion, Ric Flair was the World Champion, the Andersons were Tag Champions, and we were doing TV every week for World Championship Wrestling on the TBS Network. We had two hours (to shoot TV) every week and there was a time slot there that wasn’t filled so they said “why don’t you guys just all go out there”. They said you got the bragging rights, and talk about where you’re going to be this coming week.
In the course of that interview it was actually Arn Anderson that looked at the camera and said never in the history of wrestling have so few wreaked so much havoc over everyone else, that you’d have to go back in history books to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and he held up 4 fingers. And the young kids in the audience just picked up on that and every time one of us went out there they started yelling out “Four Horsemen” and holding up the 4 fingers up and it became an interactive thing and just grew from that. So I ended up becoming the leader of the whole bunch and it just grew and grew. We had phenomenal run starting with Ole and then Lex Luger and then Barry Windham for a 2-3 year span there. I always like to say that the stars and the moons and the planets were all in a perfect alignment and it was just one of those magical moments that just happens. It wasn’t creatively planned out in advance and it was just a wonderful time in my career.
Q: So the Horsemen took off rather quickly (after the formation)? The promotion saw that they had something and just let you guys go with it?
A: Yeah that was pretty much it. Actually it was a couple weeks later Jimmy Crockett said “what is this Horsemen thing I keep hearing about?”, and I said well you better pay attention because it’s something that the fans have gravitated too and we need to follow up on it. That’s how it started and that’s how the momentum built from just that.
Q: What do you think made that faction/group so great? It seemed like each member complimented the other, and with Flair as the Champion everybody fell in line behind him.
A: I think it was one of those things that everybody that was in that group was already established in the business and we just all happened to come together. There was something about the chemistry of us as a group and we built off of that. We were all traveling together and spending more time together than we were with our families because we’d always be on the road. We’d go on the air and talk about where the hot spots in each town was and after the matches we’d get there and there would be fans waiting, and we partied as hard as we worked I guess. We actually legitimately enjoyed each other’s company, and when we had a few days off or a day off home we would still get together because we really genuinely enjoyed each other. There wasn’t a clash of egos. If we did an interview and one guy got on a roll and everybody didn’t get to speak there were no ruffled feathers, no bruised egos. We were all just basking in the success and I think everybody carried their own weight.
I feel that probably Arn Anderson was the one guy that never got the due credit for how important he was in the unit. He was the workhorse, out there every night, giving it everything he had. He had a neck injury and you could see the nerve damage affecting his hand because his hand on the one side started to quiver a little bit. Rather than take time off and get medical attention or rest, we were enjoying such great success that Arn just stayed out there, and unfortunately I think it shortened his career. Eventually he had damage that couldn’t be reversed, so with us getting recognition with the WWE Hall of Fame I am happy for everybody but I am really happy for Arn Anderson.
Q: In various books that have been written about the Four Horsemen and the WWE’s ‘Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen’ DVD, members of the group talk about the excessive lifestyle you guys led. How did you guys keep it given the rigorous schedule you had to follow at the time? Was it that excessive?
A: I am sure everything gets embellished a little bit, but we did party hard. I think one thing that made it unique too and I’ve had it pointed out to me that we weren’t the first faction in the business, there were others ahead of us like the ‘House of Humperdink’ and Gary Hart had ‘Hart’s Army’ in Florida. But we were the first ones to really do it on a truly national basis on a scale like it had never been done before and to do so with success for such a long period of time. I think that’s why they look upon us as a being the ones that opened the door for other factions that followed along behind us. When you think about it here we are being recognized by the WWE almost a quarter century after this thing happened, and its things like the DVD and Horsemen story that the WWE did an excellent job on. They are often criticized for re-writing history but in this case they really told the story well. The sound bites from Dusty Rhodes, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Triple H just added credibility to the story. YouTube and things like that have allowed a whole new generation of fans to be able to be exposed to what we were all about, and there’s just something unique about what we had that is timeless and people still talk about it.
Q: One of the first matches I remember when I was a kid and one my favorite matches to this day was the first WarGames match at the 1987 Great American Bash. I recall you injured your shoulder in that contest; can you describe just how brutal and physical that match was? What made that match so great? Was it replicated at different venues throughout that summer?
A: That was July 4th in The Omni (Atlanta, GA), and I am horrified every time I look at the replay of that. I remember being on top of Animal’s shoulders, and the ceiling across the top of the cage didn’t give us that much room to maneuver. Turned around and there’s Hawk perched on the top rope and I thought oh this is not good. As big and powerful as Animal was I’m trying to get down and get away, he started losing me and I came down on what I thought might be the top of my head, but at the last minute I tucked my head and turned on my shoulder. I didn’t break the shoulder, but it was the worst injury of my career and ended up missing about six weeks. That match kind of set the tone for the rest of the WarGames that followed for a year; I recovered and eventually was involved in a lot more of them.
The match in The Omni was the first one and there were others held throughout the summer with different combinations of wrestlers. On one side it was some grouping of Dusty, the Road Warriors, Ron Garvin, Nikita Koloff, and later on even Dr. Death Steve Williams. It was a chance for someone else to be featured in a match on a card and yet still have the WarGames. I’m not saying that we alone drew it, we had credible opponents on the other side, and honestly if it hadn’t been for Dusty being the leader of the other side I don’t know if we would have ever enjoyed the success that we did. No matter how good you think you are you need great opponents across the ring, and there were none better than ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes.
Q: If Tully and Arn didn’t end up going to the WWE in 1988 do you think the Horsemen would’ve continued their run for a few more years?
A: I don’t know, no matter how good something is and how successful it is, everything comes to its end. Certainty when Tully and Arn, and not to say there was internal friction because there wasn’t but there is politics in the business, always was and always will be. Tully and Arn had a chance to go to the WWE, it’s where everybody wanted to be at that time and to have an opportunity to go there as a team and be managed by Bobby Heenan, and I fully understood what their logic was in going. In reality when they left if there were any questions about when the aura of the Horsemen was going to end, that ended it. They came back later (to WCW) and it was reformed to some degree, but it was never the same. The way I look at it when they left in 1988 that was really the end of the story as I think of it.
Q: Do you still have a relationship with any of the Horsemen to this day?
A: Absolutely. You know Flair is still doing his thing, and when I talk to Ric a couple times a year it’s like we are back on the road laughing. I talk to Tully with regularity, he’s in Charlotte working, and Arn’s still a road agent with the WWE and we tend to talk around the holidays and on special occasions. I’ve known Ole Anderson since we broke into the business, when I was in the Carolinas he had been there prior to me. I worked with him a lot, traveled with him, and really got to know him. He’s still the same guy today as he was back then, and he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way because he always said what he thought and was very outspoken. But I understood him, again because I was a little older too. I respected the business and for that reason I was able to get respect from people like Ole Anderson.
Q: Do you agree with the particular Horsemen group being inducted (Flair, Tully, Arn, Windham) into the WWE Hall of Fame? Ok with no Ole?
A: Over the years when I have done interviews I have always been asked “what’s your favorite grouping?”, and it’s kind of a two part answer. I always feel that the original group with Ole will always be special because if it hadn’t been Ole with that group who knows if it would have ever even gotten off the ground. Ole on the other hand was the one guy who didn’t fit the ‘Ric Flair’ image of the limousine driving, jet flying, kiss stealing, son of a gun. It was late in his career, he was grumpy, and it was a legitimate situation with his son wrestling in his senior year and he wanted days off to go watch his son. So it was a natural storyline to get on Ole because we were more important than anything in the world and that’s how we eased him out and it gave us the benefit of a fresh opponent on the other side of the ring because Ole drew money everywhere he ever went because his style was always the same.
We had an opportunity with Luger coming in because he had left Florida which was his first territory shortly, had a run in with Bruiser Brody, so he was the first guy (in our group) that didn’t actually have the experience and we kind of camouflaged it and helped bring him along. I don’t remember whose idea it was but Barry Windham was there at the time, and I recently read where somebody said that that was one of the best switches they can ever remember that played out on television when Barry joined and Luger was out. Barry became the other Horsemen and that’s the second part of my answer; I think Barry Windham because of his youth, his athleticism, his size, his good looks, I mean there was nothing he couldn’t do in the ring. So in terms of what we were capable of doing bell to bell I think that was the best group from that perspective.
I would like to thank J.J. for his time and congratulate him once again on his upcoming Hall of Fame induction, which will be held on March 31st, 2012 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. He would like to thank the fans for supporting him throughout his career, as J.J. and the Horsemen left it all in the ring on a nightly basis for the fans in order to deliver the kind of performances that exceeded the high expectations of the group.
Fans of J.J. and the Four Horsemen should check out his website (http://jjdillon.com) and his autobiography “Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls”, a book that provides an in-depth analysis of the history of the wrestling business along with a detailed narrative of his stellar career.
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