When someone utters the name “Jim Cornette”, everybody thinks of an angry old man, making up the most inventive insults possible, while ranting about Vince Russo. However, despite what some might think of the man today, he was arguably one of the most important wrestling figures throughout the 80’s and 90’s. At the same time, he was also the mastermind behind one of the key promotions that nurtured wrestlers that went on to gain fame and glory in the WWE. This is the story of Smoky Mountain Wrestling.
After leaving World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which was the WWE’s biggest rival of the 90’s, Cornette formed Smoky Mountain Wrestling in October 1991. It was a Tennessee based promotion, which quickly gained momentum, prompting WCW and WWE to sign deals with Smoky Mountain. This led to iconic feuds such as The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs. The Heavenly Bodies, the staple tag team born in Smoky Mountain, which was actually managed by Cornette himself. The promotion also featured a number of younger wrestlers who had not yet made their mark on a national stage. People like “Hardcore” Bob Holly, Al Snow, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm and even Kane, at the time known as Unabomb, who went on to gain international success later in their careers.
Smoky Mountain was a promotion catered to the old-school fans, who still believed in good and bad guys, fans who would still get frustrated when the heel would cheat to win, and who would cry tears of joy when the underdog finally got their chance to shine. The promotion was meant to be a rival to the edgy style of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), who changed the way fans view wrestling by introducing a more violent edge to wrestling. Cornette did not like the business practices of the ECW owner at the time, Paul Heyman, showcasing how wrestling must, in his opinion, be portrayed, and how wrestlers should be treated, as Heyman would put his employees through dangerous situations, only to make a quick buck. Despite this, Smoky Mountain did introduce one of the most controversial tag teams of the era, the Gangstas. Composed of black wrestlers New Jack and Mustafa, the team would use fried chicken and watermelons as props during their promos, clearly outlining the racist connotations of their gimmick.
Although the promotion was still held in high regards, it struggled to get a profitable television deal, continuing to operate at a loss until December 1995, when Cornette shut it down in order to work full-time with the WWE. It comes to no surprise that Smoky Mountain is a key point in the history of wrestling, laying its mark by continuing to showcase “old school” wrestling, in an era when wrestling started to change. At the same time, it further cements its place in history books by working as the kickstart of many wrestlers’ careers, who would go on to become legends in our modern times. If this intrigued you, you can watch the full library of Smoky Mountain Wrestling episodes on the WWE network, and enjoy a blast from the past.