Fans fortunate enough to be present Sept. 9 in Suffolk saw a stellar card filled with action as well the arrival of two WWE legendary Hall of Famers; members of the iconic, legendary, Four Horsemen, Arn Anderson and James J Dillon.
I talked with JJ Dillon over the phone recently.
Yiorgo (Y): You are coming back to the Norfolk area after a lengthy absence.
JJ Dillon (JJ): I really look forward to seeing the fans and reminiscing together, taking pictures and signing whatever they bring. It is a time capsule for me, reminding me where I cut my teeth. I started as talent in the small arenas and gyms. Originally we were in the basement of the Norfolk Scope and eventually moved into the main part selling out on a regular basis. In Richmond we were out at the fairgrounds before we finally moved into the Richmond Coliseum.
Y: You started as a referee in the WWWF and then you came down here as a wrestler.
JJ: It certainly was very different from up north, or what I called the land of the Giants. I was used to big wrestlers and the big shows once a month. I came to the Mid-Atlantic area and now Charlotte Park Center is every week, Raleigh is every week, Norfolk every week, Richmond every week. It was a different product with wrestlers such as Johnny Weaver, George Becker, Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson, Paul Jones, Art Nelson, Gene Anderson, Ole Anderson, Brute Bernard, Missouri Mauler, Les Thatcher, etc. They were not giants in stature, but boy could they all wrestle.
Y: You were here from 1971-’73. Tell us about those days.
JJ: It was a whole re-education for me. I was a little bit older when I started. My very first match was at the Charlotte Park Center against Gene Anderson. We were the opening matches and we were supposed to go eight minutes with Gene going over. We wound up doing 18 minutes, and when it was over, the referee came over to the heel (bad guy) dressing room and said, “Gene told me to tell you, ‘Good job kid!’” So I passed the test and stayed the first time for a little over two years. I was almost 29 years old when I had that first match. Gene and I always showed respect. When I was in the dressing room and there was a discussion about the match, all I said was, ‘Tell me what you want me to do.’ I got off to a great start, and it was the beginning of a wonderful journey for me, andyears later I am proud to have two Hall of Fame rings!!
Y: You mentioned Johnny Weaver. He was one of my favorites growing up. Tell us a story about him.
JJ: Johnny was the top baby face in the territory. He took a liking to me, and because of that, one of my best memories happened right there in Norfolk. He put me in a short program with the then NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dory Funk Jr. I wrestled a non-title match with Dory on TV, he beat me but I asked for one more chance, claiming that I was nervous and intimidated. I got over it and next time the Champ was in town, I would love one more chance in a two-out-of-three fall match because, while he is worried about the other contenders, I will be preparing only for him. When Dory Funk came back, Johnny told me since Richmond and Norfolk are only 90 miles apart, Johnny would wrestle Dory in Richmond on Friday and I will wrestle Dory the night before, for the world title at the Norfolk Scope. As we speak, I am looking at the ad, the poster and results that I have on my wall that I had framed. Underneath the main event was a taped fist match with Johnny Weaver vs. Playboy Gary Hart and Art Nelson against Rip Hawk. What they did is stack the card. It was really a triple main event. But I wrestled the world champion in a main event a year and a half into the territory. I’m incredibly proud of that, given the fact that three nights before in a tag match against the Andersons I sprained one of my ankles trying to protect Ole’s face when he went to drop me from high in the air.
I had to wrestle the next night. Les Thatcher was my partner and took me under his wing. He protected me the next night in Raleigh by taping me up to make sure I can walk to the ring, then Les wrestled the whole match. But Thursday I had Dory in Norfolk in a two-out-of-three falls, and Dory carried me in that much since I was 60-70 percent injured. It was a tremendous experience for me being in my first territory.
Next week, read part two of this interview with JJ Dillon, including Ric Flair and the nude beach, Dusty, Vince Sr. Vincent Kennedy McMahon, podcast and more.
Yiorgo is a Hampton Roads arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is also an educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.