Date: June 1, 2002
Location: Nashville Fairgrounds in Nashville, TN
Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Armpit reader Chuck Richmond
Jim Cornette became a legend in the 1980s as one of the best pro wrestling managers and interviews of all-time. After he left WCW and started Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which later folded, he worked on the creative team for the WWF. Also on that team were Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara.
Cornette in the same hemisphere as Russo and Ferrara was a disaster waiting to happen. Cornette represented old school wrestling booking and logic from the 1970s and 1980s territorial days. Russo and Ferrara, even though they grew up around the same time, preferred car crash television with a strong emphasis on ratings and zero emphasis on logic, in-ring wrestling, and long-term storylines. Those two philosophies clashed constantly.
Cornette had key input in 1997, but Russo gained power in 1998 and the Attitude era, with Ferrara as his key assistant. While Russo’s reign was more successful than Cornette’s, that can entirely be attributed to the rise of Steve Austin, and later, the Rock. It was Vince McMahon who filtered out Russo and Ferrara’s horrible ideas, and when the two writers gave their notice in late 1999, Cornette predicted they’d fail in WCW without McMahon as their editor. As much disaster as Cornette predicted, the result was actually far worse. WCW exposed Russo and Ferrara for the imbeciles they were, and Cornette was proven correct.
After Russo and Ferrara put WCW out of business with their awful booking and business decisions, Cornette always held a grudge against them for ruining the wrestling business. And he had a valid point. What many do not know is that Russo and Ferrara had a falling out towards the end of their WCW run. Regardless, Cornette always lumped the two together, as well as Jeremy Borash, who was a disciple of Russo and Ferrara.
Cornette had nuclear heat with Russo, and it spilled over to Ferrara. He felt they both undercut him while they were all in the WWF. In particular, Cornette and Ferrara had a major argument over an abortion angle with Terri Runnels (Marlena, the ex-wife of Golddust). Cornette rightly felt anyone watching at home who had an abortion would feel uncomfortable watching it, while Ferrara argued it was no different than a soap opera storyline. Cornette argued, again rightly, that soap operas have credits at the end of the show listing the actors’ real names and characters’ names, which was different than a wrestling show where fans had more emotional investment in the personalities and storylines.
But Cornette’s primary beef with Ferrara, by far, was his portrayal of the Oklahoma character in WCW. Oklahoma was a character in the dying days of Nitro in which Ferrara played a knockoff of Jim Ross that openly mocked his debilitating Bells Palsy disorder. Ferrara also mocked Ross’s condition in one of the WWF scripts as well. Cornette was and is a close friend of Ross, as both date back to their days working for Bill Watts in the early 1980s and each has incredible respect for the other. Cornette felt gravely insulted by Ferrara’s actions, as did everyone else who watched it, and wanted to physically harm him in defense of his friend Jim Ross.
Fast forward to 2002, when Jeff and Jerry Jarrett started NWA TNA. The Jarretts were unable to get television, so they instead ran weekly pay-per-view events on Wednesday nights. Against Jerry’s wishes, Russo was brought in to book the promotion, since Jeff was inexplicably a big supporter of his. Ferrara was in TNA too, as initially (and later on, for that matter) TNA re-created much of the bad booking and gimmicks that killed WCW in the first place.
In May, indie promoter Bert Prentice booked a match in Nashville between local legend Jerry Lawler and Dusty Rhodes. It was either the first, or one of the first, instances in which two genuine American wrestling legends would be wrestling each other. Both were long past their primes, but it was still enough of a big deal that it drew one of the larger crowds for Prentice when it took place on June 1.
Prentice taped his events, and used Scott Hudson and Jim Cornette as his announcers. Ferrara was also going to be there, as a favor to Jerry Jarrett, who wanted radio personality Don West to do a tryout as an announcer with Ferrara and Borash. Three days before the show, Prentice told Cornette that Ferrara was going to be there, and begged him not to start any trouble. Cornette had a history of threatening physical harm upon those he had heat with, namely Bruce Mitchell in the early 1990s. Prentice didn’t want Cornette doing the same to Ferrara.
At first, Cornette considered not attending the show because he knew he couldn’t control his temper. But he was such a fan of Lawler that he really wanted to see him wrestle Rhodes, whom Cornette also had great respect and admiration for despite the disagreements the two later had in WCW. He ended up promising Prentice he wouldn’t start any fights, so the show went as planned.
On the day of the event, there were already rumblings backstage of a possible confrontation. Prentice assured everyone that Cornette had promised him nothing would happen, and Cornette joked about it too, implying he would keep his word. Ferrara then arrived and shook everyone’s hand, including Cornette’s. The two then had a side conversation that started out calmly, but quickly escalated. It wasn’t so much that Ferrara argued back, but more Cornette working himself up more and more as he began to tell Ferrara how wrong it was of him to poke fun at Ross and his medical condition. He said it was mean spirited and petty and had nothing to do with the product, and that the Palsy almost cost Ross a job he loved more than anything.
Soon he started cutting a promo on Ferrara, and out came the obscenities. And then, out of nowhere, he spit in Ferrara’s eye. He got mad and asked Cornette, “What was that for??” Cornette responded, “That’s for JR!”
It got very tense and Cornette asked him what he was going to do about it, and then challenged him to go outside. Ferrara likely didn’t want any of this, and knew that engaging in anything physical with Cornette would cost him the job he was trying out for. Luckily nothing happened beyond that, as others there calmed things down. It was described as not quite a pull-apart, but close to it, and perhaps it would have if the others didn’t calm it down.
Years later, Cornette was asked about the incident and replied: “I saw him in Nashville in 2002—I had promised the promoter I wouldn’t punch him, but I didn’t promise I wouldn’t try to get HIM to punch ME first—I told him what I thought of him for doing that to JR and I spit in his face in front of 30 witnesses, and the gutless p*ssy did nothing. That’s what he deserved for making fun of a near career-ending disability suffered by a guy who has more talent in his finger than Ferrara in his whole body. He should’ve never been allowed in our business in the first place. If anyone sees him, tell him Jim Cornette STILL says he’s a gutless sack of sh*t.”
Ferrara appeared on Ross’s podcast well over a decade since the Oklahoma angle, and there was no heat between the two at all. Ross is very forgiving and doesn’t want to live life holding grudges. Cornette, who isn’t forgiving and seems to love holding grudges, later worked with Russo in TNA. When Cornette severed ties with TNA, he went back to saying hateful things about Russo again.
What Cornette did to Ferrara was unquestionably unprofessional. Even if he hadn’t promised Prentice anything, his behavior was uncalled for. The fact he did give Prentice his word only made the situation worse. Still, we can’t help but secretly mark out for Cornette seeking revenge on a classless guy like Ferrara in the name of someone so universally loved and respected like Jim Ross.