Though he'd eventually be more famous as the leader of the Four Horsemen, J.J. Dillon got his first bit of national exposure in Pittsburgh. That's when he was Jim Dillon, wrestling both sides of the fence and learning the ropes in 1970 and 1971. Writer Denny Natale noticed the young man, a graduate of Albright College in Pennsylvania, and penned a pretty honest piece with him for Wrestling Revue in May 1971, as Dillon discussed his undercard work against the likes of Bobby Hunt and Frank Durso. "I don't think my style changes much from match to match; it's the just the crowd reaction to my opponent," he explained. " As Natale concluded: "With Dillon's determination, ability, and love for the sport, his future success is assured. Such established stars as Prof. Toru Tanaka and George Steele have predicted a fruitful career for the youngster. Jim Dillon is determined to prove them correct. The way he sees it, his most difficult times are behind him."
Recently, Count Grog asked Dillon to reflect on his time in the Steel City.
As Dillon noted:
Pittsburgh will always be a special place to me. I had my first sanctioned single match at the Channel 11 studio on December 7, 1968 against Killer Kowalski. I spent a good part of 1971 working weekends in and around Pittsburgh. I met Jim Grabmire and he opened the door for me to go to Charlotte and get booked full-time in 1971.
How did you end up working in Pittsburgh?
In 1970, I was working in a management training program with a trucking company (Jones Motor Company from PA). The company sent me to Detroit and I was wrestling a few dates a month. Because Detroit was heavily unionized I was limited in what I could do at my job, so they moved me on and sent me to Niles, Ohio. It was at the far end of the Detroit territory and I felt I would be isolated and any bookings I had been getting would dry up. Bruno Sammartino was involved in the promotion in Pittsburgh and he lived there. I knew Bruno well from my days as a referee and through him I started working every weekend (they only ran on weekends).
Any memories of working Studio Wrestling from Channel 11 in Pittsburgh?
I guess the Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling was like many others, but it was special to me because of my match with Kowalski in 1968. I remember that the studio was on the top of a steep hill, and Bill Cardille was well known in the area.
Bill Cardille used to call you "Swayback." What were your thoughs on that?
Bill Cardille did call me "Swayback," and as I think back I did carry myself as if I had a swayback. I didn't have the typical wrestler build and the swayback look was probably my way of diverting attention from my physique. I was tall and rather lean and that made the swayback look seem even more pronounced.
You lost a fall on TV to Jerry Dorsey. Any memory of that match?
I don't remember dropping the fall to Jerry Dorsey, but I lost a lot of falls in those days and throughout my career.
What wrestlers do you recall standing out in Pittsburgh?
I remember George "The Animal" Steele and Ivan Koloff being regulars as was Victor Rivera.
Did you receive any kind of "Push" while in Pittsburgh?
I didn't really get any kind of push during my stay in Pittsburgh. However, I was more interested in working steadily every weekend and getting as much experience as possible under my belt.
Johnny DeFazio – great worker that had a great job working with a local union.
Frank Holtz – A big guy that could have worked anywhere.
Bobby "Hurricane" Hunt – a black wrestler that was very athletic..
Jim Grabmire – big and stiff, with a heart of gold. He got me booked full-time.
Frank Durso – another great performer. Saw him at the Hall of Fame this year in Amsterdam, NY for the first time since I left Pittsburgh.
Tony Marino – He was big star during his career, and he was really over in Pittsburgh.
Ace Freeman – An old-timer that worked in the office; very hard of hearing.
any final thoughts on Pittsburgh as a territory?
As a general statement, the local guys working Pittsburgh could have gone on the road and been successful in just about any territory. However, most had good jobs and so it was the best of both worlds. They enjoyed wrestling but didn't want to go on the road. It was great for the wrestling fans in and around Pittsburgh because the quality of the whole roster was outstanding.
Photo credits: Brian Bukantis, Wrestleprints.com
For more on J.J. Dillon, click here for the SLAM! Wrestling profile.