Steve Corino talks ROH, Cornette, ECW days, Heyman, tons more
By Gary Mehaffy
I spoke to Ring Of Honor’s Steve Corino recently about his time in ECW, his thoughts on ROH since Jim Cornette stepped aside and how he almost became a WWE writer.
Were you a big fan of wrestling when you were young?
Yes, a huge fan, from the time that I was 8 years old. My parents got cable for the first time – we’re talking 1981 – and within a week I found Georgia Championship Wrestling. I grew up in Philadelphia. Back then, they still had the territories, but for anybody from Philadelphia to watch anything but WWF at the time was crazy. I was hooked from the beginning. I became the biggest ‘Wildfire’ Tommy Rich fan. From there I started buying the magazines, going to the local shows…….I used to go to the Civic Centre every month for NWA Wrestling when it started to come to the area. I was a huge, huge fan.How did that then turn to you getting involved in the business?
I was approaching my 21st birthday and you have that realisation of “What am I going to do with my life?” I was at a concert of a group called Great White – they had a couple of little hits, they were a metal band or hair band – they became famous a couple of years later because 95 died at one of their concerts when a fire broke out.Oh yea, yea….
Well I was at their concert. I didn’t wanna be there but my buddy got free tickets. There was a poster, and there were a couple of guys that I had heard of – Johnny Gunn from WCW, ‘Maniac’ Jimmy Deo, King Kaluha…. – and I must have seen a Johnny Gunn/King Kaluha match at least 30 times. It (the poster) said “If you want to be a wrestler, call this number:” I can barely tell you what my phone number is, but I can tell you over 20 years later that I still remember the phone number of the wrestling school! At the time I was 160lbs soaking wet, just a skinny, typical indy 20 year old trying to get in.
The guy told me “You come in, you try out and if you’re good enough we’ll give you a chance to train at our school.” I didn’t realise ta the time that if you had the money you got in! Basically, all I wanted to be told was no! I was a high school baseball player and my whole motivation was “Tell me no. Tell me I’m too skinny. Tell me that I’m athletic enough and I’ll work harder.” That’s what I did and I got lucky!You talked about how you grew up in Philly. Were you aware, or were you a fan, of ECW before you joined it in 1998?
You know, what? I’d gone to a couple of shows. I’d just debuted in April ’94, and a buddy of mine had tickets for the August 1994 ECW Arena show, which ended up being very famous. That was the time that Shane Douglas won the NWA Title and then threw it down. I was like “Wow! This is so crazy compared to what I’m used to!” it was cool, but when you’re working on the independents you have a hard time following everybody else, because Friday and Saturday you’re trying to get out there and make a name for yourself. ECW played on TV in Philadelphia on Saturday night, so I never really got to see it until I got there, but I was well aware that this was a crazy company, and this was what they were doing, and they had the cult following, and so it was super cool to be there.How did that come about? Was it one of Paul E.’s famous “I’ve been trying to get you for so long” phone calls?
No, no. I wasn’t even wanted, they actually wanted a guy named Reckless Youth. It was straight after November To Remember 1998. I guess that Bigelow had left, and I want to say that someone else had left, and then I guess Paul decided “You know what? I’ll build from within” and he started looking for some indy guys. Reckless Youth had the buzz. He was the guy who was having great matches – he was an amazing, amazing wrestler. Nova - who went to be Simon Dean and work in the office – I’d wrestled him a number of times throughout my indy career and I was doing an anti-hardcore gimmick with him on the indys. He’s from ECW, although he never did hardcore stuff, he was still that guy.
In 1997/1998 there were so many guys that wanted to be “hardcore” and they would do the dumb stuff for no reason. I thought, if I was the opposite and said I won’t do all this stuff, by the time I eventually do get broken open it’ll mean something. I remember Shane Douglas tried to do that he was against hardcore and Mick Foley tried to do it, but they were already established guys. You knew they were full of crap, you knew they were trying to be heels. But here’s this skinny kid coming in out of nowhere, and 98% of those people (ECW fans) didn’t know who I was, here I am saying “I’m not going to do this hardcore stuff! How dare you!” It got great heat and it snowballed on from there.
Snowballed right through to November To Remember in 2000, where you became the ECW Heavyweight Champion. How did you feel when that came about?
You know, I was never supposed to get the title. It’s kind of a sad, but funny, story. Thinking about it 12 years later, it’s funny. The title was never supposed to come to me, it was always supposed to back on Justin Credible. At the time ECW had some money problems, and everybody in the match – Sandman, Jerry Lynn, Justin Credible – they had breach of contract claims in, where if they didn’t get their money they could leave because their contracts would be broken.
I literally had mine that I was going to file on Monday, but Paul has this main event and he doesn’t know if his champion is going to be on TV next week. (laughs) It ended up where he made it seem like “Oh, I’ve had this planned all this time!” But I was the only guy even if I’d filed breach of contract, they still had 30 days, so I would have been at least a month in ECW. That’s how it came about. It could have been, like, bad as it was just after Jerry had such a long run of not getting it and he could have been a real jerk, but thinking about it he (Jerry Lynn) made it special. Justin Credible made it special. Sandman definitely made it special.
It went from being a champion of circumstances to “You guys really made this fun for me!”Two quick asides linked to that. On the night that you won the title, you were managed, or joined, by both Jack Victory and Dawn Marie. Do you have any thoughts, or know much about, on what went down last year between Daw Marie/Blue Meanie in regards to Wrestlers Rescue? I have spoken to them both, and am speaking to Dawn again at the end of the month.
I just want to say that I’m not a fan of either person. I’ve always had my problems with Dawn. Dawn is Dawn and Meanie is Meanie. I try to stay out of it. It’s one of the reasons I don’t get involved with stuff that……if I’m going to do something for charity, I want to do it by myself. I don’t want the publicity. I think it’s like showboating. It’s like “Hey look at me, look what I’m doing, I’m a good person!” good people are people that are nice to other people and try to help out. Myself, my son and my fiancé, we do a lot of charity work, but you’ll never really see us put it over on our website.
You know what? Charity work should be private. If you’re doing something nice for somebody as a group, that’s fine. I’m not saying that Dawn’s intentions weren’t good, but you have to know that when you’re dealing with wrestlers you’re going to get a certain stigma to it. People are waiting for it to fail, so why do it? Just help out on your own.
One other aside – you mentioned Jerry Lynn, who is doing his retirement stuff at the minute. You have wrestled him several times over the years. Is it possible for you to say just how good he is?
Oh my goodness! Fans will never realise just how good Jerry Lynn really was. He’s so good at everything he does. I remember going to ECW and I was so scared to wrestle him, because I thought “Oh, man, this guy could make me look bad at any time!” But he doesn’t. HE has spent his whole career making people look good. He’s amazing, always a super nice guy, always willing to help out….he is a great, great person. You don’t realise it, but Jerry is going to be 50 years old! He still looks the same! You think that the guy doesn’t look he ages so he can go on and on and on, but I’m glad he’s leaving. He’s got a young kid and a job with benefits and stuff. It’s sad to see him go but I’m glad he’s going and he’s still able to walk.You were signed to WCW, I believe, just before they went down in 2001?
I was one of those guys that had signed right near the end and I’d never had the chance to debut. It’s also one of those things where they had so many different guys that were under contract who just weren’t doing anything. It became like “Who’s going to get released first?” I remember hiding! I turned off my phone, I didn’t check my email, I didn’t leave my house…..I got my release, but I got a little bit of pay, and that’s all that mattered! (laughs) I knew WWE was never going to get me, or come after me. I always wanted to go to Japan, so I got lucky.Not long after that, you joined MLW and were their heavyweight champion. Were there hopes among the guys in the business that MLW would be a real alternative?
I don’t think that was ever the plan. The plan was to run one or two times a month. I had so much fun. The guy that ran it, Court Bauer, is one of the most honest and coolest people ever. He wouldn’t fill your head with empty promises, or lie to you, or try to screw you with money. He had an idea. He wanted it to get bigger, but he was very realistic. “Let’s start here, and if it gets bigger keep trying and see what we can do.” He it was a really cool time. When I had broken in in 1994 I had quickly become friends with CW Anderson and Simon Diamond.
We all got in in different parts of the world, and had different trainers. We almost became The Extreme Horseman in ECW. Literally, two weeks before I turned babyface and Johnny Swinger became the guy with Simon and CW. We weren’t going to be The Extreme Horseman we were going to be something else. When me and CW went to Dustin Rhodes’ promotion after ECW, he had this idea of putting Barry Windham with us. I thought that was so cool, and he said “Think of a name.” I said “Well, ECW was so fresh, what about The Extreme Horseman?” Barry loved it!
When we went to MLW, the first thing Court said was “Hey, I’ve got this idea. I’m gonna put Simon Diamond with you guys.” And we were like “Oh, man, that’s what we want!” It was a fun time. We got to wrestle Terry Funk and Dr. Death Steve Williams. Barry Windham came in for a couple of shows. It was a fun promotion.
Speaking of Terry Funk, I want to relate my next question to him. In 2007 you had a retirement tour, of sorts. Were you actually considering quitting the business or was it a Terry Funk retirement, if you know what I mean?
No, it was definitely going to be a real retirement. I wanted out. I had a job that I was going to go to. I blame Mr. Wrestling II for keeping me in. As I was finishing up I was in Hawaii a couple of times, and Mr. Wrestling II was there – I was a big fan of the kid. He talked to me about how I’d be perfect for Mr. Wrestling. I said “Sir, I’m quitting wrestling. I’ve two months left and I’m done!” He was like “No, no, no!” Over the three tours we came up with how the mask would be different and how it would be more of like a Superman thing – you’d know it’s me and I’d kind of deny it. He was like “You could be retired but still do the Mr. Wrestling III thing!”
I was ready to go, I wanted to go, I was burned out and Mr. Wrestling II saved me! It was one of those things where……when you’re mainly an independent guy, I have a name value. People don’t want to pay my fee for Mr. Wrestling III, they want to pay my fee for Steve Corino. It’s hard to make that transition. In Japan I’ve been doing the character for five years. I pull it out every once in a while. The fans all know it’s me and it’s great because they know it’s me but they keep going. I was definitely ready to go. I realised at that point that wrestlers never retire – they just die! Death is the only retirement for wrestlers, in reality.
You get to that stage where you want the roar of the crowd, you think you’ve got one more match left in you. That last match might have been great but you think you’ve got one greater. When I die, five days later someone is going to announce that I’ve retired!Back at that stage, you had a tryout with WWE. There were conflicting rumours that it was either as a wrestler or as an agent. Which was it?
It was actually to be a writer! It was one of those things were it sucked. Diamond Dallas Page had got me the tryout there as a writer. He was like “Bro, I think you’d be great! Let me call Johnny Ace.” They said to send them some stuff, so I wrote four weeks of ECW. They liked it and were like “Why don’t you come up.” A couple of days before, Johnny Ace said (imitating Johnny Ace) “Let’s bring your wrestling gear! I’ve a couple of kids I’d like you to get in the ring with.” Johnny Ace is one of those guys that……I don’t get it. I’d done a photo shoot in Japan with him. He was the gaijan agent for All Japan for several years, and when I was the gaijan agent for Zero One they were like “Steve Corino might be able to go.”
The Japanese press made it cool and they could work for WWE and we had a talk and a beer with the magazine writers, but when I got there (WWE) he pretended that he had no idea who I was! It’s such a turn off. But he says on the phone “There’s this kid, Harry Smith. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Davey Boy?” And I’m on the other end of the phone thinking “No. no I’ve never heard of him.” Of course I knew who it was! I’m thinking “Is this guy screwing with me?” The he goes “I’ve got this guy, Coffee Kingston.” (laughs) Coffee Kingston! To this day – and Kofi is a good kid – but to this day he’s always Coffee Kingston to me! So I’m like “OK, I’ll get a couple of paydays before Christmas.” I’m all excited, and it was the coolest thing. I’m up there, I’m happy, I’m in my suit, I’m shaking hands, the writers are coming up to me going “Steve Corino, oh my god! I can’t believe you’re finally here!” I’m like “What????”
It seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun. They were like “Oh, I see you’re wrestling Harry Smith tonight. We’ve got some plans on our heads for you.” I’m thinking “I’ve got a deal! I’m going to make it. Finally, after all these years of them not acknowledging my existence, I’m in!” (laughs) Before the show starts, they have a writers meeting. They brought me in, and I got my writing stuff, and all of a sudden I walk in and it’s like the music just skipped. John Laurinaitis goes “This is Steve, eh, Co…Co…Corino.” He’s pretending he didn’t even know my name! (laughs) He goes “He’s got a tryout for the writing thing; I thought it would be cool to see him and stuff.” That quick, everybody’s face changed.
Now all of a sudden I wasn’t a wrestler to them, I was their competition. They crapped on everything! I went out and had an ok match with Harry Smith and came back and they said “No, no, it’s too old school.” I said “What?” They told me before I went out “Be you.” They said “How would you get Steve Corino over?” I was like “Eh……” so I went out and it was great, because we were in Boston and Connecticut, and Boston was a pretty big ECW town. I got music and a little bit of a TitanTron thing – it said “Corino” – and people knew me. When I started to heel on them they chanted “You sold out!” I’m like “ Yes I did, I’m going to sell out!” I went backstage and they were like “Eh, I don’t know. You weren’t aggressive enough.” Fit Finlay off all people said “A little too old school.” I went “What?” (laughs) They said “Well, you played the people too much.” I said “It was a dark match!” They said “Oh, no, no. no! it’s an opening contest!” I threw my hands in the air and said “Ah, shit! I’m done!” (laughs) I went back to the hotel that night and went “You know what? I can almost guarantee I have no chance of a job!”
Next day, I wrestled Kofi Kingston and Barry Windham is my agent. I’m close to Barry and he said “You have no chance of a job! I don’t know who you pissed off. You could go out there and be Shawn Michaels and they will not hire you! Just go out there and have fun.” I said “Thank you for being honest.” Dusty goes (in his best Dusty impersonation) “Kid, you’re in there with that new kid. He’s got a job. So you’re going to go out and you’re going to rape him. And if you don’t think that you raped him enough, you’re going to rape him some more!” I’m like “That’s right Dream!” and I’m thinking “Please get me out of here!” Kofi Kingston is such a nice kid. He said “I’ve got a job, let me go out there and help you.” His vignettes were just starting to appear, but he was willing to help me out, which I thought was super cool. We go out there and it was good! We go back and Fit Finlay goes “Too old school.”
So I filled my Tupperware containers full of catering and left! (laughs) No job for Steve Corino! And now they don’t even acknowledge me! Do you ever see that I’m never in the encyclopaedias?Yea….
Me and Benoit! (laughs)You returned to ROH in 2009. How has it been this time round?
It’s been fun. It’s so much cooler. The first six years that I was in ROH it was one of those things that I was only there for the Homicide feud. I would go in and out and in an out, and it was one of those things. (This time) it’s been an awesome three years. Every time I think I’m about to get fired they find something for me!
What led to you forming SCUM with Kevin/Jimmy?
Originally we were going to be called LIVE. If you look at the shirts, LIVE backwards is EVIL, so basically what we see ourselves as is evil. We’re admitting that we’re evil. I guess we couldn’t figure out the rights to the merchandise and stud like that, so they came up with SCUM. For a while I didn’t even know what it stood for! Suffering, chaos, ugliness & mayhem – I always forget the S!
How has, and I appreciate you might not be able to go into it too much, ROH changed since Jim Cornette relinquished his duties and Hunter/Delirious has taken charge of the booking?
You know what? It pains me to say this, and it’s going to come off like I’m burying Jim. People go “I’m a Paul Heyman guy.” I was a Jim Cornette guy. Jim Cornette did so much for me in the 90’s. If it wasn’t for Jim Cornette I wouldn’t have got WWF tryouts and job matches. If it wasn’t for Jim Cornette I wouldn’t have gone to the USWA in Memphis or Puerto Rico or stuff like that. I loved the fact I was going to work with Jin Cornette. There comes a time when the business passes you. You either have to evolve and change with the times or you’re going to get eaten alive. I think that’s the thing with Jim. Jim came up watching 70’s wrestling in Louisville and came up with Bill Watts where screaming and yelling and a hostile environment, and he came through the corporate stuff in WCW and WWF, and owning his own company and stuff like that, where when he tried to do the screaming and yelling that he knows, it backfired. In today’s wrestling, guys don’t want to put up with that. It’s a different style.
ROH is a television product now. It’s still cool and stuff like that, but it’s not the Gabe Sapolsky ROH, it’s a totally different product. We’re owned by a television company. They want television safe things. They could probably give two craps about who comes into the building from a corporate level. They’re thinking advertising, ratings, what they can sell to the markets, blah, blah, blah, whereas our job is to care about that fans and the product and stuff.
I don’t think that with Jim and Sinclair there was that bridge. Jim was going to do his thing, whereas Hunter is very, very creative. He understands that we are corporate wrestling – Sinclair is a publicly traded company. We have TV friendly stuff, but that doesn’t mean that we’re handcuffed to doing nothing. Jim’s stuff was awesome in 1992, you know what I mean? It just doesn’t equate here today, whereas Hunter is so good at creating things, and he’s so secretive too. If you asked me what I was doing next weekend at the show, I would have no idea! I would read it first. When I booked, I want guys knowing that I had plans for three months. This is where I want you to be. Hunter wants it to be very real and new to you, so you don’t find out, really, until that night. Now it’s as much of an improv as it is studying your character. I think Jim really didn’t get the internet – he didn’t understand the internet.
ROH is very internet friendly, or it was. Instead of using the internet crowd to help the TV markets and get the word out, he alienated the internet crowd. If somebody buried something, he would go “What’s going on?” You know, not everybody is going to like everything! If I got mad every time somebody sent me a stupid tweet or criticised my match, I’d drive myself crazy! Not everybody likes a Tom Hanks movie. I mean, Forrest Gump is a freakin’ awesome movie, but I’m sure people go “That sucks!” It’s an entertain field so it’s a matter of opinion. Jim took it to heart very much. We need the internet crowd, because even if they’re not in the television market, they’re watching it on the website, they buy the DVD’s and the iPPV’s and things like that. Why would we want to kill potential fans? We need all the fans we can get!Several ROH alumni have made it big in both TNA and WWE – Samoa Joe for a time in TNA, but Bryan Danielson/CM Punk have really risen to the top of WWE. We’ve seen in the last couple of days that El Generico will be signing with them. Can you see any way that we will see Steve Corino on Raw on a Monday night?
Not unless Lawler has another heart attack! (laughs) You know, this is my sick sense of humour. I love commentating, and I would love that role in ROH. Trust me, I have been politicking for the commentating role for months! Hopefully I’ll get it one day. Commentating is fun. People came up to an autograph session at (ROH) TV last week and I tweeted about it. First five people “Hey, you’re the best colour guy in the business and you can still wrestle too!” it’s funny now that people are starting to recognise me from guest commentating, because I have a good rapport with Kevin Kelly. So, yea, Lawler goes down with a heart attack. I didn’t know it, because I wasn’t watching Raw. I saw my sister Allison Danger tweet something like “Get well soon Lawler!” and I wrote to my sister (laughs) “I hope he dies because I need a job!” She said “Don’t say that, he’s had a heart attack on live TV!” I was like “Really? Oh…..sorry!”You mentioned Allison – you have family links in the business. What advice would you give your son Colby if he wanted to follow you into the business?
He does, he wrestles under a mask as American Tiger. He loves it, but he’s 16. A lot of 16 year olds that’s all they think about – pro wrestling, pro wrestling, pro wrestling. He’s grown up in it so long that he understands that there’s different levels, you’ve got to pay your dues, you need fallbacks and things like that. He’s an honour roll student in high school, he’s an amateur wrestler, and he’s a good kid. He’s a normal teenager, but at the end of the day he likes pro wrestling but no-one in school knows he does it. It’s one of those things.
Him doing it for a job? I don’t know. It’s up to him. If he does pursue it he knows the dangers and the risks and all that stuff. My sister has been a wrestler for 13 years now, and I’ve been a wrestler for 19. It’s one of those things where we know the dangers, know you get hurt, know you get screwed over by promoters and all that fun stuff. At the end of the day it’s still the coolest job in the entire world! I would give him the advice of there’s only so many jobs, and there’s only so many chances, but if you get the chance go for it!Any words for your fans?
For my fans? You don’t buy enough merchandise! (laughs) I appreciate every fan that comes out and supports the product. You can write about it or read about it on the internet but unless you get out there and spend the time being part of it……being part of the whole atmosphere of wrestling. These are the people who I’ve time for and have fun with. Think about this – I’ve been around 19 years and I’ve never had a WrestleMania run, or hit the big time, or had a drug addiction (laughs) but people stuck with me. At the end of the day, to use a baseball analogy, you could say I’ve had the career of a minor leaguer, but people still remember me. Fans see that I don’t rest on my ECW name. I don’t wrestle the same as I did 12 years ago, or look the same, or talk the same. I always changed it up. If it wasn’t for the fans giving me that chance I’d be nothing. At the end of the day, I’m a fan!
Do you have anything you want to plug?
-- I always have some sort of nonsense on there...usually it never has to do with wrestling! Some joke that comes into my mind or any stupid thing, or you can see me and my fiancé going back and forth – usually on my sofa! I’ll send something and she’s like “You know I’m sitting right here! Why would you do that?” I am on Facebook, but sometimes people on Facebook don’t leave me alone! They’re like “Are you the real Steve Corino?” I’m like “Who the hell else would I be? Why would I spend so much time putting my personal pictures on there? Why would you ask me that?” And never ask for a retweet! You’ll get blocked! I have blocked so many people! I have 19,700 followers – I think I’d have 21,000 if I hadn’t blocked so many people! They’re the fans I don’t like! (laughs)