Professional wrestling boomed when cable hit in the late '70s and early '80s. Shows like Georgia Championship Wrestling and Mid-South Wrestling planted dreams of glory in the heads and hearts of muscular southern boys. Ted "The Million Dollar Man" DiBiase, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka and Billy "Superstar" Graham all had important matches in Georgia. They are among dozens of stars who took hits outside the ring.
The documentary film 350 Days looks into the hard knock lives of professional wrestlers in what's known as the golden age of wrestling.
Former pro-wrestler J.J. Dillon was the 1977 NWA Macon Heavyweight Champion. He spoke with On Second Thought host Virginia Prescott about his memories in the business. Darren Antola also joined the conversation. Antola is the creator and executive producer of 350 Days.
350 Days is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.
On what J.J. Dillon’s mind when he hears the words 350 Days
Well it immediately reminds me of what makes the world of professional wrestling unique as compared to anything else whether it's basketball, baseball. When you look at racing — they're all seasonal. They have a season and then they have a downtime and professional wrestling is really 365 days out of the year which makes it quite unique. And that was a big part of my life for well over half a century.
On stories about life on the road that stand out to Antola
There's just so many of them. I don't even know where to begin. But I will say Greg Valentine had some really great stories and J.J. Dillon had some really, really great stuff and he says it "captured our lives like no other documentary," so that really meant a lot to me. But, to answer your question, superstar Billy Graham's story was pretty interesting. How this girl saved his life and his liver went bad and it just brings tears to your eyes.
On what constant traveling meant for family life or leisure time for Dillon
You had to have a special family that understood that this was your passion and that involved you making sacrifices but also involves your family making sacrifices in terms of time away from home. You know, you're hearing things like just listening to Ted, that people think of wrestling as turning on the television and seeing you on TV and right away making the assumption that "oh, you're on TV that means that you're a huge star and that you're an extremely wealthy man." Which was not true. And some people that were in the business took that perception of stardom and the fact that they drove big cars and what have you and lives in big homes and that there were people who spent every dollar that they ever earned trying to live up to that image. And when it was all over ended up with nothing.
The business could be very cruel and unforgiving but at the same time extremely rewarding. It's like for me, as a 16-year-old kid from New Jersey, I discovered professional wrestling and dreamed that maybe someday — because I used to go to Madison Square Garden and I'd see Argentina Rock and Dr. Jerry Graham and Eddie Graham and Haystacks Calhoun cheap big hard all these bigger than life characters, and someday dream that maybe I could step into the ring in Madison Square Garden which was a reality that came true for me years later. That was the rewarding part of it. And a lot of guys spend every dime that they make trying to live up to what they perceived to be the image of "well you're famous and you're rich" and the lucky ones make enough money to have a comfortable lifestyle and are able to save money. But the business can be very rewarding and can also be very cruel at times.
On what Antola thinks popular wrestling personas brought to professional wrestling
Wrestling will never be the same in my opinion as it was in the '70s and '80s. It just seemed like everybody was truly special and these guys are real athletes today don't get me wrong, but everybody I talk to, like whenever I mentioned the movie they say, "Oh that's when wrestling was wrestling." I mean, I can't keep track how many times I hear that and all these guys were really truly special in their own way. They had their own characters like Greg Valentine, real serious wrestler, and you have different people like Wendy who's a great wrestler as well and Paul Lindorff. They all have something special. It's just hard to say which one of them is — every one of them bring something to table in 350 Days. We have never before seen photographs from around the world. It's just tremendous.
Dillon on the reality of wrestling injuries
I lived it and the injuries are real. The blood is real. And you have to love this business to do it because you often sacrifice your body and you're in the ring with someone who also, like you for the most part, has a family to feed. So, we're gonna go at it. You know, I look at two professional football players that are on the line. And when that that ball is snapped, you know, these 250, 300 pounders just crash into each other with all their might. And that's really what professional wrestling is about. You go out there and you give it all and you hope at the end of the day that you go home and you haven't got any broken bones or anything that's going to prohibit you from coming back and doing it the next day so that you can feed your family.
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