The King of Old School...Refereeing! (Photo Credit: Skullmaster Photography)
Subject: Jim Connolly (aka “OldSchool” Eddington James)
Profession: Referee (Professional Wrestling)
Years in Business: 17 years
What is your earliest wrestling memory?
As a young boy, I remember watching black & white studio shows from Chicago with my dad, but, when I became 12 or 13, after my dad had passed, I really got into it: Maple Leaf Wrestling from Toronto (NWA), Stampede from Calgary (NWA still in black & white), Grand Prix from Quebec, the WWWF Buffalo-feed, and NWF from Buffalo.
Who was your first favorite wrestler?
Dewey Robertson (“The Missing Link”), Chief Jay Strongbow, Dusty Rhodes.
When did you initially feel that wrestling wasn’t just something to watch, but something in which you could actually become involved? How did you break into the business?
Like everyone, I wanted to be a wrestler. With a lot fewer opportunities to train than now, I chose to work on a teaching career and remain a fan. In my 40s, I decided I still could do something in the business so I contacted a person with whom I used to line-up at wrestling shows. His name was Ron Hutchison. (He was a local enhancement wrestler and trainer to Trish Stratus, Edge, Christian, etc…) Ron suggested that I replace Trish as the commissioner of his AWF (Apocalypse Wrestling Federation), as she was off to bigger and better things in the Fed. I was game, but it just never worked out. So, I offered him a bunch of money to train me as a ref. He wouldn’t take my money but instead asked to come to his next show. When I arrived he asked me if I had some running shoes in the car. I did. I reffed my first match. It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to be nervous. Vijay Singh vs Sinn Bohdi (Kizarny) in a 15-minute draw. Christian was there observing the match.
What is your interpretation of a referee’s role in a professional wrestling match?
I am older than most, so I still feel it is more sport than entertainment. I am professional in demeanor and dress and enforce the ever-changing rules and stay in the background. I communicate to the workers and try to stay out of the way.
What names are on your short-list of all-time great referees?
Tommy Young, of course. He brought some animation and emotion to the role. Local WWF/WWE legend Jimmy Korderas is definitely a role model with his calm manner, knowledge, and longevity. I also enjoy Charles Robinson and Darryl Sharma of NXT (a former worker in this area).
We first met in line outside an Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW) show in Cleveland. Are there notable differences between the Toronto scene and the U.S. indies?
My friend Bill and I drove down to explore this very topic (and enjoy the bars, restaurants, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the comedy clubs of Cleveland). AIW reminded us of SMASH in Toronto where Cleveland’s own, Jake Clemons keeps the workers in line. (Jake is one of the best young lions of the profession in my opinion.) We enjoy 21 promotions in Ontario. Obviously, border issues keep us from getting all the big indy names, however, SMASH gave us many shows with Johnny Gargano, Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann etc… Local workers such as Michael Elgin, Tyson Dux, Cody Deaner, Ethan Page and Josh Alexander are popular on both sides of the border. And NO, I don’t work with SMASH.
Within minutes of meeting each other, you were advising me to attend one of the yearly Cauliflower Alley Reunions when possible. Why is it an important organization?
I have gone the last three of four years. The reunion takes place in April or May in Las Vegas. It is a great place to meet people with a common love of the profession. It is for everyone. Many of the older workers like The Destroyer, Terry Funk, JJ Dillon, Sam Houston, and Larry Hennig attend. In fact, Killer Bee, B. Brian Blair is the president. Although the WWE is represented with a table of legends, it is the friends you make that brings me back. There are two banquets, a nostalgia-merch room and, usually, two wrestling shows…plus cribbage and bowling tournaments. Awards are given out to workers like Edge, Trish Stratus, Gail Kim, and Tully Blanchard…to name a few. The proceeds often help older workers. Funeral expenses for veterans Frenchy Martin and Smith Hart are recent examples of the clubs generosity.
What are some of the most memorable matches that you have officiated?
Reffing idols such as Abdullah the Butcher, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake the Snake, Jeff Jarrett is still a thrill.
Harry Smith (the British Bulldog’s son) vs. Fit Finlay was always my favorite match to ref, but recently Josh Alexander vs Speedball Mike Bailey might have overtaken that one. Officiating (Manuba) Soya and (Yujiro) Kushida early in their careers and watching the rise of my friends Allie, Rosemary, Gail Kim, Crazzy Steve, Mike Elgin, Traci Brooks, and Santino Marello are definite highlights.
We were once chatting online and it came up that you were at the Maple Leaf Gardens the night that Harley Race defeated Terry Funk for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Nowadays, title changes are a dime a dozen. However back then, they truly meant something. What memories do you have of that night?
In those days NWA title changes were mostly in Florida, Texas or St. Louis. I was legitimately shocked!!! I had ringside (seats) that night. There was a wave of solemn silence that evolved into a thunderous ovation as Terry Funk finally—after minutes of struggle—gave in to an Indian Deathlock. Remember, (this was long) before the Internet, so more people watched the spectacle as a legit sporting event.
Who are some young Canadian talents of which astute promoters and fans should make themselves aware?
I love talking about our local workers. As well as Ethan and Josh, look for Tarik, Jake O’Reilly, RJ City, Mike Rollins, “Speedball” Mike Bailey (Que.) and in tag action, The Fraternity (Channing Decker & Trent Gibson). Oh, and recently featured in PWI (Pro Wrestling Illustrated), my best-est buddy and favourite dancing partner, Beautiful Beaa. BOOK HER!!! I know I have forgotten several but I’m old.
Is there a story behind your “OldSchool” nickname?
Well, I ref as “Old School” Eddington James. The “Eddington” is a tribute to my dad…the “Old School” was out of a bit of fun. Obviously, the boys tease me about my age and “speed”. There was a period, as a bunch of young refs came up, in which I wasn’t getting booked. A little sad and frustrated, I decided to use my greatest weakness (my age) and call myself “OldSchool.” My bookings grew and I (without trying ) became a character. It is very gratifying and humbling to have the crowd chant “OldSchool” before a match.
What lessons have a life spent in wrestling taught you?
I definitely have become more confident and “thick skinned,” as we refs get a lot of abuse from fans and workers in and out of the ring. I feel more of a team member in wrestling than I have with any other job. There is great satisfaction when a match goes great and you are part of it. I also have gone from a terrified rookie into someone who gives advice on occasion. The newer wrestlers are fitter than previous generations but don’t always use pacing and psychology to their advantage. I often tell them to interact with the crowd or simply slow down during a match. Wrestling is a giant family. I walked into the arena in Cleveland not knowing anyone and then see Mike Elgin, Jake Clemons, and photographer Wayne Palmer, who are all friends. Then after chatting with you realized we had been Facebook friends for years. In short, wrestling has been great to me and I will continue to referee until I stop getting booked or I physically can’t work anymore.
Thanks for this opportunity.
“OldSchool” Eddington James can be found on Facebook HERE.
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