A former Navy Seal and legitimate strongman, he became a sensation in the ring and behind the microphone, drawing the contempt (an ultimately, the love) of the fans.
Real Name: James Janos
Stats: 6′ 4″ 270 lbs.
Born: July 15, 1952
By Steve Slagle
Jim Janos, better known to the rest of the world as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, is an individual like few others. Simply stated, he is a man driven by the will to succeed. Be it as a Navy Seal, a professional wrestler, an announcer, an actor, mayor, or Governor, once Janos becomes focused on a goal, it seems nothing can stop him. The epitome of the phrase “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” this hard-working, determined man is an unlikely hero, on the surface. But, once you dig a little deeper into his personal history, a better role model can not be found…
The story of Jesse “The Body” Ventura begins in Minnesota on July 15, 1951. Born into a middle-class, blue-collar family, the young Jim Janos quickly developed a love for sports, one of his favorites being professional wrestling. But Jim’s childhood dreams of “rasslin” would have to be put on the backburner, especially when when he enlisted into the Navy during the height of the Vietnam war. Once in the Navy, Janos decided if he was going to be a Naval officer, then he was going to be the best at it. To Janos, that meant enduring the rigorous mental and physical training, and personal sacrifices, it took in order to become a Navy Seal — the Best of the Best, when it came to that branch of the armed service. Janos had what it took, and he completed several tours of duty as part of the elite commando fighting group.
Once he was back in the United States, Janos, like many returning Vietnam vets, had little direction in life upon his return. He found his way to southern California, where he rode with a motorcycle gang. But after a few years as a biker, Janos realized that lifestyle wasn’t leading him anywhere. He moved back to Minnesota, and enrolled at Hennipen Jr. College, where he played football. As had always been the case, Janos was a standout in sports, and a mere participant in class. Eventually, he dropped out of college…and into something entirely different.
It was while working out at a local gym that the 6`5, 270 lb. Janos was first introduced to people within the wrestling business. Already a lifelong fan of the “sport,” it didn’t take much to convince Jim to give it a shot. After training for the better part of a year, Janos — now known as California surfer-guy Jesse Ventura — made his first waves in wrestling (albeit, minor ones) in the NWA’s Central States territory, as well as in the Pacific Northwest. The Kansas City-based promotion was not one of the major players, in terms of the NWA’s hierarchy, but it was the ultimate training ground for young wrestlers trying to learn and perfect their craft. Ventura (pictured, left) openly admits that he modeled nearly every facet of his wrestling persona after the legendary “Superstar” Billy Graham, who was then at the height of his popularity and influence. With his new Graham-ish persona complete, Jesse Ventura emerged as a major force in Central States wrestling.
At the same time he started his successful run in Central States, Ventura also began wrestling in Portland’s Pacific Northwest Wrestling, another “training ground” type of promotion, much like Central States. And like Central States, it produced a number of future superstars, such as Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Billy Jack Haynes, among many others. Ventura engaged in a particularly intense feud with Jimmy Snuka while wrestling in Portland, and twice wore the Pacific Northwest Heavyweight title belt in 1976. Ventura also won 5 Pacific N.W. Tag Team championships (w/partners Bull Ramos, Buddy Rose, and Ted Oates) between 1976-78. After establishing himself as a young but serious new competitor against the likes of “Bulldog” Bob Brown, “Bruiser” Bob Sweetan, Jimmy Snuka, Dutch Savage and other top stars from K.C. and Portland, Ventura teamed with local powerhouse Tank Patton to win the Central States Tag Team title on September 14, 1978, his only title in the Midwestern promotion.
Having “paid his dues” and perfected his wrestling style (Ventura was never know as a great technical wrestler, but he certainly made the most of his limited but extremely powerful repertoire) it was finally time for Jesse Ventura to move up to the “big time.” He returned home to Minnesota, and began working for Verne Gagne’s AWA. It was in the AWA that Ventura first broke into the national wrestling scene, as fans across the country realized what people in the Pacific N.W. and Central States territories already knew — Jesse Ventura was going to be a big star in the wrestling business…
Once in the AWA, Jesse was managed by Bobby Heenan. He wrestled both as a singles competitor (engaging in a “body building” feud with the equally young “Precious” Paul Ellering) and in tag teams with various Heenan Family members, such as “Big, Bad” Bobby Duncum (pictured, left). But when he was teamed with another young superstar-in-the-making, Adrian Adonis (pictured, right) the world of wrestling was introduced to a new super-team. After a long road to the top, The East-West Connection were awarded the AWA World Tag team title on July 20, 1980 when Greg Gagne no-showed the event, and the title was forfeited. Although the title had been “given” to them, Ventura & Adonis gelled as a team, and it quickly became obvious that the duo had something special. The East-West Connection reigned as AWA World Tag team champions for nearly an entire year before losing the belts back to The High Flyers: Gagne & Brunzell.
After dominating the AWA, Ventura & Adonis ventured Northeast, to the World Wrestling Federation. With Freddie Blassie as their manager, The East-West Connection of Ventura and Adonis, after briefly pursuing the WWF tag straps, both set their sights on WWF World Champion Bob Backlund (pictured, right). Blassie promised fans that his 1-2 punch of Ventura and Adonis was sure to topple Backlund off of his WWF throne. History proved that this was not to be the case, but The Body’s first run in the WWF was nevertheless a career-booster. With fans in the Midwest and the Northeast having been exposed to Jesse “The Body,” Ventura abruptly left Adonis, Blassie, and the WWF and headed south to Memphis.
During his stay in “the King’s court,” Ventura twice defeated Memphis legend Jerry “The King” Lawler for the prestigious Southern Heavyweight title in 1983. As part of Jimmy Hart’s 1st Family, Ventura teamed with the rugged Stan Hansen as the two battled Lawler and Austin Idol in a wild, violent feud. Ventura also had a hard-fought (but in the end, losing) series of battles against Andre the Giant. But after a year or so, it was once again time for Ventura to relocate, and he once again returned to the WWF.
Upon his WWF return, Ventura engaged in major, main-event feuds with both Hulk Hogan, Ivan Putski, and Inter-Continental champion Tito Santana. But by the mid-1980’s, Ventura’s body began to break down from the constant punishment he received in the ring. After developing a nearly lethal blood clot, Ventura decided to step away rather than risk his life, or permanent injury, and retired from active competition. The world of wrestling had lost a limited-but-adequate ring worker, and a top personality. However, with that loss came an unexpected bonus…
As a color commentator, Ventura changed the face of WWF broadcasts with his “call it like I see it”, pro-“bad guy” stance. As the color man for WWF PPV’s, the NBC Saturday Night’s Main Event show, and the WWF’s Prime Time Wrestling (with co-host Gorilla Monsoon) Ventura, and his distinctive voice, was a part of nearly every memorable WWF moment from the mid-late 1980’s. Ventura used his fame, and acting talent, to land several parts in major films such as Predator and The Running Man, and by the end of the 1980’s, Ventura was a household name. But when Ventura ran into problems with WWF management (concerning Ventura’s plans to form a wrestlers’ union, similar to those found in other sports and fields of entertainment) he was released from his WWF duties. Later, Ventura would win a million-dollar lawsuit against his former employer when he proved that the WWF had withheld money that was owed to him.
After leaving the WWF, Ventura pursued his career in Hollywood, with moderate success, but remained out of the picture when it came to pro wrestling. But with the dawn of a new decade, Ventura re-emerged as a wrestling personality, this time with the promotion that Ventura called “the wrestling of the future,” Ted Turner’s WCW. As the color commentator for all WCW PPV’s, Clash of the Champions specials, and WCW Saturday Night from 1992-1994, Ventura once again left his indelible mark on WCW’s product, and seemingly rounded-out his wrestling career in the process. It was during his WCW tenure that Ventura became inspired to run in the mayoral elections of his hometown, Brooklyn Park, MN. Ventura’s political win made headlines across the country, and once again solidified Jesse’s place in American pop (and now, political) culture. After his stay in WCW came to a (somewhat bitter) end, thanks primarily to Ventura’s in-ring and real-life enemy, Hulk Hogan, the resilient Ventura left pro wrestling (or was forced out, depending on how you look at it) for good. As had been the case some 20 years earlier, it was time for Jim Janos to look for new challenges. At first, a successful run as a radio talk show host served as Ventura’s new outlet.
However, no one could’ve ever imagined that his new career path would lead Jesse Ventura to the Governorship of the state of Minnesota — although that’s exactly what happened. Ventura had an open forum each day to discuss the issues on his radio program, and used it to his advantage. Taking an “everyman” kind of approach, Ventura seized every opportunity to get his message to the voters on Minnesota. After running a frugal, grass-roots campaign, Ventura, running on the Reform ticket, literally stunned the world when he defeated two firmly established political figures and won the Governorship. Not only that, a whopping 60% of eligible voters turned out to the polls, more than double the number from the previous election. Ventura appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the first wrestling personality to ever do so. His image was plastered on every available media outlet, and the confused, elitist press scratched their collective head. “Jesse “the Body” Ventura is the new Governor of Minnesota?!?” was the general attitude across the nation following his historic victory. Some called it refreshing; some called it a joke. The fact remained, though, that the trailblazing Ventura shocked the world when he won his election. A figure like no other, we at The Ring Chronicle are proud to induct this truly fascinating man — soldier, wrestler, announcer, actor, talk show host, and politician — into his rightful place within the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…