10 Things People Should Know About Jesse Ventura’s Wrestling Career
Over the years, Jesse “The Body” Ventura has been a figure known to people in various spheres. While he first started out in pro wrestling, enjoying 20-year career in the business as an in-ring performer and commentator, Ventura would soon branch out of wrestling acting in classic films like Predator, and then go into politics, becoming Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.
Because his non-wrestling ventures may overshadow his in-ring career — after all, he was never a world champion in WWE —many fans may not know much about Jesse Ventura as it relates to the squared circle. Let’s take a look about what fans should know about that aspect of his life.
10 Inspired By Billy Graham
Born in James George Janos Minnesota, the future Jesse Ventura’s pre-wrestling life was already storied, including serving in the Navy, a reported stint in the Mongols motorcycle gang, and even being a bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. After training from legendary trainer Ed Sharkey, Ventura debuted in 1974, and would become famous developing a persona of a bleach blond California surfer heel directly inspired by big-name wrestler Superstar Billy Graham. California also inspired his ring name, as Ventura is a city on the coast, about 70 miles away from Los Angeles.
9 Run In Portland
Like many of his contemporaries, Jesse Ventura made his way around the various wrestling territories before finding a spot in the bigger promotions. Shortly after his debut, Ventura would make his way to the Portland territory, where he’d wrestle for NWA-affiliated Pacific Northwest Wrestling. There, he’d not only capture his first titles in the form of the top singles belt, the NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion, but he’d also capture tag team gold on multiple occasions, establishing himself in a division that would define his in-ring career.
8 East-West Connection
As established, despite his California heel gimmick Jesse Ventura was decidedly from Minnesota, home of major midwest promotion American Wrestling Association. Ventura would make AWA his home in 1979, and form a tag team with future WWE star Adrian Adonis.
Because Adonis was from New York and Ventura was billed as being from California, their tag team was called the East-West Connection. Together, the two would enjoy a 329-reign with the AWA World Tag Team Championship.
7 Got His Nickname from Verne Gagne
Before AWA, Jesse Ventura had a variety of nicknames including “The Great” or “The Surfer” but it was in AWA that the star would gain the one that he’d carry for the rest of his career, becoming Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
According to Ventura himself, that nickname came from AWA boss/in-ring legend Verne Gagne, who wanted Ventura to imitate Superstar Billy Graham’s aforementioned California bodybuilder persona, as Graham had departed AWA a few years prior to Ventura showing up.
6 WWE Run
The year 1981 saw Jesse Ventura and Adrian Adonis signing to WWE together, where they earned a manager in the legendary “Classy” Freddie Blassie and continued to work as the East-West Connection.
Despite their success together in AWA, Ventura and Adonis were never able to capture tag team gold in WWE. By 1982, injuries would force the team to break up, after which Adonis would find another partner of disparate geography, teaming with Dick Murdoch as the North-South Connection.
5 Main Event Singles Star
While Jesse Ventura was primarily a tag team specialist during his WWE run, he was also no stranger to the main event scene. On multiple occasions he took on WWE Champion Bob Backlund but was unsuccessful in dethroning the champ during his near-six-year-long reign.
By 1984, Hulk Hogan was WWE Champion in a reign that would ultimately last four years, and Ventura was reportedly slated for a big rivalry with Hogan. However, health issues resulting from blood clots forced Jesse Ventura to step away from in-ring competition.
4 Officially Retired in 1986
Jesse Ventura’s apparent retirement wouldn’t last long, as he’d return to wrestling in 1985, wrestling his final televised match would be on the fourth episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event airing in early 1986, during which he teamed with Roddy Piper and Bob Orton against The Hillbillies in a six-man tag team match.
Ventura’s last match as a full-timer would happen in Spring of 1986, but he’d return to the ring for a one-off match at a house show in 1990, teaming with Roddy Piper against The Orient Express.
With his in-ring career winding down in the mid-1980s, Jesse Ventura began working as a color commentator for WWE, a role that would redefine him for many fans. In addition to working on TV shows like Superstars, Ventura would do color commentary for big events like Saturday Night’s Main Event and the first WrestleMania, commentating for many of WWE’s pay-per-views with Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon.
Ventura would be credited for innovating the heel commentator who’d trash the heroes and cause tension with the play-by-play guy.
2 Had His Own Talk Show Segment
It seems like, in WWE, any capable talker is guaranteed a talk show segment, and Jesse Ventura was no exception. His show, produced on a set resembling a gym, was called The Body Shop. Featuring interviews with Macho Man Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, and Terry Funk, among others.
The segments aired on All-Star Wrestling while the similar Piper’s Pit aired on the bigger WWE shows. Notably, The Body Shop also boasted a substitute host, with Don Muraco filling in when Jesse Ventura couldn’t make the tapings.
1 Legal Battle With WWE
In 1990, Jesse Ventura and WWE had a disagreement over Ventura making an outside endorsement deal for an ultimately unreleased Sega Genesis wrestling video game. Ventura departed the company in response, but soon found out that he was convinced to waive some royalty rights on WWE videotape sales based on false information.
Ventura sued the company over the royalty issue, which WWE ended up taking all the way to the Supreme Court. Jesse Ventura was successful in the legal battle, however, and WWE was forced to pay him for damages. As a result, WWE removed his voice from many video releases that followed.
NEXT: 5 Lawsuits That WWE Lost (& 5 They Settled)