The rule of thumb in professional wrestling is that a successful character is based on a performer’s true personality.
That would certainly be true for “Jumpin'” Jim Brunzell, the babyface many wrestling fans came to know as one half of the American Wrestling Association’s (AWA) High Flyers, and later, the then-WWF’s Killer Bees. Brunzell is as friendly and personable one-on-one as he appeared in the ring throughout his heyday in the 1970s and ’80s.
Brunzell recently appeared with his former Killer Bees tag partner B. Brian Blair at Turnbuckle Promotions’ convention in New York, New York, along with many other past wrestling stars to meet and greet fans.
“There were 40 other guys there — a tremendous amount of talent,” Brunzell told SLAM! Wrestling from his Minnesota home, listing off notables such as “Superstar” Billy Graham, the Funk brothers, Bruno Sammartino, Ivan Putski, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Brutus Beefcake, and Jeff Jarrett among others.
In spite of the heat and congestion, Brunzell enjoyed seeing the fans and revisiting old friends he had not seen in years. The event reminded him of what he missed most about wrestling — the camaraderie.
“It’s always fun to see guys you haven’t seen in a little bit. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Highlights like he and Greg Gagne beating Bobby Duncum and Jack Lanza 30 years ago in Winnipeg and The Killer Bees wrestling the British Bulldogs to a draw in Montreal one 1987 night. Singles matches against greats Nick Bockwinkel, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Harley Race, and Bret Hart. Good times …
“I feel fortunate my career enabled me to be in the ring with so many talented guys,” Brunzell said.
These days, Brunzell is settled into his post-wrestling sales career and does not watch a lot of wrestling. He remains somewhat nostalgic for the wrestling of the ’70s and ’80s — “when wrestling was still an art.” What little he has seen in the last decade has not impressed him much. Brunzell noted his lack of enthusiasm for today’s product without any hint of ego or bitterness in his voice.
Rather than target today’s stars, Brunzell instead criticized those behind the curtains, believing their heavy emphasis on scripting every last detail of interviews and matches undermined the uniqueness of individual wrestlers.
“It crushes the creativeness in what a performer can do or say.”
In the ring, there might be scores of high spots, but very little actual storytelling, Brunzell said.
And as far as promos went: “You can watch 10 different guys and not know which ones are heels and which ones are babyfaces,” Brunzell said, pointing out the rarity of humble wrestlers putting over their opponents. Far from it as today’s interviews typically show a wrestler ranting about the hurt about to befall his or her challenger.
Another noticeable change that irked Brunzell was the lack of continuity in modern wrestling storylines, with the overall product sold to viewers seemingly changing week to week.
“They just throw things at you,” Brunzell said. “Vince is a brilliant guy but I don’t care for his intelligence as far as what he’s shown on TV.”
Although some fans have lambasted Vince McMahon for his more outrageous creative initiatives, he has demonstrated a single-minded doggedness in pushing through his ideas no matter what. That does not come as a great surprise to Brunzell, who reacted with somewhat bemused detachment to angles like McMahon searching for his illegitimate child or his getting blown up in a limousine explosion.
“Most successful guys in this business are huge egomaniacs. And Vince is one of them,” said Brunzell.
There is not a lot of love lost between Brunzell and McMahon. Brunzell admitted the two never along with each other from day one when Brunzell first came to work for the WWF in 1985. As a matter of fact, McMahon never much cared for The Killer Bees either, in spite of the team’s originality, (they were the first babyface tag team to use masks to illegally interchange partners behind the referee’s back), and strong fan support.
Those personality conflicts no doubt stemmed from the fact both Brunzell and Blair questioned McMahon’s authority on certain occasions, according to Brunzell. In the early ’90s, Brunzell hoped to land a job as an agent but instead was used to put over heels on TV and house shows. His last WWF match came in April 1993.
Although not parting on the best of terms, Brunzell still cooperated with McMahon in giving interviews for the WWE-produced The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD, for which Brunzell voiced high praise.
Brunzell is scheduled to appear at another autograph signing, this time with Gagne, whom he still sees once or twice a year, at an AWA reunion in Milwaukee in October.