Was Jim Cornette, Self-Professed Enemy of “Cosplay Rasslers,” Cosplaying in Plain Sight for Over a Decade?

There comes a point in many journalists’ careers where they come across a truth so shocking, so terrifying, that it threatens everything they understand to be true. These moments are what make journalism so important, so vital, and so exciting. I finally had mine, last night, when I saw Joey Janela’s Halloween costume. He was clearly dressed as Jim Cornette, a joke poking fun at his online feud with the wrestling manager-cum-commentator/pundit. The thing is, I recognized the outfit instantly, not as a Jim Cornette look, but as the iconic outfit of anime’s favorite gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin III.

A lot of people have a lot of opinions on Jim Cornette. This is not an article about that. I frankly don’t really care if he’s good or bad or what he has to say about wrestlers I love and wrestlers I don’t love. What I do care about is that this man dressed like Lupin III, who once stole Christ the Redeemer using a helicopter, from the 1980s through the 1990s.

Sure enough, a quick Google image search brought me to the conclusion that yes, some of the most iconic images of the tennis racket-wielding heel have Cornette wearing outfits that are shockingly similar to history’s greatest thief. But could this be a mere coincidence?

Jim Cornette & Bubba Rogers on WCW Saturday Night (1987) vs Jigen and Lupin in The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

I spoke with artist, Anigay founder and Lupin III expert Elizabeth Simins who confirmed that the selection of Jim Cornette outfits I showed her were all “obviously Lupin outfits.” Simins explained to me that, while Lupin was wearing a pink jacket in the 1980s anime Lupin III: Part 3, the green jacket of Part I and the red jacket of Part II were still considered, as they are now, the most iconic.

But would Jim Cornette, a 20-something wrestling freak who (according to Wikipedia) hung out at tapings so much they finally gave in and put him on TV, even know about Lupin in the 1980s? It would be tough, since Lupin the Third Part II and Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro weren’t released in the United States until the 1990s. Simins put it pretty plainly. “Anyone who knew about Lupin in the 80s was: a weeb. Or Japanese.”

Jim Cornette in Lupin’s signature red jacket and yellow tie in 1988 and then twice in 1995

I would love to believe that Jim Cornette was secretly trading anime tapes in the locker rooms of Mid South Wrestling. It is perfectly feasible that he could have been making the Midnight Express sit down with him to watch the latest Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam fansub he’d gotten. As much as I think Cornette, who has made a post-career career out of making people angry for profit, might appreciate the great Lupin’s many capers, it’s a big leap.

Still, I wanted to double check with someone who was watching anime in the 1980s. Artist and animator Daryl Bartley said that his first awareness of Lupin came around 1987, when he played a video game based on Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro. “I did get to see more not long after, once I got in with more friends who’d get tapes and fansubs,” he added. A quick search led me to the game in question: a 1983 arcade game called Cliff Hanger.

Cliff Hanger didn’t seem to have reached the icon status that fellow animated laserdisc arcade game Dragon’s Lair acquired, but it was made up of Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful animation, though clumsily dubbed over in English. The characters were all renamed. Still, the fact remains that, even under the pseudonym of “Cliff,” Arsène Lupin III, the man who freed Lady Oscar from her curse of immortality, had in fact crossed the Pacific into the American mainstream a full decade before Cagliostro got a real release here.

Could a young Jim Cornette, spending an evening in a video arcade, have played a bit of Cliff Hanger and been inspired? It’s much more likely than the tape trading option. A cursory search for Cliff Hanger also led me to discover that it was featured on a 1983 episode of the TBS gameshow Starcade. Even if Cornette avoided video games with the same fervor with which he denounces them today, TBS, the home of World Championship Wrestling, had to have been on his radar.

I reached out to Jim Cornette himself twice via Twitter for comment, but received no answer. He’s probably dealing with the fall-out from his latest controversy. This is a mystery I might never find a definitive answer to, but, like Inspector Zenigata before me, I’ll keep at it. I trust that the truth will one day see the light.