An Article by Mike Mooneyham
(Published in September 1999)
The times they are a changing. And nowhere are they changing any faster than the world of professional wrestling.
WCW personnel, still feeling the aftershocks from the Eric Bischoff ouster, got another jolt last week when the company announced that WWF scriptwriter Vince Russo was taking his crash style of television down South and bringing writing partner Ed Ferrara with him.
The rumblings are being felt all the way from Stamford to Atlanta. While no one’s quite sure what this will mean for the beleagured company, one thing is certain – there will be a major change in the WCW product as we know it. Conversely, with Russo and Ferrara out of the picture, the future WWF may also look very different.
The wrestling business increasingly has become a breeding ground for distrust and paranoia, and this latest move has only accelerated the process. Very few, however, are willing to make definitive predictions at this point.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The change comes at a period in which WCW is adapting to its role as a company in transition, with Bill Busch being elevated to vice president in an attempt to get the company’s finances back in order. With many of WCW’s performers already jockeying for position and “in the ear” of the new boss, the traffic is expected to quickly take another route with the arrival of Russo, who has been credited with being one of the main reasons behind the WWF’s resurgence and also has been one of the driving forces behind the de-emphasis of the in-ring product in the current-day WWF.
Russo’s booking philosophy is clear. His focus is entertainment over wrestling. He has stated in the past that he doesn’t watch Mexican or Japanese wrestling, and that a Mexican or Japanese wrestler could never get over in the United States, updating that belief with the warning that the Luchadores in WCW better be able to speak English and cut an effective promo or they will be history.
Russo, who isn’t fond of “the over-40 bunch,” also has predicted that the next big star in WCW will be Buff Bagwell, and the natural assumption is that he will work toward making that prediction come true. Also likely to get major pushes under the Russo-Ferrara booking regime are current mid-carders Billy Kidman and Vampiro.
Former WCW booker Terry Taylor, who recently was named the head of New Talent Acquisitions in the WWF, predicted that the change would benefit WCW.
“If Atlanta’s going to compete, they’re going to have to update,” said Taylor. ” It’s obvious that what they’re doing is not working. If he (Russo) is going to push younger guys, that should make the older guys have a reason to try and get in shape or push harder to keep their jobs. Complacency has killed that place – people saying I’m not going to do it (the job). Who ever told Vince Lombardi or Bill Walsh that they weren’t getting into the game? That’s what’s wrong with the business.
” The duo’s first real assignment will be tweaking the WCW’s Halloween Havoc pay-per-view on Oct. 24. From there, they’ll take over writing the WCW telecasts. Russo and Ferrara most definitely will test the Turner censors as they push the envelope with more hard-core angles and matches. Goldust and Val Venis were among Russo’s favorite creations in the WWF, and he likely will push for characters with similar traits in WCW.
Not everyone in WCW, however, is welcoming the change with open arms, nor is everyone saddened to see Russo leave the WWF.
Jim Cornette, whose old-style, Southern-based approach often clashed with his New York-bred colleague’s harder-edged, “less wrestling” creative direction, was one of Russo’s most vocal detractors during his WWF tenure and predicted last week that Russo ” will fall flat on his face” in WCW.
“He has no respect for the wrestling business or anybody in it,” said Cornette, ” and that’s going to be more obvious there where they won’t have anyone to control him. I think The Ultimate Warrior deserved the money he made more than Russo. I have always in the past thought The Ultimate Warrior was the epitome of a guy making money with no talent. Sable deserved her money more than Russo. At least she didn’t try to make the entire business a joke, just her part of it, because of her lack of talent.”
“He is a great self-promoter who has made all the Internet people believe he is a genius responsible for the WWF turnaround,” added Cornette. ” He went crazy with all the pressure and decided to stab in the back the guy who brought him into the business (WWF owner Vince McMahon) and take a big-money deal, which I’m sure they offered because they’re grasping at straws. He’ll be out of the business in two years because without the WWF organization behind him, he’ll fall flat on his face. They’ll pay him until the end of his contract, and then he’ll be done. He burned the bridge behind him and he won’t be back.”
Cornette said he wasn’t surprised that Russo, who didn’t have a contract with the WWF, jumped ship to sign a lucrative two-year deal with WCW.
“He knows he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knew WCW was desperate and finally realized it was time to cash in. He doesn’t care about being in the wrestling business. He hates wrestling. He likes entertainment. He thinks he’s a TV writer now, and it’s gone to his head. He’s got a head the size of Texas.”
Cornette said that Russo pushed his own interests by controlling the WWF magazines, for whom he was hired to write (under the pen name Vic Venom) and also the WWF’s Internet division.
“The guy had an egotistical flip like I’ve never seen in this business before. He was a manager of a video store. Vince (McMahon) gave him a job writing TV and writing for the magazine.”
Cornette said initially he tried to help Russo with wrestling protocol – “the way he talked to the boys, and the political stuff.” But Cornette claims Russo systematically worked his way into McMahon’s inner circle.
“His whole thing was to grab a spot, suck up next to Vince, blow off the kids’ softball games and the family life, and sit in Vince’s outer office for five hours at a time, waiting to talk to him, and knowing that nobody else was going to do that. So that means he’d latch on to Vince and be closer to him, and once he did that, then he systematically started trying to bury any body in his way. Some people who used to be friends don’t even talk to him now. One said Russo was afraid of him because he had ideas. He tries to keep those kind of people away.”
Cornette said Jim Ross was one of the victims of Russo’s style.
“He’s been one of the leaders behind making J.R. a buffoon. He doesn’t under stand why anyone liked J.R. and that Southern accent, and it isn’t even Southern, it’s Oklahoman. He has been a leader to make him look bad.”
Cornette expects Russo to use a similar approach at WCW.
“He will immediately suck up to anybody who has any political pull. Anybody who is a good wrestler but isn’t a clown or refuses to be one will be buried because Russo hates wrestling matches. He was the one who said, `Don’t let wrestling get in the way of the story.’ Anybody who is a great worker and doesn’t want to paint themselves red or blue, or wear a dress or do stupid stuff, might as well hang it up if he gets any power. For the Malenkos and the Luchadores, they’re all in trouble.”
Both Russo and Ferrara claimed last week that the major reason they left was because of the challenge at WCW.
“Obviously, he’s got the ratings now, that’s where we left him,” Ferrara said of McMahon. ” But with the talent roster we have down here, I think we will get up to that point eventually. We didn’t undertake the challenge to fall on our faces. It’s going to get very interesting.”
Ferrara said Russo decided to leave because he’d done everything he could at the WWF. Then Russo convinced Ferrara to join him in the WCW’s Atlanta base.
“We left for a number of reasons,” said Ferrara. ” One would be the challenge. It’s humming along up there (in the WWF); all the machinery is in place. They’re in a great position where we left them. Down here, it’s a huge challenge. We thrive on challenge. We saw what we could do in terms of how we could benefit this company that wouldn’t be as obvious up North.”
“The only way that this guy (Russo) would ever make a big-money salary at anything,” said Cornette, “would be because Vince McMahon put him in the wrestling business and gave him that spot and enabled him to be of interest to WCW where they could pay him more money. He couldn’t even go to the guy who did that for him in person. He called him on the phone at least a week after he made the deal. Some guys in Atlanta knew about it last week. He called Vince the night before TV. He was 60 miles from the phone.”
The WWF’s Taylor offered a different take and said Russo will make a major impact on WCW and speculated that Russo would be put in charge of all creative aspects of the company.
“There’s no doubt that Vince Russo will be in complete control,” said Taylor. “Could you have anyone else (in charge) in light of their (Russo and Ferrara’s) track record?”
Taylor, who ended his six-year relationship with WCW when he was abruptly fired by then-president Eric Bischoff, said the quest for power and control in WCW has seriously damaged the company.
“A title should be the last thing these guys are worrying about. The product should be No. 1. And I think that’s what these guys (Russo and Ferrara) will instill. People who are insecure and seeking status are the ones interested in titles. That place (WCW) is a mess. The patient is sick. Someone needs to heel it. Whether you’re a doctor or a nurse, it needs to be fixed.”
Taylor, who initially was hired by McMahon to help Russo and Ferrara write television, often tempered some of the WWF’s more bizarre storylines with his logical, “make-sense” booking approach. He easily related to Russo’s situation, since Taylor also was working without a contract when Bischoff canned him.
“It was the same thing that happened to me in January,” said Taylor. “Eric said he read on the Internet that I didn’t want to be there. He told me to get out. When I asked him if I had asked for my release, he told me no. When I asked him if I had complained, he told me no. Then he told me if I didn’t want to be there, to get out.”
Taylor, however, doesn’t believe that scenario played out in the case of Russo and McMahon.
“It’s not Vince’s (McMahon) style to talk to someone like that. He’s gracious. I don’t see him telling someone to get out.”
Taylor said the WWF will be hard-pressed to find replacements for Russo and Ferrara.
“Nobody can fill their shoes. Vinnie Ruand Ed revolutionized the business. I was lucky to have been there when Eric helped change the face of the wrestling world. And then I come here, and Ed and Vinnie were on the best part of their run. They redefined what sports entertainment was.”
Taylor admitted the WWF’s loss would be WCW’s gain.
“They are the two most prolific writers in the business. It’s going to be exciting. Ed and Vinie are a good team and compliment each other very well. Vince Russo is very strong-willed and opinionated, and Ed is very good about keeping things calm. They’ll do very well down there.”
Taylor said their departure took the company by surprise.
“We kind of got caught with our pants down. We’re just trying to adapt and improvise. There was never an inkling that he was going to leave. I work pretty close with with these guys, and they never said a word to me. Maybe not as close as I thought.”
Taylor also dismissed rumors that he was returning to WCW.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me they heard I was coming back to WCW, but I’m perfectly happy here. There’s no reason for me not to be.”
Taylor, who has been asked to sit in on the scriptwriting sessions and pitch ideas, added that nearly half of the 36 WCW wrestlers already cut or projected to be released have made calls to him looking for work.