By Mike Mooneyham
July 20, 2002
– “The nonsense and perception of reality that Vince McMahon – a guy who has admitted using steroids to try to beef up what was otherwise a scrawny, frail little individual – is trying to create … I think when he wakes up in the morning, he looks in the mirror and still sees that 80-pound, bird-face punk that nobody wanted to play with.”
– Eric Bischoff, 1997
– “The best thing to happen to WCW was guys like Jim Cornette and Jim Ross going to the WWF.”
– Eric Bischoff, 1998
Professional wrestling makes for strange bedfellows. Quite possibly the strangest ever joined forces on a surreal edition of Raw last week when Vince McMahon announced that he had brought Eric Bischoff on board as “general manager” of that program.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]It is, of course, all part of an elaborate storyline that McMahon hopes will pump new energy into what has been cable television’s top-rated show. What isn’t part of the act is that the two mat gurus despised one another for the better part of a decade during which pro wrestling’s biggest promotional rivalry was staged.
That McMahon decided to pull the trigger and tab Bischoff as his go-to man has created a torrent of discussion throughout the wrestling world. “I never though it would happen,” said Ric Flair, whose WCW career was nearly derailed at the hands of Bischoff.
Neither did WWE talent chief Jim Ross, who was ousted nearly 10 years ago as part of a purge that ushered in the Bischoff era in Atlanta.
Ross, a senior vice president at WWE and former VP at WCW under Cowboy Bill Watts, remembers the days when Bischoff poured him coffee while working for him at WCW. Now the highest-ranking non-McMahon in the WWE, Ross would later claim Bischoff’s biggest contribution was using Ted Turner’s money to steal the stars the WWF created.
Bischoff continued to ruffle Ross’s feathers when he revealed several years ago that the Oklahoman once called him and asked for a job at WCW. Ross, who admitted that he had contacted Bischoff at that time in regards to future employment, stressed that both had agreed that those conversations would be kept confidential and off the record, and that by going public, Bischoff had betrayed a trust.
The animosity, however, between McMahon and Bischoff was far greater. McMahon would never publicly acknowledge that Bischoff, a former third-string announcer without a solid background in the business, was ever his competition, instead bestowing that distinction upon WCW owner Ted Turner. Bischoff, who contended that McMahon wasn’t the genius many people considered him to be, was a bit player, Vince would claim.
Bischoff, who has been credited with using Turner’s purse strings to acquire top talent and implement innovative measures, had interviewed for a job with McMahon, although McMahon would claim he never remembered meeting him when Bischoff came up for an audition in June 1990. “I talked to Vince for probably half an hour,” Bischoff later countered. “If he doesn’t remember it, perhaps he was engaged in some of his admitted chemical activity during that time. But I was there. He was there.”
The rise and fall of WCW has been well documented, with Bischoff playing a major role in both. Bischoff, on the verge of a deal that would have put him back in power in early 2001, was forced to suffer the ultimate indignity when he could only watch as McMahon appeared on “his show” – Nitro – and proclaimed himself the victor of the Monday night war.
Bischoff, who hid in a limo in a parking lot behind the arena prior his surprise appearance Monday night. revealed last week on the WWE Web site that negotiations had been ongoing for nearly a year through third parties.
“I just never thought that the opportunity would be there (or that) the timing would be right. And let’s face it: There’s a lot of bad blood. There’s a lot of history, and not all of it good, between Vince and myself, and between myself and a number of other people in this company. So to actually do it, and to come here and to meet Vince really for the first time in 11 years, all the while I’m 30 seconds away from walking out in front of an arena full of people, was a very different feeling and sensation. It was adrenaline, it was a little nervousness, and it was a lot of excitement.”
Perhaps Bischoff’s arrival shouldn’t have been such a surprise. He had first been contacted about a job last summer when the situation wasn’t nearly as dire and the WCW invasion angle was still fairly fresh. With the WWE now in desperate need of a shot in the arm following a number of botched storylines, the call to Bischoff seemed like perfect sense.
What didn’t make as much sense, however, was introducing him as McMahon’s ally. Unless the WWE creative team has a grander plan that has yet to be unveiled, and recent history would indicate it doesn’t, it appears that a lot of good mileage has been lost by not having Bischoff come in and reinstate some form of Nitro, especially since McMahon now owns the name and the film library.
Many in the company were still reeling from the shock of Vince Russo’s announced return just weeks ago, which prompted a flood of controversy among WWE personnel who had considerable heat with the writer. Ironically, one of Russo’s suggestions when he met with McMahon was to bring in Bischoff and have him lead an invasion of Smackdown.
The plan was revised to incorporate “general managers” for each show who would raid one another’s talent in a faux rendition of the Monday night wars. Stephanie McMahon, who was taken off the air earlier this year, was unveiled last week as the Smackdown GM.
Bischoff, however, initially won’t have any creative power, and his duties will be confined to an “on-camera talent.”
Since leaving the wrestling business, Bischoff has been involved in a number of other projects, but none with the notoriety and success he enjoyed during WCW’s heyday in 1997-98. Bischoff said that he has been working on a number of Hollywood projects, including one with “Survivors” creator Mark Burnett in developing a martial arts-based reality show.
– Perhaps the most revealing reaction to Eric Bischoff’s return was from Triple H, who told the WWE Web site, “I hope he doesn’t run us out of business too. His stuff was very innovative, right up until the point he went out of business. It’s got people talking. That’s good for business. A lot of people are talking. Believe me, he starts to screw up our product and I’ll be the first one to kick his ass.”
Triple H, however, didn’t win any points with The Boys with his pre-Raw pep talk Monday when he strongly encouraged the troops to turn it up a notch and work harder, criticizing some for not watching and studying all the matches at house shows and leaving early instead. Several road agents, including John Laurinaitis, Arn Anderson and Fit Finlay, led the “discussion.”
Triple H, who has been rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow, is expected to be back in the ring by early August.
– New NWA-TNA writer Vince Russo reiterated last week on a radio show that he hated working in front of a camera during his booking tenure with WCW.
Russo also took credit for the Steve Austin-Vince McMahon angle that helped propel the WWF to the top of the heap in 1998.
Austin, in an interview last year, said, “I think Vince Russo was good when he first came. He got to roll with one of the writers and had a lot of great ideas. But he got carried away with some of the stuff and turned it into complete garbage. I think he was only good in tangents when you could keep a rule on him and not let him get too carried away with some of that sexual horseshit that he did and went over the top with some of that … His track record was proven when they sent him up to WCW and gave him free rein and the whole place flopped. He knows a few little sizzling things, like in little tangents, but he doesn’t know how to book a whole territory. They proved that in his TV ratings.”
– NWA Main Event performer Chris Champion (David Ashford-Smith) suffered a stroke last week in Shelbyville, Tenn., and has been moved to a critical care unit.
Champion’s last work for a major promotion was with WCW during the early 90s under the name Yoshi Kwan. During the late 80s he formed a mid-card team with Sean Royal as The New Breed for Jim Crockett Promotions and later with Mark Starr (real-life brother Mark Ashford-Smith) as Wild Side.
– Billy Garrett, a top performer throughout the Southern territories during the 60s and 70s, passed away earlier this month.
Garrett teamed with Hangman Jim Starr in the Carolinas-Virginia area during the 70s as the green-suited Masked Marvels and the two were involved in main-event feuds with such teams as Nelson Royal- Paul Jones and Jerry Brisco-Sandy Scott. The two also teamed in Florida as The Medics during the late 60s with Dr. Ken Ramey and later The Good Doctor (Dick Dunn) as managers. Ramey later took the pair to Tennessee where they engaged in a lucrative program with another masked pair, The Spoilers (Lorenzo Parente and Joey Corea), who were managed by Gentleman Saul Weingeroff. Garrett later was replaced on the team by Tom Andrews (The Claw).
– The WWE has severed its developmental relationship with Les Thatcher and his Cincinnati-based Heartland Wrestling Association. Among the wrestlers cut were Mike Sanders, Steve Bradley, Race Steele and E.Z. Money.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies & Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown.