INTERVIEW: Eric Bischoff [Wrestling Industry Entrepreneur]
Levi: First off, I'll just ask you a few questions about the tour that's coming up in Australia, that's in June. It's called "83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff", and it's a spoken word tour. Can you tell people what they can kind of expect if they're going to come to a show? Eric Bischoff: If I had to sum it up, it would be one part crazy comedy, and the other part, really interactive and informational. The wrestling industry, by its very nature, is over the top, bizarre characters, unique personalities. The stories that we all have to share, those of us that have been in the business, and lived the life behind the scenes ... the stories we have tend to be over the top, hilarious, crazy, and almost unbelievable, and it's always fun to share those stories. I certainly have plenty of them that I don't talk about on the podcast, for various reasons. I think that half of the show is going to have people cracking up and laughing, and having to use the restroom, and just having a great time. The other half of the show is a question and answer format, gives us the opportunity to kind of peel back the curtain, and talk about aspects of the wrestling industry that people have never heard before. Quite frankly, other than Vince McMahon, there's nobody out there that was as close to the center of the wrestling business than me. I love sharing that aspect. Because most wrestling fans, I found over the years, around the world, who are really what I call hardcore wrestling fans, are really interested in not just what wrestling is, but how. How it works. Why did we make certain decisions and certain choices? What's all involved in running a wrestling promotion? It's a combination of great stories, a lot of humor, a lot of fun, but the interactive part, the Q&A part of the show, is very much about the inner workings of the business. Every time I approach one of these shows, I think about it in two ways, there's two goals that I have. One is ... My first goal is to entertain people. I wanna make 'em laugh, I wanna make sure everybody has fun. I want them to walk out of the event thinking, "I never thought that a show like this could possibly be that much fun." I also want them to walk away with a better understanding of what went on during the Monday Night Wars, why we made the decisions we made, how we did certain things, and the strategy, and the tactics. Because it's a very fascinating part of the business for many people. Levi: For sure. The next question. I thought I'd go right back to the very start of your career and just ask you, when did you first realize that you wanted to get into the wrestling business? Did you just start out as a fan and work your way in with the promotions and build your way up to the top? Eric Bischoff: I never did. I never aspired to be in the wrestling business. I was always a fan of the wrestling business. But there was never a time in my life, or moments in my life, even brief moments in my life, that I ever aspired to try to get into the wrestling business. It really happened through a combination of unique timing and coincidences. I went into a meeting with Vern Gagne who was a wrestling promoter and producer in Minneapolis. I went into a meeting to make a sales presentation, and he was impressed enough with my sales presentation that he offered me a job. I went into that meeting trying to sell one thing, and I came out with a new job and a new career. So, that's how it happened. I never really aspired to get into the wrestling industry, it just kind of was thrust upon me, so to speak.
Levi: Your thoughts on Vince Russo and do you believe he was given too much creative control in WCW? Eric Bischoff: Vince Russo is a fraud, professionally and personally. He's a delusional, pathological liar. Beyond that I really don't have much to say about Vince Russo. Levi: Okay. I'll call that question answered then. The next one is ... I was going to ask you ... There's a new wrestling federation that's come out, it's called AEW Wrestling. I know Chris Jericho, it's got some other people ... Bad Ass Billy Gunn, some other pretty big names. Just wondering your thoughts on that as an enterprise? Eric Bischoff: I'm very excited for them. I think the timing is absolutely perfect for what they're attempting to do. I think that they're a very well funded company, they've got some very smart people behind the scenes, helping them to run the business of that wrestling business. People like Chris Jericho and Bad Ass Billy Gunn, and some of the new talent like Kenny Omega, The Young Guns, and Cody Rhodes. I think the combination and the profile of talent they have is just amazing. The fact that they're well funded. The timing is perfect. Because I think the wrestling fans around the world are looking for an alternative to the WWE, they have for a long time. No one has really had the resources to provide that alternative. I don't think the timing could be better. I don't think the situation could be better. I don't think the opportunity to be hugely successful has been as good as it is right now, since the mid 90s. I am very excited for them. I'm hopeful for them. I'm hopeful for fans that just love wrestling. Because it's been a big part of my life for the last 30 years. I'd like to see the industry survive, and prosper, and grow, and continue to exist. I'm sure that it will. I'm nothing but excited. Levi: For sure. Next question I have to ask ... one of my favorite wrestlers of all time is Mick Foley. I know he started out in the WCW. I guess, were you kind of surprised when he became such a huge name in WWE seeing as though he didn't really do too well in WCW? Eric Bischoff: No, I wasn't surprised. A lot of wrestlers that didn't do very well in WCW went on to do well in WWE. Keep in mind I came to WCW in 1991 as an announcer. I wasn't in management, I wasn't involved in creative aspects. Mick Foley was there when I got there. Kevin Nash was there when I got there. Scott Hall was there when I got there. Steve Austin was there when I got there. With the exception of Steve Austin, everybody had left and gone to WWE before ... WWF ... before I ever got into management. So, it was ... WCW was a struggling company when they hired me. They were a distant number two. They were a company that was losing millions, and millions, and millions of dollars every year when I got hired as an announcer. It was ... WCW has a history of being dysfunctional. It was no surprise that a lot of talent that left WCW went on to WWE and became successful, including Mick Foley. Mick Foley, I think, is one of the ... he's one of my favorite people in the wrestling business. He's a good friend. I have nothing but a massive amount of respect for Mick Foley. Even to this day, Mick Foley's a very successful ... he's on tour all over the world. He does a great job, he's a great storyteller, and a great humanitarian. He does a lot of good things for charities. He's just a good human being, and people like that tend to end up being very successful no matter where they go.
Levi: Yeah, I was just wondering ... I know you have to deal with a lot of wrestlers, have you ever had to deal with ones going through personal problems whether like Jake the Snake, drinking a bit too much, or Scott Hall, people like that? Do you ever have to mediate between problems in the wrestling industry? Eric Bischoff: The wrestling industry is no different than any other industry in that regard. There are people that work for the government in their respective countries, that have the same issues. I think there are doctors that have those issues, there are lawyers that have those issues, there are teachers that have those issues. Issues like drug addiction and alcohol abuse are common throughout any vocation or profession. I don't think wrestling is any different. Of course I had to deal with it, just like everybody does. Every situation is unique, every situation is different and has to be handled differently. It's just so common that I don't think wrestling is any different than anybody else in that regard. Levi: Definitely. The name of the tour, that's called 83 Weeks, and that's based off the 83 weeks that WCW was winning the Monday Night Wars, for awhile you guys really had the best talent on the planet. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Scott Hall, the list goes on. What were those weeks like where you were at the top, king of the castle, I guess. Eric Bischoff: It's funny, people have asked me that question before and I've tried, in the past, to reflect back and try to remember how I felt. The truth is, I can't. I can't remember it because it all happened so fast. I know 83 weeks is a year and a half, or almost two years. One would think that if you're not in the moment, if you're not in that process, if you weren't a part of that period of time, you're a fan watching from the outside, it's easy for me to understand why one would think, "How could you not remember what that was like?" But if you were in that moment, and you were actually in the business at the time ... I describe it as being on a treadmill going at about 15 miles an hour. If you're a runner you know that's really fast. So a treadmill that's going top speed, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for three and half or four years. That's what it felt like. When you finally get off that treadmill, you can barely remember what happened. It all happened so fast. So many things changed so quickly. So many things happened so quickly. The business itself changed so dramatically, so quickly, in such a condensed period of time, that it all ... it's just like one blurry memory. I remember it being exciting. I remember it being challenging. I remember it being frustrating. I remember it being the best time of my life, and I remember it being the worst time of my life. That's about as close as I can get to try to communicate to people what it was really like. Levi: As I just said before, you worked with some of the best talent, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Vader. Who were some of the nicest people that you worked with, some of your best friends? Who were the more difficult wrestlers, if you don't mind saying? Eric Bischoff: Ernest Miller, to this day, is still one of my best friends. Diamond Dallas Page, still a very close friend. Hulk Hogan and I are still best friends til this day. Booker T, Stevie Ray ... I just got off the phone with Stevie Ray about an hour ago, still one of my good friends. A lot of people. Sean Waltman, good friend. Kevin Nash and I are close. Scott Hall and I are close to this day. I've maintained a lot of great relationships from the industry, and I'm very appreciative of that. In terms of some of the most difficult people I've worked with. Bill Goldberg was very difficult to work with. Not because he's a bad person. Not for any other reason, other than he came in green, didn't know anything about the wrestling business. He was thrust into an amazingly high profile position almost immediately. That can be overwhelming for anybody, and it took him awhile to adjust to that. So that was very frustrating for him and for me. Eric Bischoff: Scott Hall, even though him and I are ... In fact, Scott Hall ... Of all the people that I've worked with, Scott Hall is one of the people that I have ... I know this is going to sound ironic, but I have the most respect for. Because he's had to overcome the most. We're close to this day, but during that period of time, he probably gave me more grey hairs than almost anybody. Levi: Next question I'll ask is just your thoughts on the current state of WWE. I think, as a fan, what I like about it most is I think the athleticism is better now than it's ever been. Probably one thing I don't like quite as much is, I find the story lines just really aren't that engaging to me anymore. Kind of just seem to fast forward to the matches these days. Just what are your thoughts on the WWE at the moment? What do you think they're doing right, and what do you think they're doing wrong? Eric Bischoff: I don't want to suggest I know what ... or I think anything they're doing is wrong. They're a three billion dollar company, that's more now than anybody could have ever imagined a wrestling company could be. They're a worldwide television entertainment phenomenon. I think it would be really hard for anybody to talk about what they're doing wrong. Now, it doesn't mean that I like everything they're doing, but there's a difference between what I like and what I appreciate, and what's wrong. I agree with you 100%. The audience ... A lot of ... What people need to understand is WWE will react to what the audience likes, and what the audience wants. For the last several years ... This has been going on now for probably five or eight years. The super high flying, fast paced, super athletic presentation of wrestling is something that the audience has reacted to positively. So, the WWE gives them more of that. Eventually, what people start to realize is, "Yeah, but the story lines aren't there anymore." It's very hard to give the audience all that super fast paced, high flying athleticism, and a good story. There's a balance, there's a middle ground between the two. When all of your emphasis is on the in ring action and the athleticism, the tendency is to not worry as much, or not emphasize as much on the story. Until people start realizing, "Yeah, but where's the story?" I agree with you. I'm one whose always, from the time I was a little kid ... Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I've always enjoyed the stories and the characters more than the action. I appreciate the action, and I enjoy it when I see it, but if I have the choice between great story and great characters, or great action, I'll go with story and characters every time. I think what we're seeing now is the WWE shifting and recognizing that they need a little bit better story structure because right now they don't have any. The structure and the stories are now an after thought. Any good movie, any good book, any good television commercial, has a three act structure and a story. I think what we've seen in the WWE for the last couple years has been athleticism and great action without any regard for story. That'd be my one criticism, but I'm sure that they're going to adjust eventually. Levi: If I've got time to just ask one more question is, I was just going to ask you about TNA because I know you had some involvement with that end for awhile. I quite liked it for awhile. It had great talent, I really liked seeing Mickey Foley verse Sting, I thought that was really cool. Just wondering, did you think it ever had a chance of being like a big contender against the WWE? Eric Bischoff: Absolutely not. The management, the owners of TNA didn't want to invest any money into the property. They didn't really want ... It was ... Let me sum this up. It was a vanity project. It was ... The ownership of TNA never took it seriously, and it was nothing more than a vanity project.
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