Legends of Wrestling
Monday Night Wars
Today’s Panel is: JR, Mick, Bischoff, Hayes and Lawler
This could be an interesting one. Ross gives a little background and goes right to interrogating Bischoff and says the start of the Monday Night War came when Lex Luger showed up at the Mall of America.
Oh but that’s not good enough for Michael Hayes. He wants to start with how Bischoff got the job originally. Hayes looks like he’s ready to fight but they back up. Bischoff said a lot of people were applying for the executive producer job at that time to replace Bill Watts. Bischoff said the WCW under Watts was hell and it wasn’t all Watts but most of it was. Turner was looking to fix the problem by changing bosses or pulling the plug.
Hayes interrupts and says the reason Bischoff had a chance to jump in this position is because Watts failed. He brings up Watts old school policies (no jumping from the top rope, etc. all of which is pretty much covered in the Rise and Fall of WCW DVD program). Mick says that he thought Watts failed with some racially borderline statements. Bischoff gets back to the point and he says he got the job because he had wrestling experience but he wasn’t a wrestling guy. He didn’t think he would get the job. Mick says he was shocked Bischoff got the job.
Ross tries to get things back on track and asks Bischoff how he convinced Turner to go live. Bischoff said he had a meeting with Turner about internation distribution and Turner asked him what they needed to do to be competitive with Vince and Bischoff suggested a primetime slot. Bischoff said had he known Turner would agree to it he wouldn’t have brought it up. Bischoff knew he couldn’t beat WWE doing what they did but he worked on being different and going live was the biggest difference.
(They show some clips of the first Nitro which had a Ric Flair-Sting match in which Lex Luger made his appearance. Bischoff did a bad job at appearing surprised and disgusted by Luger’s arrival.)
Lawler asks Bischoff if things could have been as successful if Turner offered another night but Bischoff said he had to go head to head. Bischoff isn’t sure if Turner had a vendetta with Vince but he was a natural competitor. He just wanted to be No. 1. Bischoff chose to make the Nitro debut while the WWF was pre-empted on USA for the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Hayes and Bischoff get into another confrontation and he thinks Bischoff and Turner did have the goal of putting Vince out of business. Hayes understood the competition but didn’t like the idea of trying to deprive people of paychecks to feed their families. Bischoff said he might have said that to rally the troops but putting WWF out of business wasn’t his goal, he just wanted to be number one. Lawler believes Bischoff and says that everyone wanted to win.
Hayes pushes on, however, and says that had he been in Bischoff’s position he might have felt the same way.
Ross says the reason people might think Bischoff is being a little disingenuous is because of the way he would give away RAW results, etc. Bischoff says he “pissed” and “buried” RAW whenever he could. Hayes said it was a good idea that eventually backfield but Bischoff disagrees.
Bischoff said he did whatever he could to get attention and create controversy. And he said that he had a better product. Lawler asks when did WCW have a better talent roster? Bischoff said during the hot period with the nWo and Lawler stops him to say that he says he couldn’t do what the WWF did but his better roster is loaded with ex-WWF talent. But Bischoff reminds him that guys like Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were WCW first.
Hayes says that the way they handled Hall and Nash’s entrance into WCW as some sort of invasion was genius. (And they show clips of it. I remember marking out slightly even though everyone knew they were coming in sooner or later.)
Ross asks if the talent defections, specifically Hall, Nash and Hogan, were the turning point. Bischoff said Hogan signed in 1994 and floundering a little. Hayes tells Bischoff to give himself more credit because he got the Disney thing and used Hogan as an anchor. (Hayes is being really bipolar in this episode.) Bischoff says none of the early moves had an impact until we went live. Bischoff said that nWo made Hall and Nash bigger stars then they were in WWE. Everyone agrees.
Bischoff said live is what brought the War. And Lawler says every war has a winner and a loser. Hayes adds on by saying that the fans were the big winners until the thing ended. Ross says the Monday Night Wars was the golden era of wrestling. Mick said if anyone watched the one-hour RAWs they would seem stale. (Yes and no. The first season when they were live from the Manhattan Center was TREMENDOUS. Once they started moving houses and taping things went downhill.) Mick said that Vince hated the idea of losing a battle and he responded to the challenge.
Hayes and Ross say while the WWF wasn’t necessary as close to going out of business as people thought but many had to take pay cuts to make sure the organization to make payroll. Ross added that he assumed the role as head of talent relations which included weekly meetings with Vince and together they decided they had to focus on new talent to rebuild the roster and re-packaging guys like the British Bulldog wasn’t going to work any more.
Ross said that many of his suggestions didn’t fit Vince’s vision of what a superstar looked like. He brought up Mick Foley and Steve Austin as examples. Foley being a journeyman that wasn’t physically appealing and Austin was floundering in WCW. Hayes added that these guys didn’t fit Bischoff’s mold either.
(How ironic is it that Vince is stuck in the same mold today of having a roster full of cookie cutter guys that really can’t get much a crowd reaction? But the couple of guys that don’t fit Vince’s vision of stardom, like C.M. Punk and Daniel Bryan, are quite over? Some guys never learn.)
Hayes asks did some wrestlers take pay cuts and Lawler brought up Bret Hart. Ross says that concessions were made that allowed Bret to sign with WCW. Hayes talks about the 1996 negotiations when Bret had the opportunity to leave and re-signed with the WWF. Hayes also mentions that Bret showed up to work late that day…(“as usual” Ross adds, but he still says he wishes he had 20 Bret Harts on the roster.)
Lawler talks about the WWE couldn’t afford to keep talents like Heenan and Okerlund but Bischoff says that wasn’t the result of the Monday Night War (and his is absolutely correct.). Mick asks Bischoff if not for the Monday Night War does he think there would be guaranteed contracts in the business. Bischoff says probably not. And Mick adds how he had a $1,500 guarantee from the WWF on his first deal (10 dates for $150) and two weeks later Marc Mero came in with a six-figure salary. That pissed him and Austin off(Austin had a similar deal, yes in 1996, Marc Mero made considerably more money than Steve Austin).
Mick says the turning point in the WWF might have come during a locker room meeting when Vince took blame and admitted maybe he wasn’t keeping up with the times. And with that you stopped seeing animated storylines geared towards kids. (Oh how things changed.) Bischoff points out that the attitude formula came from the nWo. He brings up the transformation of HHH from royal blueblood to a guy wearing leather jackets and grabbing his nuts.
Hayes says the nWo promo format with the music and the black and white was a work of art. Bischoff said it was more accident than attentional because he couldn’t get clean takes with Hogan, Hall and Nash.
(Clips of an nWo promo with Hogan, Hall and Nash and yes, it’s still pretty cool, 16 years later. Like if they could re-hash some of that style with 3-man band there’s no doubt in my mind they would get ridiculously over. Unfortunately the business cycle hasn’t gotten there yet.)
Mick says at a certain point during the 83-week streak that WCW dominated the WWF he though the WWF had a better product on Monday nights. He said around week 50-55 he felt like things turned but the ratings hadn’t reflected it yet. Ross said WCW was smart to hire the top-level smaller guys like Guerrero, Jericho and Malenko and those kids carried the show and appealed to the fans of workrate. And it protected the nWo from wrestling. Bischoff says with the exception of Scott Hall they couldn’t work. (Hmmm, Waltman could work in 1996-1997). Foley summerizes it that the WWF had the better main event matches but WCW had much better undercard. Bischoff said the WCW main event matches did what they were aimed to do in terms of fan reaction. Hayes said the lack of payoff hurt them as time went on. He assumes it had to do with creative control issues but Bischoff says that was bullshit.
Bischoff said one guy had creative control and that was Hogan. He sets Bret might have as well but Hogan was the one. Bischoff said he listened to a lot of people but one guy had creative control. Bischoff said for him Nitro was there to build to the PPV.
(Clips of Sting vs. Hogan at Starrcade or as Scott puts it the biggest missed opportunity in the history of the WCW…or something like that. Wow this is a horrible finish. Never seen this match. This was the best they could come up with?)
Ross brings up Montreal. Everyone knew Hart was negotiation with WCW. Ross asks Bischoff how serious the negotiations were and did he know that Vince was preparing to become a TV personality. Bischoff said they were serious and a lot of their discussions went beyond wrestling and discussed a variety of things. Hayes said Bischoff had a talent for talking to talent. Ross tries to run through the events but Hayes stops him and reminds him that a lot of WWE talent refused to work the next night including Foley. Hayes wants to talk about it but Ross pushes on (and good thing because Montreal should have been a show in itself and should have a DVD devoted to it beyond Bret vs. Shawn. Unfortunately some of the important people surrounding that night are dead but I would love to hear Undertaker talk about his thoughts and if he considered leaving…or if Austin considered leaving and why Vince cut Bulldog and Anvil but kept Owen. Lot of untapped stuff there in terms of how the boys in the back felt as this was happening and who said what to Shawn and Hunter.)
Anyhoo Ross asks Bischoff again if he thought Vince was going to be this great TV personality. Bischoff said he couldn’t see it at the time. Hayes said no matter who screwed who at Montreal he could not believe Bischoff waited so long to wait for him to debut. Hayes says he knew Bret well enough to know he would stall for time. Bischoff says there are a lot of things with that he wishes he could do differently.
Bischoff said that the move wasn’t just to take Bret away from the WWF, he needed more talent for TV. He needed brand name talent for this new show, Thunder, and he already had overexposed his talent on Nitro. So they were holding him to push his debut closest to Thunder. (Knowing what kind of show Thunder became I think he’s full of shit. Thunder was strictly more work for floundering Power Plant guys and used to push mid-card talents like Glacier and Kanyon. If the real reason of bringing Hart in for millions was to anchor Thunder…well maybe we do give Bischoff too much credit.)
Lawler still wonders if Bret and Vince came up with this plan on their own. Hayes says he doesn’t think so but only two people know. Hayes said the same rumors followed the departure of Russo and Ferrera. Lawler said he believes Vince and Bret came up with a plan. Ross said he believes Vince wanted to keep Bret in the company.
Mick brings up Tyson and how his involvement, starting with the Royal Rumble sent the WWF off to the races and where they finally unseated Nitro as the kings of Monday Night. And at that point both companies were doing great business. Mick asks was it more important for WCW to be successful or to beat WWF. Bischoff said beating WWF was more important and if he was number one the company had no choice but to be successful.
Bischoff said as the streak ended he was fried. He had help but not a true right hand man. Mick brings up that when Guerrero and Malenko came to the WWF they were shocked to see everyone dressing in the same dressing room. The Rock, Austin, all the “stars” dressing with the mid carders. Bischoff says one of the things he screwed up on was not keeping the boys on an even keel. He said Hogan started the separation from the rest of the boys and it ballooned from there. Ross said one of the first changes he made as head of talent was to eliminate the private dressing rooms. (Mick: “There were private dressing rooms?” Ross: “Yes there were Mick.” Foley: “Wow, I guess I wasn’t invited….laughter and awkward silence.)
Ross said wrestling companies that allow private dressing rooms are begging for disaster. Lawler said there is a pecking order but you can’t rub it in people’s faces. Hayes called Lawler out for saying he was the EPITOME of a private dressing room in Memphis. Lawler is like…well I owned the company. That was funny.
Let’s get to the Schiavone announcement of Foley winning the title. Man he’s a big asshole. Bobby Heenan ripping him on a shoot later was hilarious. Bischoff said he had a did that in the past and of course it backfired as Foley pointed out because there was a huge TV flow to Raw that night. Hayes said Foley’s victory was a victory for guys like him. Guys that didn’t fit the mold but had undeniable talent to entertain.
(Clips of Foley winning his first title from Rock. He got a pretty good pop for that one I’d say.)
Foley goes on to rip that Jan. 4, 1999 episode of Nitro saying how much it sucked. Foley tells Bischoff that it was mean spirited and the tone Schiavone used was beyond hurtful. Bischoff says it wasn’t. (He’s wrong, it was and Schiavone was probably blackballed from the business for it. Although it could just be because he’s a huge asshole and everyone hates him. Listening to Heenan rip his punk ass to shreds in old shoots is great.) Schiavone made an apologetic call to Foley. Bischoff said he normally didn’t produce Tony. He might have but normally he didn’t. But he’s not denying that he didn’t tell him to do it. Bischoff said it wasn’t personal, he did what he had to do and he would have done it if it was anyone. He doesn’t regret it.
(In a way I like the way Bischoff came off here. He doesn’t hide from that criticism. It would be easy to say he regretted it and apologized but in actuality all is fair in love and war.)
Moving on Ross asks Bischoff does he wish he focused more time on creating new guys like Goldberg than continuing to hang his hat on the older hands. Bischoff says the fact is that WCW did develop guys but Foley says none of them were pushed other than Goldberg. Bischoff says when the WWF turned up the volume and started “out-Nitroing Nitro” he had to try to push back.
(Clips of DX invading Nitro. One of my favorite moments of the Monday Night War.)
Bischoff said while DX was doing that he was getting phone calls demanding scripts months ahead of time as if they planned that far ahead (well in 1993 they used to tape 3 months of television in one weekend…soooo). And he was being told to make WCW more family friendly while WWF was going Attitude. But he doesn’t want to make that excuse because he admits he reacted wrong. He said he loved being a big shot. Bischoff talks about going to a meeting with guys he never met before telling him where WCW was heading.
They talk about Bischoff getting told to go home (he had a ton of money left on his contract so they didn’t fire him…and of course he came back later.). And Ross rips on Bill Shaw, calls him a liar. Ross calls the other announcers compared to him ‘ham & eggers’ (love any Heenan reference). Ross compares his issues with Shaw and being told to take a two and a half year vacation to Bischoff’s meeting with Turner’s folks. Bischoff said it sucked because he was getting his ass kicked and people telling him what to do and then busting his balls for it not working (gotta love middle management.)
Bischoff says he barely knew who Russo and Ferrera were and had nothing to do with bringing them in. Hayes tried a jump ahead to when Bischoff and Russo combined forces. Bischoff never knew they came into WCW because once he was told to go home he did just that and starting fishing. He says after going from his Wyoming home to a Super Bowl party he saw an episode of raw and saw the Radicalz on there and thought “what the fuck”. He told his wife he’d be getting a call from WCW real soon and it happened.
Bischoff said the discrepancy in the ratings were at least two points. They asked if he could work with Russo, he didn’t know. He knew Russo wasn’t the mind behind the resurgance of the WWF because if he was he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave.
Bischoff said when the end came he knew what was going to happen with the simulcast but he couldn’t bring himself to watch it. He wasn’t there for the final day. It bothered him a little because he cared. Jamie Kellner put the final nail in the coffin and Bischoff explains he had a deal with fusion media to try to buy WCW and they had raised 67 million dollars. He believed he had a deal done and told his wife that if the deal got done he would be back on the road. Bischoff was on the beach when he got word that WCW was selling the trademark and library but not the distribution and without the distribution the rest was worthless. It ends there.
The Bottom Line: Enough information and friction to make it worth all 96 minutes of your time if you’ve never seen it.