TNA Wrestling: The REAL Truth About WCW, Today's TNA, Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff
Saturday, March 3, 2012
WWE Bleacher Report
Is Vince Russo a genius? Can TNA survive without him? Is Eric Bischoff a creative Einstein? Is he the right man to lead TNA into the future? No, yes, no and no. It's time to end the myths and get real.
I started watching wrestling when I was a kid back in the late 1970s. Verne Gagne, Greg Gagne, The Von Erich's and Nick Bockwinkle were my first ambassadors on my way to becoming a fan of wrestling.
When I was a kid, I did not care about backstage politics—I did not even know they existed—because no one talked about that. We did not have the Internet back then, so every show was a surprise. Internet smarks—something I would later become—were not in our face 24 hours a day telling us how to think about wrestling.
Back then, ignorance was bliss indeed.
The terms "work" and "job" were words to describe a place you went to do things for money.
The word "shoot" was something you did with a gun, and an "angle" was something we discussed in math class.
Back then—long before TNA tried and failed to use it as a slogan—wrestling mattered.
I just enjoyed watching good versus evil unfold between the ropes with my grandfather by my side.
My grandfather—who would exit this world never knowing about cell phones or the Internet— lived and died believing wrestling was real. He would get so excited watching the matches that he would be on the edge of his seat wanting to find a way to crawl through the TV and get in that ring.
He hated Nick Bockwinkle back then with the same intensity that I hold for the likes of Ken Anderson and Mickie James today. He wanted to slap the taste out of that man's mouth. In 1988, while sitting on his couch watching wrestling, my grandfather suffered a heart attack and passed away still a huge fan of wrestling and believing it was real.
At times, I envy his once amusing innocence and playful ignorance.
I am glad he did not live to see what has become of the sport at the hands of men like Russo and Bischoff, two men who—despite what they want you to believe—are epic failures in the world of professional wrestling.
Russo is a total failure while Bischoff has some merit, but is now simply in the way, a victim of his own ego.
Russo recently parted ways with TNA, and fan reaction has been mixed.
It's only mixed due to misconceptions and a lack of education as to what Russo is really all about.
Some believe TNA made a big mistake and won't survive his departure. Others like me saw through Russo's facade of talent and know that this is the first among many steps TNA needs to make in order to survive and grow.
Russo is and always will be an illusion. Anyone who thinks Russo has value to wrestling is a victim of drinking too much tainted Kool-Aid mixed by Russo and poured by a section of misguided members of the Internet Wrestling Community.
Russo's "legendary" career in the wrestling world is built upon being at the right place at the right time with the right people—for a short period of time.
Vince Russo is wrestling's biggest charlatan. His supposed creative "genius" is one of wrestling's biggest myths, second only to the one that states Bischoff and Hulk Hogan were the reason behind the fall of WCW.
The most amazing thing about Russo, a man living off the fumes of a short-lived success, is that he managed to stay in the business so long with little to no talent at all while gaining the respect of no one in the process.
Let's get his moment in the sun out of the way so we can get to how irrelevant Russo really was.
Back in 1996, the WWE—Vince McMahon to be more specific—became complacent. The product became stale and boring and the ratings started to fall. Russo was part of the creative team that dropped the ball and led to WCW shocking the world by taking over as the No. 1 promotion in wrestling.
Bischoff took full advantage of the then-WWF complacency, as well as Vince McMahon's runaway ego that made him believe that he and his product were untouchable, to put the WCW past the WWF in the ratings for 84 consecutive weeks by utilizing former big name WWF stars like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to their maximum potential.
Vince McMahon, reeling from the unexpected and massive reality check from left field, needed to do something quickly. He promoted Vince Russo to the head of the creative side and gave him a green light to create edgy, raw, shocking and controversial stuff that would leave the previously family-friendly WWF a distant memory.
Russo helped bring Austin-McMahon, Degeneration and the Undertaker-Kane saga.
Bravo. But he was not alone in that creation.
The ascension of the Rock came from the pen of Russo and McMahon, but he was not the second coming. Many people were involved in that genius.
The attitude era has Russo's name all over it with a healthy dose of participation from McMahon.
He was part of it—no greater than anyone else—but McMahon was the genius make no mistake about that.
Because of that era, WWE took back control and never again relinquished it.
Russo deserves some credit for WWE's resurgence. McMahon was the one to put the ball in motion and McMahon had the final say in everything created and produced. There were other writers as well.
Let's not forget that while Russo contributed great ideas, they had to be executed by the right talents and approved and heavily tweaked by McMahon.
Russo submitted hundreds upon hundreds of ideas but only a handful was approved by McMahon and those handful of ideas, tweaked by Vince, pulled off by the talent and ate up by a audience that so badly wanted something different was the real reason why the Attitude Era was a success.
Russo certainly deserves some praise, but this legendary status that has been bestowed upon him, which he still lives off, is misplaced and quite laughable.The rest of his career stands testament to that.
Russo has been in the wrestling business as a writer for 22 years. He was part of the Attitude Era—his only success—for three years.
The remaining 19 years of failure paint a far better and more accurate picture of Russo's true worth to the business.
Since that magical time, Russo's involvement in wrestling has been a bust.
After he left WWE in 1999, Russo signed with WCW and tried to create lightning in a bottle by applying the same raw, edgy, overtly sexual tones—that worked so well for the WWF—to the WCW product in an effort to help WCW regain the edge they lost.
Without McMahon holding his hand and keeping things tight, Russo proved to be an undisciplined train wreck waiting to happen.
As a result of Russo's efforts, WCW all but abandoned the cruiserweight division which was—at that time—the best thing in wrestling.
WCW lost more talent to the WWE during this time than at any other.
Russo abandoned wrestling in favor of more angles, shoots and talking. It was Russo that over worked the shoot-type angles that eventually never paid off. It was Russo who put a wrestling title on a TV actor and then later on himself. Russo even tried to put the title on Tank Abbott, an overrated non-wrestling, MMA fighter.
That thankfully never happened.
Russo would make himself bigger than the talent roster by positioning himself as an on-air figure and feud with the likes of Rick Flair and Goldberg. He created stables like "New Blood" and the "Millionaire's Club."
At Bash at the Beach in 2000—a now-infamous incident—Russo swerved Hulk Hogan in a title match against Jeff Jarrett in which Hulk Hogan won the title after Jarrett laid down the second he entered the ring. Hulk Hogan—taken by surprise—uttered, "This is why this damn company is in the shape it is in, Russo, because of bullsh## like this."
Hogan left after that match, and Russo gave the now-infamous shoot interview live on TV berating Hogan, stripping his title and firing him on TV.
During Russo's time in WCW, the roster was just as talented as that of the WWE. Everything Russo touched while with WCW failed proving that his success in the WWE was due more in part to Vince McMahon's hands on involvement than Russo's supposed talent.
Without McMahon to rein him in, Russo proved to be nothing more than a mad hatter with a poison pen.
In short, WCW became the joke of the industry under Russo's pen.
Once WCW folded, Russo would later have a short, unremarkable return to the WWE before bringing his no-talent backside to TNA.
Russo's time while with TNA—nearly a decade—was marred with stagnant ratings, embarrassing and prolific sexual innuendo, poor matches, poor angles and fans chanting for him to be fired.
When Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff arrived in 2009, TNA ratings started to move, simply due to the name recognition of Hogan and the fact that there was no other alternative to WWE on TV.
There was no genius to it. It was simple fan interest to see what would happen.
During this time, TNA focused too heavily on Bischoff and Hogan—once again trying to create lighting in a bottle by recreating WCW. Bischoff and Russo all but ignored the TNA staple that made them unique, the X-Division.
Russo never again showed his supposed "genius" that he was given by McMahon back in 1996. The majority of his career—save that magical three year period as head writer in the WWE—has been a failure
And that, my friends, is what TNA has lost with the departure of Russo—an overrated, short-sighted, talentless hack.
Russo was a problem for TNA, but he was a contained and limited to writing and booking for but a few on the talent roster within TNA. The real problem with TNA is one that prevents them from moving forward as a company.
The biggest problem with TNA today is, was and never would have been Russo. Mind you, he did not help, and his departure is a good thing.
No, TNA's current problems exist in three areas.
The first is the company that owns TNA, Panda Energy. As the majority owner, PE controls the purse strings. They know nothing about the business. Unlike Ted Turner, they are not willing to invest what is needed to help TNA grow.
The second problem for TNA is Dixie Carter—the woman that presides over TNA's operations affairs. Carter—by all accounts a nice woman—knows nothing about the business and thus she is easy prey for the likes of Russo and Bischoff—both excellent at making themselves seem needed based on past, limited, one-time glories that have been exaggerated to present value.
The third and final problem for TNA is Bischoff—a man who no longer has the right set of circumstances he once enjoyed. Today, Bischoff is a over-paid, ineffective obstacle that is in the way of progress.
Panda Energy and Dixie Carter are two big problems that are harder to solve, given political and financial issues that go far beyond wrestling.
Eric Bischoff is an easier one to fix, if TNA only had someone credible in the company who would step up.
Unlike Russo, Eric Bishoff's resume is not as embellished. Bischoff's contributions to the success of WCW cannot be denied.
He simply no longer has the clout, the stroke or the value he once had as the business and the circumstances are not even close to what they were back in 1995.
Bishoff that convinced TBS President Ted Turner to heavily invest in WCW when Turned approached him in 1995 asking how WCW could compete with the then WWF.
Bischoff was the brains behind going live weekly. Bischoff was the brains behind signing Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Bischoff was behind the genius of the NWO angle. Bischoff started the monthly PPV. Bischoff signed talent from around the world, which made WCW a highly watched program.
Eric Bischoff, with Turner's money, was a genius in wrestling. He had vision because he had the money to dream.
Bischoff—unlike Russo at any point in time—was indeed the man back then.
That was then. This is now. While many fans blame Bischoff and Hogan for the demise of WCW, the fact is that such a thought is perhaps the biggest misconception in the history of wrestling.
In fact, it's a flat-out falsehood.
Ted Turner wanted out and Time Warner ended up in control of WCW, which at the time was doing well in the ratings even though the WWE finally regained control as the No. 1 wrestling promotion in the industry.
Time Warner execs wanted WCW to be family-friendly. Thus, they started putting major restrictions on what was acceptable on WCW programming. At this time, WCW started to fall in the ratings.
Eric Bischoff, whose vision led WCW to new heights, suddenly had his legs cut out from under him.
Time Warner reduced the budget, and all but forced WCW to abandon the real Attitude Era that they created and one the WWE would later perfect without being held to the same restrictions WCW was now bogged down with under Time Warner's mandates.
Eventually, Time Warner would remove Bischoff from his post and replace him with various executives that had no background in wrestling. These executives, much like Dixie Carter, were easy prey to Russo, who seemed to be a good call on paper.
His lack of talent once again proved otherwise as ratings continued to plummet.
Bischoff would return briefly—but in a role nowhere close to what he had when WCW was on top— only to leave for good shortly after the Russo debacle at Bash at the Beach in 2000.
Shortly after Bash at the Beach, Eric Bischoff and an investment group made an offer to purchase WCW. But as we all know, Vince McMahon ended up acquiring the company, effectively eliminating all his competition and killing wrestling as we knew it.
Make no mistake about this—Bischoff's vision started to show some age but Vince Russo's pen started the decline of WCW, Time Warner put it in a coma and Vince McMahon killed it.
End of story—end of argument.
Eric Bischoff would end up in the last place anyone ever expected to see him—working for Vince McMahon in the WWE. Where else could he go? Vince now owned everything that mattered.
Bischoff was successful in his on-air role, but really never had any power backstage or control over his character. He was nothing more than another product used effectively by Vince McMahon until he was no longer viable and let go.
He would later end up at TNA in 2009 and that Eric Bischoff proved two things at TNA about his value to the business. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and no single person is larger than the wrestling industry.
TNA brought on Bischoff to be the main in charge while Hulk Hogan came with him for name recognition.
Much like when with WCW Hulk Hogan's power was influential in nature. He had control over his character and thus—in a way—he had control over his opponents. He has the ear of Bischoff and thus his opinion's carried weight.
Hogan had no real official role in WCW, nor does he have any official power within TNA. Many blame Hogan for the fall of WCW (a bogus claim) and for TNA failing to move forward since he arrived (another uneducated assumption).
The truth about Hogan is clear. He had creative control over his character and that affected his opponents, hurt angles and held back talent. However, that is no reason why the scribes could not elevate talent in other ways. Hogan was influential and could kill a guy's career with a suggestion.
We get that, but that has nothing to do with Ted Turner wanting out and Time Warner strangling WCW's creativity.
Hogan's politics have held wrestlers back, but that has nothing to do with TNA's failure to build itself on an entire division, a lack of funding, marketing or taking the show on the road.
People need to think before drinking a glass of Kool-Aid handed to them from people with an agenda.
Hogan is not the problem within a promotion. He is at best an issue.
Under Bischoff TNA quickly morphed into a ill-advised attempt to resurrect WCW.
Despite his success in WCW one of the knocks on Bischoff was that he did not like the little guy. Bischoff favors big names when it comes to a wrestling promotion. Prior to Bischoff taking over, WCW the best thing about WCW was the cruiserweight division.
Bischoff pushed WCW crusiers to the side in favor of aging stars like Hogan, Hall, Nash, Savage, Luger, Sting and Steiner. Even before Time Warner—the real demise of WCW—obtained control over WCW, Bischoff's vision was starting to get as old as the stars he was pushing and WCW was starting to decline.
Upon the arrival of Hogan and Bischoff to TNA, the ratings climbed due to the name recognition of Hogan and Bischoff, but would soon fall back to previous levels once the novelty of their arrival wore off.
Until recently, Bischoff had pushed aside TNA's own version of the cruiserweight's, The X-Division, in favor of a decade older Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Sting, etc. TNA got rid of the six-sided ring, an X-Division creation. While the ratings climbed, it was not a result of this practice.
The X-Division is the bread and butter of TNA, but since it is not a creation of Bischoff's and Hogan had no role in it, that meant it had to be shelved in favor of something Bischoff could create and control on his own.
Eric Bischoff—a man that once had vision and money behind him to make it happen—rose in this business simply because Vince MacMahon took his eye off the ball long enough for someone else to make something happen.
To his credit, without Bischoff's vision while in charge of WCW, fans would never have seen the Attitude Era in the WWE.
That is a fact.
However, Bischoff benefited from the right set of circumstances—circumstances that no longer exist—and without the money behind him all Bischoff brings to the table is ideas that no longer work.
It's his lack of vision today that truly testifies to his legacy in this industry. Bischoff is incapable—or unwilling—to take that which already exists and use it to it's fullest potential.
Bischoff wants to be the man to save TNA like he was the man to save WCW, but he wants the ideas to be his as well. A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe existed within TNA prior to Bishoff's arrival as did the X-Division. Therefore, they continually get pushed aside in favor of Bischoff's ego to create something that pushes a company to the top.
Without the money behind him, Bischoff—like Russo—proves that he is merely an obstacle instead of an asset.
Bischoff has all the talent on the roster to make things happen in TNA. His ego simply does no allow him to act upon it.
The truth about Vince Russo is clear. TNA is far better off without a man that only has achieved three years of success during a 22-year career in the industry. Success that was basically handed to him on a silver platter and supervised and controlled by McMahon himself.
Vince Russo is a selfish, short-sighted, no-talent, one-hit wonder of a hack that runs away and quits when the results of his work eventually fail the hype on his resume.
Eric Bischoff was the right man at the right time with the right people and the right amount of money behind him. He has proven that without those things, he's just man that's in the way of progress and talent.
Dixie Carter is simply a woman that presides over a company that operates within a business she knows absolutely nothing about. This ignorance allowed Russo and Bischoff—each a unique stain upon the industry—to take advantage of her naivete.
TNA has taken the very first step—by ending their association with Russo—in its quest to survive and grow.
That is not even close to being enough to make things happen within TNA.
TNA needs to remove Bischoff and Panda Energy needs to sell the company—eliminating Carter in the process—to a buyer that knows this industry. Perhaps Bellator could buy it along with some other investors that knows how necessary it is to invest money in order to scout develop and sign talent.
They could take to the road every week, go live on Thursday's, develop another one-hour show to expand the band and feature the X-Division and the knockouts as the center of the promotion.
I'm not holding my breath, but I will just sit back, enjoy TNA when they reward me with A.J. Styles, Austin Aries and the X-Division—which is far more likely to happen with Russo gone. Until the other changes I mentioned happen, TNA will never be more than it is right now—the little engine that could, but for some reason has no drive to do so.
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