Eric Bischoff's Foggy Memory
With the exception of Vince McMahon, and perhaps Hulk Hogan, there is nobody whose role in pro wrestling is more pivotal to what the business is today than Eric Bischoff.
Even though he last ran WCW in 1999, and left the promotion a second time in 2000 after being brought back, his influence is felt and quite frankly, may be felt forever.
On the positive, pro wrestling was a struggling industry in 1995 when a brief discussion between Bischoff and Ted Turner led to the creation of Monday Nitro and the Monday Night Wars. WWF was at its lowest point of popularity, unable to follow the 1984 to 1991 success built around Hulk Hogan. The American business was weak. Television numbers weren’t good. Revenues were way down from prior years. They were a much smaller company than today and losing several million dollars per year, a pace they couldn’t continue at much longer.
The only national opposition, WCW, which Bischoff was running, was a much smaller and less popular company that had been losing even more money. They were part of the Turner empire, but were very much the bastard child, with little cross promotion. The higher-ups at Turner Broadcasting wanted them gone, including an early 90s proposal to Ted Turner showing how they could just put movies in the Saturday and Sunday TBS time slots and it would be more cost-effective. At the meeting, Turner, the man who at the time made all the final decisions, told them that pro wrestling helped build TBS and as long as he’s in charge, nobody is to ever bring up the idea of cancelling it.
As Bischoff described the meeting, and his description of it today is identical with what it was in 1995, Turner wanted to know why Raw’s ratings on Monday night were higher than the Saturday at 6:05 p.m. ratings of World Championship Wrestling, the WCW flagship show. Bischoff said that WWF had the advantage of both going live and being in prime time. So Turner went to TNT and told them to clear one hour every Monday night in prime time. Bischoff was in a war with WWF the minute he got appointed to run the company in 1994. Everyone who promoted pro wrestling, whether they wanted to be or not, was in a war with WWF. But now he was in the biggest war of all, going head-to-head.
Just putting on a wrestling show with squash matches and interviews wasn’t going to cut it. Bischoff’s concept was to create a Monday Night party, with marquee matches with the biggest stars, music, dancing girls and out of the box concepts. On the first episode of Nitro, Lex Luger, who had wrestled the night before for WWF, walked on set and challenged Hulk Hogan to what at the time was a pro wrestling dream match between two huge names who had never faced. Although it wasn’t as big as their later matches, Hogan wrestled Sting for the first time shortly after on Nitro. Nitro got off strong and the battle between the two sides was pretty even. One week Raw would win. One week Nitro would win. WWF was still the stronger company, selling more tickets, but WCW started to gain momentum. It had a far stronger wrestling product and a wider variety of talent and styles.
WWF adapted by putting on stronger matches and the squash formula was rapidly evaporating. So much emphasis on both sides was put on the Monday night ratings that house shows were lessening in priorities, even though both sides at the time needed them to be healthy to turn a profit because there was little money made in television. Syndicated television, the shows on the local stations designed to build the house show matches in the market, which had been prioritized above cable because those were the shows that led to the house shows, also diminished in importance and rapidly became dinosaurs of the industry.
Wrestling went from being nearly ice cold in 1995 to being the hottest it has ever been, perhaps ever, or perhaps since the early 1950s. It was WCW that ushered in the boom period in 1996, when Nitro moved to two hours and became more of a weekly party, and Kevin Nash & Scott Hall came from WWF, and were joined by Hulk Hogan in forming the NWO, the most successful heel faction of all-time. From May 1996 until April 1998, WCW Nitro beat Raw in the ratings. By 1997, the gap was gigantic. Raw innovated, with the creation of a rogue atmosphere popularized by Steve Austin as the top heel turned babyface. It turned the corner in 1998 with the implementation of Vince McMahon, the promoter/announcer turned heel owner, and his feud with Austin, as well as the rise of acts like The Rock and DX.
While 1998 was a super successful year business wise for both companies, and some would argue the peak of pro wrestling’s popularity ever in North America, the seeds of WCW’s destruction were already planted. Creatively, WCW was starting to falter in early 1998. When WCW was on top, the mentality was always to live a week in advance, as shows were put together last minute and it was always about coming up with a new hotshot idea or match. There was no planning for the future.
Bischoff, with the vision to at least understand there was talent everywhere, put together the greatest talent roster in the history of the business. He had the older stars from the 80s like Hogan, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage and the Road Warriors, 90s stars like Sting, Luger, Hall, Nash and Bret Hart, the most talented wrestlers from Mexico, many of the best young workers in the business like Eddy Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rey Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera and Chris Jericho, and had ties to New Japan Pro Wrestling, which was also on fire at the time.
But they never planned for the future. The belief was that as long as they had Hogan, easily the biggest star in wrestling, things would always be okay. Bischoff had no understanding of the shelf life of characters. He did of angles, as I can recall talking with him just as the NWO angle kicked off in 1996, and he was thinking it could go a few months. My thought was it was a super angle and probably could be strong enough to last through a blow-off at Starrcade 1997. As it turned out, because of no post-NWO direction, the angle continued long past his original thoughts, and even mine.
In 1998, Austin had clearly become the biggest star in wrestling, the first guy to legitimately surpass Hogan since 1982 or 1984, depending on when you want to believe Hogan emerged as the legit No 1. And it was already clear The Rock was rising quickly. I remember talking to Bischoff and he considered both flashes in the pan, and said that where Hogan goes, so goes the money. WWF had already passed WCW as the hot brand, and when I heard that, I knew that Bischoff was now fooling himself thinking that as long as they had Hogan, things would be rosy, and he was still the key to the turnaround. Once, on a Tuesday, after the quarter hours came out and a segment with Val Venis trounced one with Sting, Terry Funk, who was still way ahead of the curve, noted that WCW doesn’t even realize that Val Venis is now a bigger star than Sting, and that the days of throwing the big stars from years earlier out there would turn things back around was over. That’s how big the gap had become.
Really, what kept WCW from tanking earlier was the accidental emergence of Bill Goldberg. Even while losing, interest in both sides was at record levels. While 1997 may have been the creative peak of WCW, it was 1998 that was the financial peak. In the spring, WCW went on a sellout streak so long that even WWF at its biggest never touched it. But it was while that streak was going on that I told Zane Bresloff, and wrote, that WCW was doing nothing to prepare for their future when Hogan was no longer the top guy, and the emergence of Austin was going to change the balance of power. But the Goldberg streak kept WCW strong, and even though it was losing in the ratings, the company peaked financially with three stadium shows, two in late 1998 and the third on January 4, 1999, built around Goldberg.
Goldberg was not a brilliant plan by anyone, even though all kinds of people over the years have tried to take credit for him. Goldberg was all about “the streak,” where every week, fans would follow the house shows and the TV’s and bring in posters with the legitimate number of matches Goldberg won in a row, building to going 100-0. Every time Goldberg would appear on television, roughly 500,000 to 600,000 fans would either switch from Raw, or just tune into Nitro, to watch him beat largely enhancement guys in one minute with a spear and jackhammer. They tuned in to see this jacked up guy do his ring entrance, cut someone in half, and slam him and get out.
Goldberg had already gotten hot when announcer Mike Tenay came up with the idea of the streak. Several others have told me it was their idea, not knowing that it was actually a phone call with Tenay and I where the idea came from, and it was not my doing at all. I got asked about the idea he had that he was going to pitch, thought it was a great idea, and we both looked back at old results to start it off with the legitimate number. From there, Tenay, Bischoff, Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan each week got the concept over, but it really hit immediately.
But Goldberg by himself wasn’t strong enough to win the Monday Night War. While WCW had the far better wrestling product, the perception went the other way. WWF’s main events were so much better, because WCW relied on older talent that wasn’t as good in the ring. Suddenly, WWF became the cool in thing. WCW was still fairly strong, but Bischoff was clearly self destructing in late 1998 due to the WWF comeback and the inability to counter. They took the edge off Goldberg. The first part was by lying about the streak and adding numbers, which killed its base of support. The second was by putting the title on him suddenly, without a chase, but still focusing the company around Hogan. And then, they ended the streak.
Live business was on fire for an aging brand, largely due to Goldberg. Zane Bresloff, a key player in the WCW rise and in rebuilding the company’s dead house show business, booked the Astrodome, the TWA Dome and the Georgia Dome within a one month period for Nitros, and marketed the shows around Goldberg and Nitro. The December 7, 1998, show at the Astrodome drew 32,067 fans. Two weeks later in St. Louis, they drew 29,000 fans, and broke the company’s all-time gate record. Two weeks after that, the week after the streak ended, they drew 38,809 fans to the Georgia Dome and again broke the gate record. Virtually all those tickets were sold before the streak ended. There absolutely was a Goldberg backlash, some scattered boos, some for the fake streak number, some from people who did want to see him lose, and some because the word got out that WCW was piping in added Goldberg chants on Nitro, which they had no reason to do and was the quickest way to make him uncool.
There was a famous story in Heenan’s book, where he Schiavone and Tenay were leaving the arena in Washington, DC after Nash ended Goldberg’s streak. Heenan, the most experienced of the three said, “It’s over,” that beating Goldberg at that time, when business was so hot because of Goldberg and the streak, was the stupidest move possible. Tenay, who had more historical knowledge of the business than anyone in the company, agreed. Schiavone told them they were both nuts.
Within a few months, business collapsed. The company that made $45 million in profits in 1998, lost $62 million in 2000, and was sold in a fire sale to Vince McMahon in the spring of 2001, for $2.5 million in cash and a promise to spend another $2 million advertising on Turner stations. Just over two years earlier, Turner Broadcasting turned down a $700 million offer for the same company, a decision which also exposes the big lie in the narrative that the company never wanted wrestling and always wanted it gone. They absolutely wanted their hands washed of it in 2000 when it was losing money when the company had become an embarrassment.
On July 6, 1998, the night Goldberg beat Hogan in front of 41,412 fans at the Georgia Dome, including many of the biggest executives in the company, they were the darlings of the company.
The flip side of what Bischoff contributed to wrestling, which included far higher salaries to talent, more well paying jobs than at any point in history, and kicking off the biggest boom of the modern era, is the collapse was more damaging long-term than the success.
The end of WCW changed the business in ways that are not only still significant more than 14 years later, but changed it in ways that it will never recover from. The end of competition had a gigantic effect on the fan base. Millions tuned out, never to return, as they weren’t fans of WWF for whatever reason, even when it was producing its strongest overall product ever in 2000. For talent, it was even worse. There was no one place to go, and they had a very limited vision on style and what could work on top. And for a generation of fans growing up, they only knew one product.
Instead of the fans of pro wrestling of the 80s, that were dwindling, you had the WWF fans who, from when WCW became uncool in 1998 and 1999, were loyal to the brand and not interested in any other brand. Plus, as the economics changed, it became more about things like the look of the product. Nobody could compete with WWF, whether they had better wrestlers, better matches or better interviews unless they could spend the money on production WWF could. TNA was created with the idea of bringing back those WCW fans, but they were gone. An innovative product like Lucha Underground got scary little traction and interest, even with heavily advertising on Raw, simply because it wasn’t WWE. NXT became hotter with no television at all, in many ways because it was new guys who were WWE.
WWE has created a narrative of the Monday Night Wars, pushed even harder by a series with their version of history on the Network. The accuracy and simplicity of the series was laughable.
In the WWE version, Vince McMahon, the brilliant leader with limited financial resources, was forced to take on Ted Turner, who owned television networks, and was determined to put him out of business. By stealing Vince’s talent, since they couldn’t make talent of their own, they had Vince against the ropes. But Vince, through superior understanding of the fans, fought back, created a new generation of talent while they were stuck with the older generation, made himself a character, came up with The Rock, Stone Cold and DX, they sent a tank to a live Nitro (a cool idea but one that really had nothing to do with the big picture) and beat Turner, who ended up going out of business.
The Bischoff version was significantly more honest, but not without significant flaws. In his version, they were riding high, and then the AOL/Turner/Time Warner merger happened. Even though wrestling was on fire, they didn’t like wrestling and wanted it gone. So he came up with the idea to buy it, had a deal in place, and then Jamie Kellner, hired to run all the Turner networks, decided to cancel wrestling. With no television outlet, the product was worthless and they backed out of the deal, and WCW was sold in the fire sale to McMahon.
But history doesn’t back up Bischoff either. The Turner/Time Warner merger took place in late 1996. While WCW was already on the ascent, it would not peak for nearly two years after that. The AOL merger took place in January, 2001, long after the value of the brand had been destroyed by presenting the worst product any major wrestling company ever produced. Nobody from corporate wrote the horrible wrestling shows that drove fans away from the product or booked the house shows that caused audiences to leave upset and not wanting to come back.
The fact Bischoff continually talked about the AOL merger as his crutch for the real story in his interview with John Layfield was actually laughable. The hiring of Kellner, after the merger, was the sword that killed WCW dead, in the sense Bischoff’s new Fusient Company would have otherwise had a crack at starting up with a new company using the brand name in 2001. And my feeling is the Bischoff in early 2001 was very different from 1998, in the sense he could clearly see many things that went wrong. Still, the brand was damaged and WWF was strong. The moves Bischoff was planning had he gotten control in 2001 were the right moves, but even so, the odds were still against his being able to turn a profit. It would have required a product built around stars from the just having died ECW like Rob Van Dam, Don Callis, Joey Styles, and younger WCW talent like Sean O’Haire and Chuck Palumbo, along with people like the damaged Goldberg, to be catalyst of a major turnaround. The fact is, we’ll never know what would have happened had Bischoff got the chance at that time.
What killed WCW was inept creative, bad television and outright arrogance. There has never been a worse weekly television product than WCW in early 1999, and every aspect of business was falling fast. That was due to creative, and a reputation the company was getting for screwing people on house shows with no-shows of major stars advertised. Plus, they were going with a pat hand too long and made a joke of their world title, at a time when that still meant a lot, with the one finger touch finish where Nash laid down for Hogan at a time when Hogan really had run his course as a guy you should build weekly television around, and beating Goldberg which really had propped up an otherwise messed up brand as WWF exploded in late 1998. What made the fall even quicker was WWF had created new stars and had become the hot brand, but WCW would have killed its business whether WWF was hot or not. What also led to the huge losses were that WCW signed talent to huge multi-year contracts counting on the $225 million per year in revenues that came in during 1998. But when revenues fell to $125 million in 2000, the huge talent contracts were now choking them to death.
Bischoff, the guy whose role was downplayed in the documentary because Vince McMahon in a battle to the death with Ted Turner made for a better story, was brought back to give his side with a two-part interview with Layfield, which was a mix of some good insight, some bad memories, some interesting new items that had not been publicly talked about, and some intellectual dishonesty as well.
From his questions, it appeared Layfield’s prep work was to read Bischoff’s autobiography, “Controversy Creates Cash,” a 2006 release by the WWE. Because it was a WWE release, the book felt to me that Bischoff pedaled very softly against WWE as compared to what he would write in an independent book. The book was also very high on the B.S. level. At the time, I did two long articles on inaccuracies and realized at that point I had still only scratched the surface. Most who were around WCW during the era dismissed much of the book as fiction. While there was both good and bad in it, at the end, my thoughts were what was bad memory and what was outright dishonesty. So while Layfield really did a good job based on reading the book, because that was his prime resource past his working knowledge of the industry, he was coming in with a very skewed version.
Layfield praised Bischoff for changing the industry, creating the greatest era ever (and Bischoff was the one who ushered it in), and those changes led to Stone Cold, DX, and live Monday night wrestling, and that his decline was that he was the victim of a corporate merger, a statement as accurate as the crutch used for the death of Jim Crockett Promotions being due to a bad accountant. Not to mention that WWF had started live Monday night wrestling in 1993, although it wasn’t live every week until the company’s economic turnaround in 1998.
Bischoff attributed his success to being good and lucky, and that timing is everything. They noted that Bischoff had a WWF tryout as an announcer in 1990, as the AWA was going down, and wasn’t hired. He was described in WWE-speak as a “sports entertainment fan” who grew up in Detroit watching the Sheik, moved to Pittsburgh and saw Bruno Sammartino, and ended up growing up in Minneapolis, where Verne Gagne was the top star. He was apparently a good enough high school wrestler to compete in an international meet against a team from Sweden, but claimed a 1973 knee injury ended his wrestling days. But as an amateur wrestler, he met Gagne, who often came to amateur meets in the era.
He brought up meeting Sonny Onoo, who later was his Japanese business liaison and later worked as a stereotypical manager–his own concept–in WCW, and later spearheaded a successful lawsuit against WCW for racial discrimination. He met Onno in the 80s and came up with the idea of a Ninja Star Wars product that he sold Gagne on helping promote. Then, when it was TV day and the regular announcer was gone, since he was a nice looking guy and happened to be there, he did the interviews.
“I sucked,” he said, and everyone figured that would be his first and last time on a wrestling television show. He noted he was so bad it took eight hours to do the interviews that usually took two hours. But when they needed a new interviewer, the next guy they hired “sucked worse than I did.”
So he was now working for Gagne. Layfield, who was actually trained himself first in Minnesota by Brad Rheingans, asked if Gagne was stuck in the past, which he admitted that he didn’t know then but does know now. He said Gagne didn’t think WWF would sustain itself but he was operating in an outdated world with an outdated model and could no longer compete, and was too stubborn to admit it. But he said while learning the business under Gagne, not knowing any better, he also believed that Vince McMahon was killing the business and ruining it for everybody.
“You can imagine as a young man working with the guy I respected immensely in Verne Gagne, his point of view was everything to me. I took it as gospel.”
Layfield talked about how McMahon put the smaller territories out of business, even though McMahon likes to claim they put themselves out of business.
Layfield said that McMahon bought Georgia Championship Wrestling from Jim Crockett, but then sold it back to Crockett, and with the money Crockett paid him, that Crockett claimed he helped finance the first WrestleMania.
Of course, Crockett had zero stock in GCW, and it was the stock of Jack & Jerry Brisco, along with Jim Oates (who backed Jim Barnett, who had been forced out of power by Ole Anderson a couple of years earlier) and Paul Jones (not the wrestler but the old Atlanta promoter) that McMahon bought, without any knowledge at all of Anderson, who was running the company at the time. David Crockett was the one who said the $1 million that the Crocketts paid Vince for the TBS time slot in early 1985 financed the first Mania. It is known that McMahon was way behind in paying debt to the a number of people including television stations (McMahon’s expansion was based on buying television time in local markets, often the traditional time slot of the existing promotion, by paying the station, the same strategy popularized by his Director of Operations, Barnett, in the 50s when he expanded). An infusion of cash from Crockett and New Japan led to those debts being paid off at the time the first WrestleMania was in the planning stages.
Bischoff admitted he never knew that part of history. When McMahon purchased GCW, he took over the most-watched pro wrestling time slot in the country in the summer of 1984. It was a few years earlier essentially the NWA flagship show. Atlanta had been a hotbed, using not only its own local talent, but bringing in top stars from Florida, the Carolinas and other groups for big Omni shows. The wrestlers on the Omni shows would also appear on WTCG, which later became TBS. But ratings declined and viewers complained about not getting to see the wrestlers they were familiar with, as well as announcer Gordon Solie. Turner also wanted McMahon to tape the shows live in Atlanta, as opposed to sending in arena tapes of matches, many of which also aired in syndication or on the USA Network. Turner infuriated McMahon by adding Anderson’s new Championship Wrestling from Georgia, with Solie, to TBS, although it was on so early Saturday morning that it had limited viewership. But then Turner added Bill Watts’ Mid South Wrestling, which averaged a 5.3 rating, far better than WWF was getting. Watts and Turner had a verbal deal to become business partners and run nationally in 1985. McMahon, seeing he was about to be kicked off the station, sold the time slot to Crockett for $1 million, and given that Crockett had stars the station’s fan base were familiar with, notably Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Ric Flair and The Road Warriors, and were also going to take over Championship Wrestling from Georgia, Turner instead went with them.
McMahon always stated there is a grudge against him from the 1984-85 period, with Turner, but Bischoff said he never even knew that history, it never came up the entire time he was there. He said McMahon only came up once in a conversation he had with Turner, which was the 1995 conversation that led to Nitro, when Turner asked Bischoff “What do we need to do to become competitive?” and Bischoff said a live prime time show like they have. It was Turner, not Bischoff, who came up with the idea of putting that show on in the same time slot.
Most in wrestling thought that was nuts. Wrestling was losing popularity and at a low point as is, and now by putting two shows head-to-head, you would be splitting the audience. The pressure forced Bischoff and the people with him, to innovate, because if they presented the same style wrestling show, that’s what would have happened and they’d have been on the losing end.
Bischoff said it never came off to him like Turner had a grudge against McMahon, and that he rarely spoke to Turner the entire time he was running WCW, saying he may bump into him briefly at a Christmas party, a corporate event or occasionally they were in the same elevator since they operated out of the same office.
But he did say that until early 1998, whatever moves he made, he knew he’d have Turner’s support, but after Turner lost power, he didn’t have that card to play.
Jim Herd, who ran WCW from late 1988 to January 1992, was mocked for creating the tag team the Ding Dongs, which was a pretty bad idea. Layfield claimed Herd was the first guy to offer guaranteed contracts to talent, which wasn’t the case, as McMahon (for Hogan and I believe the Rougeaus), Watts, Crockett and the Japanese promotions all did so long before Herd.
Bischoff brought up Watts, who was put in charge of WCW in 1992 and 1993, saying he didn’t like Watts.
“We didn’t interact very often, but I watched how he treated their people. He was a bully. He reminded me of the big kid in school who thought he was a wimp, but was going to convince people he wasn’t. I saw him do some insane things, crude and rude.”
Bischoff noted Watts was fired (technically Watts quit about a second before he was going to get fired) for making racist remarks, which was actually from an interview he did with the Pro Wrestling Torch before he was even hired, that Mark Madden faxed to Hank Aaron. From the day Watts was hired, that interview was always a smoking gun that was going to get him at some point. Phil Mushnick of the New York Post was about to break that story nationally when Watts quit.
Bischoff was hired shortly after that. It was portrayed that Watts was fired and Bischoff was next in charge, but it was actually Sharon Sidello, at the time the girlfriend of Ole Anderson, who was put in charge, and Bischoff came next.
Layfield said that Bischoff fired Jim Ross, which Bischoff had claimed for years, but wasn’t true. Now that Bischoff and Ross are on good terms, he no longer claims it. Layfield presented it like Ross claimed Bischoff fired him and Bischoff explained the story, but Ross’ story about his departure from WCW has been consistent from day one.
Ross was the protégé of Watts, and when Watts was gone, he got shot in the crossfire. Bischoff said he and Bill Shaw didn’t want Ross as announcer, feeling he was too Southern for a promotion that wanted to be national, a charge always labeled at Ross which is hilarious in hindsight given he was the announcer when WWF was at its strongest. Ross had a contract so he was moved into a job in ad syndication sales. Ross’ contract was as an announcer so Ross, feeling he could get out of his contract because it was being breached, struck a deal with McMahon. Ross at the time had a popular radio show on WSB in Atlanta, the top rated station in the market, where he’d talk wrestling, mostly WCW. I believe a key in Ross getting the job was that he announced his WWF signing with McMahon on what WCW considered their own radio show. But everyone around then knew that Bischoff made the call to replace Ross as an announcer, even though Ross was clearly the best announcer the company had at the time, and Ross brokered his deal to leave. Bischoff on the show portrayed it as that he knew Ross wouldn’t be happy working in ad syndication and would complain and get everyone down that worked with him, so when Ross asked for his release, he okayed it.
“It wasn’t my goal to get rid of JR. I didn’t want him gone. I didn’t want him in the same role. I didn’t see him as the lead announcer on our lead programming.”
Bischoff went back to the narrative that Ross claimed he fired him, when it was Bischoff who was the one who originally said that and Ross denied it.
“I know why he was saying that I knew he was bitter, but I also knew it wasn’t true.”
What was true and not talked about is that when McMahon fired Ross the first time, after his first bout with Bell’s Palsy, Ross, when he recovered, attempted to get a job in WCW, and Bischoff made it very clear he wouldn’t even consider the idea.
Layfield said, and this was out of Bischoff’s book, that under Watts, the company lost $10 million. Actually Watts cut losses down to $500,000 by slashing spending left and right, but attendance and ratings were still falling. Watts said when he was hired, his directive was to cut costs and keep losses down. He’s said if he was told he could spend money and try to compete, he’d have done that. Even so, Watts was the guy who brokered the deal to bring Flair back from WWF in 1993, but was gone before Flair got there. Watts pulled off that deal by airing classic Flair matches from the past, which drew far higher ratings than the current product was doing, which made executives realize his value.
It also should be noted that under Herd, when the company lost about $6 million per year, and even through Watts, the company didn’t directly derive income from television. The idea was still from the old days, that you produced television and gave it to the station, and in return, you made your money mainly selling tickets to live events, and later, on PPV shows. And under Herd, the PPV revenue was split between Turner Home Entertainment and WCW, so they didn’t even get all of that money either. Bischoff was able to convince the higher-ups that they were providing highly rated programming and should be paid for it, so the company would pay $8 million per year for all the hours of television. If the others in charge had been able to do that, WCW would have been profitable in those early years.
Layfield kept going back to the idea that Bischoff took a company grossing $24 million per year and losing $10 million to one that grossed $350 million and made $40 million. If you look at WCW business in 1993, or even 1995, and compare it to 1998, the growth was astounding. That said, the $320 million figure was exaggerated, likely because WWF had grossed $456 million in its best year, and by comparison, WCW’s $225 million didn’t look as impressive as it really was in 1998.
When talking about the first episode of Nitro in 1995, held at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Bischoff said the site was chosen because they couldn’t sell tickets to an arena. While house show business was still weak, the reality is that every Nitro except the first one was in an arena. I can’t say the Mall of America wasn’t Bischoff’s idea, although it was first broached to me months earlier by Bresloff, whose idea was to make Nitro different by trying to do shows in new locations. Bresloff would regularly go to me with his ideas and the ones that I didn’t think would work would die, and the ones I liked he went to Bischoff with. The Mall of America had a lot of buzz, and as Bischoff said, it wouldn’t take a lot of people to make it look full. Given that it was in Minneapolis, a market both Bischoff and Bresloff were very familiar with, it was likely a collaborative idea.
Then they talked about Luger’s appearance. Bischoff, for whatever reason, had always claimed they didn’t spend a lot of money on Luger to get him to jump, and that he really didn’t even want Luger, but hired him as a favor to Sting. In the past, Bischoff had claimed he only offered Luger $150,000 per year, which made little sense since he would have been making far more than that even as bad off as WWF pay was at the time. But Bischoff said that he never envisioned Luger showing up on the first episode having the effect it did.
“In retrospect it was a really smart move. I didn’t do it as a smart move. I hired Lex as a courtesy to Sting, who I had a lot of respect for. I didn’t have a lot of respect for Lex. I didn’t look at him as a big asset and a WWE star. It was a great way to use him, but I didn’t realize how big it was. When we went right to Hulk vs. Lex, I knew it was a good idea but didn’t realize the kind of impact it had at the time.”
For whatever it’s worth, we were told at the time that Luger got $450,000 to jump, which was considerably more than WWE was paying him at the time.
Pay records from a lawsuit against WCW showed that in Luger’s first year with the company, 1996, he earned $444,000, $721,000 in 1997, $831,000 in 1998, $1,372,000 in 1999 and $1,378,000 in 2000.
“We didn’t ago after anyone in WWE, despite the nuclear narrative,” he said.
That’s not true, as they were going after people all the time. Both sides were.
Layfield said that Arn Anderson said that WCW never built stars, they stole stars, and how WCW missed on HHH and Mick Foley.
“It’s a fair question, but it’s not. I will say other than Bill Goldberg and a small handful of others, I didn’t organically create stars that nobody had ever heard of before. I’ll also say I took talent like Hall and Nash, who didn’t start in WWE, they were stars in WCW first, they became bigger stars in WWE when they came back, and I gave them fresh characters and created characters with them, for example, the NWO. It’s fair to say I didn’t find someone working in a library and made them a star. HHH was a journeyman when he came. He wasn’t the HHH he became. Mick Foley had been in WCW. He was determined to throw himself off four story balconies, which is why I parted ways with him. I thought he was a horrible risk to himself, to his family, and a financial liability.”
Hall was actually first a star years earlier in the AWA, where Gagne tried to make him into a new Hulk Hogan, which didn’t come close to happening. His career was just about dead after leaving the AWA, although was used in a midcard role for a while in New Japan. WCW brought him back and made him The Diamond Studd, creating the look of the character, but sans the accent and Cuban gangster persona that he used in WWF as Razor Ramon, where he became a far bigger star. Nash was discovered by WCW because he was huge bodybuilder bouncer at a strip club in Atlanta that a lot of the wrestlers and other WCW personnel hung out in. He was Vinnie Vegas, just a guy on the WCW roster, before Shawn Michaels saw him on TV and convinced him to come to WWF. WWF made both bigger stars, but they were far bigger stars under their real names in WCW than WWF ever made them.
HHH was a tall, somewhat thin independent wrestler with a good head of hair that was signed to a one-year contract by WCW, as Jean Paul Levesque. He was there in 1994. It was funny because he was considered a light heavyweight at the time, so he was hardly the HHH who came later. In 1994, he really had nothing going for him past being tall with a good head of hair, but that was enough. I can recall seeing him live and knowing he, like Nash, were going to become stars, and probably not with WCW. He had the perfect look for what Vince McMahon liked, and got a push right away. Still, he was pushed starting in early 1995 with the gimmick of the rich guy who dated all the hottest women, getting a huge push, but it wasn’t until 1997 that he actually got over, so blaming WCW for not pushing a guy in 1994 who didn’t get over even with a huge push until 1997 is somewhat unfair.
As for Foley, the Bischoff version is simply untrue. Foley quit WCW on his own. He had done an interview with a tabloid television show that did a story on Missy Hiatt’s lawsuit against WCW, and he was sympathetic to her case. Bischoff hated Hiatt. Hiatt dated Jason Hervey and was actually instrumental in Bischoff and Hervey becoming friends, and they later became longtime business partners in their BHE TV company. Hiatt and Hervey had a nasty breakup soon after. Hiatt ended up suing WCW and getting a big settlement. As soon as the clip of Foley being sympathetic, is a semi-comedic way, aired, Bischoff was furious and he was gone shortly after, but it was also of his own choice. Foley was lectured about it, but he said that didn’t play into his decision to leave.
“I definitely gave them my notice, at least ten weeks in advance,” said Foley. “Once I saw that the company wasn’t gong to do anything with my ear injury, knew there wasn’t much of a future for me there. I can go back and check my book for a more definite time, but I know Kevin Sullivan and I won the belts after I had give notice. I have recently heard that Eric said I was a legal liability, because of my style, and that might very well have been true, but I was not privy to that conversation, and if that was a valid discussion, I was never told about it.”
He had shown potential in strong feuds with Sting and later Vader, but WCW saw him as a guy who took crazy bumps and was a great opponent for the stars but not a star himself. In fairness, they saw more of him than McMahon, who never wanted to hire him. The only one who saw main eventer in Foley was Paul Heyman, and even after he was successful in a top guy role in ECW, he never made a play to go back to WCW and WWF didn’t want him until Ross came in to head talent relations, Ross was the one who pushed for Foley, like he was the one who pushed for Austin. McMahon didn’t want Foley and only hired as a favor because Ross pushed it and Undertaker needed an opponent. As for Austin, Vince saw him as a technically sound mid-card level talent.
“I think WCW has claimed that it was their call to let me go, almost from the time I left, but that is just not the case. I even had a talk with Eric at DDP’s Christmas party just three months after I left about that same subject. They did `let me go’ in the sense that they never made an attempt to talk me out of leaving, but I did, in fact, leave on my own.”
Layfield then brought up Bischoff firing Austin via Fed-ex, which Austin was bitter about, but now claims he probably deserved to be fired. Austin was a problem in WCW. Heyman saw his talent right away and pushed for him to be in the Dangerous Alliance when Dusty Rhodes, the booker at the time, didn’t see him at that level. Watts liked him, because he was a real athlete, an ex-college football player who worked well. But when Hogan came in, Bischoff didn’t see him as a star and didn’t do anything with him. Bischoff felt Austin was a solid performer in the ring, but unmarketable. He was U.S. champion, having beaten Ricky Steamboat, but with the Hogan regime in place, he was told to drop the title in 30 seconds to Jim Duggan.
He wasn’t pushed at all and was unhappy. At one point he held up a television taping because was booked to do a quick job to The Renegade, Rick Wilson, a guy who was a Hogan brainchild of creating as the new Ultimate Warrior since talks with the original had fallen through. Austin refused to do it. I can recall that day, that the wrestlers, who were hating management at that point, saw Austin as a real hero standing up. But even though he never did that job, precipitating that showdown doomed him.
He was on the shelf with a torn triceps and never around. Bischoff wanted him to come to TV and do an interview. He was called up, his wife at the time (Jeannie Clarke) answered and said he wasn’t there while in the background they could hear his voice being all pissed off. So Bischoff fired him in a Fed-ex letter.
“For me, that was the last straw. I had to notify him by certified mail or Fed-ex. I didn’t feel the need to call him.”
Austin having talent to be a top guy was not a secret. Most saw it from his rookie year in Dallas when he feuded with Chris Adams. He and Brian Pillman were the best and most entertaining heel team the company had since guys like the Midnight Express and Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson. His situation was very different from Levesque.
Layfield brought up the cruiserweight division, a new name he used for what were previously called light heavyweights or junior heavyweights, which became popular because of the ridiculous talent of people like Eddy Guerrero, Misterio Jr., Benoit and countless others. Layfield said that once you put the cruiserweight title on a guy, he couldn’t be a heavyweight champion. He said that the cruiserweight division gave guys a platform, but also doomed them to be below the main events. Even in Japan today, there is something to that. Some lighter weight stars grew into being heavyweights, but even all-time great junior heavyweights like Jushin Liger, Benoit, Tiger Mask or Dynamite Kid, even in Japan, were not considered for Tokyo Dome main events or IWGP heavyweight title matches. However, Tatsumi Fujinami started out as the top junior heavyweight star, and in time became the company’s best heavyweight star and multi-time champion.
Bischoff said that he wanted them to do a different style with the idea that he’d put them on at 9 p.m., when Raw started, and he wanted a fast-paced “car crash” style that would keep people from changing the channel. As I recall, usually what they would put on at 9 p.m. was an NWO interview, which always got over great live and lost tons of viewers on television because it was the same repetitive thing. The live crowd wanted to see the “Hey yo” spot for example, that was on TV in their own hometown. The TV viewers knew the spot, it was the same spot every week, so switched to Raw to see what was there.
When talking bout Guerrero, Jericho, Benoit and Misterio Jr., who all became world champions in WWE, but never got near that level in WCW, Layfield brought up the glass ceiling.
Bischoff denied it, saying that he can understand why they felt that way, but in time, in WCW, they probably would have gotten to the main event level but at the time they weren’t ready for it. I do know from personal conversations with Bischoff that he was very negative on Jericho as a main eventer, and really the only one of the four he was receptive to was Benoit, because he felt Benoit was small, but came across like a hard ass when you watched him in the ring. Misterio Jr. was too small and he didn’t buy Jericho at all, joking about how his son (Garret, who was a teenager), could kick Jericho’s ass and nobody would buy him on top.
Layfield asked him about if the NWO was an idea taken from New Japan (the 1995-96 New Japan vs. UWFI feud) and Bischoff said it was, noting he went to Japan on a pretty regular basis and saw that New Japan was “smoking hot,” selling out the Tokyo Dome a few times a year at the time. He said he immediately wanted to do something like that, but it needed the right elements of outsiders that weren’t there until Hall & Nash came in.
Bischoff started talking about how people who knew nothing about the product were trying to convince them what they needed to do. But that was the case from day one in WCW. He brought up that people wanted him to submit scripts for shows a month in advance, not realizing that they didn’t even do scripts at the time, just outlined format sheets, and that those were done the day of the show and often changed while the show was going on.
Bischoff pointed out that they didn’t want WCW, which is true when the company was losing money, but not when it was making money, as noted by turning down outside offers to buy it when hot. He also complained that after the merge they were cutting back his budget, but the budget cutbacks came because revenue was declining at a rapid level. The company’s biggest growth took place after the first merger, and the second merger that Bischoff and others have blamed, with AOL, took place long after the goose was cooked and was only relevant because Kellner came with it. But they had killed the product long before that. The decline started with decisions made in 1998 and even more so in 1999. As far as when the point of no return really was, that’s a hard question to answer. The momentum downward really started strong in early 1999, and sped up as the year continued. By 2000, it was a nuclear holocaust. The symbolic end was Benoit, Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn leaving at the start of 2000, because that gutted the workers and the future headliners. Jericho and Big Show had already gone. Jericho was gone out of frustration for not getting opportunities, leaving for far less guaranteed money, although he actually ended up making far more in the long-term. Show was given a guarantee of nearly $1 million a year by WWF, a number Bischoff wasn’t willing to match.
Bischoff noted that he wished he would have quit in 1998, so he could have walked out on top, instead of being replaced in the fall of 1999, just prior to the hiring of Vince Russo.
Next was a discussion about the Montreal screwjob, a subject where it was clear Layfield, who was with WWF at the time, didn’t truly comprehend, and Bischoff may have had issues based on what he said with his memory.
Layfield, and he’s not alone in this, believed the WWF internal story was always that they had to do to Bret Hart what they did in Montreal because he was going to show up on Nitro the next day, with the WWF title belt and as champion. If you believed that story, then Vince McMahon was, in fact, backed into a corner, and had no choice. Except it’s not true.
The confusing thing for all the WWF wrestlers and those who were misled, was that Hart never showed up on Nitro until six weeks later, which was never answered by those in WWF to talent.
Layfield asked why that was the case. And Bischoff didn’t remember why either, or perhaps he did, but couldn’t say because if he did, it would screw up a WWF version of history that doesn’t concern him and protect somebody that he now doesn’t like.
Bischoff did remember enough to say he never could have put Hart on television with the title belt because of litigation. Bischoff, perhaps because Hart has always been critical of him, saying he knew nothing at all about wrestling and wasn’t fit to run a wrestling company, was not going to tell his version of history that would be complimentary of Hart regarding Montreal. That’s funny, because at the time, when it went down, he was completely, behind the scenes, positive toward Hart.
Bischoff has told people over the years he never could have put Hart with the belt on television, but said that perhaps McMahon wasn’t aware of that, giving McMahon wiggle room.
Of course, that’s completely ridiculous. The entire legal status of a championship belt was decided in court in 1991 when McMahon had put Flair on television with the NWA world title belt. Flair was fired in a dispute with Herd, after he was trying to get a contract extension to agree to drop the title to Luger on PPV. Herd, fed up, then ordered Flair to drop the title instead, out of the blue, on television, to Barry Windham, with the idea Flair would do so because Windham was his friend. Flair said he wasn’t going to go and was fired. Flair also claimed that he actually owned the belt itself since he paid the deposit for it and was never paid back. He made the deal with McMahon. Ironically, Herd realized that he screwed up and went back to Flair weeks later, and offered him far more than McMahon did, and significantly more than Flair has asked for in the first place, but by then Flair was mentally out of there.
McMahon put Flair, with the belt, on television. WCW sued, and won, and it was determined in court that a championship belt is the intellectual property of the promotion. McMahon tried to get around the ruling by making a new, virtually identical looking belt, and had Flair go on television with it. WCW went back to court, won again, and McMahon had to blur out the belt on television shows already taped. Flair later made appearances as the “real world champion” but wearing a WWF tag team title belt. Eventually Flair won the WWF title so this was a moot point.
Later, when Bischoff had Madusa throw the WWF women’s title in the garbage can, WWF sued over that and many other things. Because it wasn’t a simple case, it was still going in 1997. But to buy the idea Hart would be allowed on Nitro with the belt required McMahon to not only not know the 1991 court ruling that he lost, but also be unaware of the lawsuit he was in the middle of.
Hart couldn’t even appear on Nitro because his WWF contract didn’t expire for three more weeks, and Bischoff himself had worked out a one week extension that would have allowed Hart to drop the title at the December 7, 1997, PPV show which was the agreed upon plan.
It was only because McMahon breached Hart’s contract on November 9, 1997, in Montreal, that it ended up being Hart’s last night with the promotion. Because of the movie, “Wrestling with Shadows,” dramatizing the idea that Hart got screwed on his last night, “the story” is that it was McMahon’s last chance to have Hart drop the title. From that perspective, in the middle of a wrestling war, he probably had to do what he did. It’s that version of history that in time has been sympathetic to McMahon, plus the fact that title belts mean far less now and the meaning of wins and losses have been devalued. Watching “Wrestling with Shadows” today makes the whole thing look silly, about two men fighting over the fake ending of a fake championship match and both treating it like it’s something big. But in 1997, it was very different.
Hart was, in fact, agreeable to dropping the title on any date once they left Canada, whether PPV, Raw or house show, over the next month, and had creative control in his contract, meaning all booking decisions had to be mutually agreed upon between he and McMahon. And either way, he could have never appeared on Nitro with the belt, nor gone to Nitro the next night. Even though Hart’s actual WWE contract expired on November 30, because of that December 7 agreement, Hart didn’t appear on Nitro until December 15.
The fact is that even the top people in WWF were misled by McMahon, as well as the wrestlers. Vince Russo at the time even wrote in the WWF Magazine how mad he was that I had turned more than half the company’s employees against Vince on such a hot-button issue, but Vince had to do it to foil Bischoff’s plan the next night.
Many years later, when Hart returned to WWE headquarters to do a taping for the DVD, Marcy Engelstein, Hart’s business manager and publicist, who probably had more big picture knowledge of everything going down at the time than anyone except possibly Hart, bumped into Shane McMahon, who she hadn’t seen since 1997.
The subject of the split came up and Shane (who was there and quickly broke up the fight in the dressing room between Vince and Bret Hart, although not before Bret knocked Vince out and Vince, in falling, also tripped and suffered a broken ankle) was naturally sad things went the way they did. Hart and the company were estranged for years because Hart was such a major star, and well liked overall. Of course, the subject of Montreal then came up. Shane talked about how it was sad the way things happened, but they had no choice, because Bret had refused to drop the title and was going on Nitro the next day with the belt. She was stunned, because it was one of the top people in the company and Vince’s own son who was telling her the fictitious storyline for the boys, like it was actually what happened.
She explained he was still under contract and very willing to drop the title, and couldn’t have taken the belt to Nitro, or legally appeared on Nitro until the next month. The description is that even with the explanation, that Shane was so indoctrinated with the story he knew, that he was unable to accept what he’d grown to believe for all those years was made up.
That also changes the entire narrative of what McMahon had told his talent to turn them toward him and against Hart, and would also change Bischoff saying under the circumstances, he’d have done the same thing. Well, clearly he wouldn’t have, because in WCW, guys left and right, refused to do jobs for certain guys on certain days, and there was never once a double-cross, so history tells a completely different story. Kevin Nash, who would do jobs at house shows but guarded himself on TV and PPV, used to laugh about Flair, comparing him to a cheap hooker at the time because he’d do whatever they asked, and would say that once you establish that, you’ll always be the one asked.
Bischoff only said they were on the wrong end of a federal trademark lawsuit so he couldn’t have done it.
Layfield said that, “In fairness to Bret, he hated Shawn. I loved Bret but I disagree with him on that one particular issue.”
Bischoff said that he didn’t even want Hart on Nitro, but signed him to be the flagship star on Thunder (which aired its first episode on January 8, 1998). While that is kind of true in the sense there was vague talk of split crews and Hart as the star on Thunder, they never did split crews at all. Also, the idea that Hart was signed specifically because they needed more stars for Thunder is hardly the case. Hart and Bischoff had very serious talks in 1996, when Bischoff offered Hart a three-year contract at $2.8 million per year, and McMahon countered with the 20 year contract starting at $1.5 million per year as long as he was active and a significantly lesser amount to stay with the company for the rest of the period after retirement. That was the contract with the creative control clause negotiated in, and the contract McMahon asked to be changed in 1997 and then gave Hart permission to negotiate with Bischoff because the company was losing money and he needed to make some cuts to secure an outside loan to continue. As it turned out, by the time Montreal came around, the company was profitable again due to raising PPV prices (which led to an increase in buys at the same time) and no longer needed Hart’s salary off the books. But by that point Hart had a new three year deal from Bischoff at $2.5 million per year.
Bischoff described Hart in WCW as a shell of the Bret Hart from WWE. “I never worked with him in WWE, I don’t know what he was like backstage in WWE. He was borderline morose, even watching him interact with the talent, he was a broken down shell of himself.”
The next subject was Mike Tyson coming to WWF for the 1998 WrestleMania, a key part of the turnaround. Bischoff said he got the news when he was in Kissimmee, FL, taking flying lessons, and while on a break, he got a call from Bresloff. He said his reaction was, “Oh crap, that’s not good.” “I knew that would be big.”
What he didn’t say is that Bresloff had a connection with Tyson’s people. They had started the angle with WWF but had not yet signed a contract. They were shopping Tyson to WCW if they would beat the $3.5 million offer they claimed McMahon had made. Bischoff felt that was too much. Bischoff claimed he never spoke with them, and that’s probably true. WWF sources claimed that the $3.5 million figure was way high because of how talent reacted hearing it. I believe that years later it did come out that it was in excess of $3 million.
Bischoff said he never wanted to do Thunder, because it was just too much television to produce. The irony is that with a three-hour Raw and a two-hour Smackdown each week, WWF is doing exactly what Bischoff claimed was too much.
Layfield asked him if Nash was a good booker, which is like asking 16 years after the fact if Billie Joe Tolliver was a winning quarterback in the 1999 season.
“No, in retrospect, of course not. At the time I didn’t have a choice. I was so overwhelmed not fighting the battle I needed to fight and win.”
He said Nash contributed a lot of great things to the NWO, and that he needed a break from creative.
Layfield brought up the night in Norfolk where DX, in the tank, went to Nitro since they were running the same market (Norfolk and Hampton, VA) head-to-head. He said that in WWF, they expected a receipt, and that the WCW would come to their building and said that he, Ron Simmons, Ron and Don Harris, Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman, the purported toughest guys in the company at the time, were all stationed in the parking lot. Layfield said that some of the guys were hoping WCW would come so they could fight, and in particular they’d bring Meng (Uliuli Fifita) and they could watch he and Shamrock go at it.
Bischoff blew it off, saying they were business rivals and weren’t there to have a fist fight, although Layfield said the WWF guys were there ready to fight. Bischoff said he was caught flat-footed, given who would have expected it, but if he would have known, he’d have invited them to come in. I do know from the WCW side that night, that they couldn’t believe nobody had any quick thinking and allowed the WWF to make them look like that. They sent four guys, none of whom were known as real fighters, and WCW had a dressing room filled with guys, including badasses like Robbie Rage, Scott Norton, Meng, The Barbarian, let alone guys like the Steiners and Goldberg and countless others. They knew there would be no fight, but they should have sent the guys out there, done their own taping, and watched the WWF main event guys back down to WCW prelim and mid card guys. The funny thing is that exact thing was told to me that night, so it’s not like it was something that you come up with after the fact when there was no time at the time to react.
Layfield then claimed that when Bischoff later challenged McMahon to a fight on a WCW PPV show, that McMahon almost came.
“He was talking about it and they were begging him not to go.”
That’s another fantasy. Vince McMahon was not going to go to a WCW PPV show and on live TV, fight Bischoff. WWF responded immediately with threatening legal letters as soon as Bischoff issued that challenge saying as much. While smaller, Bischoff was a good high school wrestler who competed at a high level in actual ring fights in kickboxing and Golden Gloves boxing and he was 43 at the time. Vince was a bodybuilder with no ring fighting training at all, who was 53. Bischoff was also doing kickboxing training at the time. Vince was winning and couldn’t afford to let something like that happen on the opposition show, plus walking into the enemies den wouldn’t have made sense. There’s a huge difference between a ring fight and a street fight, especially when one has a lot of experience and the other has none, even throwing age out of the equation.
Plus, he’s Vince McMahon, and had far too much to lose. At the size he was at the time, he’d gas out in 30 seconds in a real ring fight and it would be embarrassing. The last fight he was in, a year earlier, was a one punch knockout against Hart.
Bischoff said it was a no lose for him, because if McMahon came and beat him up, it would be great television.
“I didn’t care. If he’d have beaten my ass, it would have been a great time. I’ve had my ass kicked before, and been hospitalized for nothing, for no money. Think of how this is going to do. So he beats my ass. It would have been one of the best PPVs in history.”
Actually the fantasy of it would be better than the reality. Older men with high adrenaline getting into a fight would be quick and sloppy. And even thinking about it is silly. It was never going to happen then. Never came close. Years later, yeah, Vince was going to do it and it makes a great story in 2015. Please. The first thing he did was send a letter from his lawyer and then claim that he’d love to but he had some family engagement that day.
The whole thing at the time was a pathetic waste of television time that led to Nitro ratings declining because the fans saw this challenge as WCW desperation. And that’s exactly what it was.
One last subject, and this has to be more Bischoff’s bad memory because he told an inaccurate story where there was a real-life explanation.
Layfield asked him about the 1998 Halloween Havoc show, which went three-and-a-half hours, and many cable companies cut it off, missing the Goldberg vs. DDP main event. WCW then aired a tape of the match for free on Nitro the next day.
Bischoff said some matches went long and they lost control of the timing of the show. Layfield couldn’t understand why they just didn’t make cuts. WWF had that problem all the time where live matches went long and you just adjust on the fly. Bischoff said they thought they’d be able to finish in the allotted time.
The actual story is that WCW had the idea to run a three-and-a-half hour PPV. The idea was that fans would think it was ending at 11 p.m., but they’d go to 11:30 p.m. Jay Hassman, who worked for WCW, was given the job of contacting cable companies, telling them the show was going 30 minutes longer.
The problem is there was a communications breakdown. Whether Hassman didn’t tell everyone, or he did and people forgot and many systems were on automatic timers, many systems shut the show off at 11 p.m. Many that were contacted also didn’t.
The next day, because Nitro won the ratings largely due to the huge numbers Goldberg vs. DDP pulled, Vince complained, thinking WCW planned this out and cheated to win the ratings. Like this was a planned fiasco to where you’d have to refund a ton of money by having people who ordered not to get to see the PPV world title match.
Perhaps that reaction alone tells you how crazy the time period was.