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NOTE: Inspiration for this column series came from the YouTube series by Entertain the Elk. I couldn’t remember where I watched the videos yesterday to properly credit them and then thankfully, their latest video popped up on my YouTube feed this morning. When you get the chance, check out their various “The Day (Insert TV/Movie Franchise) Died” by Clicking Here. You’ll lose hours of your life watching their videos. I particularly enjoy their “The Day The Simpsons Died” episode.
Welcome to a new Mr. Tito column series exclusively here at LordsofPain.net where I shall begin discussing single-moments-in-time when Wrestling Promotions or Eras ended or “died”. In other words, I’ll pick a single day or moment in wrestling’s history that planted the seeds of destruction. Think of it like the “Butterfly Effect” where a single change can cause multiple chain reactions that cause much larger effects on the wrestling business or that promotion.
My original plans were to make videos entitled “The Day that (Insert Promotion/Era) Died” for the LoP YouTube Channel. However, as I quickly learned, producing video content is difficult and I just didn’t like the sound of my voiceover work. However, I wrote multiple scripts and outlines… Why let that go to waste? I’ll just use them with what I do best: producing wrestling columns. Thus, “The Day that (Insert Promotion/Era) Died” will become a regular series. So far, I have scripts or outlines for the following columns:
– The Day that ECW Died
– The Day that the Hulkamania Era in WWE Died
– The Day that the Attitude Era in WWE Died
Each of those, in my opinion, had a single day that planted the “seeds of destruction” that soon blossomed into significant trouble for each of those companies. For each of these single-day events, they may seem confusing to the reader because they could be followed by years of major success in the wrestling business. For example, today’s discussion for World Championship Wrestling. I’m about to argue that a specific event from November 1996 planted the seeds for WCW’s ultimate destruction. However, WCW had an amazing 1997 year where they created real distance between them and WWE and 1998 was also profitable. But, as you saw for much of 1998, WCW was coasting on NWO fumes. Once the NWO gimmick became really old with the 2 factions, kept Hulk Hogan on top as champion, and they blew their load on Bill Goldberg, it was over… WCW had a major downslide from mid-1998 through the Fall of 1999. Major damage had been done even before Vince Russo joined the promotion (many try to blame only him specifically)
For WCW, it “died” on November 18th, 1996…
What is so special about that date?
It was a day that changed Eric Bischoff forever… From that day moving forward, Bischoff went from EVP of WCW and professional announcer of the 2nd hour to being intoxicated with his role as a character for NWO. When it came time to put on his EVP of WCW hat again, he began to lose credibility backstage and also with Time Warner executives. He became “one of the boys” instead of being the backstage leader of WCW. On that specific day, WCW lost their great innovator who led WCW to become the #1 wrestling promotion in the world through mid 1996. With time, Eric Bischoff would increase his role as a heel television character and put the NWO & Hulk Hogan’s main event run on extra life support to keep them alive.
By keeping the NWO alive and keeping “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan strong, that helped keep Eric Bischoff’s NWO heel character on top as well. In order to keep the NWO and Hogan strong, the Starrcade 1997 Hulk Hogan vs. Sting match was purposely botched and Hogan would retain the WCW Title during 1998 anyway. NWO was split into 2 factions and then rebooted to start 1999 with, you guessed it, Hulk Hogan becoming WCW Champion once again. Eric Bischoff got a taste of fame and it went to his head as being the new mouthpiece for the NWO stable. After November 18th, 1996, his television time as the NWO spokesperson increased as did his in-ring time actually wrestling matches. Bischoff began to put more Creative energy into his character and keeping the NWO strong rather than focusing on the future of WCW and getting other wrestlers over. Things were made worse as the Time Warner corporation put more of their executives in place and tried to control WCW more during 1998 and beyond. Bischoff was overwhelmed by being EVP of WCW, being an on-screen heel NWO character, and dealing with a changing corporate culture that he began to foolishly trust the wrong people backstage to assist with his workload. Trusting DDP and Kevin Nash to join the Creative Team, for example, during the Fall of 1998.
But we’ll get to more details in a bit… Let’s talk about HOW we arrived at the “Day that WCW Died”.
Before there was World Championship Wrestling (WCW), as rebranded by Ted Turner after his 1988 buy into pro wrestling, there was Jim Crockett’s NWA Mid-Atlantic promotion. NWA stood for “National Wrestling Alliance” and Crockett’s promotion, though the mid-1980’s, was the last territory of the alliance remaining after Vince McMahon’s cross-country attack on all territories. Crockett received the benefit of airing on Ted Turner’s TBS which was entering more and more households as the 1980’s wore on. However, Jim Crockett made a few financial errors that put him in a place of vulnerability to be eventually sold to Ted Turner.
In attempts to remain relevant in the wrestling industry, Crockett tried to expand his NWA Mid-Atlantic’s reach throughout the South. He merged with Bill Watts’s rebranded “Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF)” which was more difficult than Crockett could imagine because the UWF had recent financial struggles operating in the South where their economies were recessing due to the Oil industry drying up back then. Following that merger with UWF, Jim Crockett attempted to operate 2 separate offices between Dallas, where Watts was located, and Charlotte. Logistically, this wasn’t easy to perform during the 1980’s as it is now with changes in communications and travel. For example, Crockett placed Dusty Rhodes, his booker, in Dallas, which would likely cause increased travel costs to and from Dallas instead of Dusty being more local in Charlotte. To help with travel, Crockett purchased several private jets… Well, that’s not cheap. Not just the purchase of the planes, but the maintenance, fuel costs, hiring pilots, etc.
Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions during 1988 and he kept Crockett around as a consultant only. Turner opted to place some of his Turner Broadcasting employees in charge of WCW instead, mostly guys with ZERO experience operating a wrestling company. For example, Jim Herd who used to be a television station manager in St. Louis which happened to air wrestling. Because of that connection of just airing wrestling on a TV station but not managing a wrestling company, Ted Turner placed Jim Herd in charge of WCW from 1988 through early 1992. Huge mistake, as Herd didn’t understand what made Ric Flair and others on the NWA/WCW roster such big draws in the South. Herd was a television guy and was probably in awe of WWE’s presentation on USA Networks and NBC. Thus, Herd tried to change how WCW was presented and tried to incorporate various gimmicks. As the story goes, he wanted to invent a wrestler who was a legitimate hunchback because it would be funny to see someone who “couldn’t be pinned”. Thankfully, a sane Jim Ross was present backstage and said “someone could make him submit” to counter that ridiculous idea.
Things came to a head during 1991 with Ric Flair and Jim Herd to the point where Flair, still the NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Champion, was actually fired by Jim Herd before the Great American Bash 1991 show. Flair and Herd had many, many backstage arguments as there was legitimate ageism thrown at Flair’s way by Herd. Again, Herd watched the WWE and saw big, muscular, and tan superstars like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior and then thought that Flair looked old with his flabby physique, white hair, and robes. Herd wanted to rebrand Flair different ways such as a Roman Gladiator type of character named “Spartacus”, wanting Flair to cut his hair short, and putting in earrings. Flair knew that being NWA/WCW Champion was his firewall to fight herd, as he placed a $20,000 deposit on that big gold belt as champion. He had many dumb ideas thrown at him on how to lose that WCW Title and Flair knew that if he lost the WCW Title once more during 1991, he would be either severely depushed or gone from WCW as a top guy. Herd had enough on his end and actually fired Flair. Flair then took his big gold NWA/WCW belt on WWE television, thanks to that $20K deposit, to humiliate WCW and Jim Herd bigtime.
That pretty much was the end of Jim Herd’s tenure in WCW, as ratings and attendance dropped huge without Ric Flair. Many “we want Flair” chants were heard at WCW events. Herd was eventually relieved of his duties in WCW and replaced by 1-2 other Turner Broadcasting personnel, one of which cost the company extra money by handing out bonuses for various things accomplished during an event. Desperate to improve things, Turner sought out former Mid South Wrestling and Universal Wrestling Federation promoter Bill Watts to help get costs down and improve things creatively. Watts was very aggressive on the salaries, as an incoming Jake “the Snake” Roberts soon found out when he left the WWE for a promised salary only for Watts to change those terms when Jake arrived. Watts implemented discipline on the roster and changed WCW’s rules to a more traditional presentation (disallowing top rope moves, for example). The result was a boring product that turned off many fans… It was very clear that WCW didn’t receive the innovative Bill Watts of old or that his ideas were no longer relevant to the current wrestling business or fan tastes.
Through early 1993, though, there were some internal discussions at Turner Broadcasting about Bill Watts may have said in the past regarding race. This is despite the fact that Watts pushed Ernie Ladd as a wrestler and promoted him to booker, pushed Junkyard Dog as a top star, and pushed Ron Simmons to become WCW Champion during 1992. In other words, for many people in the entertainment industry getting recently fired from jobs or being denied Academy Awards hosting gigs, Bill Watts had you beat on past comments coming back to haunt him 25 years earlier. Bill Watts was now out as the booker of WCW…
A new job position was posted after Watts left but only as “Executive Producer” of WCW. The other duties of operating WCW’s creative, live events, and talent were split among various Turner Broadcasting stooges. 3 specific people applied for that very job. Jim Ross applied but was likely denied due to his longtime association with Bill Watts. Tony Shiavone, another WCW announcer at the time… And the 3rd banana of WCW’s play by play announcers, Eric Bischoff. Bischoff presented himself well at the job interview and provided legitimate ideas on how to make the company save money immediately on television and live events. He also presented a vision on where he wanted to take WCW… Turner officials were impressed and named Bischoff as Executive Producer of WCW. Meanwhile, Tony Shiavone would remain as an announcer and Jim Ross was released from his WCW contract.
THE RISE OF ERIC BISCHOFF’s WCW
If you were a fan of WCW during 1993, you’ll remember what a tough year that was… Eric Bischoff’s main job as Executive Producer of WCW was to reduce costs on how the shows were produced. Bischoff, as he’s stated on his Podcast 83 Weeks, first decided to eliminate Houseshows entirely. They weren’t making money and the travel costs were punishing to WCW’s bottom line. Next, he pushed for extensive television tapings in Orlando at the MGM Studios. The tapings were actually made weeks, sometimes months, in advance and even placed titles on wrestlers who had yet to win it at a particular Pay Per View. The early days of the internet made a mockery of WCW’s tapings but the move proved to be successful for WCW’s financial bottomline. The bleeding losses that WCW endured during years prior were beginning to dry up.
But man, the creative of WCW during 1993 was awful. While Bischoff was focused on the production aspect, the Creative was entrusted to Ole Anderson at the time. The same man behind the Black Scorpion fiasco of 1990 was about to unleash the Shockmaster during 1993…
Eric Bischoff’s cost driven moves impressed Turner officials insomuch that he was promoted to Executive Vice President of WCW to now gain full control over the company. Big sweeping changes were on the way, as Bischoff now had control of the Talent and Creative avenues of WCW. With the money freed up by cost reductions, Bischoff could now cost justify making a splash signing of Hulk Hogan during the Spring of 1994. Though the contract would prove to have a big pricetag, Hogan’s impact was immediately felt in the dream matches that he could now have with Ric Flair but also from an international appeal that he could give WCW. Macho Man Randy Savage would soon join Hogan during late 1994 and now WCW could present the Mega Powers to the public. Bischoff sured up his announcing teams by signing Bobby “the Brain” Heenan and “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Hogan, Macho, Heenan, Okerlund, and other past WWE superstars were familiar faces that would draw many older fans to try out WCW for the first time…
In a meeting with Ted Turner during mid-1995, discussions were held about how to better compete with the WWE. Bischoff suggested that maybe a new primetime show could be a good idea and Ted Turner responded with wanting to put a show on Monday Nights opposite AND on the TNT network. Previously, all WCW related shows were on TBS as Turner liked to save TNT for movie presentations (NFL, too, briefly) with TBS used for television shows, past & present, along with the Atlanta Braves and Hawks games. Challenging the WWE directly on their primetime Monday night slot was a bold move but Bischoff had ideas on how to present the show… Basically, do the complete opposite of everything that WWE Monday Night RAW did:
– RAW was taped ahead of time, Nitro would be live.
– RAW aired only for 1 hour, Nitro would air for 2 hours (eventually 3 hours).
– RAW had squash matches, Nitro would have competitive matches.
– RAW’s lighting was dark to hide poor attendance, Nitro purposely went to smaller arenas with bright lights to give the appearance of a sellout.
– RAW was confined to their 1 hour timeslot, Nitro had flexibility to have overruns.
– RAW never aired replays of their shows, Nitro aired a replay immediately after the show ended (very convenient!)
– RAW never acknowledged their competitor, Nitro revealed spoilers of RAW’s taped shows and mocked them openly.
– RAW gave gimmicks to all wrestlers (career based, too), Nitro allowed wrestlers to use their real names.
– RAW refused to use wrestlers much shorter than 6 foot tall or less than 200 pounds, Nitro proudly created the Cruiserweight division as an asset to their company.
Eric Bischoff‘s presentation of WCW Nitro being “MUST SEE” was key, though… For example, he had 2 announcing teams to cover each hour of Nitro. Tony Shiavone & Larry Zbyszko had hour 1 while Eric Bischoff & Bobby “the Brain” Heenan covered hour 2. Before Bischoff and Heenan took over as announcers, there was a countdown that hyped the 2nd hour of Nitro’s arrival. Then, when that countdown ended, fireworks would go off with the WCW Nitro music playing loud even if there was a match happening. Just a little touch to make that 2nd hour feel special.
The way that Bischoff presented performers during 1995-1996 was unbelievable… Lex Luger was a failure as an overpushed “All American” babyface and was just wasting away on the WWE roster during 1995. His contract came up and through his longtime buddy Sting, Luger inquired if there was interest by WCW for his services. Bischoff signed Luger to a deal (for a lower amount, reportedly) and the end of the very first WCW Nitro during September 1995 saw Lex Luger appear and confront Hulk Hogan with a challenge for the WCW Title. MIND BLOWN! We never saw Hogan vs. Lex Luger before and now Luger was presented in a much better light. Gone were the American Flag tights and in were simple black tights. Luger also flirted with both sides, as he acted like a babyface with Sting and wrestled as a heel against others. All it took was a simple change in how Luger was booked and he was over again.
The talent acquisitions didn’t end with Luger, Hogan, Macho, and other past WWE stars. Bischoff looked to unique places to deepen his talent roster and he looked into places that WWE often ignored. He also signed wrestlers that WWE would never sign due to Vince McMahon’s preference for “big & thick” stars. First, Bischoff went to Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and did a complete raid of that promotion. Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr., Psychosis, and others were signed. Meanwhile, from the various Mexican wrestlers signed from ECW, that created a connection with those wrestlers to bring in even more wrestlers from Mexico. WCW had good dealings at the time with New Japan Pro Wrestling to not only borrow their wrestlers, but also to create interest from American-born wrestlers who associated themselves with NJPW.
With all of that smaller talent signed, Eric Bischoff would plan to showcase them by creating the Cruiserweight Division. The packaging of Dean Malenko as the “Man of 1,000 Holds” was genius, as he was the perfect villain anchor of the division. He helped to make many of the younger Luchdore wrestlers, such as Rey Mysterio Jr., to look extra crisp in the ring. Rey Mysterio Jr. was an amazing talent who could do moves like no other… He seriously looked like a wrestling Spider-Man and Mysterio sold himself like it. Bischoff gave wrestlers like Chris Jericho, the freedom to say whatever on the mic and get themselves over. Jericho became the “Man of 1,001 Holds” to mock Dean Malenko and was allowed to do things like reading large computer printouts of holds in and out of commercial breaks. The talent pool was deep not just for the Cruiserweight division, but the TV, US, and Tag Title divisions as well. The midcard was packed with great wrestling nightly.
All Eric Bischoff needed to do was to improve the Main Event scene. Hulk Hogan, through early 1996, was becoming very stale as a Main Eventer. Go watch Uncensored 1996‘s main event debacle if you don’t believe me. It just so happened that during the Spring of 1996, two specific contracts were expiring just 1 week apart. Scott Hall, known as Razor Ramon in the WWE, felt that his pay hit a plateau and wanted paid more money. WWE refused, so Hall began talking with his old friend Diamond Dallas Page at WCW (Hall used to be managed by DDP in WCW under the Diamond Studd gimmick). The money offer from WCW was fully guaranteed, as it wasn’t in the WWE with its dependence on how well live events drew at the time (poorly back then, I might add). Hall was very interested in joining WCW, as he heard from a friend in the business that you can “either make money or make friends” in the business. Hall said he had many friends, now it was time to make money! With Hall being a close friend of Kevin Nash, then known as Diesel in the WWE, his WCW money offer was shown to Nash. Nash was floored and also used DDP to inquire if there was interest in him joining. Similar money deal was offered to Nash and when the WWE wouldn’t dare come close to matching WCW’s offer, Nash was gone.
Both Hall and Nash were rejoining a promotion that poorly used them in the past… Hall was mostly kept as a midcarder as the Diamond Studd while Nash endured multiple bad gimmicks as a Master Blaster, Oz, and Vinnie Vegas. Both guys joined WCW “for the money”, not knowing what was in store for them. Eric Bischoff, through his close association with New Japan Pro Wrestling, began studying how their reality based storylines worked for them and wanted to make WCW seem more real with its storylines. Again, see the main event of Uncensored 1996 and how goofy things became. Bischoff came up with the idea of Hall & Nash returning to WCW with revenge on their minds regarding their past experiences with WCW. Of course, little did Eric Bischoff realize how much that would be perceived as a “WWE Invasion” instead by fans.
Just look at the details of how Scott Hall returned to WCW:
– Arrives through the crowd in street clothes.
– Interrupts the match but doesn’t attack either wrestler… Just ignores them.
– Completely nameless. You did not hear the name “Scott Hall” until many weeks later.
– Stated “you know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here”.
– Openly mocked WCW, alluding to WWE’s own parody sketches of the Huckster, the Nacho Man, and Billionaire Ted.
Once Bischoff heard the feedback on Scott Hall’s arrival and eventually Kevin Nash’s, he just poured more gasoline on that “WWE Invasion” fire. Hall and Nash were called the “Outsiders” and began terrorizing the entire WCW promotion by themselves. Eric Bischoff got powerbombed through a table, buying tickets ringside, heading towards the ring with baseball bats, and threatening the 3rd guy… Everybody speculated on who that 3rd guy could have been, as many were wondering which WWE wrestler would jump to WCW next. Many thought that Bret Hart would be the 3rd man because of his Wrestlemania 12 loss and contract reportedly expiring.
Nope… Hulk Hogan would appear as the 3rd man at WCW Bash at the Beach 1996… Think about that move for a second. Since his AWA days during the early 1980’s thanks to worldwide fame given to him by appearing in Rocky 3, Hulk Hogan was not only a babyface, but always pushed as the #1 babyface of any promotion he joined. Now, 15 years later, he is asked to turn heel. Bischoff convinced the Hulkster to turn and it became the most shocking heel turn of all time. Not only that, but Bischoff had the frame of mind to tell Hogan to say that this was “the New World Order of Wrestling” during the heel promo cut after the reveal. Wow… Not only did Bischoff pull off the heel turn, but he came up with the proper stable name during the same night!
The New World Order (NWO) set the wrestling world on fire! But it was how they were presented that made them successful. Wearing the black and white, entrusting in Turner producers and marketing teams on the looks of their infomercial promos and the NWO logo for merchandise, and giving creative freedom with the wrestlers on their promos. Hall, Nash, and Hogan could just cut whatever promos they chose to and the veterans got the angle over. Then, the “what will they do next” premise made the angle stronger as the group could attack anyone at anytime or potentially add anyone at any time. Suddenly, Ted Dibiase appears and puts up more fingers than 3… Sean Waltman appears in the crowd to cause the arena to be snowing with NWO fliers. Then, the Giant (Big Show in the WWE) joins them under the idea “if you can’t beat them, join them”. This group right here was the definitive NWO group…
Meanwhile, the Cruiserweight Division kept growing and growing… Guys like Ultimo Dragon would join and make our draws drop. Diamond Dallas Page started using the Diamond Cutter and simplified his gimmick, thanks to Bischoff’s ongoing advising… DDP started to get really over as a new babyface sensation. The talent acquisitions from ECW, Mexico, and Japan were really paying off as the midcard was loaded with great matches on a nightly basis. Everything was clicking and WCW’s lead against WWE Monday Night RAW kept expanding.
And then there was Sting. They incorporated a storyline where the NWO fooled everyone into thinking that Sting joined the NWO but it was a “Fake Sting”. WCW wrestlers doubted the real Sting and that caused Sting to operate independently from either WCW or the NWO. Sting changed his paintjob from the Native American style that he, the Road Warriors, and the Ultimate Warrior all had that covered their faces partially but was colorful to shifting into a completely different yet darker look that saw his entire face painted. Taking inspiration from the comic book The Crow, Sting began wearing a similar paintjob and began wearing trenchcoats. He would start to hide in the rafters of arenas and would just watch the WCW promotion rip itself apart between the NWO and the WCW resistence. When he came down from the rafters to randomly attack other wrestlers with a Scorpion Death Drop, it was shocking.
Then, we had Halloween Havoc 1996. After “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan disposed of Macho Man Randy Savage in the main event, Hogan boasted that there was nobody left to challenge him. Then, bagpipes hit and a shocking WCW debut happened with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. To this day, when Piper says “I’m the only one that you’ve never been able to defeat”, it creates goosebumps. The stage was set to now potentially have Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper headline Starrcade 1996.
Eric Bischoff not only achieved makng WCW become the #1 wrestling promotion in the world, but he now put WCW in a position to create serious distance away from the WWE. He set the table for amazing business to come for the next few years thanks to smart moves performed during 1996.
What could go wrong?
Then, November 18th, 1996 happened… The Day that WCW Died!
THE DAY THAT WCW DIED
Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan was set to headline Starrcade 1996, that was well known after Halloween Havoc… But the storylines leading up to that match created a fatal mistake by Eric Bischoff.
On the November 18th, 1996 edition of WCW Monday Nitro, the segment was headlined by an appearance by Rowdy Roddy Piper… See, there were questions as to whether Piper would appear that night and Eric Bischoff appeared in the ring to question whether he was going to appear and that it was difficult getting the contracts signed to wrestle Hogan. However, Piper showed up to set the record straight. Immediately, Piper questioned how he attempted to question how Bischoff contacted his managers or how he traveled to Portland. I always remember Piper’s line about approaching his house “is the road crooked or straight”. Soon thereafter, the NWO arrives and attacks Roddy Piper. Uh oh, HEEL TURN, as Eric Bischoff officially joined the NWO. Hulk Hogan would get on the mic and proclaim: “Now that everybody realizes who everybody is working for”…
The seed of death was now planted for WCW.
This changed Eric Bischoff forever, as the NWO heel character would begin to consume and infect him. It impaired his judgment as an unbiased EVP of WCW and caused him to give too much attention to his character and the NWO group for which he belonged. In addition, WCW Nitro lost a good announcer for that 2nd hour, too, as Tony Shiavone took over full announcing responsibilities. The on-screen character began to consume his time and take attention away from focusing more on other job duties. After all, the climate was hanging as the Time Warner merger with Turner Broadcasting was not complete and Time Warner executives were thirsty to get their hands on Turner’s assets. WCW was a much bigger company now… There was a ton for Eric Bischoff to now manage between his job and his character… Bischoff was would begin to wear himself too thin.
I made mention of a “Fame Monster” biting another non-wrestler recently in a column, but I’d say that the biggest bite came out of Bischoff. Being a member of the NWO went straight to his head. He mistakenly considered himself a “draw” even though the NWO heel group that he created and the wrestlers that were part of it were the draws. WCW crowds were booming before the joined the group and becoming the NWO spokesperson became intoxicating for Bischoff when speaking in front of packed houses. This perception that his character was a “draw”, on his own, caused increased involvement of Bischoff within the NWO and for on-screen promos. Remember that time he placed a motorcycle in the middle of the ring for his promo? Then, he started to wrestling matches… He wrestled Larry Zybyszko at Starrcade 1997 and would later team up with Hulk Hogan to wrestle Diamond Dallas Page and Jay Leno… Freakin’ Jay Leno! Not only that, but Bischoff had WCW spend lots of money on a Tonight Show like set just to hype this match. He also tried to make a big deal out of challenging Vince McMahon to a match and tried to book it for a Pay Per View. All about him…
Because Eric Bischoff was part of the New World Order (NWO), the group and in particular, Hulk Hogan, were kept very strong throughout 1997 and even after Starrcade 1997 when it seemed that a downfall was supposed to happen. Nope, we had 2 NWO factions during 1998 and then a rebooted version during early 1999. The NWO just kept adding and adding new members to the group(s) during 1997-1998 to the point where it seemed that more were in the NWO than wrestled for WCW. But constant pandering to Hulk Hogan was ridiculous. For one, the “fast count” finish of Starrcade 1997 ruined what should have been a blowoff match for Sting vs. Hulk Hogan. They did a rematch at Superbrawl 1997 where Sting finally won but the damage was done. But don’t worry, Hogan would regain the title shortly thereafter. Then, as we all know, the “Fingerpoke of Doom” (credit Scott Keith) moment during the first WCW Nitro of 1999 where Hulk Hogan became champion again and reformed the New World Order once again. Just could not give it up…
While being too focused on his on-screen character and keeping the NWO/Hogan strong, which also served his character, he could not focus on the rest of the promotion.
For one, Time Warner began incorporating changes into WCW such as tougher standards and practices, the creation of WCW Thunder on TBS, and changing how WCW was budgeted. The creation of WCW Thunder, especially, caused 2 more hours of live television to be produced. That creates a strain on all parties involved with WCW from Bischoff, to the Creative Team, to the production staff, to the wrestlers, and to the ring crew. On top of all of that, the new standards & practices limited how WCW could cater to adult fans with storylines. This sanitized and neutered the WCW Creative process that was once innovative for being adult themed.
While being distracted by his own character and the growing Time Warner changes, Bischoff began to ignore issues with talent. The Giant suddenly gained lots of weight and didn’t care as much in the ring. Kevin Nash almost killed the Giant with a powerbomb when he couldn’t lift him and dropped the future Big Show on his head/neck. Guys like Chris Jericho were starting to get ignored because they weren’t in the NWO or were disliked by WCW wrestlers that Eric Bischoff overpaid from years prior. Many wrestlers have come out and discussed how “anything goes” with substances and how “beer was always on ice” backstage with WCW.
Then, snap booking decisions were made by WCW… Bill Goldberg caught fire and WCW made him champion at the July Georgia Dome Nitro during 1998. After that, though, they had zero plans for their very green champion. Out of pure desperation, the Warrior was signed to a contract and placed in a feud with Hogan. Complete and utter disaster, as Warrior physically wasn’t in good shape to wrestle (tore a muscle immediately) and was booked to look like a complete fool.
As Bischoff gave more attention to his on-screen character and was dealing with Time Warner corporate things, he began delegating authority… Some of the WCW talent signings were questionable throughout 1997-1999, as any former WWE experience was sought and those wrestlers weren’t always a good fit. The Power Plant wasn’t given much attention to developing the next generations of wrestlers, as seen by the wrestlers who would later join WCW during 1999-2000. The recruiting and training just weren’t placed in the right hands. If you listen to 83 Weeks often, you’ll hear Eric blaming Kevin Sullivan for particular ideas tried during these times. Reportedly during the Fall of 1998, Bischoff would announce that current wrestlers Diamond Dallas Page and Kevin Nash would be joining the Creative Team with neither guy having any writing experience. Not much is known about DDP’s creative tenure, but Nash was heavily involved with the late 1998 and early 1999 storylines… He just so happened to defeat Bill Goldberg at Starrcade 1998.
And of course, the complete enabling of Hulk Hogan‘s creative control over the entire process… Always delegating to that guy.
The decline from July 1998 through the Fall of 1999 was so rapid, almost a full 2 ratings points lost over that timeframe. The “Fingerpoke” + rehashing the NWO & Hogan as WCW Champion storyline was an insult to fans but the product was already in decline. It certainly got worse throughout the first 9 months of 1999 because of that Fingerpoke but WCW had an impaired leader in Eric Bischoff who couldn’t fix it. He was too into his character and lost control over his roster thanks to the creative control given to his wrestlers. Bischoff was relieved of his duties around September 1999. Vince Russo was brought in during October 1999 as the “savior” but WCW was already in a rapid decline by the time he joined and was too dysfunctional with its corporate structure to allow any improvements. Plus, WCW relieved Russo of his duties after 3 months… How can you fix a declining promotion in just 3 months?
Food for thought on the WCW Nitro ratings… Following mid 1998, WCW's drop through the Fall of 1999 was severe! Dropped by about 2 full ratings points BEFORE Russo joins them for only 3 months. Very difficult to save a sinking ship with a corporate climate & bad contracts. pic.twitter.com/25LMfYZWu4
— Mr. Tito (@titowrestling) October 28, 2019
Eric Bischoff would later rejoin WCW, with a returning Vince Russo, during the Spring of 2000 but the damage was done and couldn’t be erased. The corporate structure was changing again with the AOL and Time Warner merger, too… With WCW losing money in 1999 and likely to lose money during 2000, AOL/Time Warner executives were looking to cut losses. When they decided to cancel all WCW programming during early 2001, there was no turning back. All interested buyers in WCW had zero interest without a television contract and thus WWE could swoop on in to buy WCW’s intellectual properties, its video libraries, and many of its wrestlers for under $5 million during March of 2001. Remarkable.
Bischoff “lost his way” as the EVP of World Championship Wrestling. He went from being the manager of company to attempting to become “one of the boys”. Being an on-screen character took away from his creativity for the entire promotion and that became a problem when WCW grew into a larger company which Time Warner wanted to regulate. He became intoxicated by his NWO character that it diminished his wrestling genius. He got on camera when WCW was already hot and thought that fans were reacting to him. No, they were there anyway for the great wrestling empire that you built through 1996. You pissed them off with Starrcade 1997 and then ticked them off for most of 1998 by returning Hogan to champ and not letting go of the stale NWO idea. Refusing to let go of the NWO spotlight stung you bigtime during early 1999 with the Fingerpoke, Hogan returning as champion, and another NWO run… Meanwhile, wrestlers like Giant (Big Show) and Chris Jericho just walked out the door…
This taste of fame isn’t just singular to Eric Bischoff. Both Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon had on-screen roles when the WWE was already hot and both couldn’t stay off camera for the next few decades. As I stated in my recent Vince Russo column, WCW was so dysfunctional through late 1999 and especially 2000 after the Kevin Sullivan booked era that he felt the need to take it upon himself to be an on-screen authority character. The result? Lots of bad storylines followed. When you’re an on-screen character and you have a say over the booking of the show, bias can happen. Look at how much criticism Dusty Rhodes used to receive during the 1980s as a wrestler AND a booker. It impairs your judgment and causes you to head to the arena thinking about how to present YOUR character instead of other wrestlers or personalities. Right now, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, & the Young Bucks better be careful in their dual roles of being an on-screen character AND deciding the fate for others. Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it! (Quote by George Santayana 1905-1906)
If he would have just stayed behind the scenes and remained the 2nd/3rd hour’s announcer… WCW could be much, much different. Eric Bischoff could have continued to revolutionize the business and create long-term plans for further distance themselves from the WWE. That WCW roster was LOADED with potential superstars that could have been developed and formed into future main eventers. He could have maybe invested more in talent scouting and development which was a major weakness to WCW at the time. Furthermore, he could have gained more control over his WCW locker room and management… What WCW needed during 1997 as Hogan and Nash factions were colliding was a intermediary that could bring all parties to the table and make appropriate decisions that benefited all parties. WCW needed a leader… Once that Starrcade 1997 ended, it was pure chaos for 1998 and Bischoff’s attempt to “save” things during early 1999 with the NWO supergroup just ripped the wound wide open.
The Eric Bischoff from 1993-1996 is WHY the WWE hired him to become the new “Executive Director” of Smackdown. Look at the major accomplishments that had during that timeframe and in my opinion, Bischoff changed the business for the BETTER. Wrestlers were better compensated for their talents, storylines could be adult themed, more merchandise opportunities, smaller wrestlers were showcased, Hispanic wrestlers were showcased, many older veterans kept their careers going, fewer jobbers were used to improve nightly match quality, wrestling became more LIVE than taped, and most of all, he made wrestling FUN again. The wrestling industry was a total dumpster fire since 1990 as business took a major nosedive with Turner’s mismanagement of WCW and WWE enduring many scandals. Bischoff made it COOL to watch pro wrestling again and the NWO remains the BEST storyline and stable ever created. All thanks to him…
In my opinion, Bischoff’s work in WCW from 1993-1996 is every bit as spectacular as Vince McMahon Jr.’s 1980’s rise.
If I were to create a “Mount Rushmore” of wrestling’s biggest innovators as promoters, Bischoff is definitely on there along with Vince, Verne, and Watts. The Monday Night Wars do not happen without Eric Bischoff’s genius.
Sad part is, that innovative guy from 1993-1996… He’s gone. Long gone. If you listen to the 83 Weeks Podcast, he’s very enthusiastic about anything discussed from 1997 or before… Not much much afterward. He didn’t add much to TNA when he joined them as a consultant later. It’s been almost 23 years since November 18th, 1996, the “Day that WCW Died”… Which means that Bischoff, himself, is also 23 years older. It’s hard to recapture that youthful spirit that made WCW rise from the losses and start to make profits after enduring years of letdown from WCW’s demise, just a television character role in the WWE during the 2000’s, and a consultant job with TNA that didn’t amount to much.
In my opinion, the WWE recently failed on Eric Bischoff by hiring him as “Executive Director”. For one, he had no freedom to contribute any ideas of his own because Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn, and the Marketing Team at the WWE Corporation can shoot down any idea. He was just a scapegoat to quickly blame in case Smackdown’s viewership numbers are underwhelming. Meanwhile, nobody asks the WWE’s company CEO Vince McMahon or the EVP of Creative, Talent, and Live Events Triple H about why they are failing to put on an entertaining product. This “Executive Director” position was just a way for Vince to STICK IT to Eric Bischoff one more time for defeating him for 83 straight weeks in the Monday Night Wars. As we saw with the Triple H vs. Sting Wrestlemania match that tried to relive the Monday Night Wars within the match, Vince McMahon can be petty.
FACT is that Eric Bischoff‘s genius beat the WWE and forced the WWE to finally change its stale ways for the better. Nothing can ever take that away…
Just a shame that Eric Bischoff decided to become a heel NWO character on November 18th, 1996… THE DAY THAT WCW DIED!
LAST WORD: I hope that you enjoyed this Column and I’m hopeful to produce more columns like these as a series, “the Day that (insert promotion/era) Died”. Comments are welcome below on which day that you believe was the specific day that WCW suffered a fatal wound that led to their demise. Sounds crazy to select 11/18/1996 because 1997 seems like such a successful year… And it was. But as Bischoff has said in his own 83 Weeks podcast, “the profits from your current year are often dictated from the successes of your previous year”. 1996 saw the creation of the NWO, Cruiserweight Division, DDP’s rise, and Sting’s character changing. Significant things were already in place to make for a successful 1997 year. Things quickly deteriorated during 1998 and got much worse during 1999.
So just chill… Until the next episode!
Play my Pro Wrestling themed Mario Maker 2 courses on the Nintendo Switch:
Super Wrestling Bros: 0H6-9HT-S5G
WWE Royal Rumble: SDH-JC2-HFG
WWE Elimination Chamber: P3B-5DJ-91G
WCW World War 3: BT4-W1Y-HRG
Extreme Championship Wrestling: 42J-4GT-W3G
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