By Mike Mooneyham
May 30, 2004
Eric Bischoff and Cowboy Bill Watts have been two of the most influential figures in the wrestling business over the past two decades. Both have experienced the highs and lows of the profession. But that’s where the similarities end.
Bischoff, who oversaw one of the biggest booms in the history of the business as well as the demise of World Championship Wrestling, launched a verbal barrage at Watts in a recent radio interview. He called Watts the most overrated individual in the history of the wrestling industry and the biggest disaster in the history of the Turner organization.
Watts, former owner of the Tulsa-based Mid-South Wrestling promotion and ex-vice president of wrestling operations at the now-defunct WCW, lobbed some verbal volleys of his own Thursday.
“The bottom line is that wrestling on Turner Broadcasting was destroyed on Eric Bischoff’s watch,” Watts said. “WCW was losing $8 million a year when I took over, and 11 months later I had brought them to within a $400,000 loss. They lost something like $80 million their last year on Bischoff’s watch. He only took the strongest television conglomerate that has ever owned a wrestling company and broke it. A guy who is the same type of individual as me now owns the wrestling business.”Watts, a former University of Oklahoma football player who was one of pro wrestling’s headline attractions during the ’60s and ’70s and a successful booker in a number of territories, said his goal when he took over WCW in 1992 was to get the company back to where it was a viable entity.
“I consider myself a businessman. Eric Bischoff was a highly overrated booth announcer who maneuvered himself into a job and got an awful lot of support that I could have never gotten. I think it’s easier just to rest on my record. It’s not what you gross – it’s what you net. For whatever reason Eric Bischoff wants to pat himself on the back, the bottom line is that he led wrestling on Turner Broadcasting to its demise.”
Bischoff also claimed on the No Holds Barred wrestling radio show that Watts had been successful as a promoter for only 18 months, and only in a small, backwoods regional territory “in the middle of nowhere.”
“I don’t think Bischoff knows much about anything,” said Watts, whose Mid-South promotion was one of the most successful operations in the country during the ’80s. “I had the third-largest wrestling office in the United States. I probably netted more than anybody. Vince (McMahon) told me he almost went broke starting his concept. Bischoff’s claim to fame was that he was a booth announcer and he invented a couple of games. To show you how totally messed up Turner Broadcasting was, they thought that made him a genius. They gave him a job and he ran around there like a big shot. The net result is that Turner Broadcasting is no longer in the wrestling business.”
BAD BLOOD FROM THE BEGINNING
Bischoff was a C-squad announcer when Watts took the helm of WCW in 1992. But the ambitious announcer was daring and highly motivated, and stunned his closest friends with his brash predictions. Diamond Dallas Page (Page Falkinburg) remembers doing Christmas decorations with Bischoff one year while complaining about Watts.
“Someday I’m going to take that SOB’s job,” Bischoff boldly stated. “Yeah, right, you’re going to run this company?” his neighbor sarcastically asked. “Yeah, I could … and maybe I will.”
“There was more of a chance at this point of there being aliens as there was Eric Bischoff running WCW,” snickered Page. “But he wanted it so badly that he willed it.”
Watts’ stint at WCW was short-lived. He was an atypical Turnerite who rode his motorcycle to work, flouted the starched-shirt-and-tie dress code and carried a loaded pistol in his briefcase.
“I wouldn’t have stayed,” said Watts, who resigned on Feb. 10, 1993. “I didn’t like being there and I didn’t like the corporate structure. They promise you autonomy, but that never happens. They were trying to fire Bischoff before I got there. I saved his contract because I didn’t want to fight him over the contract. Look at where (former Watts protege) Jim Ross is and where Eric Bischoff is. Yet Jim Ross was the guy Eric complained to me about every day and claimed he had no ability and no talent.”
Bischoff truly went full circle – from taking the dying promotion from years of follies and a distant second to the hottest wrestling organization in the country, only to oversee its fall. He took the Atlanta-based company from $24 million to more than $225 million in revenues in just a few years and made more than $50 million in profits in 1997 and 1998. But Bischoff lacked vision and didn’t prepare for the future, relied too heavily on stars like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash, and ultimately sent the company into a downward spiral.
Bischoff, who critics labeled “ATM Eric” due to his lavish spending habits, led the company on a drunken party during an incredible two-year run, but the hangover proved to be fatal. All that remained in the end was a company in financial and emotional ruin, lest a group of overpaid stars who had become rich, fat and lazy.
AOL Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System arm sold the beleaguered organization to World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) owner Vince McMahon in 2001. Bischoff surprisingly was hired by one-time arch nemesis McMahon as a talent and figurehead general manager 18 months later.
“Bischoff had a little flair for a little while,” said Watts. “When Turner lost control of Turner Enterprises, the businessmen that bought into it said they weren’t going to buy into this nonsense anymore. How can you lose $80 million in the wrestling business? I guess it takes a special individual to do that. That’s his legacy. For all his diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the mind, he wants to spin it off on me. Everything that I was ever involved in made money.”
“He can write his own history and do whatever he wants, but his claim to fame was that he sucked his way to the top, rode the bubble and collapsed. He’s kind of like a popcorn fart – a lot of noise and not much substance.”
TO THE VICTOR GOES THE SPOILS
Bischoff, who fit into the corporate structure at Turner much more comfortably than Watts, claimed in the interview that Watts knew nothing about television or entertainment.
“What’s amazing is that Turner Broadcasting did the same things for him that they wouldn’t do for me,” said Watts. “My whole concept was to put a television show against Vince. If Vince had really wanted to pursue it, they (WCW) actually had opened themselves up to a tremendous federal antitrust suit because they positioned their network against him.
“I will give Eric Bischoff credit for this. For a while, he had Vince scared to death. But Vince retrenched. I spent three months with Vince and told him that he had to go back to being the innovator. When I was at Turner Broadcasting, they spent $30,000 on a survey to find out what the wrestling fans wanted, and what the wrestling fans wanted was something totally opposite of Vince. That’s what I did, because that’s what I believed anyway. But Turner was committed to copying Vince. That’s what Eric did. They started bleeding off Vince’s ratings by going straight against him, which was my concept to start with, and they were successful. Vince was really worried about it.”
The outspoken Watts, who worked briefly in the WWF in 1995 as a liaison between McMahon and the wrestling crew, offered some sound advice before leaving.
“You have to quit having that committee in New York City watch your shows and decide what’s too violent, and you’ve got to get back to what makes wrestling – the mud, the blood and the beer,” Watts advised McMahon. “You’re starting to react to them instead of being the innovator you always have been. You’re way ahead of them, you grew up in this business, and you know this business and they don’t. Their thing won’t last.”
The advice obviously worked.
“Vince went back to his style, and he destroyed them.”
COWBOY BILL WALKING TALL
For the most part, Watts experienced great success in the wrestling business. There were, however, periods when his wrestling pursuits were adversely affected by economic conditions in that region of the country, most notably the decline of the oil business. After an attempt to follow the lead of McMahon and Jim Crockett to turn Mid-South into a national company called the Universal Wrestling Federation failed, Watts sold the promotion to Crockett in 1987.
“I went into the wrestling business when I wanted to,” said Watts. “I bought every place I ever operated in. And every single one of them made money. Did Turner Broadcasting make money? I only stayed 11 months and it didn’t make money, but I reduced their losses $7.6 million. Plus we instituted drug testing. When five top wrestlers tested positive, the Turner hierarchy would not sign off on the drug testing. I would wonder very loudly if Eric Bischoff instituted any drug testing.”
Watts, 65, claims his track record speaks for itself.
“Eric Bischoff had his 15 minutes of fame. I had 25 years in the industry. Not only did I set records for performance in gates that I personally was involved in at Madison Square Garden and many venues as an athlete, I also set my performance as a businessman in the industry. If anybody is deluded enough to listen to a person like Eric Bischoff, they’re going to buy it anyway and I can care less.”
Watts said he doesn’t understand Bischoff’s animosity toward him, but added that he believes in his own way, Bischoff may be a fan and envious of Watts’ standing in the wrestling business.
“A lot of people like to shoot at people they’re envious of. He’s probably a big fan of mine. He’s like a guy who would get high smelling jockstraps of real athletes. The closest thing he’s ever been to being an athlete is if he caught athlete’s foot in a shower. It’s all relative. Little bitty guys like to make remarks about people they can’t stay with, physically or mentally. He’s very insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
Watts also scoffed at comments made by Bischoff portraying the Oklahoman as a big, tough guy, yet one who needed to carry a gun in his pants leg every day at CNN.
“I know some pretty tough guys that carry guns,” said Watts, who had a reputation of being a strong-willed disciplinarian and motivator. “I have a concealed carry permit. Is he saying that a guy’s not tough if he carries a gun? I don’t know how that logic works out … If he had an AK-47 in his pocket, nobody would ever accuse him of being tough.
“I never saw a guy who had a gun in his pocket and thought that proved to me he wasn’t tough. That proved to me that son of a bitch might shoot me. I always figured that the guy who was tough was the guy that would get there with the most and do whatever he wanted to do with it. Eric doesn’t need to worry. Under no condition would I need a gun with him. Even at my age.”
– It never ceases to amaze me how WWE seems to continually squander opportunities to capitalize on Ric Flair’s unparalleled ability on the mic. His match with Edge last week on Raw was the latest example. Few can sell a match like the Nature Boy, yet the bout got no buildup and came off simply as Flair jobbing once again to a younger talent being groomed for main-event status.
While Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler do a great job on commentary putting over Flair’s significance, it makes little sense that the company doesn’t give him more mic time since he’s universally regarded as one of the best speakers ever.
– Not to beat a dead horse, but the devil’s in the detail. There should have been an explanation as to why Shelton Benjamin, just moments after teaming with Chris Jericho to defeat Randy Orton and Batista, didn’t come to Jericho’s aid when he was attacked on the way to the dressing room by Tyson Tomko. A soap opera pays attention to the “little details.” So should WWE.
– The Wrestling For Jesus promotion will present a show at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sea Harvest World Outreach Center, 1033 St. Andrews Blvd., West Ashley. Main event will be a three-way match for the WFJ title featuring Hector Guerrero (brother of WWE performers Eddie and Chavo Guerrero Sr.), The Natural and Dynamite Dave Deuce. For more information, contact pastor Steve Vaughn at 297-2460.
– NWA-TNA will make its Fox Sports Net debut June 4. The group will have a 3 p.m. Friday time slot and will tape its shows at Universal Studios in Orlando.
– NWA-TNA founder and longtime wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett underwent triple bypass heart surgery last weekend in Nashville. Jarrett, the father of Jeff Jarrett, had been taken to the hospital prior to a recent pay-per-view after experiencing chest pains and feeling dizzy. He had remained hospitalized pending the outcome of medical tests.
– Dory Funk Jr. will hold his next training camp beginning June 9. The three-week Funking Conservatory will include a TV taping June 13 (all wrestlers in camp will appear on the show). The group will travel to Fort Meyers for a Raw brand house show June 20 and will return to Ocala for a Monday Night Raw Party and TV show. The Funking Conservatory team will travel to Orlando the following day for a Smackdown taping. The group will present another TV taping June 24. For more information or an application to train at the Super Summer Sizzler Tour, go to http://www.dory-funk.com/app-ssss.html.
– WWE is expected to renew Shawn Michaels’ contract when it expires June 6. The 39-year-old Michaels has stated that he wants to remain in the ring for three more years.
– WWE will bring its “Escape The Rules” tour to the North Charleston Coliseum for a Raw brand show on June 19. The non-televised Saturday night event will feature such names as WWE world champ Chris Benoit, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, Chris Jericho, Christian, Trish Stratus, Victoria, Lita and Stacy Keibler.
Tickets are on sale at the Coliseum ticket office, Ticketmaster outlets (including all Publix Grocery stores), charge by phone (843) 554-6060 or www.ticketmaster.com. Ticket prices are $40, $30, $25 and $20 (plus applicable fees).
– Quote of the week: “Well, I know you don’t have cancer of the timing … you’re knocking these out of the park, baby!” – Dennis Miller to Bobby Heenan on a recent edition of Miller’s CNBC show.