MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – Can Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff SAVE the WWE?

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The EXCELLENCE IN COLUMN WRITING is back here at LordsofPain.net. Life is good from the Retirement Home… I’m doing non-wrestling things and watching non-wrestling things, just waiting around until the next All Elite Wrestling (AEW) event. WWE boycott lives and I have been “sober” from watching any WWE programming since the embarrassing “Superstar Shake-up” shows just 2 weeks after Wrestlemania 35. I’m starting to realize that my 10/27/2018 “Retirement” Column wasn’t just a retirement from being Mr. Tito but my retirement from watching the WWE. I had a brief “dead cat bounce” return from Royal Rumble 2019 to Wrestlemania 35, but the WWE lost me again… WWE’s loss as a fan is AEW’s gain.

As a WWE fan since 1988, I have NEVER seen the McMahon-owned promotion in this bad of condition. Sure, the mid-1990s WWE were a rough watch, but at least you had Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to count on. While they weren’t Hulk Hogan level stars, they consistently put on great matches and they did enough to entertain. The WWE roster of 2019 does not have anybody to draw new fans in, nor do they have anybody that can retain wrestling fans. Lots of “damaged goods” from years upon years of poor developmental territory teachings and poor Creative Team input on the main roster.

With the rise of AEW, the WWE roster is going absolutely insane by openly revealing relationships, talking openly about letting their contracts expire, flirting with AEW talent, and being openly critical about the WWE. We saw much less of this before 2019, as your options were an Impact wrestling promotion with a bad TV deal and lots of Dixie Debt to payoff, Ring of Honor owned by Sinclair who doesn’t want to fund the promotion, and the overseas New Japan to join as a wrestler. Not exactly appealing, which is why your Sasha Banks of the world signed 4-5 year deals before 2019 and now feel trapped because of the contract that they signed.

Earlier this week, I was about to write a column that listed the many, many things WRONG with the WWE right now. And boy, was there many… I have a DRAFT column about 2/3 completed on my hard drive that completely thrashes the WWE and then…

*****BREAKING NEWS*****

The WWE assigned Paul Heyman for RAW and Eric Bischoff for Smackdown with the titles of “Executive Directors” of each brand.

Say what?

At first, I was like “is this real or a storyline?”. Just seemed too fake because (a) the McMahons don’t work well with Paul Heyman in a creative position and (b) it is Eric Bischoff who hasn’t worked for a wrestling promotion for a while. Just seemed too phony of a newsline… I looked at the WWE’s Company Filings and saw no official mention of it. I wasn’t sure if that title of “Executive Director” warranted a filing for investors per the Securities Exchange Commission.

And then you consider where Triple H is in this situation… Presently, he is EVP of Talent, Creative, and Live Events. On the creative end of things, he was in charge of the WWE’s Creative Teams since late 2013. Ratings and attendance have significantly declined since… Is the hiring of Bischoff and Heyman to head up each brand an indictment of Triple H? Or will they report to Triple H? Or is Triple H losing the Creative part of his job title and essentially become Jim Ross‘s role by focusing on developing talent. Or will Triple H just head up the NXT to really allow for the WWE to have 3 distinctly different brands to fend off any competition (like AEW).

Seems like a HAIL MARY to me if Heyman and Bischoff are really becoming in charge of the RAW/Smackdown brands. This would be an admission of guilt for the last 5 years’ worth of declining business. We went from being over 4 million RAW viewers during 2014 to being barely above 2 million RAW viewers for June 2019. Attendance has lost thousands per show. While the WWE has put their chips on Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Brock Lesnar (Rousey and Charlotte for the Women), the rest of the roster has suffered with zero opportunities to rise up or maintain a top spot. Increasing RAW to 3 hours and Pay Per Views to 4+ hours has been killer for the WWE. “Superstar Shake-ups” have ruined the split rosters and now the “Wild Card” spots are making things look ridiculous. Seems like the WWE has been unable to create a top drawing Main Eventer from scratch ever since they jobbed out John Cena in a squash match at SummerSlam 2014.

The real question is how much do Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff have left in the Creative tank… And how much freedom will Vince McMahon grant them.

In my opinion, here is why Vince McMahon has named Heyman and Bischoff as “Executive Directors”:
(a) Desperation thanks to reduced business.
(b) Keeps both Bischoff and Heyman away from AEW or other competitors.
(c) Triple H would rather focus on the NXT brand and reduce his time on the road to spend time at home as a father.
(d) Vince McMahon needs help as his focus wants to be on XFL succeeding.
(e) Vince McMahon might be retiring soon or maybe selling the WWE.

As a public service to many newer fans or those who didn’t know the insides of the past 30 years of wrestling, I would like to discuss the careers of both Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff why they may or may not be great signings by the WWE as “Executive Directors”. Lots of positives but also negatives with both individuals.

CAREER RETROSPECTIVE: Paul Heyman

– About to turn 54 this year

– Began working in the wrestling business during early 1987 as a manager.

– Worked as booker, part-owner, and then full-time owner of Extreme Championship Wrestling from 1993-2001.

– Mick Foley and Steve Austin both had brief stays in ECW between WCW and WWE. Gave both creative freedom to cut their own wrestling promos and that was important in their later WWE careers.

– Signed unique talents that no other promotion gave chances too, such as superstars from Mexico or Japan. Gave chances to wrestlers like Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, and a host of others that caused many other promotions to raid them.

– Introduced adult themes into storylines which the WWE later stole for the “Attitude Era”.

– Great at coaching up unlikely talents and midcarders to be relevant. Would Sandman, 9/11, Big Dick Dudley, Mikey Whipwreck, and others be relevant elsewhere? Joel Gertner’s act wouldn’t work elsewhere and Heyman gave him every chance in the world to succeed. Rob Van Dam and Sabu were wrestlers that you’ve never seen before. Heyman introduced them and pushed them.

– Great at salvaging careers… Before Raven, Scott Levy bounced around between WCW and WWE with goofy names and gimmicks. Then, he became Raven and was one of the most amazing characters ever. Al Snow failed repeatedly in the WWE. Then, he gets “Head” and was reborn. Shane Douglas was never greater elsewhere than he was in ECW.

– Ability to hide weaknesses or characteristics… Tazz (or Taz in ECW) is billed as 5’9″, but I’ve heard that he is slightly shorter… Doesn’t matter. Point is that height was never an issue in ECW with Tazz because of how he was pushed as a legitimate shooter and “human suplex machine”. He was pushed as having a low center of gravity because he was a grappler and everybody believed in him. Tazz joins the WWE during early 2000 and suddenly, he looks tiny against their wrestlers.

– ECW closed during early 2001 due to money issues. Paul Heyman took over the finances of the company when Tod Gordon abruptly left the company during 1997.

– Had the ability to convince ECW wrestlers to take on other side jobs for FREE and often work without paychecks for a while during 1999-2001. His ability to persuade wrestlers to do anything is a real skill needed for a wrestling booker.

– Helped the initial Brand Split of 2002 become successful, as Smackdown regularly out-rated RAW on the UPN Network during 2002-2003.

– Had problems working with the McMahons during 2002-2003 based on specific wrestlers that Vince McMahon wanted to push and having to report to Stephanie McMahon who was head of Creative back then. Issues such as pushing Prince Albert (repackaged as “A-Train”) and the Mr. America (Hulk Hogan) versus Vince feud created conflict backstage. Additionally, Heyman was in the middle of the Brock Lesnar burn out and eventual exit from the company.

– Heyman got the best out of the Big Show… Smackdown’s main event scene was badass back in the day with Undertaker, Big Show, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar.

– Excellent on building Tag Team divisions. Both ECW from 1993-2001 and Smackdown from 2002-2003 had amazing tag wrestlers and with unlikely teams. In ECW, Heyman paired up Bubba Ray Dudley and Devon Dudley to form one of the most accomplished tag teams of all time. The Eliminators were pure badass! Cornette made the Gangstas, but in ECW, they were insane once Dr. Dre and Ice Cube’s music hit! For Smackdown, Heyman did things like pair up Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit and Rey Mysterio/Edge as perfect complements for teams. He then took “Class of 2002 – Ohio Valley Wrestling” rookies named Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin to form one of the most athletically gifted tag team of all time as Team Angle (eventually as World’s Greatest Tag Team).

– John Cena discovered his gimmick and was pushed as that new character under Paul Heyman’s watch during 2002-2003.

– Helped make Brock Lesnar become a major superstar during the 2000s and 2010s and acted as his spokesperson during both eras. Lesnar never had to speak much with Heyman by his side and owes a good bit of his career success in the WWE to Paul Heyman.

– Became booker for the Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory after the abrupt firing of Jim Cornette by the WWE (for slapping Santino!). While his tenure didn’t last long, his teachings to CM Punk were incredibly important during 2005-2006 at a time when the WWE reportedly didn’t want Punk around. Heyman salvaged his WWE career.

– Both initial One Night Stands shows during 2005-2006 were so amazing that it convinced Vince McMahon to create a 3rd brand extension.

– Did not work well with Vince McMahon on the ECW brand extension during 2006, lost complete control of the ECW brand. Ended poorly that resulted in the worst ever purchased Pay Per View by the WWE known as ECW: December to Dismember 2006.

– Refused to work for TNA Wrestling (now known as Impact) during the late 2000s, as he wanted full control of the roster and creative. Held his ground… Wise choice considering how bad Bischoff and Hogan would struggle with the same “power”.

– Huge help to Brock Lesnar as his spokesperson… Lesnar has limited dates yet Heyman can appear more often to speak on Brock’s behalf. It’s brilliant.

– Failed at managing Cesaro and Ryback. Neither guy benefited by being a “Heyman Guy” and their singles careers never recovered.

– The Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg feud during 2016-2017 was agented by Heyman. Goldberg’s WWE brand has significantly increased because of his feud and their Wrestlemania match was perfectly executed.

– Gives advice to Alexa Bliss on her promos… Results speak for themselves.

– Helped to agent Ronda Rousey. Ronda still needs more in-ring experience and time on the microphone, yet her inexperience could be hidden thanks to Heyman’s guidance.

IN MY OPINION: Paul Heyman could succeed if and only if the McMahons are “hands off”. Heyman’s ability to book the midcard and Tag division is a major positive that cannot be denied.

*****

CAREER RETROSPECTIVE: Eric Bischoff

– 64 years of age.

– Been in the wrestling business since 1987.

– Worked as an announcer for the start of his career through early 1993 when he was promoted to Executive Producer of World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

– Has the ability to work within a budget. WCW was a money loser since Turner own the company during 1988. Bischoff changed the business model and worked to cut costs drastically to improve conditions for the future. Yeah, those tapings at Disney were bad, but they were tough managerial choices that had to be made.

– Rolled the dice on Hulk Hogan during 1994… Yes, it cost WCW a ton of money, but Hogan was a game changer for WCW. When they creatively changed Hulk Hogan during 1996, it paid off for dominating the business back then.

– Let Steve Austin and Mick Foley go as talents. I can understand the dislike for the Cactus Jack gimmick, but having Austin job out to an older Hacksaw Jim Duggan was just awful. Yet, Bischoff’s move helped fuel what Steve Austin eventually became.

– Was mostly a hands-off manager with wrestlers in terms of Creative. Wrestlers could cut promos and wrestle matches with freedom as long as they stayed within what the Creative Team wanted. That said, the hands-off culture led to other things that quickly got out of control in WCW…

– Nailed the free agent signings of Macho Man Randy Savage, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Sean Waltman away from the WWE. Those guys made a huge impact on WCW, especially Hall and Nash to form the New World Order.

– Raided ECW for their talent during 1995-1997 to stock their midcard full of Luchadores and unique smaller wrestlers that Heyman helped introduce to the world. His talent raiding of Heyman’s Luchadores introduced more Mexican wrestlers to WCW.

– Good relations with New Japan Pro Wrestling that allowed talent sharing.

– Great “Big Picture” guy on ideas. Obviously, he saw the invasion angle in New Japan and figured a WWE invasion angle would work well in WCW. The hype of the 3rd guy joining Scott Hall and Kevin Nash was amazing. Had the courage to convince Hulk Hogan and Sting, longtiime babyfaces, to join the NWO as the 3rd man (Sting declined). Dared to suggest creating WCW Nitro and Ted Turner accepted that idea.

– Had the vision to create the Cruiserweight Division which gave many smaller wrestlers an opportunity to shine, such as Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio Jr. The division became a major asset to WCW for many years and helped make Mysterio into a big star for a long time.

– A real competitor. Completely fearless in attacking WWE by revealing spoilers of their shows, signing away talents, and trying to give fans something different than what the WWE presented during the mid 1990s. Granted, revealing spoilers hurt WCW during early 1999 with the Foley WWE Title win, but it worked quite well before that.

– Title belts were important from 1995-1998… The Cruiserweight, TV Title, US Title, and World Title were all separate divisions within WCW with real elevation… Well, the World Title section was more of an exclusive club, but wrestlers could easily move within the other titles like a promotion. Belts were fought over like they mattered.

– Reportedly promised Creative Control and possible World Title reigns in contracts offered to bigger stars or former WWE wrestlers. As more and more former WWE stars joined WWE through 1998, the WCW roster was full of wrestlers with their own creative say.

– Backstage was reportedly out of control. Many wrestlers who traveled between WCW, ECW, and WWE have suggested that “anything goes” in WCW. Kevin Nash said that several locker rooms had “beer on ice” and that they were drunk for many in-ring promos.

– Eric Bischoff became “one of the boys” during late 1996 and that reportedly ruined him. When Bischoff joined the NWO, many wrestlers cited that he became full of himself and was often partying with his fellow NWO wrestlers on the road. This caused a major disconnect between himself and talent and thus caused disclinary problems.

– Terminated Sean Waltman (Syxx) to make a point against the growing backstage drama. Huge mistake, as Waltman would join the WWE as X-Pac after Wrestlemania 14 to help chane the momentum of the Monday Night Wars.

– Let Chris Jericho go… He was an up and rising talent but yet WCW did not want him to grow beyond a midcarder.

– Disregarded the Giant (now Big Show) as a talent after 1996. He lost motivation and gained lots of weight through 1998. He should have been the star that WCW could have moved onto after Hulk Hogan.

– Had increasingly bad relations with Ric Flair during the late 1990s. This made a few things public to wrestling fans and hurt Bischoff’s credibility with many of the wrestlers for his treatment of Ric Flair.

– Wouldn’t let any newcomers, besides Bill Goldberg, join the main event scene with Hulk Hogan. Always favored Hogan based on the contracts signed since 1994. The early 1999 “Finger Poke of Doom” stuff (© Scott Keith) with Hogan being recrowned as champion and with the NWO reuniting was just awful.

– Kept hanging on to the New World Order despite its expiration date. During 1998, we had NWO Hollywood vs. NWO Wolfpack… Then during early 1999, we had the top stars of both groups form 1 group. Just lame.

– Starrcade 1997 with Hulk Hogan vs. Sting. ‘Nuff said.

– Ruined Bill Goldberg’s star power by lying about his Streak and rushing him to the WCW Title too early without a plan afterward.

– Gave creative duties to Kevin Nash over the entire roster… I’m not bashing the job that Nash did, but he was a full-time wrestler then. It spread Nash too thin during late 1998 and early 1999. The Starrcade 1998 stuff with Goldberg was brutal.

– Mailed in his year 2000 return and bailed… That left Vince Russo alone by himself to control the entire creative process and WCW was doomed.

– During early 2001, tried to reinvent the Cruiserweight Division with a Cruiserweight Tag Title. It was fun… It was a great idea in the last days of WCW and made for some exciting matches.

– Very enjoyable as the RAW brand’s General Manager from 2002-2005. Great character and it seemed like he had a lot of fun back then without any other strings attached.

– Joined TNA with Hulk Hogan to help that company with its Creative process from 2010-2012. It was a complete disaster and fast tracked TNA’s downfall. They tried to recycle too many past ideas and wrestlers.

– Has experience producing Television Shows (other than wrestling) with his friend and business partner Jason Hervey.

– Fits incredibly well within a corporate system working for both Turner/Time Warner/AOL and WWE Corporation.

– Great communicator and seems to be always calm no matter what the setting is.

IN MY OPINION: Eric Bischoff fits well within a corporate setting to communicate well with the WWE Corporation and FOX. However, he’s not much of a day-to-day Creative guy, however… He’s more of a big idea guy and delegates to a creative team. This created a booking-on-the-fly environment for WCW Nitro after 1996 especially as Bischoff became more distracted as a NWO member. He could do OK if he has a support system. His experience making title belts appear strong from 1996-1997 is needed in the WWE.

————

For BOTH Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff… WHY THE HELL NOT? At this point, WWE’s current system of Vince McMahon, Triple H/Stephanie/Shane never challenging the patriarch, and a bunch of Hollywood writers and corporate types scared to challenge Vince isn’t working. Heyman and Bischoff have proven history and lots of experience to offer. Yet, my worries are more with Eric Bischoff because it was the 1990s were he had his last success. Heyman has been in the WWE since 2012 on his current run and has seen some creative success on the projects that he has been given.

WWE needs all the help it can get right now… Just be wary… The last time that Heyman and Bischoff were in charge of their own promotions, the Titanics were sinking…

So just chill… Until the next episode!

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