*****UPDATE***** Early yesterday (10/17), Vince Russo tweeted the following in response to my column: Would love to discuss this with you in a respectful manner. Some things are spot on, others couldn’t be more inaccurate. Feel free to follow/dm me if interested.
Following that, he invited me to his Video Podcasts to discuss various topics in my column. Given that I haven’t been on camera yet in my entire 21 year career as Mr. Tito, I advised that I’ll “think about it” and offered him that I could (a) call into his show with an Audio discussion or (b) he could provide a written response that I’d gladly post in this very column. He wants the “face to face” meeting on his video show. Again, I haven’t been on video before and not only do I need to configure the IT logistics of doing so, but I need to consider the ramifications as well. I don’t get paid to do what I do, so therefore if I’m going to have my likeness appearing somewhere, it needs to be worth my while and time.
However, my offers of an Audio call-into his show AND sending a written response to actually post on LordsofPain.net (with plugs to any sites of his choosing) stand as an immediate resolution. I’ll keep negotiating a video appearance in the future and we’ll jointly announce it if both parties remain interested.
I will say this… In discussions with him about my column and possibly working with him, he was mostly professional and reasonable. On my part, as you’ll read below, I thought that I was very respectable regarding Mr. Russo’s career and how he is viewed in the wrestling community. I gave him credit where it is due (WWE Attitude Era) while giving context as to why WCW and TNA didn’t go so well in addition to explaining why current promotions might be afraid of him.
Enjoy the column if you haven’t already! THANK YOU to Vince Russo for his feedback on the column. I really appreciate it.
Follow Mr. Tito on Twitter by going to the following link: @titowrestling
The “Brett Favre or Terry Funk of Internet Columnists” has returned from the Retirement Home to deliver you another fun filled column exclusively here at LordsofPain.net. The excitement is in the air… So much pro wrestling stuff hitting the fan now between WWE’s RAW & Smackdown, NXT, NWA, Impact, Ring of Honor (well, maybe), and the young promotion, AEW. With competition, that creates lots of news… Business is BOOMING for internet news/results sites along with news reporters. The question is this… Which promotion will create the breakout star or angle first to win this “war”?
But there’s one guy who we know won’t be there to create that breakout star or angle… The guy who created many breakout stars and created arguably the greatest angle and stable in the world… Eric Bischoff. He was sent packing after 4 months on the WWE roster after he actually moved to the New York/Connecticut area to join the WWE as Smackdown’s “Executive Director”. FIRED! Now, the WWE has leaked multiple stories to the dirt sheets on how Bischoff was “lazy”, “spent too much time at catering”, “didn’t know the current product or wrestlers”, etc. Meanwhile, Vince McMahon and the WWE completely ignore how the WWE’s Storylines and Smackdown LIVE show completely SUCKED before Eric Bischoff arrived. And as far as we know, Eric Bischoff wasn’t allowed to do anything as Vince McMahon is firmly in control of that show with the upcoming and now present FOX deal.
Really? The guy who out-worked Vince McMahon during 1995-1997 is “lazy”? Go watch WCW Nitro from that era and dare to tell me that Eric Bischoff is “lazy”. The man built a pro wrestling dynasty over the course of 3 years that dominated the wrestling industry for about 2 years. Sure, it all fell apart, but it wasn’t for effort… Just trying to keep pushing the NWO angle with Hogan on top did them in along with the WWE catching fire during 1998. Look at how gray Bischoff’s hair became from 1996 through mid 1999. He aged like a President from the HARD WORK performed.
So now, Bruce Prichard takes over as “Executive Director”… Congrats on being the next scapegoat, Bruce. As the great Jim Cornette said, these Executive Director positions were created for someone to get fired by Vince McMahon when ratings continue to decline. HENCE why Triple H was NOT put in that position… Vince didn’t want to blame, scapegoat, or fire family. Bruce gets to oversee the Smackdown brand with the FOX deal in place… Yeah, that’s not going to work out well. It’s the FOX deal and Vince McMahon will be damned if anybody else, but himself, controls Creative. Bruce is just there to fetch coffee when needed. When ratings go down, Bruce will also get fired (probably demoted, as he’s a Vince yes-man).
Meanwhile, Paul Heyman remains… As long as Brock Lesnar keeps working for the WWE, Heyman is safe…
If you look across the wrestling scene, ALL of the old names are coming back to lend a helping hand. In addition to Eric Bischoff, Paul Heyman, and Bruce Prichard, we have Jim Cornette helping out the NWA promotion (some MLW work, too), Jim Ross working as an announcer and senior advisor for AEW, and Tony Shiavone as an announcer and producer for AEW.
Each of those names that I mentioned above performed those roles, in some capacity, during the late 1990’s… You know, 20 years ago. Where are the fresh minds at to help this business evolve?
YET, for all of the older names who are coming back to the Pro Wrestling business, there exists 1 specific person whom none of the promotions are calling. And this guy was the Lead Writer of one of the biggest boom periods for a wrestling promotion ever.
That man is Vince Russo.
Now, before I get deep into this column, I need to give credit where credit is due… My discussion that I’m about to present on one Vince Russo was talking points that I formed in preparation for an online YouTube debate show that I was going to do with my dear friend Dave. He’s a big Russo fan & defender and has been working on a column himself about Vince Russo. One of the debate topics was going to be about Vince Russo and WHY he hasn’t been hired by any of the many wrestling promotions out there. Thus, the genesis for what I’m about to present to you is from my “show prep” for that show. For that, I thank you, Dave, for the inspiration for this column. I’m sorry that our show idea won’t work out, but hey, it gives me great material to produce something that I do best… Columns.
Why haven’t any of these many promotions hired Vince Russo?
You could say “maybe he burned too many bridges”? Huh? Jim Cornette is constantly finding work after his exits from the WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor did not end well. Yet, MLW and NWA are knocking… Hell, the WWE brought back Cornette to indust the Rock N Roll Express for the WWE Hall of Fame a few years ago despite many things said on his Podcast. Eric Bischoff and Bruce Prichard both tried to join TNA to make them a valid competitor but yet the WWE took both back. Look at the many wrestlers that have burned bridges with promotions… Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, and Bret Hart all came back to the WWE after having major heat with the promotion. Just look at some of the stuff that Hogan and Warrior said and the WWE brought them back.
Why not Russo?
Just look at how he changed the tone of the WWE from the time he joined the Creative Team during 1996 until the promotion peaked in viewership during the Fall of 1999 when he left. Before, the WWE Creative Team featured Vince McMahon with Bruce Prichard, Jim Cornette, and Pat Patterson. Bruce and Pat are “yes man” guys to Vince while Jim Cornette didn’t want to be there. Vince McMahon was running wild with career gimmicks (plumbers, racecar drivers, striking baseball players, hockey players, clowns, stalkers, etc) while overpushing Diesel and Shawn Michaels as forced babyface champions. Nobody stood up to Vince McMahon to say “YOU’RE WRONG!”. Bruce and Pat were Vince loyalists and Jim just wanted to be back home in Kentucky.
WWE was stuck in a ditch until two specific backstage moves occurred… (a) Jim Ross became the Talent Relations manager and began revamping the WWE roster and (b) Vince Russo joined the Creative Team. Together, Ross’s recruiting and Russo’s creative ideas gave the WWE additional brainpower that helped change the way Vince McMahon operates his company. Ross made huge signings of WCW castaways (Foley, for example) and recruited younger talent that would contributed to the WWE for years (Rock, Edge, Christian, etc.). Meanwhile, Russo wrote storylines that pushed for a more Adult Themed tone which was a complete 180 from the children based “safe” storylines and characters pushed before. Suddenly, it was OK for Steve Austin to swear, DX to crotchchop, and a character like Val Venis to suddenly appear. The “Attitude Era” was born thanks to create characters and a change in tone. Did Russo possibly steal ideas from ECW or late 1990s shock television like Jerry Springer? Probably… But it worked, didn’t it? Once the WWE pushed Bret Hart out the door, Russo’s sweeping storyline changes really took shape for a booming 1998 and continued growth through 1999.
Russo worked well within the WWE system… Vince McMahon was clearly in charge and had final say. Jim Ross provided the talent that could fit virtually any gimmick or storyline that you could dream up along with pulling off great matches. Pat Patterson was the match finish guy, as he was perfect for helping wrestlers pull off big blowoff angles in the ring. Bruce Prichard was good for big ideas, though he was working in the office during this period of time. Gerald Brisco was a good agent and backstage hand to keep the promotion traditional like a wrestling promotion (Jim Cornette was good with that too) despite the evolving storylines. With all of this now in place backstage, the WWE was a playground for Vince Russo. Anything that he could dream up, the great talent was there to pull it off.
Meanwhile, wrestlers during 1996-1999 had their own say in the process… Promos weren’t scripted and they had lots of freedom to work, as they chose, during their own matches. This wasn’t the Corporate WWE that you see today where every little second is micromanaged. Russo could come up with storylines and wrestlers had input when needed. Vince Russo collaborated with wrestlers and was a partner to them… If you listen to wrestlers like Mick Foley, the Rock, and Steve Austin, they have glowing reviews of Vince Russo because he was handy for coming up with different ideas for their characters.
But as time went on, the pace of the WWE’s schedule began to wear Russo out. The demands of writing for 2 hours of RAW per week plus monthly Pay Per Views took its toll on Russo… Then, adding WWE Smackdown was going to create 2 more additional hours of television for writing. As Vince Russo once told the story, he brought up this workload to Vince McMahon and how he had a family… Vinnie Mac completely disregarded Russo’s concerns. That was a slap in Russo’s face and opened the door for him to bold to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) during the Fall of 1999.
However, things didn’t work out well for Vince Russo in WCW…
See, I equate Vince Russo to David Lee Roth of the music group Van Halen. Within the confines of Van Halen’s ecosystem, Roth is a mega star who works well with the Van Haley brothers and Anthony on bass. On his own… Yeah, he had a few hits, but were they as big as his songs with Van Halen? Nope… How was David Lee Roth’s radio show? It didn’t last trying to fill Howard Stern’s void. Bluegrass album… Not so well for Roth. Even David Lee Roth’s return to Van Halen during the late 2000s and to the present has been a bit lukewarm. The structure of Van Halen has changed since Roth left and it’s no longer a great fit for him. Sort of like how Vince Russo almost rejoined the WWE during 2002 and it just didn’t seem like a good fit with Stephanie McMahon already in charge of creative and hiring a big staff of former Hollywood writers.
But I also believe that the FAME MONSTER bit Vince Russo and changed him forever…
Once you get on camera and become a wrestling character, everything changes… It changed for Eric Bischoff when he joined the NWO during late 1996. Bischoff went from the visionary that made WCW become the #1 promotion to focusing all of his creative attention on his NWO character and keeping the NWO (and Hogan) strong at the top of WCW. Stephanie McMahon during 1999-2000 became an on-screen character with the McMahon-Helmsley stuff and it went to her head as if SHE was the reason why arenas were selling out back then. By the time she became Creative Lead during late 2000, she kept writing big storylines for herself and kept any characters linked to her, including her future husband, strong. I believe that the on-screen work that Vince and Shane McMahon have done has gone to their heads, too… Look at Shane McMahon right now… The guy is in his late 40s and is willing to kill himself despite having a family at home. Who would risk losing the ability to be there for his wife and kids to perform stunts on a wrestling show when he financially doesn’t have to?
When Vince Russo joined WCW, he tried to become MORE than just a Creative Writer… I believe that he tried to morph himself into a Vince McMahon role in WCW. He went from collaborating with wrestlers who had established gimmicks to forcing wrestlers to change their looks, names, and gimmicks. With a fragile backstage in WCW, nobody was there to stop him from self-destructing. Furthermore, nobody was there to remind him that it was a “wrestling” product. He tried to pack in way too much storyline and theatrics into his Nitro, Thunder, and Pay Per View… It was a promotion on a “sugar high” with how many ideas were hitting the wall. Vince Russo was not unfiltered and lacked the management infrastructure to help him. The talent department was poor in WCW and due to the changing management at Time Warner soon-to-become AOL/Time Warner created a backstage sense that nobody was in charge. Vince Russo tried to be that surrogate leader backstage but he wasn’t equip with the managerial abilities to do so.
In other words, Russo was “in over his head” in WCW…
Then, the FAME MONSTER bit him… During his first run during late 1999, Vince Russo spoke behind a desk without showing his face as a mysterious authority figure “The Powers that Be”. Not only was he writing WCW’s shows and assuming additional responsibilities trying his best Vince McMahon impersonation, but he was an on-screen character now. WCW management got cold feet on Russo that by early 2000, they sent him home as the Lead Writer of WCW.
Russo, however, came back to WCW during the Spring of 2000 but this time, he was a full blow on-screen character for the New Blood vs. Millionaires’ Club angle. As the year 2000 went on, we saw much more of Vince Russo. As I described with Bischoff and each of the McMahons, their focus went from writing storylines for other wrestlers to saving their best material for themselves. For Christ’s sake, Vince Russo made himself WCW Champion. If that isn’t an indication of an EGO GONE WILD, I don’t know what is… Like Bischoff and the McMahons before him, the FAME MONSTER took over and changed Vince Russo for the worse. In the WWE, he was just a backstage employee whom the fans rarely saw… Now, his face was on weekly television for WCW.
That whole episode at WCW Bash at the Beach 2000… He’ll say that he “made” Booker T that night… But who remembers that Booker T won the title that night? That show is more well known for the “shoot” promo cut by Vince Russo on Hulk Hogan. His actions to verbally thrash Hogan took centerstage on that show. Russo should have focused on getting the talent over but instead, the focus was on himself. Throughout 2000, as Russo became impaired due to his on-screen character and trying to morph himself into a Vince McMahon role with WCW, WCW suffered. WCW no longer had that creative force known as Vince Russo from 1996-1999. He was a changed man.
And that changed man struggled to rejoin the WWE during 2002 and then was a different person who joined TNA Wrestling. He lasted a long time there but that promotion, despite having good talent for periods of time, TNA just didn’t significantly grow under his tenure. Again, this was not the Russo of 1996-1999 that TNA hired. It was the guy who got a taste of on-screen fame and tried to do more than just being a creative contributor for a wrestling promotion.
What made Vince Russo effective as a “fresh voice” in the WWE during 1996-1997 and onward into 1998-1999 as Lead Writer was his mouth and his personality. Someone needed to challenge Vince McMahon during 1996-1997 to CHANGE the tone of his product. Russo was very critical of McMahon and how the WWE operated back then. It was refreshing for Vince McMahon to have someone so bold that they’d stick up to him. Both Vince Russo and Jim Ross were Alpha Males who openly disagreed with Vince McMahon. Historically, those are 2 guys whom Vince McMahon struggles to get along with professionally to this day. Ross has a checkered history with Vince McMahon and has been openly mocked on television by Vince. Meanwhile, Russo didn’t last long with WWE during 2002 and has never been hired back. In fact, several WWE Network specials have openly mocked him. He gets that “Ultimate Warrior” treatment seen during the 2000s.
Russo’s personality and vocal ability combined with the ego formed from being an on-screen character has ruined him for good. If you look back at former WWE workers, such as Austin, Foley, and the Rock… They love Vince Russo! Mostly have great things to say about him. Jim Ross is another guy who praises Russo, though Ross tries to get along with everyone. Yet, if you listen to interviews from WCW and TNA talent? Quite the opposite reaction… We don’t get that many great reviews on his work in TNA from the talent. In fact, you hear quite the opposite.
It doesn’t help much that Vince Russo goes on shoot interviews or rants on his own Podcast about how poor the wrestling culture has become and how workers don’t want to put in the work (wants to play video games instead). While he may be making valid statements, he’s limiting his opportunities to ever work with another big promotion due to his lack of professionalism. Just look at the way EVP of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), Cody Rhodes, treated him last year with the “All In” Event. Cody flat out said “stay away” when Russo was making hints that he wanted to attend the event or the Starrcast shows surrounding it. For a promotion that is LACKING a Creative Team or a strong writer with a past, one would think that they could have used a Vince Russo. Nope, they want nothing to do with him.
WWE won’t rehire him and likely won’t with Stephanie/Triple H in charge. Impact (formerly TNA) won’t rehire him. AEW, at least with Cody Rhodes speaking on its behalf, doesn’t want him. NWA/MLW has Jim Cornette and so thus, those aren’t options for Russo. Ring of Honor? They shy away from in-depth storylines and push more of an in-ring product.
And I believe it is because Vince Russo is a changed man… He’s not the same motivated creative writer that we saw revamp the WWE from 1996-1999. That meeting with Vince McMahon regarding workload and Smackdown where McMahon disregarded that he had a family broke him… Then, trying to do too much in WCW with a weaker roster and a dysfunctional culture killed his creative spirit… Trying to morph himself into a Vince McMahon like role was a mistake and trying to become an on-screen character was an even bigger mistake. Making yourself WCW Champion? Come on, man…
I just don’t think that ANY promotion wants to deal with the current version of Vince Russo. If time travel could exist and they could recruit the Vince Russo of 1996-1999? Please, these promotions would be tripping over each other for him. The Vince Russo that worked for WCW as it further declined and a TNA promotion that was stagnant? Probably not… The Vince Russo of today that has been heavily opinionated of today’s wrestling and critical of the current promotions? Not a chance… I just don’t see that many Vince Russo allies that would vouch for him to join a wrestling promotion. I also don’t see many of the oldtimers wanting to work with someone who calls their profession “play wrestling” and mocking the importance of title belts.
Yes, he was great and yes, he had a significant hand in changing the Creative Direction of the WWE forever from 1996-1999… BUT, he had a loaded talent roster thanks to Jim Ross and a real backstage leader in Vince McMahon to guide him creatively. He didn’t have that in WCW or TNA and he foolishly decided to become an on-screen character. In WCW, he didn’t have a chance to focus on being a creative writer and was instead distracted by his desires to be an on-screen character and trying to morph into another Vince McMahon to salvage a very dysfunctional WCW.
In hindsight, he should have never left the WWE the way he did… Russo left without notice and joined a sinking WCW ship. He tried too much there, created a bad on-screen character, and then tried to morph himself into a Vince McMahon clone by trying to do too much instead of just being the creative director.
Vince Russo didn’t realize how much leverage that he actually had during the Fall of 1999 as the WWE was turning Corporate and about to lose “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to injury. Russo should have been promoted to a Vice President or Senior Vice President, hell EVP if needed, back then. Then, he could hire additional Creative employees that reported to Vince Russo. Russo just had Ed Ferrara back then… WWE was making boatloads of cash and would make much more by going public. But he took 1 conversation with Vince McMahon personally and made a snap decision to join WCW without any notice whatsoever. If he simply expressed to Vince that WCW made him a serious offer, Vince would have blinked with Smackdown on deck to become a show on the UPN Network.
Russo didn’t and joined WCW…
Long-term for Russo, however, he’s doing well for himself and is probably doing well with his family without that WWE schedule. He took a bold leap of faith during 1999 to “stick it” to the ungrateful WWE and it harmed his impact to the wrestling business, in my opinion. WCW was a disaster, especially from his work in 2000. The TNA stuff never appealed to me as a wrestling fan. Their cultures did not nurture the creative talents that Vince Russo had. After the WWE stint, he should have taken his resume to Hollywood instead of WCW/TNA. He could have used his WWE success to land a writing job somewhere there. Who knows?
But what I do know is that there is ZERO interest right now for Vince Russo to become a “Executive Director” of the WWE. In my opinion, the WWE needs Vince Russo MORE than any other promotion… The Creative Teams that are now there SUCK and make some of those WCW 2000 storylines look decent. And in my opinion, Vince Russo has contributed more to the the WWE than Bruce Prichard. Bruce is a great idea guy (Undertaker was his idea, right?), but writing weekly shows isn’t his thing.
It’s a shame what happened to Russo starting with his first WCW run during late 1999… And then he just morphed into a completely different version of himself that we no longer recognize compared to his great 1996-1999 WWE Creative run. And he’s loud about it, too… Lots of soundbytes from Vince from shoots to his own podcasts that have tainted his own “brand”.
That’s a shame… Just put on your WWE Network and watch Monday Night RAW from early January 1999 until Wrestlemania 15 for some of the BEST wrestling television ever. Russo was ON FIRE during that period of time creatively…
But that’s my opinion on Vince Russo… He’s a “changed man” since 1999 both as a creative force and maybe a person. He’s the David Lee Roth of professional wrestling. And the WWE, sadly, is Van Halen of 2019 with older family members and took key contributors, like bassist Michael Anthony (Jim Ross), for granted.
That’s my opinion, Mr. Southworth, and it’s been a pleasure to debate you.
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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