Vince Russo – The Most Misunderstood Man in Professional Wrestling
Vince Russo is the human equivalent of Marmite: you either love him, or you hate him. In most instances, he's hated.
I was one of the people who jumped on the “Vince Russo killed WCW!” bandwagon without knowing much of the detail behind it. I have since read both Eric Bischoff's Controversy Creates Ca$h and more recently, Vince Russo's very own Rope Opera: How WCW Killed Vince Russo and my opinion has changed.
Many people reading this will have either given up or will be thinking “There's no way I'm changing my mind on that guy!”
Russo doesn't help himself, just look at the title of his book, he loves confrontation. And he really hates being blamed for things, hence the rather direct title for his second book.
Being blamed for things has become commonplace when it comes to Russo. Squash match? Blame Russo. Rushed heel/face turn? Blame Russo. Bad storyline? Blame Russo. Interference in the main event? Blame Russo.
Staff at McDonald’s given you the wrong order? Blame Russo. Your Internet stream cut out? Blame Russo. Yeah, you get the idea.
The IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) can be an angry beast at times. Well, most of the time actually. But when the IWC starts to dislike a guy, no matter what they do, he's to blame. To this day, you still get people moaning about how Vince Russo killed WCW.
I can talk from experience here when I say that if you seriously think that, go and do some research.
No one factor can completely be blamed for taking away the best (in my opinion, of course) wrestling promotion of all time. If the men who worked in the company for years (Bischoff and Russo to name but two) can't say then who are we, as outsiders, to claim we know the answer? That's where the IWC comes back in, or “smarks” as people often refer to them as.
They've read the dirtsheets and the message boards and because they might have said in passing that Russo was involved in WCW, bang, the seeds of Russo hate have been planted and they're something which is extremely hard to get rid of.
The main problem for WCW was the corporate structure, something which a lot of WCW employees mention as being a big problem. Before, you could go and talk to Eric Bischoff and your problem would be sorted, but not now.
After the AOL-Time Warner merger, wrestling was seen as embarrassing to the company and WCW had no chance of surviving in that sort of climate.
In the ring, Bischoff was as much to blame as Russo, if not more. Yes, Bischoff created the best, most bad-ass group in Professional Wrestling history but it went on for far too long and got stale.
The top guys were given stupid contracts, something which Bischoff more or less had to do to make WCW what it was. To give a guy complete creative control over his character is just asking for trouble and that's what he got.
Those guys didn't want to give up their spot. Many people think it's solely down to money but as Russo says in Rope Opera, wrestling is full of paranoia and wrestlers didn't want to put others over, especially in WCW as they saw it as them being buried.
They were giving somebody else the spotlight, soon they'd run off with their wife and file for custody of their kids. Yeah, it really was that bad.
It wasn't as bad in the WWF as Vince McMahon was running a tight ship. He had the last say over everything. Russo is the first port of call for all wrestling disasters, but what about the good things? Does he ever get given credit?
Do we ever hear “Vince Russo killed WCW! But he also helped build the foundations of the Attitude Era.” Of course we don't, it's all one-sided.
The native New Yorker originally started to write for the WWF magazine and later became the editor. Russo then got on to the creative team and later became head writer for the WWF as Vince McMahon sought a solution to the bad ratings RAW were getting.
Russo took over as head writer after RAW's all time low rating of 1.8 and within three years managed to overtake WCW and make RAW the No. 1 wrestling program on TV.
Russo was the main man behind what many fans see as the golden age of Pro Wrestling: The Attitude Era. He helped create the Stone Cold vs. Mr McMahon feud as well as Kane vs. Undertaker and the creation of D-Generation X to rival WCW's nWo.
The one thing Russo likes to point out is that he is a writer and not a booker. Bookers are usually seen as men who have been in the wrestling business before, often as wrestlers.
Writers are normally from a non-wrestling background and though this isn't the case when it comes to Russo, he still sees himself as a writer.
The main difference is that writers normally look far more into the future than bookers. Sometimes this can be detrimental but bookers will generally write in the present and think about how to further the storylines as they go.
With the WWF firmly on top in the Monday Night Wars and with the introduction of SmackDown, Russo decided it was time to jump ship. He was sick of the workload Vince forced upon him and received an offer from WCW which he accepted.
Russo and his partner in crime, Ed Ferrara, not only managed to stop Nitro's rating from declining, they actually improved it by some margin. The head-to-head ratings between Nitro and Raw changed an average of 0.5 in WCW's favour within the first three months.
He was obviously doing something right, going from a 2.9 rating to a 3.5 almost immediately is something which is extremely hard to accomplish.
The focus was put more on the mid-card talent and less on the main eventers who refused to move out of the spotlight.
Two men Russo had problems with were Hulk Hogan and Goldberg. I'll get onto Hogan in a minute but Goldberg didn't do Russo any favours. He had been made into some sort of monster by Bischoff and famously went on the longest ever undefeated streak in Pro Wrestling history.
Russo wanted to rebuild Goldberg's character but that involved taking a loss. Something which Goldberg really didn't want to do.
The fact of the matter was that the guys were too used to doing what they wanted, demanding what they wanted and getting what they wanted when Bischoff was in charge.
Russo tried to come in and do what he did with the WWF (break Nitro's 84 week winning streak) and revolutionize the company but the chances of him doing that were near enough zero.
One man who was really underutilized by Bischoff was Bret Hart. He and Russo had a surprisingly good relationship considering what happened that night in Montreal (if you don't know about that then why the hell are you reading this?!) and the whole Owen Hart tragedy. Bret was WCW Champion and was going to help carry the company.
Russo's bad luck continued though, just before the Souled Out PPV in 2000, he received phone calls from both Hart and then US Champion Jeff Jarrett. Both said they were injured and couldn't wrestle.
That's going to hurt any PPV from any company and Russo planned to put some punch (excuse the pun) into the event by having MMA star Tank Abbott win the World Title. The plan never actually happened but word got around that he was planning it and he was subsequently removed as head writer.
After refusing to work as part of a booking team, Russo took some time off. As soon as he left, Nitro's rating went straight back down to 2.4. Doesn't that tell you something?
Russo returned three months later to work with Bischoff as they tried to rebuild WCW but the two often locked horns and they weren't getting anywhere. Both men wanted total control and that was something you simply couldn't have after the corporate merger ruined WCW.
The biggest talking point during his short WCW tenure was Bash at the Beach. I mentioned that Russo had trouble with Hogan; most people do. Not because he's a bad person, he's just an ego maniac. And who can blame him? The man more or less built sports entertainment.
I'm sure you know what happens (again, if you don't then do your research, I won't bore you with the details) and Hogan more or less tried to screw Russo over.
A lot of things that are said about Russo do have some truth in them but he is not a liar. He had run through the match and ending with Hogan and Bischoff beforehand and even edited it after Hogan refused to lose to Jeff Jarrett. Creative control ruining things yet again.
Jarrett laid down for Hogan and he and Bischoff left the building. Later in the PPV, Russo came out and 'fired' Hogan from WCW thus nullifying his title and this set up an impromptu match between Jarrett and Booker T.
Hogan tried to sue Russo for defamation and after a lengthy, drawn out struggle, the case was thrown out. He, Russo and Bischoff have since been re-united at TNA and apparently have a much better relationship.
The main thing that has changed Russo over the years are his newfound religious beliefs. He is a born-again Christian. If you read Rope Opera, you may get a bit sick of his references to God but it's obviously a big part of his life, something you can't blame him for.
Over the years, I've always had a bad opinion of Russo. I genuinely disliked the guy and thought Pro Wrestling would be a much better place without him. However, after doing research and reading his book, I've now come to respect the man.
A man that suffered depression doing what he loved doing. That's how screwed up WCW was, way before Russo was anywhere near it. A man that although claims he could walk away from wrestling, obviously loves the sport. A sport that he has had such a massive influence on, often more positive than negative.
Sometimes wrestling fans can be ruthless and there are often casualties along the way. Vince Russo is one of those casualties and I hope more people will look at Russo and think: “Hey, I don't agree with everything he does but he's done so much for the rasslin' business, I respect him.”
Thanks for reading, be sure to follow me on twitter at @TiltonWarrior and become a fan of mine for more in-depth, quality articles like this!
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