Eric Bischoff discusses many different topics on his 83 Weeks Podcast with co-host Conrad Thompson. Their topic recently was about the January 19th, 1998 edition of WWE Monday Night Raw. What was neat about this specific episode is it was a watch-a-along podcast. I’m an avid listener of this podcast, because listeners get details on more of the business aspects of the wrestling industry along with Bischoff providing what he can remember when it comes to certain situations that were occurring behind-the-scenes. Eazy E and The Podfather go on to have an in-depth conversation about a hot angle which was happening during this era of wrestling.
WWE had been enjoying some mainstream media attention at the time due to having a big boxing star by the name of Mike Tyson appear on Raw and Tyson would be in the ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Now keep in mind WCW was still enjoying being dominant in the ratings at the time. However, things were going to change in WWE’s favor largely but not only because of Tyson and Austin, but Vince McMahon and company could get away with by letting themselves be edgier with their storylines.
Bischoff shared his thoughts during this time when he saw Mike Tyson make his historic appearance on that Jan, 19, 1998 episode of Raw. He said,
“I think it was in November of 1997, and somebody will correct me when I’m wrong because you know how I am on dates, but Vince came out and he did this promo and I saw it the first time about a year ago. He basically told the audience, and I will paraphrase the whole thing as I don’t know what the verbiage was, but he said essentially he let the whole world know that WWE is going to be changing their creative approach. The old style of storytelling and presentation of WWE was no longer what the audience wanted.
Zane Bresloff wanted me to call him…I called him and said, ‘Man, you’re never going to believe this, but they’re bringing in Mike Tyson.’ When he said it, I took a pause and it started soaking in. I didn’t connect what was going to become the Attitude Era and the new way of telling stories, which is essentially adapting the formula that was working for Nitro which was quit producing for teens and pre-teens going and it starting going after the 18-39 or 18-49-year-old audience. I didn’t know that’s what Vince meant when he made the big announcement that they were going to listen to their audience and change the way they are approaching wrestling, but when I heard Mike Tyson it started giving me pause. I thought if they use him right, this is going to be a game changer and sh-ts going to be really serious.
In 97, we were kicking WWE’s a-s. In early 1998, we were kicking their a-s, but I was fearful that the Mike Tyson thing would be a big deal and it was unfortunately for me, but fortunately for WWE, I was right. It was huge. I think it was a pivot point in WWE. I really do. I think so many things happened just in this one angle. I think Steve Austin’s equity went through the roof. He was already a big star.
He was already heading in the right direction, but with the Tyson storyline, he got catapulted into the stratosphere. I think Vince McMahon became a real character and not a parody of one when he came out as the owner, I think for the first time, but he took on a more serious role. If you go back and you look, Vince even changed the way he dressed. He started wearing a black jean jacket to the ring. God, I wonder where he got that idea? But everything changed in a big, loud, effective way.”
Just a month prior to this particular episode of Raw Eric and Conrad were talking about, is when Bret Hart debuted for WCW. WCW also had signed both Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith from WWE. Bischoff was asked the question of why WCW didn’t do a Hart Foundation vs Four Horsemen feud? He responded, “I think the Montreal screwjob and the fallout from it was something that nobody obviously anticipated. We didn’t have months to determine what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it with the Hart Foundation so it wasn’t part of any long-term planning. It was a spontaneous opportunity so there is no real plan in place. A lot of the other main players were already in storylines so it wasn’t like you are just going to drop everything you’ve been doing right in the middle of it and start out fresh and pretend none of the other stories were happening. That was part of it. The other part was a couple of the aforementioned talents that came over and had some issues, drugs and otherwise. That was the problem. There wasn’t a lot of urgency to try and create something that didn’t feel like it was time yet.”
Bischoff was asked, “We’re these observations present in your first meeting or do you hire these guys unseen based on recommendation and reputation and then you meet them and you are like, I don’t think this is who I thought I was signing?” This was Bischoff’s answer, “I didn’t meet with them prior to signing. I obviously knew exactly who they were and had a pretty good idea what their respective values would be to the roster at that point. I didn’t feel the need to sit down and have a conversation with them. I was a bit taken aback, and it wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t like the first time I saw these guys that it was obvious and it wasn’t all of them. I want to be careful. I don’t want to paint with a wide brush. But, of all the individuals that had obvious issues, it wasn’t immediately obvious, but subsequently, after the first time or two we were together, it became really apparent.”
A credit for use of quotes used for the article are to the “83 Weeks” podcast with Eric Bischoff & Conrad Thompson.
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