Published on December 27th, 2017 | by Anthony Milano0
Joining the Enemy: How Eric Bischoff Came to the WWE
Eric Bischoff is one of the most controversial figures the pro wrestling industry has ever seen and his innovative approach to storytelling is what helped catapult World Championship Wrestling to the apex of the professional wrestling world in the late 90’s. But, depending on who you ask, he can also be credited for the downfall of that very same company.
A man who had seemingly burned all of his bridges by the time WCW was purchased by Vince McMahon, Bischoff very much believed his time in pro wrestling was finished.
“When the deal fell apart, and because of the way it fell apart, I was disheartened and disappointed. My life in pro wrestling was over, not with a sparkle but a splat. There was no way in the world I was ever going to work for Vince McMahon. Joining WWE was out of the question—I didn’t see that happening in my lifetime. So I geared my mind toward developing other projects.”
Bischoff was not alone in his thinking. Many wrestling fans felt they had seen the last of Bischoff. That is what makes his on-screen return in 2002 all the more shocking.
How were the seeds planted for this return? Eric details the process, step-by-step, in his tell-all autobiography, Eric Bischoff: Controversy Creates Cash, a highly recommended read for all wrestling fans.
“On a Thursday night, I got home, and my answering machine was blinking. John Taylor had left a message.
John was an attorney in Atlanta who represented WWE. He wanted me to give him a call. So I did.
He told me WWE wanted to talk to me. Would that be okay? ‘Sure. Have them give me a call.’
Jim Ross called back a short time later. Jim and I have since mended our fences. I won’t say that we’re great friends, but I think we’ve dealt with our issues. But up to that point, Ross hated my guts. He blamed me for every bad thing that had ever happened to him. He’d told people I fired him, when that wasn’t true. In fact, he’d made such a public enemy of me—I think to endear himself to the crowd and get himself over—that in real life it carried over.
I could tell he wasn’t excited about talking to me. Vince or someone must have put him up to it. WWE had decided that it would be a good idea to shoot an angle with Vince McMahon and me the following Monday.
I asked what they were thinking. Ross was pretty vague.
‘We don’t really know if it’ll work,’ said Jim. ‘It’s a short-term deal. Come in, we’ll try it. If it works, great. If not, hey, part friends.’
A couple of things occurred to me. One was, if they were calling me on a Thursday night for an angle they wanted to do on Monday, they probably hadn’t given it a lot of thought. It seemed like an idea that came up at the last minute. If that was the case, it probably hadn’t been planned to go very long or very far—it would be a hot-shot moment, as we say in the business.
The other thing was that I wasn’t in any kind of shape. I’d been eating and drinking for a week straight. I was also stuck in Wyoming. There are only two or three planes that go into Cody on any given day, and over the July 4 holiday you have to make your reservation months in advance or you won’t be able to get a flight out. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to get out of there.
On top of everything else, I didn’t feel like leaving my entire family, which had just flown and driven in from different parts of the country. Hi everybody! Thanks for showing up! I’m gone!
I called Ross back and thanked him. ‘Maybe we can do something down the road. The timing just isn’t right.’
When I hung up the phone, I said to myself, That’s it. Not too many people tell Vince McMahon no and hear from him again.
A year went by. I started developing a lot of relationships in Hollywood. I pitched various ideas for shows. We had some false starts and near misses, but didn’t really develop anything substantial.
I was in Los Angeles in May 2002 when I got a phone call from Kevin Nash. He was working for WWE—it was right around this time that World Wrestling Entertainment changed its name from World Wrestling Federation. Kevin and I were still pretty good friends, though we hadn’t talked in a while.
‘Hey, Eric. There’s a rumor going around that you’re going to be getting a call from Vince. Would you be interested if he calls you?’
I told him I didn’t believe that would happen. But I said I’d be interested. By this time, I’d put all of my bitterness and ill feeling behind me. I’d moved on, emotionally and psychologically.
‘Sure, if Vince calls, it’d be great. But if it doesn’t happen, let’s go catch a beer next time you’re in L.A.’
A day later, I got a call from Vince.
Whatever anxiety or doubt I had, Vince eliminated immediately by saying something to the effect of: ‘I would like to think that if the shoe was on the other foot, and you had acquired WWE, we would have been able to work together.’
It was odd. I was on the phone with him for, maybe, two minutes, and I felt like I’d known Vince for my whole life. It was as if I was talking to an old friend.
Vince was very gracious. The feeling I got was that he understood what I had gone through. While he came out on top, he understood what the Monday Night Wars and everything else had meant and had some empathy for me. He didn’t say it, but I felt it.
I hung up the phone and I said to my wife, ‘I can work for this guy. If the offer’s right, I’d like to go back.’
I wanted to go back because my career in the wrestling industry had ended in a bitter and ugly way. I had spent nearly twenty years of my professional career in the wrestling business. To have achieved everything I achieved and have it end on such a down note bothered me. I didn’t want to be remembered like that.
After the second or third discussion I had with Vince, I started getting phone calls from people, asking what was going on. ‘Hey, I heard you did a deal,’ said Kevin Nash. ‘I heard you did a deal.’
As much as I hated to, I had to deny it. Technically it wasn’t true. I hadn’t signed anything yet. And I wanted my appearance with WWE, assuming I went through with it, to be a surprise.
The wrestling audience is a funky audience, particularly because of the power of the Internet. The Internet really does have an impact on the business. If the wrong person found out I was coming back, the news would be online in seconds.
I knew that if the word got out, the initial reaction would be, ‘Oh, cool.’ But then you would have people tearing it down. That’s kind of the nature of that community. There are very few positive things said on the Internet. It’s more about everyone’s negative view of what everyone else is trying to do. So I knew it would turn quickly to ‘Oh, Bischoff’s going to ruin WWE. He’s going to do to them what he did to WCW. The morale’s going to go down, the guys are going to hate it.’
It’d be one big negative thing before it even started.
I called Vince and said, ‘Vince, there are leaks in your organization. I’m getting phone calls I shouldn’t be getting, from people who shouldn’t know that you and I are talking. If we’re going to do this, can we do everything in our power to keep it quiet? Don’t tell anyone you don’t have to tell.’
‘And you know what? I want to go so far as to fly myself in. Because the minute you book an airline ticket through your office, everyone’s going to know. I’ll book my own hotel. You tell me where to be and when, and I’ll be there.’
And we did.”
You have to give credit where it’s due; the man was fully committed to keeping his appearance a secret. What ended up being one of the most genuinely surprising on-air moments in WWE history very well could have lost some of its lustre had it been leaked to the internet dirt sheets. The fact that he was more than willing to be treated like a member of witness protection rather than a paid entertainer, is a real testament to just how much he understands the business. Bischoff continues to detail just how far out of the way he would go to remain hidden:
“The Raw I was going to appear on was at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I came into New York City and stayed across the river near LaGuardia Airport. Monday morning, a town car came over and picked me up, bringing me to another hotel not far from the arena, but not the one where the wrestlers were staying.
Around two or three in the afternoon, a script was slipped under my door. There were two or three pages of material they wanted me to memorize. Up until then, I’d never had to memorize that much material. Usually I’d work with bullet points and improve it. That’s the way a lot of guys who’ve been in the business for a while work.
I wasn’t sure whether they wanted it word for word or not. But I figured if they’d spent this much time preparing this much script, I better do it word for word.
For the next few hours, I walked back and forth in my room, talking to myself, reciting my lines.
About seven o’clock, a stretch limo arrived at my hotel to take me to the arena.
We stayed out in the parking lot, outside the arena area, until nine. Then the limo pulled inside the arena. I remained inside so no one could see me.
I was smiling so hard my face hurt. I knew it was going to be big. I knew I was going to get a huge reaction from the crowd. I was excited to get out in that ring again and let it rip, just hear that audience react.
As the time came closer to my debut, I saw guys passing and trying to get a look in the limo, hoping to figure out who the surprise general manager was going to be. Steve Lombardi—he’s a great guy who works behind the scenes at WWE after a career as the Brooklyn Brawler—squinted at the blacked-out windows. He couldn’t figure out who was inside. It was still a secret.
About twenty minutes before I was supposed to go out, Vince McMahon came by. It was the first time we had met face to face since that interview in 1990. He sat in the car and gave me a little pep talk.
‘When you come out, Eric, I want you to give me a big hug. Let’s embrace.’
Which was kind of odd, because I’d hardly even shaken his hand until this point.
He went back to the show. A few minutes later Stephanie came by, and we were ready to go.
‘Okay, Eric, now none of the boys know. It’s going to shock a lot of people. Don’t let that bother you. Just go out and do your thing.’
I think she probably thought I was a mental train wreck. She was sure that half the guys in her locker room were going to want to kill me, and the other half would cheer them on. But I was just as calm and relaxed as I’ve ever been. We got out, and I followed as Stephanie walked me up to the gorilla position, which is a kind of holding area right behind the stage. It’s the last thing you see right before you walk out.
Either by design or accident, she made a wrong turn. Instead of walking me into the gorilla position, she swung me through an area backstage where twenty or twenty-five wrestlers were watching the show around a monitor.
The looks on their faces was priceless.
There was shock. There was fear. There was disbelief. There was anger. There was laughter.
Big Show stood up. ‘Oh ho, ho, I can’t believe this!’
We reversed course and went up to the gorilla position. I stood there and waited.
Out on the stage, Vince was telling the crowd that WWE needed to be shaken up. He wanted a general manager who was going to be ruthless, someone who lived and breathed ‘ruthless aggression.’
And he had found the perfect SOB. My music started, and I walked out.
The crowd was in utter shock. I walked to the center of the stage and gave Vince a big hug.
A very, very big hug. We milked it to the point where it was almost homoerotic.
‘That rumbling beneath your feet,’ I said as we embraced, ‘is a whole lot of people turning over in their graves.’
The audience was so surprised they didn’t know how to react. They were quiet —until I started running off at the mouth. Within a few seconds, I started noticing the scowls, then the howls and the boos.
It was the reaction I wanted. Once again, I’d found my inner heel.”
Watch Eric Bischoff’s memorable WWE debut in full below: