This is the second recap of a two-part interview Ric Flair and his producer Conrad conducted with former WCW President and RAW General Manager, Eric Bischoff on the “Wooooo Nation” podcast.
Conrad begins the conversation by asking how WCW’s finances got so out of control in the late ‘90s. Conrad mentions Ray “The Big Bossman” Traylor, who was rumored to have a pay-per-view bonus clause in his contract, even for shows he wasn’t booked on. Eric says that is “complete B.S.,” and that most of those horror stories are based on rumors told by people who weren’t there. He says that Ray Traylor wasn’t the kind of guy who would’ve ever asked for such a stipulation; Eric remembers the Big Bossman very fondly, as does the “Nature Boy.”
The topic turns to the birth of the Monday Night Wars, and the debut of Nitro on TNT. Conrad asks Ric if he thought the Monday night show was a good idea, and Flair says: “Absolutely, I thought it was a great idea.” He says that when the idea was first discussed, he suggested WCW invest in some announcers. He said that Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund were just as valuable to McMahon’s product as the wrestlers, which is why WCW picked them both up. Conrad asks why WCW chose the Mall of America for the first show, versus a traditional arena. Eric says that given WCW’s track record with making money and turning a profit, he couldn’t risk having their inaugural episode in an empty arena. Eric says that he’s always truly admired Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon’s ability to make their show look incredibly crisp, and asks fans to compare the early days of both companies—“there is no comparison!” The Mall of America setting created an instant hook, and made the show pop in a way that WCW had never done before.
Conrad says that most fans remember Lex Luger as a pivotal part of the debut episode of Nitro; Ric was always under the impression that Lex returned for an enormous payday, but as Eric’s said time-and-again, that simply was not the case. Eric mentions his recent string of debates opposite Bruce Prichard, and says that he learns something new every time they talk. From what Eric was told by Prichard, Lex’s contract was up and Vince assumed Lex was as good as his handshake. For those who don’t know, Lex and Vince were very good friends who hung out and trained together on a regular basis. As the story goes, Steve “Sting” Borden, who was also close to Lex, asked Eric to give him another shot. Eric gave him the lowest-paid contract possible—$150,000—in the hopes that he’d turn it down, but Luger signed on and remained part of WCW until its close in 2001. Eric says that as he gets older, he learns more about himself and the people around him. He’s learned to forgive, and says that until very recently he’s harbored a lot of resentment toward Lex Luger for what happened with Miss Elizabeth. Eric says that even in his early days as an announcer, he didn’t have much interaction with Lex, but saw him talk with other people and he came off extremely arrogant. Eric says that he doesn’t think Lex meant to come off the way he did, and Lex has even said in interviews that it was all part of the gimmick and he regrets having acted that way. Ric says that Eric is right about Lex’s attitude, and says that he used to drive everyone crazy because he spoke in the third-person.
Ric starts talking about how the real money in WCW in the early ‘90s was taking advantage of the travel department. The guys were given plane tickets from the office, but some chose to pocket the value of the ticket, and drive the distance instead. Before he was in charge, a “fairly high profile individual” showed Eric a stack of unused tickets nearly six inches, each ticket with a value of $800-1200. Eric says one of the first things he did when he took over was he started cracking down on travel. Ric says that he never did that because he was always flying first class, and never wanted to drive.
Conrad asks how the decision to bring JJ Dillon back to the company came about. JJ has always said that Eric hired him so as to gain insight into the WWF’s contracts and pay formula. Eric says that he had absolutely no idea who JJ Dillon was at the time; he never followed Crockett Promotions, and says he “certainly had no idea what he did for Vince.” Kevin Nash was the one who suggested JJ, who was just released from WWF as the Head of Talent Relations. Kevin told Eric that JJ was fired, he’s got a son with special needs, and he really needs a job. Eric hired JJ without even meeting him, based on both Nash’s recommendation, and JJ’s then-current situation. Eric says that he immediately lost respect for JJ immediately after hiring him. After just about a week or two in WCW, JJ pulled Eric to the side and said, “Hey, you want to know what the guys in WWF are making? I’ve got all the records right here.” He then proceeded to open a folder containing handwritten notes and countless figures on various Superstars. Eric says that he’s not above fighting dirty—and has on numerous occasions—but that crossed the line. From that point forward, Eric didn’t want JJ involved in any aspect of the business side of things. Conrad asks how Eric can say that, and then justify sharing Raw results on Nitro. Eric laughs, as well he should, and says that one was sharing confidential information, and the other was reporting a taped TV show that tens of thousands of fans have already seen.
Conrad asks Eric why Shawn Michaels never received an offer to join the rest of his friends in WCW. Eric says that he was certainly aware of Shawn Michaels but didn’t know him personally. Shawn and Marty Jannetty were on the first AWA show Eric ever promoted. Eric got to know Shawn through Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, but was always under the impression Michaels felt comfortable with Vince, and would thus never leave. Eric says that WWF contracts before the loss of Luger were the legal equivalent of “crayons on a bar napkin.” But once Lex signed with Bischoff, Vince changed the way he did business, so Shawn Michaels was under very strict contractual obligations to WWF. He also says that WCW didn’t become attractive until the NWO began getting hot, at which point, Shawn was the WWF Champion. Ric says he feels Shawn was convinced by WWF officials that he would never have the creative freedom in WCW that he did there. Ric also puts Shawn over for being smart enough to put his dad in charge of his money, but says he wasn’t always the best when left to his own devices. The Nature Boy went to a strip club with Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash once, and HBK spent $10,000. Later that night he got a phone call from his dad, screaming about a $10,000 credit card bill.
Conrad asks how Eric Bischoff how the Brian Pillman situation came to be where the “Loose Cannon” found himself in a leveraged position against the company. Eric begins by saying he wants to be careful with how he answers the question, out of respect to Brian who isn’t there to correct him. He says that Brian—within WCW—had created a “lunatic character” that he lived to the fullest. They had a sold-out show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and most of the wrestlers were staying in the Casino Hotel. The casino is laid out in a way that makes it impossible for celebrities of any kind to get through without being spotted. This created a lot of congestion whenever the WCW wrestlers were trying to get to their rooms or the arena. Eric learned early on that staying in the casino was a bad move, and instead chose to lodge at a boutique hotel up the road. He and his wife were at the smaller hotel’s bar, and saw Brian Pillman, who had chosen to stay there as well. Eric says that Pillman was “pitching a fit,” and remained completely in character while berating the bartender. Eric turned to his wife and said: “That’s a great character.” He and Pillman started talking, and Brian came up with the idea to leave WCW for ECW so as to sell the gimmick the best he could. The plan was to bring Brian back, and they remained in contact up until he signed with WWF.
Conrad says that both Ric and Eric have spent time with Dennis Rodman, so surely one of them has a good Dennis Rodman story. Ric laughs, and says, “None that we can share.” Eric agrees, but says he has something to say that he doesn’t think Rodman would mind. He says that Dennis is a very introverted, caring human being, and that doesn’t come across through his flamboyant media appearances. He says that Dennis is very generous, almost to a fault, which is why he’s had problems with so many people he’s surrounded by. Eric says that Dennis was kind of lazy, and didn’t want to do anything until it was absolutely time. But once it was time to work, Dennis gave 110% and was a true professional. Eric says that he and Dennis were finished with a show one night when Rodman decided he wanted to go to a strip club. Eric says, “So he did—and a lot of us did.” After the night was through, Eric went to Rodman’s tour bus to say goodnight, and says that it “looked like the set of Caligula.” All of the strippers from inside the club were now inside Rodman’s tour bus. Bischoff says, “I saw some stuff and uh—yeah, I had to go. I didn’t want my finger prints anywhere near that one.”
Conrad asks Eric to talk about the NWO’s parody of the Four Horsemen. Ric says that it wasn’t Eric’s idea, it was Terry Taylor’s idea. Eric says that regardless of who came up with the idea, he was the one who went ahead with it. He says that it was the wrong thing to do, and didn’t realize how it was going to affect Arn Anderson. Eric says that he was always going to take care of Arn financially after his injury, and didn’t understand how his work in the ring defined him as a man. He says that he can look back now and while hindsight’s 20/20, it was “too close to the bone, and disrespectful.”
Conrad says that the “elephant in the room” is the 1998 Thunder Ric failed to appear for, because he was attending his son Reed’s amateur wrestling competition. Eric says that’s something he and Ric never talked about, regardless of how close they’ve been before or since. He says that things in WCW were most certainly decided upon at the last minute, but so are various things in WWE today. Ric asked for time off, and assumed it was granted through the different people he spoke to—including Eric. Eric didn’t remember agreeing to it, but says it’s entirely possible he forgot. At the time he was so wrapped up in his own ego and the company itself, that he wasn’t willing to consider the possibility that he was wrong. Eric says that Ric is a very passionate person, and wears his love for the business on his sleeve. He adds that while he didn’t have the knowledge of Ric Flair, he loved the business just as much and was equally passionate. When Ric chose to attend Reed’s wrestling tournament, Eric fired him, which caused the inevitable falling out. Eric says that he was ultimately trying to prove a point to the rest of the talent that nobody was bigger than WCW, not even Ric Flair.
The conversation begins to wind down and Conrad asks Eric to give him his favorite “That Doesn’t Work for Me Brother” line he’s ever heard. Eric says that a lot of the Hogan stories have been completely overblown, but remembers back to a year or so before the NWO. He wanted Hogan to turn heel because of the reactions he was getting from the fans, and flew down to Tampa to meet with the Hulkster. After pitching the idea—which had nothing to do with the eventual Hollywood Hogan character—Hulk said: “Sorry brother. Can’t do that. You aren’t going to understand my character until you walk a mile in my red and yellow boots.” He then looked at his watch and said: “Thanks for coming. I’ve got to go pick my kids up from school. See ya.”
Eric says he’s happy with his legacy within the wrestling business, despite any alternate narrative provided by WWE or anyone else. He says that he’s proud that things he did during the Monday Night Wars are still impacting the way business is done today, and says that without a Nitro, there wouldn’t have been a Monday Night War, so he’s happy to have done his part. Conrad says that Eric has made for one of the best sets of episodes they’ve ever done and thanks him for his participation.
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