Vince Russo says he has only one regret, what people misunderstand about him, winning the WCW title

Image Credit: F4WOnline

Vince Russo is a professional wrestling booker and personality, author, and podcaster. He joins Chris Van Vliet from his home in Thornton, Colorado to talk about his podcast “The Vince Russo Brand”, how he started working for WWE, getting lured to join WCW during the Monday Night Wars, booking himself to win the WCW Championship, why WCW failed, David Arquette’s pro wrestling redemption, the one regret he has, his current relationship with Eric Bischoff, his time working for TNA, why he uses the word “bro” so often and much more!

On his love of podcasting:

“I’ve been podcasting now for 7 years and I love the freedom. You know, bro, I officially got into the wrestling business in 1991. Bro, it’s just very political. You can’t be yourself, it’s like you have to watch every word you say, every move you make. Who is standing behind you with a knife? Who is going to use this against you? To just have the freedom to be you, I am 60 years old and it is the greatest gift I could have at this point in my life.”

On his move to WCW, frustrations and his character on TV:

“I think the problem with me honestly, when I was writing for the WWE, my name was never discussed. I did my job, we did our thing with the attitude era and everything was hunky dory. When I went to WCW, and you got to understand in my first meeting with them, me and Ed Ferrara explained to them over and over again. Because at that point, the WWE, we had just left, we [WWE] were drumming them [WCW] in the ratings. WCW was at such a low point, nobody was watching the show. When me and Ed were writing for the WWE the shoe was on the other foot, WCW was killing us. I had charts and numbers, I knew how long the process took. I tried to explain to WCW you’re not going to get the ratings back overnight, it doesn’t work that way. It’s literally years of good consistent television. The whole game plan was, their ratings were so low, we’re gonna break everything down, demolish everything and we’re gonna start building our house.”

“We explained it’s going to be a year before you see any growth in ratings. But bro, as I was explaining this to them, I knew darn well they’re gonna want ratings in 2 weeks. Sure enough, a month, 2 months we’re into the job, so much pressure with ratings. So I just got to the point where I said to myself you know what, if you guys want ratings that badly, I’ll go out there and do it myself. Literally that was my attitude, it was kind of like if my backside is gonna be on the line, then I’m gonna either fail or succeed on my own merit.”

“So what I did was, growing up in New York I knew what the stereotype was of New Yorkers from people outside of New York. People hate New Yorkers. So my whole attitude was if you hate New Yorkers, I’m going to give you a real reason to hate New Yorkers. So I went over the top with the real New York persona. And I’ve got to be honest with you, this was the first time people saw me on TV and put a face to the name. Bro people thought I was that guy. I’m like no bro this is a wrestling show we are all characters. I am playing an ego maniacal, hateful, greedy New Yorker, that’s the role I’m playing. But it blows me away because to this day, people think that’s who Vince Russo is.”

Chris then mentions how it’s difficult differentiating when both the character and real life people are both named Vince Russo:

“Bro you want to hear something very interesting about that? It is very true. I was working with Goldberg in WCW, before I got there he had a streak of 800 and 0. When a guy gets that kind of a push from a babyface standpoint, where are you going to go from there? The logical thing was Goldberg has got to be heel. Bro he never wanted to be a heel, he fought me tooth and nail. I remember saying to him ‘Bill, you need to explain this to me because you play a heel in the movies.’ He was playing a killer Santa in the movies, why is this any different? Bill looked at me and said ‘Because in those movies, I’m not Goldberg.’ And he was right, he said ‘using my Goldberg name I’ve got a persona with kids when I go to hospitals.’

When he said that to me, I understood it and I got it. Bro you’re dead on with that analogy. For about 20 years I have been trying to convince people that I’m not that guy. It’s almost like it has turned into a thing where they want to believe I’m that guy. I’m like OK then, believe I’m that guy.”

On how he got to be a writer in WWE:

“I got to be honest, when I got the job with the WWE, being a fan my whole life, bro it was at a point where I thought the product was atrocious. We’re talking Mantaur, Billie Joe Floyd and The Goon, I’m like this is terrible. So the only way I could keep my sanity was to start creating my own angles in the magazines. I wasn’t following what they were doing on TV because I thought it was ridiculous. I was very outspoken in the magazine about how I felt about the product. At some point Bill Watts was hired, and Bill asked if I would like to sit in on creative meetings. I sat in on the meetings, and I think it just got to a point where the rating was so bad that I actually had a phone conversation with Eric Bischoff , because I wanted to go and work there [WCW]. That’s where it was happening. The NWO, that’s where the wrestling business needed to go.”

“What happened was I’m such a loyal and honest guy that after I had that conversation with Eric, I was carrying so much weight on my shoulders, and I felt so guilty because I did feel a loyalty to Vince and Linda. So what I did was, I scheduled a meeting with Linda, because all I wanted to get out of that meeting was ‘listen if all you think I’m capable of doing is the magazine, you need to tell me that.’ Because if she would have said that, I would have done everything I could to get in WCW.”

“So I scheduled the meeting, I sit down with Linda, and before one word is spoken, Vince walks in and takes a seat. At that point me and Vince didn’t really have a relationship. We met about the magazine and stuff, I was always upfront and honest with him. The fact that Vince walked in, I’m like I came here for one reason, I’m not going to back off just because Vince is here. I said that you [Linda and Vince] need to tell me if I’m just capable of doing the magazine. Bro Vince got red in the face ‘How dare you come in here ba ba ba.’ I’m sitting there and I’m saying to myself bro I wanna help you. I don’t know if he wanted to see if he could intimidate me, I don’t know what it was but his anger was really unfitting for the situation. So I said to him ‘Vince, all I want to do is help you. I think I can do more just want to help you.’ This was a Friday, I left that office and I’m like I’m probably going to be fired. When I was sitting in that meeting I knew, you’re either going to go to the next level, or you’re going to be working for another company. But the reason why I did that was I had confidence in myself. My thought was if Vince McMahon wants to fire me over this, because I want to help him, bro fire me. I’ll go work someplace else with somebody that appreciates me. That was really my attitude.”

The following week:

“The next Monday, there was a RAW on TV. Half of it was in the UK and half of it was in the USA, bro it was horrible. It was the worst wrestling show that I had ever seen. I get into the office early the next day, like 8am. I get a call from Vince’s assistant, Vince wants to see you immediately. I’m on the second floor, Vince is on the fourth floor. Going from floor 2 to floor 4, all that’s going through my mind is OK bro, what job are you going to get next? There’s no doubt in my mind I’m going up there to be fired. This guy is going to make an example out of me, he’s got to take his anger out on somebody, it’s gonna be me.”

So I go up to his office and all of his minions are sitting around the table. There’s Shane, Prichard, J.R., Cornette, Patterson. So bro I’m like he’s going to make an example of me in front of all these people. This is Vince putting out his chest and I’m prepared for all this. I’m not freaking out or anything, I’m as calm as a cucumber. Vince has got the magazine in his hand rolled up, he throws it down on the desk and says ‘this is what the show needs to be.’ Bro I was floored. I never in my wildest dreams did I think that the meeting was going to go that way. I thought I was walking in that room to be fired.”

On the small writing team in the attitude era:

“It was about March 1997 when I started. Immediately after that meeting, I was put into that slot. Early on it was me, Vince and Cornette. We were the 3 people writing the show at that point.”

On his phone call with Eric Bischoff and what could have been:

“When I had that phone conversation with Eric Bischoff. Bro Eric was so pompous and so arrogant and so full of himself. But at the time he had every right to be, they were kicking our backside bro! So Eric Bischoff had every reason to be an a-hole. However, if he had hired me, bro I could tell you right now, there would never had been an attitude era.”

“I don’t know what would have happened with the WWE at that time. I can only tell you at that time the WWE was in the red, they were in trouble, they were not a public company. That’s why I think Vince was almost forced to try something new. Because he had been going with this old guard for so long, and the ratings just kept plummeting and plummeting. So I honestly believe he was in a position where he had nothing to lose. But bro if Eric would have hired me from that conversation, the history would have been completely different.”

On Eric Bischoff animosity:

“Yeah bro we don’t like each other. Eric publicly, you know he’s got his show. And he always finds a way to bring me up and bury me on his show. I don’t do that bro. The only time I will talk about it is there have been times on his show where he’ll say stuff about me and it’s just a blatant lie. Bro, when people lie about me, I have a hard time with that. If you don’t like the way I wrote or if you don’t like a storyline, that’s fine. That’s your opinion everything is subjective. When you lie about me and make stuff up about me, I have a hard time with that. But this is how I look at it, we were oil and water. Eric was the guy that likes to be the boss, that likes people to fear him. Eric doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, he likes to make executive decisions, and tell people what to do. That’s great, there are people like that, I’m not knocking that.”

“I’m the complete opposite. I don’t want to be anybody’s boss, I don’t want to tell people what to do. I want to get in there and I want to get my hands dirty. Bro I don’t want the corner office, I don’t want the gold card, none of that stuff was ever important to me. So bro you just had 2 guys that were just completely different, and then you try and put them together, it’s just not gonna work.”

On hardcore fans:

“We are talking about the loud minority, not the silent majority. The silent majority bro, they are the casual fans. The millions of people that were tuning in every week and weren’t necessarily wrestling fans. Because those people love the entertainment aspect. I’m an entertainment guy, I’m not a match guy, I never was. Even when I was a fan growing up, I loved the entertainment aspect and I knew if you’re a wrestling fan, you’re gonna watch as long as wrestling is in the marquee. We’ve got to get the casual fans who wouldn’t watch a wrestling show. So we did that through entertainment.”

“Now the loud minority are the wrestling marks and the dirt sheets. And what do the marks and the dirt sheets hate? They hate entertainment. Bro somewhere along the lines, this niche audience, I swear to you, they’ve convinced themselves that wrestling is real and these matches are real. These matches should be 20 or 30 minutes and these guys should be putting their lives on the line.”

“I’m the complete opposite bro. If you lean on the side of entertainment, you’re going to grow your audience. Second of all, what you’re gonna do is prolong the careers of these guys. The less they have to do in the ring, killing themselves. The longer and longer they can make money in the business.”

“To me it’s common sense, but bro when I deal with these marks, it’s all about the fake fight. I look at AEW and I’m like bro do you guys wanna grow your audience, or don’t you? You’re not gonna grow your audience with 15 minute 6 man match, 8 man match, one right after the other. Because bro, if you’re not a wrestling fan, you’re not going to watch that. So you’ve got to assume the wrestling fans are going to watch no matter what, they’re not going anywhere. You’ve got to figure out, how do I get the rest of the world? That’s how you get ratings.”

Chris asks if you were the head writer of AEW, what would you change:

“The first things I would change is cut down the matches. I mean bro there have been studies over the years of the attention span of people. Every year the attention span gets shorter and shorter. The only person that’s going to watch a 10 minute match, 15 minute, 20 minute, maybe even an 8 minute match, are going to be die hard wrestling fans. If you go back and you study the attitude era, you will see one thing, no wrestling match went through a break. Once in a while, there was an exception in the main event, if it was a big main event. Bro 99% of the time, a match is a part of the segment, no matches made it through the commercial breaks. We were addressing the attention span. For the average casual fan, the minute the bell rings, they want to know 2 things. They want to know who is going over and what’s next? That’s what the casual fan wants to know. If they [AEW] are drawing 750,000 people, and you want to turn that into 3 million, you’ve get to masses. And you’re not going to get the masses through wrestling matches.”

On why did every attitude era episode start with a promo:

“There’s a very simple formula that worked for years and years that they’ve completely gotten away from. Television viewers, they are creatures of habit. Nobody looked at ratings like we did, nobody looked at numbers like we did. I could tell you 100% of the time, when you open the show with a match, that first segment would always be lower than if it were a talking segment. Because bro, what happened was we got people into a routine. This is how a wrestling show is formatted and structured, beginning, middle and end.”

“You set the top of the show with OK, this is what this show is going to be about. In the middle of the show, you revisit it and something big happens in the storyline. Then you get to the end, the main event, you pay it off. And bro, in-between, you have all your backstage vignettes, where with every single vignette, you’re building and building. The backbone of the show is this “A” story. Once you’ve got that body, then you’ve got your B story, C story and your D story. But that one storyline, that is the backbone of your entire show. Being that we are creatures of habit, that’s the format that people got used to.”

On wrestling being a TV show:

“I say this all the time, there’s a big difference between a writer wring a television show, and a booker boking a wrestling show. When you’re a writer, the story comes first. The story then creates the match, so you tell the story first, just like anything on television. Everything that happens in that story eventually leads to the match. Bro, when you’re a booker, and they are usually former wrestlers, you start with the match first.”

“OK what 2 guys would have a great match? So for instance say Kenny Omega and Kenta would have a great match. So as a wrestler, I’m gonna take that match now, because the wrestling fans are going to love this match, and now what I’m going to try to do is make some sense out of a story. Bro they don’t even do that anymore! Now they just book what they think are 5 star matches with no story whatsoever. But it’s a television show, a house show is a wrestling show. With a television show, you’ve got to write it like a television show.”

On fans short attention spans:

“I don’t believe that and I’ll tell you why. If it’s good, you’re anticipating the next episode. You’re not going to watch it on YouTube, if it’s good, you’re looking forward to that next episode. I’ve just binged watched 80 episodes of Breaking Bad.”

On the origin of his bro catchphrase:

“It’s bad, I know. It’s just the way you talked backstage, this definitely came out of wrestling. I wasn’t bro-ing anybody before I got into wrestling. But I still claim without a shadow of a doubt DDP is ten times worse than I am. I always think that Page will be the king of the bros. I don’t realize I’m doing it, it’s just part of my vernacular bro. Dixie Carter used to yell at me all the time because I would have conversations with her and refer to her as bro. And she used to stop me and yell at me all the time. I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.”

On what he is the most proud of in his time as a writer:

“What I’m most proud of is that we were evolving the business in a way that it should have been evolved. What I mean by that is we were improving it. When we started doing sports entertainment xtreme in TNA, people would be at the building, but they wouldn’t know that I was even in the state of Tennessee. How this would work bro would be me and Jeff Jarrett would be writing the show, the night of the show they wouldn’t know that I am in Tennessee. Me and Jeff know when I’m gonna hit the ring, but nobody else is smartened up to this. So basically, I would go to the fairgrounds in Tennessee, park at the back entrance and get on the phone with the Harris brothers. They were Jeff’s right hand men and the only ones that knew.”

“I let them know I was here, and they would open the door for me and I would walk right into that building, and nobody on the show knew I was coming. I would get in that ring and I’m cutting promos and people had to react, there were no scripts. Bro I’ll never forget this, there was an incident where I came in, nobody knew I was coming, and it turned into a brawl. And I wanted people to believe that this was real. So I remember it starts getting into a brawl, and Truth is doing his play wrestling with me, you know fake phoney wrestling. And I’m like bro, no. Bro, for the one moment in my life, I got somehow this gargantuan Sampson like strength. Bro I swear to you, I wrapped my arms around R-Truth and threw him down to the mat as hard as I could. That is a 100% shoot.”

“So this thing gets pulled apart and I go back out the entrance, and bro The Harris brothers come sprinting around the building. ‘Vince, Vince, you better get you you know what out of here, Truth is looking for you and he is gonna kill you! He wants your blood, he is going ballistic.’ But we were doing something that was new and exciting. Mike Tenay never knew when I was coming, and Mike was the only one bro who in the moment was able to go toe to toe with me verbally. Bro, this should have been the direction of the business. Instead of going in that direction, man they went 100 miles back the other way.”

Chris asks why didn’t TNA continue on that path:

“I think that they were afraid of the unknown. Wrestling, they are very afraid of the organic. I’m always a fan of bro let it go. Let’s see what happens here, lets be organic. Bro, the business in general is very controlled. You see it now with the promos. Here’s your script, you’re gonna say every single word. When wrestling is organic, it’s believable. But they’ve gotten so far away from that man.”

On TNA going head to head with WWE on Monday nights in 2011:

“That was a bad idea bro. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but you know Eric and Hulk at the time, really convinced Dixie that we were ready for this. And bro what I was looking at was from a financial point of view we couldn’t compete with them financially. Going head to head with them I knew the death nail, but they convinced Dixie, we tried it and obviously the rest is history. That’s why with Tony Khan’s money, he might be able to do that, but TNA did not have that kind of money at the time.”

On what AEW needs to do to be more popular:

“If they [AEW] want to turn the business around, they need to do one thing, get out of the wrestling bubble and let everything stem off of reality. Reality needs to be the backdrop off of professional wrestling, not Randy Orton vomiting black ink. Reality, what is happening in the real world? What is happening in that business? Bro, I think they live 24/7 in that bubble that they’re so out of touch with reality. Here’s a perfect example that goes back 25 years. Survivor Series, Vince gets punched in the eye by Bret Hart.

“Next day, Vince shows up at TV with a black eye. So now bro there is a meeting prior to the show of the inner circle. I’m in this meeting, and Vince is walking around with a black eye. Now their instinct was ‘we’re gonna sweep this under the rug like it never happened.’ I’m letting them talk and I’m just listening. Finally I just said ‘are you people out of your freaking minds?!’ The main event guy punched Vince McMahon in the face, this will probably never happen again in anybody’s lifetime. I could tell that Vince was listening, and this was the difference between me and everybody else. I was like ‘Guys no! We’ve got to be all over this.’ That’s when Vince cut the Bret screwed Bret promo. I was the same with Kurt Angle and Jeff Jarret [in TNA], if it’s OK with them, this is going to be part of our show. But wrestling for some reason, they fear reality, and I don’t understand it.”

On his controversial storylines:

“I don’t think I pushed the envelope enough. The only thing I would tell you now that I regret, but there’s a good reason for it. When I was in my heyday of the attitude era, I was not a Christian man. When I look back now on The Undertaker and what was a cross, but we were calling it a “symbol.” I would not have done that now after I became a Christian. That I wouldn’t have done, but I mean outside of that.”

“But people point their finger at me for stupid things. I think in my career I’ve booked 3 pole matches, so I think I get the pole thing all the time. Then of course I get the David Arquette thing all the time, then of course I get the putting the belt on myself. Unless you’re a writer, you don’t know what the F you’re talking about. Because bro when you’ve got 2 shows a week, and a PPV every month, bro do the math. That 116 shows [a year]. You’re writing 116 shows a year. When you have incidents that happen that weren’t supposed to happen, David Arquette was not supposed to win the world title. Vince Russo was not supposed to get speared through a cage, when you create those moments, what it does is it opens up the creative envelope. Now you can go down all these avenues that weren’t open before.”

“Like I said, when you are writing 116 television shows, you can’t keep repeating the same thing over and over again. So, when David Arquette wins the title, holy crap a Hollywood actor, this wasn’t supposed to happen, what are they gonna do? That can now create the next 3 months of TV for you. People don’t understand that bro, unless you’re writing the 166 shows, there’s only so much you can do. You’ve got to open up that creative envelope.”

On David Arquette’s current extreme run:

“I’ve had talks with David and I’m like ‘Bro are you nuts?’ But that’s the loud minority, those weren’t the casual fans watching the show back then. Those are the hardcore wrestling marks who believe this stuff is real and oh my God what we did to the tradition, I mean come on! It’s a television show!”

On his time as WCW Champion:

“People have very short memories. I won the title becasue Goldberg speared me through a cage and almost killed me. I did not beat anybody, I almost died winning the title. Do you know on the very next show, I relinquished the title because I said ‘listen I’ve got nothing else to prove. I beat Booker T square in the middle 1,2,3.’ People still talk about it like I was the WCW champion for 10 years. It’s a television show, but when I say that people hate me.”

On the wrestling style today:

“I think it has evolved for the worst. Here’s what these kids don’t understand, when these guys and gals are done, it is very hard for them to earn money. What do you do with a resume that says professional wrestling? When you have got people that have done this their whole lives, and all of a sudden it’s over, life becomes very difficult for them. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen guys broke that you wouldn’t believe that they did not have any money. So one of the reasons for my podcast was to give the guys an outlet. They have a show, they can make a couple of hundred bucks a month.”

“I wanted to contribute, because I know how hard it is for them. I have become the enemy by stating to this young talent that you have a shelf life to make money. The more you go out there and do these insane moves, get concussed and fly off of ropes and this and that. What you are doing is you are taking that lifespan, and you are shortening it.”

“Here’s what gonna happen, and this is what they don’t wanna hear, bro you’re gonna be 38 years old, you’re not going to be able to wrestle anymore, then what? The whole idea is this is a business. You should be looking to prolong your career as long as you possibly can. With these crazy bumps that I see, they are shortening up that life expectancy. I’m trying to tell them for their own good, guys, you don’t have to do that! This is a work, but by literally caring about their livelihood, I’ve become the enemy.”

On wrestling companies not paying talent enough:

“I’ll never forget this, when TNA first started, Jerry Jarrett was a big part of that. I remember on the first couple of shows I saw the payroll. Guys were getting paid $25 or $50 a match. I said ‘Jerry you can’t pay these guys this.’ As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a professional wrestler, every time you step into the ring, it could be your last match. If you miscalculate, it’s over. Jerry laughed at me and he said in 2002 ‘Vince, are you kidding me? These guys would pay us to be on TV!’ Those starting out need to handle this like a business, like you are a brand. Because 22 year olds don’t see the end, they think it goes on forever, it doesn’t. the money you are making now, you may need at the end of the road.”

“When you’re working with Kevin Nash he had like a laundry list. ‘If you want me to do this, it’s this much.’ It’s not that way today, when I’m seeing these spots in front of no people, are you nuts! Every week someone is getting hurt, out for 6 months, out for 12 months.”

On whether he watches todays product:

“I make it clear with all the shows I do is that I am not a fan of todays wrestling. The only show I watch is RAW, because I have 3rd parties that pay me to watch RAW. I stopped watching SmackDown, I stopped watching AEW. But I’m so careful to say guys, I’m not a fan, but if you like it, enjoy it. I never tell anyone to stop watching. But then I get the attack on social media because I don’t like it. It’s not my cup of tea.”

On being disrespected:

“There was a time in TNA. In WWE and WCW there so many veterans, it was all about respect. I respected their craft as a wrestler, they respected me as a writer. You may not like everyone, but you respected everyone. I can remember significantly, it was about 2008 ish. I worked with TNA for about 10 years. All of a sudden I started to see a fluctuation of these young guys coming into TNA.”

“The first thing I noticed off the bat that was foreign, a lot of these guys, this was their first stop. I would get with them creatively as a writer and a producer, bro they had the attitude like they knew more about what I did than I would ever know in my life. Like I knew nothing about writing, producing or character development. They knew more than I did, I started seeing this. I started seeing a lack of respect of people who have been doing this for years. I don’t like this, I don’t want to work with these individuals who are disrespectful.”

“My attitude is that all these veterans who are at AEW now are where I was in 2008. What started happening was I took on the attitude of bro, no problem. Go out there and do whatever you wanna do, because I know you’re never gonna get over. So don’t listen to me, I don’t know anything. I know that’s what’s taking place at AEW, because veterans will speak up so much that they will go screw it. That’s why I left TNA in 2012.”

On anyone could become a wrestler:

“Somewhere along the line, around 2008, and I take great offense to this, I don’t know what happened where just anybody can be a wrestler. It’s like so many of these people I watch on TV, they had this dream of becoming a wrestler, and now they’re on my TV wrestling on prime time. In my opinion, they have no reason being there. I don’t know how that happened. I remember back in the day bro, every wrestler that came down that ramp, you knew every wrestler would F you up! Even though you knew it was a work, you knew. You would think ‘I wonder what would happen if I got Rick Steiner really p*ssed off?’ I see half of these guys come down the ramp today and not for anything I’m not a tough guy. I’m 60 years old and I think I could probably take 50% [in a fight]. But my point is, at some point everybody could be a wrestler, and it’s like no! If you’re in the NFL or NBA, you’re special.”

“I look at the rosters today, and I’m not seeing a lot of people that look special, I’m seeing a lot of people that look the same. Somehow these people got in the door and they took over. When you put on your television, you want to see TV stars, people that are larger than life. When you’ve got casual television viewers going on a wrestling show and seeing guys like 150-160lbs 5 foot something, that person is sitting at home going wait a minute, what happened to Randy Savage and Mr Perfect? All those guys at least looked the part.”

Vince Russo can be found on Twitter here.

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