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Just what happened to Eric Bischoff?

Okay, so here's a question for all you wrestling fans:  How did Eric Bischoff go from being at the top of the wrestling world as President of WCW, revolutionizing the business, making hundreds of millions of dollars and almost putting Vince McMahon and the then WWF out of business to, a few years later getting into petty squabbles with dweebs on facebook and twitter, lashing out at journalists with childish and unnecessary insults and gleaning supreme satisfaction out of apparently winning verbal debates with amateurish and unprepared bloggers? It's an interesting question to ponder, and maybe one even Eric is asking himself these days, as his professional reputation lies in tatters. In fact, as the excuses pile up, the tweets get more vicious, and reports continue to emerge of his rapidly plummeting  influence in TNA, it seems like a good time to discuss just how Bischoff's professional life got into such a sorry state.

Vince McMahon has claimed in interviews the past that Bischoff only succeeded in nearly driving WWF out of business in the first place because he "had Ted Turner's chequebook", and certainly not through skills or business prowess on Bischoff's part. At the time, it was acknowledged Eric did have great flaws as a businessman in WCW (notably letting the inmates run the asylum and a steely unwillingness to make changes even when the business climate deemed such changes necessary) but many still considered Vince to be too harsh and unwilling to admit that Bischoff had come amazingly close to beating Vince at his own game:. Indeed, Bischoff had turned a flagging WCW in 1996 drastically around, led the company through its glory period with the NWO, introduced the exciting cruiserweights into mainstream American wrestling and exerted an influence on wrestling still felt today in TNA's X-division and WWE's monster heel group Nexus (an NWO rip-off, if ever there was one) , Bischoff, couldn't be that clueless, could he? Well, Bischoff's actions in the past year, after he and Hogan joined TNA with the intention of "making it the number 1 wrestling company in the world" in the words of Dixie Carter, have certainly validated McMahon's claim for many. More after the cut.

Undeniably, through various tweets, facebook posts and interviews in the past few months, Bischoff has demonstrated a stunning lack of even basic knowledge about the wrestling industry.  Indeed, he made several comments in August 2010 in which he was critical of WWE’s youth movement, with Nexus, Drew McIntyre, The Miz and a few others, which raised questions about just how much knowledge about the business he had. Aware of the criticism aimed at TNA for preferring to push veterans like Hogan and Nash over the younger stars, Bischoff asked critics on his facebook:  "Can anyone name "new, young talent" that has drawn money (that’s the real barometer in the business of the wrestling business) over the last 10 years?" Later he posted: 

Talent that 'draws money' sell out major arenas, they set PPV records that they main event in, they sell millions of dollars of merchandise and migrate into mainstream media. It takes time. No top talent that has ACTUALLY DRAWN MONEY has been in the biz for less than 8 years with only two exceptions.

It nearly goes without saying the list disproving this is ridiculously long. John Cena, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton and Goldberg to name but a few. And that’s just pro-wrestling. MMA is filled with stars who are huge draws and have been in the business a lot less than 8 years, like Brock Lesnar or Chael Sonnen (who became megastars in very short periods of time). As one commentator noted on the matter:  "The idea it takes eight years of television to get people over to draw money is ridiculous when historically many people have pulled it off in a few weeks."

Dave Meltzer was critical of this too, remarking that "Eric continues to show absolutely not even a first grader knowledge of wrestling history." For the record, it has been noted that since Bischoff arrived in TNA, people in power there have been stunned by Bischoff’s gaps in knowledge about the wrestling business, considering he was a man once in charge of the world's top wrestling company, after all . However, Meltzer, on the F4W board, would go on to deny that Bischoff was stupid, and even defended some of Bischoff’s work in TNA:

I've spoken enough with Bischoff and he's not a stupid person by any means. He was excellent at taking ideas from smart people and implementing them, and that's a good trait. The problem is, and I told people before he got there at TNA, is that those same people aren't around now and we'll see how good Bischoff is without them. Reaction has promise although it's not that much different than things that have been discussed since 2006. The longer segments are a bigger positive than he's given credit for.

It is almost certainly true that Bischoff has immense talent as a producer. Virtually the only praise for Hulk Hogan’s awful and cliched A&E special "Finding Hulk Hogan" was in regards to how polished and wonderful the whole thing looked (Bischoff produced the film). Additionally, TNA Reaction, which Bischoff along with long-term business partner Jason Hervey was responsible for, was a terrific wrestling television show, featuring cutting-edge documentary-style interviews, UFC style presentation, and realistic character development may be one of the finest things TNA has ever churned out. This has, of course, spilled over to TNA: iMPACT. Indeed, one common criticism of TNA: iMPACT used to be that it looked and felt exactly the same as Raw or Smackdown. One year on from Bischoff’s arrival and we can safely safe the show is markedly different from anything the cartoonish, PG world of WWE: adult-oriented, edgy, realistic, and relevant. It’s an aspect of TNA that Bischoff (and Hervey) probably should get more credit for.    

Meltzer is also right that Bischoff needs to be surrounded by people with good ideas in order to thrive, ideas which he can then pick and choose from and then adapt. There’s no shame in taking other people’s ideas: being open-minded is indeed one of Bischoff’s better traits and something that can distinguish him from rigidity of Vince or Stephanie McMahon. For instance, the NWO, the greatest angle he ever came up with, was actually inspired by an invasion angle he saw in Japan. Problem is, as Meltzer pointed out, Bischoff can’t find a similar environment in TNA. For all the criticism Russo gets, he’s far from the only problem, and the company is plagued by incompetence, selfishness and pettiness. Frankly, it’s questionable whether most there even have ambition or want the company to succeed, or whether they see the whole endeavour as merely a way to milk money out of Dixie Carter’s father. Bischoff and Hogan’s run in TNA has, as has been well-documented, been a dismal failure. Even Eric, in a rare moment of honesty, acknowledged iMPACT’s move to Monday nights to go head-to-head with Raw had been a mistake in an interview recently.

We could say Bischoff was always clueless and merely lucked into success in WCW (and certainly, moves like dismantling TNA’s thriving and high-drawing women’s division illustrate glaring incompetence on his part), but it’s very possible he was never going to succeed anyway, regardless of what he did. Former WWE writer Court Bauer in a recent interview with F4Wonline’s Bryan Alvarez mentioned how Dixie Carter had talked with numerous bookers over the years, including himself, about possibly coming into TNA to "turn the ship around". Bauer claimed the main problem was that "as soon as you mention having to get rid of some people, firing them and bringing in other people…Dixie gets cold feet. And then she doesn’t want to do it." Paul Heyman never ended up in TNA at least partly because he would have gotten rid of all of Dixie’s incompetent friends and made no secret of it. Furthermore, Dixie will almost certainly never fire Vince Russo despite his track record, and it’s questionable how anyone, whether it’s Bischoff, J.R or Heyman, could succeed with Russo still booking.

If Bischoff had been given the real power to hire and fire people (like Heyman wanted) who knows what would have happened? Certainly, he would have gotten rid of Russo (a writer he was critical of in his book and has always had a rocky relationship with) which at least would have been a step in the right direction. Reports are now emerging that Bischoff’s stock in the company is falling. The monster push of Rob Terry earlier in the year (whom Bischoff saw as the next Goldberg and was very high on) and his sudden disappearance (he has only just resurfaced as Ric Flair’s bodyguard in Immortal) was seen as evidence of his rapidly diminishing power: Bischoff was the only one who ever saw anything in Terry, everyone else in power thought he was useless.  Dave Meltzer discussed his situation in the October 25th Wrestling Observer:

Bischoff was said to be mad at the coverage of the 10/14 television show doing the big ratings because of people tuning out throughout the show. Apparently what got heat is someone who, before the quarters came in but after the initial rating came in, outright told Dixie Carter what the pattern would be and ended up being right on the money, and that got to Bischoff… One person in the company noted, "Don’t you love it how Eric Bischoff says he has nothing to do with creative when numbers are down or the show sucks, but is the first one to congratulate himself on twitter/facebook when Impact or Reaction does a good number?....He’s not going anywhere, but Dixie is on to him and enough people have complained that he has lost a lot of his clout." Unlike Hogan, who is well-liked, and Russo, who people roll their eyes when talking about his booking but don’t personally dislike him, you get a lot of negative on Bischoff, more because of how he carries himself and relates to talent than for his actual decisions.

The cancelling of TNA Reaction which was, as noted, Bischoff’s brainchild, further weakens his position. The revenue TNA got from that show was arguably the only thing that Eric could point to as how he had changed the company for the better. Bischoff doesn’t take to pressure well (as evidenced by the stunning decline of WCW in 1999 and 2000 where Bischoff, for all intents in purposes, mentally checked out.) And has now taken to undignified and rather pathetic rants against fans and journalists on twitter and facebook, coming off more like an immature 14 year old boy than the face of a million-dollar corporation (even Dixie, for all her flaws, manages to at least keep up the façade of professionalism and candour). Here are the most recent examples from just last night:

Seriously...I get why most people think wresting fans are morons. The dumbest 10% make 90% of the noise and create the perception. Congrats to the challenged few that keep the image alive! While you may never amount to much, at least you have a village.

FYI: I have enough money, enough success OUTSIDE OF WRESTLING that I dont give 2 sh*ts if I offend "wrestling fans".

Wade Keller can be the mayor of the Village of Idiots, and when Dave Sherer finds his penis under 50 pounds of fat he can be Barney Fife! 

Yes, these rather crass and tasteless remarks belong to that of a fifty year old businessman who really should know better, quite frankly. A few weeks ago, he also congratulated him on winning a round of name calling with radio host Michael Barton who accused Bischoff of being a failure in TNA (Barton has since admitted he was woefully under-prepared for the interview.) Bischoff didn’t even defend himself terribly well: he claimed he had no real say in the direction of the product (a claim no-one with more than two brain cells to rub together believes), TNA Reaction had been a success for TNA (at that point, few fans knew the show was cancelled, but Bischoff was almost certainly aware of it) and that TNA had made many new licensing agreeing (no-one seems to be able to find out where these new licensing agreements are nor have they been announced) and, finally, that everyone claiming TNA was losing money knew nothing because TNA was a private company and thus did not have to release its figures. This is true. But considering all the money they spent with little in the way of a return,  the extreme cost cutting that has gone on since then, and the fact that Janice Carter, Dixie's mother, has been put in charge of TNA finances, presumably in the hope she’ll be much stricter with money than her husband Bob is, it does not seem like that much of a stretch to say they are bleeding cash at the moment.

Bischoff’s downfall would be easier to accept if he were simply a terrible person. Indeed, TNA’s callous business practices (which include grossly under-paying people, a refusal to pay for injuries that occur on their watch and a non-existent drug policy that allows drug addicts to go unpunished) have convinced most observes that this company deserves everything it gets. But Bischoff’s track record isn’t so black and white. He’s capable of great ruthlessness, for sure (like his outdated attitudes towards unprotected chairshots to the head) but he’s also known for doing good things from time to time. For example, shortly after his firing from WWE in 2001, Eddie Guerrero noted to Powerslam Magazine’s Fin Martin that, right after his 1998 car accident (occuring while he was working in WCW) Bischoff, while Guerrero was still in the hospital, had faxed him through his new contract to sign which they had previously agreed to (with a significant payraise) even though it was unknown at the time if Guerrero would ever wrestle again. Bischoff also told him to take his time and not rush back. "People say a lot of bad things about Eric" Guerrero told Martin, "but he was there for me and my family when we needed him." This is considerably more than anyone in TNA management has ever done for a member of the roster. Guerrero also noted his departure from WCW, with Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko was partly because of Bischoff’s exit from the company months earlier: "When Bischoff went…my loyalty to WCW sort of went with it." The two remained friends till Guerrero's death in November 2005.

Bischoff is a sad story in many ways, and certainly, whatever else one thinks of him, he came into TNA with ambition and ideas and a wish to help it get better and thrive. Unfortunately, the astounding incompetency there, coupled with his own flaws (including an unyielding unwillingness to admit his mistakes, and an inability move with the times) has only ensured his name will be constantly associated with failure and incompetence.