Bischoff on Wrestling (Episode 41)
Hosted by: Eric Bischoff, co-hosted and produced by Nick Hausman
Duration: 1 hour, 24 minutes and 37 seconds
Review by: Craig Elbe, @CraigElbe on Twitter
-Billy Corgan’s NWA purchase
-Hot Topic selling Bullet Club merchandise soon
-Sinclair keeps growing
-Kane for Mayor?
0:42 – Show intro
1:35 – Eric’s indy cred
3:22 – Billy Corgan’s Smashing new toy
8:48 – Hogan to the Bullet Club?
11:15 – Hot Topic’s merch deal with the Bullet Club
15:37 – Sinclair Broadcasting acquires more market share
17:50 – Glenn “Kane” Jacobs in Mayoral race
19:21 – The Rock is helping Disney with Jungle Cruise Ride
20:47 – WWE back on TV in the Philippines
20:56 – Eric interviews Wrestle Circus founder, owner, and promoter Al Lenhart
60:42 – Mailbag questions answered
Eric started the show per usual. He introduced Nick Hausman as a digital savant for a second consecutive week. I suppose talking to Bill Goldberg last week got Eric in streak mode! Nick, clear-headed after a couple days off, had just interviewed Kurt Angle for WrestleZone. To finish his day, Nick is happy to talk with Eric.
Eric said the focus of this show will be independent wrestling. In the past year-and-a-half to two years, he has been delving closely into that world and finds it fascinating. It’s among the numerous great things going on in the indies, Eric has recently been impressed by WrestleCircus out of Austin, Texas. This little nugget of excitement, as Eric calls it, has only been around about seven months and its overall cool vibe starts at the top. The founder of WrestleCircus, Al Lenhart, will be the guest on this week’s show.
Nick is a fan of the city of Austin, where his brother lives. The city’s motto is “keep Austin weird,” and Nick feels WrestleCircus fits that mentality well and it’s smart.
Nick thanked MLW and encourages people to rate, review, and subscribe to the show.
Nick was very curious for Eric’s thoughts on Billy Corgan purchasing the NWA. The deal sees Corgan only acquiring the NWA title belt, company name, and initials. It does not include the tape library or the on-demand streaming service library. Dave Lagana is working with Corgan on this but news of talent has is not known yet.
Eric had met Corgan once very briefly about two years ago. Not knowing Corgan at all or his goals and vision without getting NWA’s library and potential revenue/value makes it hard for Eric to give his opinion. He stops short of calling the NWA damaged goods as he sees an upside to its legacy despite how it’s been up and down over the years. Resurrecting and building on that legacy could present Corgan with a great opportunity depending on his strategy. For the life of him though, Eric doesn’t know what that strategy will be.
Nick, a Chicago, IL resident, worked closely with Corgan in the Resistance Pro Wrestling promotion for a couple years and knows him well from that time. He knows Corgan has a fondness for the ECW era and edginess. Nick wondered if Corgan will use the NWA to pivot to a different direction, similar to ECW’s transition from regional Eastern Championship Wrestling when Shane Douglas threw down the NWA title belt after winning it on August 27, 1994. That gave birth to what became Extreme Championship Wrestling, having an eye for national exposure and success, initially with Todd Gordon and Paul Heyman at the helm.
Eric knows Corgan is smart and creative due to his success in the music industry with The Smashing Pumpkins. With Corgan having his nostalgia and creativity, there is a hell of a legacy to build on and Eric would love to see it happen. It all depends on his angle of attack.
For the state of the NWA, Eric isn’t a wrestling historian. He only knew what he grew up on regionally and didn’t learn about anything else until he worked for Turner after departing his hometown and fledgling AWA. (the AWA became inactive the fall of 1990, and filed for bankruptcy in early 1991. Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions in November 1988, and Eric was hired by Turner’s WCW in 1991 as a “C” squad announcer) The past 25-30 years Eric has witnessed many futile attempts of resurrecting the NWA. Each failed attempt tarnished the brand more and more, but not the overall legacy. Nick remains intrigued as Corgan is unpredictable.
The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega recently stated they would only let C.M. Punk and Hulk Hogan into the Bullet Club. Hogan told TMZ this past week he’d be down to join the Bullet Club. Eric, one of Hogan’s close friends, laughed at the notion. He knows Hogan loves the business and its energy and could make it work. Eric can’t imagine a role for Hogan in the Bullet Club but felt he was having spontaneous fun with TMZ and enjoyed putting the Bullet Club guys over. Additionally, Eric can’t see Hogan going to an independent show and endure what he’d have to do for it to happen. Nick wisely corrected so-called indy expert Eric, that the Bullet Club has ties to New Japan Pro Wrestling (where it originated) and Ring of Honor. Nick said he doesn’t know Hogan’s WWE status or potential but said it would be cool to see him in New Japan. Eric agreed it would be cool but declined further comment, which to me indicates there may be ongoing WWE discussions with Hogan that Eric is privy to but is sworn to secrecy on.
Hot Topic has partnered with the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega to sell their merchandise. Eric said it is an interesting concept and gives them props for being able to get a deal like that. He said he and Lenhart discuss a similar idea as Eric thinks the WrestleCircus logo is badass with commercial potential. Nick noted the current power of independent wrestling artist, that guys can making money on their merchandise like this makes it hard for WWE to counter offer.
Eric said independent wrestling is like music was 10 years ago. The emergence of technology that allowed quality home recording and digital distribution took away a need for a record label and independent musicians flourished. Now, it’s starting to happen for wrestling on the independent level. WWE has 97-98% market share, what is left is shared everywhere else and a difficult way to make a living, minus a situation like Sinclair Broadcasting who owns Ring of Honor and monetizes that content. Streaming technology and over the top networks, like his and Nick’s project IRW Network, are examples of current opportunities that didn’t exist five years ago for independent wrestling in an accessible and affordable way. Opportunities for independent wrestlers and promoters will occur, leading to presentational brand experimentation without a WWE filter. It can culminate by making the indy scene cool, different, and credible.
Nick went over the details of the acquisition of Bonten Media Group by Sinclair Broadcasting. It was worth $240 million, then Nick and Eric joke about it being couch cushion money. Eric wants that couch! Sinclair now will have the broadcast rights to the 14 small market stations in eight cities Bonten had and will most likely air Ring of Honor shows in those new markets. Eric isn’t sure of the business logic or why Sinclair values Ring of Honor but trusts they’ve figured out a business model that works for them. He doesn’t see Ring of Honor much past what they currently are to eventually be considered competition to WWE. Since WWE isn’t in the syndication business, Eric doesn’t think they are paying attention to Sinclair’s slow expansion.
Glen “Kane” Jacobs is running for mayor of Knox County in Tennessee and got endorsed by Rand Paul. Eric will reach out to Jacobs to learn more of the libertarian view and how he plans on bringing it to his mayoral campaign. He said Jacobs is one of the most intelligent people he’s ever met and a good man and is excited for him. Nick said it will be an adjustment to calling him Glen instead of Kane, akin to going from The Rock to Dwayne. He listed Paul’s recent political resume and why Jacobs receiving his endorsement is important and pretty cool for him.
Nick said Dwayne Johnson is working with Disney to redesign the Jungle Cruise Ride at Disney World. Eric almost sounded like he was applying for a job the way he put over Johnson and Brian Gewirtz and Seven Bucks Productions, but who can blame him if he was. Dwayne Johnson is on top of the world right now! Nick detailed Jungle Cruise was one of the original rides designed for Disney Land and will become a movie series like Pirates of the Caribbean. This will see Johnson in the Johnny Depp spot.
Nick mentioned what I wrote two weeks ago about WWE coming to an agreement with TV 5 in the Philippines after the contract with Fox Philippines expired without renewal. Good timing Nick!
20:56 Interview with Al Lenhart of WrestleCircus
Eric mentioned he came across the cool looking WrestleCircus logo during a Twitter browsing session a couple months ago. After he desired a t-shirt with the logo, further investigation followed. What he found was a unique and special wrestling promotion in Austin, TX. During WrestleMania weekend, Eric got to meet WrestleCircus founder Al Lenhart and his wife Lexi, and Eric was joined by Al on the phone.
Al was grateful to talk to Eric for this show. Eric directed listeners to Wrestlecircus.com to check out some the coolest current independent wrestling footage. He said, to his perspective, Al has built something special.
Al’s earliest memories are of a rough poverty level upbringing where he connected with wrestling and looked forward to watching every show to escape the struggles and difficulties of his youth. While he and his three siblings lost their mother very early, he and his younger brother formed a close bond through the heroics of wrestling. Getting lost in his imagination through wrestling is what makes it unique and inspired him to replicate that while he was creating WrestleCircus. Al wanted to provide the city of Austin an attraction where people could forget about the real world and leave their worries at the door to suspend their disbelief and watch a great entertaining show.
Eric was struck by the promotion’s unique vibe on its website and Al and Lexi’s intended vision. He feels it translates by the connection his performers have with their crowds to an extent Eric doesn’t see a greater example of today. Al, happy to divulge his background and approach, is a salesperson for one of the tech giants in the United States, while his wife comes from a pharmaceutical sales company. He identifies a great culture and customer experience as common foundations for every startup company that becomes successful. A product can always be replicated, but not what a customer experiences and he wanted to give his wrestlers and fans those important basics. Al prides his promotion’s transparency and interaction via its social media outlets, down to asking fans their booking preferences. When looking to bring somebody to WrestleCircus, Al looks to his locker room and people he trusts for advice on the person’s reputation so the backstage culture won’t be negatively affected. Talents get three or four-star lodging without too many people per hotel room. As traveling business people that get treated well by their employers, Al and Lexi choose to do the same for the people they bring to their promotion. This star treatment, especially on the independent level, gives those talents incentive to come back.
October 2016 saw the first WrestleCircus show, and eight more shows have followed. In that span, the promotion was invited to put on a wrestling show at the South by Southwest festival in March and have a midnight show on WrestleMania evening. Al doesn’t see any other promotion truly doing what WrestleCircus does, nor has he seen quite the explosive growth his promotion has had in this current. That is a huge source of pride for him as you can imagine.
While landing in somewhat of a sweet spot, the city of Austin has some competition. Al named Inspire Pro Wrestling and said there is a great relationship with them. There is also Anarchy Championship Wrestling, which used to bounce between St. Louis and Austin but recently settled on Austin. Al attended the University of Texas and, as a 12 year resident, witnessed Austin’s culture of supporting independent arts, and saw an independent wrestling promotion as a no-brainer that would be supported by the city. He saw some local indy shows and how hot the crowds were for the local talent and wanted to take that approach and match those locals with well-known wrestlers on the indy scene. Adding to that strategy, WrestleCircus spreads the budget across the card for multiple wrestlers instead of most of it on a single attraction for one match. The most recent card had a hot crowd for all 11 matches and encouraged us to check it out on the video on-demand service on its website for proof. Eric gave out the promotion’s website, Wrestlecircus.com, and said there was a six-man tag team match from that show posted IRWnetwork.com. Al said the match had Sami Callahan, Dave Krist, and Jake Krist vs. Shane Strickland, Desmond Xavier, and Lio Rush. He put the match over huge as modern and “gourmet wrestling” and is confident it will blow away whoever watches it. Eric agreed, even though he’s not a fan of six-man tag team matches. He loved the athleticism in the match and how it was easy to follow without having too much going on at once, and is a great representative of the WrestleCircus product. He also commended Al’s quickness in putting the match on the IRW Network.
Al’s role in WrestleCircus is the majority of everything all days of the month leading to the events. Lexi, his wife, is his backbone of support during that time. She also acts as the talent liaison, sending itineraries for transportation, etc. leading up to the events and makes sure they have what they need when they arrive. Additionally, on shown nights, she helps with the front door. Some talents complain to him about how poorly organized other promotions are in those regards. Al once again credits where he and Lexi come from in the corporate world to how they recreate the same atmosphere for the talent the bring in. Al notices the wrestlers give a lot more in their performances to WrestleCircus from the combination of the great and passionate fanbase and treating talents in the manner they do, despite how beat up they may be at times.
Lexi’s initial reaction to Al’s idea of having a wrestling promotion is a story he loves to tell. She isn’t a lifelong wrestling fan but they both attended WrestleMania 32 in Dallas last year. When he told her of wanting to start a wrestling promotion, she thought it would be on a scale like what she saw on TV, which was only WWE. While drawing WrestleMania 32 bug eyes from Lexi, Al told her it would just be a local thing and has had her support ever since. They had first show low expectations of 200 attendees. 325 tickets sold later, the goal was exceeded and they called it a success for their initial offering. They outgrew that first venue in just their second month and have since settled in a 675-capacity building. Al is confident he can move to an even larger capacity space but feels the vibe of his product is best captured in the current venue, which he admits is part of the method. Eric added the crowd can be just as or more important to the in-ring action. When done properly, a beautiful harmony can result between a hot crowd and the wrestlers feeding off that energy. Having a great show in a large venue tends to take away what is felt being in closer, more intimate setting.
Since the South by Southwest show, Al said WrestleCircus has been gaining more attention from high-level suitors with great wrestling business minds. Even two days prior to speaking with Eric, he was contacted by someone with WWE, Impact, and ECW experience on their resume for a gauge on his promotion. A lot of times, these veterans of the business ask questions relating to having less matches, having a venue with bleachers or risers, spending less on talent and more on production, etc. Al prefers to be a challenger and disruptor to how wrestling has always been done and will continue to chase the buzz he has found. He doesn’t aim to get a TV deal, even like Ring of Honor, as he feels TV creates too much of a disconnect/barrier to the audience. WrestleCircus means more to him than making a huge profit, even if means just breaking even for years, at least in the short term! Eric gave Al and Lexi kudos for their vision, and patience to grow slowly. Eric repeated one of his long-standing mantras, either be different or better than your competition. He is excited for the future of WrestleCircus due to Al’s and Lexi’s unique vision, wisdom, he is seeing his vision through without distractions. The results are already showing and they don’t have to chase deals, and the audience and talent will find them. Al appreciated Eric’s stated opinion, adding he loves the organic approach instead of forcing the product on customers and talent. The same person who contacted him two days prior, as previously referenced, advised him to have wrestlers use social media to help promote their appearances with affiliate links to track those metrics. Being in the tech world, Al is already familiar with that idea. However, he wants wrestlers to do that on their own volition instead of forcing and obligating them to play promoter. He used WWE as an example of how a talent will tweet their followers to check out Total Divas. Al thinks the corporate message is too obvious. He could have his talent do that, and has seen other indy promotions have their talent do it. It makes him sick, especially when local talents are told to sell 20 tickets to an event to be booked on it for example. Another example he gave that he hates to see is when talent pay money for a try-out in hopes of being booked. Ultimately, he will never do sad and poisonous cash grabs like that. Wrestlers are what make the promotions and shows special and need to be treated as such. When a talent is unavailable for a WrestleCircus show that was previously seldom booked, Al is happy he gave them their exposure to spread their wings on the indy circuit. He is passionate about bringing positivity back to a business that has been largely lacking it at its core and tabooed.
The WrestleCircus logo was created through a contest on the website 99designs.com. Al gave them his endorsement and their ability to help any business needing an image/logo. He said apparel bearing that logo can be ordered on Wrestlingcircus.com. When he sees those shirts on audience members at WWE shows and others, he is happy and it shows how well traveled fans of his promotion are. Eric felt the same when the NWO was created and the t-shirt that followed was seen everywhere. The fact it didn’t scream “wrestling fan” made it more socially accepted and feels the WrestleCircus shirt has the same transcendent appeal.
Al said the NWO shirt was a trendsetter for having an acronym design. Naming his promotion WrestleCircus was intentional as it stays away from the now acronym-heavy wrestling business and is more unique and sticks with people more. Even Rocky Romero couldn’t get it out of his head all the way to Japan and back!
At Eric’s request, Al listed his favorite indy promotions. He first reiterated his great working relationship with fellow Austin, TX promotion Inspire Pro Wrestling. Then he said he grew up a big fan of current the current “super-indy” Pro Wrestling Guerilla in Reseda, CA, followed by the Chicago-based All American Wrestling and put over their product, logo, and production value. Recently Sami Callahan started a promotion by the name of Pro Wrestling Revolver, the idea being they have a revolving door of talent instead of an exclusive roster to make each show special, which is the same spirit of WrestleCircus.
Al said WrestleCircus will do something different this month called Lucha Carnival with some top Lucha-libra names along with some of the staples that have been regulars on WrestleCircus. Giving fans something of a different flavor was his operative for creating this event.
Eric gave high praise to Al and Lexi for their vision and for sticking to it despite “grizzled veterans with strong opinions” like himself trying to get him to fix what clearly isn’t broken. He gave one final plug to Wrestlecircus.com and IRWNetwork.com to check out the promotion and all they offer. Al was grateful for being getting to know Eric and for being able to get have the large platform of this podcast and the IRW Network to get the word of his promotion out there.
This question was if WCW pay-per-views were aired live in the UK from 1997-2001. Eric didn’t remember, then Nick asked if he primarily focused on the North American market when he put together pay-per-view deals. Eric didn’t make the deals but said the focus was North America, which is where most of the money was.
This question was how it was working with Mae Young and Fabulous Moolah in WWE. Eric had fun despite people thinking it was a rib on him, noting Vince McMahon put himself and his kids through more! He said the ladies were legends and it was entertaining and an honor to work with them.
This was a question if Jason Bateman would be a good actor to portray Eric in a movie. While not seeing any of Bateman’s recent work, Eric can’t think too seriously about anybody playing him in a movie. Nick said the current version of the script for the Vince McMahon biopic Pandemonium does not have Eric represented. Eric didn’t seem to care.
This question was Eric’s thoughts on business partner Jason Hervey’s portrayal of the character of Wayne in the TV show The Wonder Years. Eric loved it, adding it wasn’t much of a stretch for Jason back then. Jason’s older brother Scott is their attorney and was a model for how he played Wayne.
This question was about when Eric signed Lex Luger in WCW and made him a big star, despite saying he didn’t want to previously. Eric said he was reluctant at first but Luger proved himself over time and had a lot of success with him, as he was over with the audience, a true professional, and delivered 110% all the time. This was when Luger jumped to WCW from WWF and made his memorable appearance at the first WCW Monday Nitro in the Mall of America in September 1995.
This question was regarding if the numerous pay-per-views/Network specials WWE runs accelerates their storytelling. Eric said of course it does, but not working there currently hinders a more informed opinion. When he was there they did 12 pay per views a year, and it was a simple formula. These days, there is added pressure is to cram more story in less calendar time but with more television time to work with to build to the pay-per-views/Network specials.
This question was if Eric thinks the Cruiserweights are underutilized in WWE. Eric feels the Cruiserweight Division passes through the same WWE filter of in-ring action with the same agents putting matches together. WWE lacks the execution of presenting it as different than the rest of WWE programming, and changing the ring ropes, lighting, etc. isn’t enough to make it special, thus it won’t reach its full potential with that approach, in his opinion.
This question was if Eric feels WWE is ready to hold a Royal Rumble or a WrestleMania in the UK. Eric doesn’t know WWE’s business model and how much the UK accounts for their total revenue, so he can’t grasp the value of such occurrences. While it would be great for the UK market, he is concerned the time difference would be a huge factor and WWE may take a big hit for it and make it non-worthwhile. Nick brought up the 1992 Summerslam that is fondly remembered but isn’t sure if being the sole UK pay-per-view makes it a novelty or not. Eric added it might be the only one as it may have adversely affected WWE’s bottom line and given them pause for future opportunities. He can see why is was so well received but thinks the risk looms too large with said time difference.
This question was a three-parter and one of Nick’s favorites since they started the show.
1. What is the greatest fast food on the road? Eric answered Taco John’s. He loves their salsas
and green chili burritos, saying they are the best for fast food standards.
2. What is the best hotel chain? Eric said Marriot.
3. What is his favorite car rental company? Eric said Avis.
Nick said he tried an In and Out burger while in California the previous week and said he is not a fan. Eric agreed, saying fast food burgers are acquired tastes.
This question was if Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan had a bigger impact on the pro wrestling business. Eric said it’s hard to answer as it requires context. Eric estimated Austin brought in more revenue in his time but Hogan has had the greatest impact on the business the last 30-40 years but said it’s apples and oranges.
This question was if Eric goes to live wrestling events. Eric said he attends independent shows but not WWE events. Nick asked if he goes to summer street festivals that have a ring in the street and have luchadors wrestle. Eric said no but Nick told a story of when Mitt Romney did. Riveting stuff if you’re into politics, but got a chuckle from Eric when he described Romney dressed as a luchador.
This question was if there was any reason Nitro wasn’t held in the Mall of America again. Eric said WCW outgrew it. At the time, in 1995, attendance was so poor and uninspired that he was forced into a venue that looked great but didn’t depend on a live crowd for the first Nitro to look and feel cool. During that same time, prior to Nitro’s debut, WCW was relegated to the Disney MGM studios. At a regular venue, they couldn’t give away tickets. Some of the dismal audience that did show up had brown paper bags containing wine, which also didn’t add to the television aspect very favorably after the bottoms of those bottles were reached, even with dimmed lighting! The very next week after the first Nitro, WCW could book a larger venue, and attendance grew from there. Two or three months later WCW started approaching sellout levels.
This question was if the storytelling in WWE has too many talents suffering from the company not having an umbrella-like television product, where talent gets just their segment and it’s forgotten about in the narrative of the show. Eric went back to his previous answer of WWE having too many specials and cramming storylines in too short a span of time and agrees with the contention of the person who asked the question.
This person asked in Eric ever wanted to be a babyface. Emphatically, Eric said he always knew better and would run in the opposite direction of the idea as being a babyface is very difficult.
The last question was what makes a false finish a false finish. Eric feels false finishes are overused and thinks the should occur in three parts, acting as a wave of dramatics, crediting Pat Patterson for those attributes of telling a story. These days, Eric sees false finishes as just spots that are too numerous, are too quick, and are too disconnected for him to enjoy.
Nick gave out #Bischoffonwrestling for future questions on the show and thanked WrestleCircus’s Al Lenhart for being on the show. Eric brought up the AAW promotion hailing from Chicago that Al mentioned during his interview and suggested bringing someone from that promotion on the show.
This podcast was their best in the last few weeks, and it showed how distracted Eric had been the last two weeks. Perhaps it also showed how burned out Nick was, as he said he just had a couple days off. I’m sure he was also still floating from interviewing Kurt Angle for WrestleZone!
Overall, the show was denser in its content and topics than past episodes. Some of the fan-submitted questions were silly but maybe that is the show’s audience. I think Nick did a better job hosting and his chemistry with Eric is still growing. Eric makes sure to say his thoughts are and doesn’t talk down to others for having a different opinion, as he is aware he comes from a bygone era. That’s a common theme with every show. He does tend to be sarcastic when he decides to dump on a company or person but mostly draws the line by saying it’s just his opinion. Though one can tell he has a high-level of confidence in his informed and sometimes biased opinion. I guess it depends on how much Bischoff exposure a person has in relation to how he is perceived. His past mistakes have made him a polarizing figure in the wrestling world, but I personally find him informing and entertaining, even when I disagree with him.
Eric’s interview with Wrestle Circus’s Al Lenhart is easily the highlight of the show. I personally loved everything he had to say, as his approach to everything resonated with me. I appreciate that he is running his promotion the right way for the right reasons in all facets. Only time will tell how the promotion fares, but there is no better time than now for these types of companies to succeed and thrive with the advent of all the available technology to reach more than a local audience. I will check out the website and its VOD service and provide an update in a future review.
Score: 8.5 out of 10. While I’m high on this episode I’d still like to see better questions used and for Nick to challenge Eric just a touch more, but he’s getting better!
I grade these shows as how they flow episodically week to week plus how they stand alone. This show started out as a bit different than what it’s becoming. It was a combination of current events discussion and the guest, when there was one, was either a current or past wrestling personality or in the business in some fashion. Now it seems the show will be the vehicle to bring awareness to the IRW Network. Some may not like it, but as a wrestling fan, I love it. If credible wrestling promotions and their representatives are being exposed and featured instead of Eric and Nick patting themselves on the backs for their network, I think it will be a good balance. They must continue to have guests with name value so not to alienate the audience they have. I think they’re both smart enough to avoid the pitfalls WWE can’t seem to avoid and I’m looking forward to it!
About the Author:
Craig was bit by the wrestling bug me when he was about three-years-old. It fell off a couple times but always found its way back. Now that he’s 34, that bug is here to stay. He can be seen air drumming at any stoplight in Green Bay, or heard yelling at the TV about his Packers, or WWE of course! He’s always enjoyed writing, so he hopes you readers enjoy what he provides! Check out his Talking Smack reviews on PWTorch.com, follow him @CraigElbe on Twitter and have a chat!