WRITTEN PODCAST RECAP: Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard on Vengeance 2001: Why the initial Hardy split didn’t work, the Kiss My Ass Club, George “The Animal” Steele Jr., Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair’s return to WWF (Ep. 80)

Chris Jericho

Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard – Episode 80

Recap by: Jeff Rush, PWPodcasts.com Assistant Editor

Air Date: 12/29/17


Noteworthy Items:

– The story of Vince McMahon’s famous ear-tugging during Ric Flair’s return appearance to the WWF in 2001.
– Did Lawler and Bruce have heat following Lawler’s departure from the company?
– The idea behind the Kiss My Ass Club and how it was received by its members.
– Why Vince wanted to avoid Rock vs. Austin at Vengeance.
– The wrestler who George “The Animal” Steele wanted to anoint as George Jr., and how Bruce messed it all up.
– Which Hardy brother most people in the company thought would have more success.
– The tag team who shot such terrible vignettes, they almost got Bruce fired.
– Bruce’s thoughts on the Undertaker’s American Badass persona.
– The in-ring turning point that got Vince, Austin, and others behind giving RVD a main event push.
– Why Triple H didn’t like the famous Beautiful Day video done for his return.
– The initial plans for Vengeance if Triple H were able to return then.
– The former WWF Champion and main-eventer who Bruce felt “looked greener than goose s**t” at Vengeance.
– The WWE Hall of Famer who the Rock casually passed on appearing in a spot with in 2003.
– The surprising name who appeared at the top of the first ever List of Jericho.

Vengeance 2001

By the end of 2001, ECW and WCW are done, the Invasion is over and the titles were being combined. The general feeling was that the Invasion was a failure and Vince thought there was no longer a point in having a WCW title.

We revisit the main event of Survivor Series the month before, where the Rock was the sole survivor, thusly winning the battle for the WWF against the Alliance.

Vince did not want Steve Austin being booed any longer. Bruce recalls a time someone approached Austin in a supermarket and told him “Stone Cold would never run.” This resonated with Vince and he decided he wanted the old Stone Cold back.

The night after Survivor Series, Ric Flair returned to the WWF, announcing he’s bought out Shane and Stephanie’s shares in the company and he’s now partner’s with Vince.

While standing in the ring, Vince reacted to Flair’s news by frantically tugging at his own ear. Highlights of Vince doing this have been shown for years and it’s even been turned into a popular meme.

Bruce explains that the ear pull was supposed to be a queue. His job was to hit the music of whoever was set to enter the ring, but Vince was never happy with Bruce’s timing. In this specific instance, Vince overreacted. Bruce and Kevin Dunn were laughing at how over-the-top this reaction was at the time.

WWF had approached Ric prior to this and were always interested in having him back. Bruce says Flair wasn’t necessarily interested in returning at this time, but between all their options, which included Eric Bischoff, Flair was the sentimental favorite.

The original plan was that Ric would perform one per week but would never wrestle again. Of course, he would wrestle against Vince at the Royal Rumble two months later.

Jerry Lawler also returned on the same episode of Raw. He had told Bruce and JR at the time he quit in February of 2001 that he had a standing offer to join WCW sitting on his desk at home. Bruce says there was no standing offer and WCW was not interested in Lawler. The King was finding it difficult to make a living outside of the WWF and had made overtures, wanting to return.

Lawler had made an appearance on Mancow’s radio show when he first left and started a rumor that Bruce was having an affair with Stephanie McMahon. When he attempted to return, he called Bruce and apologized for the comments. Bruce says Lawler’s comments made life difficult at home for a bit, as his wife’s mother had heard them. He says other than that, stuff like this comes up in the wrestling business all the time and he was over it pretty quickly. Bruce was in favor of Lawler returning, but Vince was unhappy with how he’d left and wanted to give it more time.

The product was ramping up the raunch factor at this time. Bruce says whenever ratings would slip, the thinking was it took many things over a long period of time to cause the slip, but the idea to fix it was always a quick hot shot angle. In reality, he thinks it takes as much time to get ratings back up as it does for them to fall.

Internal pressure is great, but it isn’t the same as dealing with outside pressure. Lack of competition at this point caused the WWF to get complacent. Bruce feels that one of Vince’s fault is that he never lets anything fail. Instead, if it isn’t working, he acts quickly to kill it off and move on.

DirecTV did not carry Vengeance 2001. Bruce discusses problems with the agreement the company had with the TV service at the time and whether there were issues with WWF stockholders pertaining to this issue at the time.

Next up is Vince McMahon’s Kiss My Ass Club. Specifically, we reflect on a segment from Raw a week after Survivor Series where the Undertaker turned heel, claiming he’d (figuratively) kissed McMahon’s ass more than anyone. He asked JR if he intended to kiss Vince’s ass, to which JR responded “hell no.” Taker then completed his turn by asking if JR thought he was better than him and beating him up. He then gave Vince JR’s hat and shoved JR’s face into McMahon’s posterior. This of course, all took place in Oklahoma.

Bruce says it was all Vince’s idea and that Vince insisted on showing his bare ass during the segment. He felt that everyone talks about “kissing ass,” but says it’s different to actually see it carried out.

They felt it would’ve been tough to turn Taker heel, so they had him humiliate JR in front of his hometown audience.

JR did not like the Kiss My Ass club. Bruce says no one liked having to join it except for William Regal, who actually suggested he join. Bruce says everyone would say “I’m not doing it,” until the time came and they did as they were told.

On the go-home edition of Smackdown prior to Vengeance, the Rock has Rikishi deliver the Stinkface to Vince and declares the Kiss My Ass Club officially closed.

Vince felt this was a way to show the locker room that he was willing to do the same thing he asks of everyone else. If you look back on the segment, you’ll see Vince really goes above and beyond having his face sunk into Rikishi’s behind.

Conrad refers to these events as a Kiss My Ass Double Turn, as Steve Austin refused to “join the club” and turned face, whereas Taker forced JR to join, thusly cementing his heel turn.

The main event of Vengeance 2001 was a four-man tournament for the Undisputed WWF Championship with Steve Austin facing Kurt Angle and The Rock going against Chris Jericho.

Bruce says no one knew who would actually win the title leading up to Vengeance probably until the weekend of the event. He says the focus was steadily on Austin-Rock, leading everyone to think they would be meeting in the finals. Everyone had an opinion as to who should win. Bruce says he was in the Kurt Angle camp. He wanted him to be the first Undisputed Champion and the man. Upon further reflection, Bruce thinks the decision didn’t happen until the day of. Vince settled on Jericho because he felt no one would expect it and that Jericho deserved it.

The last Smackdown prior to Vengeance concluded with Austin and Rock having beers together with the heavy implication the viewing audience would be seeing them meet in the finals at the PPV.

Bruce says there was another underlying current at the time – the arrival of the NWO. He says Vengeance was the PPV where Vince first asked the backstage agents for their opinion on bringing in Hogan, Hall, and Nash. The outcome of this tournament was a secondary issue to Vince as he was looking more towards opponents for Austin and Rock at WrestleMania and what the NWO’s involvement would be.

Bruce concludes that everyone was in favor of Hogan returning to the company but not so much Hall or Nash. There was an excellent episode on this very subject done last year. Check it out in the archives.

Vengeance opened with Vince and Ric Flair cutting a promo. The idea was to set the stage for the show and do something a little different. Bruce points out the opening to the show featured many NWA and WWF champions from the past and then Ric Flair came out to open.

The opening match features Albert and Scotty 2 Hotty facing Test and Christian. Bruce tells a story about George “The Animal” Steele pitching the idea for Albert to play George Steele Jr. Bruce loved the idea, but laughed a lot during the pitch meeting. Steele took great offense to Bruce’s laughing and felt insulted. He wanted nothing to do with the idea after this.

If you’ve listened to this show for a while, you’ve likely heard Bruce atone for his behavior at various points throughout his time with the company. As an older, wiser man with a wildly successful podcast, he’s been able to step back from the madness and recognize times he’s behaved like a jerk. They don’t go there at this point in the show, but you get the idea his “I was laughing with him, not at him” defense probably doesn’t do justice to how he actually behaved during that meeting with George Steele. George was a college professor, far more intelligent than the character he portrayed. It doesn’t seem crazy to think he probably picked up on some pretty insulting behavior coming from Bruce as he made his pitch.

We then talk about the various gimmicks Matt Bloom has portrayed over the years and how he is now a key trainer with NXT. Bruce says Bloom has always been able to help people and coach well, so he’s not surprised.

Bruce notes he hated the Prince Albert gimmick and the genital piercing connotation. He felt the WWF missed the boat on him but also notes he thinks Bloom lacks that intangible quality required of a star.

Regarding Test, Bruce feels he had the size and look, but also lacked what Albert lacked.

Conrad asks if the entrance music chosen for two singles wrestlers appearing as a team is an indication of who Vince feels is a bigger star. Bruce says it has more to do with whose music Vince likes better.

At this time, Christian had been asked to cut his hair, but he didn’t want to. Later, without being asked, he cut it.

Conrad takes a moment here to plug E&C’s Pod of Awesomeness. They then do an impression of the show by talking in super low voices. Very funny stuff.

Edge vs. William Regal is up next. Bruce felt it was solid, but not great. There was something missing and he never really got into the match.

Asked whether Regal enjoyed wrestling or doing the commissioner bit better, Bruce says Regal loved being the commissioner.

Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy is our next match. Bruce says the two loved the angle and working against each other, noting that it dates back to before their WWF days. Vince didn’t get it, feeling “Brothers don’t fight.” Nonetheless, the Hardy’s were excited about it. Bruce then notes that most folks backstage felt Matt was more destined to be a star. This surprises Conrad who says most fans at that time felt Jeff was the Shawn Michaels of the duo. Bruce talks about Jeff’s natural charisma and coolness, but says from the inside, you’re hearing Matt’s ideas, ambition and passion for the business and that was enough to make everyone root for him.

Jeff gets the win in about 12 minutes. Bruce thinks this was a styles clash and points out that since neither brother had turned yet, there wasn’t any heat for the match.

From here, we segue into an Audible.com plug. I don’t typically mention the advertisements in these recaps, but I found this one noteworthy. Longtime listeners of this show who pay attention to such things have probably figured out where both Bruce and Conrad fall on the political spectrum. Though my opinions differ from theirs, I’ve always appreciated the fact that they seemingly go out of their way to keep their politics out of the show. When attempting to appeal to a vast audience, as they succeed in doing, it’s important not to alienate a portion of your listeners. I get that, but regardless, I do appreciate it. So when Bruce starts going on in this plug about all the Bill O’Reilly books he downloads for his trips and Conrad lets out a short, but clear groan, I was amused to the point of recapping an advertisement.

Next is a tag match that sees the Dudley Boyz face Big Show and Kane. The man on woman violence between Big Show and Stacy Keibler leads Bruce to comment on how different the product is today.

This was another clash of styles, won by the Dudley Boyz. Bruce makes a snarky comment about the ECW guys going over even though everyone always complains about the WWF guys burying them. Conrad sighs.

Conrad points out that Big Show and Kane would eventually win the tag titles years later, defeating Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch. Bruce notes Trevor got his name because he looked like Dick Murdoch. He says Cade, though he had the ability to become a star, thought he knew more than he actually did. Both guys took themselves too seriously, including a time they shot vignettes at Tootsie’s Wild Orchid Lounge in Nashville, TN. Bruce says they were so bad that he almost got fired for shooting them.

Regarding the Undertaker’s American Bad Ass gimmick, Bruce says he loved it and hated it. He felt it was true to who Mark Calloway truly was, but that he was partial to the original Undertaker gimmick.

Even though he cut his hair around this time, Bruce felt he still looked cool. He thought it helped distance Taker from the Deadman gimmick and says Taker enjoyed the change as well.

Conrad discusses RVD and how hot he was upon entering the company. He was with the Alliance, but was clearly a babyface. During 2001, RVD pinned both Austin and Angle while they were champion, and also pinned the Rock and Jericho numerous times. Conrad wants to know if the office wasn’t really sold on RVD. Bruce says there was consideration, but the bigger issue was RVD’s reputation to be a sloppy worker. He adds, as we’ve heard in earlier episodes, that Paul Heyman’s lobbying for RVD also hurt his chances to rise.

Bruce tells a story about RVD and Austin cutting a promo in the ring. Austin was doing the “What?” gimmick and was constantly listening to his watch. At one point, RVD grabbed Austin’s wrist and listened to his watch. It was an improvised move that Bruce goes so far as to call “a moment in time.” Vince loved it and asked who wrote it. Bruce told him no one wrote it, it was just RVD ad-libbing. Austin also loved it and afterward began going to bat for RVD. Bruce says this was a turning point for him and got him more prominent placement, eventually getting him into some main events.

The Undertaker defeated RVD for the Hardcore Title. Bruce recalls “They beat the s**t out of each other.” He says Taker came to the back smiling and this also rose RVD’s stock and made Vince a believer.

At this point on the show, the comeback video for Triple H, U2’s Beautiful Day, played. It was an inspirational video that positioned Triple H as a babyface and is well remembered to this day. Bruce says Triple H hated it because he wanted to be a heel. It would take him all of six months to get back to his comfort zone, running over Shawn Michaels in his car later that summer to set up their SummerSlam match and cement Triple H as a heel for years to come.

It’s mentioned that Triple H appeared on the poster for Vengeance and Conrad wonders if the company had planned on having him back by then. According to Bruce, his recovery from tearing his quad the previous June had taken longer than they’d thought. Initially, Vengeance was set to be a show highlighting the return of Triple H, with him likely facing a heel foil in Chris Jericho, who he could easily go over.

This leads Conrad to speculate that Jericho’s run as champion following this show was an afterthought. Bruce says the title itself was an afterthought at this point behind Rock, Austin, and the NWO.

When asked if Triple H was active behind the scenes prior to his return, Bruce reveals that Triple H was never a part of creative meetings prior to Bruce’s departure in 2008. He says he was in some agent meetings and production meetings, but never creative.

Our next match is Trish vs. Jacqueline. We then discuss Trish’s rise on the roster. Bruce says she came into the company to be a worker, not a model. She always arrived early and had a desire to hone her craft.

Jacqueline was brought back in, in part, to work with Trish and teach her by working with her in front of a crowd. Bruce feels Jackie was an excellent mentor to the women in the company at this time.

All that said, Bruce thinks this match sucked. He felt Lawler’s commentary is brutally dated, but that also the match just didn’t work.

Conrad feels the feud between Austin and Angle is lost to time, not at all remembered as fondly as Austin’s feud’s with other wrestlers. Bruce notes that both guys were recovering from injuries at this time and were not able to fully bring the physicality needed for a memorable feud.

In the end, Austin hit Angle with the Stunner for the win. Bruce has a surprising takeaway from this match – he forgot how green Angle could be at times during this era. He thought he looked good, but was “greener than goose s**t.” He points to Kurt hesitating at multiple times and being out of position. He feels he was rushing things. Bruce adds that he misses Steve Austin. He adds that both Austin and Angle are two of the all-time great talents.

Again with ads worth mentioning – here we get a plug for a live performance of Something To Wrestle With. It’s taking place at Barclay’s Center following a Brooklyn Net’s game. I’m not a huge fan of the “anything goes” live show format, but as a huge fan of wrestling podcasts, I think it’s unreal that the biggest one out there right now is set to take place in a 19,000 seat arena. This is a huge coup for the STWW team, and just as huge for wrestling podcasts across the board. Congrats all around.

In a follow-up to the Rock’s closing of the Kiss My Ass Club, we get interference from Vince McMahon in this match, eventually leading to Jericho’s surprise victory.

Conrad points out that Jericho defeated the Rock at No Mercy for the WCW World title, the two held the tag titles for a time and then the Rock took the belt back from Jericho. Bruce says the thought was to try giving credibility to the WCW title by putting it on the Rock. Bruce also notes that he’s certain holding the WCW title meant something to the Rock given its lineage.

In Conrad’s opinion, this was the night Jericho was made. Other than the hot potato situation with the WCW title earlier in the year, Jericho obviously goes much further back with the Rock, having made his debut in 1999 by interrupting a Rock promo.

Few days after Jericho’s debut, Bruce’s little brother, who does not follow wrestling, said he loved “the guy with the funny hair.”

Bruce says to this day, Jericho is still his favorite wrestler. This leads to a rare few minutes on the show of current events conversation.

In light of the Rock putting Jericho over on more than one PPV, Conrad inquires as to whether the Rock ever refused to work with someone or put someone over. This gets Bruce to recall a time the Rock and WWE both happened to be in Florida at the same time. Rock had come through and made an appearance on Raw. Bruce pitched having him show up on Smackdown the next night to do a spot with Roddy Piper and Sean O’Haire. Rock blew it off, saying he didn’t feel O’Haire was ready to receive a Rock Bottom. Bruce thinks Rock just didn’t feel like coming back for TV the next night.

Conrad wants to know if anyone was anti-Jericho going into the PPV. Bruce reiterates that everyone had their pick, with some backing Austin, other the Rock and others, including Bruce, for Angle. Vince had it in his head at the time he asked everyone’s opinion on the NWO that he needed Austin and Rock freed up for that program, so in Bruce’s opinion, it was always going to be Jericho or Angle.

Conrad wants to know if Vince was promising Austin a program with Hulk Hogan. Bruce says Vince wasn’t telling anyone anything. He compares it to when Lawrence Taylor was brought in in 1995. He says Vince knew where he wanted to go, but wanted to hold everything close to the vest until he got there.

For the last time in this recap, I need to mention another ad spot. Here, we get the promo for STWW’s upcoming live show at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia. Much as he did throughout the entire ECW episode, Bruce begins yelling out hypothetical bingo numbers (“N 52! B 9!”). As I pointed out during that recap, this leads me to believe Bruce doesn’t know how the game of Bingo works. If you’ve never played it, when numbers are drawn, they are announced quietly by the host over a PA system so that the people playing can concentrate on properly filling out their cards. It’s not until someone has connected the called numbers to form bingo on their card that any type of yelling happens. At that point, the presumed winner yells “Bingo!” and the card is verified by the host or an assistant. Moving on…

Jericho would win the Undisputed Championship in a 12-minute match with a ton of outside interference, ref bumps, etc. In the end, Austin places Jericho in the Walls of Jericho, Booker T runs in and hits Austin with the title belt. Vince then rolled Earl Hebner into the ring who made a groggy three-count.

Bruce thought it played out great and especially loved the commentary in the last three matches. He thinks Lawler’s analyzing the final match and its significance is the finest work he’s done and wishes he would’ve been calling matches like this instead of doing all the lewd comments he normally does.

Jericho appeared on Raw the next night with a list of the names of people he’d like to thank, with the most important being himself. I’d like the record to show that Chris Jericho himself appeared at the very top of the first-ever List of Jericho.

This launched what would be a lifetime of Jericho bragging about defeating the Rock and Steve Austin on the same night. He was then placed in a rematch against Austin, this time in a cage. Bruce says there was never any thought given to switching the belt to Austin.

Booker T interfered, costing Austin the match for the second night in a row and igniting their program. Conrad and Bruce lament that this program was cut off by the NWO storyline before it ever got a chance to go anywhere.

Jericho would go on to defeat the Rock at the Royal Rumble and then Steve Austin at the following PPV before finally dropping the belt to Triple H at WrestleMania 18.

We wrap things up with talk about the Rock and Jericho’s backstage relationship, redesigning the Universal Title, the finish of the Hardcore match between Undertaker and RVD, and more.

Chris Jericho has surprisingly been discussed on STWW very briefly thus far into the show’s run, so it was nice to get an episode that focused on one of the most significant nights of his career. There were so many big names and storylines to cover around this time, that the show was never at a loss for content. The story behind Vince’s famous ear-tugging and the behind-the-scenes discussion of the Kiss My Ass club were personal highlights.

We also managed to get a couple of plugs for other wrestling podcasts in this episode, including a hilarious, spot-on impression of E&C’s Pod of Awesomeness. Between that and the recommendation for Talk Is Jericho, I was wondering if we’d get a mention of either of Steve Austin’s shows, but it wasn’t meant to be.

All in all, a relatively short episode (clocking in at just under three hours!) that was mostly kept light and fun, with minimal impressions, but lots of terrific insight. Rating: 8/10

8:04: Show begins
14:55: Bringing Ric Flair back
19:18: Jerry Lawler’s return
26:48: Ratings begin to slip
33:24: Problems between DirecTV and the WWF
37:22: Kiss My Ass Club
46:06: Who would win the title?
52:00: The NWO
53:51: The PPV broadcast begins
56:10: Albert/Scotty 2 Hotty vs. Test and Christian
1:05:00: Edge vs. William Regal
1:09:13: Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy
1:24:11: The Dudley Boyz vs. Big Show & Kane
1:27:00: Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch
1:29:32: The Undertaker vs. RVD
1:39:28: Triple H’s return
1:45:35: Trish vs. Jacqueline
1:50:59: Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle
1:59:14: The Rock vs. Chris Jericho
2:20:00: Steve Austin vs. Chris Jericho
2:25:07: Jericho as champion
2:30:43: Facebook questions

About Jeff:
Jeff Rush is a life-long fan of professional wrestling. He’s attended the last match of both Andre the Giant and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s careers and two of the three matches of the Rock-Austin WrestleMania trilogy. As a child, he was once yelled at by John Tenta for sitting too close to him on a bench at Hershey Park. Jeff listens to way too many wrestling podcasts and watches way too much WWE Network. He also catches as much indie wrestling as he can when it comes through his home of New York City. Follow along @jefflikesstuff

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