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RECAP AND REVIEW: 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff on Bret Hart – Rumors of being “the third man,” why Bret was originally brought in, Starrcade ’97, Dean Malenko, losing $5M per month, Goldberg, plans with Hogan, and more (Ep. 03)

 

83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff

Release Date: 05/13/2018

Recap By: Jeff Rush

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”I’m going to try really hard not to be too disrespectful to Bret, because there’s a lot of things about Bret I do respect. I respect the fact that he made a great living and a career, and made a lot of money in a business that is excruciatingly difficult to be successful in. Whether I like him or not, whether I think he’s the greatest performer in the world or a mid-card jabroni doesn’t matter. I still respect him for what he’s accomplished. And the fact that it’s a family legacy, out of that respect, I’m going to try my best, my very freakin’ best, to be careful about what I say.”

The show begins with Conrad asking about reports that Bret was considered as the possible “third man” in the NWO in 1996. Bischoff, first stating that such info was put out there by WCW on their hotline to generate 99-cent per-minute purchases, goes on to then question where such info would even come from. He blames Dave Meltzer for “creating news” to sell subscriptions to the Wrestling Observer newsletter, but says there was no truth to the story.

The next 30 minutes of the show focuses on Bret’s claim that he was offered a specific contract by Bischoff in 1996. He detailed the contract and events surrounding it in his book and it was widely reported about by Meltzer. Bischoff flat out denies that any sort of offer was made at that time. He surmises, at best, that Hart has conflated the details of their meeting in ’96 with later discussions in ’97.

Conrad is flummoxed by Bischoff’s take. He says he “crafted his whole show” on Bret’s account of events. Regarding Bret’s detailed claims, Bischoff guesses an uninformed ghostwriter put those details together or that Bret has “taken too many shots to the head.”

Conrad concedes that Bret’s claims did not make sense to him.

Eric asserts if you take Bret’s claims at face value, the details make Hart look so desired, likening the image Bret paints of himself with such details to that of Elvis Presley.

As he’s said in previous episodes, Bischoff reminds us that there’s a kernel of truth to every bulls**t claim. In this case, he cites Hart’s claim that even Scott Hall and Kevin Nash agreed to waive the “favored nations” clause in their contracts in order to sign Bret. Here, Eric states that Hall and Nash did not have a “complete favored nations” clause, rather a variation of one. He says the two did offer to waive theirs in order to sign Bret, but that this took place in 1997, not 1996. He further claims Hall and Nash didn’t even have such a clause in their contract in 1996.

(As a longtime listener of Something To Wrestle, what jumps out at me here is how readily Conrad accepts Bischoff’s side on this matter. He’s been brutal at times holding Bruce Prichard’s feet to the fire on matters that have been historically viewed as divisive amongst “smart fans.” Conrad seems to genuinely hold Bischoff beyond reproach when he says discussions to bring Hart in to WCW in 1996 never took place. Imagine if he instead brought the fire to Eric in a manner similar to how he did Bruce on STW’s WrestleMania IX episode. I feel it’s way too early in the run of 83 Weeks to say such behavior serves as a detriment to the show, as it has been excellent thus far. I’m extremely interested to see where we’re at in six months, though, when these two are even more at ease with one another.)

Negotiations in 1997

Eric says he was fully aware that Hulk Hogan was having discussions with WWF in 1997. He even says he was sitting at the bar in Denver when Vince’s limo came to pick Hogan up so they could talk.

In September of 1997, Bret was informed by Vince that WWF would not be able to honor their contract. A month later, Bret was signed with WCW.

Eric says Bret’s concern over jumping with the title had become a nuisance. He wanted Bret to “do the right thing” and drop the belt on his way out. He felt Bret owed it to his family’s legacy to go out honorably, even stating he told Bret he should shake Vince’s hand on the way out. Bret’s concern over losing in Montreal made no sense to Eric.

Eric says the only reason he even wanted Bret was because so many top guys were tied into the NWO storyline and he was tapped out. He saw Bret as a headlining talent that could help get WCW Thunder off the ground.

Bret claimed that he had two final requests of Bischoff prior to signing his WCW contract – that he be permitted to periodically arrive late to shows and also be provided “injury insurance.” Bischoff says he didn’t negotiate language and terms of contracts. Lawyers negotiated with lawyers. He says there was no such thing as health insurance in WCW. He concludes that the notion of including a “Can I be late sometimes?” clause in a contract is ludicrous.

The Montreal Screwjob

Bischoff didn’t see it live. He got a call from Rick Rude, who was disgusted with what had happened. Rude told him he was not under contract and wanted to jump and Bischoff obliged.

Disputing Bret’s claims, Eric says Bret did not call him on the night of the Screwjob.

Eric had a blast “poking the bear” on TV regarding the fallout of the Screwjob.

Bischoff never discussed bringing in Owen Hart. He then concedes and says it’s possible Bret inquired with him about bringing Owen in, but nothing ever came of it.

Regarding Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith, Eric says they were signed to small contracts, but WCW didn’t buy out their deals with WWF.

Bret’s WCW debut

Eric says he discussed Bret prior to his arrival with certain members of the locker room. He points out that both Hogan and Ric Flair had a long history with Bret, so their advice would be valuable.

Eric didn’t follow Bret during his time in WWF, saying he wasn’t his cup of tea.

Eric disputes criticism that he held off too long on debuting Bret on WCW TV. He says aside from the fact that there were already storylines in place and that Bret had a broken hand, Bret was not a draw at the time in WWF. Eric was happy to let the Bret situation simmer prior to putting him on TV.

Eric claims he saw Bret as a long-term priority, that “throwing him against the wall” right away would’ve been irresponsible. The long term plant was to make Nitro an NWO show and Thunder a WCW show, with Bret serving as the face of Thunder.

The only reason Bret Hart was brought into WCW was because they wanted his presence to buoy Thunder.

Bischoff disputes a claim that he only signed Bret to hurt WWF. He adds that his desire to hurt WWF has been overstated. His desire was to be number one, nothing more.

Eric interprets Bret’s description of his arrival in WCW as admitting he threw in the towel to pick up a check.

Bret did not bring any creative plans to the table upon his arrival.

After being used as a referee as during his debut at Starrcade ’97, Bret was seemingly pivoted into a feud with Ric Flair. Eric says this was done to create a top program for Thunder and was always the plan.

Eric doesn’t remember Bret’s debut match against Flair at Souled Out, which he says means he was probably ambivalent towards it at the time. Bret’s technical ability made him stand out amongst the headliners in WCW at the time. Eric was hoping for more out of this match.

Bret disparaged Flair’s working ability in his book. Asked for comment, Eric says he thinks Bret is an ass. He thinks such comments reflect poorly on Hart.

Bret’s WCW Run

Bret’s feud with the NWO was created as a way of putting Ric and Bret together against a common enemy with the idea being one of the them would eventually turn on the other.

Eric again states that Hart never drew in WWF, going all the way back to his initial World Championship run in 1992. He says he gave Bret a “giant contract” because he was a powerful brand. He says Bret was in the right place at the right time, likening him to a third string QB who gets the starting job when the two best QB’s in the league go down. He commends Bret for taking advantage of his position as being the best available talent at the time.

Bischoff never got into the Canada vs. USA angle Bret was a part of in the WWF, referring to it as “weak ass.”

When the 83-week ratings winning streak of WCW’s came to an end, Eric says he did not blame any one specific thing. He feels it was a combination of lots of big and small things.

(From here, Conrad runs down the list of Bret’s feuds over the next several months. They include a half-hearted heel turn and feuds with Roddy Piper and Randy Savage. For a moment, the show takes on a What Happened When feel, as both Conrad and Bischoff laugh and shake their heads at the bad booking. It seems that this would have been another opportunity for Conrad to press Eric on why such poor decisions were being made.)

Bret wrestled Chris Benoit in June of ’98. Asked to give his opinion on Benoit at this time, Bischoff says he was an amazing talent. He looked forward to the match. He didn’t feel the match could’ve carried a main event spot, but calls it a classic “for the fan that really appreciated that kind of work.”

Bret won the TV title in July ’98. Conrad asks the thinking behind such a glaring step backwards, to which Eric jokes “F**king Kevin Sullivan.” They share a laugh.

Bret won the US title from DDP later that month. Was this done to placate Bret? Eric doesn’t think so, as he didn’t typically operate that way, but he isn’t totally sure.

Bret grew frustrated with throwaway title wins and losses and multiple face and heel turns. Eric says from day 1, Bret would arrive to the building at the last minute and was a bit of a recluse. He only interacted with other wrestlers when he was telling old war stories. Bischoff’s interactions with Bret at this time were forgettable and few.

Regarding another clustf**k match involving Bret, Bischoff again explains his thinking as “F**king Kevin Sullivan.” He then confesses that the line is a joke (as it came off both times), that what he means to say is the bad decision comes back to him. It may have been Sullivan (or someone else) who pitched it, but ultimately Eric approved it and takes responsibility for it.

Conrad reads through another sloppily booked match involving Bret and Sting from Halloween Havoc ’98. Eric admits by this time the wheels were falling off behind the scenes on the corporate end. Everything had changed from where it was a year or two earlier and, as a result, Eric took his eye off the ball creatively. He does say though he laid out stories and approved who would go over, he never did finishes. Ultimately, though, he takes blame for the product being cranked out by WCW at this time.

We’ve settled into a groove at this point in the show where Conrad reads example after example of bad booking, and Eric simply agrees it was bad.

Eric discusses the various wrestlers who pitched ideas for themselves and other wrestlers over the years. He mentions Scott Hall pitching Sting’s Crow character as an example. He concludes that Bret never pitched an idea for himself. “We didn’t know how to use Bret Hart. Neither did Bret.”

As we continue to pour over the bad booking involving Bret and his numerous losses to mid-card talent, Conrad jokingly refers to him as Curt Hawkins. Eric popped big for that one.

Conrad reads an excerpt from Bret’s book about a time Dean Malenko injured him without later apologizing. He’s surprised to hear it, as seemingly no one has bad things to say about Dean Malenko. Eric compares Malenko to Benoit in terms of the respect he’s earned as a worker. He then says Bret lives with a dark cloud over him and points to these comments from Bret as an example of the Hitman never being able to blame himself and always point the finger at others. He adds that Bret is the epitome of not taking responsibility for one’s self.

Conrad reads Bret’s detailing of a booking meeting that took place in February of 1999 along with Hogan, Nash, and Bischoff. Eric states the meeting never took place. By this point, he’s fully convinced Bret’s book was ghostwritten.

Bret wrestled Will Sasso on Nitro. This was one of a handful of dealings Hart had with Mad TV. Eric says he had zero to do with it, it was totally a Bret thing.

According to a story in Bret’s book, Eric held a meeting with him where he told Bret the booking committee felt it was time for him to lose. He was then to do the job for Booker T. Eric disputes this, saying that was nothing he would ever say. Eric does admit was overwhelmed with a sh**storm on the corporate side and very well may have had Kevin Sullivan running creative at that point.

Conrad ran down a series of events including Bret complaining about Kevin Nash holding the book and being against him, and Bret being scheduled to lose to Dean Malenko but having the match scrapped in place of Bret going over Van Hammer. In a nice little moment of fire, Bischoff accuses Conrad of being all over the place. He says first we recognize that Kevin Nash is booking, but then Conrad is coming at him accusing Eric of doing a piss-poor job of booking Bret. Conrad counters that Eric put Nash in the spot and that the president takes the blame. He finishes by telling Eric he didn’t realize his job was simply to sign people up to big money contracts and not worry about whether he got value out of them.

Eric says he put a lot of people in that role over time and never went around second-guessing them. He takes responsibility, but says the short-term decision making at moments such as those cited by Conrad did not fall to him.

Conrad then pulled out a trademark move of his from Something To Wrestle where he sneaks in a snarky comment in sort of a “last word” fashion, then moves on in the same breath without allowing for a retort. When Eric wraps up by saying he would never have put Bret in a match with Van Hammer and Conrad jabs “No, you just let it happen,” Eric called it, not allowing him to move on and instead telling him that was a shot. He says he did let it happen, because he was focused on other things, and that Conrad can consider that an excuse if he wants.

But wait. There’s more.

When Conrad responds with “A few months later, the company would be losing $5 Million a month.” Eric says he’s going to call that one, that he doesn’t know where those numbers come from “and neither do you.”

(I’m guessing those numbers come from The Death of WCW, a book I love and have read a handful of times since first buying it upon it’s release in 2004. I also enjoyed listening to Bischoff slam it on last week’s “Finger Poke of Doom” episode.)

Eric takes offense to Conrad simply throwing out a number regarding WCW’s losses, even though he admits it may be true. He says he doesn’t know because the numbers were never published. He then goes into a detailed explanation he says will bore people who just want to hear dirt and hear Eric blow up when his buttons are pushed. I’ll assume you, dear reader, are one of those people and provide you with the TLDR: Losses from other departments of Time Warner were dumped onto WCW, making the wrestling company’s losses look far worse than they actually were.

When Conrad moves on directly following the detailed explanation, Eric teases him, saying he’s surprised Conrad has no questions about that. Conrad reminds him that this is a Bret Hart episode, and that it’s time to move on.

(I, for one, love getting explanations from Eric on matters like this. It’s worth hearing, so I recommend checking out the audio.)

Bret in Toronto

Conrad details Bret’s take on the famous angle where Goldberg was knocked out after attempting a spear on Bret, only to have it revealed that Bret was wearing a steel plate under his shirt.

Bret claims that Bischoff wanted the segment to end with Hogan coming out and destroying Hart. Eric says it’s complete bulls**t, and that he can’t believe Hart would say it. In this instance, he says there’s not even a kernel of truth in this one. “Nuclear bulls**t,” he says.

Bret also detailed stepping over Kevin Sullivan on his way to the ring, as he was having an apparent seizure in the aisle. Eric laughs and says that part is true.

Eric says Bret is writing a movie in his mind. He’s writing, directing and producing a movie where he’s the conquering Canadian hero. “Someone needs a dementia check,” he concludes.

Owen Hart

Bret found out on a flight to LA that Owen had died. Bischoff says he remembers his interaction with Bret vividly in this instance. The two were in LA to do an appearance on Leno. Bischoff got a call telling him the news and drove to the airport to wait for Bret.

Eric pauses for a second to remind us that in spite of everything we’ve discussed, that he and Bret were very close at this time. He wanted to make sure Bret heard the news from him as soon as he exited the plane.

As it happened, Bret already knew. They discussed a lot of things. Eric recalls Bret was angry and hurt and says he doesn’t want to repeat the things he said.

Bret was brought back for a promo on Nitro in July. Eric remembers it, and calls it a real moment. He says, under the circumstances, it was a beautiful thing.

This chapter of the show marked one of the only times Eric agreed with Bret’s recollection of events and his sentiments.

Hogan had mentioned to Bret that he looked forward to working with him in the fall. Eric confirms the plan was for the two to face off at Halloween Havoc.

Back to Bret’s account, Eric changed his mind on where the program was heading and instead wanted Bret to turn heel on the newly turned red-and-yellow Hogan. Bischoff says this is not true.

Bischoff would end up leaving the company on Sept. 10, 1999. As such, the Hogan-Bret program would not take place.

Asked for his thoughts on the career-ending concussion Bret would suffer a few months later at the hands of Bill Goldberg, Eric defends Goldberg to a point. He argues that Bill was still green with a limited move-set and was in no position to be wrestling lengthy, involved matches. Eric feels Goldberg would push himself too far and couldn’t carry out the timing and control needed in a match like that against Hart. He felt horrible for both wrestlers.

Conrad closes by calling Bret’s WCW a weird story and a failure on all fronts. Eric agrees that such an assessment is fair.

Eric understands fans of Bret accusing WCW of not having a plan for Hart upon his entering the company. He admits he didn’t do a good job, citing the pressure he felt on many fronts. He adds that Bret didn’t contribute or try and sarcastically lays out what he calls the movie Bret plays in his head.

Bischoff feels Bret’s legacy is that of a bitter, broken guy who blames others for everything that went wrong in his career.

Conrad asks if Bret is a Canadian hero. “Is Justin Beiber?” responds Eric. He says it depends on the context of such a comment.

Conrad then reads disparaging remarks Bret made last October about Eric where he calls him stupid, a loser, a maggot, and idiot, and “the worst,” amongst other things. He goes on to say Eric killed the wrestling business, as well as Bret’s career. It’s funny because Bret was also sure to say he likes Eric more than once.

Eric counters by saying when you go to a WrestleCon event and see Scott Hall or Kevin Nash, they won’t be dressed as Razor Ramon or Diesel, respectively. They’ll be wearing NWO gear. He says their careers were made in WCW and they’re still benefitting financially from it.

“Pull yourself out of the mushroom that you live under. Look for a little bit of daylight. Look around you and realize that you’re kind of full of s**t, and you really don’t know what you’re talking about…

“Bret Hart, you don’t really understand the business of the wrestling business. You only understand the Bret Hart wrestling business, and they’re two different things.”

Review: There’s been a ton of buzz about this episode on social media. Defenders of Hart, Bischoff, and Dave Meltzer have staunchly stated their cases and voiced their displeasure. Everyone obviously has a right to speak their mind, even taking the approach Bischoff did in this show and at times holding absolutely nothing back.

I do feel, however, those caught up in pointing out inaccuracies in Bischoff’s account on this episode are missing the point of this show. Hell, for that matter, I think they’re missing the point of any wrestling biography ever released. These outlets exist to let the person behind them speak their mind, retell how they remember things and provide their opinions. These aren’t encyclopedias or high school history books. They’re ultimately editorials. Our assignment as wrestling fans is to digest as much information as we can from everything we read and hear and piece together our own understanding of the history of the industry. There are hard facts out there that act as pillars, and then there’s the fuzzy middle that exists to fill in the space between those facts. If you’re lucky enough, the source of some of that fuzziness will be as fun to listen to as 83 Weeks has been thus far.

That isn’t a defense of anything Bischoff said on this episode. Ask me to choose between the account of someone with an admittedly terrible memory and that of someone widely known to have meticulously documented every step of their career and the choice seems easy. That said, there was a ton of interesting insight offered by Bischoff here that’s rarely brought up in the same breath as accusations of him having single-handedly destroyed WCW.

There was a stretch of this episode where Conrad would throw out a question regarding a poor booking decision, Eric would make a joke, then they would move on. Conrad explained in an interview this week, however, that he often knows in advance that Eric (or Bruce or Tony) doesn’t recall certain instances, but depending on the question, he’ll ask it anyway to avoid getting blasted for not doing so. I’ll assume that’s what was happening on this episode. If you’re unaware of the formula at play, it doesn’t make for a satisfying moment, but at least we understand why that may be happening.

We’re three episodes in and the pairing with Conrad has made Bischoff much more open and interesting than I ever found him on his previous podcast. Next week is Bash At The Beach 2000 and, undoubtedly, a heaping helping of Vince Russo. No doubt, there will be more fireworks to come. Rating: 8/10

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