83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff – Dusty Rhodes
Release Date: 06/11/2018
Recap By: Jeff Rush
This show was released on the three-year anniversary of the passing of Dusty Rhodes. Conrad notes that this episode will see a departure from the usual cross examination format and will instead be more of a walk down memory lane as he and Eric discuss Dusty.
Eric first saw Dusty on AWA TV in Minneapolis when he was about 15 years old. Dusty was coming through the territory at the time and cut a promo where he emerged from a swimming pool “kinda like the shark in Jaws,” wearing a cowboy hat and a big smile on his face.
Dusty was part of the one-day hiring process with the Jim Herd administration that brought Bischoff into WCW. He says he auditioned as part of an announce team with Diamond Dallas Page. He says this experience “was awkward for a lot of reasons we’ll cover in the future.”
Eric started with WCW in mid-1991. This was on the heels of Dusty’s run with the WWF, but Eric says while he knew of that run, he didn’t really watch any of it. He was also not all that familiar with WCW for that matter.
He felt Dusty’s polka-dot, common man gimmick was abstract compared to what he knew of Dusty and he didn’t really get it.
The modest, humble Bischoff we’ve grown to know as part of 83 Weeks then emerges as he talks about his first impression meeting and working with Dusty. He makes a point of stating that he’s choosing his words carefully as though not to be perceived as he’s putting himself over and says Dusty took him under his wing.
Eric says Jim Herd once told him the only reason Bischoff was brought in was to make Tony Schiavone and Jim Ross miserable and to put pressure on them. He says Dusty was aware of this. Eric says he was a “Ken doll Northerner,” but that Dusty wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into politically and was protecting him.
Dusty had Eric ride with him at his first TV taping, along with Doug Dillinger and Dusty’s assistant, Janie Engle. Eric says this carpool would become a regular thing. Through listening to Dusty on these rides, Eric began to get the lay of the land.
As time went on, Eric says he and Dusty became pretty good friends. Dusty liked that Eric worked for Verne Gagne and they also had a lot in common – interests in hunting, fishing, and lots of things that had nothing to do with wrestling.
Dusty was retired from the ring at this point, and Eric says he never got the impression he was interested in returning. He talks about Dusty’s creativity and passion for developing storylines and characters.
Prior to Eric’s arrival, Dusty began hosting an interview segment called the Bull Drop Inn (get it?). He was introduced by Jason Hervey of Wonder Years fame. Hervey and Bischoff would go on to work together for many years outside of wrestling and though Eric doesn’t recall the Bull Drop Inn, he would meet Hervey shortly thereafter.
Wow, there is so much going on in the above video clip. Heel Jason Hervey? Check. “Original rap master, Dusty Rhodes?” Check. Dusty anointing PN News the next Dusty Rhodes? Check. And this is only the first half of the clip. Must. Watch.
Conrad reads a report by Dave Meltzer about WCW brass wanting to pull Dusty from TV in the summer of 1991. Bischoff says any knowledge of such politics were beyond his pay grade at this time, as he was a newbie C-level announcer. He reiterates that he doesn’t want to dwell on such negativity on this episode and prefers to keep things positive.
He acknowledges that there was a lot of politicking taking place that he wasn’t aware of at the time.
Conrad mentions that Dusty was paired with his son Dustin in January of 1992 for WCW/New Japan Supershow II and asks what Eric knew about their relationship.
Bischoff thought about this when he knew they were going to do this show. He tells of his first major impression of “Dusty as a human being.” He talks about hanging out with his travelling crew at the hotel bar, listening to Dusty tell stories. He says occasionally Dustin would stop by for a quick beer and be on his way.
Eric says he was raised in a good home, but that his mother and father didn’t show a lot of outward affection for each other or Eric. It stood out to him, by contrast, how affectionate Dusty and Dustin were towards one another.
Bischoff was in his 30’s at this point and had young children. He already knew he didn’t want his kids to grow up the same way he did. At the same time, he wasn’t comfortable giving or receiving compliments or showing emotions other than anger.
He remembers one specific night in Florida, sitting at a bar next to Dusty. He recalls this moment so clearly he can picture the bar. He saw Dusty and Dustin give each other a big hug and heard Dusty say “I love you, son.” He says this left such a huge impression on him. It made him realize how important it was to express that emotion to his own children, regardless of whether or not they were in public. When he thinks of Dusty Rhodes, he doesn’t think of any of his career moments. To Bischoff, this one moment at the bar is the one that defines Dusty Rhodes.
Dusty on commentary
Eric runs down the various shows Dusty was writing for at the time, which was 4-5 including syndication. Rhodes also performed color commentary for most of these. Eric thought he was great in that role and says Dusty was a method performer. Once the red light went on, Dusty lived in the moment.
Bischoff feels so many announcers today are preoccupied trying to be Jim Ross or Joey Styles, for example. He thinks the best are the ones who get caught up in the action and let their emotions flow (Mauro Ranallo?). He says Dusty excelled in such a role.
Dave Meltzer wrote in 1992 that Dusty performed “charming jive,” attempting to get himself over at the expense of the product. Asked for comment, Eric says he wants to continue in the spirit of this show and not speak negatively. He says in fairness, he’d like to see an example of what Meltzer was talking about because he feels the comment is unfair. Eric cites Jesse Venture as someone who got himself over, but says that helped get the talent over.
Eric says play-by-play announcers are traffic cops. They’re there to describe the action as though the viewer can’t see it. A color commentator, on the other hand, adds dimension and brings the characters into the equation. In order to do so, often times, it helps to be larger than life, as Dusty was. Looking at it from a distance, Eric feels Dusty was great at what he did.
When Turner brought in Bill Watts in 1992, Bischoff says he’d grown closer to Dusty by this time and sensed that he was uncomfortable with the situation. Eric speculates perhaps he was disappointed he didn’t get the nod for the position.
Eric uses one of my favorite lines from the show here when he describes the tension at the time between Dusty and Jim Ross, saying “This is hard to talk about because we’re all friends now.”
It’s such a blunt way of explaining why wrestling podcasts work so well. The industry is constantly filled with behind the scenes feuds and jockeying and eventually, all the players grow older and move on to more important matters. After some time, they naturally gravitate toward others who share their past. No longer having a stake in anything worth feuding over, they learn to value one another, often times as friends. That’s life.
It makes me envision a day, long after the McMahons have sold WWE and “sports entertainment” has eaten itself, and pro wrestling is a world once again occupied by smaller groups. In that world, lifelong wrestling fan and private citizen, Paul Levesque, will pay a visit to whatever the 2035 version of podcasts is. This one will be hosted by Phil Brooks and a warm, meaningful conversation will take place.
Back in the land of 83 Weeks, Eric is explaining that Dusty and JR experienced conflict on a regular basis in the 2035 version of 2018. We’ll call it 1992. Ross was Watt’s guy and this was disconcerting to Dusty. He felt the political pressure and was not his jovial self.
Eric asserts that Bill Watts was a “d**k,” that he liked to maintain his power by bullying and keeping people off-balance and insecure. Bischoff recalls a deer-hunting trip he had planned with Dusty, Dustin, and Doug Dillinger at the time and says Dusty was terrified by the idea of taking time off to go hunting, not knowing what would be happening back home while he was gone.
Watts was pressuring talent to renegotiate their contracts at this time, but Dusty never shared details of his negotiations with Eric. He did tell Eric if things ever got too bad with Watts in WCW, he felt he could always “call the old man,” meaning Vince McMahon.
When Watts was canned in early 1993, the opportunity came for Bischoff to step into the top spot. Eric says Dusty was very supportive. One reason why is WCW was no longer looking for a wrestling person to take charge, thanks to the awful job Watts had done. Dusty knew he wouldn’t be up for the spot as a result, and found it easy to get behind Eric.
Shift in TV production
Conrad mentions Bischoff bringing in episodic TV writers and asks how Dusty reacted. Eric says he felt the shows looked like s**t when he first came on. They were having 200 people show up in 5,000 seat venues and the ones that were there didn’t really care about the product. He likens it to the audience of “winos” they had at Center Stage for the Saturday Night tapings.
As a result, he moved production to Disney MGM Studios. He knew the audience wouldn’t be a wrestling crowd, but at least they would be there and not be drunk, allowing them to turn the lights up. Eric had to sell advertising and felt this was the best move.
Since they were shooting three months worth of TV in a few days, they needed planning for their storylines. Eric explains the luxury the Southern territories had writing weekly television and being able to shift directions week-to-week based on crowd reactions. He says a lot of the folks who came up that way now worked in the WCW system and, as such, were resistant to Bischoff’s call to bring in TV writers who could help provide long-term plans.
Conrad is surprised such info came up in this episode, but says that’s the nature of this show. I agree. It’s certainly a highlight.
Dusty out as booker
Clash of the Champions from January of 1994 was Dusty’s last show as booker. Eric thinks Dusty saw it coming and says he was “so cool about it.” He feels the handwriting was on the wall and says Dusty “handled it like a man.”
Reflecting on it now, Bischoff thinks Dusty probably felt the decision was only temporary and expected his phone to ring any day, welcoming him back. He then recites Dusty’s old phone number from memory. It sounded to me like he added an extra digit, but I could be wrong. Anyway, it was rattled off like Eric meant it, so take that all you haters who bash him for having such a crappy memory.
Dusty would get back in the ring a few times throughout 1994, participating in a program with Terry Funk and teaming with Dustin. A house show on October 28 would see the Rhodes teaming up to face Funk and Arn Anderson in Tampa, FL. The show only draws 600 fans.
Eric says house show business was horrible at this point and was not the fault of any of the talent. It was a reflection of how the product was being received in general and the inept people they had running the house show end of things at the time.
As we get into 1995, Eric and Dusty are starting to call matches together. Conrad asks how this comes to be. Eric is light on specifics, talking mostly about the need to have fun while working, but then slips into his self-depreciation mode:
“I knew I was… adequate, I won’t say I was good. I wasn’t as good as Tony Schiavone. I certainly wasn’t as good as Jim Ross, but I was pretty good. I was a good C-squadder. I was a good 6 ½ or 7 on a scale of 10.”
Calling yourself a 7 out of 10 might not sound humble to a lot of people, but when it’s coming from Eric Bischoff, it stands out. Conrad is a lifelong salesman. He’s spoken in-depth about this on numerous interviews, how he got his start in sales and the motivational mantras he applies to daily life that make him successful. He has a knack for striking up a friendly rapport with just about anyone and it’s what helps make his shows so successful.
A byproduct of that nature is his ability to take individuals known for their overconfidence and brash exteriors (or, you know, being a**holes) and getting them to lower their guard to the point where they’re able to publicly laugh at themselves. It humanized Bruce Prichard and, as a result, turned his show into the most successful wrestling podcast in the industry. Furthermore, it relaunched his career and has helped make him more famous than he’s ever been.
Many folks saw Eric Bischoff as the ultimate challenge for Conrad. Here we are less than two months into 83 Weeks, and the results are obvious. Bischoff is showing a human side that has been tightly concealed in public for most of the past thirty years and it’s making this show work.
Dustin Rhodes was fired in March 1995 following an infamous blade job during a time when WCW had a no-bleeding policy. Eric says he was friends with Dustin and that it was a hard thing to do. He says discussing it with Dusty was uncomfortable and tense but that Dusty understood. Eric never worried Dusty would quit over the situation.
By Slamboree ’95, Dusty was entered into the WCW Hall of Fame. Eric feels Dusty appreciated being acknowledged by his peers for his accomplishments. He remembers hanging out with Dusty and Andre the Giant over a few beers that night.
Dusty began doing commentary on WCW Saturday Night in September of 1995, but was replaced by Lee Marshall six months later.
Eric worked with Marshall in the AWA and wanted to try him out. He knew Dusty was “the guy” with the Southern wrestling audience but felt the addition of Marshall would soften the regional edge the commentary gave the product. He admits this was part of his attempt to get the acceptance of national advertisers.
Conrad leaps forward here to the NWO’s infamous parody of the Four Horsemen and asks how Dusty felt. Eric talks again about Dusty’s progressiveness, but says Dusty was uncomfortable with this angle. Eric could tell he was disappointed that things went as far as they did.
Dusty would turn heel and join the NWO at Souled Out ’98. Conrad feels it’s a big deal that gets glossed over, as Dusty had been a babyface since 1974. He suggests that this was a way to give the NWO a commentator for their own show. Eric passes on this out and says they turned Dusty as a way of making WCW seem as though they were dead in the water. He wanted it to appear as though there was no hope for WCW in their battle with the NWO and this turn illustrated things being about as bad as they could get. Dusty was a loyalist to WCW more than even Hogan, so this was the biggest shot Bischoff could come up with.
Eric says Dusty was a great heel and enjoyed his role here as he loved the energy and being in the limelight.
Dusty was largely used as Scott Hall’s manager in his NWO role. Eric says they were both Florida guys who greatly respected one another and got along very well.
By June of 1998, Bischoff announced at a talent meeting that Dusty would have a bigger role on the booking committee. Conrad asks how this came to be and Bischoff either feigns ignorance or misunderstands the question, telling Conrad he just described it – he held a meeting and announced it.
Both Conrad and Eric have pledged to keep this episode light and positive out of respect to Dusty, and this was about as tense as things would get with Conrad deadpanning Bischoff here:
“Ok, thanks for that. I appreciate all the detail.”
He presses Eric for why Dusty was given a bigger role. Eric says by 1998, he knew WCW needed help and, as he’s mentioned before, he was buried in the corporate end of things. Eric knew Dusty could be stubborn and wasn’t prone to collaboration, but he respected and valued him.
Eventually, the booking committee would take shape as Dusty, Kevin Nash, Kevin Sullivan, and DDP. Eric says “on paper” this was a great team. DDP had great respect for Dusty and Sullivan had a lot of history with him. Bischoff feels the problem with the team is that they weren’t dedicated to booking, as Nash and DDP were performers, Sullivan was part time and worked remotely, and Dusty wasn’t the right guy to head things up.
Eric feels he could have structured things better and takes the blame for them not working out better.
Conrad mentions here that Dusty’s involvement with the NWO fades away. When Ric Flair would beat Eric for the presidency of WCW, Dusty is seen celebrating with Flair.
By June of 1999, Dusty is handling the majority of the booking. Eric thinks Dusty probably just took the reigns on his own and assumed the position.
Conrad asks if Eric remembers any specific segments Dusty was involved in. Eric brings up the Flair For The Gold talk show and makes a joke about Conrad’s future father-in-law knowing a lot about that. I have no idea what’s happening here, so I run a quick Google search. Turns out Conrad is engaged to Ric Flair’s daughter, Megan. Wow. Congrats, everybody.
Bischoff has watched some Flair For The Gold segments recently and feels they were done very well. He’s impressed because they were largely shot live in one take and gives Dusty all the credit.
Conrad then begins to preface the next item as something that took place while Eric wasn’t with the company. Eric laughs and jokes he’s happy he doesn’t have to take the abuse. Seemingly out of left field, Conrad says Eric can bring in a “third man” to take the abuse. This reads as odd as it sounds.
Conrad says he’s talking about Vince Russo… ok. Should’ve seen something coming here.
He then talks about how Russo wanted to book a reality-based storyline on Dusty’s issues with Dustin after he came into power in the fall of 1999. Dusty wants no part of it and quits.
Eric was kept up on things at this point by DDP. He says booking angles that play off of real life turmoil within a family can go too far. Dusty’s reconciliation with Dustin at this stage in their life was far too important to Dusty and he simply wanted nothing to do with such angle. Eric manages to work in a quick shot about Russo being a scumbag here before restating that he’s trying to keep things positive today.
Dusty started working with ECW in December of 1999 and even started his own promotion, Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling. Eric was trying to separate himself from wrestling at this time, and doesn’t have much knowledge of any of this.
Dusty returned to WCW on January 29, 2001 to join Dustin in an angle against Ric Flair. This was the home stretch for WCW as they would be out of business just over two months later. Eric was looking at taking over the company at this point, though. He felt as a legend or icon, Dusty should be used as a special attraction.
Dusty faced Flair in a tag match at WCW’s final PPV, Greed, in March of 2001. Eric says he’s sure Dusty had a good time with it.
Conrad brings us back around to Flair For The Gold here and asks for Eric’s take on the Shockmaster. Eric says it was horrifying for everyone when it happened, but that Fred Ottman continues to cash in on it to this day, so it wasn’t all bad.
Conrad circles back to the “third man” talk here, saying the Shockmaster was Eric’s first third man. At this point, I’m assuming they’re simply working their way into plugging the awesome new “Mabel Was The Third Man” tee shirt they released. This shirt was a suggestion I made here a few weeks back. I later followed up with a tweet, asking for them to make it happen. It now exists and I’m very happy about all of this.
Finally, all the forced third man talk reveals itself. With 23 minutes remaining in the episode, 83 Weeks becomes…
Something to “Brother” With… Hulk Hogan.
“Come on, Conrad. You know who the third man is, brother.” Hogan joins the show, and it’s hard to tell how surprised Conrad is. He sells it like crazy, stammering and asking if it’s really Hogan. Clearly, though, he and Eric had been working for the past ten minutes of the episode to set things up. Regardless, it’s a pretty crazy surprise.
Hogan says he wanted to come on the show to talk about Dusty and Conrad obliges, shifting quickly to asking questions.
Hogan was in high school when Dusty first became a big name in Florida wrestling. He talks about skipping school and going to the Sportatorium to watch Dusty, and credits Dusty with inspiring him to become a wrestler.
Hogan sounds genuine and enthusiastic about his appearance, talking excitedly about his earliest memories of wrestling and being a fan of Dusty. It’s such a departure from the normal “always working” interview you typically get from Hogan.
Hogan briefly acknowledges being fired in 2015 as a way of talking about working with Dusty at the Performance Center.
He then mentions how awkward he felt in 1989 when Dusty came into the WWF, since Hogan was main eventing while Dusty was on the undercard. He says now he gets what Vince’s vision was at the time, but at he didn’t understand then. He wondered if the polka dots and Sapphire were used as a rib or a way to run Dusty off. Hogan says if it were him, he would’ve probably been a jackass, but Dusty was smart enough to go along with it.
Hogan then talks about working with Dusty in Japan, saying you’re either over in Japan or you’re not. He was fortunate enough to work with Stan Hansen and, as a result, he got hot. He thought he was over, but Antonio Inoki’s reception blew him away. Hogan adds that Dusty and Abdullah the Butcher we’re just as over.
Hogan mentions the Young Bucks and Chris Jericho having success in Japan today.
Dusty told Hogan to listen to the crowd and he took that as gospel. Years later, when Hogan was preparing for his WM18 match with the Rock, he recalls Rocky Johnson advising Rock to do the same thing, listen to the crowd.
Hogan concludes that Dusty was a consummate professional and ahead of his time. He thinks Dusty could be dropped into any era and work on top, even today.
Hogan closes by saying Ric Flair is the greatest World’s Champion to ever walk the face of the earth.
Review: I can’t remember the last time I was caught off guard by a surprise appearance on a podcast. In fact, I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Regardless of my feelings about Terry Bollea, the kid in me popped a little for the surprise arrival of Hulk Hogan. The first half of his interview was refreshing. It was cool to hear him talk like a normal person and tell stories about his early days as a fan and then wrestler. Such an appearance by him is super rare, to say the least.
His timeline hopped around a little, like when he said he was finishing up with TNA when Vince told him to “bring it” prior to his match with the Rock…. in 2002. Also, his 20/20 hindsight now has him recalling the Rock being advised to “listen to the crowd” prior to that iconic WM18 match, a moment tethered to history largely due to the fan reaction that no one saw coming at the time. So yeah, the Hulkster will never truly be capable of behaving himself, but this was pretty good for him.
The response to 83 Weeks grows more positive each week and Conrad and Eric are earning every bit of the praise. The limited time I invested listening to Bischoff’s previous podcast left me unimpressed. He mostly seemed irritated by the host, generally dismissive of wrestling talk and came off as not very respectful of his audience. I knew Conrad would be able to get more out of him, but figured Eric was simply chasing the payday he’d seen Bruce Prichard achieve and would only budge from his curmudgeonly nature as little as absolutely necessary.
To venture a guess, I’d say he’s enjoying the experience far more than he’d expected. He’s willing to open up, laugh at himself, and sometimes even seem likable. There’s a lot of ground left to cover and I’m eager to see where the show takes us.
This episode was a fun ride. I especially enjoyed hearing about the early days of Eric’s tenure in WCW and getting a taste of all the turmoil that came with the reigns of Jim Herd and Bill Watts. As luck would have it, Conrad tweeted this week that the next episode focusing on Clash of the Champions XXIII, which took place on June 16, 1993 will offer “more behind the scenes maneuvering than ever before.” I am very much ready for that.
It’s amazing that with someone as important to wrestling history as Dusty Rhodes, there are still so many untold stories sitting out there, waiting to be heard. Eric managed to work through his greatest hits in this episode, highlighted by stories about Dusty’s relationship with Dustin – how he dealt with Dustin’s firing, quit rather than partake in a storyline exploiting their past, and especially the story of that night in a Florida part that had such an impact on Eric.
It’s a tidy episode covering a personal and professional relationship that lasted over ten years, and wrapped up in under two hours with some fun surprise perspective at the end. It’s well worth checking out. Rating: 9/10
You can find Jeff Rush on Twitter @jefflikesstuff