The Monday Night Wars in the late 1990's created an incredible competition between the WWE and WCW that led to some great wrestling programming. But many fans don't know how nerve-racking of a time it was for the people involved in the professional wrestling business.
On a recent episode of the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, former WCW executive producer Eric Bischoff discussed the notion that the companies were trying to put each other out of business. Bischoff explained that it was never a goal to eliminate the WWE, but they rather hoped to simply win the ratings war. He said the belief of the contrary was driven by WWE chairman Vince McMahon because he wanted to appear as the good guy in the situation.
"That's kind of a false narrative [about putting WWE out of business] and a lot of it had to do with Vince McMahon tried to convince everybody that 'big, bad, billionaire' Ted [Turner] tried to put everybody out of business," Bischoff said. "He was trying to make himself the babyface; trying to galvanize the loyalty for his brand. That really wasn't the case; there really wasn't an agenda to put anybody out of business, but there was a big agenda to be number one and willing it took to be number one."
Bischoff said he understood McMahon's tactics because he used some of them himself in order to push the WCW superstars beyond their limits. He admits it was a hard time for the wrestlers because they were being forced to do things that might jeopardize their futures.
"There was a lot of things I did and said back then to try and rally my troops as well. You have to remember that from a talent's point of view it was really an awkward situation. I had the talent that I was asking to do things that they knew was going to burn bridges. Anything that I can do to embarrass to put down the competition," Bischoff said. "It's one thing for me to go out and read out the spoilers to the other brand's show, or for me to hold a sign that said, 'Vince McMahon fears ratings.' That was all me; I had no intention of going to WWE, but the talent on the other hand knew better. They knew there was only two places to work. They were either working for me or for WWE, and they didn't want to do a lot of things I wanted them to do that took things over the top."
John "Bradshaw" Layfield was also on hand and he explained the situation from a superstar's point of view. JBL said there was no ill-will amongst the wrestlers because they knew it was just the nature of the business.
"We were trying to stay alive, but there was no animosity between us," JBL said. "There was a professional fight, but no animosity personally. We are all part of the same fraternity."
Former WWE producer Bruce Prichard admitted that for a brief moment he truly believed the WWE would be forced to go out of business. For a while, it appeared WCW would win the Monday Night Wars and Prichard said people were legitimately nervous about their job security.
"There were times that we thought, 'Oh man, could this be it?' At the same time, being in a similar situation before you always know that there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel if you keep working and fighting for it," Prichard said. "There were times definitely where I thought we were going to shut the doors down."
JBL chimed in and echoed the same sentiments. He said the WWE superstars grew accustomed to being part of the top promotion so when competition came along, they were truly nervous about the possibility of the WWE being run out of business.
"We were scared to death. The time before that, business was horrible. Business in WCW was as well, until the nWo came in there and sparked a rise. All of a sudden we are getting beat for the first time, which was a scary thought," JBL said. "We knew that Ted Turner had deep pockets; we knew that we were a private company and had to stay between budget. It was a scary fight because it wasn't an asymmetrical fight."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.