On a recent episode of his 83 Weeks podcast, former WCW President Eric Bischoff discussed signing Bret Hart in 1997. You can listen to the full podcast by clicking here, below are some highlights:
Whether he wanted Bret Hart to come to WCW with the WWF Championship:
"There were probably two or three different conversations about that. The one conversation that I distinctly remember. I remember that I was in Wyoming. I remember it because my cell phone went off and I was in a cell area that was really sketchy, where I was around a post office in the middle of nowhere. I remember going inside the post office to use a pay phone, and I remember standing there thinking, why am I having this conversation again? It is not that important of a deal. I convinced Bret Hart one last time do not worry about the Championship belt. In my mind, I remember thinking this at the time, what I thought Bret Hart should do is given the fact that he is Bret Hart, and you know, Stu Hart and the Hart family legacy, the tradition of the business, what I wanted Bret to do is just pass the belt on. Do the right thing. Shake Vince McMahon's hand. Leave on good terms. The business; the audience would have had more respect for him than to hold on to the belt because he didn't want to lose in Montreal, Quebec Canada [Survivor Series 1997] because he is a Canadian. That, to me didn't make any sense. Worrying about it didn't make any sense to me because Bret Hart was coming to WCW. The fans were sophisticated enough to know that if he lost a match it wasn't going to diminish who Bret Hart was. That logic from talent never made any sense to me. That is when you get sucked in to the work where you work yourself. I tried to explain that to Bret Hart. It just didn't matter to me".
Whether he consulted with WCW talent about Hart prior to him arriving:
"I talked to Hulk Hogan. I talked to Kevin Nash, Scott Hall. I talked with Ric Flair It would have been kind of standard operating procedure to have conversations to pick the brains of the top guys that he would have been working with. To make sure there was no chemistry issues, or landmines that I needed to be aware of. If there were I would have to deal with them prior to him coming on board not afterwards. I would have probably listened to a number of people suggest best possible ways to take advantage of Bret Hart, including Hulk Hogan. Hulk had a long history with Bret Hart, as did Ric Flair. They had a long history with Bret. They knew Bret Hart better than I did. I had never worked with Bret. Quite frankly, I never followed him much in WWF. He was never really my cup of tea. I appreciated and understood why fans loved him. I understood the qualities that he brought, but he wasn't one of the guys where I watched him and thought to myself that I couldn't wait to have that guy on the roster. I was interested in the perspectives of guys like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, who did know Bret at a much different level than I could possibly know him."
Why it took so long to have Bret Hart debut in WCW:
"Why wouldn't I just drop everything and take in a guy who had a certain amount of time of a no-compete clause; had a broken hand, and just kind of drop everything and throw him in the middle of something without any real planning, backstory and throw it against the wall in hopes that it would stick? Is that the question? That is the kind of prevailing critique that I hear often; how can you take a guy like Bret Hart, which by the way, he wasn't drawing, there is a reason why Vince McMahon let him go. It wasn't because he was making Vince McMahon money hand over fist. One of the things that I liked---look at what we did with Sting and Hulk Hogan. I wanted long term plans. One of the reasons I thrust myself in creative, and I may have said this to you before, if I didn't I apologize, but I was never comfortable with creative. I was comfortable with the business side of it. I understood the business side of the business pretty well. What I didn't know I could pretty easily understand and figure out, but that creative side was the voodoo side that I never got close to. I never got close to the creative in AWA; not only was I not close to it, I wasn't allowed to be in a room close to it when they were talking about creative. That is how tightly held Verne Gagne believed in kayfabing people who he didn't believe needed to be in the process. I had zero exposure to creative in WCW up until 1993, 1994. Even then I was at a distance. I would talk to Dusty Rhodes because he and I were tight and we would talk a little bit, and would explain to me the ideas that he had and sucked up as much as I could. I was fascinated by it quite honestly, but I was still never comfortable being the guy in the room that said yay or nay on something. Ric Flair, when I brought him in as a booker, I was never in that room. I would come in and out. There were certain things that I had to be aware of as Executive Vice President, depending on the timeline was of the company and being responsible financially for things. I had to have an idea of where we were going, what the pay per views were going to look like, how the cards are being advertised six months before pay per views and all that kind of crap, but I didn't sit in a room with a team filled with guys who had hundreds of years of more experience than I did and try to influence their creative decisions. I tried to stay out of that. It wasn't until later on that I inserted myself in that process."
Bret's tenure in WCW being a failure:
"I think it all goes back to the very beginning. I think it is fair for Bret Hart and fans of Bret Hart to suggest that there was never really a long term plan with Bret. That is fair. Bret came in rather abruptly. We didn't have a long time to really lay out in a thoughtful way where we can balance different options and really creatively do the best job that we can do. Even with the time that we had, we didn't do a great job. I didn't do a great job, so I think if you go back to the very beginning with all the things that were going on; with the pressures of WCW Thunder and some of the choices I was trying to make, and the pressures were we getting from WWE, and the pressure we were getting from our own company, and the fact that they were gutting our budget, all of those things were throwing us off of our game, and a lot of that had to do with the reason why, so we didn't have a good plan, we just didn't, and that is fair for Bret, and for fans of Bret, but I will also say that Bret Hart didn't contribute. He didn't try. Despite the 'hero's journey' and the amazingly, Steven Spielberg-ish where he single handedly, against all odds created in Toronto, Canada so that his fans, the multitude of fans, who stood outside in the freezing cold as Bret Hart had to walk over the almost comatose body of the head booker only to prevail in the ring and to prove to all of the bookers and to everybody else that Bret Hart had the keys to the kingdom that night, but despite all of that, Bret Hart didn't really contribute as much as Bret Hart could have contributed to Bret Hart's own success. In his own legacy. Right now, Bret Hart's legacy is a bitter, broken guy who wants to blame everybody from Vince McMahon to Eric Bischoff, to Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, to Dean Malenko for God's sake for all of the things that went wrong in his career. Regardless of all the things I did wrong, that is on Bret Hart."
In response to Bret's comments about Eric Bischoff not creating talent:
"Yeah, I'm sure the next time you go to a Wrestlecon, or maybe even the 'All In' event. I am sure if you see Scott Hall and Kevin Nash signing autographs, I am sure Scott Hall is wearing a Razor Ramon gimmick. I am sure Kevin Nash is going as Diesel, right? Wrong! They are still more over today because of what I did for them. I made them bigger stars in WCW than they ever were in WWE. If you don't believe me just go check it out next time you see them at autograph signings. They are still wearing their nWo s**t. By the way, our shirts are still selling over at WWEShop.com. Oh, by the way, Booker T, that guy in WCW, who is still associated with WWE, and Bill Goldberg, who was just inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, all of those guys who suffered at Eric Bischoff's hands, whose careers just died in the wasteland at Eric Bischoff's understanding of the Pro Wrestling business as Bret freaking Hart knows it. Those guys are still making money. I kind of say to Bret, just look around you Bret. Pull yourself out of the mushroom that you live under. Look for a little daylight, and look around you to see that you are kind of full of s**t. You really don't know what you are talking about because you weren't inside of Turner Broadcasting. You weren't inside of the machine that was going on at the time where Ted Turner was literally pulling the carpet from underneath me and didn't know it until I was asked to leave my own office. Bret Hart, you don't really understand the business of the Pro Wrestling business, you only understand the Bret Hart business of the Pro Wrestling business, and they are two different things."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks w/ Eric Bischoff with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.