I recently spoke to former WCW booker and talent Kevin Sullivan. Below is part one of the interview. Make sure to check later this next week for the second part of the interview, where Sullivan talks about working with Hulk Hogan and how receptive he was of ideas, how difficult it was to get Hogan to turn heel, John Cena as a heel, why America deserves Donald Trump, Dusty Rhodes, the end of WCW, Kevin Owens wrestling with a shirt on, his reaction to Goldberg's streak ending, what wrestling needs to do to get popular again and much more.
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You've been wrestling since the early 70's, right?
"Since 1970, yes."
How'd you get your start in the business?
"It's a funny thing. I wrestle in high school, I wrestled for the Boy's Club, I wrestled for the YMCA. A guy said asked me if I wanted to work out and I said yeah. He was an old guy but he was doing strange moves. I said 'how do you do that?' and he showed me. He got me booked, and the guy I met who wrestled was Pat Girard, who trained Pat Patterson. He was a terrific guy, a biggest draw in the area at one time. Back in the day, they were wrestling 10-15 times a week just in London. Wrestling was hot. After that, it was a TV hit in the 50's. Wrestling became big in Europe. I never had a chance to go until later on. I never had any regrets, but I wish I had the chance to go to Germany. I was supposed to go one year but I hurt my ankle and couldn't go. I wish I would have."
How did you end up signing with Crockett Promotions?
"I was down in Florida booking. We sold out for Crockett. They had Dusty [Rhodes], Mike Rotunda, Barry Windham, Scott McGhee. They scooped everybody up, and I'm trying to book with practically all new guys and nobody knows who they are. Not that they were bad, but they didn't have any experience. They said they wanted to talk to me, and they brought me up to Charlotte and I ended up working in Charlotte."
Was there any talk of you ever joining WWF? It seems like with your gimmick you'd have been a natural there.
"Yeah, there were a few times. One time I was going to go, but when I had a conversation on the phone, Florida Championship Wrestling offered me $50 more per week than they've ever offered anyone. Then later on I was talking to Vince [McMahon]. We had talked about coming in with The Undertaker, then they did the angle the next night, so I said 'I guess not.' Then another time I was supposed to go up on a Monday or Tuesday, but I had just opened a piece of property that cost almost $500,000 in the Florida Keys. I was grateful, but I couldn't."
When was that last offer made?
"Probably 10 or 12 years ago. I'm happy with how my life turned out, though."
During your first run with WCW, were you involved just as a talent, or also creatively?
"Nobody was talent, nobody was creative. We were talent, but Jim Herd was coming up with things like the Ding Dongs. Some of that stuff was so ridiculous. He came in and said 'I've got the greatest idea in the world! I've got a team that can't be beat! They're going to be hunchbacks, they can't be pinned!' So being a smartass, I said we'll get a big shovel and dig a big hole and get their shoulders on the mat, and he looked at me and Jim Cornette and said 'Great idea! I love it.' We laughed, but I thought he was going to do it. He wasn't in wrestling, he was a pizza guy."
Yeah, I remember him wanting to cut Ric Flair's hair off and call him Spartacus.
"You know what I said at that meeting? I said 'Yeah, let's go to Yankee Stadium and change Babe Ruth around, too.'
When did you become head booker?
"Ric had been booking. Sometimes when the talent is head booker, things can go awry. I'll never forget that they asked me if I thought I could book, and [Hulk] Hogan was coming in, and he'd be there my first night. We were lucky, everything fell into place. I had the best talent in the world, and the resources to get the talent."
Was it Hogan's request to get you involved in the booking team?
"Yeah. He told them."
How was he to work with?
"The ends justify the means in my book. People say he's a cartoon character, but was he going to wrestle Eddie Guerrero? Was he going to wrestle Chris Benoit? Was he going to wrestle Shane Douglas? He's wrestling Brutus and these guys. The only way I could get his confidence was to get him where he wanted. Then when they started to boo him in the arenas, I said it was time for a change. They booed him out of the arena and one of the announcers said 'You can tell there's a somber mood here tonight.' I pulled him aside, and I told him he had to turn. Bash at the Beach was 20 years ago now."
I think that was the most memorable heel turn of all-time.
"I think so too. Kevin was the world champion up there in New York. Scott was the Intercontinental champion. Who doesn't want WWF vs. WCW? It wasn't hard for Hulk to be a heel. It just worked out. Kevin and Scott changed us. Scott came and said 'I have a big surprise coming.'
Another memorable feud was you and Brian Pillman, where he called you "bookerman" and walked off.
"One of the biggest compliments I ever got, Kevin Nash told me that guys from WWF bought the pay-per-view and went to the hotel and watched it. I had nothing to do with that, that was all Brian. We lost a great performer, but we also lost a great mind. Brian was so far ahead of himself. Do you think there could have been a Steve Austin without a Brian Pillman? He was the catalyst. He was so good at what he did. He and I were so close, and he had so many great ideas. I was talking to Terry Funk and he said 'Whatever this guy is on, I want some of it, because nobody can come up with these great ideas.'
"He played for Cincinnati, you know. He was going to run out to run out to the field, strip himself naked, handcuff himself to the goal post and swallow the key. What could they have done? They would have had to have taken a shot (laughs)."
Did you know going into the match it was going to end like that?
"Yeah. Brian called me up and said Stevie Ray wanted him to kick my ass. I said that was fine, because five minutes after he talked to Stevie Ray, Stevie came over to me and told me he wanted me to kick Brian's ass. People just wanted to see somebody to get their ass beat."
What was the reaction like backstage?
"He walked right out. He was the smartest of all of us, because Eric wanted it to work as the shoot. I called Paul E. Heyman, and said we needed him to take Pillman for two months. I like Paul E. I said there's nothing I can do with this guy, so take him and make the most out of him. Eric said 'Do you think he could have him go to Paul E and get signed?' and I said 'yeah, of course.' Eric just didn't want me to tell him what was going on and I didn't really want to do that, but he said 'no no, Brian's coming back in about two months.' I called Paul E. and got the deal set up. He was getting a check from Paul E., he was getting a check from us, and he was getting a check from Vince McMahon because he wanted to bring him over too. He was a pretty good politician and manipulator."
The angle kind of turned into a shoot and he got out of his WCW contract. How crazy was that when he signed with the WWE at that time?
"Here's what had happened. He told Eric the whole world knew it was a work. So Eric called him into the office and ripped up his contract, and still paid him. People had seen it, what are they going to do now, go back and say it's a wrestling angle. They ripped up the contract and he still got paid!"
Were you upset at all when he went to WWF?
"No, I wanted Brian to do what he wanted to do and get the most money. I wanted to get Brian into the office to tap into his Brian. I wish that would have happened."
That angle really blurred the lines between story and reality.
"Yeah, I was watching UFC the other night and really enjoyed it. There were kicks, there were punches thrown, but they, like Pillman go somewhere where people never really thought about."
Did you think it was a mistake for him to get back into the ring after his motorcycle accident?
"Sometimes we let our ego override things. Brian was such a great performer, he probably thought he was ready. He wasn't ready, you couldn't see, and it caused him more pain than ever. It was a horrible thing to have your ankle broken in that way. Who knows what would have happened if it didn't? I think maybe Brian would be helping run WWE with Stephanie and Triple H and Vince."
He was said to be a big ribber. Did he ever get you?
"No, Brian and I had a great relationship. He would rib me verbally, and he knew how to stir, but he would do the nasty ribs to other people. He was a unique personality."
Make sure to check back next week for the second part of the interview, where Sullivan talks about working with Hulk Hogan and how receptive he was of ideas, how difficult it was to get Hogan to turn heel, John Cena as a heel, why America deserves Donald Trump, Dusty Rhodes, the end of WCW, Kevin Owens wrestling with a shirt on, his reaction to Goldberg's streak ending, what wrestling needs to do to get popular again and much more.