ROH Director of Operations Gary Juster was on today’s episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily podcast where he and Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman discussed Juster’s long career in the pro wrestling business, going all the back to the AWA with Verne Gagne. Eric Bischoff had also worked under Gagne, and Hausman asked if Juster and Bischoff bonded at all because of that similar connection.
“I don’t know that there was any sense of bonding over having worked with Verne,” Juster admitted. “Jim Herd brought Eric in as an announcer, and I really didn’t get to know Eric very well at that time. I got to know him, obviously, much later when he rose in his position to be executive producer and then president of the company.
“And I worked closely with Eric at one time as Director of Business Affairs doing contracts and worked with him as someone who booked arenas with Zayne Brezloff, who kind of served as an intermediary because Eric and I would have our issues as I guess has been discussed. That’s how I met Eric and knew him all during his time at WCW but not really very well at first.”
Hausman asked Juster if he enjoyed the corporate environment of WCW. Juster described the differences between working under Gagne and working under WCW.
“Well, I hadn’t worked at any kind of corporate environment in the AWA,” Juster noted. “I worked at the AWA as a kid. I did a yearbook. We had kind of a split on the money. I did some spot shows in the suburban area where I lived, and I didn’t work again with the AWA, really, until when I was promoting in Baltimore and looking for talent. I had some talent from Verne from what we then called Pro Wrestling USA and then later combined with Jim Crockett Promotions where I have three matches from Jim Crockett and three matches from Verne, and that was when I ‘worked’, so to speak, with Verne.
“And I worked with them when they were doing the tapings for ESPN. So that was Pro Wrestling USA and I would work with Verne then, but I never worked in Verne’s office. Verne was never part of a corporate environment. Verne had an old school, old style wrestling office. WCW, of course, was part of Turner Broadcasting. We had a corporate office.”
Hausman then asked if there was a difficult transition for Juster in moving to a more corporate environment in WCW. Juster admitted that he slowly adapted having worked as an independent promoter, but he said that the adjustment was not that drastic for him.
“It was a gradual thing because I had worked as an independent promoter, until there was a WCW. The Jim Crockett years, I was a partner with them in several towns, and in other towns, I would just be their kind of frontman and promoter and media buyer and such, and I would get a payoff for each event from Jim Crockett,” Juster explained. “So I was independent.
“When they sold out to Turner, I became an employee of Turner Broadcasting and WCW, but for the first several years, I worked from my home in DC. I traveled, of course, constantly to promote the towns, and then in ’93, I moved down to Atlanta to work inside the office, but by that time, I’d been to the office several times. I knew everybody. It wasn’t a big adjustment.”
Juster also lamented that he never got to have a one-on-one with Ted Turner. However, he did tell a small story of sharing an elevator with Turner and his wife at the time, Jane Fonda.
“No, I got to meet Ted Turner at some kind of meeting that we had with him, with everybody, just kind of a pro forma thing. We got our picture taken,” Juster said. “Occasionally, I would be in an elevator with Ted.
“One time, I was in an elevator at the Omni Hotel with Ted and Jane on our way to the World Series, and I was shocked because I got into, what we called the Motor Lobby. And Ted Turner and his wife Jane Fonda got into a red Ford Taurus, and Ted drove away in this kind of mid-sized family car instead of a chauffeur-driven Cadillac. I always found that rather funny looking back.”
Juster noted that he was at WCW from the beginning until the end. He discussed what it was like for him during the Monday Night Wars, and he discussed how WWE was locking out WCW from venues during that time.
“I was at WCW from the first day until the last day,” Juster pointed out. “There were so many ups and downs. Of course, the Nitro years, when we had the big ratings and the famous 83 weeks, those were huge years. Those were years where we were selling out Nitro on a weekly basis, and it made my job as a promoter a lot of fun because just seeing the sales on the first day was great and setting those up, booking those buildings, putting the tickets on sale.
“We used to do a deal that Zayne Brezloff, our promoter later on used to do, where we would have a talent, and Randy Savage was it a lot, and he’d appear in the lobby of the of the building of the ticket office the day things went on sale. And it was a big deal back then. There was no internet. You got your tickets either by the phone or by showing up at a box office or a ticket office. Those things were huge. So that’s when you know things were really really big. They were really big during that time when we were able to go to domes and do big business.
“There were times when the WWF had us locked out of buildings. Now some of those buildings we were able to crack and get in, but others, we did not. So we would run domes. We ran what was called the TWA Dome in St. Louis and did 31,000 people in December for a Nitro. We did the Georgia Dome in Atlanta when they were building the new arena. We did almost 40,000 people there. We did the dome in New Orleans. So we had some real big times, and then we took our lumps as well.”
Juster said that everyone was excited to go head-to-head with WWE. He noted that WCW was already big because of their TBS show on Saturday’s but only got bigger because of the Monday Night War.
“I think we were all just really excited,” Juster recalled. “It really put a spotlight on us, not that we didn’t have a spotlight before. We’d been on TBS for years. That 6:05 Saturday night show was an institution on cable television. Got huge ratings but when we went live on Monday night head-to-head with WWF, that was just a huge deal. So I think the excitement was what I felt and what most of us felt. I don’t think anybody thought anyone was crazy. We just thought, ‘Wow, this is huge,’ and it was.”
Hausman asked if Juster had any close friendships with people or wrestlers from that time. He discussed some small encounters and other relationships he had made during his career, highlighting the late Road Warrior Hawk and Sgt. Slaughter.
“When I was an independent promoter and I was young and impressionable, I would, at times, go out,” Juster stated. “Ric Flair was famous for taking kind of new people in the business out and buying them drinks and being ‘The Naitch’ as he would call himself, but as I got a little bit further, I did not really spend a lot of time outside the business with the wrestlers.
“Mike Hegstrand, Road Warrior Hawk, was a good friend of mine. I was at his first wedding. I had kind of lost touch with him, for the most part, a year or two before he died. I was really shocked when he died, died so young. I had, I would say, a good relationship with most of the wrestlers. I’ve had a good time seeing them at some of these kind of cons that have gone along with big events, WrestleMania weekend and other times. I saw Bob Remus, Sgt. Slaughter, a couple years ago at one, and it was great to see him.
“And I shook his hand to say goodbye, and he said, ‘What do you mean shaking hands?’ And he said, ‘Give me a hug,’ and he gave me a big hug. Those kind of things, at this point in my life and career, mean a lot. The fact that we built good relationships with the talent and with buildings and such too, I take some pride in that.”
All of Gary Juster’s “Old School Sessions” are now available via Ring of Honor’s YouTube channel. For more information please visit www.ROHWrestling.com. Juster’s full interview aired as part of today’s episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it’s released Monday – Friday afternoon by clicking here.