In 1998, WWE brought in Mike Tyson and inserted him into the WWF Championship angle between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14. Tyson coming to WWE also sparked the beginning of the Austin era that would turn the tide for WWE in the Monday Night Wars against WCW.
During the 83 Weeks Podcast, Eric Bischoff talked about Mike Tyson appearing on RAW and gave his reaction as the guy running the competition to this move. Bischoff said at first it was no big deal to him, however he would realize how serious the acquisition was going to be for WWE.
“At the time I thought ehh, whatever,” Bischoff said. “Shortly after I heard rumblings about Mike Tyson. I went to a pay phone, and I called Zane [Bresloff] and he said ‘Man, you’re never going to believe this, but they’re bringing in Mike Tyson.’ And when he said it, I took a pause and it started to soak in. I didn’t connect what was going to become the attitude era and the new way of telling stories. When I heard about Mike Tyson it gave me pause. I thought if they use him right, this is going to be a game-changer and s--t’s going to be really serious.
“In 1997, we were kicking WWE’s ass. Early 1998, we were kicking their ass. But, I was fearful that the Mike Tyson thing would be a big deal and I was unfortunately right. I think it was the pivot point in WWE, I really do. So many things happened in this one angle, Steve Austin’s equity went through the roof, he was already a big star but with the Tyson storyline he got catapulted into the stratosphere. Everything changed, and in a big, loud kind of way.”
Bischoff noted how Tyson wasn’t brought in to do any in-ring wrestling, but more to be used to interfere and make the final decision in the main event of WrestleMania 14. He said Tyson wouldn’t be one to put in all that work to get himself ready to wrestle.
“I would’ve been shocked had they tried to do something with him physically,” Bischoff said. “Unless you’ve got somebody really willing to put in the time, Karl Malone or Denis Rodman, I didn’t think Tyson was going to be that guy to put in the time, put in the work. I just assumed they were going to use him in some kind of important role but I didn’t see him just being a referee but I didn’t see him wrestling either.”
On the night Tyson first appeared in WWE, WCW ran an episode of Nitro featuring Hulk Hogan vs. The Giant [Big Show]. Bischoff talked about how on this one night, there were over 6 million people watching wrestling at the time. He said that the audience is still out there and someone has to find a way to go and grab its attention back.
“The wrestling audience is still out there,” Bischoff said. “They’re still out there. It’s up to people producing wrestling to figure out what it’s going to take to get them back to the level that they existed at one point in time. That audience is still out there, it’s just a matter of capturing their imagination with something different. That’s all its going to take. They will still come if you create something exciting and interesting. They’re always going to love wrestling, it’s up to the producers to find that hot button.”
Bischoff talked about Tyson’s pay that he received for WWE and how some in the locker room were upset by it being above the million dollar range. He said them using Tyson to start Austin vs. McMahon made it worth every penny.
“What made this work wasn’t just because Mike Tyson was on RAW,” Bischoff said. “What made it work was they used Mike Tyson and how that set up the story between Vince and Steve Austin. That’s the part that really worked. Tyson was instrumental. They used Mike Tyson, yes to get a bump in the ratings, but what they really used Mike Tyson for was to launch act one. If they would’ve paid him 6 million dollars, hell 16 million dollars, it would’ve been a good investment in the long run because of what it did for Steve Austin.”
According to his co-host Conrad Thompson, the year prior at WrestleMania 13 garnered 273,000 pay per view buys and then a year later on the show that featured Tyson, WrestleMania 14 drew 730,000 buys. Bischoff said those numbers themselves made Tyson worth every penny to WWE because he changed their company forever.
“Anybody who at that time was critical of WWE for whatever it was they paid for Tyson, they got a steal,” Bischoff said. “This moment changed the course of WWE in a way that I don’t think anything else could have. Had it not been for [Tyson coming to WWE] I don’t think you’re looking at WWE today. Or if you are, you’re looking at a much different version of it. This was the pivot point. This was the move, the hail mary that won the Super Bowl for WWE.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.