Off the Bottom Rope
He Toppled Vince McMahon. Now Eric Bischoff to Tell Story in Fresno.
Eric Bischoff is the second-most important wrestling executive in the last 30 years, if not of all time.
Vince McMahon is No. 1, but the once-and-current head of the WWE has never come to a Fresno Grizzlies game. Eric Bischoff is their special guest on Sunday.
Bischoff will be hosting a live version of his “83 Weeks” podcast. The title is a reference to the win streak that WCW “Nitro” beat WWF’s “Monday Night Raw” during the 1990s Monday Night wrestling wars.
“It’s just fun getting out in front of people and interacting and doing, you know, question and answering kind of formats and all that. Just makes the show a better show,” Bischoff said in a phone interview.
Despite being called “Pro Wrestling Night,” the Grizzlies’ game at Chukchansi Park versus San Jose starts at 1:05 p.m. Bischoff is scheduled to throw out the first pitch.
“Almost deadly,” Bischoff joked. “I think I have another career.”
The game will feature several pro wrestling skits and events. Fans can meet Bischoff and take pictures with a VIP ticket package. The podcast will be recorded after the game.
Wrestling personality Jeff Jarrett also hosts a podcast on the same network as “83 Weeks.” He’s the one who started taking his shows to minor league stadiums and had a contact with the Grizzlies.
Bischoff was sold on the “Podcast at the Plate” series.
“I just love the environment of minor league baseball. It’s just a different vibe than … Major League Baseball. It’s more of a family event, it’s less pressure, it’s more fun,” Bischoff said.
Jon Alba — who co-hosts one of Bischoff’s weekly podcasts — will serve as moderator for Sunday’s event.
“I think you’ll get a good mix of conversation about the business of the business, which is what ‘Strictly Business’ is about. And then we’ll also talk about some old WCW and WWE stuff, which is more the ’83 Weeks’ realm. So you’ll get a nice myriad of both,” Alba said.
Managing WCW and Defeating McMahon
Bischoff started in wrestling in sales, then became an announcer, for the AWA — which had a national presence on ESPN — in 1987, and moved to WCW, with a presence on the Turner networks, in 1991. By 1993, Bischoff had moved into WCW management.
“When I got promoted in WCW and kind of moved up the ladder, so to speak, there were some challenges just getting the confidence and credibility amongst my peers,” Bischoff said. “That didn’t last long. You know, in success, you can collapse that cycle pretty quickly.”
In 1995, Bischoff decided to do what no other wrestling promoter could or had the ability to do — challenge McMahon and the WWF directly by launching “Nitro.”
“I’ve always been a very competitive person and, to me, it was more the why not? Why couldn’t I do it or why shouldn’t I be able to do it then it was anything else?” Bischoff said.
Working for a maverick like Ted Turner helped.
“A lot of Ted’s philosophies and the things that Ted believed in were about taking chances and taking risks in doing things you had done before. And I had a lot of freedom as the president of WCW. I had virtually little to no contact with the corporate side of Turner Broadcasting for the longest time, and I was allowed to do what I felt I needed to do to be competitive,” Bischoff said.
Bischoff also recognized there was a gap in the 18-to-49-year-old audience that the WWF (the WWE name prior to 2002) was not serving. He relied on his instincts to deliver to the audience what they wanted.
“One of the advantages of doing live TV every week, is you essentially have a couple of million people in a focus group and you try some things and you see what the audience reacts positively to, what creates, you know, a buzz,” Bischoff said.
Faith Helped Bischoff Survie Medical Scare
Bischoff recently underwent emergency surgery, a life-and-death situation he described in his podcast, and will likely talk about Sunday. A bad reaction to a supplement caused bleeding, and a helicopter ride to the hospital.
“It was such a shock. It’s not like I had this long-term illness,” Bischoff said.
“It just happened so fast and I didn’t have time to think about much. You know, I didn’t see my life before my eyes or anything like that. It got serious a couple of times. So I had to pull my wife aside and say, OK, look, if this doesn’t go the way we hope it’s going to go, here’s the information you’re going to need to know. Here are the people you’re going to need to contact,” Bischoff said.
“Aside from having that conversation with my wife, you know, I have a lot of faith. I’m a fairly spiritual person. I just wasn’t worried about it too much,” Bischoff said.
The Art of the Podcast
The podcast releases two episodes per week — one about Bischoff’s career in wrestling hosted by Conrad Thompson; and a second present-day business-focused edition hosted by Emmy-award winner Jon Alba.
Chartable ranks it #7 among all wrestling podcasts.
There are hundreds of pro wrestling podcasts, several hosted by well-known names. How does “83 Weeks/Strictly Business” break through the clutter?
“It’s a crowded marketplace,” Bischoff said. “That exposure (of more than 30 years in the wrestling business), that relationship that I developed with the audience over that period of time certainly gave us a leg up and a big advantage,” Bischoff said.
Alba said being unique is important.
“If you are a creator, come up with something that is different. ‘Strictly Business’ covers an avenue of the wrestling industry that nobody else was really touching before,” Alba said. “Certainly having talent attached to a podcast like an Eric Bischoff, it’s going to give you credibility right out of the gate.”
The “83 Weeks” podcast recently celebrated five years. Bischoff has a crew to help with research, but he doesn’t want to overprepare.
“This is going to sound horrible, but I don’t like to prep too much because I think some of the magic, at least of my show, is the improvisational nature of it. I don’t like to have too much of a kind of written in stone approach to his job before I do it,” Bischoff said.
Normally, Alba is in New Jersey, and Bischoff is in Wyoming when recording their show. This will be the first time they record in person.
“He’s extremely accomplished and he’s very opinionated and that’s what makes him special, right? That’s what makes people love Eric Bischoff and what he has to say,” Alba said.