Eric Aaron Bischoff (born May 27, 1957 in Detroit, Michigan) is a performer for World Wrestling Entertainment, but is best remembered for being the former president of World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Bischoff's main duty in WCW was to dictate the overall direction of the promotion. Bischoff's job was to do most of the booking, oversee day to day operations, sign wrestlers, and negotiate contracts. In short, he had roughly the same powers that his long-time rival Vince McMahon has had in the WWF/WWE, except that - unlike McMahon, whose family controls his promotion - Bischoff could be fired at any time.
Bischoff has the distinction of being the only American wrestling promoter to successfully overtake McMahon's promotion in popularity. From 1996 to 1998, Bischoff's WCW was the most profitable wrestling company in the world.
Bischoff was a wrestling fan growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. He relocated to Pittsburgh just before high school, and it was there that he began rigorous martial arts training. Currently, he holds an 8th degree black belt in karate, as well as black belts in several other disciplines.
Bischoff moved to Minneapolis for his senior year of high school, and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration and a minor in radio, TV and film. He has owned a successful construction company and worked as a vet's assistant. He was an amateur wrestler in high school, but a knee injury persuaded him instead to practice karate.
American Wrestling Association
He started his career in professional wrestling as an announcer and assistant producer in the late 1980s for the American Wrestling Association. This is where Bischoff paid his dues. When he first joined the AWA, his duties were to get coffee, run errands, and actually mow Verne Gagne's lawn. Bischoff eventually worked his way up to associate producer and Gagne eventually gave him a booking spot in the company before its close. Prior to this Bischoff also ran all syndication for the wrestling company.
In one of Bischoff's worst miscalculations, he created the infamous Team Challenge Series storyline in 1990. The Team Challenge series was so poorly received that they had to start filming in a studio without a crowd. When that group folded in 1991, he joined WCW as an announcer. Bischoff made his WCW announcing debut at the 1991 Great American Bash.
As an announcer, Eric Bischoff reported to producer Tony Schiavone and WCW's Vice President of Broadcasting, Jim Ross. After WCW head-honcho Bill Watts was ousted by TBS executive Bill Shaw in 1993, Bischoff went to Shaw and WCW Vice President Bob Dhue to ask for the job of executive producer. Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone seemed to be the two top candidates, but Shaw and Dhue decided to go with Bischoff. Schiavone remained a producer until the company's demise, but Ross was fired by Bischoff and ended up in the World Wrestling Federation. In 1994, Bischoff became a Vice President, and cleared house within the WCW front office. He famously fired event manager Don Sandefeur, junior-VP Jim Barnett, and his old boss Bob Dhue...all on the same day. In 1996, Bill Shaw was reassigned from WCW, leaving Eric with the title of Executive Vice President/General Manager, and by 1997, Bischoff was promoted to President/CEO of WCW.
He was responsible for signing away many of the then-WWF's biggest names such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and others. He also introduced stars like The Giant, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, DDP, Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio Jr., Ultimo Dragon, and Goldberg to national wrestling audiences in North America.
At first, Bischoff was mainly just a puppet for the bigger WTBS executives and ran the company by using as little money as possible. But Bischoff knew this would get them nowhere, and he soon convinced Ted Turner to better finance WCW in order to compete with the WWF.
His initial goal was to turn WCW around and make it profitable for the first time under Turner Broadcasting's ownership. According to Bischoff, WCW had been a horribly mismanaged company from practically the moment that Turner bought it in 1988. Bischoff's predecessors included WCW Vice Presidents Jim Herd (1988-1991), Kip Allen Frey (1991-1992), and Bill Watts (1992-1993). Bischoff successfully solved WCW's financial woes by cutting costs as best as possible, becoming more efficient in television production, and producing more PPVs (first 7 a year, then 10, and then once a month).
In 1995, the same year WCW returned a profit for the first time ever, Bischoff created Monday Nitro. During a meeting with Turner, Scott Sassa, and Nick Lambros, Turner asked Bischoff how they possibly could compete with the WWF. Bischoff told Turner to put WCW on prime time TV against the WWF's Monday Night Raw. At the time, the flagship show for WCW was WCW Saturday Night, which aired at 6:05 p.m. on the East Coast. Turner then turned to Sassa and told him to give Bischoff a prime-time slot every Monday on TNT.
To showcase that WCW had a superior product, Bischoff signed lauded young wrestlers from around the world, including All Japan and New Japan, filling the undercard with superb, action-packed matches. No matter what anyone said about the WWF vs. WCW war, WCW clearly had a superior stable of young high-fliers who had never been seen before a North American audience. Vince McMahon, generally speaking, had always been a bigger fan of heavyweight wrestling, while Bischoff preferred the high-flying style. Bischoff claims to have used the term cruiserweight before anyone else in wrestling.
Just like McMahon cast himself in the on-camera role of a play-by-play announcer, Bischoff did the same thing in the early days of Nitro. Since Nitro was broadcast live and McMahon's Monday Night Raw was taped, Bischoff jumped on the chance to give away Raw's results. Nitro beat Raw in their first head-to-head week. After this, Bischoff insisted on getting a leg up on Raw by starting Nitro at 7:57 p.m. Eastern Time and ending approximately five minutes after Raw went off the air for the night.
For the remainder of the year, Raw and Nitro were neck-and-neck. In the first six months of head-to-head competition, Nitro had eleven victories, Raw had eleven victories, and there were two draws. Considering that most industry insiders had expected Nitro to be cancelled within three months, this was a huge accomplishment for Bischoff and WCW.
Bischoff was responsible for the groundbreaking WCW vs. nWo feud, making WCW the most-watched wrestling promotion in North America. The nWo made wrestling cool again, and is largely considered the greatest wrestling storyline of all time, arguably just as important as the famous WWF Austin vs. McMahon storyline. Because of this, in 1997, his parent company created the title of President of WCW just for him.
In 1996, Bischoff revealed that WWF superstar Scott Hall, better known to audiences as "Razor Ramon", was defecting from the WWF to join WCW. It was the beginning of a storyline that would see wrestling hit its boom period. Hall would soon be joined in WCW by Kevin Nash, who was known best to wrestling fans as "Diesel" during his WWF tenure, in forming the New World Order (nWo). In an inspired storyline, the duo were depicted as "outsiders" invading the company. Indeed, the appearance of two such recognizable WWF superstars on a WCW program was thrilling for wrestling fans. Bischoff exploited this, and for a while the two men were never mentioned by name, implying that they really were Razor Ramon and Diesel, representing WCW's arch rival, the WWF. The wheels of the nWo were set in motion when perennial fan-favorite and iconic wrestling hero Hulk Hogan shocked his adoring fanbase by aligning himself with the unscrupulous pair. Many more big name stars would join their ranks as their mission to "take over" WCW gathered pace. Bischoff himself would eventually join the nefarious faction.
The storyline was immediately successful, and secured WCW's spot as the new number one wrestling promotion in America. Monday Nitro defeated Monday Night Raw by a wide margin for 84 consecutive weeks in the ratings. It ultimately got to a point that Bischoff was so sure of a ratings victory, that he stopped checking the ratings. He even went as far as one week on Nitro, celebrating by sitting in the ring on a motorcycle with a crown on his head. At this time, he was the most powerful executive in the wrestling industry. Wade Keller claimed Bischoff had the Midas touch.
Arguably, WCW's downfall began with the "Butts in the Seats" incident. On January 4, 1999, when both companies were absolutely exploding in popularity, Nitro was scheduled to air alongside a taped edition of Raw. The night of the taping, former WCW wrestler Mick Foley won the WWF Champsionship. The night of January 4, Bischoff instructed Tony Schiavone to remark, "I hear that Mick Foley, who once wrestled for us as Cactus Jack, is going to win their title tonight. That should put some butts in the seats." Bischoff's intention was to spoil the main event, causing fans to lose interest in Raw and stay tuned in to Nitro. Instead, there was a significant backlash; Nielsen ratings showed that within minutes of Bischoff's announcement, nearly 300,000 Nitro viewers switched the channel to Raw so they could see the title change. However, both shows broke quarter-hour ratings records that night, and Nitro beat five of Raw's quarter hours. For months afterwards, fans showed up to WWF shows holding signs reading "Mick Foley put my butt in a seat," signs which received prolonged attention from WWF cameras during pans of the crowd. It proved to be a turning point in the Monday Night Wars. Even though Nitro ratings were still very solid in the 4.5-5.0 range, Nitro never again beat Raw in the ratings.
Frustrated and burnt-out, Bischoff lost his cocky attitude. His TV presence dissappeared, and he began looking for an out from WCW, often missing shows so he could pitch ideas to TV executives in Hollywood, being introduced by his friend Jason Hervey as "The Golden Boy who saved wrestling." While wandering elsewhere, Bischoff left Kevin Nash and Nitro producer Craig Leathers in charge of WCW, and ratings tanked. When Bischoff finally returned, the company was in terrible shape, and Bischoff's solution of throwing money at the problem created in itself more problems. On top of this, he seemingly could not produce a follow-up to the nWo cash-cow that had been milked dry. Storylines were utterly confusing. He decided to hold a ridiculous contest in which a lucky Nitro fan would be eligible to win a million dollars of Time Warner money. A new Year's Eve concert, performed by Kiss, was to be co-branded with WCW. All plans were scrapped when, on September 10, 1999, Bischoff was sent home by President of TBS Sports Harvey Schiller, although the decision was made by top executives on Time Warner's board of directors.
Bischoff Ousted/The Death Of WCW
In September 1999, when WCW was projecting a huge loss for the month of August, a meeting was held with WCW's accountants and TBS executives in the sports and programming divisions. Presiding over this was Harvey Schiller, who shot down the prospect of firing Bischoff. Hours after this meeting ended, WCW executives Gary Juster and JJ Dillon staged a coup. They went over their boss's boss's head and met with members of Time Warner's board of directors to try getting Bischoff demoted, and to everyone's astonishment, it worked. The parent company even went so far as to ban Bischoff from WCW offices. The million-dollar contest and the KISS concert-wrestling PPV were canceled, as well as a planned Nitro animated series.
Many in the company were shocked to see Bischoff go. For all of his failings, he was seen as the only manager of a successful WCW, the Vince McMahon in a company that had previously never had such a figure. On top of this, he had always been tight with Turner Broadcasting higher-ups and with Ted Turner himself, who considered Bischoff his wrestling visionary. When Turner's role within Time Warner was reduced to being a member of the board rather than acting chairman, Bischoff lost his favor. The management change, which lit the Internet on fire, went un-mentioned on Nitro. The WCW website claimed it would have more information on Bischoff's involvement in the coming weeks, yet the company seemed ready to quickly forget him. All images and references to Bischoff were banned from WCW programming.
Bill Busch, a company accountant and close friend of Gary Juster, became Vice President after Bischoff's departure. Initially, many in the company were glad for a change, but Busch was a numbers guy who clearly had no idea how to run a wrestling company. WCW lost even more money, and the ratings, which had always been decent under Bischoff, began falling to humiliating lows. With Bill Busch at the helm, a power-struggle between longtime WCW booker Kevin Sullivan and former WWF creative director Vince Russo ensued, resulting in a terribly confusing and inconsistant product. Since Busch was only as good as his head booker, and the head booker changed every two months, his time in WCW is widely regarded as a disaster.
Less than six months went by before Bill Busch was removed, and Brad Siegel, a Time Warner programming executive, assumed control of WCW. Thanks to this, Bischoff briefly came back into power in April 2000, although not as president. The conditions for his return were that JJ Dillon and Gary Juster immediately be fired from WCW. Although Siegel was officially in charge, he went missing for months at a time, and left WCW to sink or swim. Bischoff was named event and television manager, and was to be partners-in-charge with creative director Vince Russo. After six weeks, Bischoff left his post; Russo subsequently took control of all wrestling and television operations, while Johnny Ace became event manager.
In late 2000, with WCW facing major financial woes, the company was put up for sale. Brad Siegel wanted little to do with the company, and his new boss in the AOL Time Warner merger was an AOL executive named Jamie Kellner, who wanted even less to do with the company. In the Ted Turner era, WCW had always been classified as a sports division, yet under the new corporate umbrella it was overseen by television executives, many of whom hated the idea of wrestling on their station. This is what killed WCW. Bischoff and a group of investors called Fusient Media Ventures signed a letter of intent to buy the company, but later backed out when Kellner cancelled Nitro's ever-valuable timeslot. After McMahon bought WCW for a substantially lower price than what Bischoff and Fusient Media Ventures offered in March 2001, Bischoff took some time off from wrestling to work on other TV projects. He produced several reality TV shows and even signed on as President of Matrats, a youth-based wrestling company.
Bischoff joins forces with McMahon
In 2002, despite years of bad blood, Bischoff was hired by WWE to be the on-air general manager of RAW, a role he has played to this day with his characteristic brand of smarminess. Many in the company were shocked that Bischoff was brought in, and some were unhappy. Ric Flair would eventually pick a fight with Bischoff backstage, but it was broken up.
On the night that Bischoff was introduced as the general manager of RAW, he met his longtime business rival McMahon for the first time in over ten years. It was in the backstage area just 15 minutes before the two hugged on-screen. The two briefly met during a job interview where Bischoff tried out for a WWF announcing spot back in 1991.
McMahon on hiring Bischoff: "No I don't remember his audition (in 1991), and I don't know why I wouldn't. He has a great look, he has a great on-camera presence. You know, why not use that? Why, just because he tried to put me out of business, as did Hulk Hogan. I can put as much blame on Hogan as I can on Bischoff. Bischoff was the decision-maker, but I know Hogan and others influenced him tremendously. I'm willing to put my personal ego to the side for the sake of the company. That's been proven time and time again with all the guys that have come back. Bischoff is an excellent performer. And he was innovative, and he was unquestionably ruthless. Those are qualities that anyone can endear themselves to me."
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Bischoff the most influential person in wrestling for both 1996 and 1997, beating out Ted Turner, Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, and Paul Heyman.
- In 1990, Bischoff was given an honorary award by the MA Karate Corp. In the late 70s, Bischoff competed in ISKA welterweight tournament kickboxing and holds two first degree black belts in Judo and Karate. It was during this time Eric met his good friend and former WCW personality, Sonny Onoo.
- According to official WCW history, Bischoff defeated Vince McMahon via count-out at Slamboree 1998. Bischoff challenged McMahon to show up and fight him at the WCW PPV, but McMahon declined. Years later, on a February 2004 edition of Raw is War, the two fought to a no-contest.
- Even though Bischoff is not a wrestler, he won the WCW Hardcore Championship on June 5, 2000 from Terry Funk with help from Funk's enemies. He gave the title to Big Vito and Johnny Stamboli two days later.
- Eric was part of two Pro Wrestling Illustrated Awards for Feud of the Year. In 1996, the feud that won was Bischoff vs. Vince McMahon and the 2002 winner was Bischoff vs. Stephanie McMahon.
Life Outside the Squared Circle
Bischoff, with former The Wonder Years star Jason Hervey, run their own production company, Bischoff-Hervey Productions, who co-produced the reality TV series "I Want To Be A Hilton" for NBC in 2005. They also produced a live Girls Gone Wild pay-per-view event from Florida in 2003 with the WWE and another pay-per-view about the popular Sturgis, South Dakota motorcycle rally in 2004.
Bischoff lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and two children.