WWF 2012: A Phoenix Story?
As my plane touched down at the Denver International Airport, I remember thinking this was an interesting way to start my New Year. You see, I live back in Tampa, Florida where until recently I made my living working for Skinner himself, Steve Keirn doing various behind the scenes work at his Florida Championship Wrestling promotion. That was just one of those "right place at the right time" kind of jobs that I stumbled into when I was 17 and still in high school. I first I was just helping set up rings and hand out flyers but over the next four years I ended up being the head booker but unfortunately, that didn't last long. It wasn't even a half a year later that Steve told me he was closing up the doors to FCW and his training program, the School of Hard Knocks for good. That was August of 2010. But now, here it was, the middle of January 2012 and I was flying to Denver, Colorado because I got a call from Gerald Brisco of all people telling me he had a wrestling project he wanted to meet with me about. He didn't tell me much about it but he told me it would be worth my time to come out for the meeting so I did.
A goateed man who looked to be a wrestler himself met me at the airport. He was holding a sign, which read 'Novack' and he introduced himself as Eric. He told me he was just flying home after some shows in Philadelphia and that Brisco had asked him to hang around at the airport so he could bring me by Jerry's house on the way out.
I asked Eric if he knew why Brisco had called me out and he told me that unfortunately he did not know exactly as he said he'd never heard of me before. He quickly apologized, realizing how rude that sounded, but I assured him it was fine, I was nobody.
I knew Brisco had been a life long employee of the World Wrestling Federation through their rise and fall in Connecticut and that since the company's closing early last year he'd been working for Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling in Vancouver and NWA: Total Nonstop Action in Orlando. I assumed he was calling about something regarding one of those two promotions and honestly, I hoped it was Total Nonstop Action as they ran their shows just an hour or two from my home. In fact, I was even there at the TV taping when Chris Kanyon pinned Christopher Daniels to win the NWA World Heavyweight Title. That was around the time I got the book at FCW and was scouting some other promotions to see what we were up against. It was honestly TNA that got me interested in professional wrestling moreso than WWF and I was always shocked to hear their champions had been wasted talents in the WWF. Guys like Jeff Hardy, Christopher Daniels, Onyx, and Alex Shelley had all been jobbers or lower midcarders in the WWF.
Eric and I shared in idle chitchat about wrestling during the twenty minute drive to the Denver suburb of Aurora where Eric said Brisco and 'the other bosses' were renting a house as they discussed plans to 'open the company back up.'
Open the company back up? So this wasn't about TNA then. The first thought that came to my mind was the World Wrestling Federation but that legacy ended almost a year ago, like I said, when Vince McMahon retired after years of falling attendance figures and losing the companies TV and PPV deals. It seemed after fifteen years, WCW finally won the Monday Night Wars, albeit neither company was even on Monday Nights by the end of it. Vince, however, outlasted one rival Eric Bischoff by six years but lost his close confidante Jim Ross in the process who became Bischoff's replacement and he outlasted his other, Ted Turner by a year. His attending Turner's funeral was publicly ridiculed as crossing certain lines between business wars and personal insult to the man's family.
I didn't have to wait long to find out what Brisco had called me for, though, because as soon as I entered the small home none other than Gerald Brisco himself welcomed me warmly into the companies office, as he called it. And in the end, it turned out my suspicions were correct.
"The letters WWF used to mean something, something other than World Wrestling Federation," he said to me. "They meant tradition. They meant quality entertainment. And they were something that I was proud to wear on my polo shirt for over 25 years. Now two other individuals and myself have pooled some resources and managed to purchase the logos, titles, all of that for just a couple hundred thousand dollars from some schmuck, Chuck Ristano. But here's the catch. We need is someone to book it. That's where you come in."
"You really think that I have the skills to bring a company from the ground up to the Global status that it was at before?"
I was stunned at the lofty offer. I mean, at most, I've booked two dozen shows that were never attended by more than 200 people. How was I chosen to rebuild what was for many years the paramount achievement in this industry?
"We do, kid. We threw around a lot of names besides yours- names like Sapolsky from ZERO and Prazak from PWG. We talked about Iadevaia from JAPW and Rob Black from SHIMMER. Hell, we even thought about calling up Stephanie herself since Deep South just closed a few months ago."
"So what made you settle on me?"
"You're fresh. All the rest of them, they've been at this for years. They're burning out. You've still got your finger on pulse of the audience. That's what we need to really make this company a success again. So what do you say?"
"How much time do I have to think about it?"
"Not much. The Royal Rumble is in just a week and a half and we need someone to get started on it. If it's not you, then it's going to be someone else but you were our first real choice and I promise you, sink or swim, this'll be well worth your time."
"How worth my time?"
"How's $50,000 a year sound?"
I was stunned and Brisco chuckled as he could hear it in my voice.
"That's sounds like a damn good amount."
At FCW, I was working for free hot dogs and nachos. Hell, at my call center job I was barely making half of that back home.
"I mean, hell, we'll even fly your girlfriend and son out here next week, pay your first month's rent, and let you choose your assistant booker. Anyone you want."
It really wasn't an offer I could turn down so I accepted it. On the spot. I knew I probably should have consulted with Violet but I figured for that kind of money, even if it just lasted a couple months, there really was no downside to agreeing.
"So what's your roster look like so far?"
"We've got sixteen guys right now who've agreed to appear on the first show. Most of them are from Vince's WWF and some are only just joining us. The majority are working for other independents. Hell, even one of 'em is working for TNA, Brett Major. But I'll make sure you get a list of them before you leave today."
I knew who Major was. He'd been working for TNA back when I was scouting them out and his match with Jack Evans that I saw had blown me away. I offered him a contract with FCW but scheduling conflicts got in the way and he never premiered before we closed up shop.
"I haven't watched any wrestling since FCW closed back in 2010. Can you lend me the videos of the past few events so I can try to get caught up?"
Brisco laughed, like he was expecting that question.
"That is the only thing we do not have. When we purchased the rights to the WWF name from Ristano, he refused to part with the video library even when we offered him a cool one million dollars for it. The kid's an idiot, he could have been set for life with that kind of money but I hear he's convinced we're going to further tarnish the name and, as he put it, wanted to keep some part of it pure. I can however give you some write ups so you can go over what happened."
"I guess that'll work, but I'd like to try to get access to these videos."
"Well good luck with that. Maybe you try YouTube because I know Ristano won't let you see them."
I wasn't there much longer but before I left I was told that there was a company meeting on Thursday in about five days to brief everyone on the business plan and to get them ready for the Royal Rumble so he suggested I stay in town until then. I was soon introduced to Bob Densmore, who I was told was the referee for the organization, and Brisco asked him to give me a ride to the hotel I was staying at. He remained painfully silent as we walked to the car and once he started it, he turned to me and spoke quietly.
"You know, Chuck's not as bad as Jerry makes him sound."
I looked at him, intrigued.
"You know this Ristano guy?"
"Yeah. He and I used to work together out in the Northeast before I signed on with Vince and then after a few months he ended up jumping over here too."
"He used to work for the WWF?"
"Yeah, for about a year. He worked with Vince at the very end. Like, right there beside him. By the end I think those two were closer than Vince was with Shane. That's why he got all the brands and stuff. But he's not as bad as those three think he is. If you ask me, he's right in the things he's thinking."
"And what is it that he thinks?" I asked but Bob hesitated.
"It's really not my place to say."
For a moment, I thought the conversation was over as Bob didn't continue and I was unsure what to say but he ended up reaching a hand inside of jacket and pulled out his cell phone. After fiddling with it for a few moments he handed it to me.
"There's his number, why don't you give him a call," he suggested. "Just don't let the three stooges back there know I gave it to you."
I quickly copied down the number and thanked him and soon the conversation drifted to business in general. It turned out that Bob had a lot of respect amongst the boys in the locker room because when the WWF was dying about a year ago, he helped several of them pick up work with Jim Kettner's ECWA promotion back in Delaware. Surely, Brisco and his two unnamed friends wished he hadn't because some of the companies biggest names parted ways with the WWF at that point in time. Guys like Ray Gonzalez, Adam Copeland, Christian Cage, and Homicide all left while the company was on its last legs. Bob told me about a kid, Harry Smith, who jumped to New Japan with the Intercontinental title who was being talked about like he was the future of the industry.
Once Bob dropped me off at the hotel, I quickly checked into my room and dialed the number that Densmore gave me and after several rings, I landed on a voicemail response.
"Hey, Chuck," I started. "Uh, you don't know me. My name is Novack and I'm the head booker for the WWF. Listen, I guess there's some tension between you and themů er, us I mean, but, uh, I'd really appreciate it if I could just sit down and watch the last couple shows they ran. Listen, I'm not trying to like, bastardize this brand, and honestly I don't even know what the heat is between you guys. I just started today. So listen, give me a call back if you could. Thanks."
I figured I wouldn't hear anything back from him but shockingly my phone rang about twenty minutes later and it was this Ristano kid. After some initially tense conversation, I managed to convince him that my intentions were pure (even though I still didn't know what was unpure about Brisco's) and he agreed that I could come over to his Elkton, Maryland apartment to watch a couple of shows. However, he made it clear that I could not take them with me which I assured him was not my intention.
Despite Brisco advising me to stay in Denver for the week, I ended up in Maryland the next day and met with Chuck where we soon sat down to watch last year's Royal Rumble, No Way Out, and WrestleMania. During the several hours I was there we ended up talking and I asked Ristano what he had against Brisco.
"That man is trying to rape the name WWF," he told me. "There's a reason Vince fired him in 2009. Not a lot of people know that reason, but I do. I was there. Vince fired him because he was more concerned with the money than the fans and it turned out that certain workers were paying him to book them wins. Hell, how else do you think John Cena won the King of the Ring tournament? And when Vince found out, he fired Brisco and he fired all the workers that he even suspected were involved. But that left the head booker position open and somehow, for some reason, Vince picked me. So I became his right hand man. He and I ran that company together in it's dying days and when he decided that enough was enough, he gave me everything and closed up shop."
"So why did you sell to Brisco if you know what he's doing?"
"Working as an editor at a local paper only pays so well, Novack. I needed the money. But I had to keep a hold of something and that's why I won't let them touch these videos."
"Do you know who the other two investors are?"
"No, I've only ever dealt with Brisco and he's bad enough. I shudder to think who the other two are."
"So how did any of this even happen? Not even ten years ago, the WWF was the at the top of the world."
"It was a lot of things," Chuck answered. "After Vince beat ECW in 2000, all of those guys jumped over to IWA: MS and brought the fight right back to him. I don't know what that was all about, I was still working in ECWA at the time but I know that Ian Rotten never let off Vince, even when I was there. Then there were those ever-constant battles with Ted Turner. TV was head to head. Pay per view was head to head. It seemed everytime we were trying something new, WCW was a step ahead of us. And for the longest time, we were winning in the battles. We were winning even when I first got there in 2006. But from the way Vince talked about, when his guys started jumping ship over there, guys like Shawn Michaels, Paul Levesque, Steve Austin, and the Undertaker, you know, these guys that he considered friends, guys that he built from nothing, that really destroyed him. Our roster never recovered from that exodus of 2003 and 2004. Every star we ever made or had during that 'second golden age' as he called it has now worked for WCW for at least a little while. But all of that stuff... that's just affecting the business. That's just ratings and buy rates. If you want to know what finally fucked up Vince, it was the war with his own daughter. See, in 2007, she bought Deep South Wrestling from Jody Hamilton and the original plan was for a dynasty of McMahon promotions across the world. Or at least that's what Vince thought. She ended up declaring war on him and over the next 18 months the two battled. I thought that was going to be the end. Vince was breaking down from all the stress. I mean, hell, we were at war with WCW, the Powerplant, IWA: MS, WWC and now his own daughter at DSW too? And in the end it really did. The man started acting crazy. He was sending Steph hundred thousand-dollar checks every month and he went around buying every retired title belt he could find. I bet he even bought your old FCW titles. But that didn't last long. After WrestleMania, Vince decided that the WWE was done. The company was millions of dollars in debt. Steph had won. It serves her right that her company went under six months later. I'm surprised those vultures didn't call her to try to help in their bastardization."
During a moment of stunned silence, I was shocked to hear such intimate details of the downfall of what was formerly the most successful wrestling promotion in the history of the industry. What was now my employer.
"Listen, Chuck, I know you're going to say 'no' but Brisco told me I can hire on an assistant booker," the look on his face was a mixture of pissed and adventurous. "Since you clearly know so much about the company's history, why don't you let me hire you and that way we can try to keep these guys in check?"
"They'd never let me have a job there."
"They told me I could hire anyone I want. What do you say?"
"I don't know, man."
"Oh come on, it's obvious this company is important to you. Help me keep it alive in the way it should be."
After a hesitation, he finally agreed. I guess I got my assistant booker in the form of the previous head booker. Not a bad choice if you ask me. I told Chuck the date and time of the pre-Rumble meeting and he agreed to fly out by then and next I was off to my Florida home to tell my family the news. Despite some initial resistance from my girlfriend, after I told her my annual salary she had no qualms about quitting her job on the spot and moving.
So when Thursday's meeting came around, my family was back at the new rented apartment getting adjusted as I was at Brisco's rented home. I had arrived early so not the whole roster was there yet but did I manage to run into Eric, the man I met at the airport. I politely asked him how he was and he informed me he was actually pretty upset.
"I just got fired from ZX," he told me. ZX was a promotion from Philadelphia that ran a similar style to WWF who, if things worked out, could end up a rival of ours in the future. "That was supposed to be my ticket out of here. I was going to get noticed by Ring of Honor and then from there WCW. I know I could be at the top of this industry if I could just get some goddamned exposure."
"Listen, Eric," I said. "I've watched your work in IWA: PR over the past few days. Your match with Danielson last year was a five-star for an Indy. I guarantee you, right now the WWF may be small but if you give me a year, you will have the exposure you're looking for."
"How have you seen my tapes?"
Just at that moment, Chuck made his entrance, which brought all conversation to a standstill and seemed to answer Eric's question.
"What in the hell is he doing here?" Brisco shouted, as he rapidly approached Ristano.
"Gerald, I'd like you to meet my assistant booker," I responded, stepping between the two men.
Brisco's attention snapped fully to me and I could tell he wanted me dead.
"What?" he barked. "Your assistant booker?! Do you have any idea in the blue hell this man is? He's the one who destroyed the WWF in the first place!"
"I've heard varying stories. What I do know is that he is the man who brought in a quarter million dollars with the Ray Gonzalez-Rhino blow off match. I know that he's the man who booked Harry Smith to be even bigger than his father-"
"He's the man who sold Harry Smith to New Japan!"
"And I know he's the man who never took payoffs for title wins."
"Now you watch yourself, Novack," Brisco steamed. "You don't have the stroke to talk about things you weren't here to experience. I own 33% of this company and I'm sure the owners of the other 67% will agree with me that Chuck Ristano will never work for the WWF again."
"They can agree all they want but it says specifically in my contract that I can hire whoever I please to be my assistant booker and there is no executive approval needed."
Brisco fumed, but he knew I was right. Begrudgingly he stood down as Chuck and I stood our ground and not long after, the company meeting was underway. Brisco announced that the other two owners were not able to attend this meeting but they would be at the Royal Rumble in one-week from the day. Furthermore, he announced that all titles had been vacated due to the various departures from the company. Ray Gonzalez had been the last World Champion and Harry Smith had been the last Intercontinental Champion as well as sharing the Tag Championship with Andy Douglas who did still work for the company. Andy chimed in that his European Championship should not be vacated but Brisco insisted for uniformity, the decision was final.
With exception to a few rules, not much more of note was discussed as they basically wanted to welcome everyone to the new 'and improved' WWF and reminded us all that the Royal Rumble was the 'return of something special.'
The Royal Rumble
The Denver Coliseum
7:00 PM MT
European, Intercontinental, and Tag Champions will be crowned
World Champion will be crowned in a 15 man Battle Royal
|All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:32 PM.|
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