The new 10th anniversary edition of Bryan Alvarez and RD Reynolds’ classic wrestling book The Death Of WCW has just been released.
Being a huge fan of the original book, I purchased the new edition though haven’t read it all the way through yet. I’m about a quarter the way done. I reviewed the original for Epinions in 2005 and I will include my original review below.
As part of the original review, I did an email interview with Bryan Alvarez. Unfortunately, I can’t find the email or else I would’ve posted it below as well. At the time of the interview and review, I didn’t know Alvarez well, but always liked his work as 1/2 of the greatest live wrestling radio show of all-time, Wrestling Observer Live on the old Eyada network. I’d also had short subscriptions to his Figure Four Newsletter and enjoyed his sense of humor about the business.
But it wasn’t until he created his pioneering website, Figure Four Online (which also merged with Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer several years ago), that I started to follow him closely. And thanks to the yearly F4W Convention, I’ve had a chance to get to know him a bit.
At the last convention this past summer, I chatted with him briefly about the new book. The conversation quickly turned toward Vince Russo and a recent podcast he did with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Alvarez doesn’t hide his frustration for Russo’s work and you’ll see some of it in the book.
But I’ll take credit for this one. If you’ve heard Russo talk, he’s a classic liar. I’ve even written about the way he disguises his lies in the way he talks.
I joked with Alvarez that the way that you know Russo is lying is when he says one of the following three things:
– If I can be honest with you. (It means the opposite.)
– I’m shooting here with you. (I think he misunderstands what shooting means.)
– You’re gonna love this one. (Love, as long as you can roll your eyes as hard as you can.)
We had a good laugh over that one.
Back to the new book (which you can buy on Amazon.com) – it’s an updated and extended version of the original. Alvarez said that they had to take out a lot of stuff from the first book that they now added back in and also revised the book to use recent references and examples. For instance, Eric Bischoff has written his own book and gone on the podcast circuit lately and there are new quotes in the new version from recent material, even as recently as this year.
The book is still as funny as it is thorough and with the WWE Network, you can watch a lot of what’s written about. Also included are a new forward (written by Dave Meltzer) and epilogue with the originals also intact.
Here’s my original review:
This review was posted on September 30, 2005 (though I have edited it since then).
The Death Of WCW is a history book. It’s a history book that anyone who has an interest in professional wrestling should read. Bryan Alvarez, author and editor of the Figure Four Weekly newsletter and R.D. Reynolds, author of Wrestlecrap, give you the detail-by-detail rise and fall of a wrestling company that in a short span overtook the WWF (now WWE) as the number one wrestling company in the US, and then died.
While The Death Of WCW is a history book, it also is a book about business. People (meaning non-wrestling fans) might not actually see the demise of a wrestling company as anything worthy to write a book about, but professional wrestling is actually a business like any other business. It’s just wackier than most.
According to the book, when Ted Turner bought WCW from Jim Crockett Promotions, he did it mostly because he felt indebted to the wrestling company that helped him launch his cable network, Superstation WTBS. The wrestling show was a ratings winner for Turner, and when Crockett needed to sell, Turner was ready to buy. It was mostly just a toy for him until newly appointed leader, Eric Bischoff somehow convinced him that he could overtake Vince McMahon’s WWF. Part one of that plan was Bischoff convincing new free agent Hulk Hogan, whose name was synonymous with WWF, to come over to WCW (with Ric Flair’s help). Part two was Eric Bischoff having the balls to ask for prime time television. Ted gave him one hour live on Monday night on the TNT network which put them head-up against WWF’s Monday Night Raw. The Monday Night Wars had just begun.
What WCW did in 3 to 4 years was make money. Lots of it. They put on a creative and alternative product (to WWF), satisfying the die-hard wrestling fans and bringing back some who may have stopped watching entirely. They put recognizable name players like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Randy Savage in main events, and used undercard guys like Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and high flying luchadors to make sure there was exciting wrestling. It was a near-perfect combination and then they hit gold with the nWo storyline which saw Hulk Hogan turn bad guy and aligned him with the coolest and newest bad guys in the company, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.
Using Nielsen television ratings was one way to keep score to see who is winning the war. And early on, WCW was still behind WWF’s ratings. But the interest built and soon they were overtaking WWF on Monday night in the television ratings and did so for nearly two years. But it was the PPV revenue, which meant that the people watching their shows on cable (meaning for free) were also paying money monthly to watch their PPV’s, that told an even better story. Getting people to pay for something is much harder to do than have those same folks watch a television show.
As fast as they rose, they fell even faster. WWF was catching steam with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon while Bischoff’s product was the one getting stale. Bischoff had Bill Goldberg who was WCW’s version of Stone Cold Steve Austin, but they cut his legs out at a time when they needed to continue building him.
I personally asked Alvarez if he thought Bischoff killed WCW and he said no because it was still salvageable when he walked away. But the man who WCW brass turned to as its savior did, in his opinion. Vince Russo was Vince McMahon’s right-hand man when WWF finally caught up and surpassed WCW again. Russo would create a ton of ideas as a writer and McMahon would be the person to say yes or no to them.
When Vince Russo was hired by WCW, he didn’t have the McMahon safety net. His storylines helped kill the company more quickly then thought possible. His concepts on wrestling were about the personalities outside of the ring, rather than the action inside of it. He even booked himself to win the championship. Imagine if Muhammed Ali, instead of losing the belt to another boxer, actually lost the belt to Don King? Would that be entirely believable? Would that be entirely logical? Nope, but those are the types of things Russo did and it caused the fans who were looking for logical and believable things to change the channel.
Alvarez and Reynolds document the happenings in a time line fashion that either takes you right back to when you lived it, or gives you the real perspective of what was happening if you didn’t get to live through it. Alvarez says that they split the book up into two sections. Reynolds wrote the information from 1988 through 1997, and Alvarez picked up with 1998 through 2001. You don’t really notice a change in the style of writing which is because they have similar writing styles. They both are able to convey what happened as serious rights and wrongs, and keep it light at the same time. There are several laugh out loud moments, as they show the boneheaded moments and mistakes WCW was making during their downfall.
The book does many things right. It treats wrestling fans as smart human beings. It presents the facts (and their humorous spin on those facts), but most importantly, there’s no spin on those facts. They’re not trying to re-tell history from a certain perspective or bias. I’m sure Alvarez’s documentation of all the happenings writing for his newsletter every week helped out a lot. The authors also take the information, give it to you, and say, “Look, here’s the blueprint on how to fail, don’t do this or else you will also fail.”
I’m sure how WCW died is similar to how other non-wrestling companies died. WCW gave too much of their talent the power. They had bad leadership. Their bad leadership made awful decisions that were often spur of the moment. They held people down, rather than promote from within. And they went through cash like crazy trying to make the product cater to different audiences, rather than pay back the audience that was spending their money on the product in the first place.
While this book had to be written, it seemed like a chore to write. Alvarez says that after he was done, he thought he’d never want to write a book again. He thought it’d be much easier to do than it was and says it was mentally and physically draining.
Reynolds and Alvarez make a great team and I’d personally love to see them tackle another topic within wrestling. Maybe on the death of TNA? The Death Of WCW is a great read for any wrestling fan, and a much-needed historical outlook of the demise of a company that should still be going today.