Former WCW and WWE writer Vince Russo was the featured guest on the most recent installment of Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s The PWI Podcast. Russo joined PWI senior writers Dan Murphy and Al Castle for a spirited discussion regarding the current status of professional wrestling, sharing his unique – and often controversial – insights into the business. The team was joined by PWI contributor Kevin McElvaney later in the show.
Asked by Al Castle why WWE’s current champion, Roman Reigns, has failed to garner better support and enthusiasm from wrestling fans, Russo laid the blame at WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s feet. According to Russo, McMahon’s view of the business, as well as the interests of the fan base, are largely frozen in the past. He pointed to a number of occasions in which Vince McMahon has forced a particular wrestler or angle on WWE fans, without any regard for wrestlers’ abilities or how their efforts were ultimately received by viewers.
“It’s Vince. In Vince’s mind, it’s Bruno. It’s Backlund. Look at his history,” said Russo of WWE’s Vince McMahon. “He’s done it over and over and over again… Kevin Nash was this killer who beat Bob Backlund in like 8 seconds in Madison Square Garden. I was the editor at the WWF Magazine at the time. Diesel wins the belt. The next thing I know, Vince wants a picture of him on the cover of the WWF Magazine smiling like a Cheshire cat. And I remember arguing with Vince at the time, saying ‘What are you doing? This is not the character.’ And Vince wanted the white bread babyface.”
Vince Russo also recalled that Shawn Michaels struggled with Vince McMahon’s decision to cast him as a good guy, suggesting that the style of a so-called babyface was not in the proverbial wheelhouse of one of pro wrestling’s most accomplished heels. Russo noted that a similar situation followed with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and that McMahon’s track record continues to the present day as he tries to convince fans that Roman Reigns is the guy who they want at the top of the card.
“I’ll never forget. I was sitting in the office—me, The Rock and Vince— the day after The Rock won the title with that corporate swerve,” Russo said. “And Vince is sitting there wanting him to go out and cut this white bread, babyface promo. And Rock kept looking at me like, ‘Is this guy serious?’… Here we are with Roman Reigns 25, 30 years later. He’s doing the exact same thing, because Vince, at 70 years old, really believes that the 1970s philosophy is going to work today… It’s all he knows. He’s repeating it over and over again. And there’s nobody there with the balls to say, ‘Vince, this does not work in 2016.’ ”
Vince Russo worked for WWF – and later WWE – during pro wrestling’s celebrated “Attitude Era” and beyond. He has remained involved in the business ever since, working behind the scenes and sometimes as an on-camera character. In 2014, it was revealed that Vince Russo was secretly working as a consultant for TNA, allegedly prompting a schism between that wrestling company and their network at the time, Spike TV. He regularly appears on Wrestling Inc.‘s official podcast with co-host Sean Ross Sapp.
As noted by SEScoops, Roman Reigns won WWE’s top title at WrestleMania 32, and the company has maintained a full court press to win fans over to a pro-Reigns footing ever since. Even prior to the aforementioned event, WWE has attempted to portray Reigns as something of an underdog and fan favorite, at one point evoking a disastrous reception from a very opinionated crowd in Philadelphia. Reigns was loudly booed by the Philly crowd after he won Survivor Series 2015, despite the fact that WWE rolled out The Rock to curry favor from longtime fans.
Roman Reigns will take on AJ Styles at WWE Payback on Sunday, May 1. Their bout will be a match for the WWE World heavyweight title, Styles’ first crack at the coveted championship since he was signed to WWE earlier this year.
[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]