Russo in 2007.
January 24, 1961 |
New York City
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Vicious Vincent
Mr. Wrestling III
The Powers That Be
|Billed height||6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)|
|Billed weight||190 lb (86 kg)|
|Trained by||Johnny Rodz|
Vincent James "Vince" Russo (born January 24, 1961) is an American writer and author, well known for his work in the professional wrestling industry. He is notable for his tenure with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). He occasionally made appearances as an on-screen authority figure and is a one-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Professional wrestling writer
- 2.1 World Wrestling Federation (1992–1999)
- 2.2 World Championship Wrestling (1999–2000)
- 2.3 World Wrestling Entertainment (2002)
- 2.4 Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2002–2004, 2006–2012, 2013–2014)
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Author
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Championships and accomplishments
- 7 Notes
- 8 External links
Russo grew up in Farmingville, New York and graduated from the University of Southern Indiana (then known as Indiana State University Evansville) in 1983 with a degree in journalism. He worked for the school newspaper The Shield as an assistant sports editor and later as editor-in-chief.
Russo got his start in the wrestling business when he began training under the tutelage of Johnny Rodz at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. He owned two video stores on Long Island, New York,. Russo also hosted his own local radio show from 1992 to 1993 called Vicious Vincent's World of Wrestling which aired on Sunday nights on WGBB in Freeport, New York. The program ran for exactly one year, the final show being the one-year anniversary.
Professional wrestling writer
World Wrestling Federation (1992–1999)
In 1992, Russo was hired as a freelance writer for WWF Magazine following a letter that he had written to Linda McMahon, and would later become an editor in 1994 under the pseudonym of Vic Venom. He was eventually promoted to the WWF Creative Team in 1996. In that same year, Monday Night Raw hit an all-time ratings low of 1.8, as WCW Monday Nitro (Raw's chief competition), was in the midst of an 84-week winning-streak against Raw head-to-head (see Monday Night Wars). With WCW eclipsing the WWF, McMahon called upon Russo to make changes to the televised product. Russo contributed edgy, controversial storylines involving sexual content, profanity, swerves or unexpected heel turns, and worked shoots in the storylines. Russo's style of writing came to be known as "Crash TV."
In early 1997, Russo became head writer for the WWF and wrote their flagship show Raw is War as well as their monthly pay-per-views. With the angles that Russo created (along with Vince McMahon present to accept and decline ideas), Russo was instrumental in putting WWF ahead of World Championship Wrestling in the Monday night rating wars during the Attitude Era. Notable storylines and characters during Russo's run as head writer include the Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon feud, The Undertaker vs. Kane feud, D-Generation X, the rise of The Rock, and the Mick Foley saga. Some of the more controversial characters during this time, often cited by critics of Russo, include Sable, Val Venis and The Godfather.
Within two years of Russo becoming the WWF's head writer, it had passed Nitro to the biggest wrestling show on cable.
On October 5, 1999, Russo and Ed Ferrara signed with WCW; Russo contends that his reason for leaving the WWF was the result of a dispute with Vince McMahon over the increased workload caused by the introduction of the new SmackDown! broadcast.
World Championship Wrestling (1999–2000)
Russo and Ferrara attempted to make the same "Crash TV" style on WCW Monday Nitro which was similar to Raw, only at an accelerated pace, including edgier storylines, more lengthy non-wrestling segments, constant heel/face turns, an increased amount of sexuality on the show, fake retirements, more backstage vignettes, expanded storyline depth, title changes, and the utilization of midcard talent in a more effective manner. One of the most notable storylines included the "Powers That Be" angle, which implied a mysterious, unseen, and secret power source whom everyone in WCW were obliged to obey. Russo and Ferrara often focused on poking fun at the WWF.
Russo's writing style created a large turnover in title changes, reflective of his "crash TV" writing philosophy. His booking of Jushin "Thunder" Liger losing and regaining the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on Nitro in late 1999 was not recognized by New Japan Pro Wrestling in the title lineage until 2007. (Liger lost the title to Juventud Guerrera, a luchador, after being hit over the head with a tequila bottle.) Swerves and scenarios treated as "shoots" were heavily emphasized, as wrestlers supposedly gave unscripted interviews using "insider" terms that were only recognized by the Internet smarks; chaotic broadcasts became the norm. Russo booked actor David Arquette to win the WCW World Title and at one point toward the end of his WCW stay even booked himself to be champion. Russo justifies Arquette winning the title with the fact that Arquette didn't pin a wrestler (he pinned Eric Bischoff) and that it was a realistic event with the intent to gain publicity. Moreover, Russo claims that his own title win was a result of a fluke (Goldberg speared him through the cage during a cage match against Booker T, resulting in Russo unintentionally winning the match) and that he willingly forfeited the title on the next WCW Monday Nitro. Russo's characters and storylines during this era are often heavily criticized. Some signatures styles of his writing that are often brought up include: object on a pole matches, fun with acronyms, gimmick matches, swerves, and worked shoots.
An entire chapter was devoted to Russo in the book WrestleCrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling; the title of the chapter was Vince Russo Presents: How to Lose $60 Million in just 12 months!. From one of the same authors, Russo was also prominently featured on the cover of The Death of WCW, a book that notes Russo's contributions to what is believed to have ended WCW.
Firing and rehiring
In 2000, Russo received two phone calls, one from Bret Hart (then WCW World Heavyweight Champion) and another from Jeff Jarrett (then WCW United States champion), both saying that they were injured, thus couldn't wrestle and forced to vacate their respective championships. This required Russo to alter the plans he had in mind for Bret Hart and the New World Order. Russo and his booking committee sat down to determine what would now happen at Souled Out. One of the ideas included putting the now vacated WCW Title on the shoot fighter Tank Abbott, a former UFC fighter. In an attempt to do something believable, the idea was originally to have a "rumble match" in which Sid Vicious would be an early entrant in the match and would last all the way to the end when Abbott would come into the match and eliminate him with one punch. Russo claims that Abbott may not have held the belt for more than 24 hours if this title change had actually occurred. However, the day after he and his committee came up with the idea, he was removed from the position of head writer and told to start working with something else. Russo declined the offer and left the company, with his immediate replacement being Kevin Sullivan.
During his first run as head of creative Russo failed to increase the ratings during his first three-month tenure as the head of creative in WCW, and PPV buyrates were down significantly with Starrcade 1999 doing the lowest buyrate in WCW history and down 75% from the previous year. The next PPV Souled Out, which was promoted under the Russo era (Russo was removed from power the weekend of the event, but all of television and matches had been promoted by Vince Russo), did even worse with a .25 buyrate, just barely beating ECW's January PPV (.21 buyrate) and doing less than 1/6th the buys that the 2000 Royal Rumble did.
Three months after Russo's departure, Kevin Sullivan was ultimately relieved of his duties and Russo was reinstated as booker, after a three-month absence, alongside Eric Bischoff, who had just returned to WCW as well (as a creative director). The idea was that Russo and Bischoff would reboot WCW into a more modern, streamlined company that would allow the younger talent to work with the established stars.
On the April 10, 2000 edition of WCW Monday Nitro, Vince Russo was introduced as an on-screen antagonist authority figure. Notable storyline points his character was involved with include "The New Blood vs Millionaire's Club"; his feud with Ric Flair where he and David Flair were involved with shaving Ric Flair's hair as well as Reid Flair's hair; his feud with Goldberg; and his short reign as world champion.
Bash at the Beach 2000
Russo was involved in an incident with Hulk Hogan; Hogan was booked to lose a match against reigning world champion Jeff Jarrett at Bash at the Beach in 2000, but Hogan refused to lose the match (invoking his contract's "creative control" clause to override Russo), due to Russo's apparent lack of direction for Hogan's character following the planned loss. In the end, Jarrett literally "laid down" for Hogan, which resulted in Hogan doing a worked shoot on Russo saying "That's why this company is in the damn shape it's in; because of bullshit like this" and scoring the pinfall victory by placing his foot on Jarrett's chest. Russo would come out later in the broadcast to nullify the result of the match, as he publicly fired Hogan. This action restored the title to Jarrett, which set up a new title match between Jarrett and Booker T, with the latter winning the match and the title.
As Russo promised, Hogan never resurfaced in WCW and even filed a lawsuit against Russo for defamation of character (which was dismissed in 2003 stating that the charges filed against Russo were "groundless" and "were just part of a wrestling storyline"). That would also be Eric Bischoff's last on-screen appearance with WCW. Hogan claims (in his autobiography, Hollywood Hulk Hogan) that Russo made it a shoot, and Hogan was double-crossed by Turner executive Brad Siegel, who did not want to use Hogan any more due to how much Hogan cost per appearance; and Bischoff, in his autobiography, Controversy Creates Ca$h, contends that Hogan winning and leaving with the title was a work which would result in his return several months later – the plan was to crown a new champion at Halloween Havoc, only for Hogan to come out afterwards and ultimately win a champion vs. champion match – but Russo (who no longer had faith in Hogan or his drawing power and wanted him out of WCW completely) coming out to fire him was a shoot which led to the lawsuit filed by Hogan. Bischoff claims that he and Hogan celebrated after the event over the angle, but were distraught to get a phone call saying that Russo interfered unplanned after Hogan left the arena.
In 2005, Russo was finally able to give his side of the incident on his Ring of Glory website. From his perspective, Russo revised the script numerous times with the original script having Booker T being the champion. According to Russo, Hulk Hogan was not completely pleased with the finish. Prior to the pay-per-view, Bischoff, Hogan and Russo discussed how the ending should play out and decided to make their situation as real as possible. The pitch that they all agreed to was to have Jarrett lay down and have Hogan pin Jarrett. To make the situation look as real as possible, Jarrett would not be notified that this was planned and would be under the impression that him lying down would catch Hogan off guard. Once this occurred, Hogan and Bischoff would have to leave the building and then Russo would cut a "scathing" promo explaining that Hogan's belt meant nothing and that the real championship belt would be defended later in the night by two deserving competitors: Booker T and Jeff Jarrett. According to Russo, Bischoff "liked" it and all agreed that this would be how the story played out. The idea was to work the fans and the roster.
Russo says he regrets not calling Hulk Hogan the next day. Russo claims that he was told by network executive Brad Siegel that the company could not afford to use Hogan so it would be best to continue writing the show without him. Russo then writes that a defamation of character lawsuit was then filed by Hulk Hogan with him claiming that he knew nothing about the promo that Russo did at the pay-per-view beforehand.
Russo closed the article by saying he grew up being a huge fan of Hogan, that the business would never have reached the heights without him, that Hogan paved the way for his writing career, and that he would "work with Hulk Hogan again in a heartbeat". He said that one day he would like to thank Hogan for giving him the opportunity to have his career and that he would like to put this behind them.
In October 2000, Russo's run as head writer came to a halt after a string of injuries primarily resulting from a match he was in with Goldberg where he was speared through a cage and where his head landed on the ringside barrier. Around this time rumors were running rampant that WWF was going to buy WCW. There were other rumors that Eric Bischoff had found some financial backers to buy the company. In Russo's book, Rope Opera, he says that when these rumors got strong he decided to bail on the company, and did not want the embarrassment of Vince McMahon buying the company that he was working for. Russo told Turner Executive Brad Siegel, that his neurologist told him he needed to take time off due to post concussion syndrome. Later in Rope Opera, he admits this was a lie to allow him to sit out and get paid while WCW was on the chopping block.
Russo's contract was bought out by Time Warner shortly after the WCW buyout.
World Wrestling Entertainment (2002)
Russo later returned to WWE in mid-2002 but quickly left after saying that there was "no way in the world that this thing would work out...I felt there were layers upon layers of people to go through to get my ideas accepted."
In Russo's book Rope Opera, Russo said he called Vince McMahon when the WWE's Raw rating went below a 4.0. After meeting McMahon at his house, Russo proposed his main story of having McMahon hiring Eric Bischoff to be the General Manager of the company. McMahon would then torture Bischoff due to their previous history; Bischoff would then use his past relationships with previous WCW talent and get to McMahon's son Shane which would eventually lead to Vince McMahon losing power.
Vince McMahon eventually introduced Russo to the creative team, which consisted of Michael Hayes, Paul Heyman and in Russo's words, "children, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, while looking scared to death at the same time." Russo then spent three hours laying out one year of storylines and characters to the team to which nobody on the team said anything to.
Rumor has it that the idea he put forward was an entire restart of the WCW Invasion, featuring previously unsigned talent such as Bill Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Eric Bischoff and Bret Hart. The reports imply that his idea was so poorly received that Russo was immediately demoted from the position of 'Head Creative Director' to that of a "consultant". Russo states in an interview that after a meeting with the WWE creative team, he got a call from McMahon who said that Russo should be a "consultant" instead. He was then sent a contract to sign but prior to signing, Russo wanted to explore other options and have more of a "hands-on" influence on the creative product.
As a result, Russo then left of his own accord (turning down a $125,000 per year stay-at-home 'advisory' role with WWE in favor of a $100,000 per year full-time position with TNA).
In late 2005, a 3-disc DVD boxset was released titled Pro Wrestling's Ultimate Insiders which consists of interviews with him along with co-writer Ed Ferrara about their time in the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2002–2004, 2006–2012, 2013–2014)
Writing and power struggle (2002–2004)
In July 2002, Russo joined Jeff and Jerry Jarrett's NWA-TNA promotion as a creative writer and would assist in the writing and production of the shows. Russo claims that the name "Total Nonstop Action" came from him and that the original concept was, as they were exclusive to pay per view, to be an edgier product than WWE; the initials of the company "TNA" being a play on "T&A", short for "Tits and Ass". Throughout the first few years, there were numerous reports of creative power struggle over the direction of the programming. Russo left the company after the 2004 Victory Road pay-per-view. In a November 2005 interview, Russo states that he never wrote a single show on his own during this period at TNA and described his time there as a "total nightmare."
On-screen character (2002–2004)
During the time when these rumors circulated, Russo eventually debuted as an on-screen character when the mysterious masked wrestler "Mr. Wrestling III" helped Jeff Jarrett win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and eventually unveiled as him. In the on-screen story, Jarrett did not want Russo's help which led to the two becoming involved in a feud. Russo created his own faction of wrestlers he dubbed Sports Entertainment Xtreme (S.E.X.), recruiting the likes of Glenn Gilbertti, Sonny Siaki, B.G. James, Raven, Trinity, and others. S.E.X. faced the more traditional TNA wrestlers led by Jeff Jarrett. Eventually, Russo would leave his on-screen role and Gilbertti would become the leader of S.E.X.
After leaving for a brief period, Russo returned as an on-screen character on the May 28, 2003 pay-per-view where he would hit Raven with a baseball bat helping Gilbertti become the number one contender for the world championship. The next week (June 4, 2003), when Gilbertti fought Jarrett for the world championship, Russo would hit Gilbertti with a baseball bat which in turn helped Jarrett retain his belt. On the following week's pay-per-view (June 11, 2003), when AJ Styles and Raven fought Jarrett for the world title in a triple threat match, Russo teased hitting Styles with Jarrett's trademark guitar, but eventually hit Jarrett leading A.J. Styles to win the world championship belt.
Russo would then manage NWA Champion A.J. Styles for the remainder of his 2003 run and S.E.X. were quietly written out of the storylines. On the October 15, 2003 pay-per-view, Russo made his final appearance of that year in a street-fight with Jarrett. It was reported that Russo was written out of the company as a result of Hulk Hogan's signing and because Hogan reportedly said that he would not work for TNA as long as Russo was involved with the company. In February 2004 shortly after Hogan was not able to commit with TNA, Russo would eventually return but strictly as an on-air character, becoming the "Director of Authority" in the storylines. This time, he was a face, claiming to have changed his ways (which was likely inspired by Russo's real-life conversion to Christianity). However, he would leave again in late 2004 when Dusty Rhodes was "voted" the new D.O.A. over himself at the three-hour November 2004 pay-per-view Victory Road in an interactive "election" on TNA's website.
Rehired as creative writer (2006–2012)
During the March 2007 TNA pay-per-view Destination X on the "Last Rites" match with Abyss and Sting, "Fire Russo!" chants erupted from the crowd in the arena at Orlando indicating the fans' frustration with the incidents that occurred during the match.
Another time the "Fire Russo!" chants were heard was at the following month's pay-per-view TNA Lockdown that was held in St. Louis on April 15, 2007. The chants were heard during the electrified steel cage match with Team 3D and The LAX where the lights would flicker on-and-off whenever a wrestler touched the cage giving the impression of electrocution. Dixie Carter has since noted that gimmick was created by writer Dutch Mantell. In a 2011 interview, Mantell denied this.
Russo became head of creative for TNA some time during July 2009. On addressing the "Fire Russo!" chants, Russo said he was not head of creative during that time and when the idea of the electrified steel cage was presented to him, he said that there was no way that the concept could have been done in a believable manner and that he was often blamed for ideas that he never even came up with. The back cover of Russo's 2010 book Rope Opera: How WCW Killed Vince Russo notes fans chanting "Fire Russo!" across television tapings throughout North America.
On October 27, 2009, it was announced that Hulk Hogan signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. On a February 2010 interview, Russo stated that after meeting with Hogan and Bischoff to discuss the Bash at the Beach incident, he found out that the entire ordeal was all about a misunderstanding and that in terms of working together after the incident, things have been great. In 2010, when asked about his relationship with Russo at TNA, Hogan said he came to TNA in peace, that the writing staff of Russo, Ed Ferrara, Matt Conway, and Jeremy Borash have really "stepped it up", and that Hogan loved Russo "from a distance". While working with Russo, Bischoff stated in a February 2010 interview that it is a "very positive experience", that their collaborations are productive and said, "If I see red and [Russo] sees green, we've been able to come as close as possible to resolving it every time."
Secret return (2013–2014)
In April 2014, the Pro Wrestling Insider website claimed that Russo was working as a consultant for TNA Wrestling. Russo denied the reports, but on July 15, Pro Wrestling Insider reported that Russo had accidentally sent an email to them with instructions on how TNA's commentators should announce a future episode of Impact. As a result, Russo admitted through a statement on his website that he was already working as a consultant for TNA Wrestling to work with TNA's announcers, and that one of TNA's conditions was that Russo was to keep his involvement as confidential. Within two days or less, Russo's statement on his website was apparently removed as it became a dead link.
On July 30, 2014, Russo claimed that he was "officially done" with TNA. Not long after, Russo revealed that he had been working for TNA since October 24, 2013, claiming that he had been involved in creative meetings and also critiqued the weekly episodes of Impact Wrestling.
Vince Russo is one of the most controversial figures in professional wrestling history. Russo is often opinionated about his stance that the story, reality, and characters of the show are what draws the viewers. He is also outspoken about his belief about emphasizing entertainment over the in-ring aspect of professional wrestling. On the back cover of his book Forgiven, the summary notes that when asked about Vince Russo, wrestling fans' opinions often vary, but are always passionate: "the guy's a genius; or he single-handedly ruined the sport". On the back cover of his book Rope Opera, it notes that Russo has "been known as both the savior of Vince McMahon's WWF and the man who destroyed WCW and TNA."
Russo is also an author. He has written Forgiven: One Man's Journey from Self-Glorification to Sanctification, a 2005 autobiography documenting his early life, his WWF run, as well as his Christian faith. Highlights of the book include his involvement with the infamous Montreal Screwjob and the accidental tragic death of Owen Hart. The book was written in 2000, originally titled Welcome To Bizarroland and was a book that negatively portrayed people in the wrestling business. After being a born again Christian, the title and content of the book was revised to correspond with his newly found faith.
Russo's second book Rope Opera: How WCW Killed Vince Russo was released in early 2010 and chronicles his tenure with WCW and TNA. The title Rope Opera stems from the title of a television series idea that he pitched to networks at the time of his WWF tenure.
On May 2014, Russo opened his new blog website, "Pyro and Ballyhoo", which talks about his thoughts on entertainment (past and present). In July 2014, Russo released his podcast "The Swerve with Vince Russo" on his website.
Vince Russo is an American of Italian origin. He is married to his wife Amy and has three kids. In October 2003, Russo became a Born Again Christian. In 2004, he formed a short-lived online Christian ministry titled Forgiven. As a born again Christian, Russo expressed a lot of regret for many of his storylines and angles that he created while in the WWF during The Attitude Era . In late 2005, he produced two shows for his evangelical Ring of Glory independent promotion.
Championships and accomplishments
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- Vince Russo Interview at About.com – by Eric Cohen – December 19, 2005
- SLAM! Wrestling – "Vince Russo back in the spotlight" – November 22, 2005
- SLAM! Wrestling – "Review: Russo asks to be Forgiven" – November 10, 2005
- Vince Russo at the Internet Movie Database