Bischoff an invisible innovator
TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
In the mid-'90s, thanks to the bitter feud between WWE and WCW, wrestling hit the biggest boom period the genre had seen.
The business went from a struggling sideshow to a multi-billion dollar industry, with merchandise flying off the shelves and pay-per-view buys breaking all wrestling records.
Grapplers were treated like A-list celebrities and TV ratings reached such highs that major American networks were alleged to have called emergency meetings to figure out how to counteract the wrestling phenomenon.
The Monday Night Wars have become the stuff of legend but because WWE won the battle, the history books often paint Vince McMahon with a rose-coloured tint.
The reality is the boom may never have happened if it weren't for WCW boss Eric Bischoff, who ignited the war in the first place.
"People have forgotten what really happened," Bischoff told the Sun. "But I also think this industry tends to re-write history.
"It's the nature of a business where people have egos that are monstrous. A lot of people take credit for things other people have accomplished."
Invasion angles, the cruiserweight division and reality-based storylines are among the innovations Bischoff introduced to the American mainstream but good ideas weren't enough to keep WCW afloat.
When AOL merged with Time Warner in 2000, the Atlanta grappling group was one of the first casualties. Without a company to run, Bischoff disappeared from the public eye.
"When I looked back, I was very comfortable with what I achieved," he said. "I know I played a big part in wrestling's success and many of the things we watch today on Raw are things I created."
It was more than a year after WCW's demise when McMahon finally buried the hatchet and invited Bischoff to return to wrestling.
Fans braced themselves for the ultimate storyline collision -- the heads of wrestling's two superpowers finally facing off -- but McMahon decided not to play up the real-life bad blood. Instead, the pair shook hands on live TV.
To this day, many insiders consider it one of the biggest blown opportunities in wrestling history but Bischoff feels differently.
"How much bigger could it have really been? Vince promised a big surprise and said it would change the business. He brought me out in front of 15,000 people and caught everyone off guard, including people who work inside of the industry. Unless he brought me out on a space shuttle, I'm not sure how he could have done it any better."
These days, Bischoff is best known as the fictional figurehead of Monday Night Raw, a role which often comes with a hefty dose of on-screen humiliation. Some suggest McMahon may be getting revenge but Bischoff says it's just part of the show.
"I don't think anything is designed to diminish or embarrass my character. If I felt otherwise, I wouldn't be working here. There have been times when I think the storylines are kind of wacky but I don't take it personally."
But what if WCW had won the Monday Night War? Would Bischoff write McMahon into humiliating storylines to one-up his former rival?
"No, that's not the way I am," Bischoff said with a laugh. "I would do exactly what Vince McMahon did. I would simply do what's best for business."
More on Eric Bischoff