November 6, 2008
A Cruise down memory lane
By MATT JOHNSON - For SLAM! Wrestling
Last seen alongside Larry Zbyszko, hosting the TBS show WCW Pro on Sundays afternoons, Chris Cruise has left the wrestling business behind. But that does not mean he doesn't have some opinions to throw around about past colleagues.
Cruise became a wrestling fan at age nine and "grew up on a steady diet of Chief Jay Strongbow." In the mid 1980s, the Maine native contacted the manager of the local civic center in Portland, Maine. This contact led to him doing public relations work for WWE (then the WWF) to promote Wrestlemania. Few saw what WWE would eventually become, as Cruise noted, "We didnít call it Wrestlemania 1. We just called it Wrestlemania."
Vince McMahon did not need a large staff after Wrestlemania, so Cruise moved on, eventually landing at CNN, despite not having a journalism degree. In fact, Cruise does not believe prospective broadcasters should get a degree in journalism. "Other degrees give a broader perspective. Journalism can be described in three words: describe the event. Broadcasting is more of a technique and it does not take four years to get."
From CNN, Cruise voluntarily moved to WCW after placing a call to then WCW boss Jim Herd. He would later get another run after being hired by Eric Bischoff.
"Larry always said just shut up. Whenever anybody asks you how things are say itís great. Say itís fantastic."
While announcing WCW Pro, Cruise would only work on Tuesdays. "I would fly in from Greensboro and get there at about 7:15 a.m. I would get some breakfast and head to the Omni. We would start at 10 or 11 and be done by 3:00 p.m. I would be back home at my desk at 5:00 p.m. We would do open and closes on camera and then do the play-by-play in the studio."
Even though he was often on his own, Cruise tried to keep continuity and put over the main storylines of the company. "I would watch Nitro and considered it part of my job."
WCW President Bischoff only met Cruise twice, one of which was when he hired him. Bischoff was impressed by Cruiseís work at the When Worlds Collide pay-per-view and hired him. Cruise credits Mike Tenay for his strong performance at the event.
As the man in charge of the company, Bischoff was in constant demand. "Whenever I think of (Bischoff), I think of Terry Taylorís comment that nobody approached Eric without wanting something from him. Eric would have to actively avoid people. It was like death by 1,000 cuts."
One problem Cruise never encountered was wrestlers critical of his broadcasting. "I thought that might happen, but it never did. The wrestlers' code was never confront anyone in a suit; anyone they thought was the office. If you lost political stroke you could lose your spot."
On whether he desired to change shows (to Nitro or WCW Saturday Night), Cruise added, "I was forever trying to do that. I thought I was a more talented broadcaster than Tony Schiavone. He despised wrestling. I was never a good office politician. They thought I would speak my mind too often."
Cruise left WCW when he was replaced by Scott Hudson, who agreed to the job for less money. The currently wrestling scene does not impress Cruise. He is not a fan of TNA, admitting that "the six-sided ring is distracting to me. I was reading that they have a two-hour show with 23 minutes of wrestling. Also, Mike Tenay is miscast in his role as a play-by-play announcer."
At the end of our conversation, I asked Cruise, now very successful in the mortgage industry, his opinion of WWE and wrestling business as currently constituted and whether something is missing.
"Suspense. Itís very rare that you are surprised. Itís suspense and the finishes. So many DQs and count outs. One of the thing that got Japan hot was there was a pin in every match. On Raw before a pay-per-view, fans know there will not be a 1-2-3. Itís going to be a DQ. When fans call finishes you are in trouble."
On Vince McMahon: "Vince, Jr. is now in his 60s. He is like Vince Sr. was at that time in his life. He is out of touch. Most of the brain trust is in their 40s and 50s there, and they are out of touch with fans."
After an hour-long discussion with Chris Cruise, it is apparent why he is both an excellent broadcaster and no longer employed in the wrestling business -- he speaks his mind and is not afraid to speak truth to power.
Matt Johnson has been an active researcher and historian of World Championship Wrestling. He graduated from Northern Michigan University with a double major in English and Social Studies and can be e-mailed at email@example.com.