Wrestling: Vince Russo

Vince Russo (right): Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion. note 

OOC: I would like to read Russo's book.
Jay: SWERVE! It's a cookbook.
OSW Review on Slamboree 2000, Ep. 34

"Do you know how many copies of the book The Death of WCW I've autographed [...] and when the people come up to me with the book, they're scared to death! And I'm like, 'are you kidding me, gimme the book, I'll sign it!'"
Vince Russo being a good sport (2006).

"Oh SHIT! It's VINCE RUSSO!"

Vince Russo, also known by his ring name Vic Venom, is a former head writer for the WWF, WCW, and TNA, and is one of the most controversial figures in Professional Wrestling history (and one of the few non-wrestlers in the business who generates such controversy). He is essentially to the wrestling industry what Rob Liefeld is to the comics profession.

Russo's biggest success was when he (along with Vince McMahon) was able to turn the WWF around during the Monday Night Wars with its "Attitude" branding, resulting in the company's biggest period of success since the Hulk Hogan era, and a resurgence in popularity for the industry as a whole.

He would try to emulate this success when he, along with writing partner Ed Ferrara, jumped ship to WCW in 1999. However, without McMahon's editing and input, his storylines were...variable in their quality. And that's putting it kindly. Not only that, he failed to realize that the WCW audience had different expectations than the WWF audience: instead of catering to them, he attempted to transform WCW into a poor man's WWF, which alienated the existing fanbase and put off any new viewers (who just switched over to Raw). Although the biggest factor in WCW's death was probably AOL Time Warner executive Jamie Kellner (who made no bones that he hated wrestling) being in charge of their programing, Russo's angles during 1999-2000 didn't help.

His infamy is such that when it was announced that he had been re-hired by the WWE in 2002, the rest of the writing staff threatened a walk-out. As it turned out, Russo was swiftly demoted a few days later after a "big idea" he proposed bombed horribly; rumor has it that it would have been a restart of WWE's own failed WCW "Invasion" angle led by Eric Bischoff. He left for greener pastures at the fledgling TNA shortly afterward. (As a point of interest, Bischoff was hired by WWE a month after Russo's dismissal, though he eventually joined Russo at TNA). In 2012, Dixie Carter announced that TNA and Russo had mutually parted ways and that he would be replaced by Bruce "Brother Love" Pritchard. However, it was revealed two years later that Russo was still working for the company as an unofficial consultant, most likely because Carter had no one to replace him.note 

Having been a Professional Wrestling fan for so long that he proclaims to have "seen it all"note , Vince Russo's booking ethos is to try to shock and surprise the fans with something new. Unfortunately this usually amounts to something that doesn't make sense rather than something that is original, or something that the fans want to see. There is a reason why he is the Trope Namer for Shocking Swerve. Another issue is that he constantly tries to outsmart the Smark fans: the problem here is that the Smarks — due to being Smarks — don't buy it, and regular fans are just confused by things like wrestlers "breaking character" or references to backstage incidents that only hardcore fans would know.

Ultimately, Russo's "creative" output will give an observer the idea that his writing is done from a play book (or trope book, if you prefer) the size of a religious pamphlet, and that he has relied on this limited source of potential ideas for the majority of his career within professional wrestling, rehashing the same concepts and ideas from multiple companies with multiple (and sometimes, the very same) characters.

He has his own webpage now, where he shares his thoughts on modern wrestling: http://www.pyroandballyhoo.com/. You should check it out. Or not.


Tropes and Signature Styles associated with Vince Russo:

  • Aborted Arc: Near the end of WCW, the Miss Hancock (Stacy Kiebler) pregnancy angle was started, and went precisely nowhere. Russo was the one who booked her kayfabe pregnancy, putting a quick end to her wedding to David Flair. Flair went on the warpath, challenging any wrestler he suspected of fathering Keibler's "baby". The plan was, according to rumor, that Vince Russo had booked himself as the daddy[!], but Time-Warner pulled the plug on WCW before it could play out; instead, the angle was abandoned and she was made Shawn Stasiak's valet for a brief feud with Bam Bam Bigelow as the promotion died.
    • This would have been followed by Ric Flair "announcing" that Stacy was the "product" of an "affair" he had had some 20 years before, which would have made her and his son David "half-siblings." (Shades of Stephanie McMahon.)
  • Ascended Extra: Russo got his start by operating and hosting an AM Radio show called Vicious Vincent's World of Wrestling; the program folded within a year after the crank calling from listeners got out of hand. From there he got hired a writer for WWE Magazine under the pen name "Vic Venom", had his own segment on the show "Livewire", and even commentated on a handful of episodes of "Shotgun Saturday Night".
  • Arch-Enemy: Jim Cornette hates Russo so much, he ceased consumption of his trademark Wendy's triple cheeseburgers and went on a diet. Why? So he can live long enough to outlast Russo and piss on the man's grave.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Perhaps the biggest example in the industry, rivaled only by Paul Heyman. Like Paul E., Russo began in journalism, and is one of few (non-wrestler) bookers that most people can identify by name. Under McMahon's moderating influence, Russo was a useful sounding board for the company's demographic.
    • Russo (who had enough on his plate) was unhappy with Turner Entertainment for foisting WWF veterans out of retirement in 2000 to enliven WCW. He was delighted, however, when his boyhood crush, Golden Age valet Miss Elizabeth, returned from her sabbatical to appear with him on Nitro and Thunder. Though Elizabeth insisted on a clause in her contract allowing her to decline working in the ring (she was then forty years old), Russo managed to book her into some brawls with the Nitro girls (and later, for some ungodly reason, Hogan and Lex Luger). Russo himself had a short-lived feud with Elizabeth's stable, Team Package, and fought her twice in May of 2000: once in a cage match, and again in a tables match. Both ended with Liz kicking him in the goolies. They apparently didn't get on backstage.
    • Nearing the end of tenure at WCW, he "won" the World Title, pratfalling his way to victory over Booker T in a cage match filmed in Russo's hometown of Long Island. It's good to be the King.
    • As a downside, Russo—a layperson—suffered post-concussion syndrome as a result of his many matches against the likes of Goldberg (who speared Russo through a cage wall in the aforementioned match), Steiner, and others. Yes, wrestling's most colorful and unpredictable booker suffered brain damage on the job.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Russo's booking moves at an extremely fast clip, often cramming weeks' worth of swerves and feuds into a 3-hour block of television, with titles changing hands so fast you'd need a speed camera to count them all (23 title changes in 2000 alone). Almost nobody ever wins cleanly, with constant interferences and run-ins from both the face and heel stables.
  • Author Appeal: Russo loves pole matches. For some reason he thinks that all non-gimmick singles matches are exactly alike, and so he puts objects on poles to make the matches different from each other. This means he doesn't just book pole matches for titles, but for the strangest things - a pet rat, a pinata, Viagra, Judy Bagwell (no, really; though this was on a forklift), and the keys to Mick Foley's office are just a few of the things that have been at stake in those matches. One particularly strange storyline from towards the end of Russo's time with WWE revolved around the Big Bossman kidnapping and cooking Al Snow's pet dog Pepper. This inevitably involved a "Pepper on a Pole" match with the leftovers in a styrofoam container on top of a pole. Yes.
    • Even as far back as his early WWF days, Russo's hunger for behind-the-scenes drama was powerful, and it reflected in his angles. This would prove a natural fit for Impact and its faux-reality TV gimmick.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Russo doesn't need a gimmick in the ring; his voice is his gimmick, in the David Patrick Kelly tradition. He's almost never without his trademark NY sports team paraphernalia.
  • Catch Phrase: "I sweah to gawd!", a phrase he is more and more associated with on the internet.
  • Challenging the Chief: In 1999, Vince McMahon got a call from his head writer informing him that not only was he no-showing at Raw that night, he'd just jumped ship to his competitor. Unbeknownst to anybody, Russo had entered into talks with TNT wherein he claimed responsibility for the WWE's renaissance and expressed his frustration with the politics in Connecticut, believing that McMahon had screwed him out of credit. Viewers would soon see for themselves what Russo would do with total financial and artistic freedom.
  • Crying Wolf: His reputation is such that, in response to a series of (very real) backstage incidents between Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle over the latter's ex-wife, many observers claimed initially that it was all an angle devised by Russo and refused to believe it was real.
  • Discontinuity Nod: When Rey Mysterio Jr won the 2006 Royal Rumble as the #2 entry, the WWE said it was the first time that someone won the Rumble as the #2 entry. This was a reference to the widely hated 1999 Royal Rumble where Vince McMahon won the Royal Rumble. The booker for the 1999 Rumble was Vince Russo.
  • Dramatic Unmask: During the Nov. 2002 NWA-TNA pay-per-view, "Mr. Wrestling III" revealed himself to be Russo in disguise.
  • Even Russo Has Standards: The infamous Bash at the Beach 2000 in Florida. After promising the crowd that Hogan would never darken WCW's door again (a promise he kept) and burying him the best he could, he booked Booker T. vs. Jarrett in the main event. See "Worked Shoot" below.
    • Whilst the angle would appear to be his doing, Russo isn't actually to blame for the Immortal angle. In a ReAction interview a few weeks ago, even he said he didn't like this storyline, and was just being pressured by Hogan and Bischoff to keep going with it. When Vince Russo, the worst wrestling booker in existence, doesn't like a crappy idea? Chances are you should not do it. Unless him disliking convinced them it must be good...
  • Evil Mentor: That goofy bit on Nitro where Russo became David Flair's "father figure", turning him against the fair-weather Naitch.
  • Follow the Leader: What Russo tried to do in WCW is to copy the WWF product into the company, but he failed. Despite becoming renowned for his unorthodox swerves, most of his angles are reheated versions of memorable WCW/WWE storylines.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Does the WWF's Terri Invitational Tournament, WCW's Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title, or TNA's Sports Entertainment Xtreme and Voodoo Kin Mafianote  ring a bell to anyone?
    • He's also credited with creating the name for TNA; he chose the acronym to help differentiate the company from WWE as a more adult-oriented product, since the company originally broadcast shows strictly on pay-per-view.
  • Gimmick Matches: Russo doesn't believe that one regular match can be better than another. Therefore, he uses these with damn-near obsessive regularity, especially "[X] on a Pole" matches, as stated above. Sometimes he'll even make a match with two separate gimmick matches stacked on top of one another, and usually with ridiculous stipulations attached.
    Wrestlecrap: After all, this was the man who would go on to create the Reverse Battle Royal and would probably have invented the Upside-Down Battle Royal if he had figured out how to cram cameras and lighting rigs under the ring.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Just three months into Russo's tenure at WCW, Time-Warner accountant Bill Busch had had enough of his car crash TV booking style and was offered a new creative "position" in a committee of non-entities, i.e. he went home and kept collecting checks. The final straw was when Russo pitched his idea to put the belt on serial felon Tank Abbott. But Russo's replacements failed to deliver, and a month later he and Bischoff were flown back to Orlando to "reboot" Nitro.
  • Global Ignorance: The infamous worked shoot in which Russo addressed his critics. On the topic of Russo's push of all-American wrestlers, he responded, "You you want Lucha Libres [sic]? Go to Japan."
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Russo believes that wrestling should be like this - that all characters should be shades of gray with no purely heroic faces or purely villainous heels. The problem with this potentially intriguing idea is that he's really not any good at it, and the characters he crafts tend to just seem wildly inconsistent in their behavior rather than morally complex.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Evidently taking notes from fellow heel Andy Kaufman.
  • Heel-Face Revolving Door: A trademark of his booking. It was so bad in TNA that not even Jeff Hardy had been immune to turning eventually, and by the time he did he hadn't played heel for almost a decade.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Where to even begin?
    • He still insists the Montreal Screwjob was a work, he defends giving himself the WCW World Championship, he defends giving David Arquette the World Championship, he insists that no American wrestling fan wants to see non-American wrestlers, and he doesn't believe in Face and Heel.
    • He more recently defended his love of pole matches by proclaiming that it's impossible for any one non-gimmick singles match to be better than a gimmick match(!).
      Wrestle! Wrestle!: The Pope is backstage and he's pushing a casket down the hallway. Because we're gonna have a Casket Match. Because Vince Russo figures, "Why have a normal match when we can have a Casket Match'?" (cue Krusty-like "eh? "eh?" face) Of course, whenever weird stuff like this happens in wrestling, I always like to picture the Pope sitting at home or sitting in a strip club, 'cause that's where he usually is when he's not in the Impact Zone. "You know what, daddy? I hate that Abyss guy. You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna go buy a casket." So he goes to a rest home and he buys a casket. Now, one wonders, he's shopping for a casket—he's wearing his Pope gear, because wouldn't you be? This would've been a good segment, by the way. This would've made the Casket Match worthwhile IF WE'D HAD A BUILD TO IT!
    • Tell him you want longer wrestling segments and less of everything else and he'll tell you everything else is what resulted in the high ratings. Yet when Nitro decided to cut back on wrestling segments to test this Raw slaughtered it by a 2.5 margin.
    • The first week of the "Second Monday Night War", Raw got a 3.6 rating. TNA Impact got a 1.5, leading to Russo including the following in his blog:
      "the bottom line is— TNA WON— period."
  • It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: WCW co-announcer Tony Schiavone addressed him as Vic VEE-nom in his entrances. Although, knowing Schiavone, it's entirely possible that he had never encountered the word before.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: One of Russo's (few) strengths is his ability to manage a large number of parallel angles and involve everybody in the roster in some facet of the ongoing story. If Russo's writing the show, everybody will have something to do, even if it's comical or makes no sense. (Unless they're Japanese; see "Patriotic Fervor" below.)
    Jay Hunter: Oddly enough, Russo is throwing Liz back into the Millionaries' bus with Luger in the drivers' seat. (What the hell was he doin' there? He's like, "All abooooooooooooard!"
  • Misblamed/Scapegoat Creator: The Impact Zone chant of "FIRE RUSSO!" at poorly-conceived matches or skits, regardless of whether Russo had a hand in it or not.
    • The first time the chant was invoked (Destination X 2007 during the Sting vs. Abyss Last Rites match, which featured a casket suspended from the ceiling which they called a Deathbed), Russo wasn't actually at fault. Dutch Mantell was.
      • Possibly averted-According to Dutch Russo told Dixie Carter that the match was his doing. See here Dutch defends himself. Given his history...yeah that was all Russo.
    • People also forget that Vince Russo is usually not the only person involved in writing or booking. In an interview regarding his disastrous decision to put the WCW World Heavyweight Title on an actornote , Russo recalls that he proposed the idea (originally from an off-hand comment by Tony Schiavone) at a booking meeting filled with industry veterans and staff workers alike. Everyone involved not named Vince Russo recalls that the room erupting into laughter at Tony Schiavone's joke—and it was only afterwards that Russo decided that the joke was actually a great idea. Sadly, no one with the authority to veto the plan did so. Arquette himself hated the idea; as a wrestling fan, he thought the idea insulting. He ended up donating all the money he made to the families of deceased wrestlers and the then-recently paralyzed Darren Drosdoff.
    • Russo himself claims that all the times the "Fire Russo" chant has been heard have been with segments he's not involved with. Of course at the same time he claims that all the negative things attributed to him during his stint in WCW is wrong, and he defended the "No contest in a steel cage match" fiasco.
    • A tragic example: Some people blamed Vince Russo for the death of Owen Hart. While Russo came up with the harnessing spot, no one could have foreseen the tragedy that happened at the 1999 Over the Edge PPV. Hell, even Russo blames himself to this day for letting Owen do that spot (Steve Austin even mentioned comforting him and reminding him it wasn't his fault during the Owen tribute show). But it was an accident and let's leave it at that.
    • A more light hearted example: He wasn't responsible for angles like Katie Vick or Mae Young giving birth to a hand, as he had left the WWE by the time these angles hit the screen.
  • No Fourth Wall: Likes to use insider terms on-air, something expressively forbidden in other venues.
    "I guess dis is da paht where I'm supposed da play da chickenshit heel, right?"
    • Al Snow and the J.O.B. squad. They are jobbers...who job. GENIUS.
    • invoked The best example of Russo's influence on WCW could be seen with Jeff Jarrett weeks into his debut. Jarrett declared himself the "Chosen One" and renamed his finisher "The Stroke" (hehe!).
    • There are obvious shortcomings to this approach: such as when Buff Bagwell faced La Parka on Nitro in 1999. (Seen here.) Bagwell, glancing at an invisible watch, stood there like a store mannequin and refused to sell anything La Parka threw at him before finally lying down for the pin, complete with a comical shrug take. After the bell rang, Bagwell could be spotted leaning over the ropes to query, "Russo, did I do the job right?"
    • Always. Be. Shooting. This is the ultimate tool in Russo's arsenal, as well as the perfect shield: When the smarks start complaining, and all else fails, tear the whole universe down. Russo deployed this tactic to justify some of his more radical decisions, such as placing the Championship Belt (or "prop", as Russo emphasized it) on actor David Arquette. WWE is no stranger to this type of controversy, inducting such luminaries as Drew Carey into the Hall of Fame, yet the company refused to drop the act even for a second.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity:invoked He defends the David Arquette title reign by arguing that since people are still talking about the angle (and Russo himself) nearly a decade later, it was a success and a "money-maker". Because no-one ever talks about or makes movies about bad things that have happened in history...
  • Paranoia Fuel: invokedOnce you've been swerved a dozen times, it's hard to believe anything that comes out of Russo's mouth ever again.
  • Patriotic Fervor: From the fountain pen of Vinnie Ru himself, WCW booker (1999):
    I'm going to tell you something right now that you will absolutely not agree with, but I've been a wrestling fan my whole life and I will live and die by this. It's hard enough, believe me, I write this shit, it is hard enough to get somebody over. You will never ever, ever, ever, ever see the Japanese wrestlers or the Mexican wrestlers over in American mainstream wrestling. I'm an American. If I'm watching wrestling here in America, I don't give a shit about a Japanese guy. I don't give a shit about a Mexican guy. I'm from America, and that's what I want to see.
  • Poe's Law: A number of wrestlers interviewed in The Rise And Fall Of WCW have claimed that, at the time, they suspected Russo was sent in undercover by McMahon as a "poison pill" to sabotage the company. He was so bad at his job, people thought he was trying to fail.
  • Post Modernism:
    • Frequently attempts this by blurring the line between Kayfabe and reality. The problem is that he's just not that good at it. Other, smaller promotions, like Chikara, have experimented with post-modernism in wrestling with much more critical success.
    • It falls on both sides of the fence. Believing his audience was composed of people who "figured out" pro wrestling, all he has to do is monkey wrench their expectations and do something that leaves people saying "I don't think I've ever seen something like that before!" Detractors like to claim that Russo's reliance on style over substance disguises the fact that booking matches is one of his biggest weaknesses. Hence, "Always Be Shooting." Hence, gimmicks that effectively break the framework of the show we're watching. And that's something no one wants to see.
  • Power Stable: He was the Big Bad in WCW for the Powers That Be and the New Blood.
  • Random Events Plot: If you're lucky, you may see an explanation for one of Vince Russo's plot twists, but don't count on it. He values stories that are confusing over stories that make sense.
    The Death of WCW: Nitro had become the equivalent of Ed Wood's cult flick Plan 9 from Outer Space.
  • Sex Sells: Thanks to his Fun with Acronyms approach for naming his Power Stable in TNA, this was the name of their entrance theme.
  • Take That: After Russo left WWE, he's apparently been obsessed with bashing them every chance he gets, both in WCW and TNA.
    • And before that, he was doing the same thing to WCW when he was working for the WWF in 1997-1999.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Russo's belief when he was booking WCW.
  • Worked Shoot: Especially during his time in WCW, even though few if anyone really believed that what they were seeing was supposed to have been "real."
    • His public firing of Hulk Hogan at the 2000 edition of WCW's Bash at the Beach event in Daytona Beach is his crowning achievement — though it still resulted in Hogan suing WCW. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed in 2002.
    • According to Eric Bischoff's book, Russo firing Hogan was a shoot. In the WrestleCrap book, it is claimed that Daytona was a worked shoot turned real shoot. ("oh no, I've gone cross-eyed.") Almost everything went to plan, but Russo's shoot on Hogan was far more biting than they previously agreed on; it topped with Russo calling Hogan a "big, bald son of a bitch" — and Hogan is notoriously touchy about bald jokes.
    • Also, the ludicrous Kevin Nash vs. Scott Steiner vs Bill Goldberg match at the New Blood Rising 2000 pay-per-view. Russo promoted this as a 'real fight' between the three men. Not a Street Fight, or some other no-disqualification type match; but a shoot involving an actual, 3-way brawl between wrestlers who hated each others' guts (in real life) and refused to job (i.e. willingly lose) to one another in the ring — so they would "just fight", instead. This blew any sort of Suspension of Disbelief for casual fans, because if it was a "real" fight, then what about all the other matches on the card between supposed rivals (and for that matter, every other Pro Wrestling match ever) — were they all fake, then? If you've read this far, you know the answer.
    • Then came the match itself, which played out in standard Pro-Wrestling style, with no hint of spontaneity. The only nod towards "reality" was Goldberg, who didn't come out at the start of the match and, when he did arrive, "refused to cooperate" with Kevin Nash, not letting Nash Powerbomb him. He then walked out on the match, which led the commentators to remark that he had "deviated from the script". *slap!*
    • So just to be clear, this was a real-life fight between three men who hated each other except it was actually a scripted wrestling match which became real when one of them deviated from the script and then became fake again when the other participants finished the match, but it was still more real than any of the countless other fake wrestling matches the company had staged.
    • Apparently this idea was so ingenious he used it again. The very next month. Fall Brawl Promo
  • The Wonka: Russo was de facto vice-president of WCW for a year after Bischoff's suspension from Turner Broadcasting, answering directly to a Time-Warner figurehead.
    • When he left WWE for greener pastures, he parlayed his experience as an Monday Night Wars veteran to bargain for more creative freedom than ever, and was revived as booker for the EV 2.0 promotion. At one time in the company's history, he was rumored to be TNA's third-in-command, beneath Dixie Carter and Jeff Jarrett (and also Hulk Hogan, once he became TNA's GM.) between 2002-2012; possibly beyond even that, judging by in-company correspondence.
    Jerry Jarrett: He obviously has qualities that I donít recognize or understand. How can a person who has a 15-year history of failure still keep a job?
  • Writer on Board: Especially throughout his run in WCW, and his 2002-2004 run in TNA. This may have been due to him thinking he could recreate the magic of the Mr. McMahon character. He even awarded himself the W.C.W. Heavyweight Title.