It sometimes seems like the more powerful a person is, the less likely they’ll be willing to admit they aren’t perfect. This trend is especially prevalent in the professional wrestling business, where a promoter, booker, or other sports entertainment executive taking culpability for an idea failing to take off can very easily cost them their jobs and earn a lifetime blackballing from the industry. For this very reason, only a handful of men (and almost no women until very recently) have managed to hold important positions of power in a mainstream wrestling company.
As the owner and CEO of WWE, Vince McMahon has held on to his role in the wrestling world for decades longer than the average promoter, and yet he, too, has made more than a few questionable decisions over the years. Much like most of his contemporaries, Vince has always been hesitant to admit when things went wrong, although there have been a few instances where he did just that. In fact, almost every wrestling executive has been able to accept that not every idea they had was entirely perfect, some more than others.
Certain names like Eric Bischoff are even open about the fact a whole lot went wrong while they were in charge, albeit while usually still trying to spin things as never being as bad as it looks in hindsight. To find out which promoters are self-aware and which ones are too insecure to acknowledge imperfection, keep reading to learn about 15 times wrestling executives actually admitted they were wrong.
15 Vince McMahon – WWE Ignored A.J. Styles For Too Long
Such is the nature of live television and a demanding audience that great performers can occasionally slip through the cracks and miss out on the spotlight. Granted, that’s not exactly what happened to A.J. Styles in the 14 years between his first WWE tryout and when he actually signed a long-term deal to compete for the company. Vince McMahon and his varying executives were all aware of Styles on some level, particularly when he was the top star of TNA and NJPW, earning rave reviews from every wrestling publication of note. However, for reasons that remain unclear, McMahon himself simply felt Styles wasn’t worth pursuing on an aggressive level. That all changed in 2016 when Styles finally made the jump to the WWE Universe, and it took him less than 9 months to reach the peak of the industry as WWE Champion. As someone who doesn’t have time to dwell on the past, McMahon has always been relatively silent when it comes to his regrets, yet even he was willing to acknowledge it would have been better for everyone involved if he realized A.J.’s potential a lot sooner than he did.
14 Bill Busch – WCW Never Should’ve Let The Radicalz Go
There are plenty of moments one can point to when talking about what killed WCW, and while the departure of the Radicalz wasn’t the death knell, it was definitely a sign that the writing was on the wall that the glory days were over. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko were all younger talents ready to break through to the mainstream at the time, and all of them believed the news Kevin Sullivan had been promoted to head booker of the company meant their chances of ever becoming main eventers had virtually ended. On the contrary, Sullivan claims to have heavily advocated for all men backstage, but their personal relationships with him were so negative they, along with Shane Douglas, Billy Kidman, and Konnan, all approached WCW Executive Vice President Bill Busch with various complaints. Busch took a scorched earth approach to the situation, offering them all unconditional releases from their contract, which Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn, and Malenko all took. It was only a matter of days before they all appeared on Monday Night Raw, WWE instantly turning them into the stars WCW never had the faith they could be. In turn, it wasn’t much later before Busch admitted he totally blew it on that one, giving the competition new workers while making his own company look weak.
13 Eric Bischoff – Chris Jericho Deserved A Bigger Push In WCW
Because of a constant desire to show up WWE coupled with an almost unlimited bankroll courtesy of Ted Turner, the WCW roster was one of the widest talent pools ever assembled in an American wrestling company. There were cruiserweights, foreign stars, celebrities good and bad, and countless nWo’s, the downside being it was especially easy for certain deserving talents to get lost in the shuffle. Eric Bischoff and other WCW executives missed out on plenty of opportunities over the years, and the one name that always stood out to Easy E was Chris Jericho. It was well known at the time that Jericho butted heads with higher profile WCW stars, specifically Goldberg, almost forcing Bischoff to push him aside in favor of the more important cash cows. In hindsight, however, Bischoff was able to acknowledge Jericho came up with some great ideas, and the work Y2J eventually went on to produce in the WWE Universe made it clear he was far better than the opening act crybaby WCW made him out to be for just a little bit too long.
12 Bill Watts – WCW Misjudged DDP’s Work Ethic
One of the most controversial wrestling executives in history, Bill Watts only reigned over WCW as the company’s Executive Vice President for a few short months in 1992. Watts was heavily criticized for his old school attitude, blatant nepotism, and alleged racism, albeit also earning praise for crowning the first black WCW Champion in Ron Simmons. Showing his stubbornness, Watts is often quick to defend himself against the negative accusations associated with how he handles business, he was nonetheless able to admit not everything went perfectly during his tenure working for Turner. Specifically, Watts acknowledged he was occasionally all too ready to dismiss a worker he didn’t see as a potential star, namely “Diamond” Dallas Page. In Watts’ defense, DDP was no more than a manager trying to become a wrestler at that time, and it would be a few years before he took off. Still, it was true that DDP had more to offer than what Watts was booking him to do, making this small act of contrition valid if not as important as some of his bigger issues as an executive.
11 Vince Russo – WCW Bash At The Beach 2000 Was A Mess
For all the success World Championship Wrestling managed to achieve in its short 13-year existence, the company was never known for their long term planning efforts. WCW Monday Nitro was often booked hours before the show if not while it was actually happening, and Pay-Per-Views were rarely thought out more than a month in advance, if that. For this reason, the producers of Bash at the Beach 2000 had absolutely no idea what was happening when Jeff Jarrett laid down and threw a WCW Championship match against Hulk Hogan, and Vince Russo running to the ring to start yelling about how Hogan was bald didn’t help clear things up in the slightest. The exact purpose of the match and subsequent interview has been long disputed, with Hogan and Russo differing on what they believed the payoff was supposed to be. Either way, the actual result was Hogan feeling Russo crossed the line with what he said, and when Russo was slow to call him about his return, he stopped caring about it and left the company altogether. Although he still seems to believe things would’ve worked out great had it gone the way he originally planned, Russo was at least able to acquiesce that the situation could have been handled in a much more professional manner.
10 Eric Bischoff – WCW Should’ve Let DX Invade Nitro
Throughout the Monday Night Wars, both WCW and WWE made a number of questionably direct attacks towards one another that often had a tendency to backfire in the worst way. WWE very nearly made the biggest mistake of the era when they sent D-Generation X to invade an episode of Monday Nitro on April 27, 1998. Immediately upon their arrival at the arena on the back of a tank, WCW shut the doors on DX and security forced them to leave the area. Had DX actually been allowed in the building, the WCW wrestlers most likely would have legitimately attacked them, and highly outnumbered, DX wouldn’t have stood a chance in the fight. The publicity WCW could earn from such a scenario would have been overwhelming, enough so that Eric Bischoff later called not letting DX in the building the biggest regret of his career. While Bischoff also acknowledged he would probably feel bad about what legit tough guys on his roster like Meng or Dave Taylor might do to a hyperactive invading Billy Gunn, he also accurately believed putting the war on television would have been what every fan wanted to see at the time.
9 Jeff Jarrett – Patience Is A Virtue In TNA Wrestling, Too
Pretty much from the moment Jeff Jarrett and his father Jerry announced they were planning on using the NWA brand to create an alternative to WWE in 2002, insiders considered what would eventually become TNA a laughing stock of the industry. In certain respects, the company has been able to greatly defy expectations and produce spectacular wrestling programming, yet by and large the assumption was correct, as TNA has been a shining example of mismanagement that even made WCW seem competent at its worst. Despite this perception becoming incredibly widespread throughout the industry, the only people to completely deny it are TNA execs like the Jarretts and Dixie Carter. While neither Jerry nor Dixie have publicly admitted any wrongdoing to this day, Jeff has in the very least been able to acknowledge he wasn’t the best promoter in history, specifically because he lacked the patience to create a proper payoff. In his defense, by creating a weekly Pay-Per-View schedule, the early days of TNA needed to be exciting and hard hitting on a weekly basis, which sometimes meant giving away marquee matches faster than the storylines could properly justify them.
8 Paul Heyman – Jerry Lynn Deserved The ECW TV Title
When ECW was at its most popular, the company turned the term cult audience into a literal expression, with many fans treating it like owner and head booker Paul Heyman could do no wrong. The truth is, had that been the case, ECW would still be around today and not merely a fond memory accessible to subscribers of the WWE Network. That said, the majority of Heyman’s mistakes took place backstage or at the bank rather than in the ring, Heyman’s booking always able to remain highly respected until the bitter end. Chief amongst his accomplishments was making Rob Van Dam one of the most popular wrestlers in the country despite having a considerably smaller audience than WWE or WCW, and yet it was also with Van Dam’s nearly two-year ECW Television title reign that Heyman himself believes he made a rare mistake. Roughly halfway through Van Dam’s tenure as TV champ, he started a lengthy feud against Jerry Lynn over who the real “F’n Show” was. In a manner of speaking, their war never really ended, serving as the final match of the final ECW PPV. The mistake isn’t the lack of a payoff, though – in retrospect, Heyman thought Lynn deserved a run as champion somewhere along the way to really heat things up between them.
7 Kevin Sullivan – Feuding With Benoit Over His Wife In WCW Was An Awful Idea
Although Bill Busch felt bad about losing the Radicalz to WWE, the story should have made it clear he wasn’t entirely at fault for the decision. Far more integral to the issue was Kevin Sullivan, who more than once was the head booker of WCW. He also happened to be the ex-husband of Nancy Benoit, and the love triangle between her, Sullivan, and Chris Benoit was almost entirely his fault…as a writer. There may have been something going on before anyone is aware, because it was actually Nancy who suggested an angle between the three of them, seeing her cheat on Kevin with Chris as part of the feud between the Dungeon of Doom and Four Horsemen. It didn’t take long for life to imitate art, and Nancy actually left Kevin to marry Chris in 1997. Chris and Nancy’s romance would ultimately prove to be one of the most important in wrestling, leading to the aforementioned departure of the Radicalz, although this isn’t the real reason why the couple is so infamous. Approximately a decade after Sullivan booked them to get together, Chris murdered Nancy in their home, also killing their young son before taking his own life. Obviously, Sullivan isn’t to blame for anything that happened after he left the story, but it still makes sense he would feel bad about ever introducing the two, a fact he’s confessed on several occasions.
6 Vince Russo – WCW's Jim Ross Parody Was In Bad Taste
Media wars tend to be far pettier than the real thing, and the Monday Night Wars more than lived up to that reputation. The lowest of the low came in late 1999, when writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara jumped from WWE to WCW with the intention of “saving” the company. Fans were expecting major changes and hoping for the best, but what they got was bizarre, rushed, and painfully insensitive angles that had little pay off and rarely made sense. Far and away, the most offensive was the gimmick taken up by Ferrara himself, a blatant parody of Jim Ross called Oklahoma. Instead of focusing on JR’s excitability or folksy colloquialisms, the “parody” was confined almost entirely to his Bell’s palsy, making what could have been a vaguely funny idea horribly insulting. Making matters worse, despite fans instantly rejecting the character, Russo and Ferrara apparently enjoyed it enough to push Oklahoma all the way to the WCW Cruiserweight Championship, killing the belt in the process. In the very least, both Russo and Ferrara have apologized to Jim Ross since WCW went under.
5 Eric Bischoff – The nWo's Four Horsemen Skit Hurt Feelings
Defying all logic, the New World Order was in many respects both the best and worst thing ever to happen in WCW. The outlaw organization brought WCW mainstream attention that the wrestling world had never seen, and yet it also eventually grew out of control and caused such turmoil backstage that half the roster hated going to work every week. Probably the first true warning sign that things might be getting out of hand came in September 1997, when nWo members Syxx, Kevin Nash, Buff Bagwell, and Konnan parodied Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Curt Hennig, and Steve McMichael respectively, directing the worst of their attack at Double A, who retired the week prior. The real Flair and Anderson were so upset they had to be restrained from rushing to the ring and legitimately attacking the nWo for the act of disrespect, and fans have remained split over the ordeal ever since. Were the Horsemen overreacting, or did the nWo step over the line? While there’s no real consensus on the issue, for what it’s worth, Bischoff himself has included the segment amongst his several regrets in charge of WCW, noting he never meant to hurt Arn’s feelings.
4 Jerry Lawler – Funk Should've Won The CWA Empty Arena Match
Territorial wrestling is a different animal than WWE or any of the companies to attempt and compete with the McMahon’s, with the smaller reach of a given promotion meaning the most diehard fans can attend virtually every show they put on with relative ease. Because of this, promoters have to be careful not to blow their biggest payoff matches on a show in a small arena, considering the biggest fans will do whatever it takes to see it the first time, and casual fans won’t care if they try and run it again and again. Jerry Lawler learned this lesson first hand during his legendary feud against Terry Funk, which ended with an unforgettably brutal Empty Arena Match in April of 1981. Or at least that’s where it should have ended, since Lawler earned the definitive win, and even though they weren’t in the arena, all of the fans got to see it for free on TV. Knowing The King could easily defeat The Funker, no one was interested in a rematch, and any attempt at reigniting their war was met with diminishing returns. In simple booking 101, Lawler later realized the heel is supposed to win the violent hardcore match through nefarious means, so everyone wants to watch the babyface get revenge live and in person.
3 Vince McMahon – WWE/ECW Champion vs. Champion Match Was Petty
On a number of occasions, Vince McMahon has lied through his teeth and pretended his business philosophy was to always help himself without hurting the competition. There are countless examples of him explicitly attacking the NWA, WCW, and smaller territories, not to mention constantly stealing ECW talent, thus preventing even a promotion that was his ally from achieving mainstream success. Worse than stealing away ECW Champions was the time Vince hired had one lose to the WWE Champion in less than five minutes on an episode of SmackDown, making the promotion look less than second rate, to say the least. The unfortunate ECW franchise player at the time was Tazz, once considered the toughest and most destructive athlete in Paul Heyman’s promotion. Looking back on The Rise and Fall of ECW on the DVD of the same name, McMahon expressed contrition over the situation, realizing it might have contributed to ECW going out of business. Truth be told, the ultimate death of the company had more to do with Justin Credible taking the title from Tazz than Triple H making the belt look meaningless, but the squash nonetheless made The Human Suplex Machine look extremely weak, pun intended.
2 Jim Ross – Dr. Death Was Past His Prime In WWE
Looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, many wrestling fans erroneously tend to believe WWE was batting on all cylinders during the Attitude Era. There were actually plenty of downsides to the hottest stretch in company history, notably the Brawl For All tournament, a series of shoot fights between WWE superstars. The idea was flawed from the start, rejected by fans as uninteresting, and the unpredictable way it played out on screen made it seem like more of a mistake each passing round. Worst of all, the sole purpose of the tournament was to turn Dr. Death Steve Williams into a main event level star. Owing to exactly how uncertain the tournament was, Bart Gunn knocked Williams out in the second round and later went on to win the whole thing. The original plan was for Williams to propel his win to a feud with Steve Austin, something his advanced age and deteriorating skills made highly unlikely even if he hadn’t been embarrassingly knocked out. As is often the case in the wrestling industry, Williams was only given the role because of his connections with management, namely a longstanding friendship with Jim Ross. Years later, JR acknowledged he was somewhat blinded by his friendship, and that Dr. Death might not have been the best choice for a challenger to Stone Cold in the first place.
1 Eric Bischoff – Maybe Mick Foley Did Put Butts In Seats…
Eric Bischoff has popped up on this list almost an admirable amount, showing a much stronger grasp of the human condition than most others who achieved similar roles in sports entertainment. With that in mind, it makes sense he would also be able to cop to one of his absolute biggest mistakes, and indeed one of the biggest mistakes of the Monday Night War: informing fans Mick Foley was about to win the WWE Championship on the January 4, 1999 episode of Monday Night Raw. Upon Bischoff’s instruction, Tony Schiavone made the announcement Mankind was beating The Rock later and thus fans should stay tuned to Nitro instead of flipping the channel, sarcastically scoffing “that’ll put a lot of butts in the seat.”
The dismissive comment backfired in a major when a reported 600,000 viewers changed the channel during that quarter hour. Not only was this definitive proof wrestling fans were more interested in what WWE had to offer at the time, but it also caused seriously hurt feelings between Bischoff, Foley, and Schiavone, furthering the industry perception that WCW was mismanaged by bitter and angry sharks. All in all, the damage was enough to be considered one of the most pivotal moments in the war, and part of why WWE ultimately won. Though Bischoff doesn’t think it was that important, he does admit it was a petty, unprofessional move, and one that nonetheless hurt him far more than it helped.
Sources: WWE, IGN, Wrestling Inc.