Former TNA Employees Voice Their Thoughts On Vince Russo
Four new chapters from Barbaric Wrestling Radio host Brett Buchanan’s free TNA e-book The Genesis of TNA have been released on BarbaricWrestling.com and TNAbook.net. The new chapters are about Sting, Kurt Angle, Vince Russo, the possibility of TNA being sold, and the Knockouts. Also check out free shoot interviews with Christian, AJ Styles, Chris Sabin, Rob Van Dam, Samoa Joe, Rampage Jackson, Jay Lethal, Devon, and many more to come on Barbaric Wrestling Radio’s YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/BWRofficial. Below is an excerpt from The Genesis of TNA ‘Chapter 22: Russo’s Return & The Knockouts’ about Vince Russo’s return to TNA in fall 2006. You can read the rest on BarbaricWrestling.com:
Kurt Angle coming to TNA may have been the biggest story in TNA in September 2006, but there was also a massive creative team overhaul which coincided with Angle’s signing and TNA’s new primetime timeslot. Scott D’amore and his booking committee were out of power, and Vince Russo returned to TNA after two years to work on creative with Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell. Russo had previously left TNA in 2004 to explore his newfound religion. He launched a short lived religious wrestling promotion called Ring of Glory, but otherwise he stayed away from the wrestling business. Russo returned in 2006 because he felt Jarrett needed his help, especially with Jeff’s wife Jill beginning to enter the final stages of breast cancer (Jill later passed in May 2007). Russo’s return was met with mixed reactions backstage.
RUDY CHARLES: That was a time where they’d had that booking team in play [with Scott D’amore]. It’s one of those times where all the sudden there is Vince up at the office, I’m not sure what’s going on. I come to find out they had kind of had a shake up and the creative team is now Jeff, Dutch, and Vince. I had always liked Vince, I was glad to see him back. I thought he in a lot of ways breathed some new life back into the product you know. Each guy has their own philosophy so he kind of took it in a different direction. It was interesting and exciting times.
SONJAY DUTT: I thought okay obviously it’s going to be different I knew that the concentration that Scott had on matches was pretty much going to be done with that regime just because of what they favor over what Scott favors. But I didn’t think it was bad, I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t think this is going to be a negative or a positive I just thought hey this is different and maybe this could be advantageous to me, maybe it could be advantageous to X-Division guys because this regime is a little bit more character driven, more personality driven, more vignette driven shit like that so maybe this is good for us. Ultimately you could say that it was, we all got characters, we all got personalities, and we were all presented in a much different light than we were in the past regimes that were in power.
BILL BEHRENS: There’s always been a pocket in the industry that have difficulty with the Vince, and the basic difficulty that people have with Vince is that some of the beliefs he has are inconsistent with what a lot of us believe to be true. With that said Vince also has good ideas and is a talented man, and coming in to help write the show with Dutch and Jeff, and I learned a good bit about what little I know about booking from Dutch Mantell having worked with him in the earliest part of my booking experience at USWA when he took over for Mike Samples. So I always had great respect for Dutch in general as a booker, and Vince really was the guy that was writing the show Dutch and Jeff were more booking the show. Vince really, and Vince will say this point blank, until July  he never was booking. People were on the committee and called the booker whether it was Jeff or Scott D’amore.
DAVID YOUNG: Actually we were all happy about Russo coming back at that point because most of the young guys were getting pushed when Russo was there so we had [dealt] with the D’amores and everybody else so we actually had high hopes when he came back in.
LARRY ZBYSZKO: The politics always kept changing, and then all of the sudden out of the blue Russo is back. Half their friends were back then everything got weird so I played golf and took a break…When Russo came back I just kind of shook my head because I realized TNA wasn’t going to go anywhere quick, because I know what their philosophy is.
PETEY WILLIAMS: At that point there was so many booking changes, like Jeff was in, then Dusty was in, then Scott was in, then it’s like okay now who is in charge? Okay Jeff’s in charge again, oh and Dutch. And now they’re not in charge, and Vince is in charge? It [was so] different all the time, at that point I was like alright somebody would hand me a sheet of what I got to do for the day and I was like just get it done.
Once the creative team of Jeff Jarrett, Dutch Mantell, and Vince Russo took over the product went in a different direction, based more on gimmicks than the wrestling based product Scott D’amore and Mike Tenay championed. One thing that happened that surprised many fans was that immediately after taking over booking Jeff Jarrett removed himself from television and never was in the world title picture again. There were many controversial storylines and gimmicks at the time including the former New Age Outlaws going under the name VKM, Voodoo Kin Mafia. VKM are the initials for Vincent Kennedy McMahon. VKM would trash WWE and their new version of DX and many fans thought TNA came off as desperate for attention with the storyline. Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley formed the Motor City Machine Guns in 2007 and became a fan favorite tag team, despite never holding tag team gold until 2010.
Sting and Abyss also began a feud which involved many infamous gimmick matches and a storyline where Sting said he knew Abyss had shot his own father in the back three times, sending him into a coma. Then Abyss’ manager brought Abyss’ mother to the Impact Zone and said Abyss’ mother had actually shot his father and that Abyss was just trying to protect her by saying he did it. Mitchell later brought in his “son” Judas Mesias to feud with Abyss. Before researching this I actually thought Mitchell was Abyss’ storyline father, but I got that confused with the Undertaker, Kane and Paul Bearer WWF storyline. At some point Sting and Abyss were having a match at a PPV which prompted the first “Fire Russo” chants. Despite Russo’s infamous reputation in the business many wrestlers noted how open he was to working with talent on their characters and storylines.
RUDY CHARLES: I sat in on every creative meeting for three and a half years. I think people were quick to blame too much on Vince, it was a three member booking team. Ultimately Jeff had the veto power, but if Vince felt passionately about something or Dutch did they would explain their side of the story. Sometimes Jeff would say okay let’s try it that way, sometimes he’d say no I really think we really need to do it this way.
PETEY WILLIAMS: So Team Canada broke up and we did our first PPV in Detroit [Bound For Glory 2006]. So I was in a battle royal match, no big deal. I asked Vince, I had just moved to Orlando, I think he had just got the book again, I said hey Vince what have you got for me am I on TV’s [or] whatever, he’s like oh yeah stop by The Impact Zone and we’ll talk if we got time. I was like oh great, I just moved to Orlando and now it’s like I’m getting the cold shoulder, so I’m like whatever. So then I’m the last man in the 20 man Battle Royal, and I come out the place goes nuts. I get in the ring and I do the [Canadian] Destroyer, the place goes nuts. I get eliminated and I come to the back, I’m watching the next match and Vince comes up to me and he says hey Petey good stuff out there, he’s like hey man I have a great idea for you, listen stop by the Impact Zone on Monday or whatever it was tomorrow, he’s like I want to sit down I want to go through some ideas with you, and then he leaves. I’m like is that what it takes, he saw that I was over and that the fans liked me, and that’s when he tried to turn me into a United States character, you know he spent a lot of time with me trying to work on that character and it didn’t go well so he stopped fighting for the character and stuff. A year passes by and at the next Bound For Glory Vince was like you know Petey, we’ve got to come up with a character for you. It was kind of like this is it, if this doesn’t work I don’t know what to do with you. So then that’s when we came up with the Maple Leaf Muscle character, I pitched that to him and he loved it. He gave me some promo time and then he loved the backstage promo and he was like hey Petey listen, he’s like this character that you are doing back here in this promo, if you don’t portray the same character in the ring this isn’t going to work. I’m thinking like man I have a match tonight this is the only time I can do it, so I go out there it was like a four way match Scott Steiner was in there I had some interaction with him. I get backstage and Vince is standing there with a straight look on his face and he goes hey Petey, come here. I’m like oh shit, he goes why didn’t you tell me that you could do this earlier? Oh my god this is great, we could team you with Scotty down the line, and I’m like oh thank god.
SONJAY DUTT: They asked me what I wanted to do character wise and I presented them the character I always wanted to do that Bollywood superstar, I wanted to come to the ring and do a whole dance number like Bollywood movies and this and that and they told me that at the time Ron Killings was imitating Hollywood movies or something and it was too similar, I don’t know. They had some ideas for what they wanted to do with me and Russo personally asked me my opinion what I thought what I felt, from there the Guru [character] was born and we worked very closely from that point on.
CODY DEANER: [Russo] was very open, and very willing to talk with you. It was refreshing for me as a new talent coming into a big company. I’d never really worked extensively with a national company before and I was kind of expecting to have to pitch ideas to a middle man or have to go through somebody but that wasn’t the case. I would talk with Vince Russo himself backstage, I would correspond with him through e-mails. He was very approachable and very willing to be acceptable of creative ideas from talent. He was excellent to work with.
RUDY CHARLES: It’s funny because some of the stuff [internet fans] blamed Russo on was a Dutch idea or Jeff idea. You can’t win sometimes.
PETEY WILLIAMS: Russo used to make fun of [Steiner] right to his face. He’s like you know what we’re taking one take whatever you say, we’re taking it. [Scott] is like no no no, I don’t want to stumble with my words. Vince is like no man that’s good. He’s like you have all this pent up frustration you want to release it. [Scott] is like I don’t want to look stupid! [Vince] is like no this is good this is great.
CODY DEANER: We were handed, I don’t want to call it a script, we were handed a format a quote on quote, with what was the gist of whatever we were trying to accomplish but I was told specifically numerous times from Vince Russo himself that the things that were written down were not my lines I had to memorize and do. He wanted me to be myself, get the same ideas across but in a creative way in a way I thought Cody Deaner would do it. That was really nice because I’ve heard horror stories from the WWE, you know you’re handed a script. I’ve seen [WWE scripts] and I’ve been there because I’ve done work with the WWE and been backstage and seen guys being handed a script, and seeing them walking around backstage and memorizing their lines. TNA is not like that.
RUDY CHARLES: There was definitely some memorable stuff going on at that time, some good stuff I thought some of it wasn’t so good. I think for the most part, Vince’s philosophy I guess has always been kind of throwing an arrow and seeing what lands. I think a lot of stuff was pretty good back in those days, as the ratings were kind of going up and up at the time.