The Hart Grapevine – Top 10 Worst Authorities & Executives In Wrestling History

The opinions and views expressed at or through this article are the opinions of the designated author (Smith Hart) and do not reflect the opinions or views of PWMania.com or the opinions or views of any other individual.

I am repeatedly asked why the wrestling business isn’t as good as it used to be. “I used to be a fan, but I can’t watch the crap I see today it’s not the same.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that wrestling as a whole has been on a consistent decline for many years. 2014 may have been the worst overall year in wrestling history chalking up major failures including the WWE network rollout, TNA losing its deal with SpikeTV, The CM Punk fiasco as well as Vince McMahon and his co-horts becoming further out of touch with what is relevant in pop culture amongst the youth of today. Maybe I’m wrong but I like to believe that the abundance of time I spend with my children as well as my connected presence online allows me an old school perspective but also an understanding of what the modern audience is seeking. I may not have all the answers, but understanding how we got here is the first step in fixing the problems in order to maybe one day see the business flourish again as it once did. Thus this whole article is written with the goal in mind of exposing those that have orchestrated the most damage done to the business from my perspective.

10. INDEPENDENT WRESTLING
I start at number 10 with the independent wrestling scene as a whole. I realize this is a blanket statement likely set to infuriate many of you who live and die by the independent circuit. And yes I do realize there are a small few number of promoters who are working to better the circuit one show at a time, but by far and large, the Indy circuit is an embarrassment to the wrestling business as a whole whether it be the 110 lbs. kid in gym shorts and a t-shirt, pulling thumbtacks out of his ass and telling the audience to “fuck off” or Indy promoters who are the biggest marks themselves running shows just so they can book themselves in main events, the unprofessionalism and lack of organization in Indy wrestling has been successful only in removing the pro from pro wrestling. I’d love to be able to put a single person on trial, but unfortunately this is a problem that infects thousands worldwide and ultimately has been effective in driving hundreds of thousands of paying fans away from the business burning town after town. I don’t mean to sound outdated but an organization like the NWA prevented many of these upstarts from ever getting into wrestling by organizing and collaborating resources. The industry needs an organization like that today more than ever. But trying to get 5 promoters in a room to agree and collaborate is an impossible task. Now try organizing thousands worldwide. Again not to sound outdated, but I remember a time when 40 promotions were running full time across North America alone providing full-time employment to upwards of 30 wrestlers each and giving those who were privileged to be a part of our proud and noble industry options. Options that simply don’t exist anymore. How many Indy promotions globally today run full time or provide full time livable wages for anyone?

9. JOHN LAURINAITIS
Despite every other promotions positives and negatives, WWE generally has done good business since its global evisceration of territory wrestling. Even though the most elementary of wrestling fan could poke dozens of holes in the overall WWE product and creative, the company still managed to hit numerous homeruns and keep their business hot. That was until young John Laurinaitis replaced the venerable Jim Ross as Head of WWE’s Talent Relations. Perhaps no executive within the 35 plus year history of WWE/F has been more inept and useless at their job than the former Dynamic Dude. From helping to create the toxic environment that still exists today to signing lackluster talents or in some cases even the wrong talents. I’ve heard stories from him signing the wrong one-legged wrestler when creative heads requested to have Zach Gowen under contract, to signing a group of midget wrestlers when the creative team asked for cruiserweights like Sin Cara and Daniel Bryan. The role of talent relations is perhaps the most difficult and thankless job in all of pro wrestling being the conduit between talent and creative and executives. But whereas men like JJ Dillon, Jim Barnett, Jim Ross, Terry Taylor and today’s Triple H have all been able to meet the challenge to varying degrees, unfortunately Johnny Ace could not. During his tenure we saw the tragic deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Neither death deserving to be held to him, but the aftermath of which saw numerous decrees and changes in policies that effectively neutered the WWE talents and created the toxic work environment. The biggest lackluster legacy left behind by Laurinaitis would be that over his 8 year run as an executive, nobody he signed became a top level marketable superstar breaking through the glass ceiling with the exception of CM Punk who did so despite management and not with them. How Ace and his department managed to drop the ball on talents like Ted Dibiase Jr., Vladimir Kozlov, Carlito Colon, Elijah Burke, Colt Cabana and my nephew Harry Smith is beyond comprehension. How do you miss on a can’t miss talent?

8. DAVE MELTZER
This will likely be a controversial pick as I know many will disagree with Dave ever making a list like this. My argument with Dave is that he more than anyone exposed the secrets of the wrestling business to the currently known internet wrestling community; I realize that if Dave hadn’t done it someone else perhaps a Wade Keller or Bryan Alvarez would have. But is this necessarily a good thing. As opposed the to pre-Meltzer era, where fans went to shows and just enjoyed them, we are today left with a business where everyone is a critic or a fantasy matchmaker, griping over every aspect of the business (Yes I understand the irony of that statement). At least with a Bill Apter, who is in my opinion, the greatest wrestling journalist of all time, he would protect the business, Meltzer seems hell-bent on exposing spoilers, hot-shot guessing future events and overly criticizing products after it happens if his guesses don’t come true. Why wrestlers or promoters in 2015 still indulge this closet mark is beyond me as he’s responsible for inspiring a generation of half-intelligent morons to follow in his footsteps creating the internet age of dirt sheet gossip and podcasts where every person with a computer feels compelled to shit on wrestling to have their voice heard (again realizing irony), but his work as an opinion columnist/podcast host/spoiler has done more damage than good. However counter-balance I do appreciate his contributions as an author/historian.

7. ROB BLACK
I may be giving this porn reject more credit than he is worth but I am using this idiot as a generalization for every other moron that would ever promote this same shit wrestling. In the aftermath of ECW, many of the lesser talented wrestlers found themselves out of work. The hardcore garbage wrestlers who had no idea of basic fundamentals but instead resorted to ridiculously gimmicked stunts and leaving blood and body parts on the canvas for little to no reason. Once upon a time “Hardcore” matches were the culmination to a long built and constructed storyline between 2 ultimately talented wrestlers who would escalate their violence to an ultimate conclusion. Unfortunately Paul Heyman, the brain trust of ECW dissolved that philosophy, making hardcore a pun rather than a culmination. In fact I contemplated placing Heyman himself on this list, but counter-argued that his contributions otherwise balanced him off this list. At least with ECW we still saw talented wrestlers like Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Shane Douglas, Chris Candido, Bam Bam Bigelow and many others on the show as well as great character development and compelling storylines. As opposed to companies like XPW and the hundreds of shitty ECW copycat promotions who’s soul focus was on the gore and shock of hardcore desensitizing audiences and escalating violence to a whole new level and in turn jeopardizing the long term health of those that actually can wrestle as was dramatized in the Oscar nominated film The Wrestler. Those running budget hardcore companies trying to relive the glory of ECW, please stop, ECW is dead and even Heyman himself has spoken out against those that can’t let it go.

6. MICHAEL BOCCHICCHIO & ROB FEINSTEIN
Yes I have a tie for the number 6 slot on this list. That’s because each man has contributed equally to this tort. I realize as a society we are prone to enjoy gossip and being let behind the curtain to see all the “dirt” but the creation and the explosion of the shoot interview has taken the backwards hillbilly image of wrestling and flushed it 10 sewers deeper. Without this controversial medium both Michael & Rob would be nothing more than ticket buying fans themselves, but opportunity, cluelessness and greed created a perfect storm for them to take advantage of down and out of luck former wrestlers to jump start the sale of the rubbish that is shoot interviews. In 2015 it seems more controversial to speak out against the shoot, but I’d argue that it’s nearly impossible to see this same medium from any other industry, sports, entertainment or otherwise, which I feel has done more to diminish people’s opinions of wrestling rather than enhance it. When the biggest marks in the audience are making more money out of wrestling than the wrestlers a serious problem exists. Frankly it makes me ashamed to have my name associated with wrestling.

5. HULK HOGAN
Another certainly controversial contender, no doubt. I recognize that Hulk is one of the biggest draws wrestling has ever had, drawing record attendances and helping to create the boom that ignited wrestling in the 80’s for superstars to make more money than they ever had before, and still is a definitive draw some 30 years later. I’d even argue Hogan’s name to be on the Mount Rushmore of wrestling. As a talent he is one of the greatest ambassadors of our business. But there is a darker, shadier side to the immortal one. A business man, only out for himself who has lead the path of destruction on numerous projects. His greed and un-willingness to do business properly lead to a talent deficit in the early 90’s WWF. His politics and greed within WCW helped contribute to the hundreds of millions of dollars lost on a company that was at one point considered unsinkable and those losses no doubt contributed to the sale and unemployment of hundreds of WCW employees. Amongst other failing ventures Hogan has lead include, Xtreme Wrestling Federation, Celebrity Championship Wrestling, Hulkamania Australia, Spaghettimania, Hogan Knows Best, a horrible film career and even worse porn career. Despite the dismal and disappointing nature of all of these Hogan lead projects, the worst was his partnership in TNA which inevitably lead the struggling company off the ledge. Almost a sense of irony that those responsible for the destruction of WCW were hired again 10 years later in TNA to repeat their destruction.

4. JIM HERD
I’m sure there are those that would be surprised that the former head of WCW is not ranked higher. Herd was hired from being a Pizza Hut executive to being the first president of WCW after Ted Turner purchased the company from Jim Crockett promotions. What being a Pizza hut exec did to qualify him for such a position, I will never know, but I don’t think anyone could have been a worse fit for the position than Herd. WCW was an otherwise successful company drawing well and producing a great product when Turner took over aside from bleeding money trying to match WWE’s travelling schedule. Comprising an incredibly talented roster, perhaps even the most talented ever collected, with the resources and distribution of Turner networks should have been a slam dunk that even the most elementary of wrestling minds could have reaped the benefits of. Instead Herd, butted heads instantly and intentionally with everyone he worked with, increased spending, decreased revenues and created some of the worst gimmicks of all time which included, Big Josh, Ding Dongs, Black Blood, Yoshi Kwan, York Foundation, Firebreaker Chip, Vinnie Vegas and a sleuth of others. This was the first but most glaring example of people who come from a background outside of wrestling business who come into it with a position of power and thinking they know better, fucking up every step of the way and leaving the business in a far worse position than when they found it.

3. DIXIE CARTER
Perhaps no one encapsulates the definition of a person with too much money and no brains more than “Ditsy” Dixie Carter. Over the 10 years she has funded and run TNA into the ground, she has had access to every major talent and executive within the industry, as well as being afforded every opportunity for success by her television and pay per view partners. In fact I can’t conceive of any other wrestling operation in history which has been given more opportunities for success yet failed. As stated earlier TNA’s biggest failure came with hiring the same crew that put WCW out of business a decade earlier and expecting different results. This would be like granting Charles Manson parole and then being surprised if he organized a new cult to kill people. Over the decade she has had access to all of the top minds in modern wrestling including Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman, Jim Ross, Bruce Pritchard, The Jarrett’s and even Eric Bischoff along with many others all of which were more than capable of making TNA a competitive organization but each stigmatized with Dixie’s horrible leadership. She has been offered buyouts of her struggling promotion by investors each time thwarted because of her insistence that she remain the head of the (dis)-organization. I’ve often wondered why someone chooses to lose money like that without regard. Some could argue that she has remained in business despite failing at every opportunity thanks to Daddy’s Billions, keeping some employed. But her biggest impact on the business won’t be felt for years to come. SpikeTV invested millions into the TNA property and afforded it every opportunity to thrive. Call me pessimistic, but I doubt any major television organization will ever invest like that into a non-WWE wrestling property again due to her ineptitude. Without national TV exposure, it’s an impossible task to ever compete with the global juggernaut, WWE. And as the world moves further online and away from television distribution a major competitive promotion seems unlikely to ever get to that position again. Hopefully I am wrong.

2. JAMIE KELLNER
Not really a wrestling guy per se, but his crime against our business put hundreds of people out of business with the tip of an eraser. Despite everything else that happened in the well-documented failure of WCW, it was ultimately Kellner that pulled the final plug on the company. Yes horrible creative and atrocious business decisions likely made it the easiest decision of his life. Yet I feel the worst decision made by Kellner was not as much the sale of WCW itself, but the fact that he sold to Vince McMahon as opposed to Eric Bischoff and Fusient Media. I’m not claiming Bischoff could have salvaged WCW, but at least he could have had a chance to do it. All Vince did was sweep the company under the rug. Many would say that Vince would be the asshole in this situation and perhaps there is some validity to that, but you can’t necessarily blame him for winning the war and reaping the spoils of. Kellner’s disdain for wrestling and diabolique ending to it forever changed the landscape of the business for the worse. For further info on the death of WCW, I do recommend the book Death of WCW by Bryan Alvarez which I realize may sound counteractive to my number 8 pick on this list.

1. VINCE RUSSO
Without even a shadow of a doubt, no single entity has done more or worked harder to destroy professional wrestling than Vince Russo. I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with his booking of my brother’s death. I’ve listened to hundreds of Russo interviews where he lays out his side saying he loved Owen and all Owen had to do was say he didn’t want to do it and the stunt would have been called off. Yet I remember Owen calling my parents earlier in that week, explaining that he was nervous about the repel. When my mother asked him why he didn’t refuse, Owen replied that Russo had told him that if he didn’t want to do it, that there were plenty of others that could take his spot. I was in the room, when Owen had said this to my mother. I realize there was no intent to murder Owen, but it was shitty creative and horrible booking that put him on that ledge. J. Bruce Ismay didn’t crash the Titanic, but it was his actions and his directives that led the ship on a collision course with an iceberg costing thousands of people their lives. Unfortunately sometimes some people get placed in positions of authority that have no business being in that position, and inevitably disaster occurs. Although Vince McMahon has absolute liability because he is the boss, no one is more responsible for Owen’s death than Vince Russo. From a logical stand point in booking, if Vince McMahon is hell-bent on destroying Steve Austin in the storylines, wouldn’t it have made the most sense to send after him, the person that supposedly broke his neck and did the most damage to him. From a booker’s point of view that would be another slam dunk angle, but instead Russo’s half-witted ideas for Owen included making him a black separatist, making him a goofy klutz, to have Owen have a crush on Debra McMichael effectively cheating on his wife and returning to the blundering Blue Blazer gimmick chasing a midget around. I wish Russo was man enough to go explain his actions today to poor Oje & Athena who’ve had to grow up without their proud loving father. How would his kids feel growing up without a Dad? On top of the death of my brother, Russo also took a company (WCW) that was making hundreds of millions of dollars a year profit and lost $65 Million in one year. Russo likes to claim ratings were higher during his run in 2000 WCW, but what he fails to ever answer for is his hot-shot booking which destroyed WCW’s pay per view business. We can curse Turner executives like Jamie Kellnar for signing the death warrant, but Russo’s leadership gave them little to no option. $65 Million loss and he was only in power for 8 months. How he ever gained employment again is beyond me, but Ditsy Dixie would continuously hire the reprobate back year after year no matter how many “FIRE RUSSO” chants echoed through her almost half-filled venues. Even when SpikeTV executives made it clear he was not to have anything to do with the product, she stood behind him. I’ve met Vince Russo and he is actually a very charming man, very likeable to speak with. That doesn’t mean he is a talented writer let alone booker. When SpikeTV found out, sure enough negotiations ceased and TNA was degraded to not much more than a glorified Indy wrestling show on cheap cable access. Like any propagandist, Russo still clings to the success of the WWF during his run in 98-99, but I ask you the fans was it really Russo’s creative that brought you in every Monday night or was it the incredibly stacked roster of superbly talented wrestlers working at their highest capacity all at once that brought you in every week. A roster that was built by Jim Ross not Vince Russo. A roster that included the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, Undertaker, Kane, Owen Hart, Edge & Christian, Degeneration X, Ken Shamrock, APA and many other super talents all performing at their peak. I’d love to sit and vent about every horrible booking decision Russo ever shit out of his brain, but that would likely be a 3-Volume book on its own. Ultimately he has been a tornado of destruction through wrestling and not until my cousin Roddy Piper took him to task on his recent Pipers Pit podcast has he ever taken a shred of responsibility for the destruction he caused. Vince if you happen to read this, my offer still stands you and I one-on-one, raise money for Owen’s foundation. Pay the penance for your crimes.

Some may disagree with this list and that’s fine. It’s simply one person’s opinion. Others may disagree with the fact that no one with the last name McMahon was added to this list. My defense in leaving the McMahons off this list is despite a heavy handed list of strike outs and bombs left by the family, the fact is they have employed more people over a longer period of time than anyone else in wrestling, providing higher wages and a grander stage creating more market value than anyone else. This doesn’t excuse their respective failure but, it does provide the argument that they have done more good than harm which is the opposite of anyone on this list. However check back with me in a year or 2, and that very well may change.

I always value feedback either public or private, so please feel free to share your ideas and lists back with me in the comments section below. My next article will feature the top 10 minds that benefited wrestling.