Bill Watts Explains How He Would Have Handled a CM Punk Situation
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 02.04.2014
Plus his thoughts on Jake Roberts and more...
- Bill Watts recently spoke with Busted Open about a variety of topics. Check out the highlights:
On how he would have handled a situation like CM Punk's walkout: "(Laughs) Well you know, the main thing is that--the only thing you really used to have in wrestling was your word. And so you had to have some character, some principle. And most of the guys did. Long ago, what really disturbed me was sometimes when somebody would walk out, is not just what they did to the promotion and everybody that was there that were supposedly their friends; if they were on top or the people who got them up there. But maybe that they left a motel bill or a hotel bill or owed somebody some money. And then that's them tarnishing the whole business, the whole industry. Finally realizing that I wasn't just passing through but that I owned the promotion, so I wanted to be able to leave it to where it was always highly thought of and highly spoken of. So I designed way back contracts where we required a certain amount of notice. If a guy was on top it was five weeks. And the other thing I did is I paid two weeks late. So I had two weeks of their money. I never used that just out of hand but if somebody did something like that where they walked out in such a childish manner just because they were unhappy. You can be unhappy. I mean that's just part of the game; being unhappy. But the beautiful thing was of course back then was there were so many different options. You could just go to another office and go to work. But you had to--how you left the previous one; that spoke maybe to your principles and your ethics. So we had ways to help offset that and occasionally we had to use it. But most of the guys, they realized their word was their bond. And they realized the industry they were in. They realized people had sacrificed to put them over; to build them up. And so if they really had a thought, they didn't want to leave. And plus you really learn as time goes by not to burn your bridges. You know, you run out of bridges. But in today's world it's a lot different and a lot of the kids don't get that education. They're not around each other like we were. We spent a lot more time around each other. You know the trips back then; most of them made by car. And so there was a lot of time for guys to get to know each other. And then also there were a lot of problems going out that way. A lot of guys that get themselves all--their feelings all hurt on the trip or something and then also we had the guys that always were the greatest card shooters in the world. They could beat everybody in the car. (Laughs) Well they thought they could. There were a lot of things about it but that is so bad. I feel sorry for the guy that did it because what he is doing to people who he claimed were his friends. And certainly I feel sorry for the promotion."
On how he would deal with running a promotion in the modern era: "Well I think you have to run it like a business. And you know people always want to criticize that and most of the guys that want to criticize that have never been there. They've never been in that position. And I used to tell guys all the time; I was born at night, it just didn't happen to be last night. And I also told them I was never giving anything. But if they want to have their own business, I applaud them. Go out and buy it. Go out and invest in it. Earn it. And then see how you would run it. It's so funny. A guy that was a tremendous critic of mine at WCW; I saw him when they honored Jim Ross in Oklahoma City. And they happened to bring me in there and we talked. And he--the first thing was he apologized and we talked about business. And I said well, you became a promoter. I said you learned things are a little bit different on that side, didn't you? And he just laughed. You see, he'd grown up because he found out how things worked. And that's always a fun thing to do, to see. I had guys that got so mad when they left me, they just be so mad and blah, blah, blah. I've had them call me up years later and say I just want to apologize cause I'm so sorry I didn't realize what all you were teaching me. But what you still learn in the business and that's what I tried to do. It really and truly wasn't about trying to punish anybody. That's not the goal. It's just learning the business and I expect you to be responsible. You know I expected you to be in the dressing room an hour before bell time. It's amazing even when I was helping out Vince (McMahon) for that short period of time that I went up to help him out. Some of the guys got to the TV tapings so late that--you know cause guys today; if it's a 10 minute match, it takes them an hour to talk it. Which just floors me. It just floors me that it takes so long to talk just a match! And I always think, my gosh! I wonder how did we do this? Cause I remember I was in a storm where they were canceling all the flight reservations. And I was flying into Jackson, Mississippi. And we finally hit it. It finally had broken open. And it was just on fire and it was sold out, I mean they were canceling flights. Then I switched it to Memphis and everything was canceling and I called the promoter and said I don't know if I can make it. And he said you've got to make it. He said we've got a complete sell out here. So long story short, I did make it. I got in about midnight. And the sheriff's department was there to pick me up and I changed clothes in the car. And the fans had stayed. They reran and reran and reran those matches every Wednesday, you'd figure they be tired of them. And hell, I was wrestling The Spoiler and Gary Hart was his manager. And we went in there and had a two hour free-for-all match. We had double juice, we had everything. And we were in completely opposite dressing rooms. There was no way that I could ever talk anything over with him. And I'm thinking to myself how would these guys have made it? If they can't even talk a 10 minute match less or not. Cause they choreograph every move! I don't know how you do that. I mean it's just--to me it's just ludicrous. But that's the way it is now. All credit still to the guys. They still want to be everything that the business speaks of. They want to be that. They want to be the best. They'll work their butts off. I've got no problem with that. But it's just now the business has changed. And I just can't get over how it is. So there's a lot more things but I still as far as personal responsibility; if you're promoting a big show, you need to know that everybody's there in the dressing room. Why? Because if there's something wrong where somebody isn't making it, so you can make adjustments. The next thing is--one of the things that I enforced happened to me in the business. I'd seen it in the business. You see the things you like and you saw the things you didn't like. And I saw a lot of bad things. I saw back in the New York days where they were playing poker in the dressing room. And a guy would get to losing, he wouldn't want to leave the dressing room and his whole mind was on the poker game and the money he was losing instead of the match. So when he'd come in the ring, he was so disappointed over the game and all he wanted to do was get back to it. So therefore in my area all cards had to be put away an hour before the matches. I don't care if they play cards or gamble. That's up to them but I want them concentrating on the business. And I've heard every excuse in the world as the reason to be late. And I just said look I can't fine Delta Airlines because Delta was late but I can fine you, you should've taken an earlier flight. It's your responsibility to get to town and be there on time and be prepared for these matches. We've got a huge investment in you and a huge investment in that match. So we ran it like a business and they understood. And most of the guys really appreciated it. A few didn't. And you can see what happened to their career."
On whether being unable to go to another territory or federation if your character gets stale being a major obstacle today: "Well certainly it is. I told Vince when we'd visit quite a bit while I was up there. And again I had such an easy time working with him cause he books the same way I do. He books out to where--he books the matches to where he wants to be. And he figures them and works how to get there and then how to go on past it. Well that's what you have to do. So Vince is an extremely talented booker. But that's one of the things I said to him. I said the biggest mistake you made was killing off the little guy. Because now you have--you have no where to go to get new talent. And the sad thing about what his set up is--is that his set up is that they're exposed. They're exposed nationwide; they're exposed everywhere. And I don't care who the fans are: if you have chocolate cake every week, you get tired of chocolate. You want somebody or something else. So really by killing off all the little places, where you could have had talent stashed and you could've had them learning and growing and everything else--and he admitted that. He said now that I see that, but it's hard to go back and change something around once you've already taken it in a certain direction. But that's a huge problem for him as how it works. And also to that guy whoever he is who walked out, he should realize possibly that's gonna bite him in the butt. But then today it's amazing to me is how short-term the memories are--well not really it's always been that way. The promoters have a short term memory often if they think you can make them some money. You know, they are going to bring you back in the fold and try to take the money. So a lot of that stuff is just a product of it. But still to me, there were a couple of good friends of mine that their words became no good. And I'll never forget one of them who--I ran into him at Dallas Airport. And he said hey boss why don't you use me anymore? And I said cause your word's no good. I said let me buy you lunch, let's sit here and shoot the breeze. I like you as a person, but your word is no good. You're playing a game. You're hijacking promoters. You agreed to a deal and then you come to town, check the gate, then you raise your money after you walk away on the building. So people know who it would be double hurting to the promotion and to the fans because they knew you were there and you decided to walk. And so those kinds of things, that sometimes--a lot of people get excited and think boy he's really a fantastic guy because he doesn't kiss anybody's ass. It's not about whose butt you kiss, it's about how you conduct your business."
On reuniting with legends and old friends at the Mid-South Legends fan fest during Wrestlemania 30 weekend: "Well I'm still the boss and if (Jim) Cornette's not careful; I'll slap him! (Laughs) Oh let me tell you, it will be thrilling. The couple of Hall of Fame inductions that I've gone to, that alone has been so thrilling. I was just—the one in New York, I hadn't seen Paul Vachon since we were in Minneapolis together. There was one guy who came up to me. He was just an underneath guy on the card. He says I was on the card with you in Pittsburgh 50 years ago! So that's priceless to see people. I had a girl wrestler come up to my wife and I and say you were the only promoter in the years I worked that told me how hard you thought I worked and thanked me for working so hard. Things like that, they're just beautiful things that happen. And the guys that you're talking about are gonna be there. We were in Jackson, Mississippi about a year ago and Ted DiBiase came out and we sat and talked for over an hour while my wife was conducting some business. So these things—these things are just wonderful when you get to share with the guys. And especially my era because many of them are passing on. They're transitioning. I just feel blessed when I get the opportunity to see one of them before they go on. Dick Murdoch; who was so important, tremendously important in my career in Mid-South; I got to see him a couple of months before he passed away. And Gary Hart had been calling me every week before he passed. And Skandor Akbar and I would talk quite a bit. And you realize that some of these guys, you may not see them tomorrow."
On Gary Hart: "Well Gary Hart was just fabulous. He and I had such good chemistry with each other. Gary was managing The Spoiler, when I first bought into my promo—the first promotion I bought into and Gary and The Spoiler came in. And Gary would never come to the arena empty. And that's so important. So many guys don't understand how important it is to think about the matches that you're booked in. So that you possibly had some ideas if you get asked, the direction you would like to take it or go in. Or the best way to go there. I mean that's huge to be a part of, of what you're doing. And so that's one thing I guess that I had learned very, very early is I always had concepts and ideas. And I was unconscious about it. A lot of people said well we knew you were always going to be a promoter. I never knew that. I never realized that. But I did know that I always thought about the matches I was in because you were wanting naturally to make as much money as you could. And the best way back then was the longer you could stay in one place to make the money, the more sense it made because every time you moved, it cost you money. So anyway I always had ideas and I was always thinking and I always had two or three ways to go with it depending on which way the promoter wanted to go. And a lot of times that ended up with me getting a lot of matches that I maybe wouldn't have gotten because I had an idea and the promoter hadn't thought about that perspective yet. Well Gary was the one who never came to the arena empty. He always had ideas. So early on, he and I would talk and I would tell him the direction I wanted to go. Make no secret the direction I wanted to go so he knew it. And then we would come together and figure out how we wanted to do it. And Gary always protected the personality of who he was managing with his ideas. And did the same thing in Florida. So Gary was extremely, extremely important to me as a human being and as a person and I enjoyed so much working with him. And I got to do a lot. I got to work with him of course when he was with the Japanese guy--in Florida--before the Great Kabuki, we had Pak Song Nam and we had Hart's army and we did something that has never been done in the business. We had billboards all over Florida with a bounty on Jack Brisco and Dusty Rhodes. And that's where we made Dusty Rhodes into the American Dream, was Florida. So Gary Hart was an integral part of all that and a dear, dear guy. And even that airplane that he was in--I flew Buddy Colt's airplanes for him, down to Tampa. And then of course that crash was so traumatic because you know again, I had flown Buddy's plane for him down there and Gary was in it. And of course that's the wreck that Bobby Shane died. Bobby Shane was another interesting, interesting guy! Boy, he was so much fun to play off of. Well that's what you would learn sometimes is the guys that you really could work with, had a chemistry. And it would make it interesting if they could draw money. I didn't have to like them. I wasn't dancing with them. I wasn't out swapping spit with them but we had to have a mutual respect. But with Gary Hart, it was an easy guy to be around."
On Dark Journey: "She was a hot number. As a matter of fact there's one person out there that's always planting and saying I had a relationship with Dark Journey. I never did. I never had any relationship that way with Dark Journey but it wasn't because I didn't want to. (Laughter) She and I just didn't have that kind of chemistry but she was a friend as far as you could talk the business with her. So I enjoyed--I enjoyed the time with her. I haven't seen her since I sold out my company. I don't remember if she was still with us when I sold it. But I haven't seen her in forever. But the bottom line is I did enjoy the business with her. So and there was a lot of great people like that. The one that was married to Gordon Nelson. She was a neat, neat gal. Matter-of-fact, her son became one of the tough amateur wrestlers; even did the Russian-type Sambo. And I just can't think of the last name right now. Sometimes the names get away from me for a little bit. But--Kay Noble. She was a great girl wrestler. God, she was a tough girl. When she hit somebody, she hit them just like a man would."
On Jake "The Snake" Roberts: "Well I certainly wish him well and I hope that this time it's for real. I know he's had these turnarounds and I think it's been questionable if they been real. So I hope it is for his sake because at one time Jake was somebody you enjoyed to be around. As a matter of fact, we had set up for Jake a really good position with WCW. But then he went back and he slid back. And I'm just going to say this, that it's a tough thing. It's an extremely tough thing; substance abuse. My own family, I've had to deal with it. It's the hardest thing in the world because you try to appeal to them logically but there is no logic. Because you're talking to the substance. And it's the most heartrending, horrible thing I've ever had to deal with. The Von Erich family for instance. The things that they went through as a family. I mean that entire tragedy. One of the hardest things was the fact that Jack never could get his hands around the understanding that his children; that his boys had become drug addicts. And that whole thing was just so--because those were good kids! They really were and then what happened to them. So we've seen the drugs and we've seen what's going on with it. And I know why Ted DiBiase; I talked with one time. He was trying to relate to me how many guys that passed away and there's been some substance abuse involved in wrestling in the last 20 years. And I've had a lot of friends that have lost their sons and that's been the underlying factor. It's just a scary, scary thing. But there's a lot of things challenging the kids today that fortunately you know--I was glad that when I was in college, all we had was beer."