This week’s episode of Grilling JR with Jim Ross and Conrad Thompson covers WWE Royal Rumble 2001. This show happened shortly after ECW closed down and during WCW’s final days.
Here are some highlights:
There was talk of Shawn Michaels coming back to WWE in 2001. Ross was asked why it didn’t happen until 2002: “I’ve made several trips to San Antonio to talk to Shawn and his then manager and lawyer, Skip. I can’t remember Skip’s last name but he was a nice man and a really good guy. My pitch to Shawn was always that you can’t allow your legacy to end this way. You have put a bad taste in people’s mouth, either inadvertently or premeditatively. I don’t know and I don’t really care. But right now, the perception of you is not so positive. For a guy that’s considered to be, along with Ric Flair, the two greatest in ring performers of all time, that’s just not right. It’s not right for you. It’s not right for your fans. It’s not right for anything. So I said the bottom line for me is I just want to get you back in the fold. If you maintain the attitude that I’m seeing now, you can be a great help. You can be an influence. He is an influencer. He is a boyhood hero for a lot of these cats, these kids. I said you can be a big benefit without ever taking a bump. But you can tell by the twinkle in his eye that he loved that challenge so to speak. He wanted to give back and he wanted to change his image and the perception he had acquired. But, there is no doubt that he wanted to be back in the ring. He had the ego, which is great. Ego is not a bad thing. He had the confidence and the ego that he wanted to go back and prove that he could still do this. I said this when he came back a year later that he didn’t miss a step. He was the best guy we had on the roster as far as working bell to bell. He was as good as anybody we had after being dormant for all those months and years. It took a while to get past the physical obstacles, the medical issues, the psychological issues and all those things. But I thought let’s not talk about this. We just need to remain diligent and give him time and have the patience for this to become his idea.”
Ross talked about his perception of a lot of ECW talent that WWE signed: “I’m sounding like I’m down on ECW and I’m not at all. I signed a lot of their guys. But, I can tell you from my experience, working with many, not all, but many of the ECW guys I hired, for whatever reason, they came out of that environment untrusting and half a*s paranoid about every decision made. That may have simply been a facet of the leadership there. Paul was a young manager. Paul was high strung. Paul knew what to say to get past that moment. ‘Where’s our checks?’ Well, you will never believe what happened.”
Ross talking about the politics Taz went through in WWE: “I brought Taz in. I thought he was an attraction kind of guy. I thought he would do us a good job if he was booked in the same basic mold that he was booked in ECW. The one thing about Paul Heyman who is brilliant, there is no doubt about it, is Heyman had the ability to accentuate the talent’s positives and disguise their negatives. Paul made Taz so strong that you forgot that he was 5’8”. He was not what the business was getting a regular diet of. He was thick. He was athletic. He was a strong guy but he was short. I’ve battled that whole thing many times with other talents, Jericho, Benoit, Malenko, Eddie. I saw how the audience believed in Taz. I was definitely in the minority. So I guess at the end of the day, Vince trusted my judgment but then he got unconvinced. I don’t know if it was after meeting Taz. I have no idea. I really don’t know. But, bottom line is he fell out of favor and a lot of people that he could have drawn money with, believed that selling for a guy that is 5’8” didn’t make any sense and people would not believe it even though Taz could probably whoop their ass in a real shoot, but we weren’t shooting. We were working. Nobody could have had a better debut in Madison Square Garden from a guy from Red Hook, Brooklyn, all that s**t then Taz got and he beat Kurt Angle by submission. He choked his ass out. People thought his suplexes were dangerous and all this other stuff. So a lot of the talents went back to Vince and said they don’t want to work this guy because he’s dangerous. They would tell me that, but they would tell Vince that. He heard it enough that a lot of the top talents were uncomfortable stepping into the ring with Taz that he finally took it to heart. Taz got hurt and tore a bicep or tricep, I can’t remember what it was. I think Bruce (Prichard) and I were talking to him after that show and he was worried about getting cut because he had to have surgery. He almost just got there seemingly. I said you are going to get your checks just as if you were working. He looked at me incredulously like I was bull shiti*ing him. I think enough of the top talents convinced McMahon that Taz was not a good hire and he was limited on what he could do, his suplexes were dangerous, blah, blah, blah, and so he fell out of favor and eventually became a broadcaster. But if you want to mess with somebody, have a 20 second match in the Royal Rumble.”