Interview With Chuck Palumbo

Chuck Palumbo

20 years on from the WCW Invasion, Inside The RopesKenny McIntosh recently caught up with former WWF and WCW Tag Team Champion Chuck Palumbo to chat all about the WCW Invasion, the reaction of WWF stars and much more.

It’s 20 years on since the Invasion, so it’s only right that we talk to Chuck Palumbo! How are you doing?

I’m doing well. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

It does not look like it’s been 20 years for you! I need to get your skin care regime.

Oh, thank you very much. I don’t know. Maybe genetics. I’ve got to thank my mom and dad for that. I’m going to be 50 in less than two weeks. My birthday is June 15th, so I’ve got 10, 11 days left.

Well, if I look like you at 49, I’m doing something right, Chuck.

So the first thing I wanted to ask you about was early 2001. You guys, the Natural Born Thrillers, think that Eric Bischoff is going to buy WCW, he does a press release and it’s all happening. Did you feel like, when Bischoff gets WCW, maybe it would be better for you? What was the internal feeling for you guys in the locker room at that point?

We were excited. We didn’t know for sure it was going to happen. We were hearing a lot of different things, but we wanted to believe that.

We knew Eric was a great mind. I knew Eric was a great mind for the business. I knew he wanted to develop younger guys. I thought Eric got it. So. I thought, “Geez, if this if this guy gets it, it’s going to be great for us.” And, you know, looking back at it, if it had gone through and he had acquired it, the wrestling world would be different today. I know he could have really done wonders.

Then we fast forward to March. You guys think it’s all going through, Eric Bischoff thinks it’s going through, then TNT pull the TV slots. So within the space of a couple of days, the deal’s not happening anymore – and then Vince McMahon buys WCW.

Vince bought WCW on the Friday, you and Sean O’Haire are the Tag Team Champions. I know it’s been 20 years, but do you remember how you found out Vince had bought the company? How did that change your state of mind?

Yeah. At first, I didn’t know what to think. I’ll go back to the Panama City, the last Monday Nitro and just the aura and the cloud that was over that show… You have Shane McMahon coming into the locker room. You have one of the Brisco brothers in the gorilla position. No-one’s telling you much. Shane gave us a little bit of a heads up, but not much. That’s when you knew it was happening. Before that, you just never really knew. Was it going to happen or was just going to fold? Is Vince going to buy it? What’s going to happen?

So, yeah, there’s an uneasy feeling. You’ve got to think about it. Were we going to have jobs? Were we going to get an opportunity in WWF? Were are we going to go over there and sit on the bench? You take away one company, but you still have the same amount of talent – it’s less TV time. So all these things are running through your head. We were hungry and young. From a dollars and cents standpoint, no, that was never in our mind, it was more about us continuing to develop on TV – so we kept our fingers crossed.

I was told I was going to go over there right away. I was pretty excited about that. It was tough because we were just starting to get a push. You had Eric and you had Vince Russo, big fans of what we’re doing, giving us the push. So it was tough because here we are just starting to get some momentum and then there goes the company. Very hard to take that momentum, bring it over to the WWF and continue on as you witnessed, as we all witnessed.

You said you guys weren’t getting told much but there must have at least been a part of you that says, “Well, they’re keeping the tag belts on us, so that must be a good sign,” right?

That was probably the extent of it because, in the wrestling business, every week changes. You could be here tomorrow, there the next week, right? That what happens backstage that night before the show, it’s always up in the air.

Oh, am I working? Am I not working? Are we doing this angle or are we not? Am I going over? Am I putting someone over? That’s always up in the air. So, yeah, to answer that question, yes. The fact that they kept the belts on us was a positive thing, was a plus and yeah… Didn’t pan out that way.

And then six days later, you guys are at WrestleMania 17, Shane motions to you guys in the box. What was the experience of being at WrestleMania 17? Was it a welcoming experience?

On one hand, it was super-exciting to be part of that. Felt like, “Hey, they’re going to use us, they’re going to do something with us.” On the other hand, there was such a disconnect between the WCW talents and the WWF talents.

There was egos involved and the fact that they didn’t really want us there, sort of, and, “Hey, these guys are going to take our…” You know, think about it. It’s going to be tough for the WWF talent. When they see guys coming in, they’re thinking we’re going to grab those spots, right? We’re going after those spots. So there’s some tension there. Looking back, if we had bonded and got along – because the business was about to go into a monopoly, basically… So we should have stuck together.

If they were more welcoming, I think we could have been more successful. But it was a real time to be in the business because these things are really happening. The buyout was real. The fact that WCW talent was coming over to a new home was real – as real as it had been in a long time.

Not a lot of people will remember initially. When they bought WCW, the plan was for WCW to have its own TV show and, for various reasons, they couldn’t get some of the more established name -, so it ended up becoming the invasion storyline.

Do you feel like that was better for you as a younger talent who was more on the cusp of things if there had been a WCW show on its own?

That’s a hard question to answer. Yes and no.

I mean, at the time, the young guys were getting a push in WCW, so maybe it would have been nice to continue with the WCW. But at the same time, in wrestling, day to day, you never know what’s going to happen. Yeah, they brought us over to WWF and they used us a bit, but did they used us in the capacity that they could have? I don’t believe so. So I’m not sure because you just never know.

In wrestling, it’s tough. One or two people’s opinion of you can dictate your career, right? You’ve got to be able to navigate through the business. I’m not talking about inside the ring. The biggest part of the business is outside the ring. You have to be able to navigate through that and that takes years to learn that. I was still learning that at the time. A lot of the people around me, the Powerplant guys, the Natural Born Thriller guys, great guys, they were learning that, too. So I’m not sure, that’s hard to answer.

The famous Booker T vs Buff Bagwell match on RAW was the catalyst to not doing the show. Do you remember that match, and was there an atmosphere backstage when that match didn’t go that in the way they had hoped it would?

I was there. I watched the match. Do I remember the match? No.

I mean, let’s think about it, was the match really that bad, all in all? So was it really about that match? Or was it more about maybe some political issues with certain talents behind the scenes?

Bagwell… I don’t use wrestling terms often, but I’ll use it here. At the time, he had some what we call “heat” – certain people didn’t like him. He was known to be a little over the top backstage and stuff like that. Was there maybe a little heat? Yeah. Was it maybe that there was an issue with some of the established WWF talent that was already there? Did he get buried to a point? You’ve got to think about it.

At the end of the day, was the match that bad? And if it was, was that the right way to go about it? This is wrestling, we can make it whatever we want. So there was stories, and I don’t get into these stories too often, but I did hear rumblings of, you know, he had heat because his mom was somehow involved backstage with some personal things. Who cares how he was?

Bagwell, you know, we’re not close or anything like that, but we always got along. I know he’s having some struggles now, he’s trying to deal with some stuff I get that. That’s unfortunate and I hope he works through that. As a person, don’t worry about who he is. The guy was over in WCW. He was over! Say what you want to say about him, he drew money, so they could have done that in WWF. I think politics became an issue. That’s what I think it came down to.

You guys were working with The APA and you were working with Undertake and Kane. There were a lot of rumors that they may not have been the most welcoming people to you at that point in time. What was it really like behind the scenes working with The APA and Undertaker and Kane during the Invasion?

That’s the truth. They were not welcoming in the beginning. Eventually, I developed a good working friendship with all those guys. But in the beginning, John in particular, probably the most, he wasn’t welcoming.

These guys, yes, they felt like we were a threat. But if they saw the big picture, this was the most real time in the business. Take advantage of it, befriend us, vice versa, and let’s make money. You have a lot of talent, you can do a lot of things. But in the beginning, yeah, and I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing. In a way, maybe they wanted us to pay our dues coming over there. I get it, but were they welcoming in the beginning? No way.

It’s funny, Ron Simmons, always a sweetheart. From day one with Ron, he was fine.

He seems that way. He just seems like the nicest guy.

Good man!

I know that probably that invasion storyline was not, like, your favorite part of your career – but what was do you have a favorite part of those few months?

You know, in particular, there’s nothing that stands out in my mind. It was an uneasy time. It was an uneasy time because we were trying to find a spot there. We never knew, week to week, what was going to happen. And I don’t think they knew what they were doing as far as the shot-callers. I don’t think they really knew how to do this.

I’m not knocking them because they were at a different paygrade than me, but being such a real time in the industry, it could have been capitalised on a little bit. When Scott Hall came over to WCW, that was real and it worked, and it ignited such a fantastic run in the business. I thought that could have been recreated again.

You ended up off TV for a little while. When you came back, it was Billy and Chuck and it’s funny because, if you ever go back on the WWE Network and you go to watch an episode of SmackDown from 2001, the first thing that pops up is the last SmackDown of December and it’s Stacy Keibler looking at you and Billy doing the pose.

Oh, man!

That was, in a lot of ways, really revolutionary because you guys were over as rover. You would also have, like, the LGBT community who didn’t have a lot of representation, who felt like they had some with Billy and Chuck, and that didn’t happen a lot. What are your memories of that time?

Fantastic time. A lot of fun.

Obviously, I’m working with Billy Gunn, very talented guy – taught me a lot. The whole idea behind the character, I don’t know if this started from day one, but once the characters were developed, I knew they were going to use us for cable television network ratings week. That last night where we had the actual ceremony. So we had to peak out there, I got that.

They disbanded it shortly after. It could have continued on. It was over. Cutting edge at the time. Very cutting edge, like you said. All this gender topic talk now, it’s right there in pop culture, and that community has made such advances in society. Happy for them. At the time, not talked about often.

Think about it. 2002, same sex marriage? So it was great, in so many ways, and we had a lot of fun doing it. The thing was, we never took it personal. These were characters and we played the parts to the best of our ability and we ended up having fun doing it. We would try to make each other laugh every night. You know, I laughed. I smiled more when I played that character than probably any other character ever played. Great time!

Once you guys did the big ceremony, the team disbanded. Do you feel like it should have gone in any other direction?

I think that character could have continued to develop in either direction, whether we continued with the same sex thing or we just became “bros” for lack of a better term, because we were having fun out there.

When you’re having fun, people see that and they have fun. So I think we would have continued to feed off each other no matter what direction we went.

Why they stopped it so quick, there was a couple of things going on at the time. Number one, we had peaked out on ratings week, accomplished the goal. Number two, in Canada… Can’t remember where we were but Billy Gunn suffered a pretty traumatic shoulder injury, so he was kind of done for a while. I don’t know the details, but I also think there was something to do with some contract negotiations he was trying to work out. Not sure. You’d have to ask him about that. But, yeah, so they disbanded it.

It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way this business is. You never really know why.

And finally, you’ve got a YouTube channel! Can you tell us what’s going on and how people can find it?

Yeah. So on YouTube, it’s called Chuck Of All Trades and basically I’m just showing the world what I do on a daily basis – working with my hands, whether it’s horses, motorcycles, cars, buildings. Yeah. So on YouTube, it’s called Chuck of all trades. And basically I’m just showing the world what I do on a daily basis, working with my hands, whether it’s horses, motorcycles, cars, building buildings we roll our sleeves up and we get dirty and we do the stuff ourselves. So, yeah, Chuck Of All Trades. We’ve got a lot of good things coming, we’re going to start a new car show in this building that we just built.

And then my only other social media is Instagram. It’s ChuckPalumbo. So please friend me and you know, please subscribe on social media to it’s free and it helps us tremendously. But Instagram ChuckPalumbo, Chuck Of All Trades on YouTube and, yeah, I hope you like it.

Chuck, thank you so much for taking the time!

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Thanks to Chuck Palumbo for taking the time. You can follow Chuck on Instagram here, and check out Chuck Of All Trades on YouTube here. You can also read more of our longform interviews here.