In ECW, Taz was one of the most intimidating, devastating wrestlers to ever step foot in the squared circle, and the same can be said of the Human Suplex Machine’s first night in WWE, too.
For one reason or another, what followed would come across as lacklustre and not fitting of the character Taz had worked so hard to build – before the ECW legend went on to fulfil and exceed his potential as an announcer.
Why didn’t Taz, then named Tazz, reach his in-ring potential, though? Well, on the Grilling JR podcast, the legendary Jim Ross has opened up about bringing Taz to WWE, and how the missed opportunity in WWE was actually down to talents not wanting to work with the man under the towel as they thought he was dangerous.
“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.”
AEW commentator Jim Ross would go on to say Vince McMahon initially trusted his judgment, but that the trust didn’t last long as the WWE CEO became “unconvinced” of the believability of Taz, despite believing things would be different in a shoot fight.
“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 favour 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.”
Ross went on to detail the iconic arrival of ‘Tazz’ in WWE, still heralded as one of the greatest debuts of all time, when WWE Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold medalist Kurt Angle would seemingly suffer his first loss in the company at the Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden – with the caveat that Taz used an “illegal chokehold” to do so.
“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.”
While that debut saw Taz completely rip through a man now acclaimed as one of the greatest of all time, it may have done more damage than good long-term for the Human Suplex Machine – and that Vince McMahon would go from convinced to unconvinced due to “top talents” saying they weren’t comfortable working with the ECW legend.
“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 wouldn’t 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 cheques just as if you were working.’ He looked at me, incredulously, like I was bull-shi**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.”
Jim Ross would also go on to speak to the wider idea of him signing ECW talents in WWE.
“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 [Heyman] 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.”
Meanwhile, both Jim Ross and Taz are enjoying the fruits of their labour and showcasing their longevity and endurance in wrestling by appearing in AEW every week, with Jim Ross on commentary and Taz leading Team Taz in a current rivalry with Sting and TNT Champion Darby Allin.