‘Good Ol JR’ Jim Ross has stated his belief that Vince McMahon paid off Paul Heyman and ECW in order to keep them in business long enough to purchase their video library.
The then World Wrestling Federation and Extreme Championship Wrestling had a long and illustrious history dating back to 1997 when Vince McMahon and his group willingly aided the hardcore group in both survival and the promotion of their inaugural pay-per-view event.
Following the anarchic promotion’s unexpected appearance in the front row of the 1995 King of the Ring, Heyman and McMahon struck a deal for the extreme stars to appear on Monday Night Raw in 1997 to exhibit what they were about ahead of their first ever foray onto the pay-per-view medium.
The partnership included such highlights as The Dudley Boyz and Tommy Dreamer competing in bouts on the company’s flagship show, Sabu almost falling from the Raw sign and Rob Van Dam becoming a semi-regular on WWF television alongside Jerry Lawler. WWF stars even turned up on ECW programming – to the chagrin of the Philadelphia faithful who almost tore each other apart to get to an invading Jerry Lawler.
Now, Jim Ross has taken to his Grilling JR podcast to discuss the partnership and exactly why Vince McMahon continued to fund the promotion:
“We knew the dire straits that unfortunately Paul was in financially and we figured the logical conclusion in his case was bankruptcy,” Ross said. “At that point in time, we were prepared to buy the assets which included the library in bankruptcy court. We had been helping Paul, I think we paid Paul $50,000 a month, I can’t remember, I don’t remember. That $50,000 a month number sticks out but I may be wrong on that too. In any event, we were helping him. He was getting a regular cheque to try to keep his doors open longer so that if he did indeed have a legitimate buyer, he had more time to negotiate a deal. Vince was very very kind to Paul in that part.
It would’ve been very easy to put him out of business, all of his top talent wanted to leave because I hired most of them. We got everybody we wanted and they were calling me, I wasn’t soliciting them, they were calling me because at Vince’s insistence we’re not going to go out of our way to do anything harmful to ECW. We wanted to buy the library at some point because we had the goal to do this network.”
Describing dealings with ECW as moving chairs on the Titanic, Ross told of how while Vince knew he would require the company’s video library, the World Wrestling Federation wanted to be first in line to cherry pick the talent when the company eventually went under:
“Paying Paul was like moving around the deck chairs in the Titanic, you kind of knew it was going down, so you just tried to stop the bleeding as best you can and get in line for some of those talents. They did have some really good talent, I think we did a nice job of hiring the best that they had.
Vince recognized talent, for any of us to try to argue the point that Paul Heyman didn’t have significant talent from a cerebral standpoint would be ridiculous. He did a lot with the little engine that could, Paul did a phenomenal job motivating. Paul did a good job of us vs. the world mentality. We knew what we wanted to get out of ECW, the library #1, and select talents #2. All of that worked out, we knew we could do better if we stayed closer to Paul and showed him our loyalty. If the only person we got out of that deal was Paul Heyman and no talent, we’d win because he’s a brilliant TV writer and a great creative guy, one of the smartest I’ve ever been around.”
In March 2001, World Wrestling Federation finally got their wish when they purchased Extreme Championship Wrestling, their video library and the contracts of several talent including arguably the most famous name from the company’s history, Rob Van Dam.
Credit for the interview: Grilling JR
h/t for the transcription: Wrestling Inc.