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Eric Bischoff Turned Down Offer From WWE A Year Before His 2002 Debut

Eric Bischoff explains how his WWE debut came to be.

During a recent appearance on The Ariel Helwani Show, WWE Hall of Famer Eric Bischoff was asked about how his WWE debut in 2002 came to be following the demise of WCW.

“People don’t realize this, but WWE had called me the year before and asked me to come in. But it was Jim Ross that called me,” Bischoff said. “Now, Jim and I are really good friends now. We’re all good. But at the time, Jim still had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder regarding me. Jim still felt, for some reason, that I was responsible for him being let go even though he requested his release. All I said was, ‘Sure, if he wants to go, let him go. Why keep a guy that doesn’t want to be here?’ And I knew Jim pretty well. Crabby Jim Ross is not a pleasant experience anyway. But somehow in Jim’s mind, that equated to me having him fired.”

Bischoff explained how it was around the Fourth of July, which was a time when they celebrated his wife’s birthday and they experienced the anniversary of his father’s passing. They had friends and family coming into Wyoming every year at this time, which was when Ross gave him the call.

“‘Hey Eric, how you doing, boss is thinking about maybe bringing you in, having a look, and maybe see if we can do something together,” Bischoff recalled. “I said, ‘Well, Jim, what do you have in mind?’ ‘Well, I don’t really know. Just kind of running some ideas around.’ I didn’t say it this way, but I was thinking, ‘So you want me to drop everything I’m doing, fly into wherever on a Sunday, be there Monday, and then fly back. You don’t want to tell me what I’m doing. There’s no contract on the table. You just want to know if I’m willing to show up.’

“And the honest truth is, I gained a lot of weight. I was not TV ready. And if you go back and look, even by the time I got there a year later, I was still pretty chunky. I wasn’t TV ready, I already had friends and family coming in for the Fourth of July, and I could tell Jim didn’t want to make that phone call. The last thing in the world he wanted to do that day was call me and have me come in. So I passed. I said, ‘I really appreciate the offer and I’m glad you guys think enough of me to invite me in, but I’m good. No, thanks.’

“So the following year, I’m guessing Vince went, ‘Eh, maybe I should call him.’ I got on the phone with Vince and it took me about a minute-and-a-half to two minutes before, in my mind, I knew I was gonna go. Because it was an opportunity for me to end my story the way I wanted to end my story. It didn’t end well at WCW and I thought I’m pretty good as a talent. I know I’m pretty capable of doing some fun things. There’s a whole lot of people in WWE I’ve never had a chance to work with and as a performer, that’s always fun. I thought it would last a year, maybe two, and that way when I finally closed the chapter on my professional wrestling career, I can do it the way I want to do it. I can go out on a high note.”

To address Helwani’s original question, Bischoff recalled telling McMahon that they had to keep his debut a secret. Bischoff offered to cover his own airfare and hotel expenses because he knew that if someone in the travel department saw his name on an email, the news would leak.

“So we did that. Stephanie knew, obviously Vince. Attorneys knew, I think Shane probably knew. Linda, obviously, and I think that might have been it at that time. I’m at the hotel, told him where’s it at. Now it’s about four or five o’clock. Car comes and gets me and brings me to the building. I’m in the limo with the windows all blacked out. You can’t see in, but I can see out. So the limo pulls into the building and I just sat there. I didn’t want anybody to see me. It had to be a surprise, so I agreed to just stay in the limo until somebody came and got me to make our entrance.”

Bischoff remembered talent coming up and trying to see who was in the limo, but only he could see them through the tinted windows, which made him laugh.

“Then Stephanie came in about a half hour before we walk out, and this is the first time I’d ever met Stephanie face-to-face. Stephanie sits across from me and goes, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, I’m excited, but that’s not the same as nervous.’ ‘Really? You’re not nervous?’ ‘No, not at all. I’m just happy to be here, and it’s going to be great. I can’t wait to get out there and see what the reaction is.’ She looked at me like I couldn’t be serious. So she leaves and goes, ‘Well, good luck, we’ll see you out there.’

“Then Vince comes in about two minutes later. ‘Hey, pal. How you feeling? Nerves getting to you?’ I said, ‘No, why do you people keep asking me if I’m nervous? I’ve done this before. I’m excited, I’m not nervous at all.’ ‘Huh, all right. See you out there, pal.’ And that was it. All the production people, anybody who didn’t have something really imminent to do at that moment were all kind of hanging around the limo because they wanted to see who it was. When I stepped out of the limo, the genuine look of shock on people’s faces was just something I’ll never forget.”

He concluded, “The other thing I’ll never forget is how welcoming everybody in the McMahon family [was]. There were still some talent — Arn Anderson, Ric Flair who were like, argh — but Linda, Vince, Stephanie, Shane, they were so gracious and so welcoming. I mean, I felt like I was home, as weird as that sounds given the battle and the nasty things that we did to each other publically and not so publically. To feel that much a part of their world, really from the first night, made me feel real good. It was a very unique experience.”

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If you use any quotes from this article, please credit The Ariel Helwani Show with a h/t to WrestleZone for the transcription.