INDUCTION: Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zybszko – Yes, Kids, THIS Was Bret Hart’s WCW Debut

35 Submitted by on Thu, 24 May 2018, 14:44

WCW, 1997

I’m sure you’ve heard the news.

Well, I guess maybe you haven’t, if for instance you’re not following me on Facebook, or on Twitter, or haven’t listened to the latest version of WrestleCrap Radio.

Or, I guess, if you somehow can only look at the bottom 80% of your screen.

If that’s the case, look up silly.

Or look down, as I’ll make it even larger here.

Yes children, the rumors are true: I am going to be involved in a panel in which we discuss WCW’s demise with Kevin Sullivan, JJ Dillon, David Penzer, and your friend and mine ERIC BISCHOFF.  The event will take place Labor Day weekend in Chicago at Starrcast, which is the gigantic fanfest happening during All In weekend.  It’s featuring a ton of wrestling’s biggest stars prior to the gigantic show at the Sears Center featuring Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and more.

While I am absolutely thrilled and blessed to be asked to be part of the event, part of me has to wonder if doing this particular panel will be a decision I live to regret; can Eric Bischoff and I have any real discussion about the company he took to its highest heights then saw collapse at his feet?

After all, Mr. Bischoff has had some rather unflattering things to say about yours truly in recent weeks on his shiny new podcast, 83 Weeks.  Look at me, giving it a free link.  What a nice guy I am.  I somehow doubt Eric will give this particular article equal press.  I mean, this is a fellow who during episode two of his show referred to your old buddy and old pal as a “clown”, an “idiot”, and goodness gracious me, a “douchebag” as well!!  Why?  Simply for a little book that I penned with Bryan Alvarez a few years back (one you can pick up by clicking rightchere).

Eh, maybe he just hates me due to the fact I personally picked out this photo for the cover of my book.  If that’s the case, I can’t say I really blame him.

What’s ironic is that in that tome, I wrote that he was in fact a genius for his handling of the early days of Nitro, specifically bringing in fresh young talent from all over the world.  He would follow this up with his magnum opus: the New World Order.  The wrestling world would never be the same again.

Now with all that said, it’s not like everything he touched during WCW’s meteoric rise turned to gold.  Today we’ll discuss something that was anything but perfect; in fact, it was mishandled in every conceivable way.  And that would be the biggest gift the company could ever be handed: his rival promotion’s hottest star.

You may have heard of him, a guy by the name of Bret Hart.  He was the WWF’s champion leading into the infamous Survivor Series 97, the event in which he was ‘screwed’ by Vince McMahon in an historic double cross.  Bret came out of that event as a hero to many, a guy who had done everything Vince had ever asked, only to be kicked to the curb in the most dastardly manner possible.

The following night on Nitro, Bischoff and the nWo crew came out to the ring, waving Canadian flags and telling us how The Hitman was on his way to WCW.  Bischoff cackled with glee, noting Bret was a “knock out guy” in a wink and nod to the fact that Bret punched Vince McMahon in the face following his bout with Shawn Michaels.  The stage was set for WCW to take things to another stratosphere.

So the next week, Bret was nowhere to be found.

The following week, no Bret.

Another week, another no Bret.

When Bret Hart finally showed up on Nitro, we learned that he was going to definitely be involved at WCW’s biggest show of the year, Starrcade.  In lieu of wrestling, however, he was going to be a special referee…for the titanic struggle between Larry Zybszko and Eric Bischoff.

If you think that sounds completely idiotic now, trust me, it rang even more foolish 21 years ago.

In the interest of fairness, I listened to Bischoff’s latest yakfest in which he discussed the match.  You can do so as well here.  Should you not wish to take the time to hear him out, the basic gist of his side of the story is that Bret may have or may not have had a non-compete period in his WWF contract (pretty sure that’s not the case) and also had a broken hand which prevented him from wrestling a match.

Ok, even if we take all that as 100% fact, can anyone explain why they felt the best way to use Bret was in a match that Bischoff himself scoffed at as being a “bonafide mat classic”?

Prior to the match taking place, Bret was introduced first.  He looked anything but thrilled, which isn’t shocking as in his book he noted that he felt like “appearing as a referee would be a lackluster debut.”

But dude, it’s Starrcade!

And you’re officiating the co-main event!

So Bret makes his way to the ring, and doesn’t even get fifteen seconds of playing to the fans before we get the real stars of the show…

Scott Hall and Eric Bischoff!

I know I just praised Bischoff above for being the guy who revolutionized the wrestling business, but I am going to do so again here: the man was a great heel performer.  Coming out and blowing kisses to the fans, he had absolute heat – you legit wanted to punch him right in the face.

And the man getting the opportunity to do so this evening would be one Larry Zbyszko.  Newer fans may have thought he was just some commentator for Nitro, but thankfully our ring announcer chimed in to let us know he had over 5,000 professional matches.  Then Dusty Rhodes pipes up and let’s us know Larry is, and I am just quoting here, “the king of the breathalyze!” Wait, what?  Don’t ask me, I’m just reporting the facts here.

This wouldn’t just be any old match – it would be a battle with the fate of WCW’s flagship show on the line.  Would Nitro remain a WCW entity?  Or would it become nWo Nitro?  A quick look into the WrestleCrap archives would tell you the latter would be a very bad idea, but WCW sometimes…ok, a lot of times…liked to do stupid things, so there was some intrigue here.

I mean, consider what we are talking about here today: if I told you the first physical contact between Bret Hart and a WCW wrestler would be…

…gently holding Larry Zbyszko’s knee as he checks the pad for any potential foreign objects, would you say, “I’m tuning in to watch this!”?

On a positive note, as would always be the case with Bret, he doesn’t take his role lightly.  No no, he spent a good 90 seconds ensuring Larry isn’t up to any potential chicanery!

If that’s not enough, he does the same with Bischoff.  If you’re a fan of Bret Hart’s hands and the bottom of Eric Bischoff’s feet, this is the match for you!

Also you are a weirdo and I hope you never come back to WrestleCrap.com.

The bell rings, and Eric goes all Hong Kong Phooey to start, throwing a kick at Larry’s face.  Dusty continues his stellar commentary, asking if this blatantly normal kick was a roundhouse kick. Mike Tenay, as you might expect, completely no sells such a suggestion.

While Larry has long been known as the master of stall tactics, Eric seemingly is looking to one up him here, as the first five minutes or so consist of one kick or one punch, then Eric begging off.  Eventually, before things get too thrilling, Eric heads outside the ring.

Here he meets his corner man, Scott Hall.  The former Bad Guy, no doubt inspired by Bischoff’s martial artistry, suggests using a CRANE KICK.

If he uses that, I will go to Chicago, shake his hand, and tell him everything in my book is a total lie, just like he said.

Larry finally catches Eric with a couple shots to the face, which Bischoff sells by…

…smiling and laughing.

Ok, maybe he really isn’t such a good heel.

Larry finally has enough, and pummels Eric, sending him face first into the mat.  Geez, about time.

But then things take a completely bizarre turn…

As Bret jumps in to break up the hold.

Which he does over and over and over again.

You see, the idea was that everyone thought that Bret was perhaps going to join the nWo.  That was seemingly the only creative idea this company had at the time, an idea they overused to a mind numbing degree.

That they choose to do so with Bret Hart – who through the Montreal screw job had become the defacto biggest babyface in wrestling in YEARS – tells you everything you could ever possibly imagine about this company.

As for the match, it goes on for what feels an eternity, during which time we see kicks and chops that would get a third grader expelled from the local karate class, as well as action such as this:

I legit have zero idea what that is even supposed to be.

Maybe someone can get this GIF over to Eric and Conrad and they can explain it on their next yak fest.

Back in the ring, Bret stops Larry from throwing a punch by explaining to him, and I quote, “You’ve been wrestling too long to forget the rules!”

No wonder Larry looks so ticked off.

So it continues with Eric throwing punches even Shane McMahon would think suck.  He throws about a zillion of these blows and finally wears himself out as the announcers explain that was Larry’s gameplan all along.

Hold on a second.

Time out.

You are trying to tell me they were attempting to reenact Muhammad Ali and George Foreman?

The famous rope-a-dope?

SERIOUSLY?

THAT WAS THEIR PLAN?

I…I…speechless.

This train wreck finally comes to a conclusion as Larry punches Hall, which naturally causes Bret to pull him aside for another warning.   In comes Hall to help load up Eric’s boot with a steel plate.

 Actually, on second glance, it looked like maybe it was Hall’s flask. 

You know what, you can insert your own joke here.

So Eric throws a kick and the plate or flask or whatever literally flies into the crowd before Bischoff’s foot ever even comes close to Larry’s head.

And then…well, then Bret just kinda randomly punches Bischoff in the face.

I guess he saw the foreign object or something.  Who knows, who cares.

Hall jumps in the ring, does a pee pee dance, then gets punched out as well, going into Shawn Michaels oversell city. 

Well, ok, maybe not quite that bad.

Have I ever inducted that match?  If not, I REALLY need to get around to it.

This match finally, FINALLY, comes to an end with Larry choking out Eric.

There’s no pin fall.

There’s no submission.

No, the match just kinda ends.

As Bret holds up Larry’s hand, all the while looking like he’d rather be literally any place else on planet earth.

How much so? 

As the folks are cheering in the crowd, Bret celebrates in his own special way.

By TYING HIS SHOES. 

So yeah…I’m heading to Chicago to debate a man who thinks that this stuff was somehow good.

Any of you willing to be there to be my back up?


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Yeah, you know...the WrestleCrap guy. Been here since before day 1, I have. You can hang out with me on Facebook. (I'm on there quite a bit) or follow my exploits on Twitter (I'm on there not quite so often). Thanks, and Keep on Crappin'!
35 Responses to "INDUCTION: Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zybszko – Yes, Kids, THIS Was Bret Hart’s WCW Debut"
  1. PlasticDiverGuy says:

    It’s not like WCW didn’t have a nearly-7 year old idea to draw from due to the non-compete. They could have resurrected “A Flair For The Gold”, but with a more Bret-esque name.

  2. TV's Mr. Neil says:

    Aww… There’s two parts to this! What about Bret stopping the finish of the main event immediately following Hogan’s perfectly clean pinfall on Sting??? That made ZERO sense!

    • Guest says:

      That wasn’t the actual problem with the Sting Hogan match so much as someone actually thought the match should be 95% of Hogan beating up Sting then have Nick Patrick doing a fast count to justify Bret coming in and getting the match restarted where Sting put Hogan in a submission hold from which Hogan never tapped out of.

  3. Paul R. from Spook Central: The Ghostbusters Companion says:

    Great article, as always. Good luck on the panel. Wish I could be there.

    Anyway, you made a small typo above the last photo. You wrote, “As the folks are cheering in the crowd, join celebrates in his own special way.”. Obviously “join” should be “Bret”. Not sure why you made such a typo 🙂

  4. thepwbposter says:

    RD, trying to do the Facebook thing it says I can’t follow you, that being said I would definitely enjoy the escapades of the man behind ‘The Crap’. Who knows how the panel with Bischoff would go, to be honest I think you can handle it if you can go talk it out with the late great ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper….you’ll be fine 🙂

  5. Guest says:

    Which was less bad because Bret came into restart the match and more so cause apparently Hogan was supposed to demolish Sting and then have Nick Patrick do a fast count justifying the former.

    Cause simply having Sting beat Hogan clean after a back and forth match was too complicated.

    • Tempest Fennac says:

      I think the idea of a fast count and Bret getting involved would have been fine if the match was layed out with Sting brutalised Hogan to start with, Hogan taking over due to blatant cheating which Nick Patrick ignores (he’s the nWo’s official referee afterall), Sting making a comeback and being shut down with a low blow and then getting the pin with a fast count while putting his feet on the ropes. That would both show that the nWo is desparate and give Bret a reason to inteject.

  6. Unknown says:

    No, what Bret Hart was actually doing in that last photo was thinking “I got screwed out of the WWF title and left under bad terms for THIS?!?”

    Suddenly, his poor attitude in WCW before his injury starts to make a LOT more sense (well, it was a combination of this AND his brother Owen’s death)

  7. Lee W. says:

    And somehow Montreal was the still purported to be worst thing that happened to Bret Hart around that time?

  8. Larry says:

    You absolutely NEED to induct that Hogan-HBK match. I never laughed so hard at such blatant overselling.

    • Roland Smitts says:

      You’d be inducting a lot more HBK matches than just that one. Michaels oversold for a lot of guys.

  9. Y2G says:

    Don’t you dare induct that Michaels and Hulk Match. That thing is bonafide GOLD!

    The closest Michaels ever got to his 90’s heel/dick self. Man he totally out Hoganed, Hogan in that match. I love re watching that thing.

  10. Roland Smitts says:

    Honestly the hottest WWE Superstar of this era was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Bret may have had the title, but Austin was far bigger in popularity at this point in history.

  11. Roland Smitts says:

    I gotta play devil’s advocate here: I didn’t see this as a huge issue in 1997. They were still building toward Bret’s eventual in ring WCW debut at this time and it’s not like he was brought in to referee matches forever. Not every big star is going to have a Hulk Hogan-style debut (which reminds me: for everyone complaining over Ronda Rousey’s sudden title shot, remember: Hogan got one against Sheik only a month after he showed up again in the WWF).

  12. Sean Bateman says:

    Larry’s golf game is better than ths match

  13. Michael Weyer says:

    Hey, maybe you can hit Bischoff on inside stories for your inevitable “Death of TNA” book!

    As for this, just amazing and one of the absolute best cases ever of a promotion given something huge on a silver platter and screwing it all up.

  14. big daddy strong says:

    uh……just dumb. I know a lot of people think Starrcade 98 was the exact moment when WCW screwed the pooch. Nash booked himself to end Goldberg’s streak which led to the Fingerpoke of Doom and the NWO reunion on Nitro, making Goldberg (their hottest star) look even more ridiculous in the process.

    But let’s not underestimate how pivotal Starrcade 97 was in WCW’s demise. First of all, the NWO should have ended that night. Sting should have beaten Hogan rather handily and closed the chapter on all that. Mishandling Bret is an understatement. WCW had the opportunity to let Bret come in and cut loose on Vince and the state of wrestling or whatever else. If nothing else he should have done a run in and helped Sting fight off NWO members instead of the silly referee stuff.

    Bret never really was pushed right. Yeah he had some success but nowhere near what should have been. And you know, it does seem like a mystery as to why Bret was handled so poorly but think about it………Bret had major heat with HBK in the WWF when he left. Then he went right into a company where all of HBK’s buddies worked. Nash, Hall, Waltman……made worse by Nash being involved in booking and having Bischoff’s ear. Oh and Hogan too. Remember Hogan refused to let Bret go over back in 93 because “he was too small”. So Bret might have been sabotaged intentionally. And you have to think, Bischoff was more interested in taking Bret because he was the top guy at the WWF and how bad that would look on Vince. How he would use Bret was just an afterthought.

    Yeah WCW could have crushed WWE in 98 if they had played their cards right.

    • DracoDracul says:

      If they were going to have Hart be guest ref, why not have him be it for the main event? What you could do is having him seemly be on the side of the NWO by allowing the run ins, low blows, etc, that happen whenever Sting starts to take the lead, but then after Sting has weathered everything the Hulkster can throw at him Hogan tries to keep the title by getting counted out, thus keeping. That’s when the big reveal as Hart doesn’t start the count. He’s been on been on Sting’s side the entire time, because by refusing the allow DQs, he can ensure the title changes hands. You have a final run in by the NWO where Hart holds them off while Sting drags Hogan back to the ring, and to give a concession to Hogan let him go out like Steve Austin and pass out rather than tap out to the Scorpion Death Lock (though without the double turn).

      • Big Daddy Strong says:

        yeah pretty much anything other than what they did. But like I said, if the Kliq and Hogan played politics (which seems likely) then Bret was screwed from the start. And Bischoff had Bret and Vince right where he wanted them. Not only acquiring Bret from the WWF but Vince basically handing him over due to WCW’s domination and the WWF being on the ropes. Bret had reportedly signed a 20 year deal that Vince had second thoughts about when it looked like his company might not survive.

        So Bischoff knew Bret was stuck. He wasn’t running back to the WWF and he had won that particular battle just by having Bret appear in WCW. Think of what WCW could have accomplished in 1998. Sting beats Hogan at Starrcade and ends the NWO. Sting can move on from the Crow gimmick. Nash and Hall beat down Hogan for failing to defeat Sting which takes him off TV for a while. Then he comes back in the red and yellow to take out all the NWO stragglers to keep him out of the title picture while Sting faces new challenges. You still have the rise of Goldberg and the cruiserweights.

        Here”s the thing that would have drove the nail into WWF’s coffin. Bret would have come in to the WCW similar to how Stone Cold did in the WWF. Stone Cold had a grievance with Bischoff and Bret had a grievance with Vince. Bret could have been WCW’s version of Stone Cold. An instant angle could have emerged with Bischoff saying he signed Bret to help the NWO get rid of Sting, take over WCW and end the WWF once and for all. Bret only wants to do one of those things and slaps the Sharpshooter on Bischoff.

        With the NWO gone, Bischoff makes another big move and brings in Shawn Michaels (after he “retired” with the back injury) to reunite the Kliq. HBK came really close to signing with WCW anyway. Yes I realize the situation.Bret and Shawn hated each other. It’s pretty much what led to Bret leaving in the first place. But most people didn’t know about their very real rivalry until after Survivor Series 97 and they never worked with each other again after that. Imagine if they had ended up together in WCW just months after the Montreal Screwjob. Even if HBK couldn’t wrestle that would have been the hottest angle going. And we may have gotten HBK vs Sting at some point if he had made his “miraculous” recovery.

        So many ideas but guest referee in a throwaway match was the best they could come up with.

        • Marvelous says:

          Bret would have been an absolutely awful version of stone cold. Imagining him with a piss and vinegar attitude for more than a brief moment here and there is laughable. Good guy or bad guy, his best work was when he was a statesman, that was what fit his personality best. Bret as a rebel is a joke

    • Christopher Olsen says:

      I agree with you. I’m one of those people who firmly believe Starcade ‘97 is where the downfall of WCW truly begins.

  15. Segaz says:

    Bret was good playing a heel. I don’t think him coming in as a white meat babyface would have worked.

    I do enjoy your site but I think you are sometimes a little biased towards wcw and bishoff. If there is one thing I could suggest, it would be not to hit him over the head saying fingerpoke of doom killed wcw and was totally stupid.

  16. John C says:

    Coming soon to a podcast arena near you, the latest show starring Eric “Easy E” Bischoff, 83 Weaks. Listen as ATM Eric explains why the next 83 weeks of awful WCW programming was not his fault but everyone else’s. Eric gives you the scoop on how everything was fine and dandy and no problems existed until he stepped away. Then it all took a steaming Russo allover the carpet. 83 Weaks, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hear Eric say he doesn’t remember something most of the time.

  17. Anthony says:

    I liked the build to this match, but yeah the match wasn’t great. Good thing they had Larry win so we didn’t get any more nwo nitros. I understand to this day Larry brags about saving Nitro as if this was real lol. When I met him he did:)

  18. MistaMaddog says:

    You know this match was a joke when the NWO promo for it was done by a stuttering Scott Hall…

    “Z-Z-Z-Z-Bszk-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!!!!!!!”

  19. Francis Chu says:

    I always wondered what would’ve happened if Kevin Nash appeared to take out Bret Hart.
    We would end up with NWO Nitro and the wrestling world would’ve vastly different.

  20. Steve says:

    Somehow I had completely forgotten about this match. Thank you, brain.

    Small thing though. Did Dusty say that Larry was the “king of the breathalyze” or “king of the pretzelyzer.”? I listened to it twice and it sounds like pretzelyzer to me. But I don’t blame you. Who knew what Dusty was saying half the time back then?

  21. JayJayStyles says:

    While I love this site. And I really do. I don’t get how a site worships Bret Hart who lets be real wasn’t a huge draw on top. Sadly it’s true. Yet hates Triple H who was an actual draw on top. But but Bret is a great worker! So is Triple H…. but but he only got there because he became a McMahon! That was after he actually won a title. He was WWF Champion in September of 99. He didn’t start dating Stephanie until January of 2000…..

    Also the Death of WCW kinda irks me too. I mean you did list the reason after all. AOL Time Warner and Jamie Kellner….. but a lot of print was given to running down management. Bischoff had $67 Million with Fusient to buy the company. AOL TW pulled out of the deal and cancelled the shows on Turner. Bischoff didn’t have time to get a new network deal. AOL is what killed WCW simple as that. As for this match, Bret allegedly broke his hand punching the Boss in Montreal. He couldn’t wrestle. Might as well be involved somehow.

  22. Michael says:

    It’s a wonder that WCW stayed on top in the ratings as long as they did with so many stupid ideas and blown opportunities.

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