James Dixon: The show Confidential was a relatively short-lived program that aired Saturday evenings on Spike TV from 2002-2004. It was unique in that it wasn’t a typical recap show or collection of squash matches featuring lower midcarders, instead focusing on the company “behind the scenes”. Confidential lifted the business’s already irreparably torn veil of kayfabe further than ever, with real-life situations away from the weekly storylines discussed in depth. Fans who had grown up watching in the eighties were now in their early twenties, and they enjoyed the true (kinda) stories about their heroes of yore, not to mention WWE lifting the lid on modern day situations that developed while the show aired. Indeed, there were some interesting revelations on Confidential, though as with any “behind the scenes” look at history commissioned by WWE, a whole host of slanted shite too. This compilation featuring the best of the first year, should be quite a ride. Gene Okerlund is our host, and he begins with the fantastical claim that Confidential is a revolutionary show. Hardly.
Eric Bischoff joins WWE
We get footage of Eric Bischoff’s shocking debut on RAW, and highlights of his opening night promo. Bischoff shares his take, saying he was a little nervous about how he would be received, but that he wasn’t scared to come and work for Vince McMahon. For his part, McMahon expresses his belief that hiring Bischoff was the right thing to do, because it was shocking. Well, shocking isn’t always a good thing, though in this case it was. Jim Ross remembers the night as a controversial one, saying how the dressing room didn’t know anything about it and there was a feeling of disbelief, though no one was mad enough about it to want to work. Well, how could they be? There was nowhere left to go. Even all these years later, it is still strange to see Bischoff in a WWE ring.
We move on to Bischoff’s time with WCW, and rehash the Monday Night Wars and Eric’s underhanded tactics (from a WWE perspective) during them. “I can’t apologise for any of it,” says Bischoff, though McMahon – in his casual baby blue sweater – disagrees. Everyone has heard all of this countless times before, I am sure. Vince thought it was personal, he thought Bischoff crossed a line, he didn’t understand why WCW was trying to hurt his show, etc. All entirely hypocritical considering how he steamrolled through the territories in the early eighties. “I don’t think RAW would have been the same if not for Nitro,” admits Vince, which is true. One only has to look at the snoozefest it became when Nitro died for proof of that.
The Stone Cold Situation
“The bottom line is everything sucks. I think the writing has been pretty substandard. If that pisses people of, then so be it. The bottom line is, the creative could be a whole lot better than it is.” – Steve Austin on internet show Byte This, which set the ball rolling for his demise as an active in-ring performer. Vince responded on the show, calling Austin, “the most demanding man he has ever worked with”. A few weeks later, Austin walked out of an episode of RAW because he thought the creative that saw him booked to lose a throwaway King of the Ring qualifier against Brock Lesnar was the shits. He is right. Booking a one-of-a-kind star like Austin to lose to Lesnar in a match with no build up, and on free TV, was a remarkably stupid idea.
“Austin took his ball and went home, and quite frankly, I’m pissed off.” – Vince. And so begins the burial of the man who dragged WWE from the brink, turning them from a money-losing company struggling in the weekly ratings battle with WCW into a global juggernaut with a monopoly over the entire industry. This ended up biting WWE in the ass when they took him back less than a year later, leaving them with egg on their faces. This aired on the show literally a week after the incident occurred, and it is a petty, reactionary response to a situation they probably could have smoothed out had they decided to talk to Austin rather than bury him. Seeing JR having to sit there under orders and rip his best friend to shreds is unsettling. You can tell he is uncomfortable about it.
Kurt Angle’s Olympic Training
Kurt goes home to his old training centre, a facility he worked out in for three months a year for eight years, and catches up with some old buddies. He tries to use one of the machines, but is perplexed to learn that he needs a special code to access it. “Yeah, but I have an Olympic gold medal!” Kurt reminisces about what his life was like while he was in training, and it all makes him sound like a machine. Except for second breakfast; that makes him sound like a hobbit. Kurt meets Jack Jensen, a would-be-Olympian training at the facility. He never ended up making the grade, though had a respectable amateur career with Oklahoma State. Kurt takes to the mat to do some stretching, which is about as thrilling as watching people, erm, doing some stretching. “Being out for six years is like starting all over again,” says Kurt, as he handily schools everyone who spars with him.
Big Show and Bradshaw engage in a game of horse, though Bradshaw wants to change the name to “Texas”. Obviously. Bradshaw has a football background, whereas Show played basketball at a decent level for Wichita State. Thus, you would expect Show would cream him, but it is not to be. Show is a bad loser and threatens Coach – who is providing running commentary – that, “I will smash your skull if you get in my face.” Show misses shot after shot, causing Bradshaw to do a wee dance. “Darlin’ I wanna tell you right now, I’m bisexual, I can shoot with both hands.” Hmm. He may want to consult a dictionary. Show ends up with “TEXAS” and Bradshaw only has a single “T”. Poor showing from Show. Bradshaw’s victory gives him a hoops battle with Linda Miles, who was a key player for Rutger University’s basketball team a few years earlier. Hell, they even had a documentary released about their 2000-01 season! She should offer a sterner test, though Bradshaw would prefer to take their tangle to the local Hilton. “Let the basketball do the talking,” Miles warns. “How about we let the Viagra do the talking?” What Bradshaw’s deal? First he claims to be bisexual, then he hits on a chick who is more manly than most of the roster. And those stories of his exploits in the showers never fully go away. I’m just saying. This segment is pretty boring now. Watching folk play horse is not exactly riveting TV, especially with Bradshaw making a run for pervert of the year with one inappropriate comment after another. Bradshaw wins, proving what a piss-poor level women’s basketball is played at.
Davey Boy Smith
Mean Gene introduces the segment with backhanded compliments, recalling what a great career Smith had while basically calling him a screw-up and a drug abuser outside of the ring. Diana Hart talks about her late husband in a brand new interview, which was only filmed ten days after he passed. It is WWE’s old trick of putting the widow on the box far too soon after losing their spouse to the business, a crass trick to grab ratings for sure. They did the same thing with Melanie Pillman and Martha Hart after the deaths of Brian Pillman and Owen Hart respectively.
Bruce Hart takes credit for discovering Davey and Dynamite Kid and recommending them to his dad, because, of course he does. William Regal chimes in and calls the Bulldogs the greatest tag team ever. They are certainly up there. “He was an absolute piston in the ring, he was like a sparkplug. Built like a brick you-know-what,” offers Howard Finkel in his distinctive, authoritative voice. The Brooklyn Brawler says essentially the same thing, only with less eloquence. Diana says Davey was “proud of being British”. Gee, thanks for that insight. He sure kept that under wraps! We see highlights from Smith’s greatest match at SummerSlam 1992 (which is available in full on the extras), a 5* classic with Bret Hart which stands the test of time to this day. The Undertaker thinks that was Davey at his peak, which is true in the sense that it was the peak of his fame, but it wasn’t his in-ring plateau. The match with Hart was an anomaly, because by 1992 Smith had been phoning it in for years. He only recaptured his best form in 1996-97. I would say his in-ring peak was during the Bulldogs run, and in particular his nightly classics opposite the Harts. We get a little insight into Davey’s penchant for ribbing, with Regal telling a story about how much of a kick Smith would get out of pissing in Chris Champion’s hat while he was in WCW. Brawler recalls a story about Davey throwing firecrackers into one of the locker rooms and then fleeing to another room away from the scene, and how Chief Jay Strongbow would grill him about it: “Uh robot, you know you did the ha-ha?” “I didn’t do it! It was Owen!” Taker adds a fun story about how Davey always used to steal his towel because he would forget his own, which he says went on for years. Why didn’t he just start bringing a spare towel with him to pre-empt it?
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
This is a tribute to Snuka, who is not dead. It is simply a bio for the sake of a bio. Snuka does a new interview to talk quietly about himself, while talking heads discuss what made him memorable. The consensus from luminaries Tommy Dreamer, Jeff Hardy, and Dawn Marie is that he was unique because he didn’t wear shoes. Oh sure, that’s his claim to fame! Snuka talks about being overawed on his MSG debut, though the footage shown here is from his face run which came later on. He had a WWF stint as a heel first that everyone (well, WWE) forgets. Talk turns to Snuka’s promos, which were mostly incoherent. The heads gently call them as such under the pretence of praise. We see the overhyped Snuka-Don Muraco cage bout from 1983, and the famous highlight reel splash from the top of the structure. Two things: First, the match went for like five minutes and it sucked. It was not “unbelievable” as Snuka claims. Second, the splash that everyone marks out over was a redo! He tried it (and missed) against Bob Backlund in 1980. Okay, it was the first time he had hit the thing, but the missed splash was actually more impressive as he leapt much further. Revisionist history. Snuka calls the original WrestleMania a great highlight, even though he didn’t even wrestle, he merely stood in the corner for the main event and watched. The mood darkens slightly when Snuka admits to his past cocaine use (that explains the promos), proudly claiming to have got himself clean without rehab. It depends on the era as to whether WWE will let guys admit to this sort of thing. After highlights of Snuka’s induction into the 1996 Hall of Fame, he offers some closing thoughts: “How did it all become like this, and why?” I thought he said he was clean?
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
So, this disc is now just a series of mini bios, huh? Not that I mind seeing Bobby Heenan dicking around on Prime Time, Coliseum Home Video skits, and such. Arn Anderson puts Bobby over, which as anyone who is familiar with Arn will know is a rarity for him. Brawler offers his own assessment too, though I fail to see why he is an authority on anything in WWE eyes. Why do they even ask him things? I can only assume it is to give him some busy work to do, and that his official WWE job title is “talking head”. We get lots of Heenan highlights, all of which make me laugh out loud, and remind me after years of suffering through PG Era WWE’s attempts at humour that pro wrestling can be funny if done right.
D-Generation X Invades Norfolk
We all know this one. DX, decked in camouflage, storm the Norfolk Scope, home of WCW Nitro. Billy Gunn recalls how they had, “an armoured car kinda thing”. Some call them “jeeps”. The DX guys recall the skit with fondness, and it really was excellent. Mind you, I am sick of seeing the damn thing now. “I was pissed, I was really pissed,” says Bischoff, though he is able to look back on it now and laugh. He recalls how he first felt when he saw what they were doing, “Damn, they figured it out! They’re beating me at my own game here. “It was a ballsy, arrogant, aggressive move. I loved that.” Kevin Nash gets in his cheap shots at the company that made him rich, and that he was partly responsible for ruining. “I don’t think they had any plans to retaliate. At that time they were having a hard enough time making coffee.” Triple H reckons WCW should have let them in, which is silly really as they did the stunt before Nitro started, so what benefit would that have had? “I don’t know if I will ever have a period in my career that is gonna match that” – X-Pac. Nope, you won’t.
Demise of WCW
This should be good for a laugh. “Let’s take a look at the events that led to the demise of WCW,” says Mean Gene. Wait, how long is this disc running for? Booker T, who apparently doesn’t miss much, recalls realising things were improving for WCW when he noticed the crowds getting bigger. He is a sharp one. We get a lot of footage of Bischoff here, so WWE are suggestively pegging him as the guy to blame for everything going wrong, which is nonsense. He was responsible for a lot of the problems, but there were far more factors at play. Chris Jericho outright calls Bischoff overly arrogant for taking all of the credit for WCW’s success, whereas Big Show partly blames the nWo, calling them a cancer. He does have some particularly harsh criticisms of Bischoff to go with that though: “He was too infatuated with his own ideas, of his own self of being. Eric didn’t have any people skills, and quite frankly, sometimes he was an asshole”. Hell, imagine what he would be saying about him if he didn’t work here! Show comes across well in this piece, generally talking a lot of sense. Hulk Hogan says Bischoff always had time for the top talent, but, get this, “I saw moments where Eric didn’t cater to the other talent” (meaning the work-rate laden midcard) adding that the mentality became, “I’m going to get what I can out of this, and when it ends, it ends”. So sayeth the man who had creative control, earned in excess of $3m guaranteed per year, worked a limited schedule, and had a clause in his contract that paid him a percentage of all PPV gates/buys he was on.
Show rags on the way Nitro changed by the minute prior to going on air, while Jericho offers some additional insight on the farcical nature of WCW, pointing out that they would bring sixty-five guys to TV every week in case they needed them, but would only ever book thirty tops on the show. No foresight, forward planning, or cohesion. Jericho talks about the nonsensical things that went on in the company, such as how he once received a royalty cheque for zero dollars, and another time was delivered a FedEx with nothing in it. “A lot of unnecessary spending was going on”. That’s an understatement. “The biggest problem with WCW was the guaranteed contracts” says… HOGAN! Oh, they must be going for intentional irony now.
Jericho tells a story about asking Bischoff for $100k guarantee when he signed, and how he ended up getting $165k. “It was the largest ATM machine I ever saw,” reckons Hogan, who certainly made more than his fair share of withdrawals from it! Show says he was angry about only earning $125k per year while he was WCW Champion. Let’s not forget, that was his debut year. Hell, most guys would be over the moon to earn $25 per night while they were cutting their teeth. In other news, his wallet is too small for his fifties, and his diamond shoes are too tight. Booker and Jericho say the majority of the talent did their job, sleepwalked through everything, then headed to the bar. “They had no respect for management, they just did what they wanted”. When they make comments like that, it is amazing to me that Hogan is being interviewed for the piece and is taking the same stance. He was one of the biggest culprits of all! “I knew we were in trouble by mid-98, when we were still hot” admits Bischoff. And that is the end of the segment! What about Vince Russo!? The Fingerpoke of Doom? Botching Sting? Giving away Goldberg-Hogan? Losing money? Losing TV? This felt like a preview piece for The Rise and Fall of WCW DVD.
History of the WCW Championship
“There were just scores of names that people still remember who held that title, big names,” says Bischoff, without naming any. Because he doesn’t know any! Ric Flair does, and reels them off, though he alone accounts for many years’ worth of reigns. He explains the old NWA deposit situation where the champion would pay $25k and get the belt, then give it back after doing the job and get their money back. “It was a huge honour because it was decided on by a vote, including Vince McMahon Sr.” Flair explains how odd that was because Vince owned the competition, though the WWWF and NWA were not competition in the same manner as WCW and WWF were years later, Vince Sr. was simply separate from the NWA. He even ran joint shows at that Garden that pitted Flair against his champion Bob Backlund. Flair should remember that, given he was there.
Bischoff gives a super-brief overview of how the NWA belt became the WCW belt, and by super brief I mean he explains almost nothing. Diamond Dallas Page compares winning the title to winning an Oscar, and Booker agrees that it was a great feeling. Everyone puts over Buddy Rogers, who actually only held it once, and his reign was marred by controversy. His defeat to Lou Thesz actually caused the formation of the WWWF in the first place. Show reminds us that he won the title in his first ever match, which rather undermines everything that has just been said. If it is that easy to win the thing, who cares? For Show, it has all been downhill from there. “Every time a company has done well, it is because they had a strong champion,” assesses Show. That certainly used to be true in the territory days, up until probably the early nineties, but by the time he got his mammoth paws on the belt it was merely a prop. The prestige wasn’t the same, and the champion’s role was far less vital in drawing houses. It was the brand and the product overall that sold, rather than the individuals. We get a rundown of a few champions, Dusty Rhodes, Flair, Goldberg, etc. It is little more than highlights of the guys lifting the belt in the air and hitting a few moves, with the odd comment here and there. The best of those is Bischoff admitting to giving DDP the belt because they were friends, though Flair says Page deserved his run because he believed he deserved to be there, which is all that matters. We close with Hogan, who Flair thinks, “Will go down in history as the greatest champion of our time.” Strong praise indeed.
It turns out that William Regal is a lover of all things lizard. He gives us a tour of his reptile room, then tells a delightful story about how his iguana tries to shag his wife’s head during mating season. “Oh, I did laugh”. You can’t beat that dry British sense of humour. After feeding the lizards some frozen mice, he rejects the idea of putting them in a cage together, because they would kill each other. “No, I will not put my lizards in a cage to fight each other for your amusement, You sick individual.”
We get a full tour of Trish Stratus’s lavish house, as Confidential basically becomes Cribs. Her kitchen is black granite and her dining room contrasting white, which is a very sterile look. Her house is beautiful, and in many ways, geek heaven. In her “relaxing” room she has a carpet that she designed herself, reclining couches and a load of action figures. In another she has foosball and hockey tables. Her “movie room” is full of paraphernalia, thousands of movies, a gumball machine, and various media playing software. It is great. She even has a room specifically housing a hot tub, a gym, and another room that she has converted into a giant closet. Even the guest rooms are luxurious, with one designed to look exactly like the Hyatt. The hotel that is, not Missy Hyatt. She has a bar too, which is full of shot glasses from every state/city that she has visited in her career, which is a cool idea. I don’t think much of her “office” mind. It is just a massive room housing a laptop on a table. Unnecessary opulence, but helluva house.
Three Generations of Ortons
Yet another bio segment, which is hardly fitting for what this show claims to be. The pieces are all decent enough of course, but they feel like bite sized chunks cut from a DVD profile rather than anything worth going out of your way to see. Calling them “behind the scenes” is pushing it. The Ortons are a fairly interesting family, and all talented workers. In my view Bob Orton Jr. is the best of the three, and Bruce Prichard agrees, calling him one of the best wrestlers ever. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think he is a very underrated talent, remembered more for the cast he wore on his arm for eighteen months than his ability. Like every old school vet, he kayfabes his gimmick, claiming his arm heeled slowly because he was pounding it into people every night. Bob Orton Sr. I haven’t seen enough of to judge. Randy Orton is perfunctory. Solid, unspectacular. He puts himself over as having the same mannerisms and timing as his dad. Maybe, but not the same level of flair. People see him as better than he is because of how strongly he has been positioned for so long. Cue various clips of the three generations doing the same moves, and that’s that.
Samoan Family Tree
Rikishi calls his family the biggest in wrestling, and boy isn’t that true? There are dozens of them, and they keep producing more. Here is a list (including extended family): Rikishi (obviously), Samu, Rosey, Jamal/Umaga, Afa, Sika, Jimmy Snuka, The Rock, Rocky Johnson, Peter Maivia, Yokozuna, Tama. And that was only when this was filmed. Since then, there have been more!: Roman Reigns, Tamina, Manu, The Usos… The list goes on.
Kish talks about Yoko, who he says was his best friend. He tells a touching story about how his heater went out while he was on the road, and his newborn baby was cold. He was struggling for money (the WWF was a bad place to work at the time), so Yoko wrote him a cheque without blinking. Kish says that is the family mentality; they take care of each other. If one is well off, that person helps everyone. Other subjects Kish touches upon are dancing, church, and his kids, who will eventually become The Usos. Again, this is a nice bio piece, but nothing groundbreaking. We have seen plenty of releases like this before. Rikishi closes by dancing, and “telling a story with his hands”. The young Usos, seventeen years old at the time, make a brief cameo appearance and join in! Now there is a curio.
World’s Oldest Wrestling Fan
What would they have titled this segment in 2015? “The Universe’s Oldest Sports Entertainment Viewer”. We meet the fan in question, Gertrude Gash, a one-hundred-and-seven year old who has lived through two World Wars, the inventions of radio, television, and the internet, Elvis, the Beatles, and the sinking of the Titanic. And after all that, she wants to meet The Rock. She says she has been watching wrestling since TV was first invented! Rock gives her a birthday wish… via satellite. That’s what he does. Couldn’t they have taken him to meet her? She seems happy enough with that at least. “Miss Gertrude” died in 2004, just over a year after this was filmed. She outlived her husband of seventy-six years by nearly forty years, and her kids by around twenty. Remarkable woman.
Booker T meets Levon Kirkland
For those who don’t give a damn about football, which is basically everyone not in North America, Kirkland is an NFL player who loves wrestling so much that he watches it ahead of MNF on Mondays. He is a real fan too, a guy who used to watch Booker T in Global Wrestling way back when. Booker hangs out with him in the Philadelphia Eagles training centre, meeting other players and touring the facility. He explains to their quarterback where the five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time Spinneroonie hand gesture came from. A pretty damn tedious piece overall.
Bret vs. Shawn – Montreal ‘97
So here it is then, the selling point for this DVD. The “truth” (from WWE’s not-at-all-biased perspective) about the Montreal Screwjob. Gene starts us with a lie, saying the WWF was close to going out for the count because of WCW. Not true. “Survivor Series 97 was to be Bret’s last WWE match. One problem: Bret wasn’t about to relinquish to title to anyone under any circumstances”. LIES. SO MANY LIES. He actually had a few more weeks on his contract, the concern was that Bischoff would announce him as signing in Nitro the next night, or that Bret would show up there with the belt. The latter legally couldn’t happen. Bret also offered to lose the belt to literally anyone else, he only refused to lose to Shawn that night in Montreal, for reasons explained at length elsewhere. It basically boiled down to a lack of respect.
Remarkably, footage is shown from the secret Bret-Vince recordings that first saw the light of day on Wrestling With Shadows. “I was troubled and anxious all day,” says McMahon. “There’s a certain angst when you have to make an unpopular decision, and you know someone is going to get hurt.” Shawn Michaels says the issue that day was more with Bret and Vince than he and Bret, which is both truth and BS in equal measure. Shawn admits that while usually on PPV he was all about the match, on that night he was nothing about the match, only the situation. “I don’t even know if the match was any good. I don’t think it was.”
Resident sycophant Jerry Brisco paints the picture of the Gorilla Position during the match, saying nobody in it except for him knew what was going to happen. We see the moment of truth, and the heartbreaking sight of the life draining from Bret’s face, followed by Vince’s bullshit “time honoured tradition” promo. Earl Hebner, the unscrupulous referee, says he only found out the plan ten minutes before the match, then admits to bailing like a pussy after doing the deed. “He made the only decision he could make from a business standpoint. I knew there was no way in the world I was going to be anything other than the bad guy. Whether I did know or I didn’t know is irrelevant,” adds Shawn. Of course, Brisco thinks it took a lot of courage for Shawn to do what he did. He would.
Shawn says there was stunned silence in the back after the deed went down, which is accompanied by more Wrestling With Shadows footage. And then, the selling point of the whole piece: “Yes, I knew,” admits Shawn with his head bowed. “How did I find out? Because I was told.” Well, duh. I don’t think anyone ever doubted for a second that Shawn was fully in on the whole thing. Vince puts Shawn over for being gutsy. “I could have been compromising Shawn’s values as well. I wasn’t.” Yeah, because he didn’t have any! “He asked me to do it and I did it. I’m not sorry for it,” says Shawn. Brisco details how he talked the plan over with Shawn the night before, and showed him some holds in case Bret tried to hurt him. Vince claimed it was an hour after the event when Brisco told him that Bret wanted to talk to him (much of this is nonsense, but I am not getting into the full shebang again here), and that Bret “wants to beat the shit out of you”. “Well, that’s not going to happen,” said big bad Vinnie. Oh, really? Vince reckons he gave Bret a free shot, which he has always claimed. That could well be true, but I bet he wasn’t expecting Hart to deck him quite as hard as he did. Vince puts it down to comedy of errors and blames Brisco standing on his ankle as the reason he got floored. Nah. That happened afterwards while he was helping him up. “There was a certain amount of relief on my part, but a certain amount of sorrow that Bret would have hit me. I don’t feel I owe Bret anything.”
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