WCW Nitro Author Tells All
Nitro by Guy Evans is the definitive book on Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW). At nearly 600 pages, it is the most comprehensive chronicle of what went right and what went wrong with WCW. I had the opportunity to speak with the author at length about his wonderful book, as well as Guy’s thoughts on modern-day wrestling, who his favorite wrestler is, and more.
Nitro is your first book, correct?
Yes, this is the first full-length book. However, I have contributed to other books, writing chapters and things of that nature. Nothing on the level of putting together a 600-page project like this.
Are you working on a follow-up to the Nitro book, since it’s been so well received?
Right now, I’m working on a couple follow-up projects for the Nitro book. Hopefully in 2021 I’ll be in a position to talk about what those are. Since the Nitro book came out, I’ve been working on these two projects. Both of them are follow-ups to the book, so hopefully next year I’ll be able to put something out about that.
Sounds exciting! So, what made you want to write Nitro in the first place?
I was one of those fans that came to wrestling as a result of the boom period in the mid- to late-90s. Even growing up in the UK, the ripple effect of that was felt across the pond. Wrestling became a part of pop culture for us. It became a phenomenon, even in the UK. Although the WWF, at the time, had a footprint in the UK, and Europe, more generally, I gravitated more toward WCW than WWF. Once WCW was sold and the company closed down, that was really the extent of my interest in wrestling for quite some time. I think if you go back and take a look at the numbers (laughs), millions of other fans made the same choice around that time. I think I stuck around for the better part of a year, just to see how they were going to integrate some of the WCW talent and what they were going to do with the ill-fated invasion storyline. I stuck around for a bit, and then somewhere around 2002 I just checked out. It wasn’t until, probably, late 2009 that I heard from a friend that there was this upstart organization called TNA Wrestling that was ostensibly going to try and challenge the WWE, in some form or fashion, by bringing back some of the stars of the Monday Night War era.
It was around that time that I went back and started revisiting what a big part of my life wrestling was as a young man. I started going back and watching some of the old shows, reading some of the other books on the subject, watching the various DVDs, and so on. I found them all to be very entertaining and interesting, but I felt like there was, probably, a different kind of story that could be told about WCW, particularly its relationship to its parent company and what a cultural force it was for a period of time. To make a long story short, probably around 2014 or so, after mulling that over for a few years, I figured if no one else was going to have a shot at it then I will. Obviously, the end result was the Nitro book.
Prior to your book, The Death of WCW was considered to be the ultimate book about this subject matter. Knowing that this book was out there, how did you go about making sure Nitro was different enough so people would want to read it and so it would be successful?
I think the most obvious difference would be that I interviewed over 120 people for my book. These include people who worked for WCW or its parent company. I was very passionate about making sure the recollections of those who were directly involved with the company drove the narrative of the book. I didn’t think it would be particularly interesting to put together a random fan’s opinion of what went down. There’s a lot of that out there. There’s no huge need for a project that recaps the good, the bad, and the ugly of WCW. I saw an opportunity to reach out to as many people as possible across the company, including numerous facets and divisions, to find out what occurred. I knew if I got enough of these people on the phone or met with them in person, which eventually happened, and gave them enough time to talk about something that was clearly important to them, I’d be amazed by what I uncovered during that process.
Two or three interviews in, I realized that there were scores of people involved with WCW and Turner, more broadly, who have been waiting for someone to come along and ask them to tell the true story of what happened. From that point onward, it became a domino effect. The more people I spoke to, the more people I was introduced to and the scope of the work grew larger and larger. You’re right in pointing out that there was already a well known book about WCW that came out several years prior to this one. A different kind of story is present in the Nitro book as a result of the access that I was fortunately able to get.
Is there anyone you wanted to interview for the book who declined to take part in it for whatever reason?
Well, I suppose the most obvious name that comes to mind is Ted Turner himself. That wasn’t for a lack of trying. (laughs) That would have been like putting the cherry on top of this in-depth look at the company. During this process I was in touch with quite a few people who are close to Ted. People who worked with him in the past or currently have communication with him.
Before it was made public, I got wind of the fact that, unfortunately, Ted was dealing with some serious health issues. At that point, I had the realization that an interview with Ted probably wasn’t going to happen. Apart from that, maybe there were one or two people who declined to be interviewed. But if you break down WCW into all of its divisions and components, there’s more than enough representation of all of those areas to hopefully make up for it.
In addition to all of these great interviews, you had access to WCW and Turner documents that haven’t seen the light of day in 20 years. That sounds like a treasure trove. How did you get access to those documents?
I have to be careful how I answer that one. (laughs) I’ll say that there were some very helpful people during the process. Once they formed the opinion in their mind that this was a legitimate project and that my intentions were to present a fair and accurate picture of what happened during this time, then they were willing to share these documents with me. There were a few people who really wanted to see this book succeed, so they tried to provide any materials that would help in that effort. Being able to cross reference these documents to verify financial figures and other data and information people brought up during my interviews with them was immeasurable.
I should also point out that there were a few people who I interviewed for this book whose recollections weren’t included because they weren’t backed up by facts. It became clear early on in those discussions that they weren’t coming from a fact-driven place. Instead, they were coming in with an agenda. So, those people weren’t included.
Some of the data that I found to be most interesting from those documents was the figures regarding what Eric Bischoff was getting paid to return to WCW. I also enjoyed the PPV buyrates, revenue, and other figures. This information adds an additional layer of interest to the book and the story being told.
I appreciate that. Any book about this time period adds to fans understanding of what happened. As Eric Bischoff states in my book, “you can be better than, less than, or different than.” I think that’s a helpful mantra when putting together a project on a topic that’s been covered to some level of detail. The Monday Night War has been the subject of numerous documentaries and podcasts. One of the most gratifying things to come out of this book is being able to build on what’s already been done and contribute something new.
What was the most fascinating piece of information, in your opinion, when uncovering those documents?
The biggest surprise that I had was the level of dysfunction that existed between WCW and its parent company. To hear from people at the executive level — in their own words — sharing why this company garnered the success that it did at the time is quite eye-opening. Once the company started to experience troubles, financially and creatively, its detractors were empowered by that. Those people outnumbered its supporters.
One of the most overlooked elements of WCW’s downfall is that people were still willing to watch its programming at a regular clip during the last couple of years. Yes, there was a decline in the ratings. But those numbers were fairly similar to the numbers that Nitro was getting at the beginning of its run on TNT. What really changed was the number of people who were willing to pay for the product. That’s what’s really jarring. Once that process was set in motion, it was inevitable that the plug was going to get pulled. In the minds of many important people within that organization, this was something that should have never been on the air to begin with, and it was something they were embarrassed by.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The first interview I conducted for the book was in January 2015. However, I started conceiving the book six months prior to that. I really wanted to make sure my research process was exhaustive before speaking with anyone; so, I did six months of research and created what I thought was going to be the likely structure of the book. It’s funny to think about now because the ultimate structure is completely different than what I had in mind to begin with. I think that’s true with any creative endeavor. Projects organically take on their own form. The book came out in July of 2018. So, it took somewhere between three-and-a-half to four years to complete.
You self-published this book. What was that experience like?
That’s an interesting question. So much of the success of the book has to do with timing. This happened at a time when many of the key players who are involved in the story were contractually available to talk about it, which had not been the case previously. I was very luck in that respect. To your point, this book was published at a time when it’s never been easier for someone who wants to put out their own content to do so. As I understand it, it would have been much harder for me to do 10 to 12 years ago. Even though 17 years have gone by since the company folded, this was the perfect time to put it out.
What was it like recording the audiobook version?
Originally that was something that I hadn’t considered. Then I started getting emails from people saying how much they love the book, that they are going to read it again and share it with family and friends. People also told me that they’d love an audiobook version. There’s 600 pages, which translates to 17-and-a-half hours long for the audiobook. There’s a lot of content there. There’s a certain density to the chapters — a lot of content packed into a small amount of space. So, I think you can go back and listen to or read through it again. What got the ball rolling as far as the recording is taking part in the wrestling conventions that Conrad Thompson has put together, Starrcast. Meeting people who kept telling me that they wanted an audiobook to listen to on their commute, or what have you, convinced me to go ahead and do it. It also opened my book up to a new audience that, perhaps, only reads audiobooks. As far as putting it together, I narrated, recorded, and edited on my own. I’ve been amazed by how the audiobook has been received.
What’s your favorite WCW match?
I think the Goldberg and Hogan match at the Georgia Dome on Nitro in July of 1998 is my favorite. For me, that match really encapsulates everything I love about wrestling. What attracted me to wrestling in the first place was the spectacle of it. You’ve got 41,000 people acting like they are at the Super Bowl. They are coming unglued during every big moment in the match. The larger-than-life personalities in the ring, and the announcers giving fans permission to temporarily suspend their critical faculties. You forget for a couple of minutes that this was put together behind the scenes before the show went on the air. When wrestling is at its best, you suspend your disbelief and react to it as if it’s real. There wasn’t a single person in the crowd after that match who felt it was mediocre. People are reacting in a genuine way, and that’s something I don’t see much of in contemporary wrestling. It’s hard to replicate and surpass.
Who is your favorite WCW wrestler?
I’d say Bill Goldberg. He had a physical charisma about him that’s hard to explain. It’s something that’s impossible to teach. He can command people’s attention with the way he moves and his timing. He engaged the crowd in what he was doing in a very unique way.
He reminds me of the Ultimate Warrior, who I was a huge fan of growing up, because they share that same unique physical charisma you mentioned.
That’s right. What comes to mind is a lot of these iconic characters had a massive impact. They transcended the wrestling business and became part of the pop culture landscape. It makes me wonder how many of the current crop of wrestlers are going to be revered in the same way? That’s one of the things that I think is lacking in contemporary wrestling.