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LaBar: Is Russo really as bad as people think?

For those who like to commit to an opinion only because it fits your agenda, you can stop reading because the following will be pointless for you.

Long before Dixie Carter became the favorite punchline of wrestling fans, there was a man named Vince Russo.

Russo earned fame as head creative writer for WWE during its boom period, known as the “Attitude Era,” in the late 1990s.

Russo left WWE for rival WCW. Wrestling fans like to talk about the controversy and bad memories regarding Russo’s tenure with WCW, after which he spent many years behind the scenes working for TNA on Spike TV.

In his prime, Russo’s thick New York accent and intensity made him perfect to play a heel. Combine that with the position of power that goes with writing the show, and Russo was an easy guy to dislike.

The legend of Russo has grown. He’s often painted in a negative light. Sometimes, it’s because people think he slowly killed wrestling companies with his edgy television content and decision-making. Other times, it’s a tale of how awful of a person he is.

Two types of people paint this picture.

The first are those who dealt with Russo at least 15 years ago. Let’s also remember the guy was in a position of controlling TV content. So think if it was you and how easy it would be to have people mad at you because they didn’t get booked the way they wanted.

Another big change is that since 2004, Russo has been a practicing Christian and doing his best to live his life based on a certain set of values. He puts other people first before you.

Last week, I spent nearly 48 hours straight with Russo when he came to Pittsburgh to appear on my video talk show, “Chair Shot Reality.” I was around him in social settings with wrestling fans, while he ate meals, and while we sat in traffic. I was around him enough that if he was putting on an act, he was eventually going to slip up.

This was no act.

There wasn’t a door he didn’t try to hold open for someone. There wasn’t a fan he didn’t talk with, or refuse to take a picture with. There wasn’t one complaint. The closest thing to a complaint was a constant request for coffee. He always could go for a fresh cup. By day two, I was getting better at routing coffee stops into the itinerary.

He always would find a way to put someone before him, no matter the situation. We even had a little spare time in day two, and he chose to use that to do something nice for me. He coordinated filming a video to promote the show my colleagues and I produce. He did a funny skit with Russo-like swerve so he could use it on his website to draw viewers. He wasn’t paid to do it. It wasn’t part of our agreement. That’s how he chose to use his spare time.

Some guys, when paid to come to a town, can play the star for the weekend. Russo wouldn’t let me carry his bag if I offered when walking out of the airport. He probably asked me as many questions about my life as I did of him. He did this with me and with as many people as he could.

Most wrestling fans have never met nor spent time with Russo. They watch a heel he plays on the air 15 years ago, and they feel like they know him and know what happened behind the scenes. I just spent two quality days with him, but to certain fans, they have no interest in the positive picture I’m painting.

Russo refers to the past version of himself as “old Vince.” He knows he wasn’t perfect 15 years ago. It was interesting to hear him talk about that and how he feels he has grown as a person. He still tries to give the fans an exciting Vince Russo, but he makes every attempt not to pollute his conversation speaking negatively about everybody just because that’s a popular pastime in wrestling-related interviews.

I know it’s not just me. More than 40 fans met Russo at a meet-and-greet event in Pittsburgh. I didn’t hear one fan say anything negative about their time with him. A lot of people posted pictures on social media, accompanied by positive reviews.

If you get a chance to meet Russo, I encourage you to do so. Form your own opinion via first-hand experience. He has a lot of stories and radiates positivity.

I know I will get heat from people who think I’m just spinning all of this positive PR for him because he did my show. The show’s filming is over. It has already aired. I got what I needed. What’s stopping me from telling the truth? If he was an even bigger heel than people perceive him to be, that’s juicy stuff, right? Why wouldn’t I tell that story? Why wouldn’t I just make up a controversial tale about him? Controversy always sells.

Reality is, I have to burst the Russo heel bubble and say he isn’t that bad.

Justin LaBar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7949 or [email protected].


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