Vince McMahon says that if Bob Costas were bigger they would have come to blows in a contentious interview on HBO 20 years ago.
In Jim Miller’s new book “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers”, McMahon and Costas recalled an interview the two did on Costas’ HBO show in 2001. At the time, the first iteration of McMahon’s XFL was declining in viewership, and Costas also prodded McMahon about elements of WWE he found distasteful.
In the book, Costas said that, as things were getting testy, producers were in his ear telling him to “keep going.”
“It was live, and obviously since it’s HBO, there were no commercials,” Costas said. “I knew it was good television in the moment, but I wasn’t trying to hype it. Sometimes things can become sensational, but they start from a legitimate place. And the legitimate place was that the XFL was trying to find a place in mainstream sports, on a mainstream network. It started out with great interest. I think they got a rating of 10 for the first game, but by the end, they were getting the lowest ratings of any program in prime time in the history of network television.”
McMahon, the WWE chairman, poked fun at Costas’s height and intimated that if the host were bigger there would’ve been a fight.
“Once we were doing the interview, he kept interrupting me and interrupting me, and bringing up topics that had nothing to do with what we were supposed to be talking about,” McMahon said. “He kept trying to do the ‘I gotcha’ kind of thing. It was clear he didn’t want to hear any of my answers.
“The other problem was that Bob is so freaking pompous. The entire time he acted like he was above me and was just using me to show how great he was. I was sitting there really pissed off and started thinking, I wish he wasn’t 5-feet high and 140 pounds. If he was 6-5 and 295, he would deserve to get the shit beat out of him. I could have really given them some great television.”
While they did not come to blows, the approximately 5-foot-7 Costas does recall a feat of strength from McMahon, who is around 6-1.
“He stormed off and you could hear the doors slamming behind him,” Costas said. “It takes some strength, by the way, to slam the doors of the studio. Those doors aren’t like the door to your kitchen. I could hear them slam.”
Costas said that McMahon called him the next day to propose an interview rematch.
“The following day the phone rings, and it’s McMahon. ‘Bob, let’s make it two out of three. You took last night. I want a rematch.’ I said, ‘Great.’ We did another one a year later that was less heated, was still a good exchange, but it wasn’t as memorable as the first one.”
McMahon was not the only current WWE executive quoted in the book. Nick Khan, now president of WWE and formerly a sports media super agent at CAA, rails on former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg for losing a premier boxing match at the time to Showtime, and nearly losing Khan’s former client Jim Lampley as a broadcaster.
“Floyd Mayweather was in a period of retirement leaving [Manny] Pacquiao as the undisputed top fighter in the sport,” Khan said. “In reading the tea leaves, we believed that Pacquiao’s next fight against Shane Mosley was going to go to Showtime. HBO Sports had no clue this was happening.
“Ross Greenburg was not paying attention. He decided to go on a holiday trip to Thailand, taking him off the grid for 10 to 14 days. Those were crucial days — days where [Bob] Arum, and the fight itself, could have been salvaged and brought back to HBO. But Ross wasn’t around. He was on vacation. Not to be disturbed. So when Greenburg returned from his vacation in January, the fight was 100 percent going to Showtime.”
Khan said Lampley was lowballed in a contract offer, and that the situation had to be fixed by Greenburg’s then-bosses at HBO, Michael Lombardo and Richard Plepler.
“It quickly got on Michael Lombardo and Richard Plepler’s radar that they had lost essentially the biggest fight of the year,” Khan said. “It also got on their radar that not only had Lampley turned the pay decrease offer down but that we had asked for Jim’s release from HBO.
“That was the impetus for the first conversation I ever had with Richard Plepler or Michael Lombardo. They both called and said, ‘This is now with us. We love Jim Lampley. He’s part of the HBO family. He’s the voice of boxing. We know that his deal expires before this fight. We want him here. We don’t want him going across the street. We want to sit with him immediately.’ And Plepler and Lombardo came in and fixed everything.”