After finally giving in to Eric Bischoff’s attempts to lure him into pro wrestling, Ernest Miller had no idea how true his friend’s warnings would turn out to be.
Miller recalled Bischoff’s words, shortly before he began training at the WCW Power Plant in 1996. “‘Ernest, I’m going to tell you about this business before you get in. There’s not too many givers in this business. Not too many people are going to go out on a limb for someone else. They all are takers. It’s me, me, me.'”
Ever since his debut in WCW, The Cat has endured constant criticism for his association with Bischoff, with many claiming that it was only because of Bischoff that he was employed in wrestling at all.
He has heard it all before, and quickly points out to SLAM! Wrestling that everybody needs connections to get into wrestling.
“There ain’t nobody just going to come out and say, ‘Wow, this guy’s good. Let’s get him in here.’ You had to know somebody,” Miller explained. “Let’s face it, one of the qualifications that make you a wrestler, what do you have to have to become a wrestler? There’s no guidelines. They give you a chance — ‘We think this guy right here can fit in.’ They give you the opportunity to help you make it. If you take advantage of it, hey that’s good. You’ve got it easy because you got in this way, how the hell did they get in? I don’t have problem because the guys in the locker room know that the only way that you can get in is if you know someone, and somebody wants to open the door and let you in. You could be best friends with Hogan, or your dad could be Dusty Rhodes.”
Once in the door is opened, it’s up to the individual to make the most of the opportunity. “Are you going to make yourself a star? Or are you just going to ride on that little cloud because you got an easy way in?”
Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller certainly has made the most of his stay in WCW. Though he hasn’t held any title belts, he’s always been entertaining both inside and outside of the ring. And it’s easy to forget that he’s only been at this for just four years — there are still many things for him still to accomplish.
“I’ve had Hogan come to me and say, ‘Cat, you’re one of the top heels in this business. We can make a lot of money with you.’ And I haven’t had a title belt, I haven’t really had a title shot. I don’t get a lot of wins. When people ask me, ‘How did you come along so fast?’ I said, ‘By losing.’ People just loved to see it, they wanted to see it, they wanted to see me lose. And I got up and entertained people losing.”
The turmoil in the front office of WCW hasn’t actually affected Miller’s on-screen persona much. “We had about three other regimes that came in and took over, and you know what? They all said the same thing: That I had talent. So I figure if it was only built on what Eric Bischoff gave me because I was teaching his son karate, when Eric got the hell out of there, you know what would have happened to me? … I would probably be sitting at home with the rest of the guys.”
In fact, Miller admits to enjoying working house shows. Unlike many of the so-called Millionaire’s Club in WCW, he’s more than happy to work anywhere, anytime. It’s a chance for him to get better in the ring.
“Let the millionaires sit home. I’ll work every damn night because I can only better myself,” he said. “Anybody who knows me knows I’m not afraid to work, I’m not afraid to open my mouth and say how I feel. I want to treat everybody the same. I want to treat people with the respect that they treat me and be able to help anybody. I go out of my way to help anyone.”
He has a lot of praise for wrestlers like Lance Storm, Hugh Morrus, Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Steiner and Sting, who have helped him out. They helped him out a lot with the pyschology, the timing that is an inherent part of pro wrestling.
“When I first got into the business, I used to do kicks falling out of the ring. I did stuff, man, walking on the ropes kicking,” Miller recalled. “But people didn’t want to see that. People wanted to see me crawl, beg, get up and dance, get into an argument with an old lady, make the crowd boo, make the crowd cheer.”
His improvement is evident if one goes back to his early days as Glacier’s tag team partner, battling the likes of Wrath and Mortis. But it hasn’t earned him the respect. “They still don’t want to give me the credit, though! Every now and then, I read somewhere that ‘The Cat can’t wrestle but he’s a helluva entertainer.’ And true enough, I never profess to being the greatest wrestler in the world, but I can entertain people. I can get people up, make them sit down, make them boo, make them cheer, make them laugh. I think that’s the job right there. That’s what people want to pay their money to do, right?”
Though Miller is reluctant to single out one particular individual as a major influence on his wrestling days, he will credit Scott Hall as being the first to welcome him in, the first to help him out.
“When I first came into the business, I came into a totally new business. I didn’t know anyone but Eric Bischoff,” The Cat remembered. “I was sitting at a table by myself, and the first person that approached me, Scott Hall, was sitting across the room from me, got up, moved his dish and came over and said, ‘Can I sit with you please?’ Just real nice. We sat down and had a long conversation. He told me how he started, how he came up with the Scott Hall gimmick, the Razor Ramon gimmick. He was really, really helpful.”
The Cat doesn’t appreciate it when people pass judgement on people they don’t know. “I hear a lot of negative things said about Scott Hall, but I’m going to tell you, Scott has always been real nice to me.
“He’d meet me in the back, and say it was a great job, why don’t you slow down when you do this…”
The crazy schedule and travel can be a constant strain on the wrestlers and their families, and the temptations are everyone, according to Miller.
“We get in a lot of trouble on the road,” he admitted. “It’s trouble. If you don’t have your head on right, it’s a lot of trouble to get into out there. Being on the road, and people willing to do anything and everything just to be around us. It’s unbelievable.”
Mix that with a business where there were “a lot of egos, a lot of babies, a lot of crying, a lot of selfish people” and there can be even more trouble.
“I came from where people had to work hard to get what they wanted,” Miller said. “Now I’ve got a Mercedes, now I’m dealing with a lot of millionaires. But I’ve noticed one thing that we have in common — we all have our problems. But that don’t me a better person than whomever.”
Miller has known Bill Goldberg from his days playing football, and considers him a really good friend and a “real, real good person.”
But that doesn’t mean that Miller wants to equal his success. “I wouldn’t change places with Goldberg for nothing in the world,” he said, before explaining some of the changes that he has seen in his friend.
“I think the business has changed him a little bit, but then again, once you get kicked in the face and stabbed in the back so many times, you’ve got to put your guards up and be ready and try to find your enemies. Because sometimes they come at you with a friendly face — you don’t know who your enemies are. You’re going to have to put your guards up a little bit.”
It brings up the question of a union in professional wrestling, or at least having the employers more interested in helping out their employees who have problems.
“I think the business should do more for the wrestlers than what they’re doing. I played pro football, man. They’ve got all kinds of organizations. If you’ve got a problem, there’s always somebody to talk to,” he said. “In this business right here, they give you all the money you need, they give you all the freedom to go and come, and just do our show. And I think, dealing with some of the past — I’ve been in the business three years — I have first-hand knowledge of some of the problems that the guys are having, and they don’t have any treatment for it, anybody you can really call and talk to.”
The death of Louis Spicolli in February 1998 was a recent example for Miller. “I don’t want to say that I saw it coming, but there was a young kid making a lot of money there, around a lot of people who were doing things that probably weren’t good for themselves. He just got with the wrong crowd. I remember stopping him one day, and saying ‘Man, why do you do that?’ He said ‘Do what? I don’t do it all the time.’ They’re all like, ‘Man, you’ve got a good life, you just got a new contract, and everything.’ But he was a real nice guy. Then you hear about something happening to him, like them finding him dead in the hotel room, that makes me say to myself that I wish I could have done more.”
Could a union happen in pro wrestling?
“Whenever you say union around these people, they freak out,” he said. “I think a union will help a lot of people. I think it will help the business because then you have someone to mediate, someone to go be the in between man. The only ones it will really hurt are the ones who are making the millions and millions of dollars, who are not working as much as the guys. It’s guys like me, Lance Storm, and a lot of guys, who … they ask me to go do things sometimes, I don’t feel like it, but I know it’s a part of my job. And I ask myself, ‘Why don’t they get that guy making $4 million a year, $3 million a year to go do this?'”
The difficulty lies in how to classify the union. Should it be modelled on the powerful sports unions like the NFLPA or NHLPA or should it be more like the acting unions, like Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild or ACTRA. According to Miller, it will have to be something new, because wrestling isn’t a real sport, and yet the job isn’t the same as an actor on a television show either.
“People want wrestling to be a sport. But then when you look at it, some people say it’s entertainment, acting. So where do you draw the line? I don’t think you draw the line, I think you just make a line and say ‘This is what it is.'”
The approaching sale of WCW is an example of the employees being left in the dark, not fully knowing what is going on. And the frustration comes through talking to Miller. “We have heard from the WWF to some Japanese company buying the business. It’s the unfortunate thing that when you’re working, you’re getting paid, but you don’t know who you’re working for really, or who you’re going to be working for tomorrow or next week.
“We’re told there’s going to be a big announcement. It can be for Monday. It can be a big announcement for Tuesday. If it’s Tuesday, it’s going to be a big announcement Wednesday. So here you are, out there and breaking your neck, trying to put on the best show possible, and you don’t know who you’re going to be working for tomorrow. Or if you’ll be working tomorrow.”
The wrestlers themselves don’t have too much to worry about, really, Miller said. “If somebody’s buying the company, as long as the company is not going out of business, the wrestlers, we don’t have to worry about that. What our concern is, is the people who do get in.”
He’s hoping that the new owner has the best interest of the business at heart, not just self-gain or money. “We want to give wrestling the product that it needs and deserves, a good show”
One of the rumoured buyers is Miller’s “good friend” Eric Bischoff, just no one of certain where the funding for the purchase may come from. Miller declined to comment on his friend’s attempts to purchase WCW, saying with a laugh to call back in a couple of months to talk about it.
Yet, stepping back into seriousness, Ernest Miller shared some of his thoughts on what could have happened. “I may get buried for this, I may get put down for this, but when they said Vince McMahon was buying it, him or Eric, either one of them, I felt good because I know Vince McMahon is in it for the business. He is only going to make waves. If he takes something, he’ll make it into the best. He’s already proven that. He knows how to do that. And when Eric was running the show, Eric Bischoff was running the show, he was one of the, everybody knew that you had a boss around. And Eric is the winner. He’s one of the guys who love to be on top.”
For now, though, The Cat is content to keep wrestling, continuing to entertain the fans. “I’m having a good time wrestling, meeting people,” he said. “I’m really having a good time in this business. And as long as I’m having a good time in this business, I’ll stay in it, because there’s not enough money in this world to make me do something that I really don’t want to do.”
ERNEST MILLER STORY ARCHIVE
- Jan. 9, 2001: The early days of WCW star Ernest Miller
- Dec. 15, 2000: ‘The Cat’ Ernest Miller clawing for Storm at Starrcade