Every Tuesday night as I flip through television channels, I'm coldly reminded that I've lost a part of me forever.
I scroll through page after page of flickering rubbish and eventually find myself fixated on three letters staring back at me from a field on my screen preceded by the channel notation of The SciFi Network... ECW.
Three letters, countless memories, and one broken heart.
Usually I simply shake my head in disbelief or disgust as my mind hearkens back to the sounds of it all- obscene, chanting fans, chairs and garbage can lids smacking flesh and bone, edgy interviews and promos that featured swear words. I then picture images both bloody and artistic as I quickly continue to scroll through my channels, deflated.
But not this Memorial Day weekend. I need to eulogize my lost love after 25 years of loving and breathing and studying this business, losing countless members of my extended family along the way. I suffer through the sad iteration of "edgy" wrestling on this SciFi Network being called ECW. I spit upon the ground as I typed that last sentence.
I choose to remember the real ECW, for everything that it was and everything it wasn't.
How ECW Hooked me
It was a Sunday morning, and my younger brother woke me up excitedly to tell me that he discovered the greatest thing he'd ever seen as a wrestling fan the night before. It aired Saturday night on the MSG Network at 3am, and it was a real wrestling show, he explained. As he went on ranting breathlessly about backstage promos that had to be censored and a wrestler using a cheese grater on his opponent's forehead, he added that he had taped the whole affair so I could see it myself.
And see it I did.
I had come to believe that sports entertainment was very black and white, good and bad but always very fake. Realizing that early on was like learning that my mom was Santa Claus and also left a dollar under my pillow when I lost a tooth. But it didn't stop me from trying to cheer Hulk Hogan to a Wrestlemania VI victory over the Ultimate Warrior.
What I watched that morning changed my life and the way I saw my then favorite pasttime, wrestling. It changed the way I saw sporting events as a whole and the way I acted as a fan. It changed the standards I apply to everything I watch.
The performers of ECW were doing the same moves as the superstars of the WWF/WWE and NWA/WCW were doing at the time, often much less impressively or sloppier. They didn't look like those stars did, for the most part, lacking tans and glistening muscular bodies.
Their character names and storylines were a mix of gritty and strange and mysterious. Some were nonsensical but funny. They didn't sound smooth on the microphone when speaking, like their lines had been rehearsed or placed on a cue card.
The fans weren't well behaved and the women valets looked as if they'd been dragged from local strip clubs.
The camerawork made 'Cloverfield' feel like a ride in one of Miss Daisy's Cadillacs.
The promos were as realistic as portraying a fictitious wrestling program as a true grudge match or street fight can be. The line between made-for-TV babble and blood feuds had permanently become blurred.
Storylines and plot arcs didn't ignore what happened on the card the night before or on last week's TV show. Years down the road, rivalries still burned and made for great drama without being overwrought.
And that's what made all of them so important and real.
There was a feeling that these mostly average people who loved wrestling the way I did were giving everything they had to replicate what we loved to watch. They were doing what I did in my friend's basements and living rooms. They talked about each other the way we wanted them to, about the business.
There was a palpable vibe when you watched this program that the people behind ECW understood that there was an untapped market to produce a professional grade product but with an uncensored, guerrilla style. And it seemed that they produced it just for me.
Of course, the blood, guts and death-defying stunts didn't hurt either.
Oh Yes, There Will Be Blood
Blood can be had by lightly digging the small corner of a razor blade into one's forehead, creating a crimson mask from a papercut. When used to intensify a story, it can be quite effective. When drawn from a man's forehead after bending a steel folding chair over it because it was the closest object in your vicinity-
Well, that's just plain fun.
The blood spilled at an ECW show rarely felt unnecessary or gratuitous. Fans were never paid back in blood. The athletes that figured they could only get over with us by showing some blood (as if they were actresses trying to score their big breaks by taking their clothes off in a B movie) never stuck around for long.
ECW separated the men with wrestling in their blood from the wrestlers who wanted to use it as a stepping stone to something more. But they never held it against the truly great ones that left their locker room because those men proved that world class talent could be found, nurtured and thrive in ECW.
Men like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit (he is still one of my favorites of all-time, recent past be damned) and Rey Mysterio proudly carried their ECW resumes with them as they ascended the ranks.
They bled when it mattered most. They tried new things in front of crowds that would point out their every error, slip or fall. They were allowed to put on the marathon, scientific matches they wanted to, making them as wild as they could imagine.
And they were eventually rewarded with lots of money, belts, and fame by other organizations to replicate it.
OH MY GOD!!!!
ECW helped pave the way to a more exciting product and a quicker pace to matches, new ring psychology. Smaller wrestlers were given the canvas they craved to paint masterpieces in the ring, a luxury that no other organization in the US would afford them.
Sadly, this still remains the case today. How many talents have we missed or lost because of the lack of an outlet for them to produce and express themselves?
My tastes dictate that I vastly prefer to see a four month long feud between wrestlers rather than an awkward 2 week set of matches and interviews leading up to a $50 PPV. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither are good wrestling stories or rivalries.
A major PPV 4 times a year was the formula for ECW's early success- an idea that came from the early blueprint of the WWE.
I understand there are now stockholders to answer to an money to be made, but the only reason those stockholders exist today is because the first stockholders were us fans.
Is the-wrestling-brand-that-shall-remain-nameless-on-SciFi somewhat watchable? I guess so. Do I hate everything about this version? No I don't. I simply despise the principle of using those letters to take advantage of me by selling me an inferior product, at a much higher cost and greater regularity.
Slapping those three letters on just any production involving young wannabe's and castoffs from the Monday and Thursday night shows is like slapping me in the face. The soul of ECW can't be duplicated. The hunger and creativity that fed the character development and story arcs can't be bought.
No amount of "Extreme rules" matches can ever make me forget the real thing, because "extreme" wasn't a set of rules to follow, it was a style. A style born of the performers and that enthralled its fans.
Vince Should've had the Undertaker Defeat the ECW name in a Buried Alive Match
I'm sure it would have been more interesting than another Inferno Match against Kane.
So I remember ECW, the real ECW. I remember feeling like I was watching something taboo in a darkened room at 3am, made just for my guilty enjoyment. I keep the memories alive on DVD and old VHS tapes on the bottom of my bookshelf.
I remember when a bunch of average people got together to create something bigger than they imagined and let me in on the deal. I remember stories and personalities that put the stale, old and ridiculously stereotypical ones of today's wrestling to shame, so much so that they still rehash them and present them as new under their WWE brand name.
I know I can never have any of it back, no matter how bad the business ever gets or how hard those hasbeens (no, my affection doesn't blind me) like Shane Douglas try to hold on and rekindle the flame every few years.
And every time I see a good match between Jack Swagger and Christian, I'll close my eyes and shake my head a bit and wonder how long and great their rivalry could've run if it happened in the old ECW.
But I remember too much to let that go silently unmarked.
EC Dub! EC Dub! EC Dub!