Rise and Fall of ECW: Remembering the Real Extreme Championship Wrestling
In this day, if you were to say professional wrestling, the first thing that most people would say is World Wrestling Entertainment.
Besides Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and Ring of Honor (ROH), there is really no other promotion that is large enough to compete with the WWE.
Today, I will not be here to cry about the past and how we miss the Attitude Era, or all the fun segments that made us anticipate Raw so much more than we do now.
I am simply here to look back and celebrate the legacy of the most unique pro wrestling promotion of all time, Extreme Championship Wrestling.
To those who might be unaware, ECW had once been its own individual company which would feud with WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Unfortunately, Vince McMahon had bought his competition out.
This was not the offical end of ECW, but it had now been owned by WWE. It is now the "C" show brand in WWE and I find that disrespectful to all that ECW stood for.
But once again, I remind myself that I am not here to weep over modern-day wrestling, but to look back in time at Extreme Championship Wrestling.
ECW had been founded in 1991 as part of the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, but it was short-lived as the owner at the time, Joel Goodhart, sold a large share of his company to his business partner, Tod Gordon, who renamed the show ECW (Eastern Championship Wrestling).
Gordon had a vision for this show to be unique, as stated in an interview with ClubWW1.com:
"We try to give them a mixture of old school, new school, highspot kind of wrestling with a little psychology thrown in there, because somebody seems to have forgotten that that was an art form at one time, and there doesn't seem to be much anymore."
Due to financial issues, Gordon would have to showcase ECW in The Arena in South Philadelphia, which in fact was a former warehouse.
ECW's rough environment would become the home of the promotion all the way until it fell in 2001, and actually lent to the rustic charm of the promotion.
Gordon picks up the narrative again:
"The budget was definitely limited. Our studio in the beginning was some guy’s basement basically up in Paoli, Pa., where we did some of these great promos where his desk became my commissioner's desk.
“His bathrooms were where Tanaka and Diamond had their battles with Public Enemy. His parking lot is where Jason would get his new suits and drive off in his car.
"We did all this in one little place and it looked like we were in this giant, you know, we're all over the country when really we're in this one little basement. It's all…an illusion. It's about making people believe."
Eastern Championship Wrestling would later be absorbed into the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), where Gordon hired the legendary "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, to lead the creative booking team.
He was shortly replaced as the head of booking by the eventual "Dictator of ECW," one Paul Heyman, who had just walked out on WCW.
Heyman bought into Gordon's original vision of being different, being special, and being...Extreme. Heyman then escorted ECW out of the NWA and into an era which would revolutionize professional wrestling as we know it.
Shortly after WCW had withdrawn from the NWA, taking the prestigious NWA title belt with them, ECW became the focal point of the NWA.
With it being the most successful NWA show at the time, ECW would garner much more attention from a televised audience as well as the privilege to hold the new NWA World Championship at the time.
The NWA Championship would be won by future ECW legend, Shane “the Franchise” Douglas, but shortly after he was awarded the belt, he had tossed it on the floor, picked up the ECW Championship, and proclaimed, "I am ECW!"
This was when ECW officially left the NWA and now referred to themselves as Extreme Championship Wrestling. The wrestling world would never be the same again.
“The National Wrestling Alliance was old-school when old-school wasn't hip anymore. We wanted to set our mark, we wanted to break away from the pack, we wanted to let the world know that we weren't just some independent promotion," said Paul Heyman as ECW departed from the NWA.
Later in 1996, the ECW Dynasty would officially begin as Paul Heyman would purchase ECW from Tod Gordon. Heyman then had a big image, one that he wanted to build on from Gordon's original image. He wanted to be extreme. He wanted to exceed limits that no other organization would even consider.
This image would soon make ECW the most controversial wrestling promotion in history. To add to this, Heyman would continue having ECW in a bingo hall in Philadelphia, where ECW got it's big break due to Tod Gordon's financial issues.
"I think ECW itself was a gimmick,” Heyman commented years later. “I think getting the audience to chant ECW was really something.
"I don't care if you draw 70,000 people in a dome for Wrestlemania, nobody chants WWE. The only time you ever hear anyone chant WCW, it's always followed by the word "sucks."
“I was on 57th Ave. in New York City and there was a three-car pileup and a bunch of people looked at the car wreck and started chanting ECW. It's become part of the country's lexicon. It's an accepted, acknowledged phrase.
“For us to have built that from a bingo hall and then extend it out is really something. For us to accomplish that is really my favorite gimmick."
Heyman was a very shrewd man and he helped groom no-name wrestlers into legends. ECW had been the home to Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, Rey Mysterio, The Dudleys, Rhino, Terry Funk, Taz, and many more.
"I hate to admit this but I'm gonna shoot straight with you,” Heyman’s biggest star, Taz, said recently. “I was probably the biggest A-Hole back in the original ECW days. I don't think most of the locker room "liked" me....and they shouldn't have.
“At times, I was a bit immature and difficult to deal with....it took me a long time to "make it" and I was always told I would NEVER make it in the industry and that motivated me but also developed a huge chip on my shoulder so I wasn't mature enough (sometimes) to handle the push and was very protecting of what I achieved.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would put a better effort in being humble! Life experiences and settling down has taught me to not take myself so serious.”
ECW had been the home to hostile crowds, extreme violence, very mature sexual references, and crude language.
At one point when ECW aired on TNN, most of the ECW shows were not even censored in order to prove just how extreme and different ECW was.
The downside, though, was that ECW's time slot and television deal nearly drove ECW out of business. By featuring ECW in the early morning (12:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m.), there were fewer limits on content, but viewership slumped dramatically.
The promotion also featured one of the most controversial feuds of all-time: Sandman versus Raven, with Sandman's son prominently featured in this feud. Raven first proceeded to "brainwash" Sandman’s son to join forces with Raven and his cult.
Raven would then continue to taunt Sandman as he was slowly being eaten away by the fact that his only son had betrayed him.
Sandman even broke down on his knees and started to cry.They would share some very brutal battles until his son would then help his father again, but all of the controversy had started after Stevie Richards and Blue Meanie would appear out from under the ring and crucify the Sandman.
Before a hostile crowd, Raven, Richards, and Blue Meanie received a reaction from the crowd like no other. This crowd was silenced when the saw this.
"It was quiet Japanese heat," said Raven on the Rise and Fall of ECW.
This extreme act would keep Kurt Angle, watching the company with an idea of signing a contract, from joining ECW, as he had been promised the trio would not do this.
This was thought of by many as anti-Christian, but later in the ECW DVD, it was revealed the act to be a way to demonstrate the artistry of Raven. Paul Heyman also said on the DVD:
"I didn't think Raven would go that far."
Surprisingly, the crucifixion angle would later be adopted by Vince McMahon as he would let Undertaker and the Ministry of Darkness "sacrifice" many superstars, the most famous being the crucifixion of Steve Austin.
ECW was always known to be a crowd pleaser, as their fans revolutionized chants that in use today.
We all know of the classic "ECW!" chant whenever something happens that brings back reminiscent memories of the old ECW. Also The Dudleyz’ "We want tables!" chant that originated in ECW would follow them all the way to their present days in TNA.
Back in the day, we would hear and chant, "EC-Dub!" as well when watching ECW. Crowds were a very vital part of this company because Heyman always loved to interact with the fans.
Even in the earlier stages of ECW, there was a Select Your Weapons Night, in which the fans would bring in their own weapons and give them to the extremists. The crowds were the wild pets of Paul E. Heyman.
Pay-per-views also were known to be controversial due to the fact that the television stations thought this show was too extreme to be televised, but eventually, Paul Heyman got his wish and his first PPV show, Barely Legal.
This may be the most recognizable pay-per-view in ECW history. It was seen live in front of 1,170 people in ECW Arena on April 13th, 1997. There, in front of our usual hostile crowd, were some phenomenal matches including a Three-Way Dance between Terry Funk, Sandman, and Stevie Richards.
Also on the card was Terry Funk vs Raven for the ECW Championship. Ultimately it was a great show and ECW would continue to have a long stint of great pay per views.
ECW was very aware that the television networks were worried about broadcasting ECW, but in 1999 the Land of Extreme would join TNN with an already very low budget.
Remarkably, for the next two years, ECW on TNN was the highest-rated show on the network.
Unfortunately though, the show received no advertising, newspaper ads, or any other type of promotion because TNN did not want this to be show to be seen as the premier show of TNN.
This is still believed by Paul Heyman as the ultimate cause of the demise of ECW.
“We were screwed by the TNN Network, and ultimately it was the albatross around our neck that sank the company," Heyman says bitterly.
After ECW had been a financial disaster for most of it’s tenure, more extremists had jumped ship to then-WWF, including the Dudleys, Raven, and eventually many others.
ECW would be caught up in all of their financial issues and they were run out of business. At the EC-Dub Arena, when all the ECW stars alike joined in the ring with beers in hand, the fans knew that this was the final ECW.
In that cold evening (literally and figuratively) for ECW, Tommy Dreamer and company would give us one last hurrah. The fans roared and thanked them for all the memories.
The official end of the ECW era came when Vince McMahon would purchase the Land of Extreme. Paul Heyman knew he had to sell ECW, and he knew that ECW was dead.
ECW would eventually be “reborn” in the WWE on separate occasions. From the Alliance with WCW during the “Invasion” angle all the way to it being the developmental territory it is today.
ECW's name has been tarnished by McMahon, but we still remember the old days when ECW was truly extreme.
The old ECW is dead, but it lives on through us.
R.I.P. Extreme Championship Wrestling (1991-2001)
"You cannot achieve success, without the risk of failing. And I learned a long time ago, you cannot achieve success if you fear failure. If you're not afraid to fail, man you have a chance to succeed, but you are never going to get there unless you risk it all the way. I was a failure and sometimes half the fun is failing. Learning from your mistakes, waking up the next morning and saying, ‘Okay, watch out. Here I come again. A little bit smarter, licking my wounds, and really not looking forward to getting my ass kicked like I did yesterday.’ So now...I'm a little more dangerous."
Quotes, facts, and etc. can be found at Wikipedia.org, IGN.com, and ClubWW1.com. Videos credited to Youtube.com. Also I recommend watching the videos to see a tribute or a special moment in ECW.
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