The Great Mind Behind ECW: Paul Heyman

FRANKCorrespondent IISeptember 24, 2009

I just finished watching the The Rise and Fall of ECW and wanted to write an article about this organization and the impact it had in Pro Wrestling during the 1990s. But I wanted to write an article that wasn't soley a review of the DVD.

I decided to take a Project Management approach to this article, as if I was Paul Heyman and wanted to sell my ideas to Todd Gordon (owner of NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling).

I'm going to use the SMART objective approach to present Paul's ideas and business case.

S(specific,significant)-M(measurable,manageable)-A(achievable, attainable)-R(relevant, rewarding)-T(time frame, timely)

S—Paul felt that wrestling became too stale and predictable. He wanted to orchestrate a change in wrestling equivalent to the way Nirvana led the way in impacting the music industry in the early '90s.

Both of the major organizations (WCW and WWF) were catering to the elementary school kids with their PG product, similar to the WWE today, which left a huge void that Paul wanted to fill with the 18-34 age group. He wanted to create characters and present matches that would be different and edgy.

Paul felt that he can take the current regional organization, based out of Pennsylvania, national and compete against the two major players.

M—To keep track of the success, Paul would keep track of the increase of fans who attended the house shows around the Philly area and increase the amount of weekly shows to six. This would help to generate needed revenue and get the product out to the masses. To maximize products, Paul presented unknown and up-and-coming wrestlers who did not require high salaries. 

A—To achieve success, pay-per-view shows and television contracts would be essential. This would allow the organization to generate the needed funds to pay for talent to compete and reach out to fans across the nation and perhaps globally.

R—Once the goals were achieved, the two men would be as rich as Ted Turner and Vince McMahon. Jets, caviar, and champagne would be in line for these men.

The industry would be different than the current stale products. Extreme wrestling would be the new wave.

T—Paul probably set a time frame of 5-10 years to accomplish his goals. Figuring it would take 2-3 years to expand the product and then shortly after gain the necessary investment backing required to continue success into the next millennium.

The first step in the movement was to break the ECW ties with the NWA. The NWA was the face of the wrestling that they wanted to change from. Wrestlers like Harley Race, Ric Flair, and the "fat man" Dusty Rhodes were considered "old school" and as Paul said "old school wasn't hip anymore".

The separation occurred shortly after Shane Douglas, who just beat 2 Cold Scorpio in a title tournament, threw down the NWA World Title and nominated himself as the ECW Heavyweight Champion of the World. This was a surprise to everyone in wrestling except Todd, Paul, and Shane. This move infuriated the NWA board and may have led to Shane being buried in TNA.

Next up was creating interested matches which would appeal to the target age group, who wanted to see pain, suffering, and most importantly blood.

ECW was known for making popular several types of matches, including the Barbed wire match, flaming tables, and Singapore Cane match.

The most famous Barbed wire match was between Sabu and Terry Funk. A missed move by Sabu caused him to get tangled in the barbed wires which caused a gash so big that it required 100 stitches to close.

Flaming tables was the trademark of the Dudley Brothers. They would basically ignite a table on fire to use during a match.

Singapore Cane match was the trademark of Sandman who would use the cane as a weapon. The idea for this type of match was due to a real event that took place during this time. An American boy's punishment for graffiti was to be caned by the Singapore authority.

This match was made famous during the Sandman-Tommy Dreamer feud. The loser of the match was to be caned by the winner. Dreamer lost and as a trooper, welcomed the caning by Sandman. The caning caused his back to tear and bleed but stood face to face with Sandman afterwards as a sign of strength.

These types of matches were fan favorites and help to settle or ignite feuds.

Aside from these matches, there were cards that were dubbed "Bring Your Weapon Night". Fans were able to bring any weapon to the arena which was used by the wrestlers. This was also very popular with the fans.

Since the funds were limited, Paul was a magician in getting the most out of the talent he had. He was known for developing and pushing characters that probably wouldn't have succeeded with WWF or WCW. Some of these wrestlers were Sabu, Sandman, Dudley Brothers, Tazz, Raven and Tommy Dreamer.

As ECW gained recognition and popularity, some established wrestlers made their way to Philly to compete. These wrestlers included Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Bam Bam Bigelow, Cactus Jack and Terry Funk.

Paul had the ability to maximize the positives that ECW maintained, while minimizing and hiding their flaws (e.g. lack of theatrics).

By 1996, the expansion of fans who attended house shows at the ECW arena included people from NY, NJ, Maryland, and Washington DC due to the exposure on local sports channels in Philly and MSG in NY. Since the shows were aired after midnight, there were no FCC scrutiny and editing was not required to air.

In 1997, ECW was on track to compete against the "Big Two". Their first pay-per-view occurred in April and was a success. Until 1999, string of PPV cards were produced by ECW.

It was becoming clear that the objectives set by Paul Heyman in 1992 was being met. The sky was the limit. ECW was changing the wrestling world. The Big Two were adapting to the success and change in the industry heading into 1999.

WWE started their "Attitude Era" due to the growing success of ECW. Steve Austin would walk down the aisle drinking beer and giving everyone the middle finger. Race factions were created. Sexual exploits were more common.

Like everything else, what goes up...must come down. That is exactly what began to happen in 1999.

ECW was finally going to go national. They just signed a three year contract with TNN.

Unfortunately that contract was the beginning of the end. Paul found himself getting a low budget and no advertising from TNN. To top it off, TNN was looking to give WWF $100 million to sign, due to the success of ECW on their channel.

After struggling to get out of the bad contract, months after signing, ECW found themselves without any exposure or financial backing in late 2000.

No television company was willing to take a chance on ECW, due to the legal risk and fear that advertisers would bail from them.

This led to the bankruptcy filing in April 2001 and finally the sale to Vince McMahon.

Paul Heyman deserves to be credited as one of the great innovators in wrestling history. After years working for Pro Wrestling Illustrated and then as a booker/manager for AWA and WCW, he identified an opportunity and grabbed it.

Though he failed as many before him, he was able to taste success and sustain popularity for multiple years. This can be an eternity when talking about wrestling.

One thing that was picked up in the DVD was that Paul Heyman thought of ECW as his baby and many people felt secured with him. Many wrestlers worked with Paul for years as they struggled to gain popularity and income. He received respect and treated his workers well. Even with debts owed to many of these wrestlers, there opinions of Paul were positive.

Perhaps, there is an organization or person who is looking to make a change to this industry like Paul did or Vince did in the 1980s. As wrestling is constantly evolving, there is hope that the wrestling product we see today will change for the better.