A lot of wrestling fans think ECW/Heyman were the innovators of hardcore wrestling, but that is incorrect. Hardcore wrestling goes back to the 50s, where it started in Texas and Florida.
In the 50s, there were bloody matches, such as no-holds bar matches, Texas death matches and cage matches. The innovators of the hardcore style were ”Wild Bull" Curry, "Classy" Freddie Blassie, Dory Funk and Giant Baba.
In the 60s, 70s, and 80s hardcore wrestling was brought to new levels. The start of the true hardcore style would have to go back to 1979 in Memphis.
The attendance around that time was creeping low to 4,000, so Jerry Jarrett started booking crazy matches, such as Barbwire matches, and brawls up and down and all around the arena
The first crazy booked match was Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee vs. Wayne Farris (Honkey Tonk Man later on) and Larry Latham (Moondog Spot later on). After Dundee and Lawler won the match, and as it looked like they were going off air, the cameras came back to this wild brawl that spilled out near the concession stand; up there, they brawled with everything from tables, to chairs, to cookie sheets, to whatever they could find up there.
In 1989, FMW came around and FMW was hardcore wrestling to a new level. From people bleeding everywhere, to barbwire ropes, time bombs, rope time bombs, and land mines it was an epic disaster.
This got over fast, though, selling out 30,000 people in its first year. However, after it got stale and they couldn't over-top themselves, they folded in five years.
Around 1991, after wrestling was very popular and the wrestlers were treated like rock stars, both WCW and WWF weren't doing so well, simply because people didn't like wrestling anymore.
In 1993, things got worse for WWF. The steroid scandal was a major blow to them and the business in general.
Vince McMahon almost had to serve prison time for this scandal, and it didn't make the WWF's image look good to the public at all. Also, around this time, WCW didn't know what they wanted to do from a direction standpoint.
They were changing the booking teams left and right because they weren't able to find a good man for the job. After Ole Anderson lost the company around 8 million and Kip Allen Frey lost about half of that in less than 3 months, they decided to bring in Bill Watts.
In case you don't know, Watts was the head-booker and promoter for Mid-South Wrestling, which was a successfully ran territory in the 80s until they eventually had to sell to Crockett in 1987, mainly because of Vince McMahon taking over the TBS network, which knocked them off the air even though they were the highest rated sho.
After that, things got worse for Watts and the company when the Oklahoma oil company went into rescission, leading to every business to suffer in the area, so then Watts realized he couldn't compete with JCP or WWF, so he sold it to JCP.
In 1992, Bill Watts was hired by WCW. Everyone thought this was a great asset to the company - but since 1987 - Bill Watts never watched wrestling, thus he made the company too old school, and to make matters worse, he brought in ex-guys from Mid-South who the fans didn't even know or want to see. He then killed the Dangerous Alliance, which was the biggest heel going, in order to book Steve Williams and Terry Gordy as the top heels.
Personally, I enjoyed most of his booking but it was too old school for the new audience. Regardless, though, in his time, he helped the budget go down, only for Eric Bischoff and Dusty Rhodes to put them in more debt.
Around this time, Paul Heyman went to Eastern Championship Wrestling. Paul Heyman turned a company whose first champion was a '10 years out of his prime', Jimmy Snuka, into this cutting-edge wrestling company that was different from WWF and WCW as well as anything a normal fan had ever seen before.
They had blood, violence, swearing, and good wrestling with wrestlers such as Dean Malenko, 2 Cold, Chris Benoit, etc. Paul Heyman also didn't talk down to the audience with his booking, nor did he insult their intelligence.
Heyman booked state-of-the-art angles that got over even with the tough crowds, which led to ECW becoming the alternative wrestling program of the 90s.
Paul Heyman's forte was working the crowd; he knew they were smart, so he tried to trick them. Heyman did this perfectly with the Sandman being blind angle, which was perfectly drawn out and perfectly executed by all sides.
Heyman's motto in his booking was to show off the positives and hide the negatives, and nobody did it better than Heyman could. He took rejects that nobody wanted and turned them into stars.
Does anyone truly think Sandman was a great wrestler? No, but Paul Heyman made him a star because he hid the fact that Sandman couldn't wrestle out of a paper bag.
ECW was the reason the Attitude Era was created, and was the reason of WCW's cutting-edge, shock-tv programming. ECW was the change that wrestling needed, whether wrestlers or fans want to admit it or not, and now we need a new ECW to do the same in this decade.
Am I saying we need ECW on a weekly show again like WWE did in 2006? No, we all have seen how that went.
Do I mean we need seven reunion shows about ECW? No, we all saw the last one and that's the last of that we need to see.
What I mean is wrestling needs to evolve to a new level. What the level is I have no idea.
I have some suggestions that I can't sadly share with you because a magician should never revel his tricks. But whether I do it, you do it, Gabe Saposkly does it, Jim Cornette does it, it simply doesn't truly matter who does it; it just needs to happen and needs to happen fast.