What better way to say goodbye to the year 2010 than to count down the 10 biggest stories of the year in professional wrestling?
This 10-part series is designed to do exactly that, and each installment will be dedicated to the stories that fueled the very Internet fodder that makes the dirt-sheet media world go round.
No. 8: The Rise—Scratch That—The Fall and Death of ECW
ECW captivated a fervent cult following during the mid- to late-90s, and its influence on professional wrestling indirectly led to a revolution, on a wider scale, that came to be known as the Attitude Era in the WWE.
With a balls to the wall, anti-establishment attitude, Extreme Championship Wrestling was the scrappy, undersized pitbull with a large chip on its shoulder in the dog kennel of professional wrestling.
With every match being contested under hardcore rules, an unprecedented amount of violence to both male and female performers, and insanely innovative, no-holds-barred wrestling matches involving flaming tables and prosthetic legs, the ECW was unlike anything that the good ol' boys network of professional wrestling had ever seen.
Despite going out of business in 2001, ECW's legacy remained healthy. ECW went out of business due to poor business moves and a lack of funds, so it wasn't as if the product had worn out its welcome...yet.
Both fans and wrestlers of ECW remained in the public spotlight following its first death in 2001. ECW originals such as Rob Van Dam, Taz, Tommy Dreamer and even ECW promoter Paul Heyman kept busy with (mostly) prominent roles in WWE.
The legacy of ECW lived vicariously through its original stars and their subsequent successes in WWE. Fans refused to forget about what they felt was unfinished business, chanting "ECW" at live events featuring ECW originals.
It was nearly impossible to ignore the influence that ECW had on professional wrestling even after its demise, so much so that Vince McMahon himself explored the possibilities of ECW's unfinished business.
To be fair, Vince McMahon had always had a vested interest in the ECW brand.
He regularly featured ECW talent on WWE TV in the early days of RAW, and even secretly funneled money into the promotion, to keep minimal competition from the third-tier brand thriving, thus helping the pro wrestling industry.
With the help of former ECW original turned WWE Superstar Rob Van Dam, Vince McMahon decided to bring ECW back to life with annual, back-to-back One Night Stand pay-per-views to commemorate the upstart brand.
At One Night Stand 2005 and 2006, like Brett Favre circa 2009, ECW had thrived on a big stage despite being past its prime. The success of its One Night Stand pay-per-views had sparked conversations of bringing the brand back permanently.
Following the 2006 One Night Stand pay-per-view, ECW was to return under the WWE umbrella with its own weekly series on Syfy (then known as Sci-Fi).
Paul Heyman now had the bankroll he never had in the old ECW. There was no limit to his legendary genius now that he was financially backed by the biggest pro wrestling company in the world.
Heyman had the talent, money and a better TV deal at his disposal, and there was just no stopping ECW.
Until 2010, when the brand was stopped and killed once (again) and for all.
The problem with revamping of ECW, unseen in the original One Night Stand pay-per-view, was the amount of WWE influence that slowly crept into ECW's internal organs like a terminal cancer.
One Night Stand was originally seen as a one-time, balls to the wall, commemorative event to honor the memory of ECW.
With the first pay-per-view of this variety in 2005, there were no long-term plans for ECW so the WWE's influence was lax, minimal and the plan was to let the ECW originals go out there and go crazy for one night.
That's what made the event a success. That "go crazy for one night" attitude is what made ECW such a success in the first place because that was their attitude every night.
But with the re-emergence of ECW in 2006, the WWE slowly, but surely, took away elements that made the original ECW so special.
Wooden tables, entrances through the crowd, ECW logo in the middle of the ring and, believe it or not, hardcore matches were slowly stripped from ECW TV on Tuesday nights.
Paul Heyman, who was in charge of booking the brand at the beginning of its resurgent run, left before the brand could celebrate its one-year anniversary on SyFy.
ECW originals were slowly being replaced by young WWE talent to the point where the brand was closer to FCW, WWE's developmental territory, than ECW.
Joey Styles, the voice of ECW, was replaced with the great Mike Adamle. Taz, an ECW original and color commentator on WWE's ECW, left the WWE in disgust before being replaced by career substitute Todd Grisham.
With a PG-Era creeping into the WWE, the format of ECW had completely changed and was a far cry from the rebellious brand it was in the late-90s. ECW's days were numbered.
In February 2010, Vince McMahon dropped yet another bombshell within the first months of this news-making year as he announced that ECW would be going out of business to be replaced by WWE's NXT program aimed at building new stars.
Unlike the ECW following its first downfall, ECW's legacy after this particular death-nail floundered to the point of embarrassment.
Knowing of ECW's impending doom in WWE, ECW original and the WWE's last link to the original ECW brand, Tommy Dreamer left WWE early in 2010.
This meant rival company TNA now had access to Dreamer's services and his involvement with the company was all but a certainty once his 90-day non-compete clause with WWE was up.
Dreamer's expected debut with TNA came in June of 2010 at their annual Slammiversary pay-per-view event. With Dreamer, and many other ECW originals, either employed or available to be employed by TNA, the stage had been set for yet another unwarranted return of ECW.
Shortly after Dreamer's debut, TNA and president Dixie Carter announced that TNA would be holding a special Hardcore Justice pay-per-view to commemorate the life (and deaths) of ECW.
Like Brett Favre, circa 2010, the Hardcore Justice pay-per-view was nothing short of a complete mess. With key stars either absent, aging or unable to use their original gimmicks due to the WWE's ownership of them, the pay-per-view seemed more like an imitation than a tribute.
A sure-fire candidate, and winner, of worst pay-per-view of the year, TNA's rendition of the ECW swan song was loaded with sour notes.
The once-proud brand had finally worn out its welcome. Through years of reunion shows on the independent circuit, the WWE's blatant butchery of the brand, and TNA's ultimate nail in the coffin of ECW's legacy, the cult following for ECW had grown thin.
In a pro wrestling landscape where the biggest promotion had adopted a TV-PG formula, the legacy of ECW was irrelevant.
A big story through early- to mid-2010 was the death nails being hammered into a brand that refused to die after its original demise.
Bypassing going out with its head held high, ECW has been reincarnated so many times over the years that it is easy to forget of the pride and passion personified by the original ECW.
In 2010, the lesson learned from this downfall of ECW, a lesson that had been taught previously by the original ECW, is that less is more.
Top Ten of 2010
8. The Fall and Death of ECW