this is also posted on 1ryderfakin and other boards by my aliases phantman and 1980mark. enjoy.
A Hardcore Tale - The Legacy of Paul Heyman By M.C.
"Fuck Shawn Michaels! Fuck Ric Flair!" Troy Martin on several ECW shows
The following is lenghty essay on Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. Starting from wrestling’s quickly falling back into another dark period right before 1995 and ending with ECW’s ultimate demise in 2001, leaving, by all accounts, Vince McMahon as the only choice for fans all around the world. Concluding this article is a list of the organization’s best and worst moments.
Back in 1994, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation was in disarray. Despite promoting great main event matches the likes of Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon or Bret Hart vs Owen Hart, the then-talented roster wasn't good enough to support and carry an organization whose heels and babyfaces wore their gimmicks on their sleeves, literally. Keeping on a long tradition born in the 80s' Rock and Roll Connection, the booking team planned storylines based around how much merchandise a gimmick wrestler could sell when pushed to the moon, instead of focusing more on the drama and athletic side of the genre. That's why we got Lex Luger’s Lex Express tour across America (seemingly to promote Peace, Love and Capitalism at its finest) and such gems as the Smoking Gunns and Dink the Clown (cowboys and midgets sell). While Bret Hart, just like his counterpart Shawn Michaels, had performed a great job as world champion, wrestling **** to ***** matches on a regula basis and, in the process, squashing McMahon’s old credo about big guys being more fit for the wants of the public, he was still a little part of the good that rarely was the standard for WWF programming. The hardcore fanbase, the one that had supported the Fed for years, rightly so, was pissed off.
Things in World Championship Wrestling weren't better. Once the hotbed of Ric Flair's 60 minutes broadways, Vaderbombs, Horsemen and American Dreams, it was now reduced to Terry Bollea's playground. In a matter of months, Randy Savage, John Tenta (Earthquake) and Jim Duggan all joined Down South for big money contracts and less dates. The plan was simple: Give WCW fans what they want! Give them Hogan's Heroes! Too bad the only thing they got was a trimmed down version of the Hulkster, one uncapable of generating much heat beside giving simultaneous orgasms to WCW marks finally able to push their favorite federation as THE place to be by buyin Hulk Hogan t-shirts covered in WCW logos, just in case someone still doubted the good folks in Atlanta. The only positive sign of a changing pace was in the organization's midcard division. Chris Benoit, Steve Austin, Ricky Steamboat and Steven Regal were just a few of the dozens of talents that, uh oh, actually delivered in the ring. The negative was that the fans weren't the only ones noticing great matches, as Hogan & co. Weren’t so thrilled to get exposed by “a bunch of Vanilla Midgets”, so it was either midcard for life or leave for Japan, since Vince McMahon's policy about little guys really never changed at all. With Vader leaving to Join McMahon (in what counted as one of the great concepts Vince blew just because he could), Starracade’94, the annual answer to the WWF’s Wrestlemania, featuring a main event of Hogan defeating Brutus Beefcake, and multiple times champion Ric Flair getting pinned, humiliated and pinned again every day, twice on sundays, fans, again, rightly so, were pissed.
Enter Paul Heyman.
Nothing could better explain the guy than Bill Apter, whose main tidbit about Heyman consists in "He constantly walked in front on me while I was trying to take pictures at ringside".
Gotta love oldschool kayfabe.
Long story short, former WCW commentator/manager Paul E. Dangerously saw it that there was a movement from the depth of the wrestling community to change things as they were being presented. Hey, it's not a modern day phenomenon, either. Rememeber those fans that cheered the Midnight Express and booed Morton Gibson? What about Badstreet, USA and its many residents? Sure, 90% of the 90s fanbase still craved for Hulk-a-Dolls and a hot cup of Hulk-a-Roonies from Hogan's Gourmet Pastamania once in a while, but for every 20 or so fans that cheered the good guys and jeered the bad ones, a fan in Philly, just to name a random city, longed for the day Elizabeth would finally stick it to Savage and go with bad boy Kevin Sullivan. It's the nature of the beast. Nice guys finish last. Bad guys finish last, too, but at least they have fun all the way down.
And guess what? It was succesfull.
Paul Heyman and Tod Gordon's Eastern Championship Wrestling, later renamed Extreme Championship Wrestling and getting bought by Heyman from original founder Gordon, offered the new fan, the new mark, a product he wasn't embarassed to watch. In a matter of 2 years, the little Tri-State territory that had produced little classics like Eddie Gilbert vs Cactus Jack and the return of The Sheik on American soil, went from promoting DC Drake and old vets like Don Muraco and Jimmy Snuka to Stevie Richards' shorts, Raven's Offspring theme and the Sandman pimping his wife to Tommy Cairo. From Tommy Dreamer dyin' for his art all the way to Terry Funk getting covered by chairs in the middle of the ring. To many fans, it was the start of a new era. It didn't matter that SportsChannel Philadelphia basically ran a wrestling show with poor production values and ECW's talent roster was basically your run of the mill collection of has beens mixed with green hands, perhaps too green, that killed themselves night in night out so 100 paying fans could pop. It was an alternative to Hogan and Vince McMahon. ECW wrestlers weren't the biggest, the strongest in the biz. They didn't have roided up bodies and fancy t-shirts to sell. What they had was an attitude and no fear to promote it by any means necessary. Its talent base included several future stars. These guys, with the guidance of Wonder Boy Heyman, were set to change the business as we knew it. Once at the fringe of the industry (where many would fall once ECW folded later in 2001), these performers were the fiber of the new darling of the internet era, soon to become the main factor in the changing of the guard in professional wrestling, leading Vince Russo to the throne of WCW… but that’s another story.
Shane Douglas - Despite representing the first turning point in the Hardcore Revolution by tossing the NWA title down after winning, Troy Martin's biggest accomplishment in pro wrestling may be that he's the only performer in the industry to get kicked out of every territory he worked. Seemingly blackballed from the the biz (at least where the big money is), Shane Douglas was the first successfull experiment in what would become Heyman's tested formula of taking a midcard wrestler and turn him into a hardcore icon despite obvious flaws. The man Triple H took his new attitude from for someone, the forerunner to StoneCold to others, Douglas would go on to win 4 ECW titles and start the great tradition of wrestlers bashing Shawn Michaels and the Clique and the general direction of “sports entertainment”.
Raven - Heyman's golden boy and one of the most underrated star both in the ring and in behind the camera. What Raven lacked in the ring he made up in the booking of angles and twists. His feud with Tommy Dreamer remains a classic for hardcore aficionados. It goes to show the ability to turn gold into crap the way too many promoters treated a guy like Raven, who only comes into the biz once every 20 years or so and, nothwithstanding his runs as a midcard jolly (Johnny Polo) or opening act (Scotty Flamingo), change the way a heel is presented.
The Sandman - His gimmick was that he liked his beer, he liked his cigarettes and really nothing more. One has to wonder how he was able to get face heat when Raven took his wife and kid in Jim Fullington's most famous program, since he basically asked for it in the first place by getting paid to play the part of the real life Jake Roberts. Fullington would go on to represent Heyman's qualities as a booker while, at the same time, all that's bad in the already tarnished reputation of indy/hardcore wrestling. The modern day Scott Hall, Sandman’s highs and lows were felt by an entire organization that, at one point, couldn't tolerate a guy who was basically drunk most of the time. That might have been good for Scott Hall, who was only too happy to stick it in Time Warner's ass, but not for Heyman, who quickly saw his main claim to future fame could have turned easily into a failure of big proportions.
Terry Funk - In this day and age, it still takes me by surprise that a veteran like Terry Funk, a rich man by all accounts, has the desire to partecipate in this con biz for the mere fun of it while big guns like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage keep on seeking that last big payoff that will come in the form of WWE contracts or overseas tours. Forget for a minute that Funk was able to ride Mick Fole's coattails for how many payoffs in and out of Japan for so how many years. Getting hit by chairshot after chairshot at the tender age of 50 is something you just don't do. Funk did it, and Heyman never thanked him enough for putting over something or someone he could have easily spat on in the first place.
Tommy Dreamer - Poster boy for marks around the world, Tommy's contribution to the ECW cause is often dismissed by the monday night fans that see him for the fat boy in black shirt that he fiercely represented suring his entire career. Strong in booking, promoting and defending the fed during its final years of pain and agony, Dreamer's mantra was "hardcore to the end", one he respected to the point of being the only performer left in a dyin' organization. Still, great psychology in his bouts with Raven, and later CW Anderson, something you'd never expect from a guy used to fall from a scaffold right onto a bed of tables underneath.
Sabu - Imported from Japan, Sheik's legit nephew not only took incredible bumps, putting the table gimmick over while messing up more spots in one match than Ed Leslie does in 20. He, like his uncle did back in the 60s, took the foreign heel gimmick to a new level, convincing fans that, while spots were obviously planned ahead, this guy here really was a legit Indian badass, despite the fact he made it obvious to point out he's more American than Sgt.Slaughter when Terry Funk wrapped him in barbed wire and poor Sabu had to communicate in front of cameras or die for his art. Guess what he chose?
Mick Foley - Books could be written about Cactus Jack's rise from indy shows to the big dance up North. It's disheartening to see such a talented guy go through pain and agony and injuries to merely give credibility to an organization where performers were booked to lay down and wait for Sabu to hit a moonsault out of 3 botched attempts. It says something, perhaps good and bad at the same time, about the state of the biz to this very day when young kids sacrifice their lives and well being to top what Foley did on natural instict and talent alone in his heyday. Does it take talent to get hit by a chair or put through a table or being lit on fire or piledroven through thumbtacks? Not very much. It takes talent, however, to translate every chairshot into an intricate angle that's gonna catapult you into mainstream wrestling, promo after promo, gimmick after gimmick. Hey, if you’re lucky you can even let every hardcore fan know the way you feel about their thirst for blood on the way out.
These, by far, were the performers that would go on to change the perception of professional wrestling in the United States, creating exciting new concepts they'd never bank on once the whole Hardcore Revolution would finally reveal itself as the con it was. More on that later.
Nobody does it on PPV quite like us
Once Heyman got the attention of a small, yet not indifferent, chunk of mainstream wrestling's fanbase, the plan was to serve his product to the masses like it was never served before, not even in the old days of Jerry Lawler and Moondogs and Bruiser Brody and Dick the Bruiser, from where ECW took its ideas and twisted them a little bit to appease the oldschool-suffering-ready-to-pay-for-blood-guts-and-glory fan (funny, Vince *stole* from Heyman, who *borrowed* from Midsouth wrestling in the first place). Syndicated shows wouldn't cut it. Cable TV was too smart to bank on an untested product that, after the birth of Ultimate Fighting Championship and shoot style promotions in all of the civilized world, took the kiddie image of Hulk Hogan's wrestling to confines it never should have reached. Heyman went the same route others went before him.
Pay Per View, when if you are unknown to the masses you can lit your wrestlers on fire and made a shitload of money out of it before the Federals start investigating your business methods (ask Rob Black).
Now, theorically, all was fine and dandy. Heyman had built effective angles for several months, the point being promoting the blowoff matches on Barely Legal, the organization's upcoming PPV. The months leading to the show would demonstrate to be effective in convincing the marks that:
- Sabu was out to kill Taz. - Taz was a legit shootfighter, despite being shorter than Tiny Tim. - Terry Funk was gonna win his second world title because… well, because it just felt good. - Pro Wrestling Illustrated would finally grant the ECW belt world title status (a delicate issue for Philly fans).
Enter Jerome Young aka New Jack, and the Mass Transit Incident (Copyright Stupid Ideas 1996).
New Jack had been groomed as a hot commodity in wrestling. Despite possessing enough wrestling knowledge to make Johnny Rodz look like Ric Flair, Young's gangsta rapper gimmick catapulted him into the very core of the underground wrestling scene. At times a mere racial issue, like in Jim Cornette's SMW, at times a legit portrait of minorities in the biz, New Jack was the stuff of geniuses for an industry still tryin' to capitalize on Ultimate Warrior dolls and teddy bears. It was, however, just a matter of time before Young's propensity to go all out during bloody brawls went out of control on the night of November the 2th and nearly cost ECW its first and perhaps only chance to get to a wider audience a few months later. I won't glorify nor dignify the happenings or the complications of what took place. For those that don't know the whole deal, here's a simple recapping of events.
- Revere, Mass. 17 years old Erich Kulas obtains, somehow, a little part in a match against the Gangstas team of Jack & Mustafa by claiming to be 18 years old. - New Jack, bearing the responsability to execute a simple bladejob on a kid not used to cut himself for a match, goes all out and cuts deep into the muscles on Kulas’ forehead, causing an emorragy and nearly killing the boy in front of his friends and family while leaving him with permanent scars. - Kulas' parents are pretty much pissed off. ECW gets sued and, to quote Bruce Mitchell, "Heyman spins his way out of jail".
Erich Kulas died last year. He wasn't a professional entertainer, nor did he win slews of titles and honors during an illustrious career. Perhaps, his biggest contribution to our biz, the biggest message he left, permanently inked on his persona like a tattoo, was that this same business we call fake, fixed, non kosher, is at times more real than it seems and in more tragic ways than you could imagine. Of course, wrestling survived Vince McMahon's territorial raids in the 80s, Hulk Hogan's raise, fall and subsequent return as media icon, the nWo's politics, Owen Hart's death live on PPV. It would survive a wrestling nobody acting like a serial killer on an ignorant, yet innocent minor who just didn’t know better.
This was no more than a real event in a con profession, too kin on changing history every monday night to remember or analyze why this kind of things are still accepted and sometimes, in more subtle ways, still encouraged. The show had to go on and on it went.
Barely Legal was considered a success by experts and fans alike. Terry Funk winning the ECW belt, while certainly not promoting the company's youth movement, was the catalyst for the raise of the Raven and Tommy Dreamer characters down the road. A showcase of All Japan inspired stiff brawling (Taz/Sabu), pointless spotfests (Dudleyz/Eliminators), solid action (Funk/Sandman/Richards) and international talent (6 man Michinoku Pro tag), the PPV went from being the only chance to start an official revolution to being the first episode of what would become the rehabilitation of hardcore wrestling.
Like a well written Apter Mag novel, the stage was set for Heyman to become the greatest booker since the days of the Gold Dust Trio (Mondt, Lewis, Sandow) and, later, Bill Watts. The following years would prove decisive in the long battle of tradition vs evolution (really just a tip of the hat to oldschool 'rassling)
In the span of just few years, Paul Heyman’s ECW had evolved from a non factor to the most influential phenomenon in all of wrestling. Thanks to its vast repertory of Japanese and Mexican talents and the ever present, state of the art soundtrack of rap/metal groups like Metallica, NWA, AC/DC and others (the greatest mistery in wrestling still remains how Paul Heyman was able to secure great, original songs while WCW and the WWF had to resort to Casio-like ballads), the fans had embraced the organization as the standard in excellence despite many flaws in the production and the subjective notion that ECW was living on the edge, always on the verge of falling from its pedestal upon the mountain of professional wrestling. It was still ‘rassling, after all. Legit sports fan knew better than to give credit to the seccesses of indy promoters merely finding aniche and working on it. Here’s a quick rundown of obstacles Heyman had to overcome in order to carry on his vision to bigger and better things in years to come:
- Talents raids. Being the new, exiciting kid on the block also meant becoming prey to the two major organizations in North America. Just like the AWA before, in the span of only 4 years, the organization lost Public Enemy, Perry Saturn, Stevie Richards, Raven, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit to either WCW or the WWF, Sabu and Shane Douglas being the exception after their brief and unprofitable runs in Atlanta and New York, respectively. Worse, contracts were offered to talents with the only promise of being opening acts since, in the eyes of big shot promoters, ECW wrestlers weren’t popular or gifted enough to perform in big arenas and great angles, so why bother? Money is still money, though.
- Tod Gordon, original founder and former owner, tried to arrange an invasion angle by passing secret contract informations for several wrestlers to Eric Bischoff. The deal never went through and Gordon quietly left the organization he started back in ’92 after a being crashed through a table by Sabu in a blowoff angle.
- WCW’s nWo and the WWF’s Montreal affair involving Bret Hart and Vince McMahon had seemingly exposed the business for those few remaining fans that, you know, still believed the hype. A hundred years old con tradition, always protected like the Holy Grail, was now simply part of the show. Kevin Nash discussing locker room politics on Nitro and Jim Ross interviewing McMahon about Survivor Series’97 on Raw were just the sign things had changed. ECW, on its part, found itself on the fringe, looking in disbelief as million dollar corporations were now using the easy route, the smart route, the Heyman route, to sell a product ECW had been selling for 5 years, except it was presented with better production, bigger stars and more defined roles.
Time to change. Time to get in bed with the big boys.
Vince McMahon, father of wrestling magnifique, was perhaps the last to “get it”. After failing miserably with Kevin Nash as champion in ’96 and then subsequently watching as his rivals took advantage of his creations, first with Hogan and Savage, then with Nash and Hall and the cool nWo reality based angle that was winning over new viewers every monday night, McMahon did something he never dared to do, scared of getting dirty in the process:
He reached to little Philly promoter Paul Heyman.
What resulted was a couple episodes of Raw and an ECW PPV (Hardcore Heaven) where an alternative to the nWo invasion, the ECW invasion, garnered positive reviews as cutting edge programming for the first time in months. Of course, the good always comes with the bad, and while the boys over at ECW might have thought for a split second they were bound for New York, never to be seen in bingo halls across the North, the picture wasn’t so positive at all. For instance:
- In his first and only night in a WWF locker room, spotfest artist Rob Van Dam was able to not only piss off his fellow wrestlers with his primadonna attitude, but also McMahon, who legend has it that he was so enraged by Van Dam’s attitude that he immediately hired Steve Bradley, indy wrestler and apparent Van Dam lookalike, to train him and demonstrate his fans that a guy like “Mr.PPV” could be replaced by any young athlete attempting to enter the biz. (Bradley’s been in training for like 30 years or so, BTW)
- ECW hardcore fans, those that helped, somehow someway, the organization in its trying days, were clearly pissed off that their prodigy was getting promoted as inferior and performers were being exposed as bush league.
While the angle didn’t create the buzz Heyman hoped it would create, he found a new “ally” in McMahon, who liked the raw nature of the ECW product and started loaning wrestlers to Philly in order to keep ECW a viable competitor while nurturing future stars he could always reclaim in due time (like Al Snow or P.J. Walker/Justin Credible).
By the time 1998 rolled around, ECW had officially become the number 3 promotion in North America, at least in the eyes of the fans. Overseas tours with W*ING and FMW only gave the organization a somewhat legitimate feel from puroresu fans, the hardest to satisfy. ECW Hardcore TV, with its music videos/promos and intense matches on free television was the perfect madium for a new generation of stars to arise. Veterans like Bam Bam Bigelow, Tommy Rich and Tracey Smothers were only too happy to help young guys like Lance Storm, Spike Dudley, Chris Candido, Justin Credible and tons of others to achieve that goal. big 2 stars like Brian Pillman, Steve Austin and every free agents waiting for contract negotiations had toured the organization, making it the place future main eventers honed their skills and practiced angles and gimmicks (Austin being a good example).
Only one thing was missing to complete this perfect puzzle. It was also the same little piece that would cause the demise of Heyman.
If 1997 had seen the birth of ECW as a PPV alternative, 1998 gave the fans a new generation of talents, solid matches and good to great shows. The rise of Jerry Lynn, Rob Van Dam and Justin Credible solidified Heyman as a starmaker. Only months after suffering his biggest losses in the form of Raven, one of the greatest minds in the biz, and the Sandman, an icon for Arena fans, the Summer Series between Lynn/Credible, the success of Tazz as heavyweight champion and the ongoing relationship with Japanese indies (resulting in the services of Masato Tanaka and Mike Awesome) gave hope to those that thought the new, general direction of the big two federations would kill ECW once and for all. Fact of the matter was that Heyman couldn't afford to promote a smart-friendly organization when Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff were making big money using the same concepts but with the volume turned up and Hollywood-like production. Insider forays were now reserved for gimmick performers like the Full Blooded Italians, Nova and Oldschool King Steve Corino. The new commandment was now being turned from "Thou shalt break kayfabe" to "Thou shalt promote wrestling as a serious discipline".
"Thou shalt not mess with the Dudley Boyz" is another story.
To effectively join the arena the Big 2 were playing in, Heyman only missed one thing, the most important, little particular in an era where Television ratings judged the be all, end all of a fragile, yet extremely profitable industry like that of professional wrestling.
PWI's world title status, of course.
Ok, just kidding.
What ECW needed to differentiate itself from the various UWF (Abrahms, not Watts), LPWA, AWF, and USWA was a spot on cable TV. Past failed experiments like Jim Cornette's SMW had sadly shown a new wave of promoters that in the year 1999 an organization could no longer thrive exclusively on house shows and syndicated programs without a money generating commodity like cable publicity and sponsorship. Heyman had been around Cornette, Watts and McMahon since the start of his career as a photographer. He knew better than to sit on his laurels and proclaim ECW a sound success before having accomplished the task of giving the mainstream fans, the only ones that truly mattered, a slice of the cake while it was still hot.
August the 7th, TNN, The Nashville Network, gave him that opportunity.
Now, Heyman’s choice of network was seen as tiepid since TNN was basically known as Redneck Channel. While Vince pratically owned cable TV with his successfull Raw series, plus SmackDown on network TV UPN, and WCW had been a mainstay on TNT since ’95, ECW on Redneck Channel didn’t sound too good at all. Further more, getting a contract from a CBS owned cable station also meant no more free nudity, swearing, 5 alarm bladejobs and people getting thrown through flaming tables. Despite “60 Minutes” and other controversial programs had been the most popular staples of the daring, yet conservative CBS for years, wrestling was an isle on itself. It was just that, ‘rassling.
It was ECW ‘rassling, for that matter.
Notwithstanding, ECW on TNN began as a moderate success for a little organization like Heyman’s. With highlights from the Hardcore Heaven Lynn/RVD match and a recap on the history of the promotion, the show was able to snatch a 0.9, not much compared to WWF Raw, a constant winner in the Nielsen ratings, but still a mildly encouraging number considering the poor promotion the show got in the first place, something that would continue for all of ECW’s short presence on the channel, almost as an afterthought, something TNN suits were embarassed to present as part of their programming along with Rollerjam and other amenities.
But it was still cable, right? It certainly couldn’t get any worse than in 1997, when PPV providers didn’t want anything to do with Heyman after the Kulas incident, right?
As of October the 29th, the show was still swinging between 0.8 and 1.2, never getting more than its usual viewing share. A partnership with Acclaim, publisher of the first ECW video game for Sony Playstation, only reminded new fans that Credible, Lynn, RVD and other ECW stars, while only beginners in the arena of cable TV and mainstream interest, were already stale veterans that never proved their legit value as worlwide stars. Hell, the game itself was just a replay of Raw is War and Attitude! With more wrestlers and lesser big names! (really, who wanna play as Tracey Smothers?). Sure, the matches were always top notch. Great main events that highlighted an energetic crew of young guys, but the angles hadn’t evolved much from the usual “smart crap” the fans were sick of by the start of 2000, 5 years after the business had opened Pandora’s box and exposed the whole game in a friendly way to the common viewer. Again, much factored in the lousy performances ECW was achieving on national scale.
- TNN not cooperating in the builup of its own wrestling show. Commercials for ECW were only aired during the program, pointless since if you watched the commercial meant you were watching the program itself in the first place. Promises like media opportunities for many stars never materialized aside from few selected talk shows that didn’t amount to much in the long run. TNN’s intentions weren’t clear at all. Was ECW on TNN just an excuse to see how a professional wrestling show would fare on a relaunched Redneck Channel while in the midst of contract negotiations with Vince McMahon? Was it Heyman’s poor business acumen in promoting the Network, a wrestling clique based on TNN suits? Was it the equally idiotic manner in which commentators Joey Styler and Joel Gertner were booked to react to TNN’s indifferent approach, by demeaning and utterly insulting the real life officials of the channel?
- After years of successes, failures and booking team reshapings, WCW was about to lose more than 50 million dollars for Time Warner, which wasn’t pleased, of course. Vince Russo’s inane booking for the smarks while selling to the marks was killing a company that years before had changed the way cable wrestling was perceived, prompting a relaunch of the genre that subsequently saw the WWF as the clear people’s choice. Hardcore matches were treated like jokes, usually pitting former ECW stars versus WCW-bred performers that stinked up the joint. The whole concept Heyman redefined in ’95 was now merely an afterthought for the Rock and Austin-hungry fan. This didn’t help the organization, banking on the popularity of both Atlanta and New York to make a mark as alternative programming.
- ECW PPVs were still a collection of great midcard matches (Tajiri/Crazy/Kash) and solid main events (Lynn/Dreamer/RVD). Yet, the production hadn’t evolved from your usual bush league show, leaving fans to choose Wrestlemania or Summerslam or even WCW Starrcade above Living Dangerously and other ECW offerings.
- Perhaps the biggest hit to ECW’s marketability was the signing by WCW of Mike Awesome, world champion at the time, in April of 2000. The sight of Awesome, still holding the belt he won from longtime champion Taz (now a glorified jobber in the WWF), attacking Kevin Nash on Nitro may have helped Awesome, but not the organization he was still representing. Heyman, with help from McMahon, tried to salvage what was left of the reputation of his title and promotion and booked an immediate title change in Indianapolis. The returning Taz won his belt back from Awesome in less than a minute. Ironically, while Awesome had been escorted by WCW personnel for fear of being attacked and in complete shame, it was McMahon that killed the title for good when, a week later, Taz jobbed to WWF champion Triple H on Smackdown. ECW, for the second time in a matter of weeks, had been reduced to a mild, inferior number 3, if it was still in the race at all.
- House shows business didn’t grow too much out of the ordinary Philly and New York scenes. Florida, Minnesota and other territories were being cancelled to make room and give work to the major number of performers that were getting paid late while working double with sole consolation the “Hey, it’s for the hardcore cause”. While the Hammerstein Ballroom tours proved successfull, it was just an exception for the dyin’ house show market.
- 59 weeks after its initial “partnership”, TNN decided to ditch its deal with ECW and go with McMahon’s brand of programming, going to the lenght of relaunching the channel, basing it around Raw as its prime offering and winning horse. Heyman again found himself with the burden of no cable diffusion, several employees with families to feed and no long term job security and a dying fanbase due to the decreasing popularity of wrestling. ECW’s last cable show generated a 0.6.
The title picture now consisted of Steve Corino, Jerry Lynn, the Sandman, Tommy Dreamer (who acted as transitional champ between the WWF’s contracted Taz), Justin Credible and newcomer Rhyno. Rob Van Dam, perennial ECW fan favorite and the organization’s last hope for a mainstream-friendly character that would help business, albeit not like an Austin, just decided it was time to put up for money he was owed and left the promotion, despite a short term comeback for a one night only **** match with Lynn that amounted to nothing since it was simply advertised as “a big surprise”.
With former ECW wrestlers like New Jack berating what remained of the promotion, riots with rival XPW erupting during PPVs (resulting in a parking lot fight) embarassing the organization and old lawsuits for the use of Sabu and the Extreme monicker still in process, Heyman tried the best he could do to salvage his company and pushed Rhyno as world champion, despite the fact he didn’t have cable TV to promote him and his title defenses. Talent was off searching for work in the WWF and the indies. Heyman’s “spinning” only angered those few remaining individuals that saw throught the bullshit for what the prom really had become: a bush league using money from one house show to promote another, on and on.
ECW’s last PPV, Guilty as Charged 2001, saw the aforementioned return of Van Dam, Rhyno’s title win and the usual fast paced set of Guido, Tajiri, Kash and Crazy. One last hurrah of sorts for some, the sad end of a once innovative company for others.
With virtual deals with USA, FOX and Time Warner never materializing, HHG Corportation, the parent company of Extreme Championship Wrestling, officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The petition was filed in New York on April 4th by Paul Heyman. The company was listed as having Assets totaling $1,385,500. Included in that number was $860,000 in accounts receivable owed the company by In Demand Network (PPV), Acclaim Entertainment Inc. (video games), and Original San Francisco Toy Company (action figures).
Paul Heyman, like a captain without control of his ship, held steady until the end. His philosophy of booking, promoting and leading business matters at the same time ultimately cost him the chance to become the next big promoter to change the course of history with a money generating brand of entertainment, something that never surpassed his string of house shows back in the mid to late 90s.
The Hardcore Revolution missed its biggest spot. The fans were left chanting “you fucked up!”.
For the last time.
ECW briefly resurfaced in the WCW vs WWF angle in July 2001. The angle, focusing on McMahon’s buyout of WCW folwing Heyman prom’s return as “help” never gave the fans the same feel of the original thing. With Heyman acting in the shadow of owners Shane and Stephanie McMahon, and ECW wrestler either too connected with the WWF (like the Dudleyz, a WWF tested product after their reshaping from hardcore team to gimmick players) or unknown to mainstream fans, the angle died a short death at Survivor Series, when Vince “won” and the concept fans had dreamt their whole life was put on the shelves, presumabily forever.
Paul Heyman, currently the co-GM character on Smackdown!, serves as counselor in WWE (former WWF after a lititgation with the World Wildlife Found).
Rob Van Dam is entertaining negotiations to renew his WWE deal after a year of excellent matches and bad booking ideas. His dream of winning the world title seemingly over.
The Sandman, Raven and other ECW talent is currently in NWA TNA, where midcarders gets to show their worth and actually deliver in a big way. Ironically, it was Hulk Hogan’s announced return that put this organization on fire for the last few weeks.
… and yes, PWI gave ECW world title recognition!
Something to remember - ECW unofficial Hall of Fame
Terry Gordy and Steve Williams hug in the ring. Tajiri’s mist. Steve Corino bleeds a lot. A dangerous, yet funny, lot. Tommy Dreamer. Paying with his life for the sins of hardcore fans. Cactus Jack tells smart fans to go fuck themselves his way out. Terry Funk: Life begins at 102. Tajiri’s kicks. Dreamer impregnates his fiancee Beulah. Sandman pimps his wife Lori. Stunning Steve Austin imitates The Hulkster. Jerry Lynn: Dignified world champ. Rob Feinstein gets chokeslammed by 911. Feinstein’s dick makes a rare appearence. Tajiri’s Tarantula. Dusty Rhodes vs Corino. Gertner vs Cyrus. Don Callis: From WWF manager to TNN executive. Half-Doink. Half-man. It’s Bourne Again Matt Borne! The Headhunters are really, really fat and really, really short. Tajiri kayfabes the whole locker room about him not knowing English. Chris Chetti, a star for tomorrow. Nova doesn’t get included in the PWI 500. The conspiracy continues. Rhyno piledrives Lori. Brian Pillman calls New Jack a “ni**a”. XPW wrestlers gets their asses kicked after Heat Wave. Shane Douglas breaks Pitbull 2’s neck. Shane Douglas renames Eastern Championship Wrestling Extreme Championship Wrestling after winning the NWA title. Shane Douglas leaves ECW for the WWF. No one gives a fuck, McMahon included. The Sandmam holds his penis in front of a full crowd. Jerry Lawler attacks Tommy Dreamer. Tammy Sytch and Chris Candido have drug problems. Heyman lets the whole world know it on ECW Hardcore TV. The Sinister Minister burns his hand. Heyman lets the whole world know it on ECW on TNN. Mike Awesome leaves ECW with the championship belt. Taz regains the belt by pinning Awesome. ECW champion Taz gets pinned by WWF champion Triple H on Smackdown! Justin Credible interrupts Tommy Dreamer’s ten bell salute to his grandfather. “Sabu Fears Taz!” Hat Guy. Faith No More Guy. Tommy Rich turns Italian. Brian Pillman attacks a fan. The fan reappears in future shows by helping injured wrestlers in the ring along the EMTs. Enter Sandman. Back in Black. Highway to Hell. Man in the Box. The ten bell salute for Louie Spicolli. WWF and WCW news… on ECW Hotline. “Oh My God!” Sabu throws himself onto tables just for fun. Sabu blows a lot of spots. A dangerous, yet funny, lot. RVD wrestles while under the influence. Spike Dudleyz beats One Man Gang. Eddie Gilbert is one bad motherfucker. Francine is Miss Hardcore. Bam Bam Bigelow wins a world title. Too bad it’s the ECW world title. The Ultimate Warrior contacts Heyman to debut for ECW. Heyman doesn’t understand a fuck. Your new ECW champion: Mickey Whipwreck. Hardcore Revolution aka Attitude with bush league wrestlers. Chris Benoit breaks Sabu’s neck. Malenko vs Guerrero. Mysterio vs Psichosys. RVD vs Lynn. Dawn vs Francine. The Impact Players. ECW action figures.
Thanx again. Agree with Spiff on the hall of fame.
If it is of any interest, I'm working on a few rants I'd like to post.
- nWo history (already written in Italian, I only have to translate it and add the final stages) - History of WWF vs WCW on Monday Night. - The political history of Wrestlemania.
basically everything you can't find in keith's archives
The deal is that I MUST find someone willing to host my columns. not that there's anything wrong with message boards, but I usually work on my rants (included the Running Again one no one read) 2/3 hours every day after I come home from work, so it's something I do for love and interest, and really believe they're worth a read.
Great piece of writing, TIJ. I hope you find the outlet for your work that you're looking for, as I for one can't wait to read the other essays that you say you're working on. If they are as good as this one, they will definitely be "worth a read."
Originally posted by Sean CarlessThat was a quality read Italian Job. I can't imagine a site turning this type of content down, have you tried any yet?
Man, I'vre tried anything. I've plastered the 'net with this thing (and my Running Again piece). For a guy that wrote for TheWrestlingProfessor (I contributed an interview with indy star Dusty Wolfe), founded a message board oldschool wrestlers usually visit (percy pringle and gary cappetta just off the top of my head), posted 2 pieces on randomwrestling and a bunch of other things (including the fact english IS NOT natural language, I'm italian) you know... people just didn't even respond. I'm trying with this board since it seems people actually like to read about wrestling.
But I think I've PMed Guru Zim enough times . If the posters here like what they read and want more, you know what to do... or just open a site so I can write
really, it's not an ego thing. I just know I can contribute something good, something different from what you read everyday.
I hope it's two minutes. Even if the Rumble is lacking some star power, the whole concept is a good time no matter who's involved. The fact that Jericho is in there right from the beginning is a real good sign.