Okay, so here's the problem, and part of the reason why this "True Wrestling Story" was delayed so many weeks: Because "ECW" is a registered trademark of World Wrestling Entertainment Incorporated (as are "WCW", "XFL" and "TNA"), we had legal problems getting this off the ground like you wouldn't believe.
For example, they didn't want us repeatedly referring to WWE Chairman Vincent Kennedy McMahon as a "rat bastard" and photoshopping devil horns onto his head. But strangely enough, whenever we mentioned Eric Bischoff, they insisted we do that precisely that.
Finally, on a cold December morning, WWE's group of angry, snarling lawyers sat down with my legal team (Nidiafan Legal Services Inc.) and hashed out a deal: I can write whatever I want about ECW, so long as Jerry McDevitt and the boys are able to add two (2) sentences per chapter telling their side of the story. Rickard advised me it was a fair deal, so we were off to the races. Their comments have been added in bold type. They've also insisted they supply all the artwork.
So while this may be, at times, a watered-down version of ECW (kind of like... well, I'm sure you see the joke I'm going for here), it is nonetheless The True Wrestling Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling.
(Oops -- that last sentence wasn't WWE's doing; I just typically bold-face the title for these things. But from here on in, it's all theirs...)
Much like the United States constitution, Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia cheesesteaks, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Philadelphia Phillies, the roots of ECW began -- where else? -- but in Pittsburgh.
Unless you're a stickler for accuracy, in which case it was Philadelphia.
Philly's wrestling fans, long-known as die-hard enthusiasts of the business, flocked to see a new independent promotion being run by Joel Goodhart and Tod Gordon. The fans had become tired of the cartoonish product being offered by the World Wrestling Federation, and they demanded something better.
No they didn't; they liked WWE just fine.
These weren't hastily thrown-together independent shows featuring has-been wrestlers and crappy production values. These were hastily thrown-together independent shows featuring has-been wrestlers and crappy production values at venues where you could buy beer.
Out of the ashes of the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance (voted 1991's lamest promotion name by the readers of
Stupid Mark Magazine
) came Eastern Championship Wrestling, being run solely by Gordon. The shows were immensely popular because of their penchant for violent action, and in part because they featured the creative booking of the late Eddie Gilbert.
Gilbert's death had absolutely nothing to do with WWE's Wellness Policy, so maybe those bastards at CNN should just keep their yaps shut, if they know what's good for them.
By 1993, Gordon had replaced Gilbert as head booker with former Dangerous Alliance Chief Executive Officer Paul Heyman. Heyman brought into the group wrestlers that hadn't been seen on a national stage before, such The Public Enemy, Tazmaniac, Sabu, and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.
Heyman's idea to make wrestling hip again was to pattern it after the grunge movement, so he moved the company to Seattle, told everyone to grow their hair out long, and encouraged multiple heroin overdoses.
Another one of the talents Heyman signed was ex-Dynamic Dude Shane Douglas, whose gimmick was to complain about the business constantly and bitch whenever something didn't go his way. Good thing he was never typecast with that character.
In 1994, Douglas won a tournament co-promoted by ECW to become "world" champion of the National Wrestling Alliance (motto: "We're not the ones that feature all them Kurt Angle vignettes").
However, Douglas then threw the NWA belt down on the floor, spit on it, kicked it a few times, and spat tobacco juice on it, before feeding it through a document-shredder for good measure. He also declared himself champion of a new ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Trashing title belts is not a good practice for the business and interferes with the "time honored tradition" of doing the right thing on your way out of a promotion.
Not that we're naming any names... Bret Hart.
After it separated from the NWA, ECW began to thrive, as people wanted to see what this edgy new promotion was all about. Using a ragtag group of "hardcore" wrestlers, and attempting stunts that were unseen before in the North American wrestling landscape, ECW gained a huge cult following.
As Heyman has said many times, ECW was "counterculture," which, as I looked up, has little to nothing to do with drugs. Monthly shows at Philadelphia's famed Viking Hall, which regularly hosted bingo games, quilting bees, macrame nights and served as an
art auction house
, were deemed instant sell-outs.
Bootlegged videotapes of the ECW shows, which had poor production values by today's standards (unless you're comparing them to ROH), were coveted by tape collectors worldwide. And yet, there's no market for my "Naked Boxing" home video line? We've actually seen those, and trust us, you're missing nothing.
Just as importantly, ECW was attracting some of the world's top young talent, such as Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko and Chris Benlalala, I'm not listening...
Wrestling fans in Philly began seeing things they'd never seen before, such as sporting events that don't suck ass. Ahahaha... BURNNNN!
I kid, I kid. It's a joke. Also, I forgot that Philly fans are kind of scary and might try to threaten my life, etc. Heh heh heh...
Where are the lawyers now that I need them? Oh, that's right: their two (2) sentences per chapter have already been used.
Moving on then....
Heyman eventually became full owner of the company, and continued to expand his ECW empire by establishing fresh new characters such as:
- Raven (real name: Ray Venn), who doesn't smoke, drink or do drugs. His only addiction... is to competition!
- Tommy Dreamer (real name: Tommy Bahama), who thinks he's a Jack Sparrowesque pirate for some reason.
- The Sandman (real name: Herschel Sandmanowitz), who is out-of-shape, barely employed and drinks on the job. In other words, exactly like everyone else in Philadelphia. BOO-YAH!
- Mikey Whipwreck (real name: Michael Whipwreck), who routinely regurgitates worms and smashes himself over the head with an oversized novelty watch.
- Rob Van Dam (real name: Rob Claude Van-Damme), a Texas-turned-New York billionaire, who considers himself a "Wrestling (dramatic pause).... god."
- The Blue Meanie (real name: Dr. Blue Fünke), who wore cutoff jean-shorts and was a permanent understudy to the Blue Man Group until he was served with a cease-and-desist order.
In addition to the new characters, Heyman added established names including Terry Funk, who rose to prominence only because of World Wrestling Entertainment and Mick Foley, who became a much bigger star when he went to WWE several years later.
One of the reasons... Oh, and by the way, that last thing shouldn't count as two (2) sentences because technically, we broke it up into two parts of one sentence.
Fine, but that last sentence definitely counts.
"The Queen Of Extreme" Francine
One of the reasons that ECW was on fire at the time was because Heyman created storylines that had previously been taboo in professional wrestling. Another reason it was on fire was, well, because one of the wrestlers torched the ECW Arena one night.
Among the new ground being broken: Raven hung Sandman on a cross at a live event, which would have been fine had he not also set a bible on fire during the same segment. Wrestlers such as Tommy Dreamer routinely beat up women such as Beulah and Francine, before getting them pregnant and setting their hair on fire. And Cactus Jack was portrayed as a WCW apologist who would look down on his hardcore roots and set them on fire. I think you might be taking that too literally.
Still, the promotion was selling out arenas everywhere (although they were tinier venues, unlike WWE, which will be in Cleveland next week - great seats are still available!).
The company's first PPV in 1997 was delayed several months, because of what happened during a match involving D-Von Dudley and hot young newcomer Eric "Mass Transit" Kulas against Mustafa Saed and New Jack (if you've never heard of New Jack, picture a slightly happier version of Bob Holly).
The match ended when New Jack cut Kulas' head severely with a blade. And if I remember correctly, they never even acknowledged who won that match. I HATE when they do that! WWE rarely does that anymore, because Mr. McMahon cares about the fans.
Still, the company would eventually make its way back to to the PPV calendar, and were even helped by some unprecedented cross-promotion from the WWF, because Mr. McMahon cares about this business; also, you have to call it WWE, dipshit.
The first pay-per-view, held in April of 1997, was a rousing success, so long as you don't measure success by match quality, star power, or buyrates. The event featured 87 year-old Terry Funk winning the ECW Championship after first competing in a "three-way dance" (which, contrary to popular belief, involves little dancing) before defeating Raven, and the rivarly between real-life BFF's Tazz and Sabu coming to an end.
The event, "Barely Legal", was followed by several pay-per-views over the next four years, including "Somewhat Legal", "Hardly Legal", "Just Don't Watch If You Know What's Good For You, Capiche?" and the little-known "Barely Legible".
As ECW emerged on a national stage, its talent was targeted by larger wrestling promotions such as WWF and WCW (though mostly WCW and that rat bastard Eric Bischoff).
Still, Heyman continued to crank out new stars. The loss of Raven gave more room for someone like Rob Van Dam to shine. If they lost a Stevie Richards, they gained a Justin Credible. Goodbye, Perry Saturn, and hello Lance Storm. So long Sabu, and... WE GET THE POINT!!!
But one thing that had to change was ECW's television exposure. Only airing on small networks that couldn't afford "Three's Company" reruns, in between "Jumbo Juicer" infomercials on UHF stations at 3 in the morning, Heyman was convinced that they could perhaps be reaching a larger audience.
The Blue World Order
ECW debuted on
The Nashville Network
in August 1999, and had to be considered a runaway success. Well, unless you consider that they'd just lost Taz and The Dudley Boys (He probably meant to say Tazz and The Dudley Boyz), and that their ratings were overshadowed by TNN country-and-western themed specials such as "Dolly Does Dallas" and "A Very Hee-Haw Christmas".
Wrestling fans voted with their remote controls, prefering WWE main events with The Rock,
, Triple H and
, or WCW main events with Scott Steiner,
, Booker T (FYI, he's an ass in real life) and Goldberg, rather than ECW main events with Steve Corino, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Spike Dudley and Don Callis.
By late 2000, ECW was spiraling out of control. Not only were their ratings falling into what we'll call "TNA territory", but Heyman was developing a penchant for not exactly paying his wrestlers.
In fact, even though WWE has told us that rat bastard Eric Bischoff invented the "Money In The Bank" match, it was Heyman who accidentally came up with the concept. It happened one night when he put the evening's ticket sales in a briefcase, and hung it from the ceiling for safekeeping. Everyone in the promotion fought over who would get paid that night, and it was Tommy Dreamer who eventually grabbed the case and banked all $29.
ECW entered bankruptcy protection in April 2001. It's too bad I'm not legally allowed to add one more chapter for this thing, because then I could file for a Chapter 11! A legal joke -- hey, you're all right, Bulldog!
It was the end of an era, and one thing was for sure: you'd never hear, say or even think the initials E-C-W again.
..... OR WOULD YOU?
The superstars of ECW on Sci-Fi
..... you would.
WWE bought the assets of ECW from bankruptcy court (total cost: $37.50) and began integrating them into its programming by 2003.
In 2005, WWE released a DVD titled "The Rise and Fall of ECW" (subtitled "Why Vince McMahon Is Better Than You, Part XV"). It was such a hot seller that the company decided to promote an ECW-style PPV that year, featuring ECW-style wrestlers, ECW-style graphics, ECW-style run-ins and ECW-style payoffs (okay, maybe not).
The event, titled "One Night Stand", brought about several spin-off events, such as "Weekend Fling", "I've Got To Get Up Early For Work In The Morning" and "I'll Call You". It also prompted WWE to relaunch ECW as a separate brand and offer this handsome ECW hoodie for only $24.98, available now at WWE ShopZone!
These days, the ECW brand continues to thrive, thanks to innovative strategies such as making it the exact same fucking show as Raw and SmackDown and a wide variety of ECW orginals such as Mike Knox, Armando Elajandro Estrada and Extreme Expose's Leyla.
And of course, the lawyers. You have to thank their diligent lawyers. Wait till you get our bill.
For True Wrestling Stories, I'm Canadian Bulldog.
Canadian Bulldog is a borderline journalist who writes weekly for
World Wrestling Insanity
and has published his own
of nutty prank e-mails to wrestlers. See his obscenely expensive
for more information.