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Great ECW history article from 2002

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Guest Ransome

I was cleaning out some files on the computer and came across this ECW history file I'd had saved from some website in 2002. It's very long but well-written and I figured I'd put it here if anyone felt like reading:




Before the “Austin 3:16” craze and the NWO invasion, and even before the advent of the Monday Night Wars, ECW Arena stood tall as the purveyor of every hardcore wrestling fan's desires.


Every month, approximately 1,000 of the most dedicated wrestling aficionados in the world would converge on the tiny converted bingo hall, located just off the I-95 in East Philadelphia. No less a source than Mick Foley once described the ramshackle building as something resembling a “large auction barn.” He should know: Like many of his generation’s brightest stars, he did some of his finest work there. From Steve Austin -- the biggest drawing card in the history of the business -- to Chris Benoit -- often the business’ best worker -- to roughly forty other current or former WWF and WCW stars, all of them have wrestled in front of that rabid, albeit modest-sized, ECW Arena crowd. And, like everyone who has reaped the benefits of the recent wrestling boom at one time or another, all of them owe a huge debt of gratitude to ECW mastermind Paul Heyman.


At a time when the WWF and WCW were fruitlessly pandering a conservative, family-friendly audience base, Heyman emphatically stepped into the wrestling industry's sizable hardcore breach. By seamlessly combining the best elements of Japanese wrestling promotions, the thrash-metal music scene, and the New York nightclub picture into a rousing smorgasbord of raunch and violence, he masterminded what many informed observers still contend was the greatest wrestling action they ever beheld.


In doing so, Heyman galvanized tens of thousands of loyal Extreme followers, most of whom hated Vince and Eric and revered a wayward band of suicidal maniacs, beer-guzzling everymen, and gen-X malcontents. Few of them had the faintest prophetic glimmer that the innovative melting pot of non-stop action that characterized these cards would spark a wrestling renaissance. None of them realized just how trying much of the promotion’s history would ultimately be, nor just how much Heyman and company would have to evolve and adapt simply to survive the precipitous road ahead. However, they did recognize, unblushingly, that it was EC-F’n-W. And their passion for it was unequaled.


Sadly, once Heyman finally secured the opportunity to market what was left of his roster to to a more profitable portion of the wrestling public, it was, in hindsight, already too late. After a near-nine-year struggle, ECW went out of business in April 2001, having accomplished so much -- but having fallen short of realizing its ultimate dreams.


Naturally, though, when a wrestling organization changes the entire face of the business, it experiences plenty of unforgettable twists and turns along the way. ECW may have faded into oblivion this past year, but the memories with which it left us are as vivid as ever. It was a wild, often arduous, ride, but it was always entertaining...and it always took things to the extreme.


Join Altwrestling.net as we relive nine years in the life of a promotion that, for better or worse, defined the modern era of wrestling...




When regional jewelry store owner Tod Gordon founded Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) in Philadelphia in June 1992, the wrestling world scarcely batted a mindful eye in his direction.


The Philadelphia area had been one of the US’ primary flashpoints of independent wrestling activity for several years, but its track record was littered with financial failure, nonetheless. Most recently, Gordon had helped finance Joel Goodhart’s bloody, local Tri-State Wrestling, which had folded in February 1992 just weeks before promoting a much-ballyhooed Buddy Rogers vs. Buddy Landel match. Gordon’s initial ECW promotional formula deviated little from Goodhart’s, and there was no indication that the success of his new-sprung promotion would even so much as outstrip that of its foreclosed predecessor. After all, it featured the same general hodgepodge of area veterans (including inaugural champion Johnny Hot Body, J.T. Smith, Tommy Cairo, Rockin’ Rebel, some surfer-dude named “Sandman,” etc.) and ten-years-past-their-prime ex-stars (Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco) as had Tri-State. And, although its product was entertaining from the first, its creative direction featured little that distinguished it from the miscellany of other floundering independent promotions throughout the country, other than its goriness.


However, Gordon had an ace up his sleeve on this go-round, and at an early-1993 card at Philadelphia’s Chestnut Cabaret, it manifested itself in the form of a late hardcore wrestling legend: the embattled “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert. At the time, Gilbert was both one of the brightest bookers and one of the most talented performers in the business, but due to his headstrong nature and unstable reputation, he had worn out his welcome nearly everywhere else. ECW, though, had little to lose by taking a chance that Gilbert would be on his best, most productive behavior: Gordon immediately granted him full creative control of the company.


Within weeks, “Hot Stuff” quickly reaffirmed his vaunted creative reputation by helping ECW continue to become one of the most most prominent indie promotions in the country. Not only did he contribute his own considerable wrestling and interview talents to the product itself, but he also capitalized on the extensive connections he had forged during his 14 years in the business by recruiting to the fledgling company a litany of big-name performers. Shane Douglas, Abdullah the Butcher, Stan Hansen, and Road Warrior Hawk had all joined ECW by mid-1993, and the legendary Terry Funk, who had already been accepting sporadic bookings from Gordon, soon became a company fixture. Gilbert’s most important recruit, however, was his old WCW and Memphis buddy Paul “E. Dangerously” Heyman, who dropped anchor in Philly in March ‘93. Upon his arrival, Heyman formed the short-lived “New Dangerous Alliance,” which consisted of Gilbert, Snuka, Muraco, and the Dark Patriot (Eddie’s brother, Doug).


Gilbert also wasted no time in intensifying the hardcore elements that had already begun to differentiate ECW (and, earlier, Tri-State) from the ostensible “family entertainment” of WCW and the WWF. While growing up, “Hot Stuff” had weaned on the wild violence of early-1970s Memphis wrestling, and he had also recently toured with the notoriously-bloody FMW and W*ING promotions in Japan. Drawing heavily on those influences, he implemented degrees of bloodshed and sexuality the likes of which no wrestling product had ever contained.


Gilbert himself was one of the foremost blading connosieurs in the business, and the bloody torrent that highlighted his ECW matches with fellow hardcore heroes like Terry Funk and Abdullah the Butcher were the backdrop of some of the Philadelphia crowds’ very first “We Want Blood” chants. In addition, in one of the defining moments of early ECW, Gilbert appealed to the more lecherous portion of his audience by employing a pornographic actress named Angel, the titular “Virgin Princess,” who removed her blouse at a card in Philadelphia in late-1993. Before long, the ECW troupe had garnered a reputation as the most brazen, bloody, and debauched band in the business, and an influx of local fans began turning out specifically to witness the hardcore spectacle.


To the surprise of no-one familiar with his erratic history, Gilbert’s celebrated stint in ECW proved short-lived. In September 1993, he had a backstage quarrel with Gordon and responded by doing an infamous in-ring shoot interview in the middle of a card, unbeknownst to anyone backstage. The incident effectively ended his association with the company, and he headed to Puerto Rico shortly thereafter. Tragically, he died there on February 18, 1995, a full two years before ECW began its full-fledged national expansion.




Paul Heyman, who was already one of ECW’s central creative contributors during Gilbert’s tenure, immediately assumed the vacant head booker position. To say he was successful would be an understatement of monolithic proportions.


Heyman’s first major coup was his signing of Sabu. At a time when few fans had ever seen a plancha through a table or a barbed-wire-covered-baseball-bat-chairs-and-tables match, the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal madman’s death-defying stunts and barbaric brawling had already garnered him a sizable cult following. Right at home amidst the chaos and carnage found in Philly, Sabu quickly became the group’s biggest star. He captured the ECW Title almost immediately upon his arrival, winning said belt from Shane Douglas on October 2, 1993. Thus, the phenomenon of table-breaking was popularized in U.S. wrestling.


Heyman demonstrated his deft creative ability most impressively when he tapped into the potential of local indie talents who had hitherto demonstrated little star ability whatsoever. For starters, he packaged long-time indie stand-out Ted “Cheetah Kid” Petty, as Rocco Rock, with erstwhile NY indie wrestler Mike Durham, as Johnny Grunge, and dubbed them “Public Enemy.” They soon emerged as the company’s most popular and, accordingly, most violent tandem. He marketed a short, stocky, face-painted New York indie lightheavyweight named “Tasmaniac” as a wrecking machine with legit tough-guy credentials, thereby exponentially increasing the popularity of the future “Tazz.” Another young Northeast indie hopeful named Tommy Dreamer entered ECW and, before long, achieved great success as Terry Funk’s hardcore apprentice. A large, green rookie named Al Polig changed his sobriquet from “Tombstone” to “911” upon arriving in ECW and emerged as one of the most over performers in the company. And last but not least, the lackluster surfer-dude Sandman became the colorful, beer-guzzlin’, chain-smokin’, bloodlettin’, weapon-weildin’, chauvinistic male pig Sandman: the soon-to-be “Hardcore Icon.”


To compliment the fresh faces, ECW also played host to numerous wrestlers with “Big Two” (WWF and WCW) experience. Shane Douglas gave the company an accomplished technical wrestler with star credibility, and he channeled his years of pent-up hostility toward his former associates (Ric Flair and Shawn Michales in particular) into his always-pungent interviews. Too Cold Scorpio of WCW fame became one of the organization’s early backbones. Mr. Hughes stopped by for a brief tenure in 1994. Kevin Sullivan collaborated with Heyman on the booking, wrestled for a brief spell, and brought his wife “Woman” into the fold. Dory Funk, Jr., wrestled several cards in ‘94, most notably as part of a feud that pitted him and his brother against Public Enemy. More than anyone else, though, it was Terry Funk who provided ECW with invaluable notoriety, selflessness, and professionalism. By working programs Sabu, Sandman, and Dreamer, among others, the hardcore guru and former NWA World champion gave the company’s unestablished names legitimacy as stars and a role model whose work ethic they could emulate.


The highlight of Eastern Championship Wrestling’s itinerary soon became its monthly cards at the the 950-seat Viking Hall (eventually about 1,600 after a series of capacity upgrades), later known as ECW Arena, which began drawing regular sellouts in 1994. The Internet was still in its infancy, but the audience at these shows was predominately comprised of fans who read the sheets, had access to the Web, and/or were otherwise privy to the inner-workings of the business. Together, they furnished the promotion’s events with a uniquely-insider and irreverent atmosphere, and did their chants ever reflect it: “You Fucked Up,” when a wrestler botched a spot; “He’s Hardcore” or “E-C-Dub’,” after a particularly violent move; and -- of course -- “We Want Blood,” when a given match failed to yield satisfactory gore; among numerous other recurring choruses In addition, ample-breasted valets were treated to chants of “Show Your Tits” and were invariably assaulted by either each other or the male wrestlers, much to the delight of the shamelessly-twisted audience.


Unlike the WWF and WCW, there were no disqualifications in ECW. Because of this edict, or lack thereof, ECW’s performers naturally took to weilding a fun-filled assortment of defacing foreign objects, including chairs, tables, baseball bats covered in barbed wire, cheese graters, stop signs, pots, and pans. Of course ECW wrestlers also deployed tables and chairs in a variety of innovative and injurious instances, with Sabu and Public Enemy being the earliest practitioners of the table-break. And, in another case of unparalleled fan participation, the wrestlers frequently solicited assorted weapons from the crowd to use in their matches.


The anything-goes-atmosphere was conducive to one of the promotion’s other distinguishing characteristics: the fact that, in the traditional sense, it had no clear-cut babyfaces and heels. Although Heyman’s booking positioned certain wrestlers to receive cheers and boos in given scenarios, the line between good and bad was virtually non-existent, if only because everyone in the company readily broke all the rules as it was.


Another hallmark of the promotion was its carefully-selected, skilfully-utilized entrance themes and music videos. At one time or another, ECW wrestlers would enter the ring with the roaring tunes of such major-label bands as Guns ‘n’ Roses, Metallica, Motorhead, White Zombie, Steppenwolf, Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Off Spring, and Ice T blaring in the background. The loud, often profane, nature of the songs fit perfectly within the vulgar context of the product, while also providing a valuable contrast to the Big Two’s largely generic, out-of-touch entrances. Oftentimes, the ever-animated ECW attendees would raucously sing along to the familiar lyrics -- particularly during Sandman’s “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica -- prompting ECW's bespectacled lead announcer, Joey Styles, to label them the “Sadistic Choir.”


Plainly, one of the most appealing elements of ECW cards -- and particularly those at ECW Arena -- was that they provided a sanctuary for disenchanted WWF and WCW followers. These fans' devotion to ECW was inversely proportional to the concurrent quality of the Big Two products, and, in 1994, Vince McMahon’s and Eric Bischoff’s respective standings with the hardcore audience were at near-record lows.




Ever since Vince McMahon began marketing his gimmicky, workrate-deficient vision of wrestling in the mid-’80s, the NWA/WCW had been a refuge for more serious devotees of the mat game -- ones who craved a more adult-oriented brand of action. However, never had WCW been less appealing to that variety of fan than in 1994, when Hulk Hogan arrived on the scene and obliterated any traces of hardcore-friendly wrestling amenities. Hogan, the antithesis of extreme, began dominating ever facet of the company, and he brought with him such anti-hardcore forces as Jim Duggan, and Ed “The Man with a Dozen Names” Leslie, John “Avalanche” Tenta. Consequently, the Eric Bischoff-led organization suppressed more talented performers like Steve Austin, Cactus Jack, and Brian Pillman, instead opting to conform to every last one of Hogan’s whims. A product that wasn’t condescending became a thing of the past, as did quality matches, and, worst of all, hardcore violence dropped off the Big Two radar. Like the WWF, WCW instituted a ban on blading -- the ultimate affront to ECW’s temperament.


Although it did feature gifted performers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the WWF -- with its clowns and garbage men -- was no better. Bischoff and McMahon, and the outmoded visions they promoted, were the apotheosis of all that hardcore fans despised about the wrestling business, and And ECW was playing into that hatred with dramatic anti-Big Two overtones.




"(Solemnly) I stand here, before God and my father in Heaven tonight, as I said I would be: World's Heavyweight champion. In the tradition of Lou Thesz; in the tradition of Jack Brisco, all of the Brisco Brothers; of Dory Funk, Jr.; of Terry Funk, the man who will never die; and the real “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers -- upstairs tonight (points skyward). From the Harley Races, to the Barry Windhams, to the... Ric Flairs, I accept this heavyweight title. (Slowly becomes more spirited) Wait a second... wait a second. I'm Kerry Von Erich, I'm the fat man himself, Dusty Rhodes... and Rick Steamboat... and they can all kiss my ass! Because I am not the man who accepts the torch to be handed down to me from an organization that died -- R.I.P. -- seven years ago! I am "The Franchise!" Shane Douglas is the man who ignites the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling. Tonight, before God and my father as witness, I declare myself, “the Franchise,” as the new ECW heavyweight champion of the world! We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So, tonight, let the new era begin! The era of the sport of professional wrestling. The era of the “Franchise.” The era of E-C-W!" - Shane Douglas, after winning the NWA Title, Philadelphia, August 27, 1994


On August 27, 1994, “Eastern Championship Wrestling” was born anew as “Extreme Championship Wrestling.” And, with an exclamation point that sent shock waves reverberating throughout the wrestling world, it announced its radical intentions of expanding nationwide


A coterie of independent promoters had banded together in an effort to relaunch the NWA, which was at one time the most prestigious wrestling alliance in the world. Naturally, they sought to capitalize on the popularity of the hottest indie in the country and embraced ECW as one of their charter member organizations. They organized a tournament to crown a new “World” champion, the all-ECW finals of which occurred on that blistering August night in Philadelphia, pitting Shane Douglas against Too Cold Scorpio. After Douglas won the title, he launched into the above tirade, threw down the NWA Title in an action the symbolism of which was not lost on anyone, and led the crowd in a “Flair is Dead” chant. The other NWA promoters, including New Jersey’s late Dennis Coraluzzo, were incensed and shocked by the act of blasphemy. Nonetheless, Extreme Championship Wrestling had arrived, and the wrestling business would never be the same.


As the now-notorious ECW continued to grow, so too did its rebel image, so too did its budget, and so too did its ability to secure the services of world-class talents. In came Cactus Jack, nee Mick Foley, a man whose reputation as one of the best all-around performers in the business preceeded him. Several months prior to Douglas’ outburst, Jack had validated his status as an extreme favorite by wrestling (and losing to) Sabu at ECW Arena while still employed by WCW as one-half of its resident Tag Team Championship combination. What’s more, Jack delivered a forceful post-match interview during which he spit on his WCW belt and put over the superior quality of ECW’s product. After departing from WCW under less-than-amicable circumstances, he became a full-fledged member of ECW’s roster in September 1994. His debut, at the Arena, marked the first of his many famous gory ECW battles with his buddy in brassy bloodletting, Terry Funk (who briefly parted ways with the company because he was offended by Douglas’ outburst against the NWA Title).


Heyman continued to ratchet up the violence to an unprecedented degree, but he also demonstrated his deep appreciation for a more traditional type of workrate by introducing an influx of world-class performers to ECW. Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, two of the best technical wrestlers in the world, arrived simlutaneously in September of ‘94. Benoit feuded with Sabu from the first, while Malenko was embroiled in a series of hotly-contested TV Title matches with Scorpio and others. In 1995, another wrestler debuted who possessed credentials as a top-flight worker, a “Gringo Loco” named Eddie Guerrero. He was followed forthwith by the world’s most spectacular high-flier, Rey Misterio, Jr., along with a man who could have then staked a legitimate claim to being his closest rival for that distinction, Psicosis. The equally-skilled Juventud Guerrera joined them later on, as did their intermediary of sorts, Konnan. Unquestionably, the best wrestling action in the world was now occurring before 1,100 fans every month in a converted bingo hall.

In addition to featuring the most advanced wrestling, the most violence, and the most raunch of any promotion in the country, ECW was also characterized by the best-booked feuds and most revolutionary angles in the business. Most notably, Heyman and company popularized what became commonly known as “shoot angles” (or “shorks,” as The Lariat’s Dave Scherer would say): Storylines designed to convince even jaded viewers that a given series of events were real.


The greatest artistic triumph of the early shoot angles involved Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman. In the midst of the 1994 mainstream media furor regarding the practice of caning in Singapore, the latter had taken to carrying a “Singapore cane” to the ring and, along with manager Woman, liberally thrashing his opponents with the foreign object. He and Dreamer were ensconced in an intense feud, the climax of which was to be an “I Quit” match at ECW Arena in October. During the bout, as Sandman lit a cigarette, Dreamer shoved it in his eye and proceeded to cane him across the face -- “accidentally” rendering him “blind.” Tommy immediately “broke kayfabe” and implored Woman with cries of “I didn’t mean it!” as Heyman and a group of paramedics carted Sandman, the tragic victim, away from the ring on a gurney. The scene was so convincing that many members of the jaded ECW Arena audience showed legitimate concern.


On a subsequent show, Woman announced that she would no longer manage the “useless” Sandman. For his part, Dreamer tearfully dedicated his career to his fallen former foe and wrestled while betraying a deer-caught-in-headlights look of crestfallen confusion during his matches. At the next month’s ECW Arena card, Joey Styles was conducting a “farewell” interview with the bandaged, scarred (read: made-up) Sandman, when Peaches -- the beer-guzzling hardore hero’s “estranged” wife -- came to the ring and “mended fences” with her real-life husband. Woman, cane in toe, interrupted the quasi-sentimental reunion by paddling Peaches into the mat with the cane and threatening to do the same to the “helpless” Sandman. The ever-naive Dreamer, feuled by his overwhelming pangs of guilt, rushed to the ring for the save. With Dreamer’s back turned, Sandman removed his bandages, grabbed the cane, and shockingly broke it over Dreamer’s head. Having successfully consummated their elaborate plot, Woman and Sandman left Dreamer lying in a pool of blood -- and left the crowd in a state of hardcore bliss because of the brilliant, groundbreaking storyline.


Aside from the Dreamer-Sandman-Woman-Peaches saga, ECW also ushered in a number of other ingeniously-booked angles. As disciplined and well-paced as they were imaginative, the influence of many of these storylines is still discernible today. A summary of some of the most significant successes:


- Throughout 1994, 911 was ECW’s official “mascot" and a symbolic emissary of the fans’ anti-Big Two sentiments. As the largest man in the company, he invariably chokeslammed every former WCW and WWF wrestler who passed through the company (Mr. Hughes, Ron Simmons, Marty Jannetty, etc.) -- not to mention women (of course), referees, timekeepers, Santa Claus, and a host of other wrestlers and ancillary characters. Real name Al Polig, he was perhaps the most over character in the promotion for a period of several months, and it was his using the chokeslam that inspired The Giant to adopt the move as a finisher in WCW in 1995. Unfortunately, 911 was never able to make the transition from gimmick performer status (albeit one with tremendous popularity) to serious title contender status and left the promotion on poor terms in late-1995, before making a few short-lived returns. He also received national exposure as WCW jobber “Big Al” in 1997.


- In mid-1994, Heyman cast a 19-year-old, exceptionally-unimposing, one-time

member of the ECW ring crew named Mikey Whipwreck as a lucky, lovable loser who was demolished by the other wrestlers on a weekly basis, hated holding titles because of the beatings doing so incurred, and liberally made reference to his mother during his spectacularly-meek promos. After several weeks of steady jobbing, Mikey miraculously toppled the Pit Bull to capture the ECW TV Title on May 13, 1994 in one of the “luckiest” wins in wrestling history. He reluctantly held the title for the following three months. Next, he and Cactus Jack won the ECW Tag Team straps from Public Enemy, but only after Rocco Rock received an especially-damaging crotch shot, and tripped over the unconscious Whipwreck, and ended up in a pinning predicament. Their reign last several months as well. Finally, Whipwreck completed the trifecta of title triumphs on October 28, 1995 by conquering the Sandman in an ECW Title ladder match. “Oh My GAWD!” gushed Joey Styles.


- Matt “Borne Again” Borne, who was one of several wrestlers cast as Doink the Clown in the WWF, adopted a split-personality persona for which half his face was decked out in the Doink make-up, and the other half featured no embellishments whatsoever. Of course Borne eventually received a chokeslam from 911 (prompting Styles, whose announcing was head-and-shoulders above everyone else in this period, to quip: “One clown down, Bischoff and McMahon to go”). Ultimately, Heyman fired Borne after he asked permission to work a show for ECW rival Dennis Coraluzzo’s NWA.


- During a late-1994 match that pitted Sabu against Chris Benoit, the former suffered a stinger in his neck while bumping on a back body drop. Heyman played off of the legitimate injury by having Benoit dub himself “The Canadian Crippler” and gloating about his accomplishment during interviews. In fact, it was during these promos that Benoit demonstrated his potential to develop solid mic skills to compliment his peerless workrate. “The Crippler” subsequently “injured” a series of other wrestlers, including Rocco Rock and Al Snow (during a transitory 1995 tenure). At the time, it just so happened that Heyman was grooming Benoit to win the ECW Title, but the fickle forces of fate intervened.


- “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, the centerpiece of ECW’s early expansion attempts, did a series of vociferous “shoot interviews” on ECW TV regarding real-life enemies Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and Hulk Hogan, among others. Once, Douglas even did a 30-minute interview on ECW TV that would have made RF Video proud, ripping into anyone and everyone who had ever raised his ire in the wrestling business. Stemming from the tremendous response these segments received from the fans, Heyman concocted an ill-fated storyline of having a succession of former Flair Four Horseman colleagues invade ECW in an effort to silence the insolent Douglas. After a few poorly-received Douglas vs. Tully Blanchard matches, however, he ditched the idea.


- As part of one entertaining sequence of events, Douglas was defending his ECW Title against Sandman in April 1995 when Woman handed Douglas the caning stick. Douglas used it to win the match and promptly embraced Woman as his new companion. In a rematch at the next Arena show, the cunning, villainous vixen cost Douglas the title by clubbing him in the leg, allowing Sandman to win the match -- and his first ECW Heavyweight title. Hence, the pair had designed the previous show’s efforts as a ploy to get Douglas to let his guard down at an opportune moment. “The Franchise” promptly grabbed a microphone, denounced ECW and its fans, put on a “Monday Night Raw” shirt and vowed: “Now I’m going someplace where I can wrestle.” He departed a few months later for an ill-starred Titan tenure as “Dean Douglas,” but not before continuing to spew his anti-hardcore vitriol. At one ECW Arena show, he claiming to have reported the excessive violence in ECW to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commissioner (one of ECW’s NWA enemies actually had). The Commission had accordingly assigned toothless ‘70s and ‘80s NWA referee Bill Alfonso to implement law and order.


- In mid-1995, Cactus Jack turned heel by portraying the absolute anti-hardcore, anti-ECW wrestler. Based on his real-life reservations about the ruthless, bloodthirsty nature of many ECW fans, Jack conducted a classic series of interviews during which he castigated Tommy Dreamer’s myopic loyalty to them and the company, then encouraged Dreamer to accept a contract offer from the hated Eric Bischoff. Ergo, Jack entirely abandoned his reckless brawling style and, in a trick that drew massive heat from the ECW audience, started packing his matches with heaps of headlocks and hammerlocks. The crescendo came when Dreamer pulled a homemade Bischoff shirt over Cactus’ head and smashed it a chair, thereby creating the illusion that the “Innovator of Violence” had just obliterated WCW’s despised VP himself.


- Stevie Richards -- he of the Daisy Duke shorts and dorky disposition -- adopted a pseudo-Johnny Polo gimmick and participated in a series of vignettes vowing to bring the “Real Jonny Polo” to ECW. Sure enough, the erstwhile Scott Levy debuted at ECW Arena in January 1995 as “Raven:” a grungy, moody, disaffected gen-Xer who dressed as a pseudo-gothic, spoke with eloquence and erudition (quoting from Edgar Allen Poe -- "Quoth the Raven... nevermore!"), and won his matches with the “Evenflow DDT.” It was, perhaps, the most effective character in the nine-year history of company, and -- with his terrific, over-the-top portrayal of the geeky flunky -- Richards only augmented the success. Thus, the most involved feud in ECW commenced in February 1995 when, after Richards lost a series of matches to Raven’s childhood friend, Dreamer, Raven expressed discontentment with Richards’ performance. Before long, Raven and Dreamer started having regular physical altercations of their own, and they engaged in their first singles match at the March 1995 ECW Arena show. Auxiliary performers like Beulah McGillicuddy, Francine, and even (briefly) Luna Vachon (whose signature hold was the the twisting, turning, churning, grinding groin claw) arrived in ‘95 to play an integral part in the intricate proceedings. After suffering a few defeats early in the program, Raven went on a winning streak that did not end until June 1997. In the process, he inflicted constant physical and psychological abuse on the “Innovator of Violence.”


- After Eric Bischoff fired him from WCW, Steve Austin wasted no time in debuting for ECW, in September 1995. In his first-ever appearance, in Middleton, New York, he entered the arena to the grand musical stylings of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” did an uproariously funny parody of Hulk Hogan (complete with bandanna, mustache, weightlifting belt, and yellow “Steve-A-Mania” shirt), incessantly used the word “brother,” and asserted that “Steve Austin wasn’t good enough to cut it in the WCW, brother!” He then ripped off his shirt and proclaimed that he wasn’t going to do “this kind of shit.” By the end of the interview, Austin had fittingly christened himself “Superstar” Steve Austin and completely shattered the notion that he did bland promos. His first MO was to win the ECW Heavyweight Title from Sandman, which he surely would have had Vince McMahon’s checkbook not interceded..................




Due to its controversial nature, ECW encountered several inherent drawbacks that limited its early attempts to expand. The promotion did grow steadily, gaining TV clearance on a market-by-market basis throughout 1994 and 1995, including slots on the widely-disseminated Madison Square Garden Network (in the wee hours of the morning) and the Florida Sunshine Network -- both of which it secured in late-1994. Because of its newfound exposure in the Sunshine State, it expanded outside of its Pennsylvania base for the first time in early-1995 and conducted several house show tours of Florida. In a microcosm of ECW’s slow growth, the crowds grew steadily with each passing tour, as more and more fans who sampled the shows relished in the unique product. The company also began holding profitable monthly cards in Queens, New York, in 1996.


Unfortunately, Heyman repeatedly clashed with TV executives regarding the controversial content of his programming. In particular, several station managers objected to the bloody brawls, the profanity, and the scantily-clad-and-readily-abused women. In particular, the Sandman eye injury angle and a late-’95 saga that saw Woman become "sexually aroused" as Sandman thrashed Mikey Whipwreck with the Singapore cane created stirs throughout the ECW TV universe. Unquestionably, the most controversial escapade of all came in April, 1996. Valets Kimona Wanalaya and Beulah McGillicuddy renounced rumors that the latter had been having an affair with Tommy Dreamer (she had allegedly been "pregnant" with his baby) in very convincing fashion: by locking lips in a "lesbian kiss." To top it off, the two femme fatales invited Dreamer to participate in a three-way dance with them backstage. Naturally, this episode caused quite a fuss and even led to the Sunshine Network's expelling ECW from its programming.


Raunchy storylines or no, Heyman realized that he could only exist at a regional level for so long and, beginning in early-1995, was constantly engaged in a race against time to boost his company to the wrestling promiseland of pay-per-view. Unfortunately, as his company grew, so did the Monday Night War hostilties between WCW and the WWF. Months prior to launching Nitro, Eric Bischoff wisely resolved to infuse Nitro with a higher-caliber, faster-paced brand of wrestling. Naturally, he immediately pursued ECW’s three best all-around workers -- Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko -- and, after a period of finessing and finagling, signed the triad to WCW contracts, just prior to Nitro’s September 1995 debut. Consequently, Heyman’s one-year build-up of Benoit and Malenko and six-month build-up of Guerrero vanished, and with it the mind-blowing matches the three provided at nearly every ECW card.


As Bischoff and McMahon continued to up the ante, Heyman weathered several more blows to his roster. His top tag team, Public Enemy, defected to WCW in late-1995 and brought their table-breaking trademark to the national Nitro platform. Thus, not only did Heyman lose one of his most marketable commodities, but the moment Rocco Rock crashed Buff Bagwell through a double-stack of balsa wood, the table-shattering gimmick lost much of its unique-to-ECW luster. Konnan’s short, forgetable ECW stay ended in late-1995 when he signed with WCW, and it was only a matter of time before he brought along Rey Misterio, Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera, and Super Calo. Woman also participated in the exodus by joining her husband Kevin Sullivan

in WCW.


The WWF, for its part, enlisted the services of the aforementioned "Dean" Douglas, the first of many blows they dealt to Heyman and company. Steve Austin spent a scant two months in ECW, during which time he showed so much breakout star potential that he immediately secured a WWF contract. The fact that Heyman could only retain Austin’s services for so fleeting an interval, despite the fact that he was giving the future "Stone Cold" a push to the very top of the promotion, was an ominous sign. Cactus Jack soon followed suit and signed with McMahon, in the process costing the Philly-based promotion its best all-around performer. Invariably, all of them were all treated to "You Sold Out!" chants from the ECW faithful.


Heyman scurried to fill the voluminous voids, and although he was incapable of compensating for such an immense outflow of talent, he made several shrewd acquisitions. He signed controversial black nationlist tag team the Gangstas -- of Smoky Mountain Wrestling fame. He introduced an athletic duo called the Eliminators, comprised of the high-flying Perry Saturn and John Kronus. He successfully packaged together a group of would-be mixed-bred familial misfits dubbed the "Dudleys." He made a local indie wrestler into "the Blue Meanie:" Stevie Richards’ Chris Farley-like sidekick. At the tail-end of 1995, he hired Rob Van Dam, a high-flying Michigan-area independent with WCW mid-card and Japanese tour experience. He imported Missy "Mommy" Hyatt to replace Woman as Sandman’s second, and the "Hardcore Icon" made a regular habit out of pouring beer on his new valet’s breasts and ravenously lapping it off. Shane Douglas returned from the WWF after a mere four-month absence, with Lady Francine as his manager. And, at the outset of 1996, Heyman hired another wrestler with a formidable repute as a worker: Chris "Lionheart" Jericho, whose tenure lasted approximately six months before WCW cherry-picked him, as well.


Heyman had actually fired Sabu -- still the company's biggest star -- in April 1995, when the suicidal madman opted to wrestle on a card for New Japan offshoot promotion Heisei Ishingun rather than an ECW Arena show (on which he was supposed to partake in what was billed as the most important match in company history: a Sabu & Tazmaniac vs. Public Enemy vs. Dean Malenko & Chris Benoit Tag Titles triangle match). Heyman announced the firing at the beginning of the card, burying his former charge in the process, but he announced a surprise appearance from a big star later in the show (who turned out to be Rick Steiner, who continued making sporadic appearances for the next year) to temper the fans’ disappointment. Although Sabu was ECW’s top drawing card at the time of his exit, ECW fans demonstrated their loyalty to the promotion by turning on him immediately upon hearing Heyman’s announcement.


Many onlookers at first believed the departure was another ECW "shoot angle," but, it proved to be otherwise, especially after Sabu showed up on Nitro in September. After also bitterly parting ways with Bischoff and company, he returned to ECW in December ‘95, at a time that Heyman was desperate for marketable talent.


Besides the constant talent raids, Heyman’s other problem was that, although he knew his product was capable of succeeding on PPV under the right circumstances, he was caught in something of a promotional catch-22. Because he needed to appease PPV management, he recognized that he would have to tone down his product, but he did not want to risk alienating his loyal, bloodthirsty fanbase.


Two stormy incidents clearly underscored the fact that Heyman needed to put a clamp on the quotient of controversial content. The first occurred in November, 1995, at ECW Arena, when Cactus Jack accidentally set Terry Funk (having returned a few months before) on fire when attempting to strike him with a flaming chair. The occurrence caused an onset of panic in ECW Arena, and although no permanent harm resulted, it thoroughly scared all involved. The second, more damaging incident occurred at a December, 1996, house show in Revere, Massachussettes. A thickset 17-year-old would-be-wrestler named Erich Kulas had contacted Heyman earlier that day and expressed his desire to participate in ECW. In one of his greatest miscalculations, Heyman decided to grant Kulas’ wishes by booking him -- a minor with no training and no experience -- in a match against two of the most legitimately-volatile men in the business, the Gangstas. Gangsta’ Nu Jack, who decided this was the perfect opportunity to "iniate" Kulas into the business, plastered his with a toaster oven at full-force, before pulling out a blade and carving a several-inch gash in his forehead. As the fans in attendance callously chanted "You Fat Fuck" and Nu Jack grinned from ear-to-ear, Kulas lay screaming and writhing on the mat, blood squirting out of his head. Not yet satisfied, Jack proceeded to leap from the top rope and smash a stiff chairshot into the the already-mutilated forehead. Kulas had to be rushed to the hospital for stiches, though the long-term physical damage was minimal. However, the kid's father, who had to endure the disturbing scene from ringside, was a litigational thorn in ECW’s side for the next three years.

The incident, which came to be known in some circles as the "Mass Transit Massacre," nearly cost ECW its coveted spot on PPV. Viewer’s Choice, the country’s largest PPV distributor, elected to pass on the company’s planned first show in 1997, and what happened in Revere was at least partially to blame. Request at first agreed to air the event, but they also opted out after viewing a tape of the incident, as supplied by the Pro Wrestling Torch’s Bruce Mitchell. Heyman was fast losing ground (and talent) and sensed that he had to reap the benefits of PPV quickly, but, for the moment, he appeared out of luck. Ultimately, Request announced in January, 1997, that it agreed to broadcast the show, albeit with certain content restrictions.


After several re-schedulings, the event was to air on April 13, 1997, from ECW Arena. As per his agreement with Request President Hugh Panero, Heyman had to ink all of his advertised talent to binding contracts, to circumvent potential false advertising problems. Request also had to approve of the script for the show beforehand, and there was not to be excessive blood, gimmick matches that used blood as the main selling-point, or any extreme man-on-woman violence. The event would air from 9:00-12:00 -- not 7:00-10:00, like Big Two PPVs -- and would cost $19.95 -- a full $10.00 less than WWF and WCW offerings of the time.


Though Request was ECW’s only PPV outlet, it was still available in almost 70% of the United States PPV universe. Between production, satellite feed rental, transporation, and other assorted expenses, producing the show would cost ECW $300,000. Given those conditions, ECW would turn a profit on any buy rate above 0.2.


Meanwhile, the company continued to seek the avenues of exposure necessary to advertise the show on a national level. Heyman struck deals with the America One and Prime networks, and, despite losing his Madison Square Garden slot in late-1996, the company was more widely disseminated than ever before. The mainstream media began to take note of the most unique success story, with tabloid shows "A Current Affair" and "American Journal" airing (negative) pieces on ECW. Just prior to the event, house show and merchandise business were moving more briskly than ever as well. Even spot shows were customarily drawing in excess of 1,000, and it was not uncommon for the company to sell its various paraphernalia at a rate of $13-$15 per head at the cards. Despite the disastrous talent defections and other setbacks, ECW had all the momentum it needed before boldly setting out to conquer the brand-new PPV frontier.



Part 2 next post....

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Guest Ransome



Although ECW’s 1996 and early-1997 angles were not typically as magical as those of the previous two years, Heyman made a concerted effort to push the promotion’s storyline arcs to a crescendo heading into "Barely Legal."

One of the best angles in company history, although one that exhibited extremely questionable taste, saw new ECW Heavyweight Champion Raven embark on a lengthy quest to enlist the services of "the ultimate slut" as a companion. Always eager to please his associate, Stevie Richards enthusiastically went to work trying to meet Raven’s request, and after several failed attempts, finally brough Peaches (Sandman’s wife) to Raven’s altar at an ECW Arena show in early-1996. Sandman made his presence known and claimed not to care if Peaches took up with Raven, seeing as that she has already been with "half the boys" in the back anyway. In light of this information, Raven turned her down, citing that she wasn’t a big enough tramp for his tastes. The proceedings immediately took on a different tone when out came young Tyler Fullington, the 10-year-old son of Sandman and Peaches, who shocked his father by calling Raven "daddy" and willfully leaving the ring under the care of Raven, Richards and Peaches. In a subsequent interview, Tyler denounced his dad as a "drunk" and professed to "worship" Raven. At the next ECW Arena show, Sandman and Raven squared off as part of a spectacle called "Rage in a Cage," during which a triune of matches occurred simultaneously (one in a cage in the ring, one in the crowd, one in the balcony). Raven and Sandman were stationed in the cage, and at the end of their match, when the beer-guzzling babyface was about to exact revenge on his foe with the cane, Tyler ran to the ring and positioned himself in front of Raven to prevent his "new daddy" from taking the blows. Both the crowd and Sandman’s hardcore buddy Tommy Dreamer implored Dad to give in and cane Tyler, but he was unable to bring himself to do so. The woeful tale of treachery and mind-control reached new heights in ensuing weaks: Once, Sandman tried to spank Tyler, but Raven made the save, laid out the elder Fullington, and the younger Fullington stood above his fallen dad in the Raven "crucifixion pose." Then, in the most memorable incident of all, Raven actually tied Sandman to a cross -- arms and legs outstretched -- and placed a crown of barbed wire on his head, right before young Tyler’s very eyes. Even many of ECW’s hardest core fans were revolted with this latest turn of events, and many of them immediately left the arena in disgust. To compound the matter, recent Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle was in attendance at the show, and, though he was scheduled to participate in a long-term storyline with the promotion, he stormed out of the building in disgust shortly after witnessing the controversial "crucifixion," not to be heard from again by the wrestling world until two years later.


ECW also began a slow-burn push toward a Taz vs. Sabu showdown between former tag team partners in late-1995, which was to culminate at the first PPV. Taz, who heretofore had little promo experience, shed his "Tasmaniac" garb, shortened his name, and started cutting regular interviews vowing to "prove himself" by defeating Sabu. He soon developed very strong mic skills, exuding toughness and intensity to compliment the "shooter" gimmick he displayed so well in the ring. Sabu finally answered the challenge in late-1996 (even speaking for the first time on-camera himself), setting off a series of stare-downs, pull-apart brawls, and grand-stand challenges between the two men.

In response to the New World Order craze of late-1996, ECW formed a mirth-provoking answer to the faction: the "BWO" (Blue World Order). Comprised of the always-entertaining Stevie Richards ("Big Stevie Cool"), the Blue Meanie ("The Blue Guy"), Super Nova ("Hollywood Nova"), and Rob Feinstein, the gimmick quickly became the company’s biggest merchandise seller and even succeeded in inspiring "BWO" chants at both ECW and Big Two (mostly WWF) telecasts.


The Eliminators were coming into their own as well, and Joey Styles labeled them the "Best Tag Team in the World" -- an assertion that was difficult for U.S. wrestling fans to dispute. Meanwhile, Shane Douglas and the Pitbulls, a brawling tough-guy tag team, were embroiled in a feud over Douglas’ ECW TV Title. Douglas legitimately injured several vertebrae in Pitbull #1’s neck at a June 1996 ECW show, which at first appeared to be career-ending. In typical ECW fashion, Heyman turned the real-life circumstances into a heated storyline.


Douglas was involved in another one of the most memorable "stretch-drive to the PPV" angles. Little over two years removed from being one of the top heels in the industry, the late "Ravishing" Rick Rude appeared under a mask at a January 1997 ECW Arena show, making little attempt to conceal his true identity. He immediately made clear that he would be involved with Douglas’ concerns; but he would not make clear just how until the PPV.


Several other Big Two alumnus passed through ECW in 1996 and 1997, though few stayed for long. Brian Pillman, Bam Bam Bigelow, Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, Louie Spicolli, Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat, the Harris Brothers, the Samoan Gangster Party, and Devon Storm (aka Crowbar) all frequented the ECW Arena on at least a few different occasions during this period. Williams, Gordy, Furnas, and Kroffatt all jumped to the WWF in short order, as did Ron Simmons (as Faarooq) and Too Cold Scorpio (as "Flash Funk") during the same general time frame.


Heyman also imported former "Thrillseeker" Lance Storm in late-’96, while Chris Candido (aka "Skip") -- fresh off wasting his considerable talents as a floundering mid-carder in the WWF -- became a regular in November of that year. Former "Fantastic" Tommy Rogers and "Hell-Bent and Whiskey-Bound" Tommy Rich also contributed by rounding out the lower-card. ECW had also scored a noteable coo when it opened up its official "House of Hardcore" training school, taught by Taz and Perry Saturn. The first graduate: D-Von Dudley, who debuted in March 1996 as a rival to the several established Dudleys, including Bubba Ray and Big Dick. The facility would go on to produce many ECW regulars during the next several years.


In late-1996, the WWF and ECW both ascertained that, by banding together, they would be better able to ward off the onslaught of WCW, which was dominating at the time in the Big Two promotional battle. The WWF was desperate to offset WCW’s "NWO" momentum, while ECW, for its part, was in dire need of national exposure to promote its impending foray into PPV. In the first of several memorable talent exchanges, ECW took on the role of "Invading Promotion for a Day" at the WWF’s September "In Your House: Mind Games" PPV, in Philadelphia. During the opening bout on the card, a Savio Vega vs. (Justin) Bradshaw strap match, Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and Paul Heyman were seated at ringside. At one point, when Vega staggered around near the audience, Sandman stood up and spit beer on him, prompting security "to forcibly remove" the ECW triumvirate from the building. During the live broadcast, Vince McMahon even made reference to this "local outlaw wrestling franchise" that was "creating a disturbance." The following night, Taz "interrupted" Raw by hopping the guard rail at ringside and holding up a pro-ECW sign, "causing" Raw to go to an abrupt commercial break.


The success of those events notwithstanding, Heyman needed a more potent form of exposure than a few cameos that lasted all of several seconds. He opened up negotiations with Vince McMahon to appear in several full-length segments of Raw, not only to hype the upcoming PPV and garner his talent greater exposure, but also to initiate an ECW vs. WWF promotion vs. promotion angle of sorts.


Ergo, just one and-a-half months before "Barely Legal," ECW partook in its most aggressive and effective promotional campaigns to date, when most of its star performers appeared on the February 24, 1997 Raw at the Manhatten Center. Heyman, the Eliminators, the BWO, Raven, Taz, Tommy Dreamer, Beulah, the Dudleys, and Sandman (with Bud and cigarette in tow) all appeared on the program, and Heyman even joined McMahon and Jerry Lawler on commentary throughout the course of the ECW-dedicated segments, shedding light on the unfamiliar performers in the ring and extolling the virtues of "EXTREME Championship Wrestling" at every opportunity. ECW’s wrestlers came off very well in these self-contained matches and angles, and Heyman even engaged in an entertaining spat with Lawler, resulting in his becoming so "aggravated" that he "attacked ‘The King’" and had to be expelled by security. Two weeks later, Heyman and Lawler had an in-ring debate which resulted in Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, the Eliminators, and the Dudleys' all entering the ring and threatening their monarchical antagonist.


For the time being, everything was going according to planned: The storylines were clicking, the talent roster, though depleted, remained strong and vital, and the promotion had just gotten its biggest exposure to date. Still, just outside of "Barely Legal," the pressure to perform and the stress of constant rumors of talent defections began to wear on the ECW crew. There were even several instances of the wrestlers engaging in senseless, real-life physcial altercations with one another. One week prior to the show, it was do-or-die time, and Heyman addressed his troops with one of his most emotional locker room speeches. Ever the supreme motivational speaker, Heyman managed to galvanize everyone headed into the upcoming big event. Once again, the brotherhood was united, the stage was set, and the wayward band of bingo hall wrestlers was ready to make its mark in front of the entire wrestling world.




The camera work was poor. The production values were minor-league. Several wrestlers exposed their lack of match psychology. And, to some, it may not have lived up to the mystique and bloated, underground reputation that the promotion had amassed over the prevous four years. But, on April 13, 1997, there was no denying the genuine, spine-tingling emotion present in ECW Arena. Nor was there any denying the incredible effort that everyone involved put forth.


Undoubtedly, the quality of action at "Barely Legal" was not on par with the 1995 glory days of ECW Arena. Nonetheless, it still compared favorably to almost any PPV in the recent history of the WWF and WCW. The wrestlers of Michinoku Pro delivered on of the best aerial matches in the history of televised wrestling in the US. The Eliminators, Rob Van Dam, Lance Storm, and others turned in commendable aerial showings of their own. After all the hype, Taz vs. Sabu was solid, though unspectacular. When Rick Rude revealed himself and, along with former Shane Douglas Triple Threat partner Brian Lee, laid waste to "The Franchise," it provided a worthy pay-off to a solid angle. Most notably, when Terry Funk fittingly won the ECW Title and celebrated in the crowd, it was one of the most stirring moments in wrestling history. As Paul Heyman made very clear in his emotional post-show address to the loyal ECW Arena audience, the promotion had finally reached its ultimate goal, and it did so because of the unmatched work ethic of its roster and the unwavering loyalty of its fans. The celebration continued a week later when the news came back that the show had drawn a 0.26 buy rate, thereby marking it a decent financial success.


Before long, the festive mood turned sour when WCW attempted another raid on ECW, this time luring away the company’s most central star, Raven. Although the promotion surely smarted from the harsh blows of losing the majority of its top-flight workers over the previous two years, Raven’s departure left an irreplaceable void. He was the most multi-dimensional character in the business, he provided stability to the main event picture, and several of the promotion’s key performers played off of him to draw their own heat. Later in the year, in two more calamitous setbacks, Stevie Richards and Perry Saturn followed their friend into the ranks of the Time Warner-funded company. The late Louie Spicolli also left the promotion in 1997, largely due to his infamous substance abuse problems, before resurfacing in WCW.

As always, Heyman and company forged ahead, and, to coincide with their new-fashioned national success, he expanded ECW’s itinerary from its tradtional one-to-show per week slate to one with three-to-four cards every seven days. In the process, he moved forward with plans to hold cards for the first time in such locations as Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, New Jersey, Buffalo, Syracuse, Providence, and even Kentucky.


Throughout ‘97, Heyman filled his roster vacancies with several acquisitions: He brought in Bam Bam Bigelow on a full-time basis, while also giving spots to the erstwhile Aldo Montoya (who eventually evolved into Justin Credible), former WCW cruiserweight Jerry Lynn, California indie import Spike Dudley, “House of Hardcore” graduate Chris Chetti (Taz’ cousin), Ballz Mahoney, and Al Snow (on loan from the WWF.)


Heyman also successfully played off of the very real possibility that Rob Van Dam would jump to WCW. Van Dam had received an offer from Eric Bischoff, which garnered him a ringing chorus of “You Sold Out” chants every time he wrestled, but he eventually opted to re-up his pre-existing agreement with ECW. Heyman prudently capitalized on the legitimate heat by wryly Van Dam himself “Mr. Monday Night” and booking him, along with Sabu, on Monday Night RAW under the tutelage of avowed ECW tormentor Jerry Lawler. Because Van Dam did not endear himself to WWF management, he only made two appearances on the show, but they were both show-stealers, and one involved a stand-out match against a relative unknown named Jeff Hardy.

The crossover appearances set the stage for ECW’s hottest angle of the Summer, at the June 7 ECW Arena show. There, Van Dam, Sabu and Bill Alphonso were in the midst of beating down Tommy Dreamer when the lights went out. When they came back on, Lawler was standing in the ring, soaking in nuclear heat from the rabid Philadelphia throng. "The King" commenced to assist Van Dam, Sabu, and Alphonso in putting the boots to Dreamer, as well as a procession of other ECW wrestlers who attempted to save the fallen "Innovator of Violence." Without question, Lawler received one of the loudest reactions in the history of ECW Arena. On the same show, Raven made his final ECW appearance, finally losing to Dreamer, while Taz downed Shane Douglas with the Tazmission to win the TV Title.


A Sandman/Dreamer vs. Van Dam/Sabu/Lawler feud was the highlight of the promotion for the next several months, and long-standing Heyman hater Jim Cornette even made an ECW Arena cameo to heap fuel on the promotional allegiances fire. Meanwhile, a Terry Funk vs. Shane Douglas Heavyweight Title feud was another hotly-contested issue, and a new Triple Threat of Douglas, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Chris Candido was the source of many entertaining matches and angles.


Fresh off its eventful Summer run, the company presented its second PPV, "Hardcore Heaven," on August 17 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Although it was decent, the show did not live up to the standards of the debut outing, and by this point, the “Barely Legal” momentum had largely dissipated. In the main event, Shane Douglas defeated Sabu and Terry Funk in a three-way dance to win the ECW Title that Sabu had won from Funk the week before at the ECW Arena. On the undercard, Tommy Dreamer beat Jerry Lawler, porn star Jenna Jameson and underground rap sensations the Insane Clown Posse made appearances, and Sunny (with fiance Chris Candido) and Jake Roberts also participated. The card was far from bad, and it helped ECW firm its PPV footing by drawing another profitable buy rate, but it did usher in what proved to be some trying times for Paul Heyman and company.




"As the wrestling wars entered 1998, we came to the realization that these wannabe’-extreme, pseudo-hardcore, lame-ass Monday night wrestling programs were spending too much time copying ECW.” - Paul Heyman, February 1998 edition of ECW's "Hardcore Wrestling" syndicated program


In September 1997, ECW’s world was thrown for a loop when Paul Heyman discovered that founder Tod Gordon had been acting as a WCW-sponsored “mole” by working from within to organize a mass exodus of ECW wrestlers into WCW.


Gordon had been the company’s financial backer dating back to its inception, but he had sold it outright to Heyman some time in 1994 or 1995. Apparently frustrated by his unglamorous figurehead commissioner and Philadelphia event promoter roles, Gordon had contacted WCW booker Terry Taylor regarding leading the NWO-type invasion of WCW. Taylor received word back that WCW would reward Gordon with a lucrative job he could swing such a coup d’état. Luckily for ECW, Heyman got wind of the scheme before Gordon could do much damage: The only wrestler to jump ship during this tumultuous period was the aforementioned Saturn, and Heyman promptly fired Gordon upon learning of the plot. Still, the emotional blow of the bizarre turn of events left the company reeling and added to its underriding sense of vulnerability. Surprisingly, Heyman and Gordon did not end up on particularly hostile footing with one another, and in an effort to make the split as amicable as possible, Joey Styles simply announced on TV that Gordon had resigned from ECW to concentrate on business and family matters.


Without Gordon for the first time, the company marched on toward its third PPV, the November 17 November to Remember. To set up the card, Rob Van Dam and Sabu continued to lead the heel charge, the Full-Blooded Italians (Tracy Smothers and Little Guido) got a reign as transitional Tag Team champs, and Bam Bam Bigelow wrested the ECW Heavyweight Title from Shane Douglas. The event itself occurred before a then-company-record crowd of 4,300 in Monaca, PA. The storyline highlights of the show saw Al Snow debut his “head” gimmick in a backstage vignette and Stevie Richards make a surprise return by interfering to help Rob Van Dam beat Tommy Dreamer in a “WWF vs. ECW Coward Waves the Flag” match. In the main event, Douglas vanquished Bigelow to reclaim his strap and send the crowd home happy.


The show met with mixed reviews, and as ECW entered 1998, it found itself struggling to adjust to the transmogrified state of the wrestling industry. It had settled in as a moderately-profitable entity on PPV, house show revenue was at an all-time high, and its fanbase was larger than ever before, but the promotion was undeniably fraught with growing pains related to its wavering identity and lack of roster depth.


WCW had long since stolen ECW’s world-class workers (Benoit, Malenko, Guerrero, Jericho, Misterio, Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Gurerrera), thereby depriving the company of one marketing niche. Even more damagingly, Vince McMahon had lifted its other, more definitive, selling point: Attitude. The WWF’s product adopted the racy, irreverent approach that had exclusively characterized ECW for the previous four years, and Vince had the wrestlers, the production values, and the national exposure to remain fresh and innovative to the vast majority of the Monday Night Wars-bred wrestling fanbase. The WWF may have entirely pilfered ECW’s image, but perception is reality in the wrestling business, and, by comparison, Team Heyman began to look like a pandering minor-league imitation, rather than the cult revolution that had changed the face of wrestling.


Another obstacle understandably confronting Heyman was his conspicuously-shallow talent roster. Where it once seemed that ECW had been a safe haven for all of the wrestlers the WWF and WCW were too ignorant to want, now it seemed that ECW consisted predominately of wrestlers who were there only because they couldn’t obtain or maintain a job in the Big Two. For instance, Justin Credible was a great talent, but, two years removed from his WWF role as a jock-strap-masked jobber, his lack of national credibility as a top heel epitomized ECW’s roster identity crisis. Chris Candido’s reputation had also suffered gravely from his WWF burial as “Bodydonna Skip,” even if he clearly still had major-league talent. Stevie Richards’ WCW run had curbed his marketability, and cumulative neck problems sadly forced him out of the company within weeks of his return. Even Bam Bam Bigelow, once the biggest sure-fire future star in the industry, seemed like a WWF cast-off with the albatross of his WrestleMania XI loss to Lawrence Taylor following him everywhere.


Even several of the mainstay wrestlers also struggled with a variety of perception and performance problems. Shane Douglas remained a terrific interview, but he was deteriorating physically, and the more the ECW-tinged quality of the Big Two increased, the more hollow his and Joey Styles’ criticisms of the rival promotions became. Tommy Dreamer and Sandman were the unquestioned faces of the company, but they were no longer the hot commodities they were a few years earlier, partially due to mounting injuries. Mikey Whipwreck had blossomed into a good worker, and he had been the beneficiary of some of Heyman’s most inventive booking; by 1998, with the lovable loser gimmick having run its course, the bloom had fallen from his burnt-out rose. Weapon-weilding brawlers like New Jack, Axl Rotten, and Ballz Mahoney were all good role players, but the advent of violent brawling in the Big Two had mitigated the modernity of their forte. Rob Van Dam and Sabu were spectacular, major-league wrestlers, but they were not delivering the all-around great matches on the same plateua as Rey Misterio and Shawn Michaels, to name a few. And, the buxom women who had once been such an integral part of ECW’s uniquely-risque identity lost much of their luster with the WWF’s marketing of Sable and other T&A-based acts.


What’s more, the expanded schedule was exacting an enormous physical toll on the entire company. ECW wrestlers had always performed perilous stunts and exerted a superior level of effort to that of other promotions’ wrestlers, and once they began performing on three-five shows per week rather than two, their injury rate skyrocketed. Nearly every member of the roster was combatting some sort of physical ailment, and ECW veterans like Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu, and Whipwreck were the chief casualties. Dreamer, especially: In trying to live up to his “Innovator of Violence” handle, he had spent the previous several years bumping through stacks of tables from atop balconies and cages, and his performance was starting to reflect the ravaging.

There were, of course, several acts who reaped the bountiful benefits of the old Heyman magic, even with ECW at a creative ebb. Al Snow’s new “head” gimmick was a run-away success: The “deranged” Snow purported to hear voices from a mannequin head, which he liberally used to spout sexual double-entendres, and the crowd soon adopted “Head, Head, Head!” as its most popular chant. ECW often capitalized on the craze by handing out miniature mannequines to the crowd prior to Snow’s ring entrances, so that the audience transformed into a wave of white head-shaking. Tazz’ rise continued in earnest, as his interviews were par excellence in their intensity, and he successfully created a personal championship belt -- the “Fuck the World” title -- that only enhanced his appeal. Rob Van Dam continued to emerge as a legitimate superstar, winning the TV Title from Bam Bam Bigelow in April, 1998, in an awesome match -- perhaps the company’s best of the year. Meanwhile, the Dudleys were also on their way to the top, and Ballz Mahoney found a popular (albeit masochistic and short-lived) niche as “the guy who gets powerbombed through flaming tables.”


Unfortunately, the company’s first two PPVs of 1998 strongly reflected the hot-cold dichotomy that marked ECW at the time.


The March 1, 1998, “Living Dangerously” PPV in Asbury Park, NJ, did not want for spectacular moments: In a Tag Titles match, New Jack and Spike Dudley dove from atop a balcony onto Buh-Buh and D-Von, and Bam Bam Bigelow pinned Taz to win the TV title after both had fallen through the ring. However, beyond those memorable stunts, it was an average show that once again failed to differentiate ECW from its two bigger-budgeted competitors.

The May 3, 1998, “WrestlePalooza” PPV in Marietta, GA, met with similar critical apathy. Rob Van Dam wrestled Sabu in a disappointing 30-minute time limit draw between temporarily-divided tag team partners, while Shane Douglas retained the ECW Heavyweight Title against the WWF-bound Al Snow. Distressingly enough, never had the company’s staleness and injury problems been more evident.




Paul Heyman surely realized he needed to rebuild several aspects of his company, and in August, 1998, he gave ECW’s fans cause for stout optimism.

ECW scored with its biggest aesthetic success since “Barely Legal” when it presented “Heat Wave ‘98” in Dayton, OH, on August 21. In fact, for great in-ring wrestling, it was the best PPV any wrestling company produced all year. Most spectacularly, new arrivals Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka had a terrific, four-star match -- imported straight from Japanese fringe group FMW. A Taz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow bout was almost as good, while Chris Candido vs. Lance Storm and Justin Credible vs. Jerry Lynn were strong pure wrestling exhibitions, and Sabu & RVD vs. Jinsei Shinzaki (Hakushi) & Hayabusa provided 21 minutes of high-flying fun.


Buy rates continued to hover in an immutable 0.2-0.25 range, but ECW now had virtually 100% clearance in the PPV universe, so its profit margin from the events had increased substantially over the ‘97 shows. The company had also successfully expanded into Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana, and several other markets outside of its regional house show base, and the cards generally drew in the 1,500-4,000 range, a substantial increase over the 500-1,500 it drew in 1995 and 1996. Moreover, although per-cap merchandise sales were likely down from the 1994-1996 peak of hardcore fever, a significantly larger fanbase meant significantly greater sales of ECW paraphernalia, and its relative commerce of company-branded items still more than held its own. As a matter of fact, the crowd of 3,400 at “WrestlePalooza ‘98” in Marietta, GA bought $18.97 per head worth of merchandise -- an all-time PPV record for any US company.


As always, there were hits and misses throughout the talent roster. “The Quintessential Studmuffin” Joel Gertner -- the loud-mouthed, paunchy, and sex-obsessed sidekick of the Dudleys -- was definitely one of the former bunch. He had emereged with one of the most entertaining shticks in wrestling in 1996, and his charges correspondingly emerged as the top team in the company, winning the Tag Titles from Sabu & Rob Van Dam on October 24, 1998 in Cleveland, OH. Likewise, Lance Storm developed one of the most refreshing acts in the business, exhibiting a unique charisma that served him well both in singles matches and in his frequent tag team outings with Justin Credible. And, in case you’d forgotten, he made sure you knew he was from “Calgary...Alberta...Canada!” Fellow Canadian Don “Cyrus” Callis (aka "The Jackyl" of the Truth Commission in the WWF) brought the same skilled mic work that had made him a WWF and Ontario-based independent standout. Spike Dudley continued to bump and batter his 130-pound body to the top of the card. Chastity and female bodybuilder Nicole Bass supplemented Justin Credible’s ascending act. Tammy Lynn Sytch -- the erstwhile Sunny -- and Tammy Lynn Bytch (who accompanied Chris Candido and Lance Storm, respectively) were welcome additions. And Yoshihiro Taijiri and Super Crazy injected a dose of top-rim workrate to the mid-card.


In September, ECW sadly bid adieu to Sandman, the venerable (at least within the confines of ECW) “Hardcore Icon,” who became embroiled in a money dispute with Heyman and, shortly thereafter, signed a three-year contract with WCW. He only collected the cool Time Warner paychecks for about a year before receiving his wrongful termination, but over the short term, many-a-fan pined for his made-for-ECW exploits. Also, newcomer Mike Awesome had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery just weeks after his debut, although his “Heat Wave” opponent, Masato Tanaka, stuck around and continued to get over by taking the stiffest chair shots in the business.

In spite of the Sandman's departure, ECW had an opportunity to build on the momentum it created at “Heat Wave” when it presented its seventh PPV, November to Remember, on November 1 in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the card was marred by creative misfirings and inconsistent ring-work, and its only saving grace was a very good Lance Storm vs. Jerry Lynn match on the mid-card. Most of the card was poor-to-average, and in the principle example of the booking miscalculations, Jake Roberts made an embarrassing, tipsy surprise appearance and laid out Justin Credible -- the man Heyman was now grooming to be his top heel. Also, Sabu won a poorly-executed number-one contenders six-man match, and Ballz Mahoney & Masato Tanaka won the Tag Titles from the Dudleys in a disappointing bout.


Coming off of the disappointing show, ECW and its fans were left reeling from still more bad news when Bam Bam Bigelow defected to WCW, ostensibly to begin a program with Goldberg. Bigelow had not been part of the core of ECW like Sandman, but he was a strong big-man worker with big-league credibility, and he had played a fundamental role in several of ECW’s best matches during late-1997 and 1998. In a promotion already in the throes of talent poverty, his departure was yet another in a seemingly-limitless array of roster setbacks.


As always, ECW managed to bounce back. The January 10, 1999, “Guilty as Charged” PPV began the company’s most ambitious and noteworthy year in fittingly unforgettable fashion. Tazz captured the ECW Heavyweight Title from Shane Douglas, thereupon culminating his six-year-plus stint in the company. The match was an unqualified success, and the Brooklyn native proved to be one of the most effective champions in company history. Having evolved from a too-short Northeastern independent wrestler, into “the other guy” in the Sabu & Taz tag team, into a suplex machine with a major chip on his shoulder who cut some of the best pithy promos in the business, he was unquestionably a worthy spokesperson for ECW’s bold and brazen product.


Elsewhere on the show, another fly appeared in ECW’s hardcore ointment in the form of a “big-name” guest who represented the very antithesis of everything the company was founded upon. Namely: Sid debuted and, during his squash match against ex-Eliminator-turned-enhancement-wrestler John Kronus, received the biggest reaction of the show. Heyman actually made a habit out of relying on such surprise appearances throughout his PPV run. Besides the aforementioned Jake Roberts, Junkyard Dog had appeared at Wrestlepalooza seven months earlier, since it was in close proximity to his home, while Dusty Rhodes had a brief run as an ECW in early-2000. Heyman even negotiated briefly with the Ultimate Warrior following the latter’s failed 1998 WCW run, but two sides ultimately failed to reach an agreement. Still, the fact that several wrestlers who embodied the antithesis of the “hardcore” movement appeared at ECW cards -- and garnered enormous pops, in the process -- served as yet another reminder of how much the promotion had evolved from the heights of the anti-Big Two spirit of 1993-1996.


ECW had experienced more than its fair share of hardships over the years, but, luckily, it had largely managed to steer clear of financial woes. Shortly after “Guilty as Charged,” the period of solvency ended for good.

At that point, ECW’s prospects crashed to an all-time low amidst swirling (and often slightly premature) rumors regarding its impending demise. Reports of financial peril, bouncing checks, and plunging morale abounded, and Heyman really was several weeks behind on payroll at one point in early-’99. Some wrestlers hadn’t even received bonuses from any of the 1998 PPVs, and, to accentuate how grave the situation was, the company could no longer even afford to fly in its lower-card wrestlers (Tommy Rich, Rod Price, Tracy Smothers, and One Man Gang were among them at the time) to house shows. Even several of the company’s most loyal employees began testing the free agent waters, which only dragged everyone else’s sagging spirits that much lower.


Heyman was notorious for being almost as inept at the business side of wrestling as he was adept at the creative side. His book-keeping methods were clumsy, and he took out several loans over the years (including at least one from the WWF). As his company grew, his want for fiscal management skills become more glaring -- to the point he had no choice but to own up to them. Also, one of the main sources of the financial stress was that Heyman was now paying exorbitant sums for TV clearance in major markets to ensure his PPVs were widely promoted, rather than relying on barter agreements as he had in ECW’s early days. He paid $3,000 for ECW’s weekly TV clearance in Chicago alone -- and that was in a graveyard timselot. In fact, the $156,000 annual fee was more than he was paying all but his very top wrestlers. Because the added exposure cost more than it yieled in added revenue, their price vs. benefit ratio proved to be detrimental to the company’s bottom line. Also, although the company was drawing very respectable crowds in markets far from its homebase, between talent expenses, travel expenses and renting larger buildings, Heyman actually lost money on many house show tours. Altogether, it had become abundantly clear that ECW desperately needed new revenue streams and a national cable deal, because the alternative was certain, quick death.


ECW’s all-too-familiar roster problems also cropped up during the period, compounding the tense situation. As injuried continued to mount all through the talent base, Mikey Whipwreck and Chastity became the latest to jump ship to WCW. In an effort to plug one of the many roster vacancies, Heyman even brought back Public Enemy for a brief run that ended on bad terms.

By this point, ECW’s travails also extended all the way to its very core, a fact which many of those close to the company were reluctant to conceed. However, it was no longer possible to ignore that much of the locus of responsibility now belonged squarely on Heyman’s overtaxed shoulders -- and not only from a fiscal management standpoint. Now 33, ECW’s mastermind was in the midst of his biggest creative rut of the past six years, and the company’s national identity was suffering because of it. As the producer, booker, talent coordinator, spokesperson, and owner of the organization, the physical, emotional, and creative toll of his several years of 100-hour work weeks was now bearing its ugly teeth. It had been months, if not years, since he had booked any storylines nearly as compelling as his 1994-1995 fair. And while nobody could argue that he still showcased a nimble booking mind more often than not, the WWF’s TV had now overtaken his as the most entertaining wrestling programming around. With inferior production values, ECW had to have a superior creative direction to succeed at a national level. But, sadly, Heyman’s burn out was (understandably) manifesting itself more distinctly than ever.


The promotion attempted to put its tenuous status aside when it presented its eighth PPV on March 21, “Living Dangerously ‘99.” Remarkably, the ECW crew turned in a solid showing, despite the turmoil, with the Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn TV Title and Tazz vs. Sabu ECW Heavyweight Title matches ranking as particularly strong. The company continued to live hand-to-mouth for the next two months, and the creative direction largely remained static amidst all the turmoil. Consequently, the next PPV -- May 16’s “Hardcore Heaven” -- did not usher in many memorable storyline developments, but its highlight was one of the greatest matches in the history of the company: A Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn rematch that even the most jaded (and mostly irrational) RVD critics gave over four stars. Another success during the period was the emergence of former indie star Steve Corino, whose saucy interviews and solid ring work quickly made him one of Team Heyman’s top heels.

Tragically, another well-documented and unsavory source of sinking locker room morale also came to the fore during this interval. Throughout their ECW tenure, real-life couple Tammy Fytch and Chris Candido had been tormented by rumors of personal-traums and substance abuse problems, but the severity of their afflictions had now become woefully apparent. On one infamous occasion, Fytch passed out following an ECW Arena card, then attempted to blame the incident on someone’s spiking her drink. However, both she and Candido had garnered a dubious reputation for frequently “showing up in no condition to perform,” and nobody could ignore that Fytch had begun to look like a hopped-up zombie, even in her heavily-made-up on-camera appearances. Heyman released both in May, but he eventually gave them the ultimatum that they had to clean up their acts and enrolled in college, or else he would never employ them again.


Not surprisingly, Heyman began experiencing perpetual talent relation problems stemming from his shoddy pay practices. Sid severed ties with ECW in April, although whether he quit or was fired is open to interpretation. Heyman and Shane Douglas -- who had been sidelined by a multitude of injuries -- also entered into a bitter dispute, largely stemming from “The Franchise’s” concerns over the hefty amount of backpay ECW’s owner-operator still owed him. What’s more, Heyman had also recently fired one of Douglas’ best friends in the company, a man in charge of merchandise sales. In the aftermath, Douglas opened up negotiations with the WWF and WCW, effectively ending his long-standing association with ECW in May 1999. Meanwhile, Axl Rotten’s bloody ECW brawls became a thing of the past after Heyman released him, and Nu Jack’s appearances became more sporadic during his trial regarding the November 1996 Revere incident.


Finally, despite all the turmoil, and after months of frantically searching, Heyman struck a deal that gave ECW a large influx of cash and allowed him to catch up on payroll when he inked a video game distribution deal with Acclaim, Inc. In addition to furnishing the company with a lucrative contract, the video game company invested 15 percent equity stock interest in Heyman’s company. For the first time in ages, ECW was financially solvent, and the collective sigh of relief could be heard clear from Philadelphia to the Sandman’s now-defunct cane manufacturing shop in Singapore.

Hot on the heels of the video game licensing agreement came even greater cause for celebration.


In June, Heyman at long last reached an agreement with a national cable outlet. The Nashville Newtork -- which heretofore had best been characterized by its “Waltons” re-runs -- signed ECW to a one-year contract for a weekly, Friday-night program starting in September. Additionally, the slot would give Team Heyman its first TV dissemination in Canada, thereby allowing it to run its PPVs on Viewer’s Choice Canada and tap into a potentially-remunerative new audience base. By far, the deal gave ECW its greatest opportunity to expand its audience, and now the talk of the wrestling world centered on the promotion’s potential to compete with the struggling WCW for number-two promotion bragging rights. In fact, it almost seemed as though the company’s days of limping along, living hand-to-mouth, were completely a property of the past. Yes, ECW was flying high, in spite of the fact that the financial terms of the deal appeared, on the surface, to be inordinately favorable to TNN (ECW shouldered the whole of the production costs, which wound up at approximately $25,000 per week, and TNN kept a larger-than-customary share of advertising revenue).


Immediately, ECW began devising its plan of attack. It would tape two one-hour shows apiece at two monthly taping sessions. Heyman was led to believe there would be very few restrictions on content, as TNN vowed to permit blood and raunch (in limited dosage). However, Paul E. recognized that the WWF and WCW were not enticing to the portions of their clientele that favored athletic in-ring action over skits and comedy sketches, so he resolved to focus on quality wrestling as his niche in the oversaturated marketplace. That meant the in-ring exploits of gifted workers like like Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Jerry Lynn, the Impact Players, Yoshihiro Taijiri, and Super Crazy would be the cornerstone of the new program. The announcers were to be Joey Styles, of course, and the always-amusing Joel Gertner. TNN sold ads based on a 2.0 rating, although Heyman conceded that he had no inclination of what the ratings would actually be.


In the months immediately preceeding the new program, ECW simply bided its time, pacing itself in preparation for its national invasion. That meant most storylines came to a virtual standstill, though the company still had a fairly eventful “Heat Wave” PPV on July 20. It was a strong show that reflected the lively and enthusiastic nature that now permeated the company’s ranks, and a terrific Rob Van Dam & Jerry Lynn vs. Impact Players (Lance Storm & Justin Credible -- the greatest ECW tandem of the era) tag match was the bona fide highlight. Of course Styles and color man Don “Cyrus” Callis promoted the TNN show heavily throughout the PPV, and they made no efforts to conceal their geniune excitement concerning this forthcoming new era of Extreme.

As always, Heyman plugged the holes in his roster as best he could leading up to the big event. A brawny independent wrestler from Michigan named “Rhino” arrived on the scene, joined forces with a gifted mouthpiece in Steve Corino, and immediately displayed breakout star potential that belied his inexperience. Over the Summer, Heyman introduced another future star, a valet named “Angelica” who seconded mid-carder Danny Doring. She barely got her feet wet in ECW before the WWF signed her, turned her into “Lita,” and made her a superstar.


Unfortunately for ECW, the WWF was also preparing to launch a new program of its own that Fall, called “Smackdown,” and Vince McMahon and his cohorts would need new talent to accomodate for the expanded schedule. In one fell swoop, WWFE inked ECW’s heavyweight and tag team champs to three-year contracts in Stamford, CT: The Dudleys struck an agreement with Jim Ross in August, and Taz followed suit a scant few weeks later, just as the TNN show was getting off the ground. The company had withstood countless injurious blows to its roster in the past, but in losing three of its four champions (as well as three of its longest-tenured talents), this was one of the most damaging talent raids to date -- particularly given the timing. What’s more, despite the air of optimism permeating the company, house show business was in a downward trend for the first time in years, and PPV buy rates had yet to display any growth. The TNN deal could not have come any later.


Cable viewers had already been getting heaping helpings of the WWF and WCW for years; now it was time to get their periodic plateful of Extreme......



Part III (final part) next post....

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Guest Ransome



What began so promisingly was, ultimately, the final chapter for ECW.

The first TNN show aired on August 27, 1999 and served as an introduction to the compamy’s storylines and characters. It chronicled all of the “big-name” stars that had passed through ECW over the years, from Steve Austin to Mick Foley to Raven to the literally dozens of other full-time, ex-ECW regulars plying their trades in the Big Two. Although the exhibit of past greats established the promotion’s rich historical tapestry, many long-time followers observed how much it caused them to yearn for the ECW Arena glory days. The final segment of the debut show featured a searing Taz interview that did an excellent job of establishing the company’s outlaw image to the new aduience. The program drew a 0.9 rating, which some touted as a major disappointment given TNN’s expectations, while others maintained the number was solid relative to the network’s other programming and stood only to grow in future weeks.


That same week, ECW stumbled upon an unexpected turn of good fortune. At a backstage meeting, Eric Bischoff promised to release any WCW wrestler who wanted out of the company. One of the wrestlers to call the bluff was Raven. Because the WCW VP amended his original offer by denying the group that walked out the opportunity to sign with WWF, that left ECW as the only viable alternative for those involved. As a result, the others opted to continue collecting the cushy Time Warner cash. But not Raven: The former ECW Heavyweight. champion was on his way back home. On TNN’s second ECW program, he made his triumphant return and, in an interesting twist, joined old nemesis Tommy Dreamer in winning the Tag Titles from the Dudleys (in the latters’ final ECW match). The Queens, NY, crowd greeted the returning hero with a deafening ovation, and Paul Heyman now had his most multi-dimensional character back under his employ.


The momentum continued to build, and, in fact, it almost completely counteracted the wave of departures. Mike Awesome returned from his injury and headlined the September 19 “Anarchy Rulz” PPV in Chicago by winning the ECW Title over the soon-to-be-departing Taz. The card was very strong from top-to-bottom and drew the largest paid crowd (just under 6,000) in company history, with Lance Storm vs. Jerry Lynn, Taijiri vs. Super Crazy vs. Little Guido, and Justin Credible vs. Sabu the other in-ring highlights. Awesome was substantially larger than the remainder of the company’s roster and, as such, he got over well as an athletic monster. He was a solid, albeit unspectacular, champion, and his subsequent matches with Spike Dudley were some of ECW’s best of the year.


In October, just as the wave of momentum Raven’s jump was beginning to subside, WCW committed another faux paus and released the erstwhile James Fullington -- aka “Hardcore Hak,” aka Sandman: “The Hardcore Icon.” Naturally, he re-debuted in ECW nary a few days later, drawing a pop that even exceeded Raven’s, and immediately entered into a feud with Justin Credible, whose top-of-the card heel push was still intact. Fullington may have deteriorated physically, but the man with one of the richest histories and best entrances in ECW was back where he belonged.


Unfortunately, reports soon came back from cable companies that the “Anarchy Rulz” PPV did not show marked buy rate growth over ECW’s previous PPV efforts. By that time, it had already become painfully obvious that the ECW on TNN slot was far from a panacea. The first several episodes rendered numerous strong matches -- including Jerry Lynn vs. Rob Van Dam, Lynn vs. Justin Credible, Van Dam vs. Lance Storm, Taijiri vs. Super Crazy, and Masato Tanaka vs. Rhyno, and Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome. However, the ratings inched downward, troughing at a 0.7 in late-September. Desperate to reverse the trend, Heyman brought the embattled Tammy Sytch back into the fold, making her a frequent centerpiece of the show. This renewed push included one infamous program that featured Fytch’s discussing her personal troubles for almost the entire hour. Seeing that its pure wrestling focus was not drawing ratings, ECW also began conforming more to the vagaries of the style of wrestling it had created, by dedicating more and more airtime to T&A (or “Catfights!” as Joey Styles would exalt). Sytch, Tammy Lynn Bytch/Dawn Marie, and Francine became the main selling points, as often as not, and relegated the in-ring wrestling to an ancillary matter. Luckily, the ratings did grow, and from October 1999-February 2000, they ranged consistently from 1.0-1.3. These numbers were excellent for a Friday night show on a struggling network, but TNN itself still considered them a disappointment.


ECW never was able to hit its stride fully on TNN, even during the peak ratings period. Its production values smacked of a minor-league wrestling outfit; they were particularly embarrassing in comparison to the WWF’s. Also, due to the overabundance of advertisements for ECW’s other projects, the show often more closely resembled an infomercial for ECW merchandising, PPV, and house shows than a self-contained, entertaining one-hour wrestling program. Moreover, TNN placed greater-than-anticipated restrictions on raunch and violence, depriving ECW of much of its essential hardcore appeal. Perhaps most frustrating of all for Heyman was that the network completely refused to advertise “ECW on TNN” on its other programming, and numerous wrestling fans who watched the network likely weren’t even aware that it existed.


Worst yet, the show failed to jump-start ECW’s other revenue streams, despite the company’s best efforts. Steadily, the company was plunging back into red ink.


There were some saving graces (Among them: Spike Dudley’s great work; the “Sinister Minister,” formerly known as James Vandenbergh and Darryl Van Horn in WCW and Smoky Mountain, respectively; and the Paul E. Dangerously spoof “Lou E. Dangerously,” depicted by the former Sign Guy Dudley; a great angle involving Steve Corino, Ballz Mahoney, and the reacquired Axl Rotten at a Limp Bizkit concert in November), but they seemed fewer in quatity than ever before, and many storylines were characterized by unconditional disappointment. Raven was still the best interview in ECW, but he seemed uninspired, and it was as though he was lying in wait before his contract expired so that he could make a jump to the WWF. His weight ballooned, and the hard ring-work that had once been an integral part of his success fell by the wayside -- at least partially due to cumulative injuries. He also constantly squabbled with numerous members of the ECW locker room, not the least of whom was Heyman. His storyline with Tommy Dreamer was once the most brilliant in all of wrestling; now, it was just a trite, flat parody of itself. Moreover, Tammy Sytch’s ratings drawing power didn’t last, and, before long, her personal problems materialized once again. In April, she jumped to WCW as part of the ill-fated “Russo-Bischoff Era.” Mike Awesome’s limitations began to show through as champion -- he was large and athletic, but he lacked a dynamic personality. Sandman was not what he once was. New mid-card acts like Jack Victory (once a top prospect in the ‘80s), Roadkill, CW Anderson, and PN Newz weren’t as imaginative as past ECW creations. Increasingly, one could not avoid the sense that ECW no longer endeavored to be a legitimate competitor to the WWF and WCW; it simply endeavored to survive.


The November 7 “November to Remember ‘99” show was emblematic of the mostly-disappointing period, though at that point the company still had quite a bit of hope. Despite a good line-up, it was an average show that saw Rob Van Dam beat Taz (in one of his final ECW appearances), Sabu defeat Chris Candido, Jerry Lynn beat Yoshihiro Taijiri and Super Crazy in a three-way dance, and a great Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka ECW Title brawl.

Conversely, the January 9, 2000 “Guilty as Charged” PPV was one of the best PPVs in company history and demonstrated the company’s latent potential to produce compelling programming. Mike Awesome beat Spike Dudley in the headline ECW Title match in a strong bout, Rob Van Dam beat Sabu to retain his ECW Title in a very good match, and the Impact Players beat Raven & Tommy Dreamer to win the ECW Tag Titles.


ECW on TNN was, in fact, often a top-notch show, in spite of its inconsistency. The January 21, 2000 edition was the best of the one-year run and featured non-stop action from top-to-bottom. It commenced Rob Van Dam’s all-too-brief ECW Heavyweight Title push, as he confronted champ Mike Awesome in the opening segment. Next, Super Crazy beat Taijiri in an outstanding match. Dusty Rhodes made one of his first ECW appearances by making a save for Tommy Dreamer by delivering bionic elbows to Steve Corino and Jack Victory, but only before Rhino speared the “American Dream” to the mat. Last, “Cyrus” Don Callis debuted as the evil TNN corporate representative who was putting the clamp on Joel Gertner’s potty mouth. The show tied its all-time high with a 1.3, a number which was the product of the strong amalgamation of good wrestling, sound angles, and compelling personalities.


Meanwhile, though, Heyman and company continued to fall deeper into an abyss of setbacks and disappointments. ECW TV Champ Rob Van Dam broke his ankle at the end of January and had to miss three months of action, nullifying his long-anticipated rise to the Heavyweight Title. Spike Dudley, having just come into his own as a legitimate main-eventer, injured his knee and needed time off. Sabu attempted to get back into WCW after receiving an offer from Eric Bischoff and company, but his ECW contract prevented the jump. Alas, the once-mighty “Homicidal, Suicidal Genocidal Madman,” who had boggled the minds of every ECW Arena attendee back when his act was fresh, ended up expratiated to the independent scene. It was an inappropriate parting of the ways, to say the least.


The next big date was the March 12 “Living Dangerously.” It was ECW’s 15th PPV, and the company still had not made any inroads toward increasing its marginally-profitable audience base. The borderline-quality card saw Super Crazy beat Rhino for the TV title and the Impact Players regain the Tag Titles, downing Raven & Mike Awesome and Tommy Dreamer & Masato Tanaka in a very good triangle match.


In April, ECW champion Mike Awesome signed with WCW, unwittingly setting off a memorable chain of events that both helped and hurt ECW’s national credibility. Although Awesome had a preexisting ECW contract, he appeared as part of an angle on an early-April edition of Nitro while still in possession of his ECW Heavyweight title. Heyman did not authorize the appearance, and he procured a six-figure settlement from WCW in exchange for not pressing legal action. Naturally, ECW was reeling from losing its World Title-holder, but Heyman -- ever the opportunist -- attempted to capitalize on the furor surrounding the jump. Ultimately, he secured Tazz’ services -- on loan from the WWF -- and had the “Human Suplex Machine” beat Awesome (making his final appearance) for the title at an April 13 ECW card. The WWF extracted a great deal of gratification from the match, because it marked a rare instance of a contracted WWF wrestler defeating a WCW wrestler. ECW, for its part, got ample publicity: Tazz showed up with his newly-won title on the April 15 Raw, and the WWF’s announcing crew openly acknowledged his championship status.


Up to that point, the events had been a notable publicity coo for ECW. Where the angle turned detrimental was on the April 18 Smackdown. On that show, then-WWF champ Triple-H both defeated Tazz in relatively short order and then laid waste both to the ECW Heavyweight champ and to Tommy Dreamer after the match. This scenario did succeed in providing ECW with even more national exposure, but in the course of having its World champion and longest-tenured star laid out singlehandedly, with relative ease, by one of the WWF’s wrestlers, ECW came across as a second-rate, insubordinate promotion with minor-league wrestlers.


The sequence of events did yield one excellent angle at the April 22 ECW Arena show. Virtually every fan in attendance knew a Heavyweight Title switch was inevitable, but, as usual, Heyman cooked up a memorable swerve. First, Dreamer downed Tazz and won the Title for the first time in his seven-year ECW career. It would have easily been a story noteworthy enough to culminate a memorable show. However, Dreamer’s old nemesis Justin Credible wasted no time in raining on the “Innovator of Violence’s” parade and challenging him to an impromptu title match. Credible won the bout and, with it, the World title for which he had so long been groomed.


It was only a matter of weeks before some very ominous news shaded the sheen of Credible’s title win. ECW had withstood one potentially-crippling blow after another over the years, but this was one that even Paul Heyman, “Mr. Resiliant,” could not survive. TNN parent company Viacom purchased a minority interest in the WWF and announced that WWF RAW would be the centerpiece of the newly-bolstered cable network. Consequently, TNN declined to renew its agreement with Heyman. Heyman had actually learnt of the impending deal months earlier (hence the anti-TNN storyline), and ECW’s last program on the network would be in September 2000.


Whether ECW would have remained on the network for long regardless of the WWF transaction is up for debate. The ECW-TNN union had been a disjointed one from the first, and, given the combustible elements at play, it was bound to sever at some point. Heyman and company had been unable to overcome the restrictions the network had placed on his program, and TNN executives did not take kindly to Heyman’s on-air portrayal of the network as a despotic heel faction. However, because of the mutually-beneficial nature of their relationship, the two sides likely would have cooperated at least long enough to allow ECW to persevere for some time to come. However, now, without the all-important cable exposure, the company would be unable to sustain itself for long.


The news of the WWF deal and the HHH-Tazz-Dreamer fiasco on Smackdown coincided with plunging ratings on TNN. The numbers held steady in the 0.7-1.1 range for the remainder of ECW’s doomed tenure on the network, a drop after the steady growth of the previous several months. The show increasingly reflected Heyman’s and the crew’s frustration with his company’s prospects, as its quality also took a nosedive, and the good shows became more infrequent. ECW was on its last legs, and Heyman desperately began seeking out a new cable outlet. Vince McMahon even gave Heyman the latitiude to extend his agreement with TNN through the end of the year, but Paul E. declined: There was no use prolonging the inevitable.


Heyman had the benefit of TNN exposure for three more of his PPVs, and his crew worked hard despite the turmoil -- a veritable testament to their professionalism. First, the May 14 “Hardcore Heaven” was a good show, albeit one marred by production glitches. It featured a fantastic Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn match; a triangle match between the back-where-he-belonged Mikey Whipwreck, Taijiri, and Little Guido; and a Justin Credible vs. Lance Storm battle of former tag team partners. The July 16 “Heat Wave” PPV was from Los Angeles and was as notable for what took place outside the ring as the action in it. Danny Doring, Kid Kash, & Amish Roadkill beat CW Anderson, Simon Diamond, & Johnny Swinger; Jerry Lynn over Steve Corino; Yoshihiro Taijiri defeated Psicosis, Guido Maritato, & the back-where-he-belonged Mikey Whipwreck; Rob Van Dam over Scotty Anton, and Justin Credible (with current WWF womens division bully Jazz) retaining the Heavyweight Title against Tommy Dreamer (with Francine). During the Credible-Dreamer match, the XPW -- a local ECW imitation group -- created a disturbance at ringside when one of its wrestlers grabbed Francine. The ECW locker room rushed the scene of the fracas, and ECW’s Atlas Security force escorted the inane agitators out of the building. The final TNN-promoted PPV was the October 1 “Anarchy Rulz,” which saw Jerry Lynn capture the ECW Heavyweight Title from Justin Credible and Rhyno pin Rob Van Dam in a TV Title match.


ECW’s financial woes had returned to the forefront -- this time worse than ever. Checks bounced, shows were canceled throughout the summer and fall, and revenues were down appreciably. Even with the TNN program intact, ECW was experiencing renewed financial trauma: Their prospects of survival without the cable exposure were truly dim. Wrestlers, with families to support, began the mostly-thankless task of searching for work elsewhere. Raven made his jump to the WWF in late-2000. Lance Storm had defected to WCW in May, following his “Hardcore Heaven” match against Credible. The company’s top star of the previous three years, Rob Van Dam, took a hiatus in October, citing that Heyman owed him over $100,000 in back pay.

Van Dam’s story was not uncommon, and Heyman was under the gun from all corners. He spent much of his time that fall frantically negotiating for that elusive new cable contract. His attempts to strike one that would be more fair than the TNN agreement proved fruitless, despite fielding offers from USA, FX, and ESPN2, among others. He did manage to secure exposure on USA’s short-lived Farmclub.com series, but that arrangement was the promotional equivalent of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. In the eyes of TV executives, wrestling was the fad of 1999. In 2001, their self-fulfilling prophesy was that the business would collapse.


Time was ticking, but if Heyman was going down, he wanted to make the company’s dying days as fun as possible for his fans and wrestlers. The embattled Scott Hall made a surprise appearance in November, defeating real-life buddy Justin Credible at a syndicated TV taping in New York. Further, Heyman rewarded Steve Corino’s superlative work by giving him an ECW Title victory over Jerry Lynn and Justin Credible in a triangle match at the November 5 “November to Remember” PPV. Then, Corino retained in a rematch on the December 3, when the company held its seventh PPV of the year -- “Massacre on 34th Street.”


At what proved to be the company’s 21st and final PPV, the January 7, 2001 installment of “Guilty as Charged,” Heyman rewarded his loyal followers with the return of Rob Van Dam, who -- in the role of an advertised “big surprise” -- defeated Jerry Lynn in a typically great match that provided a fitting conclusion to ECW’s PPV run. The company’s other most promising young star, Rhino, went out as ECW Heavyweight titlist by unseating recently-crowned champ Sandman in the second-to-final bout of the show.


Just after the PPV, it became more clear why Heyman might have given Rhino the championship. Shortly after “Guilty as Charged,” “The Man-Beast,” Justin Credible, and Jerry Lynn all signed with the WWF -- apparently, with Heyman’s blessing. At the time, it seemed Rhino had the greatest probability of becoming a major star in the WWF and, thus, would represent ECW’s legacy well as its final champion.


Heyman publically held out hope of running another PPV in March, but for all practical intents and purposes, fans and insiders alike recognized that this was the end. In early-March, Heyman sounded the final death gong by making a surprise appearance as Jerry Lawler’s replacement as Monday Night RAW’s color commentator. His duties would also include contributing to the WWF’s creative team, alongside Vince McMahon, head-writer Stephanie McMahon, Michael Hayes, Bruce Prichard, Brian Gewertz, and Pat Patterson.

On April 11, 2001, Heyman made it official that he had given up the fight. HHG Corporation -- ECW’s parent company -- officially declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, citing total liabilities of $8,881,435.17 to various production companies, arenas, TV stations, travel agencies, phone companies, law firms, wrestlers, and other talents.


In retrospect, the previous few years had been little short of an exercise in prolonging the inevitable. ECW had been dying a slow, agonizing death the entire time, and no amount of hard work nor personal sacrifice was going to save it. It seemed so unfair to the dedicated professionals -- like Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Justin Credible, Mikey Whipwreck, Sandman, and countless others -- who had not only remained almost unconditionally loyal to ECW to the very end, but had also contributed so much to the greater good of the company. Ultimately, Heyman rewarded most of them by securing them employment in the WWF... But that, of course, is another chronicle for another time........




More often than not, the fall from grace in pro wrestling is a swift and lonely one. Few wrestlers or promotions ever truly hit it big, and even those who do rarely forge any sort of lasting impression.


Extreme Championship Wrestling, though, always sought to be different. And, by making an indelible impression on the wrestling industry, Paul Heyman's defiant brainchild was the rarest of wrestling anomalies.


ECW's death ended its life -- but not its relationship with its fans. Ten years from now, the ECW Arena corps will still be chorusing "EC-Dub" at some dingy independent card in the northeastern US.


When they do, they will all fondly hearken back to that carefree mid-'90s interval: when ECW revolutionized the business forever, and all was right with the hardcore world.






* Cactus Jack vs. Sandman, Falls Count Anywhere (February 4, 1995; ECW Arena)

* Public Enemy vs. Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko vs. Sabu & Tazmaniac, Tag Team Titles (February 25, 1995; ECW Arena)

* Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko, TV Title (April 15, 1995; ECW Arena)

* Raven & Stevie Richards vs. The Pitbulls, Tag Team Titles, Double Dog Collar (September 16, 1995; ECW Arena)

* Rey Misterio, Jr. vs. Psychosis, 2/3 falls (October 7, 1995; ECW Arena)

* Rey Misterio, Jr. vs. Juventud Guerrera, 2/3 falls (March 9, 1996; Queens, NY)

* Gran Hamada, Great Sasuke & Masato Yakushiji vs. Taka Michinoku, Men’s Teioh & Dick Togo (April 13, 1997; Barely Legal PPV)

* Terry Funk vs. Sabu, ECW Title Match (August 9, 1997; ECW Arena)

* Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Rob Van Dam, ECW TV Title (April 4, 1998; Buffalo, NY)

* Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn (May 16, 1999; Hardcore Heaven PPV)



- "Barely Legal ‘97"

- "Hardcore Heaven ‘98"

- "Anarchy Rulz ‘99"

- "Guilty as Charged ‘00"


39 Performers Who Jumped Directly from ECW to the WWF or WCW: Angelica (Lita), Steve Austin, Mike Awesome, Chris Benoit, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Candido, Chastity, Justin Credible, Chris Daniels, Shane Douglas, Buh-Buh Ray and D-Von Dudley, Bobby Duncum, Jr., Johnny Grunge, Juventud Guerrera, Eddie Guerrero, Paul Heyman, Cactus Jack (Mankind), Konnan, Brian Lee (Chainz), Jerry Lynn, Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio, Jr., Mikey Whipwreck, Psicosis, Raven, Stevie Richards, Rhino, Rocco Rock, Rick Rude, Sabu, Sandman (Harcore Hak), Perry Saturn, Ron Simmons (Faarooq), Louie Spicolli, Lance Storm, Tammy Sytch, Super Calo, Taz.


Most ECW Tag Team Title Reigns: 8 - Dudley Boys; 4 - Public Enemy; 3 - The Eliminators


Most ECW TV Title Reigns: 4 - Too Cold Scorpio; 2 - Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Taz, Shane Douglas, Mikey Whipwreck


Most ECW Hvt. Title Reigns: 5 - Sandman; 4 - Shane Douglas; 2 - Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, Raven, Terry Funk, Sabu, Mike Awesome, Tazz

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That was a fantastic article... If I could be a little bold, I think this article did a better job of chronicalling (is that a word?) the "Rise & Fall Of ECW" than the DVD that was released by WWE!!


Keep up the good work Ransome... Incidently, is there any chance you could do one or find one like that for WCW?

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It was definitely a good article. I read it through from start to finish, and I thought it did a really good job of "filling in the blanks" for someone who never really followed ECW. Good stuff all around.

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Yeah good stuff. That Raven/Sandman crucifixtion thing sounded l33t. Im downloading the best of Raven in ECW and theres some Raven vs Dreamer stuff and some Raven vs Sandman stuff so hopefully thats on there.


And how come Heyman is praised as super writer when he makes real life issues storylines and has been doing it longer than Russo, Vince and Bischoff? And they get booed for it.

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And how come Heyman is praised as super writer when he makes real life issues storylines and has been doing it longer than Russo, Vince and Bischoff? And they get booed for it.

Welcome to the fickle world of the IWC my friend.

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The article was from alternativewrestling.com which no longer exists. I also saved several articles from the site and will post them here.

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Guest Ransome
The article was from alternativewrestling.com which no longer exists. I also saved several articles from the site and will post them here.

I'm glad you did - I personally only saved this one after reading that the site was about to shut down. As I recall, the guy had lost interest in writing since not enough people were reading these excellent articles to justify the 15,000+ words necessary to tell these stories.


Do you know the writer's name or email address? I'd like to at least give some credit for the obvious effort that went into researching and compiling these mammoth essays.

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