AS I SEE IT 8/30: The tenth anniversary of "Extreme" Championship Wrestling
by: Bob Magee
I received the following e-mail last Friday...and it reminded me of a very important anniversary in wrestling history...the birth of the ECW that most people know... as Extreme Championship Wrestling...which took place on the night of August 27, 1994.
"Today is the 10th anniversary of the birth of Extreme. Shane Douglas threw down the NWA Title in Heyman's controversial doublecross of the NWA at the ECW Arena and proclaimed the championship the new EXTREME Championship Wrestling (ECW) World's Heavyweight Title. This was also the night Cactus Jack and Mikey Whipwreck pulled a huge upset and beat Public Enemy for the ECW Tag Team Titles. A huge anniversary as Heyman took the big step to make ECW "Extreme."
I know you guys, or some of you guys, had to cover that event back then. How momentous was it then? Could you tell back then they were creating history?"
I can go back to my AS I SEE IT column of March 18, 2003, reporting on the tenth anniversary of the ECW Arena to give that reader an answer:
"If someone had told us that this wrestling promotion owned by a center city pawnbroker... would be seen nationwide on cable television... that it would go on PPV... that it would have wrestling fans around the world chanting "ECW... ECW... ECW", to this very day...
If someone had told us that it would feature talent ranging from New Japan stars Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit... to lucha stars Rey Misterio, Jr., Juventud Guerrera, La Parka, and Psicosis to All Japan stars Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas, and Gary Albright... to Japanese lucha style stars Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada, and TAKA Michinoku...
If someone had told us that it would see the creation of the most memorable new character of the last decade... a character called Raven... and that the company would change the direction of the professional wrestling industry... if someone had told us ALL these things would happen and more...
We would have looked at you, and told you that you were in need of serious psychiatric help."
If you look at the tape of that August 27, 1994 show, you'll see my younger brother and I in the front row on the right on the hard camera side, as we were for most ECW Arena shows at the time. I'm the one with the beard, somewhat receding hairline and somewhat expanding waistline. He's the younger one next to me who you can see calling out names of NWA Champions that Douglas had forgotten in his citation of the tradition he was now a part of.
That is, before the upcoming swerve that would make wrestling history.
When Douglas threw down the NWA belt, you will also see my brother as the one with his jaw dropping about ten feet below the floor, along with much of the rest of the ECW Arena crowd.
The backstory was that ECW had been called NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, beginning in late 1993. In 1994, after the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner and the completion of a resulting non-compete agreement with Ted Turner, Crockett decided to start promoting with the NWA again under something called World Wrestling Network, which as it turned out never got off the ground.
WWN however already had indirectly set the stage for ECW's future as early news of this upcoming WWN relationship back in 1993 was reported to have been the reason that Eddie Gilbert resigned as ECW booker back in September 1993, and resulted in Paul Heyman being given the booking position.
So in 1994, Crockett went to ECW's Todd Gordon and asked him to hold a tournament for the NWA Heavyweight title. NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo saw this and felt that Crockett and Gordon were going to do what had been done before... namely to make the NWA Title a company title as Crockett had done in the 1980s by keeping the NWA title within WCW. This would have killed any hope of keeping alive the fledging alliance of promoters under the NWA banner that was starting to reform.
As a result, Coralluzzo told Crockett as well as Gordon (who had already been butting heads since the 1992 founding of ECW, which competed with Coralluzzo's NWA Jersey shows) that the NWA Board would not approve their control of the belt. Coralluzzo and the NWA Board then attempted to take control of the tournament.
The tournament, which excited many area wrestling fans, would feature Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Osamu Nishimura, Two Cold Scorpio....and Shane Douglas. The show also would feature Cactus Jack and "underdog" Mikey Whipwreck going against The Public Enemy for the ECW Tag Team Titles. But it would feature something we'd never have imagined.
Following the situation with Coralluzzo, Gordon and Shane Douglas, who had been designated by Gordon and Crockett to win the tournament (reports at the time suggested that Coralluzzo wanted Benoit to win the tournament) planned to stage the controversial angle where Douglas would give his moving speech dedicating the title to his father, cite the NWA Champions he was succeeding, and then throw down the title. ECW would then break away from the NWA, and change the promotion's name to Extreme Championship Wrestling.
The rest, as the saying goes...is history... with all the events that would follow over the next seven years...often controversial behind the scenes, and exciting on front of the cameras.
Some of the events and the names that would follow that controversial night into the promotion that started at the "World's Most Famous Bingo Hall" would include:
The October-November 1994 Sandman "blinding angle" that was voted Wrestling Observer Angle of the Year: so well done, it had the late Brian Hildebrand calling me to ask if it was a work.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1994 were 911, Chad Austin, Mr. Hughes, Sal Bellomo, Tommy Cairo, Sandman, Gary Wolf, Public Enemy (Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge), The Sheik, Pat Tanaka, Road Warrior Hawk, The Bruise Brothers, and Mike Awesome.
February 1995 gave fans both the "Double Tables" show featuring the main event of Sabu and Tazmaniac against The Public Enemy, Chris Benoit vs. Al Snow, and "Return of The Funker" featuring Terry Funk's return after a six month absence.
April 1995 had the debut of the two and a half year storyline of Raven and Tommy Dreamer, and the first match actually billed as a "Three Way Dance" with The Public Enemy vs. Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko vs. Tazmaniac and Rick Steiner. Another Arena show one week later brought the first of the classic Eddie Guerrero-Dean Malenko matches we saw for the next five months.
The spring also brought the psychotic bloodletting of the Axl Rotten-Ian Rotten matches, with matches involving barbed wire baseball bats all the way to the Taipei Death Match in July, with each man having glass glued to his hands.
On August 29, 1995, the Dean Malenko-Eddie Guerrero farewell match happened...with the smartest wrestling audience in North America in tears (not to mention Guerrero and Malenko themselves)... chanting "Please don't go...please don't go" with a heartfelt passion from the crowd worthy of two departing world class talents and world class people.
September 1995 featured one of the top matches in Arena history in a best 2 out of three falls Double Dog Collar Match for the ECW Tag Team Championships with The Pitbulls vs. Raven & Stevie Richards.
November to Remember 1995 was one of the best top to bottom shows ever held in the Arena with such matches as Rey Misterio, Jr.-Psicosis, and Terry Funk/Tommy Dreamer vs. Cactus Jack/Raven.
Fall 1995 also brought lucha libre to Philadelphia for the first time with Rey Misterio, Jr. Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, Konnan, and La Parka appearing.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1995 were Hack Myers, Al Snow, Osamu Nishimura, Tully Blanchard, Paul Lauria, Mikey Whipwreck, Stevie Richards, Hector Guerrero, Marty Jannetty, DC Drake, Jason Knight, Ron Simmons, Vampire Warrior (aka Gangrel), Dudley Dudley, and Dances With Dudley.
January 1996 featured the first of many Rob Van Dam-Sabu matches, Raven and Sandman battling for the ECW Heavyweight title, and the Gangstas-Eliminators feud.
March 1996 featured Rey Misterio, Jr. and Juventud Guerrera giving a lucha clinic in a 2 out of 3 fall match. It also featured the emotional farewell of Cactus Jack, who defeated Mikey Whipwreck.
Chris Jericho debuted in ECW at the "Matter of Respect" show in May 1996 against Mikey Whipwreck. The summer of 1996 also featured the wars of The Eliminators against The Gangstas in a "steel cage weapons" match.
Heatwave ‘96 gave us a tremendous four way ECW TV Title Match Scorpio-Chris Jericho-Pitbull #2-Shane Douglas.
Autumn 1996 featured such world class tag team action as Terry Gordy and Steve Williams against The Eliminators and Sabu and Rob Van Dam against Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas. It also featured one of the sickest scaffold matches in history in October at "High Incident" with Tommy Dreamer throwing Brian Lee off a "scaffold" attached to the roof of the ECW Arena, into a ring full of tables.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1996 included Mr. Hughes, The Blue Meanie, Too Cold Scorpio, El Puerto Ricano, Bad Crew, The Headhunters, Big Titan, Damien Kane, Little Guido, Brian Lee, Beef Wellington, Devon Storm, and the Samoan Gangsta Party.
Barely Legal- The moment that ECW fans had waited for since the last year's worth of rumors had started finally arrived on April 13, 1997. Even with the usual pre-show atmosphere at the ECW Arena...this was something special. Fans waited outside the ECW Arena from early on that morning.
The Arena was filled as full as physical space would allow, well beyond anything permitted by city or state fire laws. The atmosphere was electric.
At 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, in the most improbable of locations: the converted Bingo Hall that staff had painted and fixed up on their own, down the street from a bargain basement store and vacant buildings... the home of a wrestling promotion founded by a downtown storefront pawnbroker, started with little more than hopes and dreams... the impossible dream came true, as "Barely Legal" went hot and started the era of ECW on PPV to the United States.
The show itself included The Eliminators defeating ECW Tag champs D-Von & Buh Buh Ray Dudley for the ECW Tag team Titles, Rob Van Dam-Lance Storm, Taz over Sabu, Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji wrestling TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/Terry Boy (aka Mens Teioh), and Terry Funk defeating Raven for the ECW Heavyweight Title.
2 1/2 years of the most creative character in recent wrestling history ended within ECW, as Raven lost a loser leave match to Tommy Dreamer at Wrestlepalooza 1997.
In what was likely the single most violent match in ECW history, Sabu pinned Terry Funk in a barbed wire match at August 1997's "Born to be Wired", to a point that even Paul Heyman was reported to be sickened in the promo for the show's commercial video tape. Having seen the match in person, I can safely say he wasn't the only one.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1997 included Tommy Rich, Tracy Smothers, Chris Chetti, Bam Bam Bigelow, Louie Spicolli, Big Dick Dudley, Spike Dudley, Balls Mahoney, Tom Pritchard, JC Ice and Wolfie D, Paul Diamond, and Tommy Rogers.
January 1998 gave us the first Stairway To Hell Match with Sandman taking on Sabu.
Japanese talent returned to the ECW Arena throughout the year with names like Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa, Atsushi Onita, Masato Tanaka.
The pairing that gave a ECW Match of The Year nominee two years running gave Arena fans a match to behold on August 8, 1998 as Jerry Lynn took on Rob Van Dam.
The first of many Masato Tanaka-Mike Awesome matches happened in August, matches that took the phrase "stiff" to a whole new level.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1998 included Danny Doring, Roadkill, Bobby Duncum, Jr., Doug Furnas, Super Nova, Mike Lozansky, Jack Victory, Ulf Hermann, Big Sal Graziano, Rod Price, and One Man Gang.
1999 saw the ECW Arena featured around the United States and Canada as TV tapings were done for TNN at the Arena, allowing fans to see what the Arena experience was all about.
Lucha and Japanese talent again made their way into the ECW Arena as Antifaz Del Norte, TAKA Michinoku, Super Crazy, El Mosco De La Merced, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Mr. Aguila (aka Papi Chulo). This gave us matches over 1999 such as Jerry Lynn-Yoshihiro Tajiri, Super Crazy-Antifaz Del Norte, TAKA Michinoku-Papi Chulo and a series of Super Crazy-Yoshihiro Tajiri matches.
We got a Match of the Year nominee for the second time with Rob Van Dam-Jerry Lynn on August 28, 1999.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1999 included Skull Von Krush, Bill Wiles, David Cash, Uganda, Tom Marquez, Kid Cash, Bo and Jack Dupp, and Ikuto Hidaka.
Even with all the obvious financial problems and the fact that attention was often elsewhere most of the time, there were still a few classic moments left in 2000 for ECW fans at the ECW Arena.
March 2000 featured a great Raven/Mike Awesome-Masato Tanaka/Tommy Dreamer Tag Team Match.
April 2000 gave the ECW Arena the one and only appearance of Dusty Rhodes at the Arena as he took on Steve Corino.
August 19, 2000 gave us the 2000 ECW match of the year as the returning Psicosis took on Yoshihiro Tajiri.
The last ECW show at the ECW Arena took place on December 23, 2000. With all that had been happening and all that had been reported online, many fans going inside that night suspected that this might be the last show at the ECW Arena, although nothing was ever announced or even acknowledged to that effect.
The final ECW match at the ECW Arena was Steve Corino defending his ECW World Heavyweight Title over The Sandman and Justin Credible.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 2000 included Rhino, Christian York and Joey Matthews, Scotty Anton, Prodigy, CW Anderson, Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, Da Baldies (DeVito and Angel), Carl Oulette, Vic Grimes, Jado and Gedo, and Erik Watts.
Since those days.... many have come to appreciate what ECW brought to wrestling on national level...qualities missing in wrestling such as unpredictability, excitement, an outlaw spirit, coherent booking, and wrestling shows that feature...wrestling.
ECW had sex (and lots of it) in its presentation...but it didn't feature sex as a main event segment. Paul Heyman was smart enough to use sex as the sizzle, and not the steak. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to do the same today.
ECW didn't feature bookers or management putting themselves over at the expense of the talent....or family members and in-laws doing the same. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to do the same today.
ECW didn't care if someone on the undercard outworked the main event. They weren't punished for it. Hell, most of the time it was encouraged. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to allow their workers to do the same today.
Finally, as I conclude this trail of memories...I also have to remember that there are also those from the ECW days that have left us and wrestling far too soon: Mike Lozansky, Bobby Duncum Jr. and Terry Gordy who worked briefly in ECW, as well as ECW regulars Anthony "Pitbull #2" Durante, Louie Spicolli, and Ted "Rocco Rock" Petty of The Public Enemy.
Ten years ago...who would have known it all would happen?
Until next time...
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