AS I SEE IT - 3/10/2001
It began in Philadelphia's Original Sports Bar on February 22, 1992 in front of
over 100 people.
For all intents and purposes, it ended on March 5, 2001.
At its best, from late 1993 to early 1996, it was a wrestling promotion that had the smartest fans in North America... educated to the various types of wrestling that existed... North American, various Japanese styles, as well as lucha libre.
The promotion's home base had an atmosphere like no other within wrestling. Their crowds were appreciative of the product that was being offered to them, and of the talent roster from around the world that was second to no other.
Their fans were respectful of the considerable effort being put out on their behalf by those working for this company. So much so that from 1994 to 1996, ECW and its fans were described as "Team ECW" by the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer to reflect the unique relationship that the company had with its fans.
"Team ECW" was a group of hardworking people behind the scenes and a fan base who BELIEVED, and would do nearly anything for the company. ECW was made up in those early days of behind-the-scenes names like Bob and Lex Artese, Jay "Six-Pack" Sulli, Larry Gallone, Kathy Fitzpatrick, Kathy Donahue, Steve Truitt, and Matt Radico.
Then there were the members of "team ECW" known world-wide: Terry Funk, Shane Douglas, Sabu, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio, Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera, Konnan, Chris Jericho, Scott Levy (to be far better known as Raven), Public Enemy, Stevie Richards, Cactus Jack, Perry Saturn, Jerry Lynn, Rob Van Dam, Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, as well as the late Brian Pillman, Rick Rude, and Louie Spicolli....and let's not forget the man who first brought it beyond being a once per month bar promotion..."Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert.
This was ECW.
ECW debuted in February 1992 and ran as a local once-a-month indy promotion, founded and backed by Tod Gordon; then aired its first TV show aired in March 1993, when 60 people gathered at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia on the night before a snowstorm that left three feet of snow in Philadelphia. From March to September 1993, Eddie Gilbert brought Paul Heyman, Terry Funk, and a a Memphis and Japanese tinged product, which began to catch the notice of people outside the Philadelphia area.
Then, in September, 1993, Paul Heyman took over booking ECW.
That night began a two and one-half year period where ECW became THE promotion in the United States if you wanted creative, unpredictable angles; an exciting in ring product, with talent not seen by American audiences. It was a time when a fan could come to an ECW show, and realize that (unlike the overly predictable WCW and WWF of the time) they didnt know what was going to happen at a show that night.
ECW's reputation spread. Its television aired in the Philadelphia area on SportsChannel Philadelphia, first available locally (and on satellite) for five years until the station went out of business. It then moved locally to WPPX Channel 61, before all Paxson stations changed to the "family-oriented" PAX TV. ECW's Philadelphia TV then moved to its last Philadelphia home, WGTW, Channel 48.
People actively promoted ECW online and by word of mouth, with TV expanding to New York's MSG, then Florida's Sunshine Network, then many of the PRIME affiliates nationwide. Later, it was televised nationwide on the America One Network, as well as on other independent stations.
Until 1996, this promotion was something special...it was Team ECW.
But in so many ways since August 1996, that dream became a nightmare. Don't believe me? Look at the record.
Yes, there was still the triumph of the first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, the one and only ECW PPV held in Philadelphia back in April 1997.
But the ECW that fans knew and loved in Philadelphia was largely no more after late 1996.
ECW had been once a company of people who gave a damn...of people who worked together for each other's benefit, for a dream. But since the summer of 1996, ECW's internal politics became a nightmare that consisted of personal and public harassment of former employees and some fans by ECW employees and those closely associated with the company.
But that wasn't all.
There was the infamous incident in Revere, MA where New Jack bladed young, inexperienced Eric Kulas in a manner so horrifying that the event was described by Dave Meltzer as resembling a "form of pornography" and "child abuse". This incident nearly cost ECW its chance at PPV.
Another incident was the infamous "crucifixion angle" in October 1996, where Sandman was literally crucified in the ring, put on a cross with a crown of thorns at the ECW Arena; outraging fans, wrestlers, and former company employees present that night. One of them was Kurt Angle. It seemed a little ironic to see Paul Heyman putting over the man he outraged 4 years before.
One of the continuing issues from 1996 was the continued use of real-life and worked drug addiction to create "hot TV" for ECW, as well as jokes being made about drug use on ECW TV, over and over again... the jokes that didn't even stop when former ECW worker Louie Spicolli died from the effects of soma use. Further, drug use within the promotion became widely reported, with use of various recreational and pain-killing drugs by talent and staff.
There were also the verbal and physical altercations between ECW workers and fans. These incidents happened in town after town, venue after venue; including riots that occurred at shows in Staten Island, NY, and Plymouth Meeting, PA, with reports of as many as 30 police and 3 ambulances needing to be summoned to venues.
The last straw was the paychecks that were never issued to workers who had to support families...where some workers were well over three months behind in their pay at the end. The company was saved once from closing by the TNN contract. However, after TNN cancelled ECW's TV in late 2000, the company went downhill quickly and effectively ceased operations in January 2001.
It needs to be said that nearly all of ECW's workers have been loyal to the company, well beyond the point of reason. They have defended the company to anyone who would listen. They tolerated missing paychecks. They put their bodies on the line, night after night.
It further needs to be said that ECW shaped the wrestling business as a whole, first providing wrestling fans an exciting alternative to the cartoon-oriented products offered by the WWF and WCW during the mid 1990s; then playing a substantial part in shaping the so-called
"Attitude" era of the World Wrestling Federation, a product style which was largely lifted from ECW. Further, ECW introduced cruiserweights to the American wrestling scene as a real force in wrestling, something not yet handled well by the Big Two.
But in the end, ECW died for Paul Heyman's sins. It died for his failure to allow others to be responsible for the business affairs of ECW, and to delegate responsibility so as to allow him to concentrate on his exceptional talent of creating storylines. It died because of his allowing of many of the above mentioned personal and political situations to happen, and doing nothing about them.
It died for his inability to get sufficient capital to allow the company to operate, to grow and to thrive as it could have done even two years ago, if he had been willing to sell the company to various interested buyers.
It died from his throwing away revenue in Philadelphia and New York, when he persisted in running venues in which he turned away hundreds of fans and thousands of dollars in potential revenue each show.
No true wrestling fan can be anything but sad about ECW's demise, even if you weren't a fan of the product style or of individuals within the company. ECW's demise means one less company for workers to support themselves, and to gain valuable experience. It also means one less company to keep the Big Two honest. It does nothing but hurt the wrestling business as a whole and ECW's workers and fans in particular.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)