AS I SEE IT - 3/18/2003:
Ten years at the ECW Arena... will they remember?

by: Bob Magee

After recent events here in Philadelphia, the ECW Arena is fortunately back hosting wrestling again, and not serving as a battleground.

More importantly... May 14, 2003, will bring the tenth anniversary of professional wrestling at the ECW Arena.

What seems like way back when...I was ready to go to that first show at this new arena back on May 14, 1993, the date that Eddie Gilbert scheduled his first show of Eastern Championship Wrestling at a nondescript looking bingo hall in a section of Philadelphia that former Strictly ECW head Tony Lewis once described as "West Hell".

Some notes first...

What was then called Eastern Championship Wrestling had started after Tod Gordon picked up the remains of Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance in February 1992. The fledging ECW ran its earliest shows at the Philadelphia's Original Sports Bar, the Chestnut Cabaret, the Tabor Rams Youth Association, and finally Cabrini College.

Cabrini College, in suburban Philadelphia, was the site of the promotion's first TV taping on March 1993 for a small part-time sports station called SportsChannel Philadelphia. 60 people gathered there at Cabrini College on the eve of a massive super-storm that left three feet of snow all over the East Coast.

Back to May 14th, 1993...

I was told by a friend that this new building was at Swanson and Ritner Streets. In those pre-internet days, I looked up the intersection on a map. According to that and another map I looked at, the intersection didn't exist. But she insisted that was the place.

I found out years later that the members of the Viking Club Mummers group had paved over freight train tracks and created an unofficial extension of a street. Thus, the intersection did exist...sort of.

Finally, that afternoon, after asking around the neighborhood and finding the address, I went inside the building she told us about for the first time, and saw the Bingo equipment up on the walls. I went into a place that looked nothing like any wrestling venue I'd ever been to, and thought "What in the hell is this?"

How little we fans knew.

We found out that this strange looking building was Viking Hall, the home of the South Philadelphia Viking Club, the neighborhood Mummers group that practiced there for the yearly Philadelphia New Years tradition. We also found out that they did Bingo there to fund the group.

Even those of us used to shows in flea markets, bars, schools, and even parking lots thought..."a Bingo Hall?"

From May 14, 1993, until the promotion's last Philadelphia show on December 23, 2000... ECW created unparalleled magic in one of the most improbable locations ever to hold wrestling on a regular basis... the building that became the world's most famous Bingo Hall... the building that truly became the ECW Arena.

On May 14, 1993, we couldn't ever have known what was to come.

If someone had told us that this fledging wrestling promotion owned by a center city pawnbroker, would make its home in this building... would be seen nationwide on cable television... would go on PPV from it in four years... 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 Horsemen and Midnight Express members Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton... 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... to wrestling legends like Stan Hansen, Abdullah The Butcher, Jerry Lawler, Terry and Dory Funk, and Kevin Sullivan...

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.

All we Philly regulars knew was that ECW had a new home after Cabrini College decided they didn't want wrestling in its gymnasium any longer, and that this was ECW's new home.

We went in that May evening to see a promotion featuring Eddie Gilbert and his Memphis flavored product, eventually with an accent of Japanese hardcore.

What became regular faces in the front row and those Section C (TV side) bleachers were seen by fans first on SportsChannel Philadelphia, then on MSG Network, then slowly across the country via commercial tapes, and tapes traded by fans all over North America and beyond.

There were people like John Bailey (seemingly known everywhere as "Hat Guy"), his brother George, Mike Johnson (now indy writer for, "Sign Guy" Paul Mellows (from whom Paul Heyman took the Sign Guy Dudley gimmick), Lennie (the Rob Zombie lookalike), along with yours truly, and many others whose faces would unintentionally become familiar. What we all became a part of was history.

Here are some of those ECW Arena moments from my memory:









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.

The ECW Arena sat vacant for several months, until Frank Iaedevia of Jersey All-Pro Wrestling ran the Arena during spring 2001.

Combat Zone Wrestling then became the most successful of the independent promoters running the ECW Arena since ECW's departure; debuting at the ECW Arena in December 2001 with the Cage of Death III show. The promotion has been running monthly at the Arena since then, with an interlude of two months when XPW signed an exclusive lease to run the venue... one voided only weeks ago by Viking Hall ownership.

3PWrestling also ran the Arena, with some degree of success until XPW's attempted takeover that lasted all of two months. They've since moved to legendary Philadelphia music venue The Electric Factory.

So it's the tenth anniversary of the ECW Arena... but will that anniversary be remembered?

With all these memories, it would be nice if the independent promoters of Philadelphia could find some sort of way to run a ECW Arena Tenth Anniversary event on May 10th, the closest possible date to the May 14th anniversary date.

CZW, the promotion that's run the most shows there since ECW, would typically be at the ECW Arena on the second Saturday of the month...which just happens to be May 10th.

Tod Gordon, founder of ECW, is now working with 3PW... who could use the date to promote their own show that month at The Electric Factory (especially since they use former ECW talent in their shows). It'd be nice if Tod Gordon were at any show run that night to be recognized for starting all the magic you read about earlier.

Ring of Honor is the inheritor of the off-the-charts technical matches ECW ran, especially between 1994-1996, and runs shows 4 blocks away from the ECW Arena at the Murphy Recreation Center. It'd be nice if they were somehow involved in such a show.

Some of the WWE talent that worked for ECW will be in the Philadelphia area on May 10 University of Delaware Ice Arena in Newark, Delaware, just an hour or so drive from the ECW Arena. It'd be nice to see Tommy Dreamer return to the ECW Arena for the venue's tenth anniversary.

Hmmm... are there any fans or promoters reading this who'd like to make suggestions to all of the above parties? Here are their public addresses, if you'd like to send them an e-mail.

Until next time...


(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at