AS I SEE IT 4/11/2001: ECW Memories Revisited
With ECW's official filing for bankruptcy this week, initially reported on
Other Arena.com on Tuesday, there comes for ECW fans a rush of memories about the most
unique wrestling promotion in North American history.
There also comes the stark, cold reality of the results of its bankruptcy.
First, here are reprints of two of my recent columns on the subject:
March 10, 2001 AS I SEE IT
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 [during the last few weeks].
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...
March 15, 2001 AS I SEE IT
From May 1993 to 1995, I sat in the front row of section C (the on-camera section with John "Hat Guy/Hawaiian Shirt" Bailey and company) the first two years at the ECW Arena, before the Club ECW plan was devised. Since I'd been burned by former promoter Joel Goodhart for a similar plan, I refused to put out the money for the "4-packs".
Ironically, it turns out that wasn't such a bad idea, as the seats I'd regularly sat in with my brother, were the very seats that were involved in the 1995 Terry Funk-Cactus Jack "fire incident".
So I moved up with the "bleacher bums" in Section C. As I sat there, I was fortunate enough to see ECW at its best during its golden era. I also was able to gather many other memories until December 23, 2000, which was apparently the last ECW show at the ECW Arena.
Here are a few of my top matches and memories from that building...
Texas Chain Match Massacre, Terry Funk vs. Eddie Gilbert, June 19, 1993
This show was the first ECW show sold on tape commercially, with what was then the largest crowd in the young promotion's history.
These two gave the fans at the Arena an old school all-Arena bloody brawl of a kind not seen anywhere in Philadelphia, save Gilbert's own program in 1991 with Cactus Jack in the ECW's predecessor, the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance.
The Night The Line Was Crossed, Shane Douglas vs. Terry Funk vs. Sabu, February 5, 1994
The original "Three Way Dance" (although it wasn't referred to as such at the time) was a one hour long match that put the cartoon shows that masqueraded as professional wrestling of the time to shame. Between the blow-away effort of the three wrestlers, Heyman's booking had fans going with a match that told a story in creating the storylines that moved along the three pivotal characters of the golden era of ECW.
I also have to mention the match with The Sheik & Pat Tanaka vs. Kevin Sullivan & Tasmaniac; primarily for being one of the few times I got to see the Sheik wrestle live.
Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton crash the ECW Arena, April 13, 1994
What was the single loudest, wildest, out-of-control crowd reaction in my memory of the six and a half years at the ECW Arena occurred when Bobby Eaton, then Arn Anderson ran in to conclude a two match multi-part angle involving Shane Douglas, Curtis Hughes, The Public Enemy, Tommy Dreamer, The Bruise Brothers, and Sabu. Seeing Anderson sent the crowd into some other level of sound.
Anderson and Eaton were always favorites in Philadelphia, because they were hardnosed and actually seemed to wrestle, a perfect counter to the cartoon show going on in the WWF and WCW during that era. So, when they hit the ring that night to set up the main event for When Worlds Collide the next month...it's another one of those "you gotta see it for yourself" moments.
The Public Enemy vs. Funk Brothers (Barbed Wire Match), Heatwave, July 17, 1994
In an building that was estimated by some to be as much as 120 degrees, PE and the Funks tore down the house, with an incredibly violent match, remarkable given the temperature, let alone any temperature at Dory and Terry Funk's ages.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko, 2/3 falls farewell match, August 22, 1995.
This may well have been the best match I've ever seen for the overall emotional experience combined with the actual match itself anywhere in wrestling. While Dean and Eddie worked better matches in ECW and in Japan, the sheer emotion of the toughest crowd in North America, with the "Please Don't Go" chants; not to mention the fans, locker room, and Dean and Eddie themselves in tears, accompanied by Joey Styles doing the match call of his life as Guerrero and Malenko worked their last ECW match.
If you ever get the chance to get a tape of the ECW TV show that featured this match, it is a classic keeper. But I wish any of you reading this could have been there in person; because, as good a job as Styles's call and Heyman's editing did in communicating the feeling, it could never do it justice entirely.
The Raven-Dreamer feud, March 1995-June 1997
In an era where storylines are non-existent, where feuds are dropped at the drop of a hat, and where fans are too "smart" to get emotionally involved, this two and a half year feud with ECW's ultimate babyface against the character that may well been Paul Heyman and Scott Levy's career masterpiece was the most memorable feud in recent memory anywhere in wrestling.
The feud has twists and turns; starting off with their "mutual girlfriend from summer camp" Beulah McGillicutty; concluding with an actual payoff at the end at Wrestlepalooza in June, 1997 with Raven's departure to WCW.
Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Psicosis, Mexican Death Match, November To Remember, November 18, 1995
This match gave fans another once in a lifetime experience to see Rey Misterio Jr. before injuries and being unmasked by Eric Bischoff took away some of his ability and mystique. Seeing these two go full blast was a thrill that I'll never get again, unless I ever get to see them in Tijuana. Even then, it may not be the same.
Shane Douglas vs. Chris Jericho vs. Pit Bull 2 vs. Too Cold Scorpio, Heatwave, July 13, 1996.
Jericho's mid-air rana out of a PitBull top rope powerbomb all in one motion still amazes me when I watch it on TV five years later.
Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji-TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/ Terry Boy, Barely Legal, April 13, 1997
For many, it was the first time they'd seen Japanese wrestling live. The incredible match combined with an unbelievable atmosphere among the fans so supercharged to even have that PPV at the ECW Arena, along with the added touch from many of the fans throwing streamers ala traditional All Japan created a helluva memory.
Sabu vs. Terry Funk, Born to Be Wired, August 9, 1997
The almost psychotic violence of this match probably goes beyond even the Taipei Death Match at Hardcore Heaven 1995 with the Rottens. Even the bloodthirsty violent ECW Arena crowd of the time was shaking its heads at this one.
Jerry Lynn-Rob Van Dam, August 8, 1998 and August 28, 1999
For two straight years these two created Match of the Year candidates.
For whatever reason, Lynn and Van Dam seemed so perfectly matched with one another that they could turn the Arena crowd on, and made them remember the way they used to before the Arena crowd changed, and before the pure bloodmarks discovered ECW.
Along with the moments of great action, there were the moments of humor; including the night that the bWo imitated KISS at the ECW Arena. I don't know if I've ever laughed so hard in my life at a wrestling show as to watch Stevie, Meanie and Nova doing "Rock and Roll All Night" in full KISS makeup. That's another moment for readers to catch on tape if they can.
Then there were similar moments with Public Enemy. When they weren't kicking ass in the ring, they were making viewers laugh their asses off from week to week in the unique mix of hardcore violence and off the wall humor that their characters portrayed on weekly ECW TV. If it wasn't their escapades at Terry Funk's Double Cross Ranch, it was the times that they tortured Tod Gordon playing ECW's bad boys, or taking Paul Heyman and 911 "to the Hood".
But of course, with anything associated with PWBTS and ECW, it can't just end with talking about those happy memories...
This week, I received letters regarding last week's column that repeated the usual "PWBTS and Bob Magee hate ECW" litany that more than one of us at PWBTS has had to listen to over the last five years. They referred to my comments about the happenings in ECW in 1996 and beyond.
For those who aren't familiar with the history, here it is in short: Fritz Capp, Carrie Messantonio-Zohn and I from PWBTS reported and commented on the fact that ECW had problems years long before anyone else did. We were accused of being too closely or personally involved with certain situations; and thus not being credible. We were attacked both publicly and privately by people who should have known better, and did know better.
But the fact of the matter was that those problems within ECW that we talked about were allowed to happen. Those few who are still denying it can't and won't change the facts, no matter how hard they try.
It's a fact that over time, ECW management's mindset that allowed those things I referred to in last week's column to happen, brought on other problems. They were, figuratively speaking, the worm within the apple that made things rotten to the hardcore. In turn, those internal problems eventually ended the opportunities for memories like those that made up this week and this past week's AS I SEE IT column, not to mention filling so many other websites and message boards.
If I hated ECW, I wouldn't have bothered to write about it these last two weeks. I'd simply have said good riddance to bad rubbish and let it go at that. Indeed, as wrestling fans who experienced the classic matches and memories of ECW, all of us at PWBTS would have been happier than hell to have been proven wrong about what we said. Sadly, we weren't.
But no matter how much some people wish it to be so, one can't tell the story of ECW without telling about the full story of ECW; talking about the bad with the good. Over the last few years, I've tried to do just that, no matter what anyone else thinks.
And no matter what these same people think, I view what's happening as sad because we got to see men and women putting their bodies on the line night after night, year after year; creating magic for all of us who regularly attended shows at the Arena, in New York, or elsewhere. Now, these memories of ECW that were so special will soon be just that... when they could have been so much more for so many.
And now to the present...and more of what those problems resulted in...
On Tuesday, Frank Jewett and John Williams of The Other Arena.com did a magnificent job of summarizing the details of the bankruptcy filing of HHG Corporation, better known as ECW. The information was taken from the public documents that are a part of the filing.
Their report can be found in full here post under "All The Promoter's Men".
Here is one excerpt:
..."On April 4th, 2001, HHG Corporation, the owners of Extreme Championship Wrestling, filed for bankruptcy. This bankruptcy filing was not unexpected. It had been widely reported for several months that ECW was having trouble making payroll and could no longer afford to pay for television air time. What was not widely reported were the particulars of ECW's finances.
In their bankruptcy filing, HHG Corp. claimed assets of $1,385,500 and listed debts of $8,881,435, which means HHG was roughly $7.5 million in debt when they ceased operations. An examination of the details of this bankruptcy filing gives insight into the business of running a wrestling promotion in general and into the final months of Extreme Championship Wrestling in particular.
HHG owed money to wrestlers. HHG listed debts of more than $500,000 owed to at least 40 workers. These amounts may represent back wages or unpaid Pay-Per-View bonuses.
The amounts range from $150,000 for Robert Szatkowski (Rob Van Dam) to $100,000 for Thomas Laughlin (Tommy Dreamer) to $50,000 for Terry Gerin (Rhino) to $47,275 for Francine Fournier to $21,250 for Michael DePaoli (Roadkill) to $12,000 for Don Callis (Cyrus) to $5,000 each for Yoshihiro Tajiri and Francisco Islas (Super Crazy) to 'unknown' for James Mitchell (Sinister Minister) and Jerome Young (New Jack) to $0 for Terry Brunk (Sabu) and Steve Corino. HHG also listed a debt of $48,000 for Troy Martin (Shane Douglas)...."
Jewett and Williams's story also confirmed what many knew or suspected, but had been denied by both principles... that the WWF was a business partner with ECW, given the stated debt of over $500,000 to WWFE. I'd bet that will make for some interesting conversation in WWF locker rooms in the near future.
When I consider the effort that these workers put out every night, the pain they put their bodies through, and the loyalty exhibited by these workers and many others...such information (while hardly shocking) makes me sick to my stomach. Most will never see a penny of what they're owed. If they're lucky, Paul Heyman will get them jobs with the WWF. That's probably about it.
For a promotion that did do much to change the wrestling industry...it seems so sad that what began with a bang seven years ago...what entertained so many fans for years and years...has ended with a whimper in April 2001.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)