AS I SEE IT - 6/11/2002:
Wrestling Memories from One of Its Most Infamous Buildings...
The ECW Arena

by: Bob Magee

Sometimes events have a way of making of making you feel old. But then, upon reflection, they remind you of some of what once was...and while you still feel old, you feel good.

A group drove down from Montreal to see CZW's Best of the Best at the ECW Arena and the Premier Wrestling Federation's Lockdown in Pottstown (PA) shows this past weekend, largely to see Jodie Fleisch and Jonny Storm who gave fans two tremendous matches at these shows.

Anyhow, one of the members of the group made the statement as he was waiting to get into the ECW Arena "I've been waiting to see a show in this building since I was eight years old"...a nice thing to hear when you've just turned 45, as I have.

But after I thought about it, he made me remember that he could indeed have been waiting that long. Because May 14, 2003 will bring the tenth anniversary of professional wrestling at the ECW Arena.

Ten years...

I was at that first show at the ECW Arena back on May 14, 1993 when Eddie Gilbert scheduled his first show of Eastern Championship Wrestling in a nondescript looking bingo hall in a section of Philadelphia that former Strictly ECW head Tony Lewis once described as "West Hell".

What was then called Eastern Championship Wrestling 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 Original Sports Bar, the Chestnut Cabaret, the Tabor Rams Youth Association, and finally Cabrini College, the site of the promotion's first TV taping on March 1993 for a small part-time sports station called SportsChannel Philadelphia when 60 people gathered there at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia on the eve of a massive snowstorm that left three feet of snow in Philadelphia.

We went into that building for the first time, saw the Bingo equipment up on the walls, saw a place that looked nothing like any wrestling venue we'd ever been to, and thought "What in the hell is this?"

How little we knew....

We found out that strange looking building was Viking Hall, and was the home of the South Philadelphia Viking Club, the neighborhood Mummers group that practiced there for the yearly Philadelphia tradition called the Mummers Parade.

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... Eastern Championship Wrestling... then Extreme Championship Wrestling... 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 storefront pawnbroker would make its home in this building... be seen nationwide on cable television... go on nationwide PPV from it in four years... would have fans around the world chanting "ECW... ECW... ECW..."

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 man called Raven... and that it 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 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. There were people like John Bailey (seemingly known everywhere as "Hat Guy"), his brother George, Mike Johnson, "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 moments from my memory. Those of you who shared the ECW experience undoubtedly have your own as well.









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 last ECW show at the ECW Arena took place on December 23, 2000. With all that had been happening and that had been reported online, many fans going inside that night suspected that this might be the last show, although nothing was ever announced or even acknowledged to that effect.

The final ECW match at its home, 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, Pat Tanaka, CW Anderson, Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, Da Baldies (DeVito and Angel), Carl Oulette, Vic Grimes, Jado and Gedo, and Erik Watts.

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

Combat Zone Wrestling has been the most successful of the independent promoters running the ECW Arena since ECW's departure, given that the promotion has local TV in the Philadelphia market. CZW debuted at the ECW Arena in December 2001 with the Cage of Death III show, and has been running monthly since then, including last week's Best of the Best junior heavyweight tournament.

The 3PWrestling promotion has also been running the Arena, with some small degree of success, with another show scheduled for Saturday, June 29th. They've done so with a mix of local indy talent, IWA Mid-South workers, and former ECW talent, such as Sandman, Sabu, Public Enemy, and The Blue Meanie.

With all these memories, it would be nice if the often-warring independent promoters of the Philadelphia-New Jersey region could find some sort of way to put aside their differences for one night and run a ECW Arena Tenth Anniversary on May 14, 2003 (or the closest possible date), or even for one promoter to do it if getting promotions together isn't possible.

We'll see... but it was nice to relive the old days. I'm sure many readers have their own memories to add to mine. Feel free to send them in.

Until next time...


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