AS I SEE IT - 7/21/2003:
Approaching the 300th AS I SEE IT column
by: Bob Magee Amazingly, next week's column will be the 300th AS I SEE IT column.
This week and next week, I'll take a look back at the AS I SEE IT columns since 1997.
The first AS I SEE IT column dealt with the role Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell were then playing in attempting to delay or outright prevent ECW from going on PPV through then- PPV provider Request TV. Mitchell had circulated a tape of the infamous Eric Kulas incident from Revere, MA. Mitchell bragged about what he'd done, going so far as to say "someone had to stop them...they should have burned the tape while they had the chance" on the Wrestling Observer 900 line. The remark was edited off the Mitchell report the same day, but the word had already gotten out about Mitchell's comments.
In the same column, I also took ECW to task for its conduct in providing the ammunition by allowing the Kulas incident to take place in the first place. It wouldn't be the last time that I took ECW to task.
AS I SEE IT covered the trials and tribulations of ECW from the column's debut in 1997 until ECW's closing on March 5, 2001.
Back in 1996, certain backstage issues started affecting the atmosphere around ECW. Along with the obvious issues that have been discussed widely, there were issues that weren't so obvious. PWBTS and AS I SEE IT caught a lot of heat for pointing those things out from ECW fans. Paul Heyman also sent D-Von Dudley out to refer to PWBTS owner Fritz Capp as a "long-haired mother-f$%ing f#g sheetwriter" from the ECW Arena house mike one evening as a result.
ECW had its growing pains at the legendary ECW Arena and in dealing with some who called themselves fans... as I discussed in the October 18, 1997 AS I SEE IT:
"You probably know which company I mean, and some of you may be the fans I’m speaking about... Let’s see if you recognize this picture:
....Fans, drunken even before entering the building, leaving broken beer bottles all over the parking lot, the street and even piled up in the stairwell entering the wrestling venue....
....Hundreds pushing forward in a stampede to enter the building, with no attempt made at establishing a line...with no regard given to those who had been there as long as three hours before the show....no concern for the women, children, or others that were being hurt in the crush of humanity at the door....
....Supposed "fans" throwing a infantile tantrum because they’d been asked to move from bleacher seats early in the evening.... throwing it during a 10 bell memorial count that was given for Brian Pillman... disrupting the ceremony that has been unique to wrestling and boxing for decades....
[In reference to Tommy Dreamer]....The sound of the chant “you f---ed up” when a chair shot was thought to be "too light"... a chairshot by a worker who was in the ring with a orthopedic cast on a broken foot... a man whose heart is far bigger than his body... believed to be working frequently while on the same type of painkilling drugs that killed one of the business’s superstars only two weeks before.... doing it because he actually believes in the fans of the business that just showed him their disrespect....
....The biggest crowd reaction of the evening given to a woman and her boyfriend, who thought it appropriate to flash the crowd and pull her top down; rather than having given that kind of reaction to the man who was memorialized earlier in the evening, or another man, one of the top workers in the world who had worked a match just minutes before, even with a knee that will require major surgery....
Recognize those situations? If you’re an ECW fan, and were at the Arena on October 18, 1997, you might even have found yourself in one of those examples.
The conduct of many in the ECW Arena crowd on that night was no less than disgusting in many instances. The pre-show public drunkenness that seems to be endemic outside the Arena is a major cause for the behavior that goes on the Arena show after show, night after night. It showed itself later that night in the exhibition of the boyfriend who flashed the crowd with his girlfriend’s breasts. It is not funny. It is pathetic.
The lack of adequate crowd control, and self-policing by the crowd itself in the line waiting to enter the building is a disaster waiting to happen. There was a very real risk of someone being trampled on October 18. Any of you reading this site, especially from outside the United States, are aware of the catastrophes that have occurred in football (soccer) crowds in Europe, with people actually killed in crowd panics."
There were also inconvenient reminders of Paul Heyman's blindspots...one of which was the seeming willingness to airbrush Eddie Gilbert's role out of portraits of the company's history that I spoke about in the September 27, 1998 AS I SEE IT
"Why is Paul Heyman so damned afraid of the memory of Eddie Gilbert?
At the last ECW Arena show, a surprisingly classy farewell was given to Jim Fullington (aka the Sandman). In it, Tommy (Dreamer) Loughlin mentioned the history of the promotion, giving proper credit to Eddie Gilbert's role in the beginning of the company during 1993. This surprising mention got a good round of applause from the Arena crowd, and a small "Eddie" chant. Some of us oldtime fans wondered if it was Loughlin's own idea....
Fast forward to this past week's ECW TV...and this mention stayed in...but the applause was edited out...with a bland explanation by Styles that "Thomas Edward Gilbert, Jr. known professionally as 'Hot Stuff' Eddie Gilbert was here for five months as talent coordinator and executive producer".
More serious than any promotional personal slights, though were the stories of drug use in ECW's locker room (as well as in the WWF and WCW).
In the February 21, 1999 AS I SEE IT, I talked about what was going on ECW, on the anniversary week of the deaths of David (Von Erich) Adkisson, Kerry (Von Erich) Adkisson, Eddie Gilbert and Louie Spicolli, all due to drug use:
"So it's the worst irony of all to read in last week's Pro Wrestling Torch that drug use in ECW is at an all-time high. Further, there are people designated to clean up needles and other drug paraphernalia from the locker room after ECW house shows, IN ORDER NOT TO LOSE THE VENUE.
Think about that. The concern of Paul Heyman and ECW officials is not to lose the venue.
Forget the fact that a number of Paul Heyman's workers frequently use prescription drugs, pot, and growth-enhancing drugs. Forget the fact that they don't even bother to hide that fact, something I reported on in a previous AS I SEE IT regarding an ECW worker who was handing out percosets at the door of the Stadium Holiday Inn hotel bar. If that's not enough for you, what about the fact that an article featuring Rob Van Dam in High Times magazine is treated like some sort of professional triumph by ECW...
I remember being online early in the morning a year ago, and finding out that Louie Spicolli had died...and remembering the times he'd come back into the TraveLodge after an ECW Arena show... barely able to walk...
...Sadly, I'm sure I won't be the least bit surprised when someone dies again.
Because promoters like Paul Heyman continue to operate with a "business as usual" mindset. They find it very easy to do damage control. They find it easier and easier to wash the blood from their hands.
Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff aren't much better in this regard, though. Hell, Eric Bischoff STILL hasn't ever admitted that somas can be tested for; an issue that PWBTS brought up after Louie Spicolli's death. It's funny how PWBTS was able to get that information through a little online research; while a major corporation wasn't willing to do so.
So this February, another series of sad anniversaries passes. Unless the major wrestling promoters in this country enact REAL drug testing and drug rehabilitation programs for their workers, it may well not be long before another is added to the list."
ECW referee Jeff Jones complained to Fritz Capp regarding the comment about the "sanitizing" of locker rooms: "How do you know what goes on in our locker room... all you [PWBTS] do is trash ECW".
But a week later, I had to write about the use of the drug Nu-Bain...which Heyman finally confirmed was "the new drug of choice within his locker room" in Pro Wrestling Torch and Wrestling Observer reports that very same week. It was the first time Paul Heyman had publicly confirmed rumors relating to drug use in his locker room. So much for denials by company employees.
Then, there were columns on the two year spiral of the money problems which eventually ended ECW's run, as their TV was forced off the air in WATL in Atlanta, Empire Sports Network in Buffalo, WUNI in Boston, WJYS in Chicago, and WNPA in Pittsburgh in March 1999, as reported on the March 14, 1999 AS I SEE IT, only 2 weeks before a PPV:
"It's two weeks before ECW's Living Dangerously PPV. Does anyone actually believe the company would take these actions willingly, as a business decision, IMMEDIATELY BEFORE a PPV?
Fans in Boston who lost their TV, then found out this week that the mid-April ECW tour is being cancelled (due to the TV situation), are furious. Some have even said that they'll come to the ECW Living Dangerously PPV with signs expressing their feelings. That'll look good on PPV.
It seems like the spin doctoring isn't working this time. These fans feel used and lied to by the company. A clear explanation to fans of the reasons why a decision was made would have gone a long way toward dealing with the fact that these fans who kept hearing the ads that run on ECW TV bragging about 'having no corporate sponsors' bought into the myth, and now feel used by the company.
It's true that smart business decisions are essential in changing the company from a personality cult to a real, honest-to-God wrestling COMPANY. Many fans have lived in the fantasy world of 'getting their ECW' so long, without thoughts as to how the TV got paid for; and the fact that shows run in small arenas don't bring in the dollars needed to pay for expensive TV.
But I have to wonder what is going on in this particular situation. As I said earlier, a decision to cut off five major company markets before a PPV, including a station aired nationally via satellite simply doesn't make business sense to me.
One has to wonder what TRULY is going on here. Despite... the loan that ECW obtained to deal with outstanding obligations....this has to disturb fans of the company. Seems like ECW is truly "living dangerously"...just not quite in the way they had in mind."
ECW's fans again went after this column and others writing on PWBTS with references on various major websites and message boards to us as being "traitors to the cause" for pointing out such inconvenient facts. Funny, I never saw a wrestling company as a "cause".
Two months later, ECW seemed to many to have gotten a reprieve with its TNN deal when ECW on TNN began airing on August 13, 1999.
While a wider audience got to see a version of the ECW that many had seen since 1992, it didn't improve the financial fortunes of the company. Many workers were well behind on their paychecks at the end.
ECW had one last hurrah with hot TNN tapings at the Hammerstein Ballroom. However, after TNN cancelled ECW's TV in June 2000 (ending telecasts on September 22), the company went downhill quickly and after a last show at the ECW Arena on December 23, 2000, followed by two sold shows in the Midwest, the company ceased running shows in January 2001.
ECW then officially closed its doors March 5, 2001 and declared bankruptcy on April 11, 2001. I provided my thoughts in this March 10, 2001 AS I SEE IT column.
"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...
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."
There were those who said that I hated ECW....and still think so to this day. If I had, I wouldn't have bothered to keep writing about it, and even offer suggestions for improvement. Indeed, as a wrestling fans who experienced the classic matches and memories of ECW, I'd have been as happy as hell to have been proven wrong about what I was saying.
Sadly, I wasn'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 happened 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.
Another subject referred to earlier in numerous AS I SEE IT columns, was the never-ending issue of drug use and abuse within wrestling. Along with the columns mentioned above, there was the July 26, 1998 AS I SEE IT:
"The issue never seems to go away, does it? Drugs in professional wrestling. I’ve had to write before about the deaths of Brian Pillman and Louie Spicolli from drug use. I’ve had to watch workers handing out Percosets in the lobby of bars after shows. I’ve had to watch more than one person I know deal with the painful effects of drug use. At least this time as I write, someone’s trying in their own way to do something about it....".
I was referring to an online effort by former NWA President Howard Brody, called The Wrestling Coalition Against Substance Abuse, to publicize the need to deal with the use of growth-enhancing drugs, painkillers, and other drugs.
When I wrote about it, I guess I knew that it wouldn't be the last time I wrote about the issue. I just never dreamed I'd have to write about them so frequently; writing about the drug-related deaths of Bobby Duncum, Jr., Rick "Renegade" Wilson, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Elizabeth "Miss Elizabeth" Hulette, Davey Boy Smith, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, and Chris Adams since that first column.
There were also stories about people within wrestling dealing with very real life drug issues...who are fortunately still alive. The February 14, 1999 AS I SEE IT discussed Tammy Sytch's real-life drug dependency, and attempts by Chris Candido to muzzle 1wrestling's Bob Ryder and Dave Scherer when they reported truthfully on the situation:
"...Personal problems and rumored personal involvements were first rumored, then documented; with a particular personal involvement within the WWF being a major problem. Sytch left the World Wrestling Federation owing to her refusal to enter drug rehabilitation owing to a dependency on the muscle relaxer soma. This drug had her impaired, notably at a WWF show at Madison Square Garden.
Sytch entered ECW, with her fiancé Chris Candido. This seemed like a merchandising bonanza for a promotion badly in needs of mainstream names. But it didn't take too long before the situation that has been rumored to be everything from Chris Candido's ill grandmother to further drug dependency to an ECW angle...or some of all the above... to get in the way of Sytch making a contribution to the company.
Then Dave Scherer and Bob Ryder of 1wrestling.com reported the news on February 9th that "Tamara Sytch was arrested on February 5, and was taken to the Middlesex County Department of Adult Corrections. She was placed in Housing Unit 73404 and was released later the same day after posting bail of $2,000." Georgianne Makropolous of 1wrestling.com further reported details from Dave Meltzer, who provided the following: "Tammy Sytch was arrested over the weekend, and spent one day in the Middlesex County Jail. Her mother had a restraining order against Tammy, as she had been destroying her furniture."
According to Ryder in a Notes From Bob column: "Scherer was alerted of the arrest on Friday, and held off reporting it for several days. We spoke about the situation and we agreed that it was something that should not be reported until we had more information. On Tuesday, when Dave included the news in the Daily Lariat, we had received confirmation that the story was accurate, and also found out that it was on the verge of being reported on at least one major hotline."
Chris Candido or someone apparently stating that they representing him claimed that the above hadn't happened, and threatened legal action against Ryder and Scherer...
...This portion of the column is written to Chris Candido and Tamara Sytch:
I've seen and read your comments. There's something that those of us who work in counseling (my real life work since 1980) call denial. It happens when you or someone you love is in a situation you can't accept. You fight like hell, and are angry at anyone pointing out an unpleasant truth. You sometimes even write them out of your life in order to deny the painful truth...
This is such a situation. There are clearly problems that need to be addressed in Tammy's life, far beyond any legal issues of the moment. These problems need to be addressed now. Tammy needs to step away from the business for as long as it takes to deal with her problems. Please get help for Tammy. Today. If Paul Heyman won't help her deal with her problems, please help her do it for herself. The wrestling business and the world have lost too many talented people to lose any more.
Threatening Internet writers won't help Tammy. Denying the truth won't help Tammy. It's only dealing with the problems she faces that will."
The week after that, the column discussed Nu-Bain use..and the week after that, former WCW wrestler Rick "Renegade" Wilson committed suicide, in part relating to drug use.
Then there was the August 28, 1999 AS I SEE IT column, which related the story of Dr. Joel Hackett, the Indiana "Dr. Feelgood" whose license was suspended by the state after illegally prescribing controlled substances to at least 11 professional wrestlers during a six-year period, telephoning prescriptions to at least eight states and Canada.
But along with Hackett's suspension, there was the way wrestlers deal with what such Dr. Feelgood's give them:
"Or there's the other time that I reported on in a previous AS I SEE IT... regarding an ECW worker who was handing out percosets at the door of the Stadium Holiday Inn hotel bar like they were candy. Since he's publicly admitted to his problem, I can mention that the person I was referring to was Axl Rotten. Axl's getting himself clean. Thank God for that, too. Lots of people would miss his hilarious Dusty Rhodes impressions.
But then there are the other cases. Like the one with the independent wrestler, known for drug use who came up to a person working a ticket counter at a small indy show. She had some sort of stomach medicine she was taking.
The wrestler came out of the locker room, looked at her taking the pills...and said to her "What do those do to you?". Those of us standing there were uncomfortably silent. Even he stopped and took a step back and realized just what he'd said.
Too many wrestlers think they're immortal. They think they can use painkillers to ease the pain of working night after night...or use various growth-enhancing substances to get big and stay big....or any one of a dozen other drugs... and think that nothing will happen to them. It's always someone else it happens to.
And there's always some unscrupulous bastard who will help feed their addictions for a price. Just because they wear white coats doesn't mean they aren't drug pushers.
Then there's the even MORE unscrupulous bastards who run wrestling promotions, KNOW about these glorified drug pushers, KNOW about these performers, KNOW about the physical and emotional pain they feel from working in the ring and traveling out of it...and don't do a damned thing about the drug use that results, or attempt to help them get themselves clean. Hell, in the case of Scott Hall, they even made an damned ANGLE about it.
Let's face it, they don't want to slow down the money-making machine that's in overdrive these days by making a major name sit out a PPV or a primetime TV program.
So with the Indianapolis Star-News article...and we know certainly we haven't heard the end of this story...the endless lunatic newsreel runs on again....and we wait until another name... a friend, a father (or mother), a co-worker...has their name added to that all too long, ever-sadder list of names who've left this world far too soon and far too unnecessarily."
But it was FAR from the last one.
There was a column that came out of an e-mail from an employee of one of the Big Two regarding the farce of state regulations and "medical testing" in those few states that still regulate wrestling...this just two weeks after the death of Bobby Duncum due to an overdose of Fentanyl in the February 4, 2000 AS I SEE IT column.
"'...I have worked on the periphery of the pro wrestling business for many years, as a [position omitted] for the old [territories omitted] and out of the ring. I have been close enough to the business without being affected by the dark side of it.
I have seen everything you talk about regarding drugs and drug testing. The one area that you didn't get into was where the states would stand on this issue. Within my wrestling business periphery falls a job for [a major wrestling company]....'
The individual also brought up one element of their job, having to work with State governing bodies and athletic commissions:
'...This usually means signing over a check to them for allowing the event to take place in their state. Most of them, as you probably know, are a joke and do nothing to regulate the 'sport' of professional wrestling. In [state omitted], for example, I give the ring doctor five 100-dollar-bills for taking the blood pressure of each wrestler on the show and then allowing some guy to work with a 220/130 count because he's just "worked up"' for his match.
In other states... for example, I have to pay a certain amount for every wrestler, announcer, referee and manager. No medical check-up... just a simple tax. For a live [major TV show] in [state omitted] recently, the 'Commission' received $9,653.00 to allow the match. Free money. I doubt that state would want to force the major companies to look elsewhere for a venue. It's a one-night stand... here today, gone tomorrow and the state is $9,000 richer.
Imagine what states in the Northeast make in one night with no effort. I agree with you that the big companies need New York, New Jersey, etc. and would not run from those states because of new drug testing measures and regulations. But the other states with commissions, which make easy money, would be hard pressed to cooperate.....thus losing the money.
I agree with you... I was close to the [very well known names omitted] and I saw first hand the tragedy of [name omitted].
Finally, and I am sorry for the length, the major wrestling companies have always fallen back on one caveat: Wrestlers are "independent contractors". What a joke...they are under contract, they receive a paycheck that, in some cases, never reflects what they draw. However the companies don't have to provide medical insurance or any benefits or take out withholding tax as long as the boys are classified as independent contractors. They have "limited responsibility", they say.
They are treated the same way actors are treated in Hollywood. Independent contractors. "You got problems, better take care of them... by the way, if your immediate performance isn't hampered... what do we care?"...I know you need credentials to give my reply to your story some merit. I know, and appreciate, the fact that you understand I'm in the middle a little bit here. I will level with you about my experience....'
This person then preceded to describe background that dates back to the 1970s, with background in TV, then befriended a particular promoter. This person then began working around the TV for a regional promotion. [The individual] continued working in a capacity within 'legitimate' TV broadcasting and within wrestling until the late 1980s, when [the individual] began to work fulltime within the business, where [the individual] is to this day.
What this person wrote was very real and easily verifiable, providing me with current occupation and office phone number. It says something when an employee of a major wrestling company is so concerned about acknowledging the facts surrounding drug use within the business, and the money that changes hands that I have to go through that degree of concealment.
On one level, there isn't anything shocking about much of what he said. If I had listed the names edited out, you wouldn't be that surprised at all. Unless you work within wrestling, you also probably wouldn't know the name of the person who wrote these e-mails to me. But this person's employer, a person whose name you would recognize, would certainly know his name. Thus, the identifying names, locations, and job title were removed. The individual who wrote me made some good points regarding the financial interest of State regulatory bodies in NOT enforcing anything that would derail the gravy train that puts money in their coffers."
So there you have it for part 1 of this look back at the AS I SEE IT columns. Next week, I'll take a look at AS I SEE IT and the PTC, columns on the "human side" of the business, this column's fight with XPW, and other subjects... when I continue my look at AS I SEE IT with its 300th column.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)