AS I SEE IT
by: Bob Magee
This week's AS I SEE IT is a story about a wrestling promotion...and a special night in its history.
That's a long, long time for a wrestling promotion to be running shows.
In the late 1990s, the post-territory years... finding an independent wrestling promotion that's been open and running shows on a consistent basis for 5 years is getting harder and harder to do. Forget 32 years.
The East Coast Wrestling Alliance has run shows in the Wilmington, Delaware area for 32 years....since 1967.
Think about that...1967. The real world in 1967 saw demonstrations against the Vietnam War becoming more numerous, as for the first time, large numbers of people questioned the foreign policy of the United States. Riots broke out in major northern cities. Drug use, ranging from LSD to marijuana was becoming an issue in households all over the land. Social and economic issues were being confronted as never before.
Professional wrestling in 1967 saw Gene Kiniski the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, having held the belt for a year. In the Northeast, Bruno Sammartino was the WWWF champion, having held the belt for four years. The territorial system was in full bloom, with territories throughout the United States....and a small promotion in Wilmington DE, began running shows.
A large part of the reason of that the ECWA is still around in existence is its promoter Jim Kentner. Kentner's product is family-friendly in an era where a successful wrestling product is thought of as over-the-top action mixed with generous helpings of sex and profanity.
Their shows are something you can take your children to, but not be bored watching. The promotion offers a mix of clear babyface-heel storylines and great light-heavyweight matches that have featured such names as Ace Darling, Reckless Youth, Mike Quackenbush, Reckless Youth, Jeff Peterson, Ace Darling, Kidman, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Steve Corino, Scott Taylor, Devon Storm, Christopher Daniels, Joey Matthews, Christian York, and Mark Shrader. Yearly, the promotion features a "Super Eight" tournament, bringing together the best of these names in a tournament.
Jim Kentner is also a class act personally. In a business filled with promoters and bookers who are often bigtime marks for themselves, and who have their preferred clique of workers, Kentner stands out as someone who seems grounded in reality, loves the business and God forbid, seems to actually have fun with what he does with this promotion.
He runs a product that is affordable and suitable for a family with shows held in a local Catholic parish center, and has filled the building for their monthly shows for years now. Those who help actually put shows on exhibit a "family" atmosphere that is in keeping with the style of the product.
Many times, when getting to know the real-life human beings behind the images, it seems that the various promoters and workers that are actually marks FOR (but not ABOUT) their business are the best at what they do, and develop the most loyal fan bases. Names like Mick Foley, Jim Cornette, Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk and Brian Hildebrand are just a few of the people I've known that prove that theory out. In his own small way, Kentner seems to buy into that theory. He loves the wrestling business, is a fan of it, and it shows in the product.
Kentner's storylines are developed from beginning to end and make sense to the smart fan as well as the average fan; a rarity in the era of "creative control" by wrestlers, aborted angles due to Monday night hot-shotting, and the ever-present egos within wrestling. Kentner gets great loyalty from his workers for years, many of whom he has helped groom to other opportunities, and who move on with his blessing when the time is right.
For those who move on with Kentner's blessing, Friday night's ECWA show was a perfect example of how to do it right.
Lance Diamond, a mainstay on the Northeast independent circuit for 9 years, made his start in the ECWA. His primary program within the promotion was with babyface heartthrob "Cheetah Master", both of whom began with Kentner. Diamond has already debuted as "Simon" Diamond in Extreme Championship Wrestling, while Cheetah Master has only recently returned to the business after an absence of nearly a year as a result of a major knee operation.
As the ECWA promotion's own website says "...their careers, that began within 6 months of each other, have spanned nearly 9 years, crossed over into 4 states and transformed into some mat classics including: Ladder matches, I Quit matches, 30 minute Iron Man matches and Cage matches." During an era where ECW'S Tommy Dreamer-Raven program of 2 1/2 years is thought of (justifiably) as a classic feud, but also a longtime one....this "feud" spanned a far longer period of time. It did it with pure WRESTLING matches.
Kentner referred privately to Diamond as almost a second son. Diamond referred to Kentner as being like a "brother" who "took a punk kid, kicked him in the ass, slapped him in the face, and made him what he is today'.
Thus, the stage was set for Diamond's final match within the Wilmington-based promotion, before he began fulltime for ECW. Despite flooding from Hurricane Floyd still plaguing the area... despite a number of roads being closed, and people still out of their homes only miles away in Delaware County, Pennsylvania...despite rail service being disrupted in the Northeast Corridor, the building was packed on September 17th for this match as the main event of the promotion's 32nd Anniversary Show.
The entrances began to Diamond's entrance music "Jesus Christ, Superstar". Large segments of even the largely traditionalist ECWA crowd gave their top heel for the past nine years a standing ovation as he entered...much to his surprise.
The two had a match on the level of most, if not all, of their matches over the years. The technical wrestling was there as usual. Most anyone would have figured that Diamond would be "doing the time- honored tradition" and putting over babyface Cheetah Master. But in a surprise to nearly everyone, Diamond went over in his final match for the promotion's Mid-Atlantic title.
The post-match reaction was loud and long. Then Diamond, largely out-of-character, said his post-match farewells to the Wilmington crowd. Kentner and the ECWA staff surprised Diamond with a video package from the nine years of Diamond's ECWA career to Queen's "We Are The Champions".
To me, a night like this shows that there still can be loyalty to and from the promoters, the workers, and the fans that keep a company going. It shows that wrestling as a business IS possible without the egotripping on all levels that has infected the business, seemingly more so in recent years. It shows that this sort of product is good to watch. It shows that this atmosphere is more fun to work in. And it certainly shows, after 32 years that it can be good business as well...at least for Jim Kentner and the folks in Wilmington's ECWA.
Until next time.....
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