AS I SEE IT - 9/22/2003:
Thoughts on an important anniversary in wrestling...

by: Bob Magee

Special thanks to former ECW Arena Bleacher Bum Jeff Schoun for providing the idea for this column.

September 18th brought an important day in pro wrestling history... the tenth anniversary of Paul Heyman taking over as Creative Director of ECW, and the beginning of the ECW that most people know.

ECW, as Eastern Championship Wrestling actually began operations in February 1992, picking up the ashes of Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance. The promotion ran shows at the Philadelphia Original Sports Bar, the Chestnut Cabaret and other local venues. It ran its first TV taping at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia...then moved on May 15, 1993 to what became known so well as the "world's most famous Bingo Hall..." the ECW Arena.

In June 1993, Eddie Gilbert and Terry Funk went at it in the "Texas Chain Match Massacre" to give ECW its largest crowd to date, with the match seen across the country via the first of many ECW commercial tapes.

In August 1993, many ECW fans got their first live exposure to Japanese wrestling through W*ING workers The Headhunters, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator (aka Hugh Morris), and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga.

Then, in September, booker Eddie Gilbert quit ECW over a prospective involvement with Jim Crockett's World Wrestling Network (a promotion that, ironically enough, never took off) just days before the "SuperClash" show that had been pushed heavily locally as the biggest show of ECW's early existence.

People were stunned as Gilbert had been an area favorite for several years. Along with Terry Funk, he had given the fledging ECW credibility. No one quite knew what would happen with Super Clash.

With very little notice, Tod Gordon tapped Paul Heyman to take over booking for September 18th.

It was thus ten years ago... September 18, 1993, that Paul Heyman had The Public Enemy open the ECW Arena Super Clash show, going over Ian Rotten and Jason Knight, prior to his "Sexiest Man On Earth" gimmick. The television from the show, which aired on local station SportsChannel Philadelphia, aired with a new host...the as-yet-unknown Joey Styles. Eddie Gilbert did make a brief appearance, doing an unannounced run-in, and told fans to keep supporting the promotion despite his departure.

With all of this going on... if someone had told us that this fledging wrestling promotion, now being booked by a colorful manager who'd just gotten fired from WCW by Bill Watts... if someone had told us that his promotion 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 September 18th that Paul Heyman's reign 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'd have said you were nuts.

But it all happened.

The rest of the night, Ultra Clash 93, began to lay out a foundation for Heyman's first TV tapings in charge of ECW.

The first TV taping which was completely Paul Heyman's was called NWA Bloodfeast, held on October 1 and 2 at the ECW Arena. This TV taping is where Heyman debuted Sabu, Taz, Tommy Dreamer, and the future of ECW started to take shape.

Here's some of the things that happened during Paul Heyman's time in ECW...taken from my own AS I SEE IT column back on March 18th, 2003:

1994

1994 began with a January weekend of ice storms that cut off power to 350,000 people in the Philadelphia area. Yet ECW drew a crowd of 200 just on word of mouth and from calling the company's telephone hotline... to see Terry Funk and Shane Douglas work a 45 minute broadway that set up the original "three-way dance" on February 5, 1994 with "The Night The Line Was Crossed" featuring Sabu vs. Shane Douglas vs. Terry Funk.

There was the April night when Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton invaded the ECW Arena unannounced in one of the best kept secrets in wrestling history. The TV of that night shows one of the wilder crowd pops in ECW history.

Cactus Jack debuted in July 1994...in what became one more chapter in his love affair with the Philadelphia fans... that made his "anti-hardcore" program, that included shoot comments directed at the Philadelphia fans all the more memorable.

In early August, Public Enemy and the team of Dory/Terry Funk went at it in a barbed wire match that took place at Heat Wave 1994 in a full house despite indoor temperatures within the Arena estimated at as much as 130 degrees.

Then there was one of the pivotal moments in ECW's history, the NWA Title Tournament in August 1994. The tournament featured Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Osamu Nishimura, Shane Douglas, and Two Cold Scorpio with wrestling on a level not seen by many of the fans present.

But the show that would be better remembered for the infamous angle where Shane Douglas trashed the NWA World Heavyweight Title he'd just won, then declaring that the promotion was no longer NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, but was now called EXTREME Championship Wrestling.

November 1994 featured the October-November 1994 Sandman "blinding angle" that was voted Wrestling Observer Angle of the Year. It was so well done, it had the late Brian Hildebrand and others in a position to know otherwise calling me to ask if it was really an angle.

1995

The year gave fans an incredible series of Japanese style matches between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko.

February 1995 gave fans two shows...both the "Double Tables" show featuring the main event of Sabu and Tazmaniac against The Public Enemy, Chris Benoit vs. Al Snow, and "Return of The Funker" featuring Terry Funk's return after a six month absence.

April 1995 saw the beginning of what would be a two and a half year storyline featuring Raven and Tommy Dreamer (who also worked a storyline at the same time with Sandman), and the first match actually billed as a "Three Way Dance" with The Public Enemy vs. Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko vs. Tazmaniac and Rick Steiner. Another Arena show one week later brought the first of the classic Eddie Guerrero-Dean Malenko matches we saw for the next five months.

The spring also brought the psychotic bloodletting of the Axl Rotten-Ian Rotten matches, with matches involving barbed wire baseball bats all the way to the Taipei Death Match in July, with each man having glass glued to his hands. This foreshadowed the hardcore and ultraviolent product seen years later in IWA Mid-South Wrestling and Combat Zone Wrestling.

On August 29, 1995, the Dean Malenko-Eddie Guerrero farewell match happened, as Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero headed to WCW...with the smartest wrestling audience in North America in tears (not to mention Guerrero and Malenko themselves)... chanting "Please don't go...please don't go" with a heartfelt passion from the crowd worthy of two departing world class talents and world class people.

If it seemed that ECW had taken a major talent hit, fall 1995 also brought new talent, with lucha libre coming to Philadelphia for the first time with Rey Misterio, Jr. Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, Konnan, and La Parka appearing.

September 1995 featured one of the top matches in Arena history in a best 2 out of three falls Double Dog Collar Match for the ECW Tag Team Championships with The Pitbulls vs. Raven & Stevie Richards.

The November to Remember 1995 was one of the best top to bottom shows ever held in the Arena with such matches as Rey Misterio, Jr.-Psicosis, and Terry Funk/Tommy Dreamer vs. Cactus Jack/Raven.

1996

January 1996 featured the first of many Rob Van Dam-Sabu matches, Raven and Sandman battling for the ECW Heavyweight title, and the Gangstas-Eliminators feud.

March 1996 featured Rey Misterio, Jr. and Juventud Guerrera giving a lucha clinic in a 2 out of 3 fall match. It also featured the emotional farewell of Cactus Jack heading to the WWF as Mankind, who defeated Mikey Whipwreck.

Chris Jericho debuted in ECW at the "Matter of Respect" show in May 1996 against Mikey Whipwreck. The summer of 1996 also featured the wars of The Eliminators against The Gangstas in a "steel cage weapons" match. Heatwave 96 gave us a tremendous four way ECW TV Title Match Scorpio-Chris Jericho-Pitbull #2-Shane Douglas.

Autumn 1996 featured such world class tag team action as Terry Gordy and Steve Williams against The Eliminators and Sabu and Rob Van Dam against Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas. It also featured one of the sickest scaffold matches in history in October at "High Incident" with Tommy Dreamer throwing Brian Lee off a "scaffold" attached to the roof of the ECW Arena, into a ring full of tables.

1997

Barely Legal- Paul Heyman's dream...and the dream of ECW fans everywhere came true...a dream foreshadowed by a year's worth of rumors...which was nearly scuttled via interference by Bruce Mitchell and Wade Keller... finally happened on April 13, 1997. Even with the usual pre-show atmosphere at the ECW Arena...this was something special. Fans waited outside the ECW Arena from early on that morning.

The Arena was filled as full as physical space would allow, well beyond anything permitted by city or state fire laws. The atmosphere was electric.

At 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, in the most improbable of locations: the converted Bingo Hall that staff had painted and fixed up on their own, down the street from a bargain basement store and vacant buildings... the home of a wrestling promotion founded by a downtown storefront pawnbroker, started with little more than hopes and dreams... made into magic by a incomparable locker room and one of the most unique bookers in North America....the impossible dream came true, as "Barely Legal" went hot and started the era of ECW on PPV to the United States.

The show itself included The Eliminators defeating ECW Tag champs D-Von & Buh Buh Ray Dudley for the ECW Tag team Titles, Rob Van Dam-Lance Storm, Taz over Sabu, Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji wrestling TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/Terry Boy (aka Mens Teioh), and Terry Funk defeating Raven for the ECW Heavyweight Title.

More talent moved on...but their departure gave a memorable finish to one of the most memorable wrestling programs ever, as Raven lost a loser leave match to Tommy Dreamer at Wrestlepalooza 1997.

In what was likely the single most violent match in ECW history, Sabu pinned Terry Funk in a barbed wire match at August 1997's "Born to be Wired", to a point that even Paul Heyman was reported to be sickened in the promo for the show's commercial video tape. Having seen the match in person, I can safely say he wasn't the only one.

1998

January 1998 gave us the first Stairway To Hell Match with Sandman taking on Sabu.

Japanese talent returned to ECW throughout the year with names like Gran Hamada, Gran Naniwa, Atsushi Onita (in a less than memorable match) , and Masato Tanaka who began a series of matches with Mike Awesome matches beginning in August, matches that took the phrase "stiff" to a whole new level.

The Wrestlepalooza PPV aired from the legendary Georgia Championship Wrestling/NWA venue, the Cobb County Civic Center, bringing fans a 30 minute draw between ECW TV Champion Rob Van Dam and Sabu.

Heatwave 1998 also gave American fans one of their rare views of Hayabusa as he joined with Jinsei Shinzaki against Sabu/Rob Van Dam.

The pairing that gave a ECW Match of The Year nominee two years running gave Arena fans a match to behold on August 8, 1998 as Jerry Lynn took on Rob Van Dam.

1999

1999 saw ECW featured around the United States and Canada as TV tapings were done for TNN at the Arena, allowing fans to see what the ECW experience was all about.

Lucha and Japanese talent once again made their way into the ECW Arena as Antifaz Del Norte, TAKA Michinoku, Super Crazy, El Mosco De La Merced, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Mr. Aguila (aka Papi Chulo). This gave us matches over 1999 such as Jerry Lynn-Yoshihiro Tajiri, Super Crazy-Antifaz Del Norte, TAKA Michinoku-Papi Chulo and a series of Super Crazy-Yoshihiro Tajiri matches.

For the second year in a row, fans got a Match of the Year nominee for the second time with Rob Van Dam-Jerry Lynn on August 28, 1999.

2000

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.

March 2000 featured a great Raven/Mike Awesome-Masato Tanaka/Tommy Dreamer Tag Team Match.

April 2000 saw the one and only appearance of Dusty Rhodes at the ECW Arena as he took on Steve Corino.

Heat Wave 2000 from Los Angeles gave fans ECW World Champion Justin Credible beat Tommy Dreamer in a "Stairway To Hell Match." It also gave fans live the infamous incident involving XPW workers who tried to give their promotion some free advertising, followed by a real life parking lot brawl.

August 19th gave us the 2000 ECW match of the year as the returning Psicosis took on Yoshihiro Tajiri.

Anarchy Rulz from St. Paul, MN on October 1 gave us Jerry Lynn finally winning the ECW World Heavyweight Title.

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

The final ECW match at the ECW Arena, was Steve Corino defending his ECW World Heavyweight Title in a three way dance over The Sandman and Justin Credible.

There was one more sold show in the Midwest for ECW... but as far as many of us were concerned... this was the real last night for ECW... and the last night for a memorable era by a memorable booker...

Until next time...

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(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at bobmagee1@hotmail.com)