AS I SEE IT - 11/30/2000
This past Saturday, November 25th, featured the East Coast Wrestling
Association's "Battle at the Bob" at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter
Center in Newark, DE, drawing the largest crowd in the company's history, and one of the
largest crowds for an independent promotion this year, 1,471 paid.
Previous to this event, the Bob Carpenter Center was most notable for wrestling as the venue in which Steve Austin debuted in the WWF on January 15, 1996 as "The Ringmaster".
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 the movement against the Vietnam War becoming stronger; as for the first time, a majority of Americans questioned the foreign policy of their country. 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 Kettner. Kentner's product is family-friendly in an era where a successful wrestling product is thought of solely as over-the-top action mixed with generous helpings of sex and profanity. While the latter is true for many promotions, it isn't for Jim Kettner's market...and for his market, his product has worked.
There are family-friendly promotions that may be friendly to your children, but as for the parents, well... tend to induce sleep at a rapid pace.
ECWA shows, on the other hand, are something you can take your children to, but not be bored to sleep watching yourself. The promotion offers a mix of clear babyface-heel storylines and great light-heavyweight matches that have featured such indy stars as Ace Darling, Reckless Youth, Mike Quackenbush, Scoot Andrews,"Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels, Vic Capri, Shark Boy, Chad Collyer, Jet Jaguar, Inferno Kid, and "Super Bad" Steve Bradley.
It has also featured the WWF's Mick Foley, Matt and Jeff Hardy, The Dudley Boyz, Scott "Too Hotty" Taylor, Terri Runnels, Bob Holly, Kevin Kelly, Andrew "Test" Martin, Jacqueline, Christian and Edge, Kurt Angle, WCW's Billy Kidman, Devon "Crowbar" Storm, and Shawn Stasiak, ECW's World Champion Steve Corino, Lance "Simon" Diamond, Christian York and Joey Matthews.
As I said back in September 1999 in a column about the promotion:
"Jim Kettner 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, Kettner 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.
[Kettner] 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, Kettner seems to buy into that theory. He loves the wrestling business, is a fan of it, and it shows in the product."
The promotion has been building to this show since April, when it ran an angle to begin building to the "Battle at The Bob" with longtime promotion babyface Cheetah Master "expressing displeasure" toward ECWA promoter Jim Kettner, claiming Kettner was "more interested in chasing his dream of working for the WWF than keeping a relationship with his Delaware fans." Cheetah Master called for Kettner to move to a "higher level" to run a show at the Bob Carpenter Center (aka "The Bob") in Newark, DE. In the angle that night, Kettner repeatedly refused Cheetah Master's request to do this.
Then, at the July 22nd St. Matthew's show, Cheetah Master again called on the fans to demand that Kettner run the show at the Carpenter Center in November. The locker room, in a rare "suspension of kayfabe" angle emptied with the heels and face wrestlers and managers surrounding the ring and join in the chants of "To the Bob! To the Bob!"
Cheetah told Kettner that he was turning his back on the wrestlers and the fans by refusing their wishes to schedule a show at the Bob. "But," he continued, "there is one person that you wouldn't dare say 'no' to."
Then out came Jeff Peterson, Kettner's nephew, who I've mentioned in this column. Peterson hadn't worked or even attended an ECWA show for months since his cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy. Earlier that week, Peterson decided that he felt well enough between treatments to come up from Florida to see the show.
The fans at St. Matthew's went absolutely wild. The dialogue (from the ECWA website) went as follows:
"CHEETAH: Will you take the wrestlers to the Bob in November?
CHEETAH: Will you take the fans to the Bob in November?
CHEETAH: Will you take Jeff Peterson to the Bob in November?
Peterson then took the mike, with a loud prolonged chant still going on for him...
"JEFF: Ever since I got into the business two years ago, my dream has been to walk the aisles at the Bob Carpenter Center.
KETTNER: Jeff, you *will* walk the aisles of the Bob Carpenter Center in November."
Jeff Peterson couldn't work a match at the show, as all had hoped, but was well enough to work an angle at the Carpenter Center show. More on that later.
As fans came into the building on November 25th, even members of various rival wrestling websites who never agree on anything...were all agreed on one thing for one night: they wanted to see Jim Kettner and his ECWA succeed that evening.
Kettner has inspired that much respect. He's even developed it among promoters who've been known over the years to be willing to rent out their own mother to draw a house. These same promoters will usually check so as not to run near where Kettner runs, or when he runs if they can help it. If they can't they often at least schedule matches on their shows to allow workers to double-book if they want to.
The matches on the show included an indy dream match of Reckless Youth-Christopher Daniels, Scoot Andrews-Low Ki; Steve Bradley-Inferno and the returning Lance "Simon" Diamond (with Dawn Marie)in a three Way Dance for the Memphis Championship Wrestling Southern Heavyweight Championship, mega-heel/champions/new WWF development workers The Haas Brothers vs. young babyface The Briscoe Brothers, Ty Street and the WWF's Kevin Kelly (who has been playing a heel manager of the
"Connecticut Connection") in a "Prince of Darkness" match.
The main event was mega-babyface Cheetah Master versus perennial favorite/beefcake "JJ The Ring Crew Guy". Well, he WAS a perennial babyface...until a great old-fashioned heel turn came out of nowhere.
The heel turn came out the ceremony to honor Peterson, with the WWF's Michael Cole and former ECWA commissioner Richard Naegele presiding over the induction of Peterson into the ECWA Hall of Fame.
A video montage was shown of Peterson's work in the ring, as well as his battle against cancer. He then came out and accepted a plaque. Out from the back to congratulate Jeff comes ECWA heavyweight champion J.J. The two embraced. Then J.J. hoisted Jeff up to accept more cheers from the fans. Suddenly, in a hard heel turn, J.J. took Jeff and put him in a painful chicken wing, rendering the young gladiator "unconscious". Needless to say, JJ got major heat, even from those fans were friends of his in the crowd.
I remembered the story that Chris Jericho told about the night that Brian Hildebrand was honored in Knoxville:
"One of my best experiences in wrestling came on November 30, 1998 in Knoxville. You know the story. A tribute to Brian, huge turnout, awards, ceremonies, everyone applauding and commending this fine gent.
But I knew how Brian was, I knew that he was a student of the game. I knew he appreciated the art of heeling. So that night before the main event of myself and Eddy vs. Benoit and Malenko, I grabbed the mike and told Brian that he most certainly had done nothing to deserve a tribute and that the only reason the people came to the show was to see me and Eddy.
I told Brian to sit down, shut up and be thankful that he had a free front row seat to watch greatness. The fans didn't like that and booed profusely. Of course at the end of the match, after I had beaten up the ref and then had the tables turned, Dean and Chris both had Eddy and I in their finishing holds, but couldn't get the win as no ref could call for the bell. But heroically, into the ring slid Brian and signaled for the bell with his trademark two gun salute."
Some real-life friends of "JJ" at ringside seemed to be uncomfortable when he did that very thing to Peterson. In a very real way, nothing was more appropriate to honor someone like Jeff Peterson who loves the business and wanted to be involved in it from the first day he saw his uncle's promotion.
In the main event, a 30 minute match, babyface Cheetah Master defeated "JJ". This included good wrestling, but some good old-school backstory as heel "JJ" used a chair to work on the (legitimately) surgically reconstructed knee of Cheetah Master, an injury that took a year for Cheetah to rehab after an in-ring injury. Something so seemingly small, got over so much. In an era of excess, the ECWA is a promotion where less can often mean more when done right.
The finish had "JJ" grabbing the chair once more to "finish Cheetah off". This time, the alert Cheetah kicked it and "JJ" fell victim to a "Van Daminator", the pin, and the ECWA title. The crowd erupted. The locker room emptied, and Jeff Peterson came out to take in the crowd's cheers with new champion Cheetah Master.
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 the business of wrestling can happen and can be successful without the egotripping on all levels that become epidemic within the business 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 more than 32 years, that it can be good business for Jim Kettner and the ECWA.
The East Coast Wrestling Association stands out from many other independents in the way it treats its workers. Far too many independent promoters, including some that have been advertised in this column, have developed a habit of stiffing or shorting their workers and office employees. These promoters don't do this just on a bad night when the house is low; but do it over extended periods of time, even when the crowds have been good. Those promoters dangle out the "carrot" of future work or of moving up the ladder, and also use "the stick"... the threat of firing them or outright blackballing them if they don't "go along".
These in-ring workers and office employees depend on promoters to honor their word so they can support themselves, their families, and continue to live their dream of involvement within the business. In order to compensate for mistreatment by certain promoters, some take second and even third jobs, along with the "legit" jobs they almost always must work at to make ends meet in the best of circumstances.
Jim Kettner and his promotion have a reputation for being upfront and fair about such situations. It's the reason that Kettner has developed such respect from so many, and why so many were so happy to see the "Battle at the Bob" do so well.
I wish the same could be said of some other promotions and promoters that are better known.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)