ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling once tried to take on WWE.... the story begins in a Philly pawn shop (

Posted on 3/31/124 by Chuck Langermann

Before the bingo hall, there was the pawn shop. Before Paul
Heyman, there was Tod Gordon. And before ECW could thrive,
the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance had to die.

“It started from the ashes,” Gordon recently told The

The TWA ran shows in eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and
South Jersey before it ran out of money early in 1992. A few
weeks later, three men — TWA’s ring announcer, its sound
engineer, and its creative director — met Gordon, the owner
of Carver W. Reed & Co., at the corner of 10th and Sansom

Gordon was short, bearded, and balding. Typically dressed in
a dark suit and white shirt, he met the trio in his dimly
lit back-room office, outfitted with a drop ceiling, bamboo-
covered walls, and a desk wrapped in black glass.

The three workers enjoyed having an outlet for their passion
and wanted to keep it going. But they needed someone else
who had the collateral to secure a bond and obtain a
promoter’s license.

“Not to be crude, but we needed the money man,” said Bob
Artese, the ring announcer, now 70. “But the meeting was so
positive because I think Tod, deep inside, was a wrestling
fan, too.”

Gordon, a Drexel Hill native who had previously worked with
the TWA and its promoter, found their passion inspiring. He
didn’t need much convincing. And from that meeting spawned
Eastern Championship Wrestling.

During the pro wrestling boom in the late 1990s and early
2000s, ECW would rise to become the third-largest wrestling
promotion in the country. It grew into an ultra-violent
brand of sports entertainment — where any weapon was legal
and often brought from home by bloodthirsty fans.

Before WrestleMania 40 descends on the city at Lincoln
Financial Field on April 6 and 7, here’s a look back at the
Philadelphia-based promotion, founded in that Center City
pawn shop in 1992, where Gordon endeavored to create
something new.

The beginnings

Before Xfinity Live!, there was Market Street Live!, a one-
stop entertainment mall set inside the historic Lit Bros.
building at Eighth and Market Streets. The 33,000-square-
feet complex included five distinct establishments,
including Michael Jack’s, an informal restaurant named for
the Phillies’ great, who was an investor.

And on Tuesday night, Feb. 26, 1992, ECW set up an old ring
on the dance floor of the Original Sports Bar and held its
inaugural show.

It was a six-match card, held in front of about 80 people
sitting on folding chairs set on two sides of the 16-foot
ring, which Gordon borrowed from a wrestler.

“If you stood on the top rope, you would smack your head on
the ceiling,” said Gordon, who lives in Penn Valley and
turns 69 in June.

There was a bar on another side, and tables and chairs on
the other.

“It was very intimate,” Artese said.

They would add more and more recognizable talent, gain local
television programming, and begin selling VHS tapes across
the country on their way to gaining national exposure.

Gordon went through two creative directors, laying out
storylines and matches on his own, before turning over that
side of the company in 1993 to a former manager who came
though the promotion while between gigs: Heyman.

Mainstream wrestling, at that time, was little more than
family friendly entertainment. ECW started bringing adult
storylines, a grittier presentation, and an intentional lack
of tradition. It embraced heart, humor, hard landings, and
bloody faces.

For its television tapings, the company moved into a large
warehouse at the corner of Swanson and Ritner Streets in
South Philly, which was used by the Vikings Mummer group as
storage and rehearsal space. It also served as a super
competitive midnight bingo hall.

Heyman wanted to “create so much noise out of that bingo
hall that fans of WWF and WCW [World Championship Wrestling]
not only notice, but start clamoring and demanding the style
that we were implementing,” Heyman said.

“And to his credit, I never had to sell Tod on it,” he

That warehouse would go on to become one of wrestling’s
sacred sites, better known as the ECW Arena, routinely
packing 1,500 wrestling fans into a building that was
supposed to hold only 500.

The fans, who demanded both a competitive performance and a
hard-working attitude, wanted to see a hard-fought battle,
predetermined or not. And their chants of “E-C-W” became
part of the television product’s aesthetic.

“Everybody else wanted to tell you who to like and not to
like,” Gordon said.

But Philly fans told ECW who they liked.

“They got it,” Gordon said. “And so they became part of it.”

The promotion began to mix in more prominent names like Mick
Foley, Taz, Dudley Boys, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, and Mike
Awesome. It would later feature names like “Stone Cold”
Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero,
and Rob Van Dam.

And at Paul’s suggestion, in 1994, the company changed its

They called it Extreme Championship Wrestling.

After some turmoil in 1995, Heyman bought out Gordon, taking
full control of promotion.

“I wish we would have walked before we ran,” Gordon said.
“The growth became so overwhelming. I couldn’t run my
business here and run what was going there at the rate it
was growing. It was just so fast.”

At the turn of millennium, ECW scored a national television
show on the TNN network, now the Paramount Network, and
thereby solidified its spot as the No. 3 wrestling
organization in the United States. But the boost couldn’t
fix its extensive financial issues, and the promotion folded
in 2001.

Ultimately, ECW was a niche product that, while disruptive,
couldn’t broaden its appeal in time to stay ahead of the
bill collectors. WWE, which had changed names from WWF,
bought the company’s assets out of bankruptcy and hired
Heyman, who will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in a
ceremony on April 4 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Chants of E-C-W can still be heard in arenas during violent
matches or appearances by former ECW stalwarts, as fans
continue to shout the name of a company that started in the
back room of a Philly pawn shop.

And 32 years later, with the entire wrestling world set to
descend on Philadelphia next week, Tod still sits behind
that same black-glass-wrapped desk in that same office with
the bamboo-covered walls.

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