MIKE JOHNSON LOOKS BACK AT EXTREME CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING
Seven years ago tomorrow, Extreme Championship Wrestling presented Barely Legal on Pay-Per-View. It was to be the big leap that the promotion needed to finally cement it's place for the long term and become a major player in the professional wrestling game. Of course, it didn't happen in the end, but what did happen is the little promotion that could ended up transforming into the little promotion that inspired.
Looking back, no one can or will deny that the larger promotions always took from ECW, whether it be talent or ideas. There would have been no Raw is War if Vince Russo wasn't an ECW fan. There wouldn't have been any Cruiserweights on Nitro if Kevin Sullivan didn't see them up close in ECW and more importantly, saw the impact the athletics had on the hardest audience in wrestling, Philadelphia. A number of independent promotions today owe their existence to ECW, as well as the promotion tactics of trying to create a fan base for the company and making that the draw instead of singular stars. How many of you consider yourselves CZW or ROH fans as opposed to Wifebeater or Homicide fans? How many of you go to a show because of the letters? ECW started that trend.
ECW is no longer with us, and the talents who worked in different aspects of the promotion have scattered to different, new roles inside and out of the wrestling business. It's the same for the fans of ECW. And when I say ECW, I miss it all. All of it. I miss piling into a car every three weeks with my best friends to drive a few hours to watch wrestling that didn't insult my intelligence. I miss riding home and wondering where the hell an angle was going or loving the fact that they swerved me. I miss that oddball feeling of fraternity meeting these strange characters who had absolutely nothing in common with me beyond an affinity for this one of a kind promotion, but who all accepted each other because of that united affinity.
I miss the stars that helped shaped the atmosphere as well. I can still feel that bass beating on my chest as Rob Van Dam made his way to the ring to Pantera's "Walk." I miss cheering on my hero Terry Funk as he battled age, logic, and sanity to make me say, "Wow, he's awesome" for the ten-thousandth time. I miss watching Tommy Dreamer strive for victory, but falling every time to a DDT on a chair courtesy of Raven. I miss the Sandman's grand entrance. I miss the goofiness of Stevie Richards. I miss watching Sabu sail through the air in a revolutionary way that only he would attempt. I miss Shane Douglas' riveting promos. I miss the Dudleys inciting riots. I miss Taz (not Tazz) dropping people on their heads and calling out Sabu, waiting for that ultimate showdown. I miss Cactus Jack's awesome promos that played on so many levels. I miss Raven's stoic stare while sitting in the corner of the ring. I miss waiting for Paul Heyman's power walk to the ring in New York, where he'd drop 10,000 curses and try to get the nearest woman to remove her top as he addressed his most loyal fans. I miss the sheer beauty of watching Dean Malenko wresling Eddy Guerrero. I miss the sheer horror and amazement of the Rottens slicing each other to ribbons. Most of all, I miss the entrance of The Public Enemy and the unique sight of 1,500 fans who had no business dancing (and less rhythm than they had business) waving their arms for a "House Party." A house party that can never ever return.
I miss how no matter what went wrong, this teflon promotion somehow let the crap slide off their back and continued on their journey. I miss watching the younger guys working out in the ring trying to get a job and trying to get better. I miss watching those new stars develop. I miss the roar of the crowd when "This is Extreme" would play at the start of the show as everyone, no matter how late the show started was forgiving of it because they just wanted their ECW.
I can still recall the feeling of excitement that washed over me when ECW on TNN aired for the first time on my television. It was my baby, my ECW, the promotion that had captured and enthralled me from the very moment I walked into a dilapidated (yeah it was a dump then too) bingo hall. Only now, that baby had grown and it was there for the whole nation to watch. It was now was the baby of scores of fans who had supported a tiny Pennsylvania promotion through some great wrestling, some great mistakes, and everything in between. Someone once coined the relationship between the fans and the company as "Team Extreme" and as someone who was able to witness it all live and firsthand, I still cannot find the words to express that synergy and relationship among the populous of the ECW Arena, the Madhouse of Extreme, and all points in between.
It's pretty safe to say that most of my life would be radically different if it has not been for Tod Gordon forming ECW. There are a lot of things in my life, a lot of friends I cherish, and a lot of memories that bring smiles to my face I can trace back somehow to Extreme Championship Wrestling. When things in my life were rough, going to ECW was a way out, an escape, a way to vent and get my frustrations out yelling and screaming and jumping around and being a goof and interacting with my favorites and not-so-favorites. Lord knows how I might have dealt with things if not for that chance to step out and recharge my batteries.
So, there is still much sadness surrounding ECW at the end but there are as many good memories of the times and the experiences it gave everyone who ever attended a show or worked for the company. Of course, everyone reading this would be remiss and disrespectful to a great crew of performers and staffers if they didn't remember that many of them broke their backs and were owed money at the end. Some of them have persevered and others have remained on the fringes of the business for a myriad of reasons. For their work, I say thank them. All of them.
That said, I want to remember my friend ECW in a good way. When you think about someone who has passed on, you don't remember when you were mad at them, or the dumb things they did. You remember the way they made you feel, the way they made you smile, and the way they touched your life. That's how I want to remember my friend, ECW today.
I continue to be amazed by the fraternity that is ECW today. Every few months there is an ECW return rumor that gets everyone up in arms. Many of the performers (and hell, performers who have never worked for the company) receive ECW chants on the independent level and depending on the city, at WWE events as well.
Fans still miss Extreme Championship Wrestling. The fans still yearn for that small, fledgling company that changed wrestling today. Lots of promotions have tried to become the next ECW, which is absolutely stupid. It won't happen, ever. The timing, the talent, the fan base is not there, and will never be there again. If WWE ever does bring ECW back, it would be a tragic mistake as well, not to mention a spit in the face of those who lived their lives to make it work the first time. You can't have a revolution when you are part of a corporate synergy. It just won't ever happen and the only people who will buy it are the ones who never lived through the run of the original company.
Extreme Championship Wrestling was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am not shy to admit I am blessed by having been a small part of it, as a fan and otherwise. I am proud to remember ECW the way it was, and the way it should always be remembered - the little company that could on the cusp of greatness.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.