I am going to try and do my best in this missive to convey my feelings about ECW and what it has meant to me in my life. Whatever skill I have as a writer will be put to the test here, and frankly, I don't think it's possible to put into words how ECW has changed me personally. What it gave me was inspiration, a focus to try something new, and a great deal of pleasure. It also allowed me to make some fantastic friends and go from being "just a fan" to whatever it is I actually am today.
As I said, it's hard to put all of that into words.
In 1993, it was not a whole lot of fun being a wrestling fan. WCW's product was terrible. The WWF's was worse. I had almost completely stopped watching both companies' TV shows and had instead turned to watching videotapes from Japan, Mexico and the indies of the US just to get my weekly wrestling fix. That is how bad wrestling in the US was at that time.
Things changed for me in 1993 when I found out that a Philadelphia based jeweler/pawn broker was going to bankroll a promotion that was the kind of wrestling that he "wanted to see as a fan". The thing that made this exciting to me was that the man who wanted to do this, Tod Gordon, had also been an investor in a company called The Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, which ran in Philadelphia in the early 90s and was a precursor to ECW. The TWA was a great promotion that put an emphasis on in ring product, be it hot wrestling or insane gimmick matches. Like many in the Philadelphia area, when they closed down, it was a sad day for all of us. So, when Gordon announced his plans for ECW, it gave hope to fans like myself.
Gordon had actually started ECW, then known as Eastern Championship Wrestling, with bar shows in 1992, but in 1993, he announced that he would produce a weekly TV show, which would air on the now defunct SportsChannel Philadelphia. He brought in Eddie Gilbert to be his booker and they were off and running. The first months of TV were built on running the first ever show at Viking Hall, which Gordon renamed the ECW Arena. I called my pal Rat, who I have been going to wrestling shows with since the mid-80s, and we decided to hit the first Arena show.
I am not going to sit here and tell you everything was great, because it wasn't. But what stood out right away was the fact Gordon cared about his company and his fans. That was a special thing to a lot of people who were looking for any reason to care about wrestling again at that time, and it was appreciated by most of us. There were, of course, exceptions, such as the occasional people who used Gordon and ECW's kindness as a way to try and get themselves over at the expense of the company, or at the expense of people that they pretended were their friends. But, we won't get into that here because those kinds of people exist in every facet of life, sadly, and people know that those who stand on their moral soapbox are usually doing it at the expense of saying "look at me everyone".
A significant event in the history of ECW, probably the most significant event, came when Paul Heyman took over as booker for Eddie Gilbert in September of 1993. While some are vocal (and incorrect) in saying that Heyman "took Gilbert's spot" as booker, what really happened was Gordon had decided to replace Gilbert because he was falling victim to personal demons in his own life and chose to hand the pencil to Heyman. Gordon took a chance on a new face, and Heyman got the book in 1993. And that is when ECW went from being a great local promotion to an underground phenomenon, in large thanks to the loyal fans who sent reports from the shows to newsletters and posted them on the internet.
Despite what some may like to believe, ECW would have never become anything close to what it was had Heyman not replaced Gilbert. I liked Gilbert as much as the next guy, but the company would have never gone where it did with him booking. He was decent to good. Paul Heyman was great. He was fresh. And he had great new ideas.
Gordon and Heyman, now a team, kept plugging away and the product continued to get better through 1993. Then, in 1994, it happened. They took the next step.
In February of 1994, Shane Douglas, Sabu and Terry Funk did a 60 minute Broadway match that was dubbed "The Night The Line Was Crossed". I will never forget, as long as I live, the atmosphere in the ECW Arena that night. The 400 or so fans were totally into the match, to the point that we all were standing on our chairs (even though we didn't need to in order to see what was going on). Something happened 58 minutes into the match that I remember to this day as if it happened yesterday. A guy and his girlfriend were standing next to me when she suddenly passed out and fell to the floor. The guy stood there watching the match while she lay prone.
I said, "Don't you think you better attend to your girlfriend?"
He said, "**** her. There's only two minutes left in the match."
That was what the ECW Arena was all about. The company had reached their fans in a way that no one could have predicted, and looking back on it now, it really was the start of ECW. From 1994 until the company closed, I only missed two shows at the ECW Arena, and on both dates, the reason I had to do so was very significant and I could not get out of the commitments I had, or I would have been at the Arena on those dates too.
Sometime in mid 1994, purely by accident, a group of fans began sitting in a certain section of bleachers in the Arena. These yahoos, as Jim Cornette would say, treated being at a wrestling show like they (we) were a member of the audience at the Rocky Horror picture show. We chanted. We sang songs with ECW/Arena words replacing the composer's arias. We tailgated in the parking lot. We were just a general goof squad. And boy, what fun we had. The scary thing to me was seeing fans in other buildings emulate all of the stupidity we did in Philly when ECW hit other arenas around the country. When I die, I may not be remembered for much, but if I am remembered for having a hand in that, by anyone, that ain't so bad.
Tod Gordon later named us the Bleacher Bums, and it was a fitting description. The bums were out in full force in August of 1994 where Shane Douglas threw down the NWA Title and ECW became Extreme. It was such an amazing night. I remember coming home and laying in bed for hours thinking about it, unable to lose the excitement I felt after that show. That feeling was what ECW was all about.
In addition to helping me make friends that I now know I will have until I die, ECW also set me on a new course in my life that, at the time, I didn't even realize I was embarking on. Back then, I was spreading the word of the company to anyone who would listen. It began to bother me that I would see published reports treating things that "happened" in the company as fact that I knew were not true. Determined to try and get what I knew to be the truth out to the masses, I started my own print newsletter, The Wrestling Lariat. Initially, it was to be a monthly or every other week thing, but it quickly grew to become a weekly newsletter. It was very rewarding to do, and helped give me an outlet that I really never had before.
After starting the Lariat, I moved on to 1Wrestling.com, which was launched in August of 1997. It led me to where I am now, and what I do every day here on PWInsider.com. Somewhere in there, I became the webmaster for ECW as well, doing whatever I could on a non-existent budget to help the company. And, I surely was not alone in that, as many people worked very hard for ECW for nowhere near the money they could have gotten elsewhere because they believed in ECW. I know I did. It's very fair to say that ECW changed my life.
All of that doesn't even take into account all of the great matches and angles that the company had. I won't even try to mention them here because I couldn't do it all justice.
While ECW grew during that time, it was always a struggle for the company to keep its momentum going. They would bring in wrestlers who never got a shot here in the US before and put them on TV. Suddenly, those wrestlers became attractive to the WWF and WCW, even though those same companies wouldn't give those guys the time of day before that. WCW took Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit. They took the Public Enemy. They took Rey Misterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera. They took Perry Saturn, breaking up the Eliminators. They took Raven. They even took the ECW icon, the Sandman. The WWF took Shane Douglas, 2 Cold Scorpio, Mick Foley and Steve Austin. More importantly though, the WWF took ECW's in your face booking style and used it on a national level before ECW ever got the chance to do so. They lost more talent in later years, like Tazz, The Dudleys, Lance Storm, etc., and those losses hurt just as much. In the end, all of the knocks took their toll.
ECW did their best to keep going forward. It was an uphill fight, but they fought. That is the one thing about the company I will always remember: No one ever slacked off. They always gave what they had to the cause.
In the end, as is almost always the case when a business fails, they just did not have the resources needed to compete. I firmly believe that if they could have gotten a national TV slot in 1995 or 1996, things would have ended differently for the company, but they didn't and what we have to deal with today is the death of ECW. But, as it was, they had costs all along that were greater than the revenue that came in. In 1995, they were spending 1996's money. In '96, it was 1997 and part of 1998's cash. And so on. In the end, no one lost more than Heyman.
Despite what some would have you believe, Paul Heyman paid for ECW with his time, his heart, his soul, and his wallet. It's sad that ECW went out with a whimper, instead of the bang that it should have, but the business aspects involved in bankruptcy forced the situation to go as it did. I won't remember the way ECW died. I will remember the way it lived.
I will remember the HeadHunters throwing Crash the Terminator through a wall.
I will remember "The Night The Line Was Crossed".
I will remember, until the day I die, Shane Douglas' speech when he threw down the NWA World Title and effectively killed the organization.
I will remember watching the Sandman rise to become an icon that no one expected him to be.
I will remember the blinding angle.
I will remember Kimona and Beulah's kiss.
I will remember the fire.
I will remember Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton's surprise appearance.
I will remember all of the great times I had on the road.
I will remember the Bleacher Bums and the friends I made.
I will remember the first ECW fan convention in 1995.
I will remember the Terry Funk dinner and the amazing experience I had when a bunch of people I respected and were rooting for produced a PPV show from the ECW Arena in April of 1997.
I will also remember the power to the truck going out 15 minutes after the show ended.
I will remember so much more than I can write here in the column.
I could write volumes about what ECW meant to the business itself, but its mark is bold and evident. This article is not about that. This article is about a man reflecting on and saying goodbye to something that was dear to him and helped change his life.
Goodbye my friend.