Mike Johnson's ECW Memories
Extreme Championship Wrestling's death is the end of the wrestling industry as we knew it. It's that simple and it's that great, whether you want to agree with it or not.
I could probably write books on the intellectual properties ECW took as their own and popularized in today's professional wrestling - the attitude, the workrate, the athleticism, the T & A, the tables and chairs, the blood, but the thing I am going to miss the most is the emotion. Of all the things that were taken and stripped from ECW, the emotion could never be taken... and with ECW's departure, that emotion is gone as well.
For most of Extreme Championship Wrestling's run, emotion was the key to why it gained such a devout following.
Whether it was Terry Funk's heartbreaking run for a final World championship win, Tommy Dreamer and Raven's blood feud, Shane Douglas breaking free from the chains of what he perceived to have held him back for all those years, Taz railing away on the lack of respect shown to him when he broke his neck or even the announcement of ECW's first Pay-Per-View, emotion is what made ECW stand out from it's larger brothers.
You could feel something special brewing when Tommy Dreamer hit that DDT for that first historic pinfall on Raven.
You couldn't help but cheer when Mikey Whipwreck won the World title from the Sandman.
You couldn't help but be choked up when Eddy Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit all bid farewell from the promotion that paved the way for their stardom in North America in one night.
You couldn't help but sense the pure excitement, literally taste it in the air, when the lights died and returned to reveal the the return of the Sandman to the ECW Arena.
Emotion was that key.
The first night I walked into that cherished Bingo Hall in May 1994, it was emotion that captured my attention. The main event featured a wild bout with Terry Funk, my all time favorite, teaming with Arn Anderson to face Bobby Eaton and Sabu. The bout ended with Arn beating Terry's knees to oblivion with a chair and Funk submitting to a single leg Boston Crab applied by Sabu.
A single leg Boston Crab. That simple. That's what hooked me. Funk's reaction, crying, screaming, selling, limping. It was as real, as legitimate as professional wrestling could be in 1994. With that one bout, I was captured.
Until the night I walked out of the Hammerstein Ballroom in January 2001, ECW continued to amaze and compel me. There was nothing like it, although there is no argument that as time went on, the pressures of outside forces, lack of funds, and other problems wore the promotion down.
By the end of it's run, the emotion had been worn down but it was still there, lying dormant under a layer of great wrestling. Some will say ECW was dead by then, but it wasn't, the emotion had just been usurped by all the outside problems.
There were times the emotion would return. My favorite memory of 2000 remains and always will remain Tommy Dreamer, who despite his position within the company, lived not to appease his own ego but to create new stars, winning the World championship. Whether you buy into the theory that the belt means something or not, no one can deny that special moment.
The ECW Arena all stood and clapped in unison as Tazz handed the belt to Dreamer. Dreamer's reaction and post-match speech captured exactly what I had discussed earlier- emotion. It was as legitimate as anything can get in this strange world of professional wrestling that we all love.
I am deeply saddened that I won't experience that again. ECW was a promotion I kept close to the heart on many levels. When I had become dismayed by the larger promotions, it was there to provide an alternative.
In 1996, possibly the most stressful year of my life, amidst a series of family problems, I could always count on that road trip from New York to Philly and the few hours in the ECW Arena to distract me, entertain me, provide me with a release and a place to recharge my batteries and go on with dealing with everyday life.
If you never experienced a live ECW event, you truly missed out. It was like being in a nightclub with a few hundred/thousand (depending on the venue) of your best friends- the bass is booming, the electricity is passing through you all as one, and no matter who you were or where you were from, you were one with the experience.
The ECW Arena, despite what it was in reality, was one of the most amazing live experiences I have had at any live event, concert, theatre, sport or wrestling. The rush of adrenaline from the crowd when that first guitar riff of the ECW theme rang out never failed to raise goosebumps. It's almost depressing to think of that building vacant, the magic gone, the emotion devoid of its walls.
With the emotion and originality of ECW fading away, I wonder where the promotions of today will find their stars of tomorrow and the new concepts without ECW to groom them. ECW truly was the barometer for the business. It was a place where new stars were made and old ones went to be reborn. Now, that option is gone and there's no in between from the independent levels to the national promotions. As I said before, the death of ECW will truly change the face of the wrestling industry.
What ECW lacked in money, it made up in heart. That heart is what made stars out of performers who otherwise wouldn't have been given a chance. I can only hope a new alternative eventually rises and provides a similar forum.
Promotions have risen and fallen before, and will again, but nothing can ever compare to the impact Extreme Championship Wrestling has had on the industry. No matter what impact future promotions may have, no promotion anywhere can hope to capture the emotion that ECW raised when it waved it's magic wand.
Like many of the others who have columns here that you read and enjoy, I wouldn't be writing this here without ECW. It's where the Wrestling Lariat was born and out of that, burst PWInsider.com. It's where I made contacts and friendships that I hope last forever. It's why I got into an airplane for the first time in my life, why I rode countless miles, and spent timeless hours enjoying, watching, discussing and writing about it.
Goodbye ECW. Thank you for one amazing ride.
Michael K. Johnson II