Since Extreme Reunion went down this past Saturday, I don't think I've ever had more requests from wrestlers who actually worked a show to write about an event, much less from readers waiting to see how the show really was from my perspective.
Well, it was Extreme all right, an Extreme Trainwreck. I've already done a live play by play of the show, so if you want to read that and get a sense of what the show was like as it was taking place, feel free to go track down. I really have no interest in re-living that aspect of things but I want to go over a few points as to why the show bombed as bad as it did, especially in a building holding over 2,000 fans that *WANTED* to have a good time and enjoy themselves.
Watching that show was an amazing, AMAZING education in how to take an audience that was jazzed and happy and making them miserable. The show starting 45 minutes late couldn't be helped since the PA Commission Doctor wasn't there and while some will blame that for the crowd issues, that wasn't the case. These are fans who came to have fun and fans who are used to shows starting late. So, let's review exactly why this failed and why a whole lot of people need to start making apologies to the audience.
The Sabu situation.
I don't care who's to blame for this but when you take put a bunch of people who enable each other and act toxic with each other in the same place for 48 hours, you are going to get people who do stupid, toxic things. Well, it bit Extreme Reunion in the ass with the loss of their main eventer, Sabu.
Over the course of the night, as word spread over the situation after we broke the news here on PWInsider.com, the crowd became more and more upset, partially because of the way the show was going but also because, quite frankly, ECW fans don't like to get lied to. Mind you, the first time anything official was said by anyone about Sabu not being there was when Shane Douglas got in the ring during a pre-main event promo and that was by the point that the crowd was already ugly and chanting for refunds. Douglas, either completely lost in character or completely stupid, thought he was getting heel heat and turned to the fans and said, "Let's get this straight, I work you, you don't work me." That was a brilliant thing to say because the audience took it as meaning Shane and his friends just worked them out of their money and didn't deliver Sabu.
This show played off the ECW intellectual property and no matter how you feel about that, the reality is that they presented this as if it was the return of ECW. Well, when you play off that ECW intellectual property and you expect ECW fans to show up, you damn well better treat them like ECW fans. ECW fans were never, ever lied to by Paul Heyman. You can say whatever you want about Paul bouncing checks and lying to the boys, but when the shows got screwed up, Heyman was out there at the start of the show, offering a refund by intermission and some sort of explanation. Hell, he once fired Sabu, his biggest drawing card, publicly, when Sabu missed a main event in 1995. Now, we go to 2012 and it's the exact opposite situation, where the promotion is ignoring the fact they don't have one of their main eventers until its the end of the show. Had they offered refunds, the reality is NO ONE WOULD HAVE LEFT, since they were already there - but they also would have shown fans the respect those fans deserved. Instead, Shane Douglas came off looking like someone trying to work the fans out of their last dollar and that audience isn't going to respond well to that.
They screwed their top paying fans.
When the show was announced, the top ticket price was $100 and was to include a collectible take-home commemorative chair. In the past, other similar ECW themed projects run by Jeremy Borash with Shane Douglas' input have done the same. So, when you announce something for fans that are paying top ticket price for the show, you damn well better freaking deliver.
What did those 100-120 fans that paid $100 get for their trouble? Well, to start, there are no commemorative chairs. They are all told that the chairs will be given out after the show. Well, after the show, these fans are waiting around for over an hour and well, there are no chairs!
Some fans were given chairs, which were pretty much taken from the building and signed by a few random wrestlers, but in speaking to some, that came off as more of an insult than anything else. Who the hell wants an old, beat up chair with 2-5 autographs on it? Great way to remember that night! Not.
Other fans were left to tap-dance with some of the promoters in some way to make-good "for the next show" and that might be OK for some, but what about the fans that came from Chicago and Kentucky and other States that won't be coming back to the next show? They just get bent over?
There is only one solution to this. Extreme Reunion had 100 days to get those chairs made and even if they were just new chairs with some sort of sticker on them, they dropped the ball and should be ashamed of themselves for it. The only way to make good on this is to have those chairs made and signed by the entire roster of their next show and pay for those chairs to be shipped to those who paid for front row seats.
Extreme Reunion wants to be the new ECW? Well, when ECW TV went off the air in NYC, they offered tapes to the fans that came to the Elks Lodge as a thank you. The one show where those tapes weren't available, they took everyone's names and addresses and mailed them the tapes. If you want to play off the ECW intellectual property and want fans to take you seriously, you show fans that you respect them.
They had 100 plus days to prepare for this show. To not have those chairs ready, waiting and available for the members of the audience who paid the most to be there is nothing less than disgusting and insulting. If they don't make it up to the fans by giving them what they were promised, it's equally disgusting.
For all the crap Shane Douglas talked about Dixie Carter raping ECW fans and paying talent $250 (which is a lie by the way, even the referees got $500 plus all their food, trans and hotels paid for), then how is he any different? Answer is - he's not. Make good to the fans and stop with the bullsh** shooting. It's all garbage and that was proven on Saturday. No fan deserves not to get what they paid for, especially the fans THAT PAID TOP DOLLAR FOR YOUR SHOW.
The booking only served to ruin the show, not enhance it.
With the exception of Jerry Lynn vs. Devon "Crowbar" Storm, which was outstanding, none of the second half of the show worked. The audience became more and more unruly because they were offered something, a chance to enter the ECW atmosphere again with promises that the wrestlers were going to "reignite the sport" and that they were working out and getting into better shape and that this was the chance to kick things off again. Well, 2200 fans bought that and wanted to be there for this and this is what they got.
*A tag match that featured no one from ECW opening the show. That match ended up getting over because all four had a good match. Segments like this were exactly how and should have been the only way that new talents were introduced on Saturday, because that was the only way the audience was going to accept them.
*A match with no talents from ECW that featured Luke Hawx hitting the scene and cutting a promo on Shane Douglas that no one could understand due to the sound system being screwed up and parts of the venue not hearing what was going on. Hawx was sent out there and doomed to fail due to poor execution.
*FBI vs. BWO in their standard fun match. This was exactly as it should have been and everyone involved was fine in terms of their work, but once Hawx was involved in the finish, the crowd was like, "What the hell?" because it wasn't what they came to see. They came to have a good time, not get angles to set up Richards vs. Hawx on the next show. So, there was strike one in the booking.
*Al Snow vs. CW Anderson was OK but went on too long and the crowd was getting restless during the time period where Snow's comebacks should have been getting over. Snow's antics with the Head were a lot of fun and the crowd loved this, because they wanted to see the ECW characters, but the actual match, designed to be a long wrestling match, just didn't work in execution because the audience didn't want to see guys working armbars for as long as they did. I can give the bookers a pass on this because it's what I would have wanted the guys to do in that scenario.
*Axl Rotten vs. Balls Mahoney. Obviously these guys have seen better days, but you know what - everything they did got over with the live crowd and the fans loved the match. Say what you will about them, their personalities, their style, their look, whatever - they gave the crowd what they expected out of Axl vs. Balls.
*After intermission is when everything really went to hell. Angel from the Baldies came out for a promo. No one could understand him. This brought out the Gangstas, making their first appearance in the market in over a decade and based on the MONSTER POP, they were who the crowd came to see. They start doing their carnage and the sound guy kills the "Natural Born Killaz". I don't care what the excuse is - WHAT THE EXCUSE IS - but that is a huge part of the act and when you take that away, the crowd deflated live. Then, Philly's Most Wanted hits the ring and lays out The Gangstas. This is when the crowd turns ugly, not because it's heel heat, but because they came to see these legendary names and now they are getting laid out by the unknown guys who lost in the opener. The crowd wasn't buying any of this and that's when the refund chants began. It was at this point that the bookers lost the audience and it was up to them to get them back.
*Unfortunately for all involved, we instead had Raven vs. Pitbull Gary Wolfe as the next match. Even in the original ECW, this wouldn't have been seen as a top-tier main event, although they had their history there and this fit the nostalgia theme. Unfortunately, Raven did nothing. When I say nothing, I mean NOTHING. He came to the ring, cut a promo that sh** all over the crowd, had flunkies who got killed, had a flunky who pinned and walked off. The entire scenario was so bad that not even the Sandman's grand entrance could save it, nor could the sight of Sandman caning the hell out of legitimately crippled guy named "Cripple H." The audience didn't expect the Raven of 1995 but they didn't even get the Raven of 2012. They got Scott Levy cracking jokes and doing anything he could not to actually do anything. That might wash when you are working a small indy in Kentucky in front of 200 fans but when you've got 2000 fans and you are expected to actually, you know, do something, you just raped everyone who cared enough to see you.
The one two punch of the Gangstas getting laid out followed by Raven's crap destroyed the show. Some will blame Raven for it, but you know what, while he did nothing for the audience, its the promotion's fault for using him and letting him get away with it. If you are Raven and can get a payday without having to do a damn thing, why wouldn't you? Well, he did and in doing so, helped murder any chance of this show being well thought of.
*Jerry Lynn vs. Crowbar was next. At this point, the crowd, desperate for anything, is chanting for them to save the show. It wasn't a small muttering but a large "BY GOD, PLEASE SAVE THIS SHOW. PLEASE" amount of decibels in the building. Well, Lynn and Devon Storm did just that. If it hadn't been for this match, which was damn awesome, well, things would have been uglier in the building. This was far and away the only thing on the second half that serviced the legacy and name of ECW and that was from a guy who was a low level performer in ECW before quitting after a few months and a guy who is publicly ready to retire. The scary thing is that Justin Credible was supposed to be in this and given his condition (getting removed from the building several times by management), I shudder to think of what this match might have been if Storm hadn't been booked as a surprise and Credible actually worked.
Before we go any further, I know there will be some in Extreme Reunion who want to blame the audience for being disrespectful at the show. One, there was no alcohol served at the show. Two, if the fans were being disrespectful, they would have booed the hell out of Lynn for talking about retiring and getting out of the business. Instead, when he explained that it was time to listen to his body and exit at the end of the year, he got a standing ovation. This was never a case of the audience being disrespectful to the wrestlers, as some tried to float to me last night.
*Then we got to the main event. Douglas tells everyone, in the vein of a heel promo, that there's no Sabu. The way he says it makes part of the audience think the guy is dead, which only made the audience feel like they didn't want to be there. So, they left. Lots of people walked out over the course of the main event, which for a show designed to kick off a new era, well, it's the exact opposite of what you want. Scorpio replaces Sabu, which isn't what the audience wanted. They tried but Scorpio couldn't do much with the Shane Douglas of 2012. Part of the problem with Douglas in the ring now is sort of like what Indiana Jones said in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. "It's not the years honey, it's the mileage." There's a lot of mileage on Douglas and you can't expect 49 year old Shane to be the Shane of 1994. The problem is that with all his rants about everyone else, he's ignoring the fact that he's now older than Ric Flair was when he was calling Flair out. I'm not saying he shouldn't wrestle but he can't present himself the same way anymore, especially on a show where he promoted for months that they were waiting for to give guys to get in shape before launching, and he's working the main event in a t-shirt. They give the fans two surprises in masks - one being Kevin Sullivan and the other being Tod Gordon. I love both but the audience had no idea who either were, which led me to believe that these were fans who wanted to find ECW for themselves after hearing about it or watching it on TV and not being able to go because they were too young. Or, maybe the crowd was just dead by that point. Shane going over didn't help matters because the audience saw it as a promoter who didn't deliver what he promised giving them one last "f*** you" on the way out the door by putting himself over.
The introduction of new talents was atrocious.
I know that internally, they wanted this to be a show that would kick off storylines and a new series of events. The plan here was to try and relaunch an ECW-style promotion in some fashion and find roles for the older guys as a way to bridge things while talents that can still go are intermingled with newer guys waiting to break out. The problem there was that all the younger guys were booked in positions to fail because they were introduced too soon and in ways that just pissed off the crowd. The audience came to see their ECW favorites, not to see Philly's Most Wanted lay out The Gangstas or Luke Hawx screw a BWO vs. FBI match.
To that audience, who were clearly not familiar with guys that regularly worked in Philly that were from Philly, it was like watching Terry Gibbs screw up the British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation. It only served to piss off the audience. It was a case of too much, too soon and by running angles of that style on the debut show, they only served to piss off the paying audience. The fans were there to see their old ECW favorites doing something similar to what they used to do. They tried to hit a home run, when all the fans wanted was a few singles and a ground rule double to be happy. The bookers completely overshot their load and ended up pissing away a lot of goodwill. It wasn't about newer names not being accepted either. Philly's Most Wanted vs. The Dramatics was the first match on the show and they were well received for one of the better matches on the show because they worked hard, which is all that audience wants. But, when you book the guys who lost that match to lay out New Jack and Mustafa in their first appearance in Philly in over a decade, you have no one to blame but yourself when the audience takes a steamy sh** all over you.
ECW always gave the audience what they promised and more. Extreme Reunion promised and never delivered. They f**** the fans and now they are going to have to deal with the consequences because in my mind, they'll never see that size of an audience in Philadelphia ever again, and they shouldn't, because they didn't earn it. They got that crowd based on ECW goodwill and nostalgia and promises of kicking something fun off again and instead of a party, they delivered a wake. The most shocking thing to me all night is that we didn't end up with a riot because if there was ever a night where it would have been justified, it would have been this past Saturday.
So there you have it.
This is why the show failed. The fans came looking for the ECW experience, in whatever that may have been in 2012 and got more along the lines of XPW bookings with ECW guys. I can't imagine that a large portion of those fans will be back. Hell, some weren't even there by the time the show ended. Reunion had a chance to make a first impression and all they needed to do was have a decent, fun show that gave everyone some elements of ECW and make them happy. Instead, they sh** the bed.
Backstage, it was an interesting mix. You had people sad they were there, because they had taken time out of their real life to come back and see old friends and hopefully get something going where they could work regularly - because they were watching it fall apart around them with no power to change it. They watched people who talked about being clean and sober in interviews leading up to the show stumble around backstage, embarrassing themselves and any chance of being used again. They watched things seem really haphazard and disorganized, from a technical side, from a booking side and from an overall standpoint. Then you had guys who didn't care, because it was just another quick payday in their carny, con world, happy to get whatever they can get tonight, because they knew there would be no tomorrow before they ever stepped foot in the building. Then you had the guys who were zonked out of their mind, oblivious as they always are, but ready to blame the business for their own issues.
A lot of people will say that this show was proof to never, ever have an ECW Reunion show again. To me, it's not about ECW or whether the reunion concept is a valid one. You had 2000 fans there willing to pay good money to see this show when nothing in Philadelphia outside of WWE has drawn that in forever. That's proof enough that there's validity and interest.
The problem is that the people you need to use to draw are for the most part, shells of themselves or personal trainwrecks and they are the ones needed the most to make it work. What's worse is that the guys who can still go and don't bring that drama, don't have that same intangible that attracts the audience and makes them want to see the show, so they get painted with the same brush as those who ruin things for themselves. So, it's a never-ending trainwreck where once again, fans get their hopes up and get pissed on for it.
In a lot of ways Extreme Reunion would have been better off ignoring the ECW name and trying to play off that concept and using the guys who can go, mixing them with indy guys they wanted to use, coining a name and running their show.
Sure, it would have been harder to draw, but it would have been a hell of a lot easier to wake up the next morning, not feeling sad and depressed that once again, something that got fans excited enough to spend money, went right to hell over the course of a few short hours - and those fans aren't likely to spend money on any independent promotion anytime soon, much less the return date for the trainwreck on Saturday.
Everyone involved should be issuing apologies and make-good to the audience. Now. It's what ECW would have done.
"I hope Hardcore Homecoming does well, because I never, ever want to see ECW fans offered the ECW experience and then not get it, because that's the worst thing you can do to the audience." - Paul Heyman, WWE Byte This, June 2005.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.