Category Archives: WotW Opinion

#ECWWeek: This Fan’s Treasure

Yesterday, Nick spoke about why he, and others, have rather strong feelings about ECW and its legacy that are less than positive. Today, we have a special guest, Gregg Gethard to talk about people who loved  ECW and, more  importantly, why.

For a person who lived it in person, ECW was completely insane live. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience – we were college dorks who got to be part of something sleazy and dangerous and exciting. I didn’t think anything bad would happen but something terrible could happen. It was what I’d imagine seeing Black Flag or Minor Threat in the 80s was like.

I discovered ECW on a small cable access channel. As a part of the then-burgeoning online hardcore wrestling fan community, I heard of ECW but hadn’t seen it yet. The WWF and WCW mostly sucked at the time – we had to endure things like King Mabel and Isaac Yankem and Hulk Hogan taking on Kevin Sullivan and his neverending string of goobers. But this? Seeing Shane Douglass throw down a title and talking all sorts of shit on Ric Flair? Sabu doing moonsaults off the ropes onto tables in the crowd? The Public Enemy chasing Cactus Jack and Mikey Whipwreck all over the arena? While actual music – not cartoony campy shit like “A Man Called Sting” but actual songs you’d hear on the radio – was playing? This shit was the best.

I made my friends watch some early ECW. 9-1-1 chokeslammed “Jungle” Jim Steele 10 times. Joey Styles said at one point, “I think ‘Jungle’ Jim Steele is dead.” At least four of my friends believed it.

Stevie Richards frequented the hardcore wrestling message board community. I went to college in Philly, so I jokingly send him an e-mail telling him he should come to my college and hang out. To my surprise, he did. We went to some lame ass party and then hung out in the dorm lounge. These mooks were watching god knows what and I asked if we could turn the channel. When one of them saw it was wrestling, he started talking about how dumb it was, how it was all fake, etc. Then came a clip in the beginning of Stevie – literally sitting five feet away from him – being thrown through a table.

The dude turned around and turned a whiter shade of pale, apologized, and left. Stevie dropped some knowledge on me when we watched the episode and revealed how the interviews were all done in Paul E’s mom’s house. The highlight of the episode was the first of the Cactus Jack Anti-Hardcore interviews that still hold up as the best shit ever to this day. Stevie sent me a message the next day telling me he left his gym ID in the security booth and begged me to just let it sit there and to not put his real name out there. Kayfabe lives.

I went to my first live ECW show a few weeks later. I was living in Philly for maybe three weeks, a 17-year-old doofus taking mass transit and walking to the ECW Arena, located underneath an interstate in a virtually abandoned part of the city. By myself. I got down early and sat against the building doing my Economics 101 homework. I hear someone screaming obscenities. I look up. There is a man with an eye patch. He is shirtless and has a swastika tattoo on his chest. He is drinking a 40, carrying another in the waistband of his sweatpants.

I went to about 20 live shows at the Arena (the rest with friends). Their crowd control left a lot to be desired. I always got tickets ahead of time. However, not everyone did. There was one entrance/exit. When the steel gates lifted up, it was a free-for-all to get inside, especially since there were stories of people who owned tickets not actually getting inside. There were never any barricades. There was never any organization. It was a free-for-all.

The Arena was brutally hot. During one summer show, the cattle chute opened and there was a stampede to get in. There was only one tiny door where people could get in if they had tickets or were paying to get in. It became a horrible crowd crush. I am not a big person. I was off my feet at one point and lost control over which direction my body was going to. My friend Mike D. is a lot bigger than me. He, too, was off his feet. He had a forearm placed in the back of his neck, forcing his face to get buried in a man’s dyed blonde mullet. Somehow we both survived.

One time, a woman was leaving the cattle chute. She was carrying a near empty bottle of vodka. She was stumbling. She was being propped up by a 10-year-old child. Who called her Mom. I will let you guess what happened next. And needless to say, I probably shouldn’t have taken that girl from my dorm I had a crush on to see ECW in person.

Some Japanese wrestler I don’t remember (not anyone any good like Sasuke or Taka) was in the ring once. The crowd started a “U! S! A!” chant. I thought it would be funny to say “SUCKS!” after this. I immediately stopped when someone threw something at me from behind and told me to love it or leave it. Then same person threw more garbage at me when I applauded Justin Credible for telling Tommy Dreamer he wished he died instead of his grandfather.

We were giving Kronus some shit on the way out after his match. The same garbage throwing person said to us, “Why don’t you say that to his wife’s face? She’s right there!” He pointed to her. We didn’t say it to her face. Instead, we admired the jewelry she was selling – it was a gold pendant of The Eliminators logo, going for a mere $400.

And if you ever wanted to fight a wrestler, you could have just waited for Bam Bam Bigelow to throw Mikey Whipwreck into the crowd a few rows in front of you and watch what happens when a man starts fighting Mikey Whipwreck for no reason! Security will jump en masse into your section and start randomly shoving fans. Wrestlers from the back will pour out into the section and will do the same. It’s a great way to almost cause fans who understand social norms to get hurt!

Want to make your girlfriend degrade herself, overly tanned bodybuilder with a dripping wet ponytail? Have her stand up and order her to take off her top in front of hundreds of sexual predators! Stand there proudly as the crowd chants things about her breasts and her sexual tendencies and preferences! It’s great!

I was at a show in Asbury Park. I had to run to the bathroom. It was largely empty. Then all of a sudden I hear someone say, “It’s cool, there’s no one in here.” The man who said this was Referee Bill Alfonso. In walks Rob Van Dam in his singlet. He goes to the urinal next to mine. He turns to the side and lifts up the spandex of his right pant leg. He then pees down the side of his leg.

Every time we went to a show, we knew were paying to watch entertainment created solely in reaction to the bullshit corporate nonsense shoved down the nation’s throat, but along with it came a chance that you could get hurt along the way. And a chance to meet the performers on a human level, even if it was in the bathroom. It was the start of something and that’s why ECW was important and vital. Wrestling will never feel that way again. Maybe nothing will.

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#ECWWeek: Another Fan’s Treasure

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. This week we have Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. This is Day Three of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we started by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Yesterday, we gave you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewings and today, along with a Highlight Reel, we’re here discussing the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure. After Hump Day we’ll be quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List, before summing everything with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

There was some concern at JMS HQ as we were planning out #ECWWeek. For the first time ever, we were highlighting something that we didn’t actually like all that much, and we were concerned that instead of coming off like people who genuinely enjoy professional wrestling, we’d come off as the kind of snobby wrestling fans that have decided that there are right and wrong ways to watch wrestling, and that more importantly, we’d figured out what they were and were going to be as rude as possible explaining it to you.

Even when we’ve had legitimate Differences of Opinion, it was only ever one of us who had any particularly strong negative feelings towards the weekly subject.  As a collective, we’d genuinely liked, or at least tolerated, every single thing we’ve covered. But, as Andy — who is at least on the side of “ECW isn’t terrible” among the lot of us — said:

There’s no such thing as indifference when it comes to Extreme Championship Wrestling.  It’s a promotion that many fans choose to look back on through rose-colored glasses, as the company that changed the face of wrestling.  Nearly as many consider it the group that ruined it.  They’re both probably right.

For those of us on the “group that ruined  it” side, ECW has a significantly more complicated legacy for us than our opposition, who seem to mostly see ECW in the same light they do the Attitude it helped spawn, as totally the best thing ever in the history of wrestling.

And, on some level, they are right. In a very specific way, ECW was transcendent and historically important:  it’s the first and only professional wrestling company marketed entirely to adults. If WWE is Pixar in underpants and baby oil, the early and genuinely revolutionary ECW of Tommy Dreamer asking “please sir may I have another” while being beaten with a Singapore cane or  Sandman pretending to be blinded was every bit as earth–shattering as Æon Flux had been to audiences on MTV just a few years before.

But, unlike Æon, pro wrestling found itself constrained significantly in terms of physicality, the entirely linear storytelling methods available to the performers of the time and, most importantly for ECW, a budget that even the word “miniscule” would be offended by association with.

More importantly, unlike other mediums, the story being told was part of a significantly larger tapestry of other stories simultaneously entirely reliant and wholly separate  from one another, things got recycled  or dressed up in different names much more rapidly than they would in a cartoon. Which meant that, after the third time a performer pretended to be injured only to reveal that their cast was actually a “‘clever’ ruse”  as a subversion of the time-honored trope made famous by men like “Cowboy” Bob Orton, the crowd began to grow tired of the twist and turns that weren’t immediately followed by acts of nearly unspeakable violence, gratuitous nudity and almost irredeemably blatant provocations.

So, in order keep eyeballs glued to the screen, Paul Heyman and company upped  the unspeakable violence, gratuitous nudity and almost irredeemably blatant provocations. In the past few days, Dave and Andy have highlighted many of these acts,  from barbed wire ring ropes to on-air crucifixions, ECW tried it all, even if most almost all of it failed. Which is why, for all the cultural significance — and while “significant”, it was unarguably less than great for the “culture” of wrestling or the well-being of its performers — the promotion was never a real success, at least in terms of competing with the organizations that would eventually put them out of business, WCW and the ultimate victors in ECW’s “revolution”, the WWE.

And because we’ve seen the history of ECW through the WWE’s lens, it’s so easy to remember how many missteps, missed opportunities and near catastrophic mishaps almost singlehandedly took the company down  before Heyman’s lack of business acumen and TNN’s desire to obtain the rights to WWF programming would almost be the death knell for the company.

Even people who found the whole enterprise overwhelmingly gross and distasteful, such as myself, acknowledge what ECW did for the business, however. We’re very aware of what it meant, as storylines no longer had to be simple, even if simplistic storytelling had been the lifeblood of the industry for nearly 100 years because the narrative for whatever was going on in the squared circle has to be easy enough to follow that a wrestling fan can understand it.

What ECW did was show that while it would take considerably more care than Heyman, who of course had to deal with near constant defections and a thousand other  things completely  out of his control as a storyteller, there were parts of the modern and advanced storytelling techniques — taking into account nuances in the fabric of good and evil, meta-narratives and the role of the fan in the performance — that could be interjected into the product to make it more interesting. And, most importantly, it showed how frequently (or infrequently) to use these tools, lessons that WWE would learn long before it was too late.

One only need to look at the end of WCW to see what happened when the unadulterated id of wrestling that Paul Heyman’s ECW could lead to was allowed to roam free, though. While he may not have ever thought of the idea himself, the booking style of Heyman lead to the Pinata on a Pole match that would eventually become synonymous with the demise of ECW and WWE’s greatest rival.

And that’s enough to make a wrestling fan hate anyone.