Tag Archives: ECW

#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.

#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.

#ECWWeek: Highlight Reel

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 Viewing . Today, we’ll talk about the idea of the ECW Highlight Reel and Another Fan’s Treasure before quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List on Thursday. Finally we’ll sum everything up on Friday with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

There’s something almost all ECW fans have in common. It’s not a violence fetish. It’s not an overinflated sense of self-worth and “smart-mark” attitude. It’s not even Paul Heyman.

It’s their highlight reel. Now, you’re probably saying, but didn’t you just write about this yesterday?

And yes, yesterday, Dave wrote about the Essential Viewing for ECW, but that’s just different than the “highlights” of ECW. Unlike WCW and WWE, ECW doesn’t have decades of rich history. It had a few good years, which were used to justify more than a decade of knockoffs and reunions. So the bright spots of ECW’s legacy stick out like a Red Sox fan at Yankee Stadium.

One of the first things that comes to mind is a mostly-inconsequential tag team match from the 1994 Heat Wave pay-per-view. Cactus Jack and Terry Funk are teaming up against Public Enemy, the team that proved Paul Heyman can make fans cheer even the steamiest pile of dog crap.

And then, magic happened. Mick Foley calls for a chair from the crowd. That’s when the crowd at Philadelphia’s ECW Arena became part of the show…by showering the ring with dozens of chairs. The iconic moment was ripped off several times, in several companies, but it was never the same. This organic moment was one-of-a-kind is classic ECW. And it’s a moment that lives on to this day in countless highlight reels and retrospectives.

ECW was home to a lot of fun, crazy brawls. One that all ECW fans remember was between TV Champion Taz, and Bam Bam Bigelow. The match took place in Bigelow’s hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. And the hometown crowd was there to witness one of the most memorable bumps in ECW history. This one explains itself.

It wasn’t all about the violence in ECW. Well, it was. But, if you looked close enough, there was more. It was never more evident than when Paul Heyman called up Konnan, and introduced American wrestling fans to Lucha Libre.

Before WCW decided to bogart the style (and the best practitioners thereof), ECW was THE place to find fast-paced, athletic pro wrestling.

And you can’t mention a ECW Highlight Reel without bringing up RVD and Sabu. In their prime, these two guys put on some incredible, if sloppy, spotfests.

And then there were the promos… A bunch of guys who had been denied a chance to shine in the “big time,” given a live mic and a chance to speak their mind? ECW was full of them. And New Jack. But since this is a family-friendly wrestling blog, I’ll leave New Jack out of this. You’re welcome.

Now, a lot of people choose to ignore WWECW, and that’s their choice. But the One Night Stand pay-per-views did give us some special moments…

As Nick will talk about later today, it’s not for everyone. And even those who are fans, It’s not all perfect. In fact, most of it’s pretty far from it. But it’s all pretty memorable.

#ECWWeek: Essential Viewing

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 Two 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. Today, we give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing AND a Highlight Reel . Tomorrow, we discuss the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure before quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List on Thursday. Finally we’ll sum everything up on Friday with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

In 1994, Jim Crockett Jr. himself approached Tri-State Wrestling Alliance/Eastern Championship Wrestling promoter Todd Gordon about carrying the standard for the NWA. Based on nearly 50 years of NWA tradition, the move should have been an honor for the relatively small territory.

But Gordon and new booker Paul Heyman understood that following the death of Jim Crockett Promotions, the appearance of the title on WWF television, and the belt shuffling at WCW’s Disney tapings, the NWA Title had been devalued past the point of no return.

So, they — along with “The Franchise” Shane Douglas — did this:

Douglas’ promo isn’t great, with a “substitute news anchor reading off the prompter” feel to it, but he hits the right bullet points, successfully creating the sense of rebellion and anti-authority sentiment that made this dimly-lit moment the spark from which ECW’s “revolution” was ignited.

ECW had the attitude from that moment forward, but what really made the company work was that they offered an in-ring product that neither WWF nor WCW could even approach. The ECW-style was rooted in the super hard-hitting, fast-paced style of early 1990s Japanese wrestling. Matches like this one — between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko — is a perfect showcase of what ECW brought to the United States. Both men are nearly subatomic by the standards of height and bulk required in big-time operations of the day, but their work is so simultaneously smooth and physical that it seems like a well-choreographed dance performance compared to the awkward, herky-jerky main event style of the day.

If ECW was built on unapologetic, in-your-face attitude and high-level in-ring work, then Steve Austin was the perfect ECW star. He had only a short stint in the territory between his exit from WCW and debut into the WWF, but Steve Austin made the most of the time he had there. With the encouragement of Paul Heyman, Austin began developing the promo style that would make him one of the most successful wrestlers of all time.

Fifteen years before CM Punk, Steve Austin helped establish himself as one of the great characters in wrestling with this scathing shoot promo. Austin vented his frustration with the inner politics of wrestling, using impressions of Dusty Rhodes, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff that were as scathing and dead-on as Punk calling Triple H a doofus during his “Pipe Bomb” promo. Even if you were oblivious to the history of the Attitude Era, if you saw this promo from ECW in 1995, you would look at Steve Austin and say, “That’s a huge star.”

Austin put it well when he said that ECW was mostly “a bunch of violent crap.” The territory saw many great workers and historically significant moments, but everything was reduced in prestige and respectability by the fact that the company’s wrestlers treated each other like kidnapping victims in a snuff film. The unofficial motto of ECW was “more is more.” More spots. More risk. More violence.

When wrestling was at its white-hottest in 1997, both the WWF and WCW were borrowing heavily from the ECW playbook: outrageous injury angles, scantily clad women “spontaneously” bursting out of tight dresses, and a near-constant barrage of weapon shots and juice. Rather than reinvent themselves in the face of imitators, though, ECW decided to stick to the same tricks and turn them up to eleven.

The following match from Hardcore TV features three of the greatest tag teams in ECW history: The Dudleys, The Gangstas and The Eliminators. All three teams were crazy over, and fans loved their matches, but two of the three groups had the same gimmick: “guys who brutally beat up other guys” (The Gangstas had been involved in the notorious “Mass Transit Incident” less than six months earlier — I won’t link you to it, but you can look it up…). The result is a match that engages the crowd, but exposes the unsustainable nature of ECW’s booking for all to see. You could take this match “around the circuit” once, but how many times will fans pay to watch a six men sloppily beat the crap out of each other?

The escalating violence of ECW reached its crescendo at 1997’s Born to Be Wired in an ECW Title match between Sabu and Terry Funk. This match is possibly one of the worst ideas ever. It pits a then-53-year-old Funk against a then-seemingly-indestructible Sabu in a match that makes Funk look very old and Sabu look very destructible. The match, straight out of FMW, is every bit as gruesome as you would expect a match with barbed wire ring ropes to be.

The match’s signature moment occurs at the ten minute mark, with Sabu tearing open his bicep by flying into the barbed wire. Few moments embody the legacy and philosophy of ECW better. The match should have stopped for the sake of safety, but in the name of the religion of ECW (created in equal parts by Paul Heyman in order to control talent and stereotypical Philadelphians in order to feed their bloodlust), Sabu tapes his arm up with white athletic tape and finishes the match.

For all its fame, this match contains the most abysmal clean finish of all time. The two men become inextricably tangled in the barbed wire, with their clothes torn to the point that they seem in danger of being stripped naked. A terrified-looking Bill Alfonzo tries to interject, cutting the wire in hopes of freeing the men to the point where they can actually wrestle, but it doesn’t work. Ultimately, Fonzie and a referee have to gingerly lift and roll Sabu and Funk back in the ring in order to go home on the worst pin ever executed. You know what would have prevented all that? One iota of restraint.

***

ECW finally got a national television deal just as they were finding themselves unable to deal with the constant brain drain of talent leaving for WCW and the WWF. By early 2000, Taz(z), Raven, the Dudley Boys, and The Radicalz were all in the WWE and Lance Storm and Mike Awesome were in WCW. The result was a mixture of wrestlers with blind faith in ECW (Tommy Dreamer) and wrestlers that nobody wanted (Balls Mahoney). ECW, the company where wrestlers tore their bodies to shreds to make their home team relevant had failed supremely: they weren’t relevant, and the wrestlers’ bodies were still torn to shreds.

The dying days of ECW were hard to watch on many levels, but one redeeming feature was that ECW on TNN gave many talented, hungry workers a place to ply their craft on TV. This match between Taijiri and Psicosis is a gem in the coal dust, a wonderful, albeit feeble beat in the fading pulse of ECW.

A Promotion You Should Probably Know Better: ECW

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 the First Day of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we’ll start by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Tomorrow, we’ll give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewings. On Wednesday, we’ll 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’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.

ECW started generating buzz with wrestling fans far before it went extreme.  Eastern Championship Wrestling had a reputation for strong shows, amazing athleticism, and of course, some wild brawls.  And where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Enter Paul Heyman—with a giant can of gasoline.

Paul Heyman and his group of circus freaks did everything they could to turn the volume up to 11, and get the attention of the wrestling world.  It worked.  Violent, bloody brawls.  Colorful but (mostly) believable  — or in the case of Amish Roadkill, so completely non-sequitur that it didn’t matter — gimmicks.  Logical storylines.

The company grew to amazing heights, despite ultimately appealing to an incredible small niche — fans of “hardcore” or “garbage” wrestling. Some will say that ECW was more than that, and it was for a short period, but make no mistake: ECW’s shadow did as much damage to the careers of people like Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko as ECW the company helped the careers of people like Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko by bringing them into the American spotlight in the first place.

But it wasn’t all bad, and ECW’s unique (to American audiences, anyways) style helped save American wrestling.  The then-WWF was having extreme difficulty finding its identity in post-Hulk Hogan world in 1995 and 1996,  struggling to catch up to WCW in the wrestling war.  WWF couldn’t touch the nWo.  The rough style and risque promos it stole from a little promotion in Philadelphia helped turn business around.

Less-than-PG matches and promos made legends of a million promos in WWE.  Triple H went from midcard to main event thanks to the crude antics of D-Generation X and Mick Foley will never escape the clip of him being thrown from the Hell in a Cell through a table no matter how many New York Times best sellers he writes.  Forget Austin 3:16—Austin passing out to the Sharpshooter, while wearing a crimson mask, made him a star.  The list goes on.

Without ECW’s influence, WWF might not have survived.  Considering WCW’s awful business practices bankrupted the company a few years later, pro wrestling as we know it now could have died more than a decade ago.  Instead, ECW gave WWF an identity to call its own, and to grow upon.  In a way, ECW saved WWF.  ECW saved pro wrestling, at least when it wasn’t trying to destroy it.

While the land of extreme may have provided an unintentional safe haven for the pro wrestling industry, it was anything but for pro wrestlers.  Extreme Championship Wrestling introduced a lot of dangerous trends to American pro wrestling, pro wrestlers, and pro wrestling fans.  Crazy bumps and “extreme” violence stopped being special, and became commonplace.  A Muta-level blade job became just another spot.  Proper selling went out the window, in exchange for rapid-fire spot exchanges (still the norm on the indies).  And in a post-Benoit world, we don’t need to go too far in depth on the consequences of too many unprotected chair shots and undiagnosed head injuries.

ECW made all of this commonplace, to a dangerous degree. To quote JMS Internet Technician Daron “Action” Jackson, those unprotected chair shots became the equivalent of dropkicks, and fans forgot how to appreciate good, technical wrestling.  They started refusing rest holds, or any slowdown in the action whatsoever.  It familiarized the crowd with three of the most offensive chants in all of professional wrestling: “you can’t wrestle,” “you fucked up,” and “boring.” ECW ruined pro wrestling – and its fans.  It’s taken nearly a decade (and a lot of PG programming) to reverse the damage done at the ECW Arena.

ECW had its pros and cons, ups and downs, stars and flops.  And despite catering to a very niche audience, the company’s impact on pro wrestling was vast and pervasive.  While that impact helped to revive a mainstream love of pro wrestling, it also did irreparable damage to the industry, the workers and the fans.

It’s why fans look back on the company with, pardon the pun, such extreme feelings.  It’s easy to love the group that changed the face of pro wrestling and brought genuine excitement to the product. And it’s  just as easy to loathe the promotion that helped teach pro wrestling fans to hate professional wrestling.

Andy’s Angry: Pro Wrestling Fans Who Hate Pro Wrestling

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Chikara: Wrestling for people who like comic books, who like wrestling

It wasn’t too long ago that I stepped up onto my angry little soap box, ranting and raving about how pro wrestling hates pro wrestling fans.  I meant it.  The industry mocks its fans.  It mocks workers who still love the business.  It even ridicules and minimizes the workers who “come up through the business,” the way all the veterans say a wrestler should.  But the territories are dead, and apparently, the indies just aren’t going to cut it.  The Daniel Bryans who fought their way to the WWE, working the indies here and abroad just for a shot at the show?  They’ll never be looked at like a Randy Orton or a John Cena, who will never know wrestling beyond the 20×20 of WWE’s squared circle.

But the more Nick and I talk it out the more I realize this love-hate relationship between pro wrestling and its fans goes both ways.  He’s written about this too and he was nice, the everybody-love-everybody hippie he is. But I’m me, and I won’t be so nice about  it: there are pro wrestling fans who hate pro wrestling.  I’m not sure when it started, but I can’t help but think it’s true.  Wrestling fans who hate wrestling. Isn’t it enough to hear idiots tell us it’s fake? Now we’re going to complain it’s not everything we want it to be all of the time? 

Maybe it started with ECW.  Even now, Paul and the boys like to say it was the crowd that made ECW special.  Why?  They were “smart.”  They bought and traded tapes, and thought their clever comments and “you f’d up” chants made them “part of the show.”  Hot, interactive crowds are a good thing.  Bloodthirsty crowds who crap all over anything that’s less than perfect?  They’re obnoxious, and they ruin the show.  Like it or not, selfish ECW-style crowds have ruined shows long after the company’s demise.

Maybe we should blame the Internet.  After all, it’s the Internet that ultimately destroyed Kayfabe, right?  The Internet gave every fan, smart and otherwise, a direct line of sorts to superstars past and present.  And it’s the Internet that gave every half-wit with a keyboard or a cheap webcam a voice, to pretend they know what they’re talking about. How  we have a world of knowledge at our finger tips and somehow became dumber is beyond me.

It’s part of the reason I’m here at Juice Make Sugar.  We actually like wrestling, our slogan is “For people who know wrestling is fake but don’t let that bother them” for chrissakes.

Hell, maybe it’s wrestling’s fault.  After all, the Monday Night Wars taught us that nothing was ever going to be awesome enough.  Each week needed to top the last.  Each show on USA needed to top the one on TNT, and vice-versa.  Predictable job matches?  No more.  Bring on TLC.  Bring on the blood.  Bring on the quick-and-meaningless title changes.  Make every match THE BEST MATCH EVER!

We’re spoiled.  We demand instant gratification on the story lines we like, and we’re too impatient to let something vague or unpredictable play out.  We bitch and moan that everyone looks and wrestles the same, and then we immediately dump on the first colorful character with an unconventional style.  And when we’re given what we want, we immediately turn our backs on it like a bunch of pro wrestling hipsters.

Don’t believe me?

How quickly did you give up on Daniel Bryan’s WWE title feud with Randy Orton?  The second Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, half the crowd shit all over the angle, saying Bryan was being buried.  Forget the fact he headlined the next two pay-per-views.  Forget the fact he’s now SO over, they’re using him to build up the next generation of major heels. Which is how wrestling worked before titles got hot-shotted to hell.

How about the Dolph Ziggler push?  We all marked out just a little bit when Ziggler cashed in on Alberto Del Rio.  But then, he was a babyface.  We can’t cheer a babyface, can we?  That’s not cool.  The nWo taught us that, and John Cena only reinforced it. As soon as Ziggler accepted the crowd’s cheers, he was dead meat. Now look at him. He’s just there. He should team up with The Miz, who everyone seemed to love…until they were supposed to.

Don’t get me started on the “they need to sign all the indy guys” arguments. I’ll be opening THAT can of worms in another week or so.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to have fun watching wrestling.  It IS supposed to be fun, afterall.  Why else are we watching?  Why else would we dedicate hours a week of TV and pay-per-view, plus Internet discussions and more?  Are we just looking for a reason to bitch?

Wrestling can be, and should be, fun.  If WWE isn’t for you, there’s an alternative.  You can skip Raw and Smackdown without giving up on sports entertainment.

You want a televised alternative?  Watch TNA.  Whatever they’re doing this week may just be different from what The Best for Business Bureau is up to.  Lots of talented guys and girls are on the roster, fighting to impress.

You like your wrestling pure, action-packed and hard-hitting?  Check out Ring of Honor.  Some of the guys fall into that “they all look the same” category, but if nothing else, the action will be solid.  If you want a show that’s nothing but guys like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins, here you go.

You want to see crazy bumps and superkicks galore?  Check out Pro Wrestling Guerilla.  A lot of overlap with the ROH roster, but presented as more of a nightly all-star pickup game than a promotion with long-running storylines.

Want to see fun wrestling with a deep canon, that’s enjoyable whether or not you know the back story?  Give Chikara a shot.  It can be so silly, but I’ve NEVER had more fun watching pro wrestling.  My enjoyment of Chikara is probably the reason why I kept watching WWE and TNA.  It’s probably the only reason I’m still a wrestling fan.  It’s not for everyone, surely, but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

You CAN enjoy pro wrestling.  If you don’t, it’s not the fault of the guys in the ring, or the guys in the back.  It’s probably because you choose not to enjoy it.  Stop making excuses.  Stop complaining.  There’s more than enough to enjoy – if you’re willing to enjoy it.

@AndyMillerJMS

#BullyRayWeek: A Difference of Opinion

It’s the Final Day of #BullyRayWeek, a celebration of all things Dudley and the fifth installment of our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better. We’ve given you the finer points of the Mongo Vyle oeuvre with some Essential Viewing before marching through Hump Day with a GIF parade. Yesterday, we made our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off today with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a 3D!-fueled civil war.) 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This discussion took place while working on Juice Make Sugar Recommends…

Dave: I have two “TOO SOON” moments in here… Dexter and Gandolfini. But people will deal.

Nick: You don’t think Bartolo Colon is too soon? Does Bully even have a steroid suspension?

Dave: Does anyone in TNA? He blatantly lost like 100 pounds when he was 40 and is all toned now.

Nick: Is it, as A-Rod would say “All loosey-goosey?”

Dave: Plus, the nice thing about being a blog and not actual journalism is that I can heavily imply that he’s taking something other than Flintstones vitamins.

Nick: But, honestly, if he is, it’s helped his career enough (and probably made him healthier) that it seems worth it. If taken responsibly, it doesn’t bother me what people do. What’s next? Not being able to take cocaine to help your promos? I’m sorry. I thought this was America.

Dave: Yeah. As long as you’re not putting bibles on top of your dead family members, I’m pretty okay with steroids. Or at least the way guys use them now. Where it’s like “Small amount of steroids. A lot of HGH.” Or at least it’s actual testosterone, which, while PURE steroids, is way safer than 80s/90s anabolics.

Nick: And, I mean, just look at what those things have done for Melky Cabrera, they made him go from unbearable to kitsch.

Dave: Haha. I also feel bad comparing him to a lot of fat guys. It’s like the black guy-black guy thing.

Nick: Michael C.Hall isn’t fat.

Dave: No. But Gandolfini is. Haha. Or was. And Bartolo Colon is. And Lars Ulrich has a fat “my little water baby” head.

Nick: In the Dudley Boyz, who’s White and who’s Billy?

Dave: They’re both Ünderbheit, because they’re both just awful characters. It was just the style that got them over.

Nick: That promo in Dayton is insane. It crosses so many lines, and really makes you re-evaluate how needlessly self-indulgent ECW and the 90s were. Not that it’s a bad thing.

Dave: Oh yeah. A lot of the early Bully Ray stuff is amazing. The last six months have been awful though.

Dave: I love where he does the blow-by-blow explanation of the whole double-cross. So good. Yeah. ECW was like Freaks and Geeks. It had its moments, but it was for nerdy AV Club kids. It’s good, but it was foolhardy for anybody to believe it was ever going to make money.

Nick: And it influenced just the right people.

Dave: Yeah. Exactly.

Nick: Because of Freaks and Geeks we have Seth Rogen and James Franco. Win some, lose some. I guess. Of all of the promos I looked at, the one with Triple H was the best. Bubba was underrated on the mic.

Dave: I love the “Excuse me, champ” at the end.

Nick: I don’t know what Bully was like, but Bubba cut a good promo when he wanted to. It’s very New York in its directness, but he is from Yonkahs. Do you think this character works if he isn’t champion? In other words, will he play a prominent role in TNA after this PPV Can he be the same guy?

Nick: Like, can he be Jeff Jarrett? “YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW THE PAIN THAT I’VE GOT. I’M THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN BUT MY WIFE IS 6 FEET UNDER AND MY SOUL IS IN HELL.” I think that’s the promo that Jarrett cut on Angle. I partied a lot in college.

Dave: I think the problem is that he played babyface for a while, partnering with Sting and Hogan. And then came out saying, “I WAS EVIL ALL ALONG!” So I don’t think there’d be any legs to him playing face ever again.

Nick: He also kind of shouldn’t.

Dave: It’s like Del Rio playing face. It just didn’t work. Don’t do that to a guy who’s a good heel.
Because it literally takes the fun out of everything they like doing. Like, look at Jericho’s last run. His matches were good, but him playing Y2J in 2013 was so, so bad. It’s also pretty morally bankrupt for TNA to tell fans to cheer him after how they’ve portrayed the character. Not that that’s stopped them before.

Nick: Yeah, Cool Dad Bully Ray is basically worst case scenario. And the WWE has Bully Ry(back) right now. It’s hard to say if they would have a role for him.

Dave: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any place for him in WWE at this point. A 42-year-old guy that they already defined as a tag team guy…

Nick: I’m still amazed that they didn’t use him when they couldn’t figure out anything to do with D’Von.

Dave: That’s the awful part — Reverend D’Von. But I think, at the time, D’Von was seen as easier to work with. (Read: Some people were politically afraid of Ray.)

Nick: How high is D’Von on the Jannetty Scale?

Dave: D’Von is Marty Jannetty if Marty Jannetty hadn’t failed umteen drug tests and been fired umteen and two times. D’Von got the run Jannetty would have if he was actually a good soldier and not a screw-up. It wasn’t just that Reverend D’Von was bad, it was that Ray was stuck doing “The New Dudley Boyz.” Any time you’re in a tag team with the word “New” in the title, run.

Nick: Woah. Woah. Woah.

Dave: Unless it’s the New Age Outlaws.

Nick: The New Hart Foundation?

Dave: Checkered genie pants, my friend.

Nick: Exactly my point. Where are the Dudleys relative to the Road Warriors?

Dave: Not even close.

Nick: But 23 titles!

Dave: The Dudleys are “accumulators,” as baseball writers would say. They were multi-time champions in the era of passing around the belts like they were red hot.

Nick: Are they better than Demolition?

Dave: Yes, but less so than people think. The Dudley Boyz worked a style that was a perfect fit for the years 1998-2001. Outside of the context of that era, I don’t think their work is really that special. And they fell into some abysmally bad habits.

Nick: For a guy that’s been in so many federations, is he a TNA or WWF or ECW guy?

Dave: I think Ray would tell you he’s an ECW guy who made it in the mainstream wrestling world. But that’s just my guess.

Nick: As a TNA fan, are you happy he’s been world champion? Not necessarily his title reign, but the basic idea of him as champ.

Dave: Yeah, I think he was a great monster for Jeff Hardy to chase. But then they didn’t even continue the Hardy feud, which made no sense. He’s a great heel champion to play “Keep the Belt Away” from a great top babyface. But TNA booked him to feud with non-wrestler Hogan rather than actual top babyface Jeff Hardy.

Nick: Was that Hardy being unreliable?

Dave: I don’t think so. Hardy was allegedly a choir boy at that time. I think it was that their booking team got bored of Hardy and didn’t know what to do with him.

Nick: Was this Hogan’s “what’s best for business, Brother” bureau?

Dave: I think it was more Eric Bischoff wanting to push the cool heel over the heroic babyface.
He has a tiny track record of doing that, ya know? But feuding him with Hogan was proof that TNA and Spike are totally clueless about how wrestling works. At least in the WWE, Triple H was a top-level wrestler recently enough that we can envision him and Daniel Bryan eventually having a very good match.

Nick: Hogan is famous. Hogan is wrestling.

Dave: There’s no foreseeable payoff to Hogan-Ray.

Nick: Hogan. Hogan. Hogan Sorry, I got stuck in an H-hole

Dave: Holler if you find Ed Leslie. I’ll lower a bucket with some food and a protective face mask.

Nick: He was carrying a lot of bags, I think he fell pretty quickly to the bottom. Probably re-arranged his face.

Dave: Now I’m just imagining Beefcake at the bottom of a pit in Hogan’s basement a la Silence of the Lambs. It puts the mask on its face, brother!

Nick: IT PUTS ME OVER, OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN, DUDE.

Nick: We are both terrible people.

Dave: I know. Poor Ed Leslie. All he has are his shattered dreams and a baggie of coke.

Nick: Does Bully win at BFG?

Dave: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY I HOPE NOT. This Bully Ray angle has had its moments. But we’re only a few weeks away from the big show, and the story ran out of steam two months ago.

Nick: Does AJ being the white knight change anything?

Dave: No, because much like Ray and Hogan, AJ is feuding with Dixie, not Ray.Explain that.

Nick: I can’t, Dave. And quite frankly, I don’t even want to think about it anymore. TNA gives me the Howling Fantods. It hurts.