Tag Archives: Terry Funk

#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.

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#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.

#MickFoleyWeek: Essential Viewing

It’s the Day Two of #MickFoleyWeek, a celebration of all things Wanted: Dead and the fourth installment of our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. Yesterday, we started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, today we give you the finer points of the Dude Love oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. We march through Wednesday with a GIF parade, and then after Hump Day, we’ll fulfill our destiny as Amazon.com on steroids with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinions (where JMS HQ erupts in a Bang!Bang!-fueled civil war.) 

I’m sure I’ve seen him wrestle before, probably at a house show, but the only time I’ve ever seen Mick Foley up close and personal was on Election Night 2004. I was a senior in high school working for a local assemblywoman at a party thrown by the Long Island Democrats. Foley, a lifelong liberal, was there. He was dressed up. Not just for Mick Foley — which would be anything more than sweatpants — but for a person — as in a suit and tie. He mostly just looked like the biggest human I’d ever seen in close proximity. In a suit. He didn’t have a particularly magical aura, he didn’t capture the attention of everyone in the room. He just kind of stood there, taking pictures with the few people in the room who happened to be wrestling fans AND political science nerds.

This may seem like a long-winded and non-sequitur way to say I met Mick Foley, but this is my first Essential Viewing, so bear with me. The reason I bring this up is not to tell you I was a virgin until I was 17 precisely because I went to Election Night parties in high school. It’s that the same guy that stood in that room and had an entire room is not only one of the most beloved performers in the history of his industry but a New York Times bestseller and someone who now does spoken-word performances to sold out crowds across the country.

Going beyond that, he fit in, mingling with the closely packed groups of local politicians. No one there “cared” that he was a professional wrestler, but they cared that he was there. Engaged, talking to them and making them seem like he cared about what they had to say, Foley made his way through the party talking to various not as a famous entertainer — he’d been crowned WWE champion multiple times at this point — but as a Long Islander, connecting with other Long Islanders. And that’s what made better than famous: it’s what makes him popular.

***
For those who don’t really follow wrestling, Foley is known mostly for the nasty things that people in THIS BUSINESS say about him. That he’s a glorified stuntman. An idiot. Depressingly cheap. But for those who watch and support, his best work isn’t in (exploding) barbed wire death matches like this one:

Or even in the brilliant work that he does in straightforward matches like this one from an In Your House against Shawn Michaels, which (for what it’s worth) is Foley’s favorite match.

It’s his work on the mic where he’s made his mark for many fans and what propelled him to the WWE championship.

Very good promos tell stories in an individual storyline. Essentially movie scenes particularly heavy in dialogue, or in most cases monologue, promos only when they transcend the moment they are in and exist as an idea do they begin to come legendary, like Foley’s “Cane Dewey” promo from his short stint in ECW. Breaking the fourth wall by explicitly mentioning his son — more specifically a sign with the words “Cane Dewey” on them — Foley as Cactus Jack (on loan from WCW) helps to establish (in the post WCW/amnesia part of his career, anyways) that he exists not just as a deranged madman from Truth-or-Consequences, NM; but as a human being with a family who does this to entertain us.

There’s pure (albeit on the nose) poetry in that promo when he says “I’ve made my bed of nails, now I have to powerbombed through it” as he begs Tommy Dreamer to turn his back on the fans. Like Marc Maron telling an audience member that his mother saying “I didn’t know how to love you” Has to Be Funny or his whole life was a lie, on some level, even as he tells Dreamer the fans aren’t worth it, his reaction to what they have to say — regardless of the reason behind it — is important to him. It validates him. It’s his lot in life, to serve the fans. By acknowledging the disappointment he feels in the sign, he makes us understand (even before he says YOU RIPPED OUT MY HEART, that is) that while he loves the idea of fans and the idea of their love, that it’s a two-way street. He makes us accept him, because he’s already accepted us.

It also underlines his understanding of what the Pandora’s box of wrestling tropes that hardcore wrestling opened meant to the business as a whole. In the self-indulgent 90’s, the idea of the Cane Dewey sign wasn’t to make Foley mad, but to make others in crowd aware that the person holding the sign A) knew who Dewey Foley was and B) knew how offensive the idea of that actually would be to someone with a child. Yes, he hopefully knew B) before A), but he also knew how much more important A) would be to the people he wanted to feel important in front. He, like Foley pushed the envelope farther, pushing the extremes of not necessarily good taste, but what the fans were willing to accept as okay. While the anti-hardcore promos that Foley made were (almost definitely genuine) pleas to slow down the speed at which the industry was hurtling towards self-destruction, in actuality all they did was serve to make the fans more bloodthirsty for wanton violence, pushing the boundaries of what they may think is acceptable by even mentioning that the very worst of us exist.

Foley show this both externally, by (more) famously (than anything else in the history of wrestling) going off the side of the Cell before going through the top of it, while smiling:

In doing so, he’s acknowledging to both his critics and supporters that even when things go wrong, the fact that he’s still alive, moving and able to entertain the fans is what is important to him. Whatever they want is what he’ll give them, only because he doesn’t necessarily have anything to give.

Instead of blaming the fans for their bloodlust, he (at least in kayfabe) internalized these feelings. During the “Dude Love” interviews — the series of “shoot” Q&A sessions between Foley and Jim Ross where that gimmick was first brought up publicly — he states that knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional wrestler.

This, in and of itself, may have helped endear him to the fans as an underdog, but it was his idea, put succinctly, that professional wrestling was the one place he could use his natural gift of a high threshold of pain to the best advantage. Like Wolverine, the concept of a man who can withstand a seemingly never ending barrage of pain is exactly the type of symbolic suffering we love from our heroes.

It’s why John Cena’s most important attribute is his ability to return quickly from injuries, and it’s why matches like Foley’s best matches — one of which we mentioned yesterday — work so well. It’s not that he keeps a licking and keeps on ticking, it’s that he seems — with his size and seeming imperviousness to pain — to have been built to withstand the one thing stopping the average man from raising to the top: the inability to take the pain and damage to one’s pride that being beaten takes out of you.

While the match from the Royal Rumble is his best match, his most important match before his retirement was, actually, his “retirement” match. In it, not only does he do all the spots he helped create just two years before at King of the Ring during the main event of that year’s No Way Out, he goes above and beyond the previous spots, pushing them to their logical extreme by not just falling through the top of the cage onto the mat, but through the top of the cage before essentially imploding part of the ring. It’s there he is finally defeated after H finishes him off what seems like for good.

This being wrestling, Foley came back for One More Match the next month before retiring for good, but in essence, this was Foley’s final match in the WWE as a full time competitor, and it pushed the boundaries, if not dramatically, than definitively. It made it clear where the lines in the sand were for the WWE, at least from a “still obeying the laws of physics and logic” standpoints. It allowed Foley to go out helping to finally put over a champion that needed it.

This, of course, would be Foley’s MO for much of the tail-end of his career before chronic neck and head injuries finally forced him to hang up his boots for good. From Orton

WWE Backlash 2004 – Hardcore Match… by TerryTheTitan

to Edge

Foley knew the importance of not just making sure that those moving towards the main event at the speed they were had passed the test in the eyes of the fans as a “hardcore fighter”, and that he — like in a video game — was the boss of that particular level.

These matches all tell essentially the same story: man gets his ass kicked by people more talented than him, crowd loves him for it. Sometimes he wins, but more often than not he loses. But it’s the best, and most popular story ever told. And nobody told it any better than Foley.