Tag Archives: The Eliminators

#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.

Advertisements

#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.