Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hardcore Wrestling

      I've been a fan of wrestling ever since elementary school, back when the nWo were the biggest heel group in all of the industry. When I first started watching wrestling, Sting had just left WCW because he was accused by long time friend Lex Luger of siding with the nWo. It turned out to be an evil nWo Sting. (who eventually became a popular wrestler in Japan.) After being a fan of WCW for many years, what finally converted me to a WWF (as it was called then) was a match between the Undertaker and Mankind. Having always been somewhat fond of horror, the Undertaker was a character that I found really interesting. But what was more interesting to me was the character of Mankind. The match I was watching in particular had Undertaker on the outside of the ring, Mankind having just pulled back the protective mats and exposing the concrete floor underneath. Mankind then proceeded to climb up onto the apron of the ring and dive off with an elbow drop on the Undertaker. All I heard was J.R. Jim Ross yelling, "Oh my God! Mankind is willing to sacrifice his own body for the sake of a match!!!" Something about that kamikaze-style that really appealed to me. Shortly after I started on the WWF, they began their Attitude era. Over the years I would jump between programs before finally switching to watching WWF full time. As Mick Foley developed his character, Mankind, he eventually became the first ever WWF Hardcore Champion.

It was around this time that Mick Foley wrote an autobiographical novel, entitled Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, about his rise to Hardcore Legend status. I was hooked now, I wanted more of the hardcore wrestling. I liked the idea that a match can take place anywhere, not just inside the ring. In my opinion, it allowed the wrestlers more freedom for creative expression. Hardcore, to me, was just an element added to a normal wrestling match to make it even more interesting.

     I had been aware of ECW for a long time. Sometimes you would hear the name mentioned in passing on WWF and anyone who was a serious enough wrestling fan, always had some access to it. I assumed that because I could never find it on TV that it played on Pay-Per-View or some pay channel that I didn't have. Aside from what I would hear about them from other people, I didn't know too much about the promotion or its wrestlers. (except the ones that jumped ship early and I knew them as WWF wrestlers) That was until the company folded in 2001, allowing the WWF to step in and acquire the assets of Extreme Championship Wrestling. (which included their video library) They also purchased WCW about a month later and thus began the Invasion storyline. Which had ECW wrestlers teaming up with the WCW wrestlers to invade the WWF. This rivalry culminated to a showdown at the Invasion PPV. The only member of the WCW/ECW alliance to win a title that night was none other than... Everybody's favorite wrestler... Rob Van Dam.

It was RVD who, while representing ECW and the hardcore brand of wrestling they stood for, successfully snatched the WWF Hardcore Title right out of the hands of one half of WWF's Team Xtreme, Jeff Hardy. The Hardcore Title would become an outlet through which ECW's wrestlers were given the opportunity to shine. After the Invasion storyline, the wrestlers that were assimilated into the WWF roster mostly played minor roles and would eventually become mid card wrestlers to pad storylines with. Raw would move to TNN, a channel that was not available to me, and I was to be without wrestling for a few years. In August of 2002, the WWF (now renamed World Wrestling Entertainment following a lawsuit over the name filed by the World Wildlife Fund) retired their Hardcore Championship Title after a unification match between WWE Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam and Hardcore Champion Tommy Dreamer. (This match took place a month after Rob Van Dam defeated Jeff Hardy and unified his IC Title with Hardy's European Title in a ladder match.)

In late 2004, the WWE released a documentary entitled, "The Rise and Fall of ECW" This 2-disc DVD documents the meteoric rise of ECW all the way to its bitter end at the mercy of television networks. Thanks to this DVD, new interest toward ECW sparked and eventually led to the PPV event ECW One Night Stand. This was supposedly a one time only reunion of ECW alumni, allowing them a chance to show the world what ECW was all about on a WWE stage, which took place the following year. (June 12, 2005) Unfortunately, Rob Van Dam was injured and wasn't medically cleared to wrestle that night. (But that didn't stop him from skateboarding a chair into the face of long time nemesis, Rhino!!)

The popularity of the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD, along with Internet buzz following the One Night Stand PPV, prompted Rob Van Dam and Paul Heyman to approach Vince McMahon with a proposition. They pitched the idea of rebooting ECW as a separate show with its own roster that specifically catered to fans of the original promotion. (As well as any new fans that surfaced thanks to the Rise and Fall of ECW) Shane McMahon was rumored to be a supporter RVD and Paul Heyman and intended for it to be an online show that fans can log on every week and watch. Running with the idea, the WWE decided to reboot the promotion as a 3rd brand to Raw and Smackdown. At WrestleMania 22, we would also see RVD win the Money in the Bank ladder match. The prize for winning Money in the Bank was a title shot that RVD could request at any time, for any World Title. Upon being drafted to the ECW brand by Paul Heyman, RVD announced that he would be cashing in his Money in the Bank title shot against John Cena for the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand 2006. So the match was set, June 11, 2006 would see John Cena defend the WWE Championship against RVD at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. (A regular venue for the original ECW promotion.) Tensions were high that night as fans threatened to riot if John Cena won the match. A pretty decent PPV that eventually saw RVD capture his first World Title. The next night on RAW, Paul Heyman announces that the WWE Championship would be re-christened the ECW World Heavyweight Championship on the inaugural show of ECW on Sci-Fi.

     Neither here nor there, what would come to follow in the next few weeks was a show that lacked the charm of the original ECW and thrived on the star power of familiar faces alone. You could tell Paul Heyman still had some creative control as the new brand tried desperately to revive as much of the feel of the original promotion as possible, but there was an apparent power struggle between those who wanted to stay loyal to the original product and the WWE censors that were cracking down on them. RVD, Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu, and a handful of guys from the original ECW tried their best to entertain the fans and make the show the best it could be. Then one fateful night, tragedy struck in the form of RVD and Sabu being pulled over and arrested for possession of drugs and paraphernalia. This was the final straw as WWE execs took this opportunity to crackdown and seize control of the operations. After RVD's suspension was lifted, he was entered into an Extreme Elimination Chamber Match at ECW's December to Dismember. It was on this night that Paul Heyman went head-to-head against Vince McMahon and his creative team. Apparently, a dispute on the booking of the match led to Paul Heyman being removed from the ECW creative team. This was would mark the beginning of the end of this joke they tried to pass off as ECW. What came to follow were garbage segments that attempted to retain interest in the brand but all efforts were in vain as the new brand had already lost support from the die hard ECW fans. As with most sports out there, it's the support of the fans that really keep it alive and without the support of those who were loyal to the original product, this new brand was destined to fail. Shortly after this period of time, I would stop watching the new brand and eventually lost cable altogether. I am happy to announce that upon searching the net for ECW, it turns out that the WWE had finally closed its doors on the ECW brand. Finally! For what it was, a brand of WWE wrestling that happened to be named ECW, you have to give the credit to Paul Heyman and RVD for their efforts in at least attempting to revive the original product. In retrospect, I would've preferred that they pulled the plug on ECW the same night that Heyman left. Without him, the WWE was not going to be able to reproduce the brand successfully. They shouldn't have even tried in my opinion. Unfortunately, the legacy of the original ECW had to be sullied by the WWECW's incompetent efforts. The new brand aired its last episode on Feb 16, 2010.

I can't claim to be an old school fan of ECW, however I am a collector of the old PPVs and DVDs from the original promotion. I only wish could have been to see at least one live show. (I didn't turn 18 until 2004, just a tad bit too late.) However, they've made a die hard fan out of me.


Netflix links:

The Rise and Fall of ECW (2004)


DVD -Now

ECW One Night Stand (2005)


DVD - Now

ECW One Night Stand (2006)


DVD - Now

WrestleMania 22 (2006)


DVD - Now