Hardcore History

In The Beginning

To go to the very beginning of ECW, you have to back to March 1992. A jewelry storeowner was doubling as a “money mark” for Joel Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling, which had recently gone out of business in February. But after a taste of hanging out with his childhood heroes and being the psuedo-owner of a wrestling federation, this jewelry store owner named Tod Gordon, had wrestling in his blood now and he had decided he was going to start his own federation. He was going to name it, Eastern Championship Wrestling. He hired the same local veterans and stars that Goodhart had used, and with Don Muraco and Jimmy Snuka, even the same legends. And for a while, nothing changed from T-SW, the same fans came to see the same guys and the same matches, the only difference was that Gordon had the money coming in from his “real” business to keep afloat.

But in early 1993, Gordon took the first step in a long mile. There was a kid from the south that wanted to be a booker from his childhood in Memphis, TN. That had a huge reputation nationwide, and was also known recently as being not only a booker, but also a damned good one. He’d burned his bridges almost everywhere else, and had a horrible reputation backstage, but Tod Gordon wanted to take the chance of giving him full control creatively of the newly established ECW, so on a show in Philadelphia one night, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert debuted fresh off a tour with FMW in Japan. He immediately decided that the indy fed already known as long being (including T-SW) one of the most violent anywhere, simply wasn’t violent enough, he wanted more violence, more blood, and more sex. He brought in new stars for the fans to see, people like Road Warrior Hawk who was simply trying to find things to do, Shane Douglas who was sick of riding his skateboard down the aisle in Atlanta, Stan Hansen, Ian & Axl Rotten, Badd Company, and most notably, Terry Funk came on for more than just occasional spots, he was unofficially “theirs”. He also brought in a nationally known manager that he had met in the Memphis territory of old, then known as Paul E. Dangerously who had led the ultra successful “Dangerous Alliance” in WCW just months earlier and who had previously been trying to start. At first Gilbert went the easy way with his acquisition and made a “New” Dangerous Alliance with Dangerously, Eddie and Doug Gilbert (wrestling as “The Dark Patriot” from GWF fame), Jimmy Snuka, and Don Muraco, but soon ditched that idea for something more unique.

Eddie fought bloody battles with Abdullah The Butcher, Terry Funk, and also with Cactus Jack in what resulted as video footage that is among the most sought after in the wrestling tape community even today. “We Want Blood!” became the anthem of the crowds that increased with every show, and every show, Eddie made sure they got what they wanted. There were more notable matches, but probably his most notable overall card while serving as ECW booker was on June 19th, 1993 at the ECW Arena in front of 650 fans as he and Terry Funk followed a very solid show in front of wild fans with a chain match that is said to have been disgusting in its brutality.

In late September of 1993, right after brining in a porn actress, naming her “The Virgin Princess” and having her take off her blouse, Gilbert got into an argument with Tod Gordon over Jim Crockett, which I’ll get to in a moment, which led to an in-ring shoot promo that remains infamous to this day where he “retired”, turned himself face, and had an on the spot auction for his ring gear before immediately going back home to Tennesee.

Gordon was in a rut, his main star & booker had left him and he needed to find a replacement fast. He looked to who already had creative influence in Gilbert’s writing camp, and pulled out its most promising contributor, Paul Heyman, the aforementioned Paul E, Dangerously. Heyman had seen from Hot Stuff’s successes, that the Philly crowds wanted blood, sex, and something new. Also Heyman had going for him the fact that he & Jim Crockett were already about to start the promotion WWN (World Wrestling Network) with Gordon’s financial backing. In fact the reason Gilbert had quit was the fact that he was working with Jim Crockett, a man Eddie hated. So he brought in a worldwide indy sensation named Sabu and had him beat Shane Douglas for the ECW Heavyweight title upon arrival in October. Sabu brought his stunt filled, suicidal, homicidal, genocidal, table breaking act to Philly and even more fans showed up. His first shows were on 10/1 & 10/2, NWA Bloodfest Parts 1 & 2, respectively.
Heyman then began displaying the trait he’d become most renowned for: taking incomplete wrestlers and hiding their weaknesses while showcasing their strengths and making unknowns into stars. He took well known indy star Cheetah Master and dubbed him Rocco Rock, then took NY local Mike Durham and dubbed him Johnny Grunge, together they were the Public Enemy who first got over with a feud with none other than the Funks (Terry and Dory Jr.), ECWs all time most successful and over tag team. He took a guy named “Tombstone” and turned him into “911”, a choke slamming fool that inspired the big men in the big two to adopt the move, he took a joke in green suspenders and made him the ultimate baby face while at the same time being the “Innovator of Violence” and most impressively he took a horrible wrestler with a cheesy surfer gimmick and turned him into the beer drinking, chain smoking, owner of arguably the most memorable entrance in history, The Sandman, the Icon of the whole scene, but before his more known phase and after his most embarrassing, Jim Fullington went through probably my favorite part of his career. Sandman decided surfing wasn’t his thing, but pimping out Nancy Sullivan and other girls was. He immediately accused baby face Tommy Cairo of buying one of his prostitutes and then stiffing her and used that as an excuse to beat the hell out Cairo and his girlfriend “Peaches” with his ‘pimp stick’ (Singapore Cane) every chance he get and after he’d leave him laying he’d say “Pay Your Bills. Tommy Caiiiiiro” or “All ya got to do is pay!” in his most Jack Nicholoson-esque voice as he’d walk off. Before the whole barbwire battering ram, THIS was what had gotten him over in the first place, he just played the part of trailer park pimp to perfection and it was a joy to watch.
Heyman also had allowed Shane Douglas to cut curse-laden promos on the two men that he despised, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, he brought in WCW fan favorite, Too Cold Scorpio, and even added Kevin Sullivan to his booking team and his wife Nancy to the active roster. Once Terry had finished up with the tag scene he proceeded to put over every young unknown wrestler in the company in hopes of making ECW something more. Yes, Gilbert had gotten the ball rolling, but with Heyman at the helm it was now snowballing as by 1994 the 950 seat ECW Arena (The Viking Hall, primarily used for bingo) was selling out and half of the audience were “smarks” before that term was even known of, as they even used smarked up chants like the ironic “He’s Hardcore!” as a result of Cactus Jack and his promos on Tommy Dreamer, the TERRIBLE “You Fucked Up” which came from JT Smith almost dying (it also led to Smith having a great gimmick… but what a cost), and the misogynistic “Show Your Tits” that showered the porn star looking valets that were often beat up horribly by the men and the rest of the time in gratuitous cat fights.

Heyman also had instigated the “No DQs – No Count Outs” rule for each and every match. The refs were there not to stop the over abundant violence or enforce a rulebook, but simply to count the pin falls or take the submissions. The wrestlers began asking the fans for weapons and the store next door began selling them, stop signs, keyboards, aluminum frying pans, chairs, tables, and cups of beer now became props for violence and as a new and innovative way to increase fan interaction, and enthusiasm for not only going to the shows but getting seats where they might be able to get in on the action.

ECW brought in theme music from real bands as well. Whether it was Nine Inch Nails “Closer” (which was the companies theme as the beat spelled the word “Extreme” and then segued into “Thunder Kiss ‘65”), Pantera’s “Walk,” or AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” They came out and provided a nice break from the horrible muzak and bottom barrel stock themes that had clustered wrestling at the time and for the most part still do. During their PPV advertisements and wrestler introductions ECW provides music fitting the wrestlers with songs that you either love or have never heard before with little in between. The only began using a stock theme later down the road when they got involved in PPV as the official theme of the organization, and even that in itself was a great pick that wasn’t to be ashamed of.ECW peacked musically in January of 2000 when Motor Head redid “Enter the Sandman” for the Sandman and it was published on the ECW Extreme Music CD, getting a Grammy nomination for Best Heavy Metal Performance.

Heyman also erased the black and white spots in wrestling of being a heel or baby face and created a gray area that the fans could discern their views from. Not to say that the guys weren’t booed or cheered, if Heyman wanted you booed he’d have you go out and swear at the crowd while rubbing in their faces the sexy valet you had with you, and the guy he wanted the fans to cheer would come down and pin you. But in the things they said and the tactics they deployed, it could be argued that there was no good or bad. There certainly weren’t any Bob Backlund “Gee golly!” promos and baby kissing, because in ECW, Backlund would have said “Gee golly!” kissed a baby, and then proceeded to slice up Pedro Morales’ face with a fork and cheese slicer.

The whole time they had done this, the WWF and WCW were reaching a pinnacle of cartoon styled wrestlers and both had a no-blading rule. Despite their bulges of talent at points on the card, both had favored gimmicks, cartoon characters, and big men as opposed to wrestlers that were entertaining in the ring, or could actually cut a promo without seeming like an after-school special. ECW had become a safe haven for older and smarter wrestling fans in the Philly area, and the newly emerging Internet scene embraced them as well as fans across the country traded tapes of the new promotion. To cap off their feelings, Cactus Jack appeared with his WCW Tag Team title belt at the ECW Arena on June 24th, 1994 for “Hostile City Showdown,” and after losing a match to Sabu in the main event, he cut an emotional promo putting over ECWs product and going so far as to spit on his WCW title to show how strongly he felt, much to the chagrin of current WCW head booker Ric Flair who was already being attacked by Shane Douglas every chance he was given.

Earlier in the year ECW had put on shows that had the wrestling world buzzing. On February 5th, they had made serious waves with the much ballyhooed (but upon actual viewing, pretty dull and sloppy) one hour time limit draw for the world title between Sabu, Terry Funk, and Shane Douglas. Douglas held the match from being a complete mess but didn’t really do anything great, Sabu missed and repeated a lot spots, and Terry Funk basically got his ass kicked.

On April 16th, they let Tommy Cairo pin the Sandman again and further the feud as the Sandman would keep coming back for his money over and over again, Road Warrior Hawk defeated Shane Douglas to retain the ECW Heavyweight Championship, and Sabu beat Terry Funk in a mere twelve minutes.

On May 14th was the first ever Singapore Caning match. Sandman & Woman lost to Tommy Cairo & Peaches (his wife). Post match Peaches pulled Sandman’s trunks down and beat the hell out of his groin with the cane until Woman through salt in here eyes, Sandman low blowed Cairo and then decided to obliterate both of them with the Cane, creating a gimmick he carries to this day, almost ten years later.

Then in June 24th, Tommy Cairo lost to Sandman in a “Cane on a Pole” match when Sandman got a Cane out from under the ring apron, The Funk Bros defeated Public Enemy and most notably Rocco Rock and Terry Funk fought up into the Eagles Nest where Funk tied a noose around Rock’s ankle and tossed him over the balcony where he hung by his ankle, Mikey Whipwreck retained his TV title (ha), and the main event was the aforementioned Sabu/Cactus Jack match.

During 1994 Heyman’s booking perhaps peaked as Heyman’s stories were ingenuitive as any other booker in history, and he made use of seemingly useless workers while also throwing down storylines that would set the scene of our modern wrestling world.. He took Al Polig, the man who would later become a jobber for WCW in the nWo boom (as Big Al), and made him 911. He was a massive man that got over perhaps more than any other man in the company by bringing the strong anti-WCW/WWF sentiments to life by choke slamming (the first man to make the move common) every performer that came into ECW from one of the Big Two (of which there were a LOT to go through, most famously “Doink the Clown,” Matt Borne which received the comment “One clown down, Bischoff and McMahon to go” from Joey Styles- a line still repeated to this very day in mid 2003). And if a referee got too close- he went down to. So would ringside staff, valets, the men working the video table (Doug Gentry and Rob Feinstein of RF Video), any particularly annoying heel, and hell, even Santa Claus. His run ended almost two years later on the tail end of 1995 after a falling out with management but during his first run there is perhaps no one as loved by, before or after him, ECW fans. He created Mikey Whipwreck, a teenager from the ring crew who stood roughly 5’6” and 150lbs and dressed like a stereotypical Dungeons & Dragons geek and became so over as a jobber that he “accidentally” pinned Pitbull 2 to win the TV title in May and HATED defending the title because it meant another ass kicking, but yet somehow continued to “accidentally” win for months on end and keep the title. He next won the tag titles with Cactus Jack from the Public Enemy when Rocco was hit in the nuts and tripped over Mikey and ended up underneath him for the winning pin fall. Mikey even won the world title on 10/28/95 from the Sandman in a ladder match.

The best of course was the worked shoot idea he brought to the table with the Tommy Dreamer/Sandman feud. Sandman had begun carrying a cane with him earlier in the year during the famous Singapore Caning trial of a US Citizen took over headlines. During the blow off “I Quit” match of the feud, the Sandman decided to have a cigarette. Dreamer took the cigarette, shoved it in Sandman’s eye and then caned him across the face. Sandman acted as if the spot had messed up and he’d gone blind and his manager “Woman”, Paul Heyman, and paramedics rushed the ring as Tommy acted like it was a tragic mistake. The ECW fans fell for it hook, line, and sinker. On the next show they pretended to try to clean up the angle as Woman dumped Sandman and Tommy Dreamer dedicated his career to him and wrestled his match looking to emotionally distraught to be out there. Roughly a month later at the arena Joey Styles had an in ring “Farewell Sandman Interview” in which Sandman’s wife “Peaches” (Lori Fullington) made peace with her husband. The scene was interrupted as Woman came to the ring and pancaked Peaches and held the cane over a helpless Sandman and prepared to level him too. Tommy Dreamer ran to the ring and made the save, stepping between the two and backing Woman down. With Tommy’s back to him however, the Sandman pulled off his bandaging and picked up the Singapore Cane. As the crowd gasped, Sandman delivered the blow to Dreamer’s head and left him lying in a pool of blood as he and Woman walked off together.

The only trouble to note in fact was that two consecutive weeks (9/6 & 9/13) ECW TV didn’t play on TV because the station screwed up the labeling. They showed both on 9/15 to appease this but many ECW were worried they would lose their momentum and cause fans to think they’d stopped running when they weren’t on the air for two weeks.

But the most important was only about to come as the summer of 1994 ended. During the summer a group of independent promoters had decided to give a shot at rebirthing the NWA, which had essentially folded when Jim Crockett has sold his NWA Mid Atlantic group to Ted Turner after already eating up Bill Watts’ UWF the stars from the Sheik’s Detroit territory, and taking in stars from Oregon and NWA Florida as their own. They had decided that ECW, the hottest indy in the country, would be granted the privilege of being the highest wing and even furthered this promise by having the finals of their tournament to crown a new “World” champion on August 27th, 1994, culminate in an all ECW final of Too Cold Scorpio and Shane Douglas. Shane Douglas (who had been making many waves with his spiteful promos on Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, including one that was thirty minutes long where burned every single bridge in the business that came into his head. (On another side note the Flair promos ended up with him going through former Horsemen but ended after a match with Tully Blanchard that was decent but horribly received as an angle and match by the crowd who might hate the Big Two but respected the legendary groups place in history)) ended up winning and as the fans bathed him in cheers he gave the following speech…

"I stand here, before God and my father in Heaven tonight, as I said I would be: World's Heavyweight champion. In the tradition of Lou Thesz; in the tradition of Jack Brisco, all of the Brisco Brothers; of Dory Funk, Jr.; of Terry Funk, the man who will never die; and the real “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers -- upstairs tonight (points skyward). From the Harley Races, to the Barry Windhams, to the... Ric Flairs, I accept this heavyweight title. (Slowly becomes more spirited) Wait a second... wait a second. I'm Kerry Von Erich, I'm the fat man himself, Dusty Rhodes... and Rick Steamboat... and they can all kiss my ass! Because I am not the man who accepts the torch to be handed down to me from an organization that died -- R.I.P. -- seven years ago! I am "The Franchise!" Shane Douglas is the man who ignites the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling. Tonight, before God and my father as witness, I declare myself, “the Franchise,” as the new ECW heavyweight champion of the world! We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So, tonight, let the new era begin! The era of the sport of professional wrestling. The era of the “Franchise.” The era of E-C-W!"

He proceeded to throw down the NWA World’s title and hoisted up the ECW championship as Extreme replaced Eastern in ECW, the promoters and wrestlers in the back freaked out, a “Flair is Dead” chant broke out and Heyman and Gordon celebrated what they had just pulled off before pulling out membership from the NWA the very next day while comically, Shane Douglas refused to give the NWA Committee their belt back.

A New Extreme Era Begins

The next major move for ECW came in September and the following months as Heyman continually brought in top stars which he could now afford with the growing ECW tape sales, ticket sales, and house sales as ECW became the hottest indy in the world.. Cactus Jack & WCW had decided to part ways and while making good money in Japan, Cactus took the close to home job with ECW- debuting in the bingo hall by bringing his run of hardcore matches with Terry Funk home to the states. This was a big night not only because of Cactus’ debut but also because it was Funk’s first match back with the company after quitting due to major issues with Shane Douglas’ 8/27 promo. Also brought in during September of 1994 were Chris Benoit, into an immediate feud with Sabu, and Dean Malenko, into an immediate feud for the TV title held by Too Cold Scorpio. So while the promotion increased it’s quotient of violence it also brought in tremendous wrestlers in the traditional vein that could get a crowd’s reaction without giving them first a pint of their blood. During the feud with Sabu, Benoit was given a character he still carries to this day. During one of their first meetings (perhaps THE first in singles) Benoit back dropped Sabu who landed on his neck. It’s been referred to as everything from broken to a bad stinger and who knows but Benoit was instantly dubbed “The Canadian Crippler” by Paul E. and cut the best promos of his career where he’d rub his hands together and talk quietly about “the hands of a crippler” and talk up the “accomplishment.” He then was booked to also injure Rocco of the Public Enemy and Al Snow as Heyman built him up to be his world champion when suddenly he was bought out by WCW. Of course in early in 1995 Heyman continued bringing in the top workers of the world as he brought in Eddy Guerrero, then perhaps known best as either “Black Tiger” in NJPW or as half of Los Gringos Locos w/Art Barr. Directly in Guerrero’s tow came other Mexican workers Rey Mysterio Jr. & Psychosis who were setting the world on fire with their feud on seemingly every continent across the globe, and also with them came Juventud Guerrera and Konnan. 7 of the greatest workers, literally, in the world had come to the 1100 seat ECW Arena and ECW could no longer fit into the pigeon-hole “hardcore” distinction.

Things had slowed down in storylines for a while into 1995 as Heyman showcased his new world class talent and let their matches speak for themselves but those who thought Heyman had run out of ideas were soon proven wrong. In January 1995 a new character debuted, and he was called “Raven.” Stevie Richards was responsible for this new arrival as he began wearing ultra small shorts and shirts and acting like the WWF’s Johnny Polo while claiming the whole time that he was brining the “real” Johnny to ECW. When Johnny arrived however he looked like a degenerate version of a character from the movie “Singles” and spoke in poetic form to the fans, even quoting Edgar Allen Poe to end his promos, which led to him being dubbed Raven. Rather than being upset at his hero’s sudden change, Richards followed him around like a lost puppy dog. Richards lost match after match in February to Tommy Dreamer, a supposed childhood friend of Raven’s. Raven’s disappointment in Stevie’s performance led him to go after Tommy himself in March. Raven & Dreamer went on to what many fans consider the greatest story and feud in ECW history, weaving in other characters such as Beulah & Francine and Raven went on a streak of wins that didn’t end until 6/97.

But poor Tommy Dreamer, Raven wasn’t the only one that wanted a piece of the starry eyed optimistic hardcore kid. Cactus Jack had turned himself heel and was begging Tommy to get out of the hardcore life before it was too late, pleading with him to “drop the dime and call Uncle Eric” knowing Eric Bischoff was the devil in many ECW fans’ eyes. Tommy would eventually win over Cactus who had also taken to giving him video Christmas cards and wrestling using only headlocks and encouraging fans to unknowingly chant the ridiculous “He’s Hardcore!” corniness in appreciation of Dreamer when Jack had his smiling Eric Bischoff shirt on pull over his head so it looked like his head was actually Eric’s and Dreamer bent a chair to hell over it. In fact, as great a career as Mick Foley had and through out a ridiculous number of prominent territories and promotions, many argue his best work was in ECW. His interviews were certainly astounding whether he was doing the anti-hardcore stuff or not, and even his off the cuff comments were genius in their entertainment level, my most memorable being one to Stevie Richards. Stevie had been taking quite a few beatings at the hands of the Dudley Boyz, especially Big Dick Dudley, and during a confrontation with Jack, Jack once said “You know…. Whenever Big Dick is anywhere around him, you can always know that Stevie Richards will be on his knees in front of him.” If you don’t own or haven’t seen Cactus’ work in ECW I suggest you get any of the numerous interview and match comps of his stuff there, it’s one of the best runs by anyone anywhere, and the style of what he did certainly couldn’t have happened anywhere but in ECW. Bang Bang! And I digress back to the topic…

The hot heels in the company, Sandman and his valet woman were now after Shane Douglas’ world title. During April, Sandman had a match for the title in which Woman handed Douglas the Sandman’s cane, which Douglas used to win the match and leave with Woman and thus creating a double turn. At the very next show they had a rematch and once again Woman and Sandman had fooled the world. Towards a climax of the match Woman hit Douglas in the back of the leg with the cane and Sandman used the advantage to win the ECW World Title (his first). As Sandman and Woman celebrated, Douglas got on the ringside microphone, and did a sin he was never entirely forgiven for by the ECW fan base. He put on a “Monday Night Raw” t shirt and told the ECW Arena, “Now I’m going someplace where I can wrestle.” He was later on the air claiming to have reported ECW to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission for excessive blood and violence when actually the NWA had, and resulted in “Fonzie” coming in as a referee to calm them down, his first show being on 5/13.

Also in this time period ECW began doing tours of Florida. Having secured deals for middle of the night shows on the MSG network (where yours truly was introduced to them) based out of New York City & the Sunshine Network, which was based out of Florida. Tall deals with Sunshine Network, Liberty Cable, & Prime Cable were aligned together. hough the time slots for the shows didn’t lead them to bust out as they had hoped, the tours kept them slowly expanding and they always did great live show business. Of course this was also by ECWs own doing. Many stations refused to show the bloody brawls and abuse of women as well as the Tommy Dreamer/Sandman Eye Injury angle. SO the shows had to be clipped and ECW in turn didn’t always get to show their top offerings on their own television programs. Heyman saw clearly that for the company to exist at its current levels of talent (and booking) that he had to make more money and that television was not going to help him. He soon began making promises of Pay Per View, where he could run the angles and show what he wanted while also hopefully drawing enough buy rates to make a profit after paying his talent, to his talent that would lead him to many rough time periods and many high points as well.

To add to his new and soon to be rapidly accruing problems, in April Heyman fired Sabu. Heyman had built up Sabu & Taz vs. Public Enemy vs. Benoit & Malenko as the biggest match in company history and Sabu had decided he didn’t want to work it for whatever reasons and instead went to Japan to work the Heisei Ishingun promotion. Heyman buried Sabu to start the show and announced Rick Steiner as his replacement and Sabu went from being the biggest star in the company to a walking piece of shit in the eyes of the fans in an instant. ECW fans were loyal to ECW, not any one performer. While many of the boos were at first “smarks” thinking they were in another worked shoot and playing along, Sabu wasn’t seen in the US again until debuting on Monday Nitro later in September. But not before Heyman got a little more mileage out of the “angle”. Sabu had received some favorable chants a few months into his departure which prompted Heyman to get in the ring. Heyman said ECW isn’t about letting fans cheer and chant whatever they wanted, and those same Sabu fans were the ones that booed Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero during their leaving town run. The point not being that ECW didn’t want fans to cheer whomever they wanted but the fans who purposely did the opposite if the norm were getting out of hand and screwing up the atmosphere at points. Later on that same show Guerrero & Malenko had another thirty minute draw. The point? I don’t know, sure fans can cheer whatever they want but purposely sabotaging the heat and atmosphere is pretty fucking stupid. At least that’s what I got from it.

In May HHG Corporation began being the company stamped on wrestlers paychecks rather than ECW as a result of outstanding bills and ECW finding bigger backers. Some plans that never saw daylight awesome were in talks and I’ll mention them purely for their level of interest and curiosity. One they were going to have a stadium show in Lackawanna Stadium (home of the MLB’s AAA Phillies) but had to cancel as they wouldn’t be allowed to do it unless they protected the grass by laying out tarp on the field which would have cost them $9,500 and obviously halted plans. They soon were looking for another stadium but apparently never found it as history shows. The reason for the stadium, open air show was that they were trying to set up a match for Terry Funk and Cactus Jack where the ring would be surrounded by walls of fire.

September was a busy month for the company in a number of ways that never went away for very long, and the haste and dramatic and un-foreseen fashion in which they took place started the “You Sold Out” chants for more than a dozen people from the ECW fans. Eric Bischoff had started Monday Nitro to compete with WWF RAW is WAR. In doing so he took what were arguably the three best guys on the ECW roster, and certainly the catalysts of their best matches, Chris Benoit (whose last match was with Scorpio vs. the Steiners in which he was turned face and made a nice farewell speech), Eddy Guerrero, and Dean Malenko on board for their cruiserweight division that Bischoff was determined would be a fresh division that fans would want to see and that he would give them in his cause to overtake the WWF as the top American promotion. Also gone to WCW and to never again have the same fire (see also: Sabu; 911; Sandman; etc) were the Public Enemy who were expected to get over on classic wrestling & tables and nothing else and whose true allure was never understood by WCW despite it’s simplicity. Also gone was Woman, as her husband had just gotten a great offer to book in WCW and for her to join him. Konnan, though not overly important to the company on screen himself, left but more importantly he convinced Super Calo, Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, and Psychosis all to go with him. With their absence though, Bischoff released Steve Austin. Austin debuted in ECW also in September to the sounds of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and proceeded to cut parody promos of Bischoff and Hogan as well as a new bad ass persona of his own that instantly made him the indy star more sought after than any as Heyman set him on the course to take Sandman’s World title. Not bad for a boring guy that can’t promo or work. Of course, it was not to be as, as WCW had snatched up Chris Benoit during his world title push, WWF quickly signed him to their active roster after a very short (two month) stay in ECW. Douglas was also gone, off to play “Dean” Douglas in the WWF and wonder why Shawn Michaels would do such an outlandish thing as hate the guy and hold him down after Douglas had done something as innocent as cut a hundred promos at Michaels expense to get himself over in ECW. Cactus Jack also left ECW for the WWF and a new role as a fresh character destined for a top card feud with the Undertaker named Mankind.

In a desperate attempt to boost fan interest, and obviously before she left, Heyman had an angle ran where Woman would become sexually aroused by the bloody beatings Sandman would give to Mikey Whipwreck with his Singapore cane. Unfortunately, while it was a fairly successful angle with fans, it led to even more trouble with his station managers who refused to run the angle in any type of coherent form and almost got his shows kicked off the networks. He also had a match in November of 1995 between Cactus Jack and Terry Funk in which Cactus tried to hit Terry with a flaming chair (while Funk’s wore a water doused number of shirts under his ring shirt) which instead ended up severely burning Funk and setting the ECW arena on fire which nearly caused ECW to not only lose Terry Funk but also their home building. Heyman took other steps to help his product that was desperate for it.

He started running shows in Queens, NY which became an area perhaps more successful than any but the ECW Arena itself. Heyman also signed new talent to hopefully fill the voids that the departing talent had left. He stole The Gangstas (New Jack & Mustafa) who were arguably the hottest young tag team in the country from Jim Cornette’s SMW, he put together to young and yet to be established stars Perry Saturn & Kronus as the Eliminators and pushed them as “the greatest tag team on earth” which many fans came to believe and still do, he gave Raven’s crony Stevie Richards a crony of his own- Blue Meanie and the dup went on to great comedic success with a young Super Nova, he replaced Woman as Sandman’s manager with Missy Hyatt whom Sandman drank beer off the breasts of in another lewd scene that didn’t help their relationships with TV. He brought back Sabu (and built Sabu vs. Taz to be his promised PPVs headliner) who had left WCW on horrible terms in December, he created the Dudley Boys (Snot, Dudley Dudley, Big Dick, Dances With, Bubba Ray, Sign Guy, Chubby, D’Von, & Spike, with manager Joel Gertner), he brought in Rob Van Dam who was hot in Japan and the Great Lakes areas, and even brought back Shane Douglas with “Lady Francine” and with the tumultuous end of 1995, 1996 would begin.

As 1996 began, ECW brought in future World Champion Chris Jericho whose reputation as a great performer that oozed charisma took him from Germany to Canada to the USA to Mexico and to Japan with great success (and a job for Lance Storm) in each place. Heyman also opened up the ECW House of Hardcore, a school taught by Taz and Perry Saturn that they hoped would breed their stars of the future. Its first graduate was D’Von Dudley (debuted 3/96) and it did continue to produce talent for them over the years. Of course in 1996 came one of the most infamous moments in ECW history. Kimona Wannalaya and Beulah McGillicuty decided to end the rumors the Beulah was pregnant by Tommy Dreamer and did so with a graphic lesbian kiss. They then decided Tommy wouldn’t be that bad and asked for a “three way dance” with him. While exciting a large portion of the male contingent and creating a boner party in the stands, ECW finally stepped too far and was immediately kicked off the Sunshine Network, effectively killing one of their hottest territories for the time being.

Heyman was also making his way to his PPV goals. Unfortunately he found himself stuck in situations he couldn’t alter- simply do damage control on. One being the constant revolving door of his talent due to his restricted budget and the second being that he had built ECW primarily on the legs of fans that wanted blood, violence, cursing, and misogyny and then to combat that the PPV people told him he had to tone down his product if he wanted to eventually be featured.

But wait, let’s back up a minute and talk more about Raven. I’m pretty much not known as a Raven fan but I think that’s not true- on the contrary, I’m a huge Raven fan. I simply just don’t think his WCW, 2nd ECW, or WWE runs come anything close to the sheer brilliancy his character displayed on his first ECW run. For instance an angle that started in the spring of 1996. Raven had become the ECW World Heavyweight champion and decided that he needed a woman. So he began his quest for “the ultimate slut.” His crony Richards would of course bring him tons of women to try and appease Raven but Raven wasn’t happy with any of them. Then Richards brought out Peaches; Sandman’s estranged wife if you’ll remember, and Raven took a different tone. The mood was changed when Sandman came out however, and said that he could care less because she had already slept with half the locker room anyhow. So Raven turned her down. Stating the half was too little and she was in no way a big enough tramp to be his girlfriend. Then a thing happened. Tyler Fullington, the ten-year-old son of Sandman, came down to the ring. He called Raven “Daddy” and left with Raven, Richards, and Peaches. Promos then aired for a while of Tyler denouncing Sandman as a drunk and how he now worshipped Raven. At the next arena show was the infamous “Rage in a Cage” which had a cage in the ring, a cage in the stands, and a cage in the balcony. At the end of the match, Sandman was going to cane Raven and Tyler got in the cage and stood in the way. Though Tommy Dreamer and a hot crowd begged him to hit his son with the cane, Sandman had refused. At a later show Sandman “spanked” Tyler and Raven ran down to save him and laid out Sandman and the scene ended with Tyler standing over his father’s prone body doing the crucifixion pose. Finally Raven crucified Sandman in front of Tyler and brutalized him with a cane as he was helplessly tied. This event actually cause the majority of the arena fans to leave in disgust, most prominently Kurt Angle who was prior to scheduled to join ECW in a huge storyline but quit the company on sight. The angle wouldn’t end until Raven eventually left the company but we’ll get to that when it comes.

Also in 1996 was a hot angle between Shane Douglas and Pitbull #1. Douglas had broken Pitbull’s neck in a feud over his TV title and Heyman turned it into a legit storyline, one that would lead him into PPV. Rick Rude eventually became part of the angle, revealing himself from under a mask and letting people know he’d be involved with Douglas but not letting them know just how until the PPV. Also, towards the end of 1996, ECW brought in Lance Storm who was hot in Japan, Chris Candido who was a WWF midcard refugee (and ended up arguably my favorite ECW character of all time), Kroffat & Furnas (my favorite tag team of all time), Bam Bam Bigelow, Brian Pillman, Louie Spicolli, Ron Simmons, Terry Gordy, and a host of others. Also was the bWo, the Blue World Order, which was a parody of the hottest angle in the country at the time, WCW’s New World Order, and consisted of Stevie Richards as “Big Stevie Cool”, Blue Meanie as “Da Blue Guy”, Super Nova as “Hollywood Nova”, and Rob Feinstein as “Three and a Half” (or any other odd fraction you can come up with before he left the group as 7-11).

Also Taz emerged, dumping his Tasmaniac gimmick, he brought on the gimmick of a legit shooter and his ring work and promos therein caused him to be pushed right up the card. He would challenge Sabu and claim he was going to choke him out and beat him so he could prove himself to ECW fans, Sabu finally answered his claims at the end of 1996, yet more build to the PPV as the two men had pull apart brawls across the east coast. And also at the end of 1996, Heyman, looking for exposure nationally to push for his PPV began contacting Vince McMahon. McMahon was desperate to overcome WCW and the nWo, while Heyman desperately needed help with exposure. After all, Heyman lost his Sunshine Network deal and at the end of 1996 he also lost his deal with the MSG network. Though striking deals with America One & Prime his exposure was threatening to be as low as ever. Luckily though, ECWs established fan base was growing more feverous than other and they got an unexpected jolt from a story on A Current Affair that received a good amount of attention and talk. ECW fans are now in the books for the last quarter of 1996 as the 1,110 sell out fans they averaged in the area spending $15 a head on each and every show. But back to McMahon & Heyman; at the Mind Games PPV (famous for the match Mick Foley calls the best of his career, vs. Shawn Michaels) in September of 1996 as soon as the PPV was on the air and the opening Savio Vega/Bradshaw strap match was taking place, WWF cameras spotted Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and Paul Heyman all sitting ringside. And as the action spilled outside Sandman spit beer all over Savio Vega and the ECW crew was removed by security as McMahon made mention of the local outlaw group creating a disturbance. It all seemed very real at the time. The next night on Raw is War, Taz stormed the ring with an ECW sign and Raw immediately went to a commercial break. After Vince had tested the water with these two bits, he and Heyman began serious talks for a more in depth angle, one that would start up at the end of February 1997, but we’ll get to that later in the timeline. First we need to talk about December 1996 & the event that almost killed ECW for good.
Barely Legal: The Mass Transit Incident

On November 23rd of 1996 in Revere, Massachusetts, Eric Kulas, his father, and some midget wrestlers arrived at the show and one way or another made their way backstage. Kulas had wanted to participate on an ECW card while they were in his home area. Kulas, dressed in a bus drivers outfit and soon to be dubbed Mass Transit, eventually got in touch backstage with Paul Heyman. The 400lb+ Kulas lied about his age (he was only 17) and when Heyman asked for verification he was shown a fake ID by Kulas, his training and experience (he had none of either except perhaps sneaking his way onto another card previously but said he had tons) he claimed came from the Killer Kowalski school, and he managed to be no-show Axl Rotten’s replacement in the Gangstas/D'von Dudley/Rotten match of the evening as Heyman needed a replacement and took Kulas on his word and claims. D’Von and Mustafa left Kulas in the ring with New Jack, who had seen through Kulas’ claims and planned on teaching him a lesson. New Jack hit Kulas with keyboards, toasters, guitars and many other weapons. But back up, earlier in the locker room while going over the match New Jack asked Kulas if he would be up to do a blade job. Kulas said he’d done them before but couldn’t stomach cutting himself and asked New Jack to do it for him- a very bad idea. So when the time came to blade, New Jack dug extremely deep and wide into Kulas’ forehead and cut through the muscle within and Kulas’ head was letting out blood in a fashion similar to a garden hose. New Jack wasn’t done though and continued working over Kulas before “sealing the deal” with an ultra stiff and mean looking, full force chair shot from the top rope, the whole time the crowd chanted “You Fat Fuck!” and New Jack looked to enjoy what he was doing tremendously. As soon as New Jack ended the scene and pinned Kulas, EMTs rushed the ring and performed emergency care for 10 minutes in an attempt to slow down the bleeding before rushing Kulas to a hospital where it took sixty stitches to close the wound. New Jack is quoted after the event as saying he didn’t “care if the kid was dead or alive.”

Well, for about a week or two after the incident, it was heavily pushed for sale on video tape by ECW in a disgusting marketing move before Heyman decided that he should pull it after reality set in and he realized the ramifications the footage could immediately or in the future cause for ECW. And as Heyman plugged towards Barely Legal, the PPV whose success would determine if ECW would be dead within in months or live on a few more years, came closer and closer. As it did so, with an urge to continue the hype to the PPV, Heyman granted the PW Torch, only second to the Wrestling Observer as a wrestling insider publication, an interview, a move seen as out of nowhere and shocking to many as it was no secret and still is no secret that Paul Heyman hated and despised the Torch and their staff. In the interview, Bruce Mitchell asked Heyman how the Mass Transit Incident had effected their relationship with Request TV and Viewer’s Choice, the two providers of the PPV, and Heyman answered that everyone in those companies who needed to had seen the tape and were still willing to go ahead with the PPV, regardless of the event. A few weeks after the interview was published, Request TV received a phone call in which the subject of the Mass Transit Incident came up and miraculously a few days later, the tape lay in the hands of the Request office. Upon viewing the tape, Request was outraged, In Demand now refused to allow the PPV broadcast on their airwaves and Barely Legal was DOA. “Who placed this call,” you might be asking? Bruce Mitchell.

And 1997 was underway….

And with it, the deal with Request, In Demand, & Viewer’s Choice was back on in sometime of January 1997. Not without restrictions, but it was on nonetheless. The restrictions put for by Request President Hugh Panero required Heyman to get binding contracts for all wrestlers to appear in an attempt to prevent any false advertising, an approval of the show script in advance by the Request offices, no excessive blood, and no gimmick matches that used and were sold by unspoken of promises of excessive blood, and no over the top man on woman violence. A date, time, and cost were set. April 13th, 1997, from 9pm to midnight, and $19.95 respectively. Also, some estimates of cost and buy rate needed were figured out. Production, trucks, satellite rental, pay offs, and transportation were going to cost ECW $300,000. And to make a profit they needed a minimum 0.2 PPV buy rate from the 70% of the PPV universe that Request could reach.

It would be held in a bingo hall, and with everything figured out and agreed upon, the pressure reached a maximum on Heyman who was going to get some help from Vince McMahon. Heyman would be in a focused upon angle on WWF TV where he could hype his PPV and expose and establish his talent as stars. On February 24th, ECW wrestlers again appeared on Raw as they had the previous November. Wrestlers to make appearances that night in the Manhattan Center included: the bWo, Tommy Dreamer, Taz, the Eliminators, a smoking and drinking Sandman, Beulah, the Dudleys, and Heyman joining Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler on commentary during the ECWs matches and segments (which included an RVD vs. Jeff Hardy match & Sabu doing a senton off the 10’+ Raw entry way display. Heyman eventually became so upset during a verbal exchange with Jerry Lawler that he attacked him and had to be thrown out by security. March 10th, two weeks later, Lawler and Heyman had an in-ring “debate” of sorts that resulted in the ring being rushed by Sandman, the Dudleys, the Eliminators, and Tommy Dreamer who threatened violence for their front man and promotion’s honor. Other events included RVD being happy to be on Raw is War (thus his Mr. Monday Night moniker (as coined by Jerry Lawler)) that resulted in Sandman & Taz beating the hell out of Lawler with Singapore Canes in an attempt RVD to come home. The next week Lawler got his revenge with a piledriver through a table on Tommy Dreamer and RVD went home, a huge heel as he still spoke his love of the Monday nights. The WWF had sent out the Hart family. Owen Hart was sent to ECW to break his nose, Bulldog was sent to crack open Taz’s skull, and Bret Hart was sent to injure Sabu at a house show. The Gangstas retaliated by interfering on an episode of WWF Superstars where they took on and massacred the rookie Hardy Boys. Lawler, who had a made a public challenge to “ECW: Home of WWF Exiles and Drunken Derelicts,” invaded the ECW Arena with RVD and Sabu and almost destroyed the entire roster. Sandman, Dreamer, and Rick Rude took on Jerry Lawler, Sabu, and RVD in a cage match and Rick Rude turned on ECW to help the WWF team win and it culminated at the Hardcore Heaven 97 PPV when Jerry Lawler fought Tommy Dreamer. It ended on WWF TV in a different way. Sabu and Flash Funk had a match, during which Heyman took the time to tear a new asshole for Eric Bischoff and Public Enemy, that ended in a count-out and Sabu leaving in a hissy fit through the crowd after it wouldn’t break when he tried to put Funk through it. McMahon was upset with Sabu and approached him about his post match fit and Sabu retorted with anger over the table not being gimmicked for him and not being allowed to have the Sheik accompany him to ringside. To further burn the bridge (well, not really, ECW received money and workers from the WWF for the rest of their existence after this deal through negotiations between McMahon and Bischoff that the specifics of which are unknown to this day) Bruce Prichard, the WWF Talent Coordinator at the time, couldn’t come to any terms of agreement with Paul Heyman.

With exposure of the promotion at an all time high via WWF Raw is War, characters running as strong and smoothly as ever, and feuds and angles reaching a fever pitch, ECW was ready for PPV. Stress was at an all time high as well, resulting in many needless backstage fights and real life heat in the locker room but Paul Heyman, who could motivate the Eskimos to buy ice, gave a riveting speech, one I was hoping to transcribe but unfortunately won’t be, but if you’d really like to hear it, and you should, it can be found on the Beyond the Mat documentary.

The excitement in the air was audible and even through a TV screen you could feel it. The building may not have looked great, but it certainly made them look like a cult senation as it was jam packed with fans insanely supportive of their product. The show kicked off with the Eliminators winning the tag titles from the Dudley Boys (which by now had become D’Von & Buh Buh). Rob Van Dam then went on to beat Lance Storm in a great match that is still talked about today as one of the best in either of their careers, & next was a match put together with the help of New England indy promotor Sheldon Goldberg, a ten man tag match from another indy sensation from Japan, Michinokou Pro as The Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada & Masato Yakushiji defeated Taka Michinoku, Dick Togo & Terry Boy in action that had never been seen on such a national scale in the States before. Shane Douglas kept his TV title from Pitbull #2 but more notably after the match Rick Rude (who served as a HILARIOUS color commentator for his first month before becoming old hat with it) let his alliances be known and with Brian Lee put a beating on the Franchise, & Taz completed his journey to legitimacy by making Sabu tap out. The main event was a two parter. First Terry Funk pinned Stevie Richards and then he pinned the Sandman; all of this to earn a title shot at Raven. The night was capped off by Funk defeating Raven and once again winning the world title as a tribute to all he’d done to help them in the past and it created one of the most emotional scenes in wrestling history. When the cameras stopped rolling for the live PPV, Paul Heyman himself came mid ring and through chills and tears said the promotion had finally reached his ultimate goal, PayPerView, and it was because of the work ethic of his boys in the back and the loyalty of their fans. A week later Heyman got the buyrate for PPV and the celebrating continued as they had gotten an 0.26 buyrate and could consider the show a financial success now as well.

What Goes Up…

After the PPV though, ECWs most diverse character (perhaps the most in the world at that point) and central star, Raven, was called by WCW. Not having the title anymore, Raven took the offer and left. While the other performers hurt the company, none did more than the absence of Raven who held together the main event scene and was the catalyst of many others own “overness” and heat garnering. With Raven left Perry Saturn & Stevie Richards (Louie Spicolli also left but that was more due to his drug problems than WCW… although to be noted, when he did appear in wrestling again it was for WCW), which took away the bWo, and ECWs top tag team. It seemed as if Eric Bischoff and WCW had true fear in their hearts of ECW and a vendetta against them.

Heyman refused to give up though. He continually had his top stars taken from him and continually proved that with the right booking, anyone could be a star as long as they were presented in the right way and given angles that people were interested in. Heyman began running more cities in the North East. He added Manhattan & Syracuse to his NY loop, added Providence, Rhode Island, he added a spread from Pittsburgh to New Jersey and even went down into Cornette’s Kentucky territory. Heyman also added new workers. He added Bam Bam Bigelow (from WWF), Balls Mahoney (from SMW), Al Snow (from WWF), Jerry Lynn (from WCW), Spike Dudley (from APW), Jenna Jameson (from… pornos), Justin Credible (from WWF), Chris Candido & Sunny (from WWF) and more.

Heyman found problems with these workers more than he had to deal with before though. All of these workers, or at least the majority of them, had been made out as fools in their previous companies. These no longer were diamonds in the rough, most of these guys were “not good enough” to make it on the national level and were rejects from bigger companies. Justin Credible could bump his ass off for you, but the fans knew that he wore a piss colored jock strap on his head and was pretending to be Portugese just recently. Chris Candido was one of the best workers around at that point but he had just been a Bodydonna aerobics instructor that had a transvestite manager. Bam Bam, a huge star around the world at one point had just lost to a football player at WrestleMania and in quite convincing fashion to boot. Stevie Richards returned after flopping in WCW but was gone immediately with neck injuries.

Injuries also took their toll. Not only was Shane Douglas viewed as a sell out and a WWF reject with a bad gimmick (which his interviews basically made everyone forget) but he was beaten down and deteriorating. Sandman & Tommy Dreamer stayed loyal to ECW but their hardcore matches were destroying their health regardless of the fact that their loyalties made them the most over people in the company. Mikey Whipwreck’s loveable loser gimmick had run its course and he was now wandering from match to match through the cards. Injuries were common for the entire roster though. After the PPV, Heyman stopped running once or twice a week and began running four times a week. With the style and all out abandonment for their physical safety that came with it, the ECW wrestlers were a wreck and their performances began to show it.

But Heyman trudged forward. At his next big arena show on 6/7/97, Van Dam, Sabu, Fonzie, and Lawler laid waste to Tommy Dreamer- highlighted by Lawler getting THE loudest and wildest heat that night for his appearance and actions. Taz choked out Shane Douglas to win the TV title, and Raven made his final ECW appearance (until his second, lesser run years later, of course) when he blew off his feud that had lasted years with Tommy Dreamer and finally lost to him clean in the ring once and for all.

Not really of note, but it is at the same time. In the beginning of July, Heyman made all the workers that worked hard, but still weren’t very good or plain sloppy in the ring, arrive at 5pm for every show to work out in the ring and improve. If you complained about it, he slowly killed off any push you had behind you. I think that’s just an awesome idea, and I’d never heard it actually put in to use before so I figured I’d bring it up.

The build up to ECWs next PPV began here. Hardcore Heaven had been run before but never on PPV, and this year it was coming from Fort Lauderdale (after turning down sites in Orlando & Cincinnati) on DirecTV. The ECW loyalists Sandman & Dreamer built against Sabu/RVD/Lawler, the Triple Threat was formed with Shane Douglas (who was in a heated feud with Terry Funk for the heavyweight title), Chris Candido (who went after Taz for the TV title), and Bam Bam Bigelow (who just wanted to beat people up).

Attended by 1,950 people, Hardcore Heaven was a solid show but wasn’t up to the quality of Barely Legal, in fact many argue that they never again reached that level. Taz choked out Candido (who now had his girlfriend, wife, whatever, Sunny with him) to retain his TV title, BBB beat the shit out of Spike Dudley, RVD beat Al Snow, The Dudleys won the Tag Team Championships from The Gangstas (who the Eliminators dropped them to before Saturn left for WCW), and then they defended them against PG-13 and kept them again. Tommy Dreamer ended the WWF/ECW feud by pinning Lawler. There were appearances by Jenna Jameson, Jake Roberts, and the ICP, and the main event had Shane Douglas win a three way over Sabu & Terry Funk and capture the ECW Heavyweight Championship. The show gained another profitable buyrate of 0.21, but there was another PPV in three months. In the weeks to come Paul Heyman would find something out that I deem to be the nail in the coffin for Extreme Championship Wrestling.

In September, Paul Heyman found out that Tod Gordon was a “rat” or “mole” and was trying to destroy ECW from the inside. Gordon had sold ECW to Heyman outright in 1995. He still remained in a commissioner role and was the local promoter in Philly, and also was the financial backer and ran the books of the company but he had become disenchanted with how he was left out of the main loop. So for reasons truly unknown, Gordon made a call to WCW booker at the time, Terry Taylor, and was promised a high level job within WCW if he could get an nWo style invasion of ECW wrestlers. Gordon only succeeded in getting one wrestler into WCW as part of this plan, Perry Saturn, before Heyman had found out and fired him. Heyman & Gordon surprisingly didn’t hate each other after all of this. Gordon was announced on TV as having resigned to better take care of his family rather than buried. But things would never be the same. Heyman lost all of his trust and was emotionally blown apart and vulnerable by the heinous treason and from a business stand point, without Gordon taking care of the books and having it left to Heyman, the company would build itself a debt that would eventually cause a filing of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and to close up shop.

ECW still trudged forward as they always did regardless of the countless and endless major blows they suffered. Rob Van Dam & Sabu were still the main heels. The FBI (Tracy Smothers & Little Guido) were given a temporary reign as tag champs to keep the division hot, and Bam Bam Bigelow even defeated Shane Douglas for the ECW Championship. On 11/30/97 from Monaca, PA before 4,634 fans (a company record at that point), ECW presented November to Remember on PPV. It was highlighted by the awesome Storm/Candido team beating Lynn & Tracy Rogers, Taz choking out Pitbull #2 in roughly 90 seconds, The FBI retaining the titles over the Dudley Boys, Balls Mahoney & Axl Rotten, & The GangstaNators (Kronus & New Jack). Tommy Dreamer and RVD went to a No Contest when Stevie Richards made his return and joined the traitors, Al Snow debuted the mannequin head he claimed talked to him and became insanely over (seriously, you should see some of the reactions and images of his entrances from the height of that gimmicks popularity in ECW), Sabu beat the Sandman in a “Table & Ladders” match, and in the main event Shane Douglas beat Bam Bam to recapture the ECW Heavyweight Championship.

The show was met with more bad reviews than good. WCW had taken its best workers, but the WWF took its style and fine tuned it for their own needs with the creation of “Attitude” led by Shane Michaels rebellious character and DX stable, and Steve Austin’s era of 3:16 and classic feuds with Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, as well as Sable taking off her clothes at every opportunity. And while the WWF may have been copying ECW; the fans knew the WWF more intimately and assumed that ECW was a lame rip off trying to grab on the coat tails of a successful WWF idea. ECW was outclassed at its own style and creation. Brawls from people such as the Dudleys and Gangstas couldn’t compare to those provided by Mick Foley and Steve Austin. RVD and Lance Storm put on great matches but they couldn’t compare to Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart. The Triple Threat stable was still fun but compared to DX it paled. Even gimmicky tag teams weren’t theirs alone anymore as the New Age Outlaws got more over as two average wrestlers with their weaknesses hidden and strengths shined upon, were arguably more over than the Public Enemy team which had started the trend. Even ECW’s women who were often involved in fights themselves or baring their bodies were shown up by WWF women willing to do the same thing or more. So while ECW had it’s largest gates, profitable PPVs, and a larger than ever cult following- they were also losing the war. Money would only come in for so long and there were only so many wrestlers that had failed before that Paul Heyman could make stars out of, not to mention the never ending state of change in the locker room and writing that had to be compensated for as a result of that.

The Push To Survive

As 1998 began, Paul Heyman came to the realization that if he wanted ECW to stay and live on and keep his wrestlers on board with him he had to get on television. He needed to be able to offer the exposure and dollars that the TV market created and he needed to do it fast.

On March 1st, ECW offered Living Dangerously from Asbury Park, the home of Bam Bam. Masato Tanaka pinned Doug Furnas in short time, RVD was helped to be built more by having a great match with Scorpio, Sabu pinned Sandman in a Dueling Canes match, and in somewhat of a rip off main event Lance Storm & Al Snow beat Shane Douglas & Chris Candido in 4:49. The highlight though was Bam Bam winning the TV title from Taz in an infamous match where the pinfall came under the ring as while Taz had his Tazmission locked on, Bigelow fell backwards and the two crashed through the ring, leaving a gaping hole. The card wasn’t met with much thrill and at next PPV their inability for intriguing storylines at the time and injured roster shone even brighter

The month of May held the WrestlePalooza PPV. Lance Storm & Chris Candido kept their tag titles from Balls & Axl Rotten, TV Champion Rob Van Dam, who had won it in a great match with BBB the previous month, went to a thirty minute draw with Sabu that people really didn’t like at the time, Bam Bam beat New Jack, and Shane Douglas kept the ECW Heavyweight title, retaining it by defeating Al Snow. Of course this PPV isn’t all bad. With the 3,400 in attendance at the Marietta arena, ECW set a per capita US record for merchandise sales among the wrestling industry as they sold $18.97 per person that night.

House shows were still growing. They averaged around 3,000 per show in any given city. For the push to TV, the push of Taz continued. Taz came back in the summer, the first time since his being forced through the ring, and brought with him his own title. Sick of the ECW title scene he brought in the FTW or “Fuck the World” championship and declared himself the FTW World Champion & sent out a message that he was going to beat Bam Bam to death for the injury he caused him. Candido & Lance Storm were finally getting ready to have their blow off and he’d struck a deal with FMW to exchange talent. Heatwave 1998 came on August 2nd and many people consider it to be the best ECW PPV of all time.

Heatwave, from Dayton, Ohio, in front of 4,376 fans went down like this: Balls & Axl beat the FBI in a fun match, Justin Credibile beat Jerry Lynn in a great match, Candido pinned Lance Storm, Masato Tanaka beat Mike Awesome in a really great match, Sabu & RVD retained the tag title by defeating Jinsei Shinzaki & Hayabusa in a good match, Taz made Bam Bam tap out in a Falls Count Anywhere match for his FTW title and the main event saw Spike Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, and the Sandman defeat the Dudley Boys (Bubba, D’Von, & Big Dick) in a Street Fight.

The show was a success with a 0.25 buy rate and ECW began resurging. Sandman left the company for WCW and Justin Credible stole his gimmick to insult him, calling himself the true “Hardcore Icon” and now always seen carrying a Singapore Cane as he was built towards being the company’s top heel. Heyman himself even made a speech about saying he’d like to have been able give him a farewell tour or actually be called and told but who was he to judge. All He “knew” was that “Taz turned down WCW, and Sandman did not”. Storm brought in Tammy Lynn Bytch as the equalizer to Candido & Tammy Lynn Sytch (Sunny), who went on to better fame as Dawn Marie. Taz was asked to join with Sabu and RVD and temporarily did to battle the Triple Threat of Douglas, Bam Bam, and Candido. 911 even made an appearance but was beat up by Spike Dudley who had the new version of his old gimmick.

Heyman tried again to get another TV deal in New York City, the most important market in all of wrestling, but was turned down by potential broadcasters WWOR. Mike Awesome went down for a year with a double knee injury that required major reconstructive sugery But with that bad news also saw new players arrive. Masato Tanaka stayed in ECW and got over by working some of the best brawls anywhere in the world. Lance Storm developed anti-charisma and a great catchphrase and continued to become more and more loved by the ECW fans for his work and character development. Even “Cyrus the Vyrus” Don Callis came in and proved a sensational talker on air and as a commentator alongside Joey Styles. Two stand outs of their TNN days, Super Crazy (who had been working as “Histeria” in AAA) & Tajiri also came on board. More good news came as ECW began appearing on the Bravo network in England from 10pm to 10:30pm Monday through Friday.

November to Remember of 1998 came and went and was lambasted. Yokozuna was originally scheduled to come in and put over Spike Dudley but couldn’t as he failed the physical of the Louisiana State Athletic Commission with the reason being obesity. He was replaced in that spot by Mabel. The opening matches were Doring and Roadkill vs. Meanie & Nova, and a Rogers/Smothers Battle of the Tommys match. Lance Storm & Jerry Lynn had a great match with a bad ending as a result of so many run-ins, Masato Tanaka & Balls beat the Dudleys (who had just beaten Sabu & RVD) for the tag championships. Tommy Dreamer & a mystery man who turned out to be Jake Roberts (it was supposed to be Vader but he decided he needed to rest up for his upcoming AJPW tour & because Stan Hansen told him it’d be a horrible move for Japan politically speaking) beat Justin Credible & Jack Victory when Roberts pinned Credible which was a horrible twist of fate (he did so because Victory was planned to but broke his leg one minute into the match). Roberts looked terrible and on something and left the company afterwards and here he is going over the guy groomed to be their top heel. After the match Terry Funk jumped Tommy Dreamer. He was upset at not being chosen to be the mystery partner and Dreamer’s defense was he thought he wanted a lighter schedule now so Funk started slapping the shit out of him but Dreamer wouldn’t hit him back so Funk jumped him. In the main we saw the Sabu, Rob Van Dam, & Taz defeat Douglas, Candido, & Bigelow where the man who won was the new #1 contender (Sabu won but it was expected as earlier in the month he had been fighting Douglas and often going to double pin draws).

The event got an 0.21 buyrate but the reviews were horrible. To add to this Bam Bam Bigelow left for WCW for a program with Goldberg - another WCW move that really hurt ECW as now it killed their most established stable and a guy who was renowned world wide as a top star and could actually put on some great matches. Of course Bigelow should be looked at with admiration as he signed the deal before the PPV and worked the show anyways for them (and Heyman made an interesting counter offer of offering him to be the ECW New Jersey promoter and have shows in high school gyms every Wednesday night and keep $1 per head and $2 per head over 1,000 as long as he cut back on blood and brawling through the stands at his shows, used a lower budget, and used local New Jersey talent and ECW talent that was in town). After the show Taz, Douglas, and Van Dam almost came to blows. Taz felt his heat spot for a future program was ruined by RVD jumping up to the top rope to dive out onto Bigelow and Douglas’ elbow at this point was just about dead and he couldn’t do much of anything in the match and stormed out of the building when it was done.

ECW was now trying to get back on NYC TV. Fox Sports Net lifted its unofficial ban and ECW began trying to purchase time on their MSG and other local networks for $250,000 per year and did which got him back on MSG at 1am on Saturday nights. Heyman also had to pay off the costs of his new production equipment and had one last goal on his way towards TV and that was to bring in Chicago as a market. He wanted one of his 6 PPVs in the upcoming year to be held in the Windy City, and once they were established he would make the final run of Justin Credible as top heel and Rob Van Dam as top face. Van Dam was considered ECW’s own Shawn Michaels and Heyman began booking him in twenty minute matches to prepare him and let him have some experience for when he eventually (well…) had world title matches. Also at the end of 1998, Chris Candido and Sunny got in hot water with Heyman as they no showed an FMW PPV and cancelled flights to Japan. Candido’s push would be killed and you’d hear more about him in the spring of 1999. Mikey Whipwreck & Chastity were also brought in to WCW from the advice of Raven. Big Dick Dudley was also fired again but did end up working on and off for the promotion for a while longer, and though he was supposed to go to WWF for an angle & character made specially for him by Vince Russo, that obviously never came to be. It is also at this point that, for one reason or another, porn mogul Rob Black was first bit by the wrestling bug. He’d met with the ECW hierarchy about getting on to a show and was noted as saying he’d do very hard training and juice up heavily if he had to. ECW considered this because of his notoriety and the possible help that could create with PPV buyrates but ultimately declined and Rob Black went on to form XPW, a promotion in the vein of the hardcore aspect of ECW. ECW also inked a deal with H & S Media out of Chicago for a 6 issue per year official magazine, along with publishing posters & poster books.

Guilty as Charged was the first PPV with the new price tag on it as they had moved up from $19.95 to $21.95 as a segue to their wanted price of $24.95 starting on the March PPV show. The PPV came from Kissimmee, Florida on January 10th, 1999. The show had a great card and was a success. Tajiri & Super Crazy had their first great meeting, Sid Viscous debuted and destroyed John Kronus drawing an enormous reaction and this continuation of big name surprises on PPV didn’t sit well with the fans of 3-4 years ago, but they were drawing well despite that. RVD retained his TV title by defeating Lance Storm in a great match, Justin Credible pinned Tommy Dreamer in a Stairway to Hell match that really put him on the map and wasn’t short of moments for their highlight reels, and in the main event Taz choked Shane Douglas unconscious to win the world title.

It as also at this time that people started to take notice of how much a financial hole Heyman was burying himself in. Guilty As Charged would mark the beginning of when wrestling insiders and educated fans were almost more interested and talked more about the fiscal situation of the company then what was on screen. Checks began to bounce, wrestlers hadn’t even had their 1998 PPV bonus checks yet, they could no longer afford to fly in their low card wrestlers, many workers and employees sent out feelers in the big two, and morale plummeted while rumors of ECW shutting down became the norm. The fact that Heyman couldn’t “keep a book” was now becoming known as he showed his locker room that as great as he was creatively, he was poor with the business side, and despite a $750,000 dollar loan from Quantum financing he was having a hard time with his checks and balances. Now much of this stems from the fees Heyman was paying the television stations to get on the air. If they had no TV, they’d have no future and he truly thought that it was in the employees best interests to struggle now for profiting later.

He paid $156,000 per year for Chicago TV, $250,000 per year for NYC TV, and I’ve yet to find the numbers for other markets but I’m sure they were up there as well, and these were amounts that even his top wrestlers usually couldn’t claim to be bringing in. And around this time they actually lost a lot of major markets due to their bounced checks. Heyman was paying a lot for Chicago and still hadn’t had a house tour run through there. He felt it was worthless for that price when they don’t run and the station didn’t even cover all of Chicago so he decided he’d wait for a new deal. They were paying $850 a week for Buffalo but didn’t renew that either since they didn’t have a set time slot or played at different days/hours each week. Pittsburgh was lost because of bounced checks, but they did get a new deal with WMIA in Miami to start a week after the Living Dangerously PPV and this was a great deal because, though nobody tends to acknowledge it, Florida was one of the strongest markets for ECW perhaps only rivaled by their Philly homeland. In total they lost Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Buffalo, & Pittsburgh all on roughly the same time period and like the same week. Heyman began losing money, and losing it fast. On house show tours around the East Coast, Heyman lost money while gates and merchandise sales were at an all time high, on top of TV deals he now had to rent out larger buildings and pay traveling expenses for his entire crew. The push for a real TV deal on a national network rather than being raped by the Fox Sports affiliate stations was something Heyman desperately needed. The pressure was certainly getting to Heyman himself at this point.

Heyman had to be in charge of booking the shows, producing the television and PPVs, finding and taking care of the talent situation, the companies public spokesman, the owner and all that goes along with that title, the broker of all his own deals, the peacemaker backstage, the inspirational leader of the locker room, the book keeper, keeping the financers off his back or at least at bay, and really just about every other job you can think of with few people around to help him with any of it. This showed not only in Heyman’s hairline but also the booking of his shows, which were still strong as he built RVD, Credible, & Taz and kept them in interesting storylines, but they were a far cry from the creative genius and groundbreaking, landscape determining product of years ago. While Heyman was reaching a climax of burn out, the WWF was peaking. Vince McMahon’s WWF had just come off a highly successful building year in 1997, an engrossing McMahon vs. Steve Austin feud on the top card in 1998 and was about to take a dip creatively in 1999 but a great year fiscally while The Rock came into his own as a top star along with HHH, and also Mick Foley.

Nevertheless, Extreme Championship Wrestling went forward to their next PPV, March 21st’s Living Dangerously from Asbury Park, New Jersey. In another of their great series together , Super Crazy pinned Tajiri one more time, RVD pinned Jerry Lynn in a match that got the entire industry talking. Steve Corino lost to Balls Mahoney but was impressing Heyman with his heel interviews and ring work, Sid & Spike beat the Dudley Boyz, Dreamer & Douglas pinned The Impact Players (Lance Storm & Justin Credible), & Taz choked out Sabu to unite the FTW and ECW Heavyweight championships.

Heyman had just two more months until his next PPV, secured some new TV deals along the way (WCIU in Chicago at 3am and Buffalo on WNYO at 10am Saturday mornings), and it arrived on May 16th from Poughkeepsie, NY. Taz choked out Candido in just one minute and ten seconds to open the show. Then The Dudley Boys pinned Balls and Spike (I believe this is the match with the powerbomb through the flaming table) and that was followed by Super Crazy going over TAKA and Tajiri going over Little Guido. Lance Storm pinned Tommy Dreamer in around fifteen minutes because when a star needed to be made they went over Tommy, that’s how he liked it.

He was in ECW from the beginning and any success he had was thanks to Heyman and he knew it. He helped out backstage as an assistant to Paul to help take some of the burden off his Atlas’ shoulders and had enough power to have been champ time and time again. But he didn’t do that once. He knew he was the embodiment of ECW, he never left, he never complained, he was the definition of a class act, a loyalist, and a company man. Tommy wanted to help the company as much as he felt the company helped him. So he laid down for Storm, Credible, Taz, and any other star that Heyman needed help in creating. Tommy broke his back and took no time off because he didn’t want the company to suffer. He gave everything he had to ECW and Paul Heyman and did it with a class that I truly haven’t ever heard of being matched and he should be respected as a great man, because in a business led by psychopaths & narcissists. Tommy stood out as a man and never once let his own ego overcome his heart and soul. People make me sick when they talk badly about Tommy Dreamer; he’s probably the classiest guy the business has ever seen.

Back to the PPV results- Rob Van Dam pinned Jerry Lynn in twenty-seven mintues in a No Time Limit rematch. Sid & Justin Credible went to a No Contest after just a minute of action (Douglas was supposed to put over Credible in his final ECW match but no showed and then refused a Heyman phone call resulting in his immediate firing), and in both men’s second match of the night Taz defeated Bubba Dudley by submission in a match I loved at the time and still do today as it truly showed Bubba could do something in singles. This was something he hadn’t had a chance to show since his debut as the stuttering, fun-loving but hot-headed idiot Dudley brother as a new to the scene worker from years ago.

Also in May some more good & bad occurred as ECW couldn’t seem to go very long without something newsworthy. Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch were fired from the company. They had been in trouble since no showing ECWs partner FMW in late 1998. Sytch has passed out at one point in the locker room and passed it off to someone spiking her drink though most people with a brain knew otherwise as Candido & Sytch were garnering themselves quite a reputation as substance abusers and both often came to work in no condition to perform. Sytch’s personal appearance, her selling point, had begun to drop. At one point the hottest woman in the business and even the most downloaded woman online (and one people still reference as the hottest woman ever in wrestling) Sytch was now noticeably gaining weight, slow in her spots, and her eyes and face told a dark tale. Sytch had been arrested earlier in the year for going on her mother’s property and refusing to leave- violating a restraining order. Candido posted online that he was going to sue ECW for telling people that publically. In a classy reaction by Heyman, he told them that unless they cleaned up their acts and went to rehab and enrolled in college and showed him proof that they were doing and also posted online that they were doing so and be suspended for a month without pay or that they would never work for him again. He could make such threat because he knew that neither WCW or WWF would put up with the people they had become. He also said his that although he has always been adamantly against drug testing that Candido & Sytch would have to take them from now on. The injectable Nubain was becoming a problems amongst certain workers and that he had told them to choose ECW and their jobs or the Nubain and unemployment.

Sid also left the company after arguments about back pay with Heyman & no showing the Cyberslam 1999 card. Douglas got into a bitter rivalry with Heyman over back pay owed to him as well. The fact that Heyman fired the guy in charge of merchandise sales in a cost cutting attempt who happened to be one of Douglas’ best friends, and Heyman wanting to phase him out for younger and newer guys. Douglas left the company for WCW that same month (after a deal, believe it or not, was seriously thrown around between he and the WWF of him coming in to be built up huge and feud with Austin as both sides let their heat over the “Dean” gimmick go away and blamed it not getting over on Michaels, Nash, & Hall holding him down rather than WWF or Douglas failing. It ended up not happening due to Douglas’ broken down body at that point). New Jack was off because of the court case from the Mass Transit Incident which had begun in late 1998, the actual charges being felonious assual and battery with a deadly weapon, and the juried trial began in late May where he faced eleven years in prison. Axl Rotten was released from the company as well after now showing a Florida house.

All was not lost though. Paul Heyman not only managed to get ECW a video game deal with Acclaim (who outbid Take Two Interactive), but he also came to a deal where they would take 15% equity stock of the company and help absolve the financial perils he had been going through.

More importantly, in the next month after trying to get on any channel he could find Paul Heyman finally got a nation cable television deal with TNN (The Nashville Network known for The Walton, Roller Jam, & Bullriding) after having talked with TNN, MTV, & Showtime. ECW got a one year contract for a weekly Friday night program to start in September, giving him three months time to get his product ready for that kind of exposure and television presentation worthy production. The TV deal also convinced Viewers Choice Canada to begin offering the ECW PPVs in their markets as well. The upside was obvious, Heyman now had a chance to get national and Canadian exposure, expand his house tours, gates, and revenues, while hopefully managing to stay fiscally above water and begin making a profit once again. Many TV and wrestling insiders had even thought that ECW could take over WCW as the number two promotion in the country. The downside was that ECW had to pay for its own production costs ($25,000 per week, $1,300,000 per year) and TNN kept a share of advertising revenue that many would call outrageous, and TNN wouldn’t allow any footage from the TV show to appear on ECWs syndicated show. Heyman was willing to accept the terms though out of confidence that he could bring ECW success and good ratings to the station and would renew a better contract with better prices and a better timeslot. He simply had to recreate the old magic of ECW and was as determined as ever (and under more pressure than ever) to do so.

As part of the plan for ECW on TNN, Heyman decided that his show had to revolve around something that wasn’t already being shoved down the fans throat from the WWF & WCW. Already having stolen his attitude, Heyman decided that it would have to be on the in-ring aspect. RVD excited fans as much as any performer in the US at the time, Jerry Lynn was someone Heyman wasn’t big on until he realized he couldn’t send him out there and ever see a bad match, the Tajiri v. Super Crazy matches were the talk of the dirt sheets and he could revive them on the television shows. Justin Credible would bump like crazy to make up for any low points he might have in the ring, and Lance Storm was among the most solid workers worldwide. Performers like Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, and others that weren’t great workers would be more involved in the angles that supplemented the great matches. Because sure WCW had great matches around that time, but announcers couldn’t & didn’t ever put them over and people forgot about them the next day. The WWFs strong point at that time period between workers like Hart/Michaels and Angle/Benoit was main event brawls by guys that could bring a ton of heat to the matches through their great characters and promos. He decided to mainly show vignettes of Sabu for a while and build up intrigue and want to see him rather than just throw him out there. Heyman decided that Joey Styles would need a cohost (finally, after fans had said for years that him alone for 3hrs every single show was killing him) and it would be Joel Gertner. And he would do 2 tapings a month of two weeks worth of one hour shows.

The July 20th Heatwave PPV leading up to the event made it obvious to anyone that there was excitement in the air. In front of 3,400 fans in Dayton, Ohio, Balls & Spike finally won the tag titles from the Dudley Boys, Francine defeated Steve Corino, Taz beat Tajiri (via pinfall rather than submission for a change) in a solid ten minute match, and in an awesome main event Lynn & Van Dam teamed up and defeated the Impact Players (Justin Credible & Lance Storm). The PPV debuted Don Callis as the PPV announcer in a role he was widely heralded for (and a show on which he plugged TNN endlessly on), and it got an 0.26 buy rate, which tied with Barely Legal as the second highest ECW PPV buy rate in history. It was surprising but very promising to Heyman as it was built on solid match ups and very, very little from storylines.

Heyman had to build quickly. He just had a great, and more importantly, seen, PPV and now he had to get the best roster he could and get to the drawing board, so to speak. He brought in Amy Dumas (who later became “Lita”) from the Carolina’s who at that point was most notable for working Music City Wrestling and being trained by the yet-to-explode Hardy boys and made her “Angelica”, dirty tongued Danny Doring’s valet. She only made $100 a shot and had to provide her own transportation from show to show. He also took back Axl Rotten after Rotten admitted to his drug problems and his work to overcome them publically on the Internet. He once again talked to Vader about coming in to work a program and put over one of his guys but Vader couldn’t because of his ties with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He also looked to Michigan and brought in Rhino, a green wrestler with a great look and great intensity who would be managed by Steve Corino. Heyman also made moves to get Jinsei Shinzaki (Hakushi in the WWF) in as a full timer for ECW but those talks never panned out. He also began talks to bring in the wrestler that Chris Benoit himself considers the best in the world, Johnny Smith and pair him off with the Impact Players which did eventually happen though not with any swiftness. He also signed David Cash who was best known then as Davey Jericho before Heyman repackaged him as Kid Kash. At this same time though, WWF had just inked a deal with UPN for a new show starting also in the fall after a successful pilot run of the “Smack Down!” program and Vince needed to expand his roster. Of course this would not come until the first week or so of the show (roughly speaking), WWFe signed ECWs world champion Taz and tag team champions The Dudley Boys (Bubba & D’Von) all to three-year deals. The specifics with Taz get confusing.

Before Taz signed with the WWF the first show was going to feature Jerry Lynn going over RVD for the TV title and on the second show we’d have seen RVD beating Taz for the world heavyweight championship. When Taz decided to leave the company, that was nixed… which I don’t understand why, but I can see the point as they came up with the idea of pushing RVD as the unbeatable TV champion and play up his lengthy reign. Taz at first was going to stay but had Brad Small, his agent, contact WWF & WCW asking $450,000 and the maximum number of dates worked. WCW never responded seriously and Taz was told they’d only sign him to keep him out of WWF, not to use him, and WWF said no thanks unless he would accept a $200,000 downside guarantee deal. The maximum money in ECW was $3,000 per week (they counter offered with top money, a huge push as the top star, and medical insurance for his entire family) or $156,000 a year, and apparently that was all he really wanted as he must’ve realized he was getting on in years.

With Heyman putting storylines on hold until the TNN show, house shows attendances were quickly going down to the break even # of 1,700 paid despite the recent buy rate success of the Heat Wave PPV. Leading into the TNN show an article aired in Entertainment weekly (8/13/99 if you’d like to find it) in which they described it as more “brutal” than WWF or WCW and quoted Eric Bischoff as saying, “If they bring that (envelope pushing) formula to TNN, and TNN doesn’t discipline itself, I think wrestling in general will suffer.” In a widely published AP article David Hall, a TNN executive, stated the show would be emphasizing in-ring wrestling and less outside drama and that the show would be a “consumer-friendly, mainstream approach”.

Well, you’ve now read part one covering ECW’s transition from a small, overly violent indy run by Eddie Gilbert and a jewelry store owner through the period many consider it’s best time period and up to their first ever PayPerView, Barely Legal. In part two we have followed along as Extreme Championship Wrestling takes its usual jagged path of highs and lows until they finally make a deal with TNN to arrive on national television. On the face level, it was a blessing. But what lies beneath?

The Era of ECW on TNN: Crash & Burn

With much ado, ECW on TNN debuted Friday, August 27th of 1999 from Toledo, Ohio which had 1,500 paid in a building that can hold 2,300. It let people know the history of ECW mostly. Chronicling the stays of past stars and current stars from Steve Austin to Mikey Whipwreck. It replayed past angles and the glory days & present times of ECW, recapped the awesome Jerry Lynn/Rob Van Dam TV title match from Hardcore Heaven, and the show ended with a ferocious promo in the ring from Taz who let everyone know that the “mood was about to change.” The debut episode got a 0.9 rating which was considered a success by many, including Heyman. TNN was very displeased though. Even though Heyman had told them he could not in any way predict a rating average for the show, TNN had sold advertising minutes on the promise of a 2.0 rating and had just had a nasty wake up call for their optimism.

The week that ECW debuted on TNN, Eric Bischoff had heard enough of wrestlers grumbling that if given the chance they would leave and held a meeting telling anyone who had the balls to live up to that could walk out of the room and be granted a full release with no restrictions from their contract and not expect to work for him again (of course than it was changed to the stipulation that they couldn’t go to the WWF). The only person to take him up on his offer was none other than Raven who was “going home.” On ECWs second TNN show he made his return defeating the Dudleys for the tag team titles in their final ECW match (almost causing yet another riot thanks to Bubba) with the most interesting partner choice that could’ve been made. Long time blood rival Tommy Dreamer.

By September 9ths Anarchy Rulz PPV (in Chicago as Heyman had hoped) in front of 6,000 rabid fans Mike Awesome returned from his double knee reconstruction and defeated Taz, who was almost out of his contract & WWF bound, & Masato Tanaka for the ECW Heavyweight championship (Tanaka & Awesome double teamed Taz to start off and eliminated him in 121 seconds) in a great scene as a teary eyed Taz shook Awesome’s hand and kissed the belt before handing it over to him. Taz hugged Heyman and when eliminated watched the match from the ramp with the rest of the locker room and had to try and get fans to stop chanting his name as it was diluting the Awesome/Tanaka match. Also on the solid card (which garnered an 0.23), Tommy Dreamer & Raven retained their titles by defeating Steve Corino & Jack Victory, Lance Storm went over Jerry Lynn, Tajiri beat Super Crazy & Little Guido in a match that cemeted them so much with Heyman that he tried to and did buy them out from Puerto Rico promoter Victor Qionones who they were “leasing” the two stars from, Justin Credible was given another big name fed to his push, this time Sabu, and in the main event RVD kept his TV title by beating Balls Mahoney. Awesome was exposed in WWF & WCW for the worker he was but as the monster (with the Splash Mountain through a table outside the ring death move) in ECW he performed tremendously as Spike Dudley put him over huge and he & Tanaka would’ve had to be on speed balls to even come close to getting under ***1/2 in brutal matches. Also, Awesome would have been back sooner but had committed to the summer tour with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He had an offer for a full time job from both but no part time offer from other and had to take a while before deciding on ECW, likely with the title run as his biggest bait. Sadly with the buy rate 0.03 lower than it had been before TNN, ECW discovered that the only people watching ECW seemed to be the people that had already been watching it in the first place and by the end of the month the ratings would dip all the way down to an 0.72 (which at least beat the 0.68 RollerJam that same night) which down from their initial 0.97 is a loss of 26% of their initial audience.

The next month in WCW was a release that ECW couldn’t have been happier to hear. For some reason a guy who couldn’t work but got over on his awesome and long entrance, smoking, drinking, and turning himself into a “barbed wire battering ram” somehow didn’t work when they took that away from him and ¼ assed his push. Go figure. In October, the Sandman was released from WCW and just days later returned to ECW to yet another gigantic return pop. He had a built in return storyline for him with Justin Credible (as was discussed earlier, Credible claimed to be the real Hardcore Icon and began brandishing a cane once Sandman left in a show of ultimate disrespect to him).

With the return of the Sandman, and Heyman deciding that scientific and great matches weren’t drawing despite his best offerings, ECW decided to say screw the market saturation and take back the style it had popularized. Heyman planned to return to storylines that wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else, man on woman violence, and catfights, even bringing back Tammy Lynn Sytch to feud with Dawn Marie and spend one entire show talking about her drug problems. Slowly, the ratings did grow and averaged above a 1.0 while peaking at 1.3, all the while Francine & Dawn Marie rolled around with their skirts above their heads, Steve Corino called Tajiri a Jap and any other racial slur he could think of, Rhino decided to try and maim Sandman’s wife, and Steve Corino bled so often he’d have permanent scarring in a mere year. But we’ll get to all that in due time.

TNN still considered ECWs ratings a disappointment. ECW didn’t have production levels like the big two, or the marquee names, and the show had to go to commercial break so often that the show was usually about 35 minutes in total time. TNN also decided that it would not give as much creative leeway to Heyman as promised and made him cut down on his blood, violence, and other ECW drawing points. Most enraging to Heyman though, was that TNN would not advertise the ECW program at all. Period. Not on the TV Guide channel or magazine ads, not late night, and especially not during its daytime/ primetime time shows. ECW was losing money again. Fast.

ECW wouldn’t be ECW without more problems accumulating. The storylines were obviously censored and majorly by TNN as was apparent to anyone still watching the syndicated programming. In fact, TNN had even complained about ECW showing the old clips of the Beulah pregnancy angle. From the Raven-Dreamer feud while they explained their history (As a stupid angle really. Beulah claimed for a long time she was pregnant from Tommy, never showed any signs, told him she lied the whole time and was faking the “keep-a-brotha baby”, and despite the fact he hated her before and more then he still stayed with her for reasons unknown to this day.) It seemed the most interesting characters were managers. The Lou E. Dangerously character (spoof of Paul E.), the Sinister Minister, and Steve Corino. Dangeroulsy starting a stable and doing a grade A parody of Paul E. Minister giving great promos eventually for Mikey & Tajiri, and Steve Corino as he led Rhino, the network, and got into a chair wielding incident with Fred Durst at a Limp Bizkit concert.

Worse was Raven. Thought at first that his return was a gift from God, he turned out to be treading water while waiting to go to Titan. His storyline with Tommy Dreamer never went anywhere of note (he got mad at Tommy for bringing Sandman into the fold with them and became jealous). He seemed to be bored while gaining weight (which is odd since at this point he said he was finally off steroids and had lost eight pounds down to 237). He was going through the motions in the ring and on the mic, and wasn’t exactly secretive about his want to go to the WWF and his frequent head butting and shouting matches with Paul Heyman.

Mike Awesome was having tremendously brutal matches. To cover up for his sub-par promo ability, he was given Judge Jeff Jones as a manager - someone not liked throughout the company and not the best fit for Awesome or that great of a mouthpiece at this time period. Awesome’s interviews and mullet look were mocked as often as his matches heralded. The Sandman was old and beaten up and though he got great heat for his entries he was getting more and more broken down. The midcard was nothing to make anyone go crazy either. CW Anderson, Danny Doring, Roadkill, PN News, Vic Grimes & the Baldies and the like hardly compared to the mid card of the big two or even to what ECW had offered in that spot in the past. MMA beast Mark Coleman was scheduled for a November try-out with the company but between seeing what they did with Paul Verleans (jobbed him out to Taz in a worked shoot… he was hyped big but ended up being a huge flop in the MMA world) and mostly from seeing what ECW wrestlers put their bodies through, he decided against it. It’s a shame because he’s a phenomenal shoot fighter and true MMA legend and in Japan wrestling matches he displays great charisma and is fairly decent for his level of training & experience. Just since it’s worth mentioning for humor, at this time the Ultimate Warrior responded to Heyman’s want and offer to bring him in if he’d put over Taz. Warrior said he had no problems jobbing but that Heyman wanted to “devalue an already established marketing persona” which I think translates to him having a problem with doing a job. He said he’d only ever go to ECW on one condition. That condition being that it had to be a shoot match and if he (Warrior) was still standing after thirty seconds that he’d have full control of the company. Heyman declined. Then laughed.

November also saw the return of Mikey Whipwreck. Sign Guy Dudley on ECW syndicated TV at the arena, transformed himself into Paul E., dressing, talking, and using gimmicks like he did in WCW and brought back a former ECW champion to defeat Awesome but Mikey was defeated thoroughly in six minutes. Some ideas were also being redone with new faces. Simon Diamond now had a sidekick named Big Dick Hertz and made tons of dick jokes just like with the Big Dick Dudley character except Hertz was a putz unlike Dudley. The Baldies were given promos written ‘to a T’ like the original Dudley Boys scripts. To make matters worse, ECW continued to be snubbed by TNN in favor of Roller Jam. Roller Jam got worse ratings despite heavy TNN advertising, and in November they had man on woman violence when one male skater suplexed a female skater and slammed her crotch her first onto a guardrail. TNN did not allow ECW to do things like this. Both were sports entertainment and should’ve had the same equal guidelines, but for some reason, ECW continued to get blatantly snubbed to the point of it seeming intentional on the part of the network.

The show was mainly being carried by Tammy Sytch, which put Heyman in a tough situation. He had to keep her on or suffer the ratings fall from before but this month she passed out backstage before doing her promos. She said it was caused by drinking a Pepsi with GHB in it and she didn’t know whose it was. That’s a bad, totally unbelievable excuse for a number of reasons but you can figure them out yourself.

November to Remember ‘99 got a 0.20 buy rate, enough to make ends meet and matching their lowest ever from November to Remember of 1997. Jerry Lynn beat Tajiri & Super Crazy, The Baldies (Spanish Angel, Tony DeVito, Vito Lograsso, & PN News) were actually booked over New Jack, Axl Rotten, & Balls Mahoney. Sabu defeated Chris Candido, Mike Awesome had a solid match with Tanaka, RVD pinned Taz to keep the TV title before Taz left to Titan, and in the main event Rhino & the Impact Players defeated Raven, Tommy Dreamer, & Sandman when Credible pinned another major ECW name, Sandman. The crowd at times was hot but usually was apathetic and ruined the aura of a lot of matches. Granted some matches weren’t worth much of their attention if we’re being fair (The Baldies), but also some good-great matches were totally ignored and devoid of heat (Sabu/Candido).

After November to Remember came arguably the best angle of the ECW on TNN period. Originally it was supposed to be Balls Mahoney coming out onstage of a Limp Bizkit concert, running down the band and then taking a bump for a Durst clothesline but that angle was contradictory to Balls character and the fact that Durst weighs maybe 165lbs. Instead, Steve Corino came out onstage and told Durst he prefers the Backstreet Boys and that all his fans only came to his concerts as an excuse to get high. This brought out Balls Mahoney, New Jack, & Axl Rotten who flattened him with chairshots, one while Durst was hold his arms back that was so stiff it knocked him out on stage for real. Corino managed to plug ECW on TNN every Friday at 8pm and clips were played all week on MTV news as teasers and letting people know when and where to see the full angle. Lots of publicity certainly occurred from this. Amy Dumas also left ECW for the WWF at this point and was repackaged as “Lita,” the valet of cruiserweight Essa Rios and went on to great popularity. Doring replaced her with the real life of ex-wife of ex-ECW star Big Dick Dudley, Elektra (trained by Johnny Rodz & Fabulous Moolah and came to Heyman’s attention by being on WWF TV just weeks earlier and being splashed and destroyed by Viscera). To subside the loss of Vito Lograsso who was signed by WCW as a favor to Vince Russo who he had been friends with for over a decade, Heyman brought in BattlArts star Ikuto Hidaka while also trying to get in brawler Kintaro Kanemura along with Masato Tanaka.

On the December 2nd ECW tapings in Atlanta, Dusty Rhodes debuted in ECW. They mentioned he was in the building but couldn’t appear due to legal reasons so people would think he wasn’t going to appear. Corino came out and began promoing on him which brought Dusty out into the crowd and then into the ring to beat down Corino & Jack Victory with Bionic Elbows for a big pop. Shawn Michaels was also rumored as coming in and was using PJ Polaco (Credible) as a go between. Michaels wouldn’t have wrestled but made a PPV appearance but when McMahon was asked to okay the appearance, the idea was shot down. It was thought it would happen as WWF was sending him a $15,000 paycheck every week to sit at home as they didn’t use him on their own TV because of major heat with Rock, Steve Austin, Undertaker, and the majority of management. ECW felt the same about both guys and that’s that. They were just using ECW as their ticket to get back on TV and eventually back on Big Two TV and not because of any real interest to help the company with Heyman even publically acknowledging such. During the final week of the year 1999 Heyman fired Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch, & Axl Rotten due to an out of control locker room mess in Dover, DE. Also during the episodes run they redid the old crufixition angle as during a tag team title match of Dreamer & Raven vs. Da Baldies, Da Baldies crucified Raven on the TNN set as Dreamer was out of the way from helping him. Raven cut a promo, telling “Tommy” that he was too weak to turn on him though he deserved it, and Francine ended up being who Raven was talking to.

On January 9th of the last year of the 20th century, before 4,700 fans, Guilty As Charged aired on PPV and is considered by many to be one of the top 5 PPVs in company history. Tajiri & Super Crazy defeated Jerry Lynn & Little Guido in a great match, Rob Van Dam & Sabu had a great match against each other for the TV title, which of course was won by RVD. The Impact Players defeated Dreamer & Raven for the tag team titles, and in the main event Mike Awesome brutalized Spike Dudley and reached his peak as a monster force. The rest of the month of January featured compelling television as RVD finally emerged to challenge for the TV title by confronting Mike Awesome. Unfortunately the feud never came to be as RVD broke his ankle performing a baseball slide out of the ring when it got stuck under the ring apron and bent violently at the end of January. The midcard featured great matches and feuding between Guido, Tajiri, Super Crazy, Guido, and company performing great matches. Danny Doring & Amish Roadkill were quickly becoming cult favorites in the cult ECW audience, Rhino began a program with football player Josh Wilcox (alongside Dreamer vs. Corino in the same program) that was cut short when Wilcox had to undergo shoulder surgery, and Mike Awesome again destroyed Spike Dudley. The company was peaking on TV ratings with 1.2’s for the 7th & 14th, and for the January 21st episode, a 1.3 (a show highlighted by RVD confronting Awesome, Dusty Rhodes finally getting some action as he saved Tommy Dreamer from a beatdown by Corino & Rhino, delivering Bionic Elbows as the roof blew off the building before Rhino laid him out with a spear. It also had another great Crazy/Tajiri match, and the debut of Don Callis as a “evil representative of TNN” & The Network as he confronted Gertner over his language and conduct) a rating only matched by the 3/30 show. They ended the month with a 1.0 rating.

In the month of January, ECW of course lost some major players, as seemed the norm for the group as injuries and larger promotions continually raped the talent base. Sabu accepted an offer to join WCW without realizing that his ECW contract wouldn’t allow him to do so. Don’t ask me how he didn’t realize that. He not only didn’t go to WCW he was removed from all ECW booking, never to return to the company, and though relations were horrible Heyman allowed him to at least earn a living and work any indepandant dates he wanted (well, within reason, he did threaten the Insane Clown Posse with legal action when they wanted Sabu to go to their Juggalo Championshit Wrestling tour. XPW used him against legal restraint on 4/15 because he wasn’t being paid and thought that was a loophole (of course, he was paid) and Heyman sued Rob Black & Sabu. He sued Sabu for breach of contact, and Black for tortuous interference of a contract and also copyright infringment). Before this Sabu was unhappy no longer being a top star in the promotion, and rejecfted an angle where he’d tell RVD if he could beat him he’d give him his wrestling boots. Spike Dudley injured his knee during the course of a match with Rhino, and as stated Rob Van Dam, arguably the most important man in the company, broke his fibula and ankle both, which would require him to take three months off and rehabilitate, ruining Heyman’s planned top feud for the first quarter of the year. Jerry Lynn also went out for two months with an ankle injury. Lance Storm also had to have eight staples in his skull when he took a blind back bump over a guardrail and cracked his head open on a chair. The civil trial also finally had a date set for the next month in regards to a fan in the front row injured by the fire chair incident back in 1995 when Cactus Jack almost burnt down the ECW arena and severely burned Terry Funk all in one spot. Heyman also cut back on house shows from three or four per week back to two. The promotion team of Lou E Dangerously & Jack Victory to make it work, plus attendances were down compared to the same time the previous year, it was eating up expenses and it helped with paying wrestlers because half the roster was on a per night deal and so Heyman was able to cut their pay 33% via proxy.

February continued the build to the next PPV. The undercard was with the usual suspects with Rhino & Super Crazy being built strong, going over Sandman & CW Anderson respectively and most notably for the TV title, which RVD relinquished upon his injury. A tournament took place and the semis & finals would be on the Living Dangerously PPV the following month. Doring & Roadkill were also climbing the tag team ranks defeating the Dupps & Chetti & Nova while Erik Watts debuted and fought Steve Corino to a No Contest. Mike Awesome had strong matches with Spike, Masato Tanaka, and on the last show before the PPV he teamed up with Raven to defeat Tanaka & Dreamer for the tag team titles (who had won them just a week earlier from the Impact Players) as Raven had finally turned heel on Dreamer in an attempt to get a spark to their feud. The whole time garnering very respectable ratings that ranged from 1.1 to 1.3 (3/30 which tied for the highest ECW TV rating in history on a show that specifically featured Awesome/LSD, Watts/Corino, Super Crazy/Little Guido/Tajri, & the tag title change of Dreamer & Tanaka over the Impact Players).

On March 12th, ECW presented Living Dangerously. The card was met with extremely mixed reviews. Dusty Rhodes defeated Steve Corino in a very bloody Texas Bullrope match. Mike Awesome defeated Kid Kash in just three minutes in a world title match, Super Nova & Chris Chetti went over Gedo & Jado in a good match that the crowd made better. Vic Grimes went to a No Contest. Balls Mahoney pinned Kintaro Kanemura in just three minutes, The Impact Players defeated both Dreamer & Tanaka as well as Raven & Mike Awesome to regain the tag titles and Super Crazy defeated Little Guido and then in the main event defeated Rhino to win the TV title.

After the show, ECW started a PPV slide from which they would never recover, which is unfortunate as March was the only time in history where ECW could truly have an argument as the PPV show and house attendances both were ahead of WCWs. If you add in Living Dangerously to ECW they average 2,036 paid per show. If you include Uncensored, WCW averaged 1,932 paid. They garnered 0.8 ratings the next two TV shows and only reached either a 1.0 or 1.1 six times before the final show on October 6th, 2000. The rest of the time they got between an 0.7 & a 0.9 and the end never seemed closer. While I’m talking about ratings the argument that the ECW Friday 8-9pm timeslot on “the hick network” hurt their chances and point out some fallacies. SmackDown! at this point was on UPN, a ghetto garbage network barely off the ground and just terrible. The show was built up enough to compete with every other network’s ratings bar the big four (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX). Also, according to the Neilsens, on Monday from 9-11pm 68% of homes with TV sets are watching TV. For Friday 8-9pm that percentage only drop to 60%. That difference is 0.90 or 1.02. Not a lot. Also, ECW didn’t have any head to head competition.

Anyways, Heyman continued to go with what worked, showcasing Super Crazy, Tajiri, Dreamer, the Impact Players and Mike Awesome while attempting to build Doring & Roadkill, the Baldies, Steve Corino, & Kid Kash. He also had preliminary talks with Toryumon to bring in Dragon Kid, Magnum Tokyo, & Cima, which much to my personal chagrin, never turned into any real plans. Sandman also got the company into a bit of trouble at a Virginia house show. Sandman saved Tommy Dreamer from a beatdown and brought out a six pack. He said he had one for himself and five audience members and brought in five girls. The first one looked very young so he said he couldn’t take her shirt off and instead poured beer down her shirt and drank it. The next one he took the shirt off of had a bra on and he poured beer into the cups until they runeth over, so to speak, and drank from them. The third is where he got in trouble as he took the girls shirt off and she was topless and he paraded her around the ring. The Virginia state law that refuses topless entertainment, even in strip clubs, was certainly smashed on that night.

ECW was about to be hit hard. Mike Awesome showed up backstage for an episode of WCW Thunder expecting to start immediately with the company as a result of frustration from not receiving paychecks for months from ECW. While ECW and WCW lawyers came to an impasse, Awesome claimed his contract with ECW, which had over two years left, extending through summer of 2002, was invalid and that the deal he signed with WCW on April 3rd was totally legal. He had been no showing ECW house shows, but ECW hadn’t considered he’d leave for WCW until they heard the news that he was offered a six figure contract, which he excepted. On April 10th, while still holding the ECW title, Awesome debuted and attacked Kevin Nash (2 weeks later he would pin Hulk Hogan) after jumping out of the crowd while announcers sold him as the ECW champion. He would become known as the “Career Killer” and battle with Nash, Steiner, Kanyon, DDP, and Hulk Hogan on a great run eventually ruined by a badly timed and performed face turn. Let’s make the situation a little bit more clear though. Awesome, according to the Pro Wrestling Torch & Wrestling Observer newsletters, had originally almost gotten a restraining order placed on him from attending WCW but was cleared to on air as ECW and WCW lawyers came to an agreement just minutes before show began. According to the deal, Awesome could not wear the title but had to be referred to by the announcers as the ECW champion with no disparaging remarks about the company allowed under any circumstances as well as promoting his last ECW match on TNN the coming Friday, the allowing of WCW to honor the April 3rd contract, an unstated sig figure amount to ECW, and most importantly, a guarantee that Awesome would appear on the upcoming Indianapolis April 13th house show to drop the title. Heyman needed someone to take the title and as a slap to the face of WCW he signed Taz to win the title (as WWF slapped WCW in the face too, as one of their stars destroyed a heavily pushed WCW star). That night WCW legally broke the agreement and somewhat shot themselves in the foot as the announcers made no clear reference to Awesome as ECW champion, didn’t plug the TNN show, and had Awesome cut a promo mid ring. At the Buffalo show Heyman made all his verbal deals on paper and legal, as he signed a contract extension with the Sandman, signed Rhino, who had been in talks with WCW, to a five-year deal, as well as Don Callis to a one year deal. Lance Storm agreed to only a thirty-day deal as he had already given Heyman his notice back in late February.

Awesome waited outside the building from fear of reactions of the locker room, entered, lost the title to Taz, and left immediately. The event was shown on the April 14th edition of ECW on TNN, receiving a 1.1 rating on what was a solid show regardless with Rhino over Kid Kash, Impact Players over Nova & Chetti, & Tajiri winning the TV title in a three-way dance with Guido & Crazy. Awesome was later quoted as he saying he didn’t do anything that anyone else with a family wouldn’t have done. Last time I checked results and history, they wouldn’t screw over the company that made them who they were and possibly throw their title in the trash after not dropping it before signing a new contract, but what do I know.

The acronym ECW wasn’t about to stop being mentioned on the television shows of the big two companies. But now it would take a turn for the worse. On the April 18th SmackDown!, Taz appeared wearing the ECW championship. A match was signed later that evening for an interpromotion World Champion vs. World Champion match between Taz & HHH. Not only did HHH destroy Taz, he beat the hell out of him post match and when Tommy Dreamer, arguably the star most representative of the company, ran into the ring for the save, so HHH destroyed both of them single handedly. To say ECWs reputation took a hit from that even would be an understatement of great proportions. Amongst all this chaos ECW lost another star, this time Tammy Sytch, though it was of less consequence as her drawing powers had all but died off and her personal problems were raging once again.

On the April 22nd show from the ECW arena, Taz dropped the championship to Tommy Dreamer, his first ECW singles title after seven years with the company. But amongst the emotional celebration, Justin Credible interrupted and challenged the worn out Dreamer to a title match and minutes later won his first ECW title; Heyman’s pet project was about to finally get his chance to shine. Heyman just might be able to pull out of this.

Give me a break, this is ECW, you know SOMETHING had to get in the way. Paul Heyman got news that he knew would be the death of him at the end of April, something even he, the king of staying alive and using what you have to it’s fullest potential couldn’t survive. Viacom, the owner of TNN announced that it had officially bought a minority share in the WWF and their plans were to change the channel from a southern-interests based “Nashville Network” and become “The National Network” changing their program to a more accepted level of programming featuring shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that their flagship program would be WWF’s “Raw is War”. TNN informed ECW that they would not be renewing their contract, and that their last show would be in September. Though Heyman knew it might happen, and thus the anti-TNN angles he aired, he wasn’t sure it would happen. He even knew that likely his deal with TNN would end as their relations were never positive and they were at each others throats from the beginning, Heyman didn’t appreciate them lying to advertisers and lying about what he would actually end up being allowed to show on the air, among a hundred other things, and TNN took great insult from the “network” angle. While it can be argued that since TNN gave ECW national TV exposure and ECW gave TNN its highest rated programming that that would have been enough to keep them dealing with each other for the future. Personally, I think they would’ve been off TNN either way. Heyman had turned down an offer to move to Tuesday because he himself thought they would end up getting kicked off the network, and even stated on ECW on TNN, that he “hates all the commercials, too, but TNN had to raise $100 million to pay the WWF somehow.” Now it was signed and sealed. The WWF made mention of the deal as well. And between the Mike Awesome situation, the HHH vs. Taz & Dreamer disaster, and the fact that WWF would be moving to TNN and ECW would be gone, ECW’s slowly climbing ratings went into the basement and stayed there. It didn’t help that Paul Heyman finally felt defeated and the storylines and TV quality hit all time lows for the company as he put it in cruise control as they headed into the end.

Heyman sought out new deals but never found any after negotiations with USA, FX, and ESPN2. The most he got was airtime with clips of ECW on USA’s Farmclub music TV which followed Raw is War every Monday night. Networks claimed that wrestling was a fad off 1999 and was on its way down and didn’t want to risk adding the far away #3 promotion in the country to their line ups, and ECWs content didn’t help matters. Vince McMahon told him he would be allowed to keep his show on the air if he wished, but Heyman declined. The morale in the office and locker room was bottoming out and disarray was in the air.

The May 14th PPV was solid, and an example of the professionalism of the locker room as they went out and gave their best effort. In Milwaukee, before 3,400 fans, New Jack finally got to win a match, this time against Vic Grimes. Tajri beat the ever loving hell out of a blood soaked Steve Corino, Rhino pinned the Sandman to retain the TV title. Jerry Lynn pinned Rob Van Dam and began to get a push in a rematch of their great PPV matches from the previous year. The main event saw Justin Credible defeated Lance Storm to retain his ECW Heavyweight Championship in Lance Storm’s goodbye match in ECW as he immediately left for WCW thereafter.

July 16ths “Heat Wave” PPV from Los Angeles (finally), before 5,700 people showcased Doring, Roadkill & Kid Kash over CW Anderdon, Simon & Swinger. Jerry Lynn pinned Steve Corino in a great match which even saw Jerry paint the word “DIE” on his chest with a thick coat of Corino’s blood. Tajiri defeated Psychosis, Guido, and Mikey Whipwreck. Rhino pinned Sandman to keep his TV title again, Rob Van Dam defeated Scott Anton (a friend of RVD’s brought in as a favor to him, his gimmick was clapping. No, really). And the main event saw Justin Credible defeat Tommy Dreamer to retain his ECW championship in a Stairway to Hell match, a rematch of their classic bout of old. The action was almost forgotten, though. During the main event, XPW (an ECW imitation fed from California started by Rob Black when Heyman & Steve Karel stopped dealings with him coming into ECW after finding out he was a porn mogul) wrestlers grabbed a hold of Francine which brought out the entire locker room in a legit brawl before ECWs Atlas Security Force (the scariest ever in wrestling, I swear) got a hold of the situation and removed the intruding workers.

October 1st gave way to the Anarchy Rulz PPV from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Kid Kash pinned EZ Money, Steve Corino pinned CW Anderson in a Number One Contenders match, The FBI defeated Mikey Whipwreck & Tajiri to retain the tag titles, Rhino pinned Rob Van Dam to retain the TV title, and Jerry Lynn defeated Justin Credible to win the ECW Heavyweight title. October began a hard month for ECW wrestlers. With the promotion about to die and financial troubles at their worst ever and only heightening, many wrestlers began looking for work elsewhere, and most of the roster did not find it. RVD decided he wasn’t going to work for Heyman anymore, but he wasn’t quitting either. He was going to sit at home and wait for Heyman to pay him what he owed, knowing he was the promotion’s top commodity and hoping to pressure Heyman, which he claimed was over $100,000. Raven left the company in this time period as well after months of having no angles after a less than impressive storyline with Dreamer, this time he headed to the WWF when his contract ended on August 25th. ECW entered the red at a dramatic rate and Tommy Dreamer stated on the Wresting Observer Live that they had tried to get funding at this point in a last ditch effort but no company would provide them with funding because ECW couldn’t provide any verifiable bookkeeping records. October 6th also was the final episode of ECW on TNN. It was a horrible card featuring Nova over Bilvis Wesley, Kid Kash over EZ Money, and the main event of Joel Gertner vs. Don Callis. It received the lowest rating in the history of the television show, a 0.6.

Levity was almost a word to be used with the booking of ECW for its last six months. On a taping for the still-running syndicated shows, Scott Hall made a surprise appearance as a favor to long time friend Justin Credible and defeated him in a non-sanctioned match. Heyman also gave Steve Corino the title at November to Remember as a type of “thank you” for his hard work, loyalty, and consistently good brawls and promos. November to Remember 2000 from Chicago also saw Kid Kash pin CW Anderson, Nova beat Chris Chetti in a Loser Leaves ECW match as Chetti made his way to the big two as well. Balls Mahoney and Chilly Willy (a worker somewhat reminiscent of Scorpio who had the hilarious cheap heat gimmick of always being announced as being from the city he was wrestling in) defeated Da Baldies in a Flaming Tables match, Rhino defeated New Jack in a brawl to retain his TV title, The FBI defeated Mikey & Tajiri to retain their tag titles, and in a Double Jeopardy match, Steve Corino won the title by beating Sandman, Justin Credible, & Jerry Lynn.

Just a month later on December 3rd, ECW held Massacre on 34th Street, a PPV which got an astonishingly big 0.98 PPV buyrate, for a card that showed York & Matthews over Simon & Swinger, EZ Money over Balls, Nova over Julio Dinero, Doring & Roadkill over the FBI to win the tag team championships, Tommy Dreamer putting over CW Anderson, Rhino destroying Spike Dudley who had retirned from his knee injury. Mikey & Tajiri over Crazy & Kid Kash, and the main event was a three way dance Justin Credible pin Lynn for the first elimination and then Steve Corino pin Justin Credible to retain the title.

A month later ECW held its 21st and final PPV, Guilty As Charged, before a sellout of 2,500 fans in the Hammerstein Ballroom, from NYC, NY on January 7th, 2001. Don Callis & Jerry Lynn defeated York & Matthews, Doring & Roadkill retained the tag team titles against Hot Commodity (EZ Money & Julio Dinero), Tommy Dreamer defeated ECW in an I Quit match, Tajiri & Mikey defeated Crazy & Kash and The FBI in a three way match. Sandman won the world title by defeating Steve Corino & Justin Credible in a Tables, Ladders, Chairs, and Canes match, before Rhino defeated him for the world title in two minutes even to hold both ECW singles titles. The main event saw Rob Van Dam pin Jerry Lynn. The era of ECW being seen on a national scale was officially over with their last PPV and people could only watch them on syndicated TV programs from here on out.

Days after Guilty As Charged, Justin Credible, Rhino, & Jerry Lynn all signed WWF deals with Paul Heyman’s complete blessing. ECW was as good as dead and Heyman wanted Rhino to be the final representative of the promotion. Heyman publicly stated that he anticipated another PPV show on March 11th, but ECW was gone and everybody knew it & nobody counted on the PPV ever happening (it didn’t).

On March 5th, Paul Heyman debuted on WWF Raw is War to replace Jerry Lawler as the color commentator. He didn’t want to be a color commentator but couldn’t say “no” to Vince McMahon on his first day working for the company. And thank God, because he ended up being a breath of fresh air and is still missed today. He was immediately said to become a major part of the writing team, attending booking committees for Raw and SmackDown! that week and booking the finish for the main event of that nights Raw (Rock & Stone Cold vs. Kurt Angle & HHH. The finish was Angle gets Rock Bottomed but HHH breaks the count, Angle gets the Ankle Lock on Rock but Debra distracts the ref and Austin Stunners Angle, ref turns around and Rock crawls on top for the pin).

A bit over or under a month later, depending on your source (April 4th or 11th) Paul Heyman made it official. ECW’s parent company, HHG Corporation, filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, claiming $8,881,435,17 in debt (which will be broken down for you later).

Various Numbers & Facts

Performers Who Went Directly From ECW to the American Big Two: 39 (Steve Austin, Mike Awesome, Juventud Guerrera, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Candido, Lance Storm, Justin Credible, Johnny Grunge, Shane Douglas, Buh-Buh Ray and D-Von Dudley, Bobby Duncum, Jr., Chris Daniels, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Paul Heyman, Angelica, Konnan, Brian Lee, Jerry Lynn, Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio, Jr., Mikey Whipwreck, Angelica, Psicosis, Raven, Stevie Richards, Rhino, Rocco Rock, Rick Rude, Sabu, Sandman, Taz, Ron Simmons, Louie Spicolli, Chastity, Tammy Sytch, Super Calo, Perry Saturn)

Most ECW Heavyweight Title Reigns: Sandman (5)

Most ECW TV Title Reigns: 2 Cold Scorpio (4)

Most ECW Tag Team Title Reigns: The Dudley Boys (8)

Highest ECW TV Rating: 1.3 (1/21/00 & 3/3/00)

Lowest ECW TV Rating: 0.6 (10/6/00)

Highest ECW PPV Buyrate: 0.98 (Massacre on 34th Street)

Lowest ECW PPV Buyrate: 0.20 (November to Remember 1997, November to Remember 1999)

ECW Grand Slam Champions (held all three titles), Date Achieved, Order Acheived:
-Johnny Hotbody, 4/12/93, World, TV, Tag
-Sabu, 2/4/95, World, TV, Tag
-Mikey Whipwreck, 10/28/95, TV, Tag, World
-Taz, 1/10/99, Tag, TV, World

ECW Stables:

The Nest (1995-1997) Raven, Stevie Richards, The Blue Meanie, Lupus, "Prime Time" Brian Lee, Beulah, Kimona Wanalaya, and Super Nova.
The Dudleys (1996-1999) Big Dick Dudley, D-Von Dudley, Buh-Buh Ray Dudley, Sign Guy Dudley, Dances With Dudley, Joel Gertner, Spike Dudley, Little Snot Dudley, Chubby Dudley, Dudley Dudley (all sons of Big Daddy Dudley, aka “Willie Loman Dudley”)
Blue World Order (1997) "Big Stevie Cool" Stevie Richards, "Da Blue Guy" The Blue Meanie, “6-1/2” or "7-11" Rob Feinstein, "Hollywood Nova" Super Nova, Thomas "The Inchworm" Rodman
Triple Threat (1997-1999) Shane Douglas, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko
Shane Douglas, Bam Bam Bigelow, Francine (Manager), Chris Candido, Tammy Sytch (Manager), Rick Rude (Manager)
Full Blooded Italians (1997-2000) Tommy Rich, Tracey Smothers, Little Guido, Big Sal E. Graziano, Tony Mamaluke
Da Baldies (1999-2000) Spanish Angel, Vito LaGrasso, Tom DeVito, Grimes, PN Newz
Impact Players (1999) Justin Credible, Lance Storm, Jason, Dawn Marie
The New Dangerous Alliance (1999-2000) Lou E. Dangerously, CW Anderson, Bilvis Wesley, and Elektra
The Network (2000) Cyrus, Rhino, Steve Corino, Jack Victory, Yoshihiro Tajiri
Hot Commodity (2000) EZ Money, Julio Dinero, Chris Hammerick, Elektra
Sideshow Freaks (2000) Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, The Muskateer, Prodigy, Prodigette, Bilvis Wesley
Young Blood (2000-2001) Tommy Dreamer, Christian York, and Joey Matthews
Team No Respect (2000-2001) Cyrus (manager), Jerry Lynn, and Rhino
Sinister (2000-2001) Sinister Minister (manager), Mikey Whipwreck and Yoshihiro Tajiri.
Tap Out (2000-2001) CW Anderson, Simon Diamond and Swinger.
Impact Players (2001) Justin Credible, Francine (manager), Steve Corino and Jack Victory.

Official ECW Petition of Debt:

-In 1999 ECW grossed $5,822,312 in total income (WWF grossed $259,000,000, WCW grossed $130,000,000 and lost $16,000,000)

-In 2000 ECW grossed $4,124,452 & lost $2.5 million. (WWF grossed $379,000,000, WCW grossed $120,000,000 and lost $65,000,000)

This results in the conclusion that ECW grossed less than one percent of the market share in a half billion dollar pro wrestling industry). The company sharply declined in gross income, though less sharply than WCW, when it actually had national television.

ECW was owned 85 percent by Paul Heyman & 15 percent by Annondeus, Inc., a division of Acclaim.

Major Creditors Owed (owed over $20,000):

Advanced Transportation Service of West Caldwell, NJ: $125,140
Annondeus, Inc. $1,000,000
Farm Club Online $300,000
Paul Heyman (back wages) $128,000
Madison Square Garden Cable $244,000
American Cable Productions $243,000
Gregory Bagarozy (area promoter) $20,576.93
Eugene Boffa Jr. (lawyer) $188,000
William Byrd (ECW on TNN producer) $64,000
Chase Manhattan Bank of Jericho, NY $29,441
Eugene Ciarkowski (lawyer) $183,000
Donahue, Gironda & Doria (accountants) $50,000
Richard Heyman (company funder) $3,575,429.19
Sulamita Heyman (company funder) $226,500
Hoffinger, Friedland, Dobrish, & Stern (law firm) $140,000
In Demand Cable $150,000
Steve Karel $50,000
Peter Klamka (PTN Media) $50,000
Original San Francisco Toymakers $250,000
Players Computers, Inc. $24,640
Stonecutter Productions (Steve Karel) $75,000
Top Rope Productions $25,000
Weigel Broadcasting (Chicago V) $60,000
World Wrestling Federation Entertainment $587,500

All Performers Owed:

William Alfonso (Fonzie) $5,000
Scott Antol (Scotty Anton) unknown
Joseph Bonsignore $50,480
Mike Bucci (Nova) $4,000
Don Callis $12,000
Lou D’Angeli (Lou E. Dangerously/Sign Guy Dudley) $7,000
Michael DiPaolo (Roadkill) $21,250
Joseph Dorgan (Swinger) unknown
John Finnegan unknown
Francine Fournier $47,275
James Fullington (Sandman) unknown
Terry Gerin (Rhino) $50,000
Matt Hyson (Spike Dudley) unknown
Francisco Islas (Super Crazy) $5,000
Mike Kehner unknown
Patrick Kenney (Simon Diamond) $9,000
Tom Laughlin (Tommy Dreamer) $100,000
Jerry Lynn unknown
James Maritano (Little Guido) $25,000
Troy Martin (Shane Douglas) $48,000
Jim Mitchell (Sinister Minister) unknown
James Molineaux unknown
Dan Morrison (Danny Doring) $2,100
Peter Polaco (Justin Credible) $7,990
Dawn Psalpis (Dawn Marie) $9,000
Joe Rechner (Balls Mahoney) $4,000
Ken Reininhaus (Jack Victory) $3,000
Robert Szatkowski (Rob Van Dam) $150,000
Yoshihiro Tajiri $5,000
John Watson (Mikey Whipwreck) $12,000

My Final Say

Extreme Championship Wrestling has been called many things by many people. Even their ECW Arena fans have a degree of notoriety. Whether you choose to love or hate ECW is a matter of your own personal tastes. What cannot be denied is its place in history.

Without ECW ever coming in to existence, and you can credit that to Paul Heyman, Tod Gordon, or Eddie Gilbert; or all three, the entire wrestling landscape as we know it today would not exist. While it likely would have come from somewhere eventually, it’s also likely as it may never have happened at all.

A good majority of wrestlers would likely have never made it as far as they did. I doubt anyone else would’ve given Buh Buh & D Von a chance, I doubt Steve Austin turning into a sensational promo overnight would’ve been noticed from an untaped indy show in Podunk, USA, and I doubt Vince ever would’ve seen Mick Foley as a marketable commodity, its obvious no one else did until after Heyman used him to perfection. Rob Van Dam was never any more than cannon fodder anywhere else, and Shane Douglas was certainly almost a nobody (on a skateboard) before ECW made him a star. A lot of the people who maybe didn’t ultimately achieve the success of those stated certainly would have gotten such a stage to show their skills and make a living for themselves without ECW.

ECW changed the entire idea of what a wrestling show should be.While WCW & WWF showcased cartoonish gimmicks for children featuring roided up monsters, ECW took men of every shape, size, and specific talent and gave them gimmicks they’d often carry for the rest of their lives. No one else knew how to use the Public Enemy or the Sandman for example, yet Heyman made greats amount of money showcasing them. And honestly, who else could’ve gotten Al Polig (“911”) as the most over and beloved man in their company? No one was using women in overtly violent or sexual roles until it was done in ECW whether you enjoy or hate that kind of thing, the blame, or credit, falls on ECW. While it had been done before, agitated & controversial angles certainly hadn’t been seen in over a decade but peaked under Heyman with the Tommy Dreamer/Sandman “blind” angle, the Raven/Tommy Dreamer feud, and Raven’s “Search for the Ultimate Slut” to name a few. Nobody was highflying hardcore in the USA until Sabu got to show off his work, and though people who got in late and watched a tape of him may not be all that impressed, when he was first doing this stuff, people’s jaws dropped. This stuff was 1994 or 1995, folks, the only other thing close to Sabu was Cactus Jack in WCW doing his Cactuslines, ring apron elbowdrops, and getting the hell beat out of him to a sick degree. If ECW didn’t come around and show the big two what fans really wanted, where the future of wrestling was really headed, then who knows, we might have Doink as WWE Heavyweight Champion and WCWs strong base of cruisers may never have come. They already ignored Japanese performers before, preferring luchadores, and already had passed up on Malenko (both, actually) and Benoit before, as well as others.

When I look back on ECW, I’m one of the ones that has more good memories than bad. People that judge off the TNN show, and there are a LOT of them, are quite frankly, uninformed and assuming. From 1994 to mid 1997 ECW was arguably the best promotion in North America. The storylines were compelling, the fans were given what they wanted, and wrestlers were given every possible chance. When I look back on ECW I hate some of it and love more of it. I can see totally where its detractors are coming from, and at often times I agree with them. However, I also give credence to the groundbreaking force that was Extreme Championship Wrestling, and that part is the beauty, the tragedy is that almost nobody saw it when it was actually at its peak.

In its prime there was not only nothing like it, and some would say, nothing better. It’s too bad there were so few who got to actually see it.

This free website was made using Yola.

No HTML skills required. Build your website in minutes.

Go to www.yola.com and sign up today!

Make a free website with Yola