Just call me “Bobby Styles” and this…is…THE Wrestling Time Machine!
Allow me to preface by saying this is the first volume of my Wrestling Time Machine blog, something I talk at length about on our podcast that we do here. Today we’re going to be tackling ECW, what I would consider the first year. This first year starts with “The Franchise” Shane Douglas defeating 2 Cold Scorpio with a Pinfall decision, in the NWA World Title Tournament on August 27th 1994 and ends with a real BARN BURNER of a match in what was the final confrontation (in Extreme Championship Wrestling, anyways) between a young Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. The WWE Network is a smorgasbord of classic wrestling of all kinds, albeit missing some of wrestling’s essential main courses. The WWE Network, while it boasts “Every WWE/WCW Pay-Per-View”, The WWE Network misses out on just about most of the ECW Pay-Per-Views and Specials. This is unfortunate, because Pay-Per-Views provide of course a sense of closure for much of a given month’s events, and where even new stories can be born.
Though all is not lost, if Paul Heyman and the ECW Brass was good at anything, it was knowing that their target demographic may not always be in the market to pay to view, and so many episodes of ECW Hardcore TV were simply highlight episodes, devoted to the most recent Pay-Per-View, devoted to keeping fans not only enlightened of the match highlights, but also of any major story beats and new developments. By far the biggest omission that deserves mentioning is the lack of actually licensed music throughout the whole show. Now…I get it, WWE’s a big company, and ECW was known for using music without necessarily worrying about frivolous things like getting the rights from the artists, etc. You know, the little things, and so it came to pass that WWE is forced to use very generic tunes for the entrances of the ECW performers. Something is lost in the incredibly generic tunes, some of the attitude-the balls of ECW is muted, it feels almost too sanitized. Now granted, I don’t think we can necessarily fault the WWE for this, or even Heyman and whomsoever was in charge of designating entrance music. ECW was, for all intents and purposes, small show, a small organization. They barely (and often times didn’t even) made end’s meat, let alone had the extra cash to shell out for licensed music. This didn’t stop them from trying though…
Let’s get down to thumbtacks, though. The first year
of ECW is…pretty intense. The very first episode I mentioned at the top of the article also featured another pinnacle in ECW history, Tommy Dreamer being caned by The Sandman. This, along with Douglas’ epic speech about what ECW really is, how important new blood was to wrestling , this set the tone for the entire promotion. This wasn’t your father’s wrestling, and that’s what made it unique. ECW had a finger on the pulse of what wrestling could be, and what many fans at the time and even still to this day, think it should be. While ECW dabbled in extremely violent performances, that was simply the icing on the cake, the real substance of the promotion would be found in performers like Shane Douglas, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko-to name a few-who could put on spectacular matches without the need for barbed wire, or cattle brands. Tazz is another highlight in ECW’s fledgling year, and his first experience on commentary can be heard through the WWE Network’s archive, as he was a guest commentator with Joey Styles for a special match.
While ECW had
few veterans in the form of wrestlers like Terry Funk, the fuel that kept it’s engines running was the
influx of young talent given a stage to shine on that didn’t involve being a jobber to the stars, or relying on silly gimmicks. If I’ve learned anything though, it’s that ECW was no stranger to silly gimmicks. Just ask Surfer Ray Odyssey.
There are many other things to talk about when it comes to ECW’s fledgling first year. The brilliant promo work of Shane Douglas, and The Franchise’s one-sided feud with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the formation of The Triple Threat to serve as combating force against The Four Horsemen. The introduction of the mysterious, brooding Raven and his obsessive groupie goofball Stevie Richards. Towards the beginning of July 1995 we see the introduction of The Dudley Boys, and before too long, their ever-expanding family. For Big Daddy Dudley, THE THIRST was oh-so-real. I’d say one of the biggest highlights though, in watching ECW was the surprisingly decent promo work of The Public Enemy. For those not familiar, this Tag-Team consisting of “Flyboy” Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge were essentially WWE’s Cryme Tyme, before Cryme Tyme, and they saw much more success than the WWE duo. Though The Public Enemy had some great matches with The Pitbulls and a feud that could only be described as “Actual War crimes of the 1990s” with
The Gangstas, The Public Enemy would soon depart, like many others, for greener pastures in WCW. Sure, Billionaire Ted’s money may have seemed appetizing, but I would argue that The Public Enemy didn’t get a fair shake (again, like countless others) in WCW, at least on the company’s flagship program WCW Monday Nitro. Rocco and Johnny could deliver decent enough promos to carry a story, and yet, WCW’s Tag Team Division was very much an afterthought, even prior to the N.W.O.’s emergence.
By far, one thing that does bear mentioning when discussing ECW, is the strange weapons opponents sometimes used to inflict pain on one another, even during this first year. Often when reading about ECW, or even watching it, you’ll see the Hardcore standbys-chairs (wooden and steel!), tables, Singapore canes, trashcans, etc. but eagle-eyed viewers will see such strange weapon fodder as plastic dinosaurs and cheese graters.
I suppose I’ll close out this first edition of The Wrestling Time Machine by giving just some final thoughts on the first year of ECW…ECW was a welcome alternative to the then-WWF, and WCW, both promotions which suffered from their own problems. The WWF was struggling to push and build younger talent into main event stars, while still relying on hackneyed cartoon gimmicks based on garbagemen, french pirates and Portuguese Man-o-Wars, while WCW was ramping up it’s cartoon gimmicks to eleven with the Dungeon of Doom all whilst relying on older stars in Hulk Hogan, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. ECW focused on just being unique, and what made wrestling good. Stories didn’t need to be larger than life, and opponents that could go out and wrestle with the skilled technician of a brain surgeon didn’t necessarily need to have a built-in story for the match beyond, “These two guys are fighting”. ECW wasn’t afraid of it’s fans, and didn’t push matches, agendas, or stories it knew the fans didn’t want, something any person in the creative field should take away as an important lesson.