It’s the latest installment of The Wrestling Time Machine!!!
(Content Warning: Blood, Violence, Weapons)
It’s the latest installment of The Wrestling Time Machine!!!
(Content Warning: Blood, Violence, Weapons)
In less than a couple of weeks, this year’s WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament will air on the WWE Network as the company is reportedly moving forward with a UK-based ongoing series to air on its streaming service. While WWE’s aggressive expansion into the UK market was seemingly due to the return of World of Sport on ITV last year (which stalled only to recently get back on track), the UK scene has exploded of late (as has the wrestling industry in general). This is clearly evident by New Japan’s recent announcement of Strong Style Evolved UK N1 which happens only days after WWE airs its UK tournament. New Japan has already expanded its territory into the US in the last year and the UK is its latest bid to become a global brand like WWE. This has led to battle lines being drawn as WWE has made arrangements with UK promotions Insane Championship Wrestling and PROGRESS as well as snagging several of World of Sports’ stars while New Japan has formed an alliance with Revolution Pro Wrestling and prominently features Zack Sabre Jr (who participated in WWE’s inaugural Cruiserweight Classic), Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, and “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith Jr. in its promotion (Ospreay and Smith are also both featured in upcoming episodes of World of Sport). However, these moves could very well only be the opening salvo for a much larger confrontation as WWE tries to bring its Network to every corner of the world and New Japan has been emboldened by its consistent significant growth to try and offer some semblance of competition since WWE consumed WCW and ECW to become the undisputed king of sports entertainment. The question then becomes what country will enter WWE and New Japan’s optics next.
Snap into your Slim Jims, and shut off your Super Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s time for the latest installment of Wrestling Time Machine!
Grab yourself a bag of Butterfinger BB’s, set your VCR to record TekWar and tune in to the latest Wrestling Time Machine Column, as we flip the switches and travel back to January of 1995!
Hello my precious professional wrestling pals, and welcome to another edition of Wrestling Time Machine! We’ve got the dates keyed in on our time circuits, the Flux Capacitor is a-roaring to go, all to take us to February of 1997*!
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.
Announced in just the last few weeks, the WWE Network will be hosting the Global Cruiserweight Series, a tournament of wrestlers at or below 205 lbs. beginning July 13th. Featuring 32 entrants from around the world, the event will span ten weeks. Obviously, the combined WWE and NXT roster lacks the pool necessary to fill all 32 slots which means the GCS will be groundbreaking in bringing in freelance, independent performers for a tournament (reminiscent of the Super J Cup and Best of the Super Juniors). WWE will likely supply about fifteen entries, namely Stardust, Kalisto, Neville, Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze, Austin Aries, Manny Andrade, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Chad Gable, Enzo Amore, Rich Swann, Christopher Girard, and Johnny Gargano. Thus, the company will require nearly twenty outside wrestlers to fill tourney blocks. There are, of course, limitations. It’s unlikely WWE will be able to secure talent from companies like NJPW, TNA, ROH, and CMLL which are arguably its biggest pro wrestling competitors (albeit distant competitors). However, promotions like Evolve and Chikara could likely supply performers and there may even be a chance of bringing in AAA (who supplies much of Lucha Underground’s roster) as the Mexican promotion is in documented financial problems of late (though, LU agreements might cause issues for making this happen as LU reportedly met with WWE previously to seemingly toxic results). Should AAA (the third biggest wrestling promotion on the planet) become a viable option, this could mean the addition of the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr, Fénix, Pentagón Jr, Drago, El Hijo del Fantasma (King Cuerno on LU), Aero Star, Jack Evans, and Angélico. Lets then take a look at what wrestlers could likely emerge in the GCS.
Looking at the WWE’s roster right now is like that scene in Gone with the Wind (1939) with the train yard where hundreds of injured soldiers from the Battle of Atlanta are sprawled out on the ground. While certainly not that dramatic, the likes of John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Nikki Bella, Randy Orton, Cesaro, Sting, Wade Barrett, and more are out with far reaching consequences in any of WWE’s long term narratives. Likely there is no time in WWE’s history where the company has experienced such loss coming at a time when WWE is in such dire straights (as TV ratings continue to fall, attendance for live events declines, and the WWE Network may still cost more to produce than what it earns back). There may even be a good chance some of the injuries could have arose over talent trying to help turn the company around or try to ascend in status within the WWE as company head Vince McMahon perceives the roster lacks ambition (or, a desire to grab the “brass ring”). However, this isn’t the first time WWE’s head was on the chopping block. In the late ’80s/early ’90s, the company saw a similar decline as rival WCW tried to take over the number one position in the industry with the so-called Monday Night Wars only to inspire and motivate WWE to improve and overcome. While certainly there were injuries (the company’s star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had his neck broken taking him out of the game for three months near the height of his career and ultimately led to his early retirement), there’s been no where near the degree experienced today. Such begs the question, what’s changed?
In 2014, the wrestling world took a major step into the future. WWE, the world leader in professional wrestling entertainment with a library including the likes of WCW, ECW, AWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Stampede, and more founded the WWE Network. A streaming service for $9.99 a month that will gradually make its vast intellectually owned content available instantly anywhere in the world with an internet connection, the Network was a major undertaking that has placed a great financial burden on the company already undergoing tough times in recent years. Of course, this advent in technology has inspired other companies to follow suit although, interestingly enough, the company’s closest North American competitors have yet to get in line. TNA, formed to fill the vacuum left by the loss of WCW, tried to dip its toe into streaming in an arrangement with YouTube in 2013 with TNA Wrestling Plus for $4.99 a month only to be all but abandoned within two months. Today, TNA has started posting its earliest pay-per-view programs as the Asylum Years for free on YouTube Thursday nights (which started December of last year). It should be noted, WWE entered into a similar agreement to that between TNA and YouTube with the latter’s competitor Hulu Plus in 2012 which continues today despite the formation of the WWE Network (likely, some contractual obligation exists necessitating this duality though Hulu Plus does not air WWE events which are included as part of membership of the Network). As for the United States’ third largest promotion Ring of Honor, for some time they’ve offered their latest weekly television episode streaming for free online and made a portion of their library available on demand on their website for $7.99 a month. Although TNA and ROH at this point don’t seem to be trying to offer their own version of the WWE Network, independent US promotions have been more accepting of the transition.
About a week ago, I discussed in detail my history with pro wrestling. Therein, I spoke on 2001 being a terrible year for wrestling fans. AOL Time Warner had sold WCW to WWE as ECW, after losing its TV deal with TNN, would likewise sell out to WWE. What’s interesting about these events is that TV deals were at the root of both downfalls. For WCW, Eric Bischoff had secured funding to buy the company but wouldn’t sign the deal unless TNT and TBS agreed to continue airing Nitro and Thunder, respectively. Reportedly, that sticking point lead AOL Time Warner to sell WCW to WWE for a ridiculously low price (as several WCW personalities claimed they could have bought it themselves for the price sold). As for ECW, it was a company on the rise that was abandoned by TNN after airing the promotion for a year and that was troubled by its past use of adult content to find another network. Now, it’s important to note, neither WCW or ECW had bad ratings. At the height of Nitro, it was one of the highest rated shows on TV and even when it fell, it was still a huge draw for TNT. It just lost money because of poor management within the company (part of which stemmed from its parent company being unfamiliar with the industry it was invested into). All of these details considered, if some circumstances would have been amended, both companies could have easily survived and likely thrived. For example, if Bischoff won his battle to buy WCW, it either could have had the arrangement to remain on the AOL Time Warner channels or he could have moved to another station (like, perhaps, TNN which was looking to drop ECW when it saw how much wrestling could draw for the station). Also, what if ECW either remained on TNN or moved to another network (say, perhaps, MTV, which got into the wrestling game in 2001 with WWF Tough Enough and later Wrestling Society X). Lets take a look at what could have been.
Considering the popularity of my introductory post to the Nerdfect Nation, I thought I’d speak on my history with pro wrestling considering it’s such a huge aspect of our content and coverage. I first came into contact with the WWF in its auxiliary ventures, receiving some of the LJN action figures as a youth (an eight-inch rubber Hulk Hogan and some of the thumb wrestlers), watching Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling on TV, playing WWF WrestleMania on the NES, and getting my face painted like the Ultimate Warrior because everyone else was doing it (I always wanted to get a Tonka Wrestling Buddy but they alluded me). The earliest aspect of an actual wrestling program I can recall is my dad leaving it on one night when he fell asleep and I saw Papa Shango put a voodoo curse on Mean Gene Okerlund in 1992 on Superstars which terrified me. I would, however, come back to the product later where I became a big fan of Hakushi (as I was seemingly born into an interest in Eastern martial arts thanks to my father) and where I was introduced to wrestlers like the “Portuguese Man O’ War” Aldo Montoya, 1-2-3 Kid, and Tatanka all of whom in which I also became a fan. A casual viewer at best, Hakushi seemed to appear less as my interest grew in the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. I officially wouldn’t became a fan of wrestling, however, until WrestleMania XII in 1996.