ECW: 20 Years In The Making

ECW begun its roots in 1991 under the banner Tri-State Wrestling Alliance owned by veteran wrestling promoter, Joel Goodhart. In 1992, Goodhart sold his share to his partner, Tod Gordon, who in return renamed the promotion to Eastern Championship Wrestling. When Eastern Championship Wrestling was founded, it became a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). In 1993, wrestling booker, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert fell out with Tod Gordon and was subsequently replaced by Paul Heyman, who had just left World Championship Wrestling and was looking for a new challenge. In 1995, Gordon sold ECW to Paul Heyman who renamed it to Extreme Championship Wrestling.

Paul’s vision of ECW was an unique case. He wanted his show to not just be different from its competitors (WWF and WCW) but also to set the benchmark in the business no one had ever done before. In the mid-90’s, the WWF was featuring a roster full of wrestlers with day jobs while WCW soon became a boring show to watch due to Hulk Hogan and his friends stroking their egos. To set itself apart, Paul introduced sex and violence into his program, turning away from the convention of marketing it as a family-oriented product. It was at this time when wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, Sabu, Taz, Tommy Dreamer, Stevie Richard, Rhino, Sandman, The Dudley Boyz, Rob Van Damm and luchadores like Rey Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera got their first real breaks in the showbiz.

To deal with the growing competitor of WCW, Vince Mcmahon partnered with Paul Heyman in 1997. ECW started to appear on Monday Night RAW. Their second PPV was built around WWF announcer Jerry Lawler invading ECW. Gradually ECW’s popularity mounted. In the late 90s, though ECW was getting more recognized, it was losing more and more talent to WWF and WCW. The success of The Attitude Era in the WWF and the new World order in WCW had caused talents from ECW to jump ship. Paul soon realized he had no money to keep its talents. Cheques were bouncing back and the backstage sentiments were terrible.

In 2000, then reigning ECW champion, Mike Awesome, made a surprise appearance on WCW Monday Nitro. Awesome’s friend Lance Storm has said that Awesome refused to sign a new contract with ECW until Paul Heyman paid him overdue wages. It is said that there were plans for Awesome to drop the ECW World Championship belt in the trash can on television, as had been done previously with the WWF Women’s title by Madusa when she jumped from the WWF to WCW. Due to concerns over legal issues, WCW refrained from having Awesome appear on Nitro with the belt.

Despite no advertising, talents pullback and a low budget, ECW continued to be TNN’s highest rated show. However, TNN decided to cancel the ECW show in October 2000, citing its graphic content as an excuse. The real reason behind the dimissal was actually due to the fact that TNN decided to replace ECW with WWF’s Monday Night RAW. In the The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD, Paul Heyman stated that he strongly believed that the lack of a national television deal (especially after the TNN ordeal) was the main cause of ECW’s demise. In April 2001, Paul Heyman filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy filing included hundreds of claims, including production companies, buildings ECW ran in, TV stations ECW was televised on, travel agencies, phone companies, attorney’s fees, wrestlers, and other talent. Wrestlers and talent were listed, with amounts owed ranging from $1 for Sabu and Steve Corino to hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars. The highest amounts owed to talents were Rob Van Dam ($150,000), Tommy Dreamer ($125,000), Joey Styles ($50,000), Shane Douglas ($48,000), and Francine Fournier ($47,875). These assets were eventually purchased by the WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment.

Later in 2001, ECW resurfaced as a stable as part of the World Wrestling Federation Invasion storyline. As a participant in the inter-promotional feud between Shane McMahon’s WCW and Vince McMahon’s WWF, ECW was initially “owned” by Paul Heyman and harbored no loyalty to either promotion. Soon after (on the very same night), it was revealed Stephanie McMahon was ECW’s new “owner”, and she soon conspired with her brother Shane to oust their father from his leadership position in the World Wrestling Federation. Although WWF used the ECW name, the rights to the company were disputed at the time. With the creation of The Alliance, the inter-promotional feud shifted into an internal power struggle among the McMahon family. The defection of WWF superstars to The Alliance continued the shift as less focus was placed on WCW and ECW performers. The feud lasted six months and concluded with WWF defeating The Alliance at the 2001 Survivor Series. The WWF’s victory also marked the end of the Invasion storyline, and WCW and ECW wrestlers were reintegrated into the WWF.

By 2005, WWE began reintroducing ECW through content from the ECW video library and a series books, which included the release of The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary. With heightened and rejuvenated interest in the ECW franchise, WWE organized ECW One Night Stand on June 12, a reunion event that featured ECW alumni. Due to the financial and critical success of the production, WWE produced the second ECW One Night Stand on June 11, 2006, which served as the premiere event in the relaunch of the ECW franchise as a WWE brand, complementary to Raw and SmackDown. The show was a creative failure – Heyman eventually walked out of Vince Mcmahon. Vince wanted the show to be a bit more “grounded” as the corporation is marketing towards the family mass market while Paul’s vision to reignite the creative standard of the show with the big financial backing of WWE. Both party failed to reach an agreement. The show was later canceled in February 2010 and was replaced by WWE NXT.

In June 2010, the concept of “ECW” (though these three letters were not used due to copyright grounds) invading TNA was put on the table for discussion. Dixie Carter, TNA president strongly believed the rich history behind the ECW brand and decided to bring back some of the ECW originals for an exclusive PPV – TNA Hard(Core) Justice which will be aired tonight.

It seems that the ECW’s fire never dies. Will it?

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~ by wrestlingdynasty on August 8, 2010.

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