When I heard the announcement that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was going to revive the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) brand, I had the highest of hopes. My thoughts went back to a trip I made to Philadelphia in 1997 and the feeling of sitting in the ECW area. It was probably one of the most memorable wrestling events I’ve attended since watching Bob Backlund and Jimmy Snuka fight in a steel cage in 1981. (Yes, I’m that old.) But ECW was something truly special. Many who talk about ECW today like to focus on the “Extreme” aspect and translate it to mean blood, barbed wire, insane jumps from scaffolds and leaps into the audiences. And yes, ECW was all of that, but it was so much more. Pure luchador wrestling….almost as if the Mexican federation AAA had flown their entire fed to Southern Philly for the night. Wrestlers from Japan that didn’t need to conform to a “western” wrestling style. When they wrestled in ECW, they were there to show us why they were world-renowned. And more than the all out brawls, there were pure tactical, scientific wrestling matches. ECW matches had all of the scientific element and the story within the match that made wrestling popular in the pre-WWF 1980s when men like Dusty Rhodes, Buddy Rodgers, Lou Thesz and Bruno Sammartino ruled. ECW was a breath of fresh air and a throwback to a time when you didn’t need to have a gimmick or to be at least 6’4″ to be taken serious. The wrestling spoke for itself.
As much as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon likes to control the direction of his products, somehow I thought this new ECW would be the one section of the WWE empire that he would trust to Paul Heyman, the man that made a small low budget federation like ECW so popular. What’s the harm in letting Paul write the storylines and book the wrestlers HE wanted to book? This go round, it would be even more popular since Heyman would have more resources at his disposal than he ever had in Philadelphia. If I were Vince, I would welcome this alternate take on wrestling, devoid of my influence. Let’s face it — if Heyman can take lesser known talent and create stars in ECW, suddenly Vince McMahon has a whole “minor league” of sorts at his disposal that he can leverage. At best, the popularity of ECW would become so huge that loyal fans of WWE Monday Night Raw would start tuning into ECW perhaps more than Raw.
Oh, when I heard that ECW was coming, I had incredibly high hopes. I saw wrestling going back to the interesting times of 1995 when the ratings wars between the then-WWF and WCW led to some of the most creative and storylines I had ever seen. And while the two big feds were duking it out on Monday nights, the underdog ECW was displaying some of the most innovative action and creating new trends, many of which are still being copied today. At best, I saw Vince not only letting ECW grow and become popular again, but I also saw him taking the increasingly unpopular “Smackdown!” show and changing it to….what else….WCW! (After all, Vince now owns all three licenses). He could re-unite all of the old WCW guys (that is, whomever might still be around) and perhaps build the pride that was once WCW back again as it was in the late 80s and 90s. And then instead of having a somewhat mediocre Wrestlemania (as it has been in the recent past, IMHO), you could have a Wrestlemania which was a Super Bowl or World Series profiled event….featuring a 3-way dance between the champions of WCW, WWE and ECW. All of which culminates in the winner being dubbed “Wrestler of the Year” and getting a million dollar bonus or something. Yes, I had extremely…..high…..hopes.
So you might understand my disappointment upon tuning in to the new Tuesday night ECW show where they’re featuring a stripper who teases taking off her top every week (until her boyfriend, another wrestler, comes and covers her up), a new “villain” from the audience every week who bad-mouths ECW until the Sandman comes down to “cane” them and maybe 3 or 4 mediocre matches in the hour of coverage that they’re given. Watching the show, regardless of how many old ECW faces you see, any wrestling fan who knew about ECW can plainly see tell that something is just not right. Heyman is not pulling the strings.
Recently I read that Joey Styles (who is bar-none, one of the best announcers in wrestling today, if not THE best) was being asked to “dumb down” his incredible and unique announcing style to a much more WWE-friendly storytelling style. I’m also hearing that Paul Heyman isn’t controlling as much of the show as he was originally intended. And for me the last straw was hearing that the traditional “EC’F’n W” shirts, which were a staple of the fed and could be seen all over the ECW arena back in the 1990s, are now being “retired” as they are “not sending the right image to the fans”.
I’ve had it with Vince McMahon and his sports entertainment. I’m a wrestling fan at heart, so I’ll always tune in to watch some of the best atheletes in the world perform. I always like to keep up with the storylines. And I’m not going to stop tuning in to watch what’s now affectionately become known as “ECW-WE”. I still hope against hope that someone will right the ship before this thing becomes a complete joke. But if they keep featuring already established WWE talent like The Big Show and Ric Flair, what is this new “ECW” but a third hour of Monday Night Raw? By the way, Flair and Big Show had an awesome match on Tuesday night. But my point is that fans should be tuning in on Tuesdays to see something different. It would take some time for the ECW regulars to become established stars, but I guarantee folks will catch on. And while I’m ranting, stop trying to make the show look like Raw. I personally think the show should be taped and that footage from house shows should be edited together along with dynamite empty arena interviews (like the ECW faithful are accustomed to seeing.) But of course, I’m not booking the show.
To sum it up, Vince McMahon — I hope you’re reading this. Regardless of the disdain that people may have for Vince McMahon the character….the CEO that walks with arms swinging to the ring…. I know that Vince McMahon the businessman has a great business sense and is a fan of wrestling and natural talent. I’m appealing to watch the shows for awhile. Just stay hands off. The programming can’t get any more risque’ than WWE programming has been over the past few years. Just let guys who know ECW “do this thing”. In any solid business, a good manager will assemble a great team, give them a project to work on, and then walk the hell away. Don’t micromanage the team! I’m sure the businessman in you knows that a successful ECW could revitalize the industry and create a win-win situation for everyone. Because honestly, Vince — unless you’re going to let ECW be ECW…you might as well take it out to pasture already. Just know that a Vince McMahon run ECW is going to tarnish ECW and ruin the value of that ECW license that you purchased — forever. (But then again, maybe that was your plan to begin with.)