In a previous post I talked about how I had the highest of expectations for the new WWE-branded ECW. It seemed like Vince McMahon was going to let Paul E. do his thing and just watch to see what the show evolves into. Recent weeks had been about as forgettable as ever for me. Largely because every headline match featured WWE guys. Why would you start ECW and then feel the need to bring in WWE guys? You have two WWE-branded shows already — Smackdown and Raw. Let ECW be ECW. Anyhow, I had just about lost hope on this thing. And then I turned the TV on last night and was reminded of why I love ECW.
There’s one thing that sets ECW apart from all other wrestling shows: the intimate relationship that the wrestlers have with the crowd. ECW fans respect two things: history and real talent. If a hero from wrestling days past show up, no doubt they’ll get a rousing cheer from the crowd. And ironically, even though the crowd is considerably smaller, the applause always feels much more heartfelt. (Both on TV and in the arena — I was there when Dusty Rhodes showed up to feud with Steve Corino.) Yes, WWE fans recognize those who paved the way as well. But ECW brings out the more hardcore fan (on a whole.) WWE fans will buy DVDs and may tune in to other wrestling shows. ECW fans buy tapes of Japanese federation shows and are knowledgeable of other promotions. (I’m sure I’ll get a debate on that, but those who watch and listen to chants know the deal.)
But more than their respect of history, the thing I love about the real ECW crowds (like the one in the Hammerstein last night) is that they go completely away from the standard wrestling script. CM Punk and Justin Credible had a four-star match. Probably one of the best matches I’ve seen all year (and that’s not saying much since I barely watch like I used to.) I had never had the opportunity to see CM Punk wrestle. I was kinda turned off by the vignettes where he talked about how “streetwise” he was. Well, he surely proved his worth in the ring. Incredible innovative style, good grappling, great high spots, and finished the match with a submission move I’d never seen (almost like a sitting front-face lock and cobra clutch, combined.) I was very impressed and I will be tuning in to watch him again. But what made the match so enjoyable was the crowd appreciation of these guys putting on a great show. You heard applause throughout the entire match — something you’ll never see on USA or whatever channel they have Smackdown on these days. WWE crowds sit and drool into their popcorn until, 1) the finish of the match 2) someone breaks a table/falls through the ring, or 3) someone does a run-in. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare? Maybe if Raw had a house of only a couple of hundred people we’d see a more intimate reaction. Nonetheless, you can totally appreciate the crowd reaction at a real ECW show.
Special props go out to Justin Credible. Yeah, they jobbed him out last night, but it takes two to have a great match and he totally showed what he was made of. Great performance, even in defeat. It’s a real shame that they didn’t use the Brooklyn Brawler to let CM Punk come in and put a show on against him instead of jobbing out a guy who used to be one of the top guys in ECW. (But then again, the match would have probably been of a much lower quality without Justin working with CM.) I mean, when you talk about Justin Credible, you’re talking about a guy who once did one of the craziest finishers I’d ever seen — he called it “That’s Incredible” and it was a spinning pile driver — but a few times I’ve seen him do it from the top rope. Take the Undertaker’s finish and add a whole lot of extreme and you know what I mean. Hopefully we’ll see Justin rise back up to get some respect.
While I’m handing out props, let me also say that Kurt Angle is a class act. He probably deserves at this point in his career to either wear the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Belt or simply to wrestle a much less rigorous schedule. Maybe even take time to retire like Stone Cold, Chris Jericho and the Rock. But instead he’s building a following in ECW. Totally adapting his style to the hardcore style (which he didn’t even really need to do — even his WWE style was pretty raw.) This is a guy who I wouldn’t mind seeing carry the ECW strap. It’s like he’s paying dues all over again. Cheers to the man from Pittsburgh — way to represent the Steel City.
But probably the moment that I was most proud of came during the Big Show-Batista match. Ever since this new ECW began, I was going back and forth with buddies complaining about how they aren’t featuring enough ECW guys in the feature matches. They featured the Big Show, Kane, John Cena, the Undertaker… I mean, who wants to see these guys when you see ’em already on Monday and Friday night?
Normal WWE crowds would have been forced into the whole heel vs. face / good guy vs. bad guy thing. They would have booed the Big Show for being Heyman’s evil creation and they were supposed to cheer Batista. But the thing that WWE doesn’t yet understand is that a real ECW crowd will be about as big a crowd of ‘smarts’ as you’ll ever see. Big Show comes out — crowd boos. But not the way you’d boo a heel. These boos said disrespect. These boos said “we don’t want you holding the strap and yeah, we know this is scripted but we still don’t like you”. These boos were personal. So much so that if you watch the tape, upon entering the ring, someone said something that must have really struck a nerve because he was going back and forth with the fan and it wasn’t you’re regular type of exchange.
After the Big Show came out, Batista’s music hits. The good guy. The face. The guy you should want to win. Doens’t matter to the ECW faithful. They almost boo him as bad as they did the Big Show. It was about the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in awhile.
Both guys seemed totally phased by the fans chants of obscenities. They worked a pretty bad match. Big Show was incredibly stiff and Batista is about as stiff as they come anyhow. So basically you have two immobile big guys doing boring exchanges for about 10 minutes. And I wasn’t the only one who saw it. For half of the match you heard chants of “Booo-ring….Booor-ring”. WWE fans chant “boring” when some of the best technical wrestling is going on. But just because nobody’s hitting a Stone Cold Stunner or putting up a middle finger or doing the Hogan signal for the crowd cheer with his hand to his ear, they don’t really appreciate it. These folks do.
And as great as it was to watch the match up to that point, the crowning jewel came at about the halfway point of the match. The goal of this whole ECW thing is ratings. WWE wants to do well on the Sci-Fi channel. They want to get sponsorship up. Well, the ECW fans care less about your “superstars” and your “sponsorship” — they want to see good matches. So what do they chant? “CHANGE THE CHANNEL…<clap,clap,clap-clap-clap>…..CHANGE THE CHANNEL…” I couldn’t stop laughing. The whole WWE plan to get WWE stars to “help” ECW backfired. The fans were telling the viewers to change the channel. Go somewhere else. Anywhere else. We’re here live and we don’t wanna see this crap. Priceless. Poor Joey Styles and Tazz — both of who probably felt exactly the same way — couldn’t even comment the way they truly felt. McMahon has given them a specific way that he wants matches called. He was there last night so I wouldn’t be suprised if he was barking commands in their ear through a headset. However he chose the gag them, they obeyed. You hear Tazz saying, “the fans are chanting ‘change the channel’, but I don’t know why they’re saying that. This match is great!’. Tazz….Um, excuse me…..Taz….(I’m talking about the original ECW tough guy. The guy who brought big men down to size with his 3rd Dan Black Belt and real Judo skills.) — he knew the real deal. I’m sure he was cracking up inside.
Eventually Sabu comes out to rousing cheers and lays out the Big Slow with a few top rope chair shots. But the real entertainment came from watching the crowd reaction to a sorry match.
I don’t have it out for Paul Wight (Big Show.) He’s a big guy and he’s actually a pretty good actor. Did a great job on Saturday Night Live a few years back. And overall he’s a pretty classy guy. But he’s got to understand what he’s involved in. This is a pretty personal affair. This is the expression of hundreds of ECW fans who are tired of sports entertainment and sure as hell don’t want it on their new show. They want real ECW action. And the Big Show gimmick needs to evolve some way — even as a heel who is supposed to be booed — to earn the respect of this crowd.
Sadly most of the other ECW TV tapings will probably be done in front of large, kid-filled arenas with traditional WWE crowds who are all worn out after watching a Smackdown taping. And who wouldn’t be after that crap. (I’m not sure, but I think ECW airs after Smackdown taping is done.) But for one special night on August 1, 2006, I got to see the return of the real extreme fans. And last night they showed why they are almost as important to the show as the talent that they are cheering.