A History Of Extreme - the story of ECW Wrestling

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NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling:
ECW was founded in 1992, under the name Eastern Championship Wrestling as a member of the National Wrestling Alliance. After owner Tod Gordon had a falling out with head booker "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, Gordon chose Gilbert's friend and WCW alumnus Paul Heyman to replace him. Paul Heyman's first show with the promotion was Ultra Clash '93 on September 18, 1993 at Viking Hall in Philadelphia (which became christened the ECW Arena). Some people have accused Paul Heyman of stabbing Eddie Gilbert in the back and taking his job. The popular belief is that Eddie's drug use and unstable behavior was the real reason for his departure from ECW (this however us merely hearsay and speculation).

Paul Heyman felt that mainstream professional wrestling had become like rock & roll hair bands. When ECW was branching out, professional wrestlers had far more cartoonish gimmicks. The product was marketed more towards children than the 18-35 male demographic that ECW was aiming towards. There were also far more taboos such as blood-letting and women getting regularly beaten up by the male wrestlers. Heyman saw ECW as the professional wrestling equivalent to Nirvana in the music industry and set about re-modelling the brand to break away from it's past..

Extreme Championship Wrestling:
In 1994, Jim Crockett's non-compete agreement with Ted Turner, who purchased WCW from Crockett in 1988, was up and he decided to start promoting with the NWA again. So Crockett went to Tod Gordon and asked him to hold a tournament for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the ECW Arena on August 27, 1994. NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo thought that Crockett and Gordon were going to try to monopolize the title (much like Crockett did in the 1980s) and told them they didn't have the NWA board's approval so he took control over the tournament. Gordon was upset at Coralluzzo for his power plays so Tod Gordon and Shane Douglas, who was booked to win the title against 2 Cold Scorpio, planned to have Shane Douglas throw the title down after he won it and break ECW from the NWA. In a now classic post-match speech, Shane Douglas said that he didn't want to be a part of an organization that "died" seven years earlier (presumably when Jim Crockett Promotions itself broke away from the NWA to become WCW), going as far as proclaiming himself as the new ECW World Heavyweight Champion after throwing down the NWA Title Belt.

After ECW withdrew from the NWA and officially changed its name from Eastern Championship Wrestling to Extreme Championship Wrestling, it became an underground sensation. The group would showcase many different styles of professional wrestling, popularizing bloody hardcore wrestling matches and the 3-Way Dance. ECW was always intended to be counter-culture and a grittier alternative to multi-million dollar organizations such as WWF and WCW. Wrestlers such as Shane Douglas, Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman, Cactus Jack, Terry Funk, Sabu, Public Enemy and the Tazmaniac helped launch the new ECW at this time. The bulk of ECW's shows remained at the aforementioned ECW Arena, a rundown bingo hall secluded under a section of Interstate 95. Seating comprised of simple folding chairs and four sets of portable bleachers, and the whole sort of unconventional set up reflected the gritty style of the wrestling itself. Shows were actually broadcast on a local cable sports station (SportsChannel America's local affiliate) on Tuesday evenings and an independent broadcast station (WGTW 48) in Philadelphia on either Friday or Saturday night at 1 or 2 a.m. Due to the obscurity of the stations and ECW itself, many times expletives and violence were not edited out of these showings, helping to get ECW noticed.

After noticing ECW's growing popularity, the "Big Two" (WCW and the WWF) started adopting their ideas and hiring away their talent. Paul Heyman believes that ECW was the first victim of the "Monday Night War" between WCW Monday Nitro and Monday Night RAW. While the WWF had somewhat of a working relationship with ECW (going as far as allowing cross-promotional storylines), WCW refused to even mention ECW by name, calling it "barbed wire city" and "a major independent promotion" that wrestled in bingo halls.

Vince McMahon claims that he put Paul Heyman on the WWF's payroll as compensation for the talent (namely Tazz, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Dudleys) leaving ECW for the WWF. On the other hand, Heyman believes that Eric Bischoff never compensated him for ECW bred talent such as Mikey Whipwreck, Raven, Sandman, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Steven Richards, Public Enemy (Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock) and Chris Jericho leaving to go to WCW.

ECW was also said to have ushered in the WWF's "Attitude Era" because of it's use of violence and backstage brawls.

WWF Cross-Promotion:
Storyline wise Vince McMahon first became aware of ECW while at the 1995 King of the Ring event in ECW's home base of Philadelphia. During the match between Mabel and Savio Vega, the crowd suddenly started to angrily chant "ECW." At the September 22, 1996 In Your House: Mind Games event in Philadelphia, ECW stars (The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Paul Heyman, and Tazz) were on hand in the front row with Sandman even interfering in one match (when he spat beer on Savio Vega during his strap match with Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw). McMahon acknowledged ECW's status as a local, up and coming organization on the air.

On the February 24, 1997 edition of RAW from the Manhattan Center, ECW "invaded." They advanced a storyline, plugged their first ever pay-per-view and worked three matches in front of the WWF audience, and Vince McMahon called the action with both Jerry Lawler and Paul Heyman.

Jerry Lawler himself was not a fan of ECW, and even went as far as dubbing ECW "Extremely Crappy Wrestling." Lawler was upset at McMahon for giving "valuable airtime" to one of their competitors. It has long been believed that McMahon at this point was willing to do anything to get one over on WCW. During this time period, RAW was being destroyed in the ratings of the Monday Night Wrestling Wars and it was thought that bringing in ECW for a couple of shots would attract that fanbase to WWF.

The Manhattan Center in New York was peppered with a large number of ECW fans, who gave the WWF wrestlers "BO-RING" chants when they felt it was warranted. Likewise, when the ECW performers arrived, they popped and introduced the WWF Monday night audience to some trademark ECW group chants. It was said that this episode was the beginning of what would eventually be called "The Attitude Era" of the WWF.

Perhaps the most memorable moment from the ECW/RAW cross-over episode involved Sabu executing a plancha onto "Team Taz" from atop the giant "R" in the word RAW that decorated the wrestler's entrance. In fact, Sabu fell off the "R" and Taz has made fun of him for this since. Another memorable moment involved then ECW Tag Team Champions The Eliminators—Perry Saturn and John Kronus—delivering their finisher Total Elimination (two simultaneous spin kicks - one taking out the legs, the other hitting the chest) to a hapless ring attendant. Paul Heyman then entered the ring and told Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler that their "challenge has been accepted."

At the 1997 Wrestlepalooza event, Jerry Lawler made a surprise appearance at the ECW Arena. Wrestlepalooza '97 featured Raven's final ECW match before leaving for WCW. In this match, Tommy Dreamer finally beat his long time nemesis Raven. Dreamer's celebration was short-lived though as Jerry Lawler, along with Sabu and Rob Van Dam showed up to attack Dreamer. This set up a match between Tommy Dreamer and Jerry Lawler at the 1997 Hardcore Heaven PPV on August 17, which was won by Dreamer.

One of the most infamous moments in ECW history came on October 26, 1996 at an event called High Incident. The incident involved Raven crucifying The Sandman. The Sandman was locked in a feud with Raven over control of Tyler Fullington, The Sandman's young son. Tyler came out to hug his father before Raven came out through the crowd to hit Sandman with a cane. Raven proceeded to piledrive Sandman through two tables. With the help of The Sandman's estranged wife Lori, Stevie Richards, The Blue Meanie, and Super Nova, Raven tied Sandman to a wooden cross and gave him a barbed wire crown/halo around his head.

Kurt Angle was at the ECW Arena the night that Sandman was "crucified." Angle, who was fresh off of his 1996 Summer Olympic gold medal win was brought to ECW by Taz. Angle claims that he didn't know what ECW was. He thought ECW was a new wrestling promotion that was trying to be as realistic and trying to adopt an amateur-style performance. However, this was not to be as Angle realized that ECW was trying to be as sadistic and as brutal as it could be. Angle claims that he was so disgusted that he told Paul Heyman that if his name or image was seen on the same TV program as the crucifixion Heyman would be hearing from Angle's attorney. Heyman claimed that he had no idea that the crucifixion was going to happen at the time. Angle said on The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD that he believed him, but criticized Paul Heyman for not having at least some sort of reasonable control over his employees.

After the intermission, Raven had to come back out and apologize to anyone who was offended by his usage of religious iconography. Ultimately, the crucifixion incident was never televised because the nature of the imagery involved was deemed too controversial (even by ECW standards). You can see the footage on the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD.

Mass Transit:
On Christmas Eve, 1996, ECW lost the chance at getting a PPV due to the negative publicity surrounding the Mass Transit Incident. Mass Transit was the wrestling name of a 17-year-old named Erich Kulas. ECW held a house show in Revere, Massachusetts on November 23, 1996. Kulas asked manager Paul Heyman if he could fill in for a wrestler. Kulas, who had little to no previous training, allegedly lied to Heyman about his age (claiming he was 19) and falsified his documentation. During the match, wrestler New Jack bladed Kulas with an exacto knife (which New Jack now claims it was a surgical scalpel) and severed two arteries in Kulas' forehead, and paramedics rushed him to the hospital. The resulting controversy delayed ECW's arrival on Pay-Per-View, damaging its ability to compete with other wrestling organizations such as WCW.

Barely Legal:
On April 13, 1997, ECW had its first wrestling card (Barely Legal) broadcast on pay-per-view, highlighted by Terry Funk winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship at the ECW Arena. Getting the PPV on in the first place was a struggle. iN DEMAND, which at the time was called Viewer's Choice, was very hesitant at putting ECW on pay-per-view because of they felt that ECW was too vulgar and brutal and did not air the show. Paul Heyman claimed that this was part and partial due to the fact that UFC was being reprimanded over it's violent content at the time, but it was still getting PPVs. Request TV agreed to give ECW a pay-per-view under the condition that it air at 9:00 p.m. rather than the usual 7:00 p.m. time slot. A power transformer blew out shortly after the show went off the air due to all the power being used by the building. It is believed had the show gone on 10 seconds too late they would have lost the feed and nobody would have seen Terry Funk win the ECW World Title.

Funk collapsed shortly after the show from exhaustion, from having to wrestle through 2 matches and bleeding throughout almost all of both.

Mike Awesome Title Controversy:
On September 19, 1999 at the Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view, in Villa Park, Illinois, Mike Awesome defeated Taz and Masato Tanaka in a 3-Way Dance to win the ECW World Heavyweight Title. Mike Awesome would hold on to the title until December 13, 1999 when he lost to Masato Tanaka. Ten days later though, Awesome would regain the title from Tanaka.

In March 2000, Awesome suddenly left ECW to join WCW even though he was still the reigning ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Rumor had it that Eric Bischoff wanted to drop the ECW belt in the trash can on television, as he did with the WWF Women's title with Alundra Blayze. This led to threats of legal action from ECW, so Awesome agreed to return to ECW to drop the title to 'anyone'. This would mark the only time that a WCW contracted wrestler (Mike Awesome) would wrestle against a WWF contracted wrestler (Taz) in an ECW sanctioned event.

The match between Mike Awesome and Taz took place in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 13, 2000. In a three minute long match, Tommy Dreamer hit the ring to give Awesome a DDT (in retaliation for an angle in which Awesome tried to collect a bounty on Dreamer) and Taz following it up by applying the Tazmission for the win. Taz then took the microphone and explained that he came back because when he left he did business "the right way" and that he just showed Awesome the right way by making him tap out. Awesome entered and departed the arena through the crowd, to avoid the tense ECW locker room.

Mike Awesome never came to the back. He stayed at his hotel with WCW security chief Doug Dillenger and several police officers until the match was to begin. He showed up at the building 15 minutes before the match, went in, lost, and went back out through the crowd and left. All contact between Awesome and ECW for the purposes of this match was done over cell phones.

Before ECW got a national television deal, its main sources of exposure were on the SportsChannel America syndication package, MSG Network in NYC, on AIN satellite, the Internet and tape trading. ECW would regularly hold a convention called Cyber Slam, where matches were broadcast over the Internet and fans could chat online with the wrestlers.

In August 1999, ECW began to broadcast nationally on TNN (for what was initially a three year contract); however, this signaled the beginning of the end. TNN didn't give ECW much money to produce their program, yet expected ECW to have high-quality production values like WCW Monday Nitro and Monday Night RAW. This was a problem within itself because Heyman didn't want to change the look or compromise the integrity of the ECW brand anyway. The only times that TNN advertised ECW TV shows were during TNN's NASCAR broadcasts and during the ECW program itself.

TNN also censored a great deal of the program even though the violence and raunchiness were what made ECW so unique in the first place. TNN didn't want the theme song because according to Paul Heyman, it sounded "too demonic." TNN also didn't want any references to "hate" (they preferred "intense dislike") and wanted no music videos on the ECW program. During the first edition of ECW on TNN, Heyman was so unsatisfied with the shoot that he did for TNN that he instead showed a replay of a match between Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn from the 1999 Hardcore Heaven pay-per-view.

Heyman was so frustrated with the way TNN treated ECW that he went as far as cutting a shoot promo and addressed his utter hatred for TNN (or "The Network" as Heyman called it on television). Heyman believed that TNN used ECW as simply a guinea pig to see if professional wrestling could work on the network. That and the fact they wanted to see if another show, RollerJam, would work as well, as it was right after ECW shows.

Heyman decided to recruit Don Callis, who played the part of Cyrus, to serve as an onscreen metaphor for the real problems between ECW and TNN at that point. Callis played a representative for TNN/The Network, who constantly criticized the violent nature of ECW programming.

Even though ECW became TNN's highest rated show, TNN was at the time of Heyman's "shoot" publicly negotiating with Vince McMahon's WWF product. ECW on TNN was cancelled in October 2000 (with the final episode airing on October 6, 2000) in favor of RAW moving to the network.

To this day, Heyman strongly believes that the lack of a national television deal (especially after the TNN trial) was the main cause of ECW's demise.

ECW struggled for months after the cancellation, trying to secure a new national TV deal, but could not. On December 30, 2000, ECW Hardcore TV aired for the last time. Despite help from the WWF, Heyman could not get out of financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy on April 4, 2001.

The company was listed as having assets totaling $1,385,500. Included in that number was $860,000 in accounts receivable owed the company by iN DEMAND Network (PPV), Acclaim (video games), and Original San Francisco Toy Company (action figures). The balance of the assets were the video tape library ($500,000), a 1998 Ford Truck ($19,500) and the remaining inventory of merchandise ($4,000)

The liabilities of the company totaled $8,881,435.17. 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 $0 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 ($100,000), Joey Styles ($50,480), Shane Douglas ($48,000), and Francine ($47,275).

Rumor has it that Heyman didn't pay the wrestlers for well over a month as the company was dying. He supposedly never told the wrestlers the company was on its last legs. ECW performers saw Heyman on WWE RAW and put two and two together. Moreover, Heyman allegedly wasn't even at the ECW shows. He allegedly was able to buy himself time by telling everyone to be patient because he was out in California working on securing a new TV deal for ECW. It is now argued by some that Heyman was actually spending the money on hiring an agent, filming the movie Rollerball, and spending money buying drinks and suites for Hollywood, California types with the wrestlers' pay. Many say that is because Paul Heyman's ego wouldn't allow him to give up so much stake (and go meet with potential financial backers) in the company.

Towards the end of ECW's run, Tommy Dreamer had started doing much of the booking duties along with Raven and Lance Storm.

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