ECW and the First Shot of the Monday Night Wars

Extreme Championship Wrestling, known amongst its fans as ECW, was a Philadelphia based promotion that had a rabid fan base throughout the 1990s. Known for its hardcore violent matches and adult themed angles, ECW is often cited as an influence on WWF’s Attitude Era. While never as large of an organization as WWF or WCW, the two combatants in the Monday Night Wars, they nevertheless served as a third party in the conflict. ECW took their own shots at WCW, and took shots at WWF that were just as aggressive, if not more so, than WCW did. In this series we will examine the role ECW played in the Monday Night War.

ECW was originally named Eastern Championship Wrestling, given that they were based out of Philadelphia. Originally it was part of the National Wrestling Alliance or NWA, which was an organization of regional promoters. WWF itself was originally a part of the NWA when they themselves were a regional promotion. Once the WWF grew to national prominence the NWA became largely irrelevant to the general public.

Eastern Championship Wrestling was owned by Todd Gordon. The booker, the person who decided what matches would be on the card, was Eddie Gilbert. Todd had a falling out with Eddie, who was soon replaced by Paul Heyman. Paul Heyman was a long time part of the wrestling business, largely from behind the scenes. In his youth he worked as a freelance photographer for the WWF, and had just come of a stint in WCW.

Heyman felt wrestling needed to change with the times. This was the early era of grunge music, Nirvana and other bands out of Seattle were popular, while both WWF and WCW were mostly putting out a more cartoonist product as they had in the 1980s. Heyman felt wrestling needed it’s own grunge movement. He also was inspired by a Newsweek article about the problems of young men in places like New York City and South Central Los Angeles. Heyman recalls the article said “today we live in an environment that for the first time ever, there are teenagers that are more afraid of living than dying.” (Loverro p.28)

ECW, under Paul Heyman’s guidance, established its new identity before the advent of the Monday Night Wars. On 8/27/94, a tournament was held to crown the a new NWA champion. Shane Douglas of ECW was booked to win. Upon winning, he got on the mic, and mentioned several wrestlers from previous generations (such has Harley Race, Barry Windham, Ric Flair, whom he personally disliked, and Ricky Steamboat), then said “They can all kiss my ass.” before throwing the belt down. He went on, “Tonight, before God and my father (who died the previous year) as witness, I declare myself, The Franchise, as the new Extreme Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion of the world. We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So tonight, let the new era begin, the era of the sport of professional wrestling, the era of the Franchise, the era of ECW.” Douglas would eventually go to the WWF, and was actually on the first RAW that went head to head with WCW. Apparently unhappy their he would return to ECW before moving on to WCW.

ECW did not have a regular network or cable television show in the early to mid 90s. They did have a show called ECW Hardcore TV, which was syndicated and often aired during late night hours. Any dates mentioned for specified matches and/or events in this series refer to when they originally aired on television (dates provided by WWE network) and do not reflect the dates they actually occurred.

It could be argued that the first shot in the Monday Night Wars was fired by ECW. On August 29th, 1996, just under a week before the Monday Night Wars officially began, ECW Hardcore TV aired the last ECW match between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. During the program ECW announcer Joey Styles was in the ring, and told the live audience that both participants would be leaving for WCW. In the audience, front and center for the camera to see was a large “Bischoff Sucks” banner. The crowd chanted “Bischoff sucks” followed by “dick.” (I watched this on the WWE Network and they had Malenko come out to the same music he had in WCW. Can anyone out there tell me if this was edited?) It was a 2/3 falls match. Eddie got the first fall, Malenko got the next, followed by a double pin and an apparent draw. Throughout the match the crowd chanted “Please don’t go.” and Joey Styles said this was “the last time they can take it to the extreme.” After the match both participants got on the mic and congratulated each other and thanked the fans for their support. Several wrestlers along with Paul Heyman came to the ring and hoisted them up on their shoulders. It was a very emotional night for the ECW crowd.

In the traditional history of the Monday Night Wars, WCW and Bischoff specifically take a lot of heat for “stealing” ECW talent. Eric Bischoff counters this by saying “one man’s raid is another company’s acquisition. We never raided anybody. We never raided the WWE, despite everybody’s opinion to the contrary. We never raided ECW. We never raided anybody….Did some talent leave ECW and come to WCW? Of course they did, because: A, they probably weren’t getting paid, and they had to in order to pay their bills and feed their families, and B, they recognized that WCW was a much stronger, much more secure, and much larger platform to ply their trade.” (Loverro p.102-103) Either way, throughout the 1990s there was a pattern of ECW developing new talent, only to lose them to both WCW and WWF. ECW would subsequently replace them with new talent, and the circle continued.

Sources

Loverro, Thom, with Paul Heyman, Tazz, and Tommy Dreamer, The Rise and Fall of ECW. Pocket Books. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, 2006

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