That was the feeling I was left with walking out of the last night's Legends of the Arena event promoted by longtime ECW "Queen of Extreme" Francine and her husband Joe to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The show was a surprising success on a number of levels, drawing 650-750 to the former ECW Arena with prices ranging from $250 down to $50.
Going into the show, there were a lot of questions. The ECW reunion concept had been done before and there wasn't a huge amount of buzz going into this show. The prices had to be seen as off-putting in this economy. There was no "fresh hook" such as a revival of an old ECW rivalry, such as Rob Van Dam vs. Sabu or RVD vs. Lynn. Going in, one had to be worried about how the show was going to draw and how the show was going to be received.
Without exaggeration, it was the most fun three and a half hours I've had at a wrestling event this year...and that includes attending Wrestlemania XXV, TNA and ROH PPVs, and a lot of other shows across the country. Did some of those shows have better wrestling? Yes. Did some of them have far superior production? Yes. However, what none of them could match was just last night's pure, intimate energy of an old school ECW style house show and the "feel good" factor with most of the crew just wanting to have fun with their old friends, in and out of the ring, for what could very likely prove to be the last time.
During the afternoon VIP proceedings, there was cause for concern as there were only about 50-100 fans taking part in meet and greet session with the talents and a Q&A session. When the doors opened for the evening show, it was like it was 1994 again as the audience rushed in, many wearing old ECW t-shirts from the era but with a twist. There were very, very few of the old faces from that era. Instead, it was a younger 20-something crowd who either were too young to see the company at its prime or discovered it after the fact....because a good portion of them were wearing shirts from the original ECW's run.
I was blown away by how young a good portion of the crowd looked and how many pretty girls were in the crowd. It wasn't the old 1994 smart fan audience, although there were some of that demographic in the crowd. It was more of an audience of all shapes and sizes that wanted that ECW atmosphere and took part in creating it. There were ECW chants galore before the show even began and once the audience began filling every available seat, it was impossible not to look out over the crowd and smile. They weren't there for an event, but to be part of it. It was the type of electricity we rarely see anymore in wrestling - one of my best friends commented, "They haven't even hit the ring yet and it's already my favorite show of the year." How right he was.
Beyond that electricity, the one thing that really stood out to me was the word family. From wrestlers bringing their children to see what their dads used to do to everyone palling around in the parking lot with the fans before and after the show to ribs being pulled in the locker room and even some slight disagreements over the placement of matches before the show, it was like that one of a kind Manson family was back together again.
There was Terry Funk holding court in the back, counseling different wrestlers about the business. There was Al Snow being ribbed by Sal E. Graziano with old photos that were pasted on the locker room wall. There was Balls Mahoney stalking the halls in his one of a kind manner. There was Don E. Allen running around helping out where he could because he wanted to be there to help. Looking around that scene and knowing it was 2009, with everyone from the patriarch of ECW, Tod Gordon to Sabu, who ECW first really hung their hat on as their star attraction to The Blue Meanie, in one locker room as one group - it was a sight to see.
Egos? Sure. Eclectic? Sure. But in the end, they were all together again and for the most part, the wrestlers were as thankful for that chance, if not more so, than the fans. Onto the show:
A great video piece about the history of the venue and the original ECW played. Bob Artese and Rocco Musciano made their way to the ring. Bob Artese asked, "Who wants some hats?" and tossed out signed hats, old school style. Stephen DeAngelis and Artese shared the ring announcing duties and at one point, DeAngelis said on the mic that Artese was the voice of the building and he was thankful for all the times Artese "allowed me to visit."
After the traditional hat toss, out came Joel Gertner to do one of his patented limericks. It was his only appearance of the evening.
*2 Cold Scorpio pinned CW Anderson in a great opener in about ten minutes. This was the first time these two had faced off in any fashion in their respective careers yet watching them, it felt like they were old rivals. There was some great chemistry here. Anderson, who is down 40 lbs. and probably in the best shape of his career, drilled Scorpio out of nowhere at one point with the most beautiful superkick in the history of wrestling. Scorpio pulled out a dive over the ropes at one point. In the end, Scorpio nailed a somersault legdrop from the top rope. There was a brief miscommunication over Anderson kicking out as I believe there was another spot that was supposed to be the finish but referee John Moore nailed three as Anderson got out of it and called for the bell. Not to be foiled, Scorpio still nailed the Tumbleweed after the match. After the match, Anderson shook Scorpio's hand and bowed before him, playing off the fact that fans chanted for him to shake Scorp's hand after a fun exchange early.
*Bilvis Wesley pinned The Musketeer. This was pure shenanigans. Wesley, wrestling his first match in several years and for the first time in front of his sons, took the mic and said that Paul Heyman gave him this gimmick, but the Musketeer had no one to blame but himself since he came up with it. They went back and forth for a few minutes, then out of nowhere, New Jack's theme played. The place went insane. Musketeer even grabbed his sword in preparation of his defense. Wesley rolled up Musketeer and pinned him. He then grabbed the mic and called the fans marks because he got one over on them. The crowd chanted, "We want New Jack" afterwards but it wasn't to be. It was a ballsy move as it could have deflated the crowd but it worked for what it was designed to be. Wesley came up with the gimmick.
*Chris Hamrick defeated Devon "Crowbar" Storm with a Tazmission. Before the match, Storm came out and cut a promo, saying that he quit ECW in 1997 (true) and went on to a "real" wrestling company in WCW to become WCW Tag, Cruiserweight and Hardcore champion. Believe it or not, the mention of WCW got tons of heat. He also ragged on Taz (Storm had ripped Taz online in response to Taz, in the WWE 24/7 History of ECW series taking shots at him) saying he contacted "The Human Buffet Machine" to come and face him tonight for a good cause and Taz didn't respond. He claimed that meant Taz didn't care about the fans that made him or the cause. It didn't get over for heel heat as much as the WCW stuff did. So, Hamrick played the babyface. They pulled out a lot of hardcore stunt bumps, including Hamrick's insane back bump through the ropes to the floor and at one point bridged a piece of guard rail between the ring steps and the apron. Hamrick locked on a Tazmission and Storm tried to fight it before tapping out and then selling he was angry he "tapped to Taz" so to speak. The promo, which Storm wanted to use for heat to set up the finish, actually went longer than the match was scheduled to go, which a few people were down on.
This morning, Taz posted the following response on his Facebook page: "Apparently, at the ECW Legends Show promoted by Francine yours truly was "called out" and knocked that I wouldn't work the event....an event which I was invited to. Well 1st and foremost I would like to say that I commend Francine on putting on an event for such a great charity and I know the charity effects her greatly personally. I apologize that I couldn't make the event but I had several reasons why I couldn't be there which include spending my 90 days in a quality time fashion with my family!! If that offends anyone I greatly apologize. Just for the ECW fans who did not attend the event I believe that there were several other original ECW acts that were not at the event either. I saw the talent list whom performed on the show and it seemed to be an excellent line up and I hope a lot of $$ was raised for a great cause.....a cause that my wife and I have donated $$ to in the past as it has effected our family also. Honestly speaking, its was charity show and if you wanted to put a guilt trip on me you did."
I know that Francine did reach out to Taz but I am
under the impression that due to his WWE contract, he couldn't have appeared in
person at the show without being in violation, so it couldn't have happened,
*In a short match, Rhino defeated Jaimie Dundee and Scotty Anton/Riggs. Riggs is a lot smaller from his WCW/ECW heyday. Dundee actually missed his ring entrance cue and someone had to go run to tell him he was on. Dundee brought down the house with some mic work, complaining about ECW fans being "wrasslin' wannabes" and ripping on Riggs as "Bagwell's b***." He referred to Rhino as Jeff Jarrett's butler, which I thought was funny. Rhino didn't look happy about the promo, but he could have been selling. Once they rang the bell it was over pretty quick. A lot of people backstage at the show were impressed with how much Dundee has gotten his life together in the last several months.
Tod Gordon and Sabu were inducted in the The Arena's Hardcore Hall of Fame. Also unveiled were banners for the late Chris Candido and Eddie Gilbert. At one point, Tammy Sytch was scheduled to be here but canceled to take a booking in California. The Gilbert banner said he passed away in 2007. It was actually February 1995, so that will have to be corrected. Pitbull Gary Wolfe, The Sandman and The Arena's owner Roger Artigiani came out. Sandman was well into...well, being Sandman and was truly long-winded, but the crowd loved him for it. They put over Gilbert and Candido. The crowd chanted Candido's name but didn't seem to react to Gilbert, which is a shame but on the other hand, ECW was a really small part of Gilbert's body of work. They brought out Sabu and Tod Gordon. Gordon had his three children with him. Both got huge responses. Gordon thanked everyone and all the wrestlers and seemed legitimately moved by the induction, which he only found out about after they had the banner made. Sandman then demanded Bill Alfonso come out to induct Sabu.
At some point, Sandman began burying Raven for "being
in the back whining about percentages" which was a shoot. This brought
Raven from a corner of the building where he was selling gimmicks. Raven
ripped on Sandman on the mic and then announced he would be selling gimmicks in
the corner. Apparently, he had already asked for that announcement to be
made and it was blown off to not kill the flow of the show, so this was his way
to get one back over. It all led to Sandman noting he and Sabu had never,
ever teamed up (except you, know, that show called Wrestlemania 23 I guess) and
they would tonight. So, it would be Raven & Justin Credible vs. Sabu &
Sandman in the new main. This was done to shorten the show, partially
because it was boiling hot in the Arena. Tod and Sandman led a "Raven is a
b****" chant. Beyond the angle, it was a nice, classy moment. Gordon
and Sabu obviously deserved to be honored in that building.
*Balls Mahoney and Axl Rotten defeated Da Baldies. This was the first time any of the Baldies had been on any ECW reunion-type events. Angel Medina had put on a lot of weight from his ECW run. He's worked as a police officer in Kansas City since the company shut down and still does indies at times. HC Loc reprised his ECW role as the Extreme Official, but then turned heel about a minute in, so it was a handicap match. Loc and Tony Devito were the Carnage Crew in ROH. This was your blood, guts and weapons portion of the show and everyone was bleeding. They broke crutches over each others' backs, brawled all over ringside and at one point, knocked a piece of the railing over. Good times, good times. Devito knocked one of Mahoney's teeth out during the brawl. In the end, Loc took a chairshot to the back and to the face and was legitimately knocked into next week. Axl Rotten, who is now going on a year clean and sober, looked good in the ring and probably better than I've seen him in a long time, cut a promo saying that no matter what, when you are "ECW, you are ECW for life" and all four, minus Loc (who was out on his feet) celebrated. Loc had a nasty cut on the bridge of his nose and likely may have had a concussion, but I haven't confirmed that. He didn't seem happy about getting El Kabonged with the chair afterwards.
After intermission, Nova and the Blue Meanie reprised
the BWO to defeat The FBI of Little Guido and Sal E. Graziano. Graziano is
now in school for media production and has lost a ton of weight. He sort
of reminded me of King Kong Bundy with his shorter hair. This was Nova's
first match back in the Arena since ECW closed. It was comedy all the way
here with dance offs and homage to Jimmy Snuka and Hulk Hogan among others.
All four did the Blue Meanie dance in the ring after. I call shenanigans,
but it was all great fun. Nova took the mic after and noted that he
doesn't wrestle for a living anymore but didn't want to pass up the chance to
come back and see his friends and family backstage and in the ring. A nice
moment. I have to note that I saw Little Guido tear the house down for ROH
two weeks ago in NYC with a kickass straight wrestling match and last night, had
a fun, silly match. He may be the most versatile performer not under a
national deal. I was told that Guido was telling fans he'll be working ROH
again soon, but haven't confirmed that.
A very pregnant (8 months plus) Francine came to the ring to thank everyone for supporting the cause and talked about losing her father and sister to cancer last year. She noted that a lot of people have fought the disease and are fighting it now and her heart goes out to all of them and she will keep them in her prayers. It was a nice moment. Fans in Philly showed their appreciation for Francine in their own unique way, chanting "You're still sexy" when she pointed out the baby was coming.
Al Snow was scheduled to wrestle Shane Douglas, who no showed. Snow blamed the Head, saying he was responsible for all their losses to Shane in the past and now that Al had a chance to beat him, Head pulled this. The lights went out and when they returned, Jerry Lynn was in the ring. The Arena popped like Donald Trump had refunded their ticket price. It was insane and one of the biggest pops all night, which was wild since Lynn works here all the time for ROH - so to me, it meant it was a different audience completely at the Legends show. This led to a great 20 minute match between the two with tons of mat and counter wrestling, no comedy. They ended up bumping the ref a few times during the false finishes. A few minutes after it started kicking into high gear, the crowd began chanting, "F*** Shane Douglas." In the end, Snow slowly turned heel, first with a low blow and then clobbering Lynn with the Head to get the pin. This was probably the best Snow match in I can remember. Great stuff.
In regard to Douglas, he was scheduled to fly in Friday (as did all the talent) and claimed he missed his flight. The word at the show was that when he attempted to re-book for Saturday, Douglas called claiming an issue at the airport, saying he was there and couldn't rebook the flight. Somehow that led to him not coming to the show, although the word going around the locker room was he was also claiming he was in a cast from his ankle injury at the TNA PPV and "didn't want fans to see him in the cast", which sounds ridiculous but I've heard it from multiple sources. Douglas had a plane ticket and a hotel paid for him and just didn't come. In the back was a banner made by the Arena to put Douglas into the Hardcore Hall of Fame, which was originally announced. The decision was made to just announce Douglas couldn't make it as they didn't want to be burying anyone on what was supposed to be a feel good show for a good cause. There were a lot of people rolling their eyes at the Douglas issue but it worked out since Lynn had been added at the last minute as ROH didn't need him in the Mid-West.
On a related note, I asked The Arena's owner Roger Artigiani about the announced but postponed Douglas promoted "November to Remember" ECW Reunion show. Artigiani stated that Douglas contacted him to book the venue but they never discussed any terms nor negotiated a contract. He said that he gave Douglas two potential dates available but said that he didn't want anything announced until after the Francine show had passed. Then, Artigiani claimed, he learned Douglas announced a date for the show at a convention appearance and it was a date that had a conflict and that there was no contract in place for the show. The Arena policy is not to allow anything to be announced before a contract is signed, so the heat for any problems can't be put on the venue. A rep for Douglas had a conversation with Artigiani after they were told no deal on the show and there have been no further conversations on the matter. Even with the issues, Artigiani was ready to honor Douglas on the show last night.
Sabu & The Sandman defeated Justin Credible & Raven.
Terry Funk was the guest referee but basically said, "It's ECW Rules, do
whatever the hell you want" which I popped for. Raven had Chastity.
Credible had Jason. Sandman and Sabu had Bill Alfonso. No Tod
Gordon, so I'm thinking the heat finally did him in and he went home with his
family early. I have to say, I didn't realize how much I missed Sandman's
entrance until I saw it last night. Wow. Sandman brought a ladder to
the ring. Credible went to toss it into the ring and nailed Jason Knight
at ringside as Knight zigged when he should have zagged. Scary moment.
This was all carnage and spots but the crowd loved seeing everyone. In the
end, Tyler Fullington (yes, little Tyler from the 1996 feud, who now wrestles as
Twisted Sand in the Philly area) hit the ring but was laid out by Raven.
No one knew who he was. Raven grabbed the mic and said, "Little Tyler
Fullington" and started laughing manically. Sandman's youngest son Oliver
hit the ring. Raven identified him on the mic and cracked up. Oliver
kicked him in the groin and DDT'd him. The place loved that.
Credible ended up nailed and pinned by Sabu after an Arabian Facebuster through
a table. To sell Credible being hurt at the end, HIS young son Nicolas hit
the ring with Chastity's help to check on him. In the end, everyone
recovered and Tony Devito brought out a case of beer and the main eventers all
drank beer and celebrated. An emotional Credible took the mic and said,
"One last time, thank you all for the best f***ing four years of my life."
Overall, a fun show, something that is sorely lacking in professional wrestling today. If you loved your ECW, you probably would have enjoyed the hell out of yourself last night. The talents are older and some can't work the way they used to, but when the stars and constellations come together just right, the formula still works and it did last night as a "feel good show".
Notes: In the case of many of the wrestlers on the show, they were working for free as a favor for Francine since a donation was being made to the American Cancer Society. Francine still surprised the workers with a small pay envelope after the show. The gate receipts were being tallied and the final amount being donated should be finalized tomorrow...Beyond Shane Douglas, Tracy Smothers and Jack Victory missed the show. Smothers had a conflict with his full-time occupation and couldn't make the booking, canceling after a flight was already purchased for him. Victory had a personal issue come up at the last minute, which destroyed his chances to drive himself in from Florida, as he had offered to do. In the case of Victory, it was something of a downer for the other boys since Victory had recently learned he had a daughter from a prior relationship and was bringing her to see what her father used to do for a living, something his friends were greatly looking forward to...Matt "Spike Dudley" Hyson was at the VIP convention but was sick and sent back to the hotel. Our own Dave Scherer took ill yesterday as well, which killed our chances of actually seeing each other for the first time in three years. My personal best to them both.....The show was taped by Smart Mark Video but there was no official word on a DVD release. As you can guess from my review, I hope it happens and I'd love to see it go towards raining more money for the charity...Among those visiting at the show were Marc Shapiro, who headed ECW security before Atlas Security, former ECW backstage official and timekeeper Andy Vineberg, former WWE developmental talent Danny Giomundo, Nick Berk, and former ECW star John Kronus' young son, who was brought to the show to visit with his father's former friends....The State Athletic Commission's only requirements to the wrestlers were that they not spit at the crowd or in the ring and that anything outside of the ordinary be relayed to the Commission in advance. Beyond that, the old ECW crew was told to go do whatever they wanted and enjoy themselves...No major injuries coming out of the show at all....There were a lot of wrangling over what order the matches would go on in before the show....The attention to detail was to the level that when wrestlers were signing hats for Bob Artese to give away, they realized Lynn couldn't sign them or else the surprise would be given away....As you probably guess, I loved the hell out of the show and from fans I spoke to afterwards, I sure as hell was not alone in that regard. If that is the last "ECW" reunion show, they went out on a positive note and I just hope the show made enough money to have been a worthwhile investment for a 8 month pregnant Francine to have worked on and also made the ACS some money. We'll know more on Monday.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.