MIKE JOHNSON LOOKS BACK AT THE DAY HE THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO DIE AT KONNAN'S HANDS, THANKS TO ECW
I've probably attended somewhere in the area of 1,000 shows since I've started watching wrestling. Now that I think about it, that number is rather staggering. Every show I've ever attended, whether it be a Dome show or in the basement of a housing project of the Lower East Side of Manhattan (no joke) has left me with memories that I wouldn't trade in for the world. One WCW show in particular leaves me with what was, without a doubt, my favorite memory of ECW that took place at a show that had nothing to do with ECW at all.
World Championship Wrestling was starting to ride a big wave of momentum in 1996. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had jumped from the WWF. Nitro was a hot show. A number of former ECW performers, most recently The Public Enemy had been signed to add to the shows. So, when WCW announced they were going to run the (then known as) Paramount Theatre in the Madison Square Garden complex in June 1996, my friends and I all made the decision to attend. It would round out a weekend where we already had plans to see ECW in upstate Middletown, New York and it would be a chance to see some old ECW favorites like The Public Enemy. We bought tickets the day they went on sale and ended up with front row, first level, which if you have any idea how the building is set, puts you with earshot and visual range of those in the ring.
Three weeks before the WCW show was scheduled to take place, ECW added a last minute event in Deer Park, Long Island- a rare Sunday matinee, as was the WCW show. There was actually a spirited debate about ditching the WCW tickets or selling them since one of the featured bouts was the Eliminators defending the ECW Tag Titles against Chris Jericho and Mikey Whipwreck. We eventually decided that trying to lose nine $40 WCW tickets would be near-impossible and decided to venture to Manhattan.
That Sunday was an absolute mess of a day. I was meeting a friend who was coming in from Philly. It was pouring rain, cold, the subways were a mess, and I couldn't even hail a cab because there was a Gay pride parade going down 6th Avenue so it was impossible to cross mid-town. My friend had one other goal other than seeing the show. Since it was her first time in New York City, she wanted to see the Empire State Building and the view from the observatory. I arrived an hour late and when we got to the ESB, the visibility was ZERO. ZERO. So much for that idea, but my friend bought a stuffed King Kong as her consolation prize. Years before Jess McGrath and I joked about Happy the Constipated Monkey on Elite Radio, this monkey would serve as a weapon in our concerted military effort to have a good time.
We meet my usual ragtag group of friends, have lunch in our traditional Gyro place across from Madison Square Garden and head for our ringside seats in The Paramount Theatre. Little did any of us realize we would soon have our lives in danger from a rampaging Luchador.
I don't recall much about the matches on the show offhand other than we had a really good time being loud and obnoxious fans, chanting and yelling and making the guys crack up by having fun. There is a distinct line between being "smart" and having fun with workers and being "smart" while being stupid. It's an artform that has been lost thanks to the Internet's usage of "smart terms" and it's a real shame because in many cases, you end up with performers like Ric Flair being angry about it when otherwise they'd be cracking up with you. Our criteria then and now is simple -- Yelling out missed spots, real names, and things of that nature was off limits for us. We didn't care if it was Evad Sullivan in the ring, we could find a way to make the match fun and we usually did.
Early on in the card, we proved this with an undercard match featuring current WWE star William Regal, then known as British aristocrat Steven Regal. I don't recall who Regal was wrestling but we were on him from the second he hit the ring. Just a few of our little ditties:
"WE WANT FINLEY!"
"BELFAST BRUISER KICKED YOUR A**, DOO DAH DOO DAH!"
His Lordship played up to us and was pricelessly hysterical in doing so. He would give us heat, and although he knew we were having fun, he stayed in character and used it to get more heat from the rest of the building. When the match was over, Regal even turned to us, and seeing my friend's stuffed monkey, began making monkey faces and walking like an ape. Years before WWE had even thought of showcasing Regal's brilliant comedic facials, we got a small hysterical preview, one that still cracks me up to this day.
But, as much fun as we were having, we couldn't have expected what would come next, nor how one wrestler in particular would react.
As it turned out, the next match featured Konnan taking on Kevin Sullivan managed by Jimmy Hart. Konnan was out first. My group had all sat ringside for Konnan's appearances in Philadelphia at the ECW Arena and he had always been a real good sport about taking abuse from the ECW fans, especially when he made his last appearance against then-ECW World champion Sandman in January '96. We knew we could have fun with Konnan. Well, we thought we could.
Konnan hopped in the ring and got on the turnbuckles to work the crowd. He turned our way. "WE WANT SANDMAN!" our group of miscreants began chanting in unison. After all, the Hardcore Icon had caned the living hell out of Konnan in that fateful Extreme farewell match and the Lucha star had taken that beating and the fans' chants and heckling in stride, right? Not this time. Konnan looked our way, glared and gave us a quick, "F- off!" Whoa, this was the babyface?? We all decided that one way or the other, we were going to take Konnan up on the challenge. We were going to make Konnan crack. Make Konnan crack a smile, that is.
So we went to work, but we were unsuccessful in our efforts. Chant after chant got nothing but a middle finger from the former King of AAA, although a "WHERE'S VAMPIRO?" chant didn't seem to get us any closer to making Konnan smile. Vampiro and Konnan at the time were at odds and not on friendly terms, so in hindsight, it may not have been the best choice, but it was worth a shot.
Then, something none of us expected happened. Konnan and Sullivan went over the guard rail on the other side of the ring and brawled halfway up the stairs of the Paramount in the crowd. I began to hear a familiar chant ring out, and it got louder in the next ten seconds.
"ECW! ECW! ECW! ECW!"
To be honest, I was stunned. My friends and I loved ECW as much as the next guy (and probably were attending shows years before the next guy even heard the initials) but I don't think any of us could have predicted the chant. We sure as hell couldn't have predicted what was going to happen next.
Konnan and Sullivan got back in the ring and went to the finish, which eludes me. Immediately, Konnan charges towards our end of the ring and screams, "Hey, you wanna yell ECW? Get Sabu out of the Bingo Hall under the Interstate and I'll kill him" followed by several choice expletives to add a personal exclamation point.
Hey now, the crowd seemed to say, you can rip on us all you want but take on ECW and Sabu? It was more than the grizzled New York City crowd to take. Again that chant rings out, louder than before. "ECW! ECW! ECW!" I'll even admit to us joining in that time, a move that marked as guilty as charged in Konnan's eyes.
He grabbed the ring mic and headed over towards us. "Hey, you're at WCW, not that other F**king piece of S**t's show." I scanned the crowd and realized that although the entire place was now chanting ECW and giving Konnan the finger, he was talking to us. Then, Konnan charged out of the ring and raced over to us. I had visions of "Rampaging Luchador Kills ECW Fans" as the headline of Internet that day.
I thought for sure we were dead, blamed for an ECW chant we didn't even start. One of my group noted the many legendary stories of Konnan getting into fights with Lucha fans in Mexico as he turned to back out and up the stairs. Again, this time for sure, I thought we were dead. Konnan charged at us but for some reason, thankfully, never hopped the rail and stormed off, undoubtedly really upset.
Then, something really ironic happened. The crowd was pretty angry about ECW being ripped on, by a WCW babyface no less. So, it was up to Kevin Sullivan, the heel (and someone who signed more ECW talent away than anyone else as irony would have it) to save the day.
"Jimmy Hart," the Gamesmaster bellowed into the ring mic. "Do you feel the same way about our competition that Konnan does? If so, I'm going to have to kick your a--!" Hart played off it and Sullivan eventually chased him around. The crowd seemed to lighten up.
So, we had a babyface wanting to kill the crowd for putting over ECW and then a heel calming the crowd by putting over ECW. Welcome to logic 101. Wrestling logic that is.
I remember the story becoming a big deal in the newsletters when so-called experts (who weren't at the show) wrote about ECW fans abandoning the local ECW show to instead go hassle WCW workers. That couldn't have been any less of the truth. ECW announced the show 2 weeks before it was to take place, in a small venue nowhere near where WCW ran. We certainly weren't going to forfeit $40 tickets and I doubt anyone else would have either.
Of course, the ECW show in Long Island was sold out, another fact long forgotten in the scheme of things. It was just another case of someone being "smart" but stupid by assuming they knew what the story was.
I've witnessed many hysterical and great moments live at shows, hotels, and on the road but never have I thought I was doomed to die like the time Konnan had us in his sights. But that's just the wacky world of professional wrestling.
Oh and for those who are wondering, we finally got Konnan to crack a smile at a WCW Nassau Coliseum house show about 4 years later with a comment about Ron Skoler. We always get them in the end!
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@pwinsider.com.