Tim Whitehead's ECW Memories
It's kind of amazing, and also sad, how wrestling promotions sometimes just fade away. Wrestling is a sport (and I'm old school enough to still call it that) that thrives on explosive action. It would seem fitting for a promotion to close up shop with one big blow-out show. But I guess that isn't the way it works.
A little more than five years ago, Smoky Mountain Wrestling closed down after a four year run. It just slowly declined in its final year, with promoter Jim Cornette quietly bringing the promotion to its end after a house show in Cookeville, TN. Such was also the end to ECW, which had what apparently will be its final show in obscurity in Pine Bluff, AR, far away from the group's fan base in the northeast.
ECW and SMW were two different entities born for a similar reason. The product being produced by the big two promotions in the early 90's was pretty lame. Fans were clamoring for more than a cartoon show. It was the era when many fans had to get tapes from Japan or Mexico to find anything good on their TV screens. Cornette's solution to the problem was to go back to what had worked before, in the great southern promotions where good guys and bad guys just went in and kicked each others' butts with no need for silly comedy skits.
But Paul Heyman had a different concept, one which blurred the distinction between heel and babyface, and which pushed the envelope on violence levels along the lines of Japan's FMW promotion.
Heyman had a good location for starting his new group in the heavily populated northeastern corridor. And there were lots of great workers available because neither WCW nor the WWF had any clue that they were any good. ECW became the springboard to stardom for a long list of wrestlers that now are familiar names in the big two. Benoit, Guerrero, Mysterio, the Dudleys, and many more got their first true American push there, plus wrestlers like Mick Foley and Steve Austin got their first chance to truly get over after being used poorly in WCW.
It all worked, for a while. But the problem was the national marketplace. The era of shooting a cheap TV show in a studio and giving the tape out to a few local stations is over. Wrestling today relies more than ever on high quality TV with big name stars on big time TV channels. The big two have a huge jump on everyone else. They got on during the early days of cable and built from there. Trying to get on today is a whole different ball game. Trying to sell a PPV is even tougher.
Lacking the financial backing and star power of the big two, Heyman saw his marketable stars lured away by big money contracts. He saw Vince McMahon use many of his concepts to turn the WWF around, replacing the Hulk Hogan cartoon era with a more hardcore, cutting edge product. In a way, many of Heyman's successes led to ECW's demise.
I was never as intimately involved with following ECW the way I was with SMW. But I did love the promotion and made my share of road trips to see it live. I lucked out and saw the Terry Funk vs. Sabu barbed wire bloodbath live at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia. I saw guys like the Dudleys and Yoshihiro Tajiri take chairshots that made me cringe. I saw those same Dudleys nearly trigger a riot one night in Columbia, SC. Hey, and I got to eat at Tony Luke's. And I met a lot of great fans, many of whom are here right now at 1Wrestling.com.
I saw what I suppose will be my last ECW show back in August in Huntington, WV. It was a TV taping, and a good show. I'll miss ECW, but I'll remember them every time I see one of the wrestlers they made into stars. They will be entertaining us for many years to come.