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PWINSIDER.COM SPECIAL TRIBUTE SECTION TO EXTREME CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING

By PWInsider.com Staff on 2005-06-10 06:00:00

Greg "The Rat" Angelucci

So it’s finally official – ECW no longer exists as the Extreme Alternative for those grap fans who yearn for matches and angles beyond the norm. What a f*&king shame! Whether you liked the promotion, were totally against it, or fell somewhere in the middle, there is no denying that ECW made a profound impact on the wrestling business.

Let’s take a look at how the promotion evolved. Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, Joel Goodheart had a radio program in Philadelphia called Rasslin’ Radio. His co-host was a young lady by the name of Carmella Panfill, I believe (and apologize if the last name is incorrect), and Dennis Coraluzzo was a “regular” on the program as well. Joel and Dennis were bitten by the wrestling bug and eventually began promoting shows along with Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe of Monster Factory Fame. The guys assembled an array of local talent and officials, ran some shows together and eventually split in different directions: Dennis did his best to keep the NWA alive (and, like it or not, most of the current affiliates probably owe him a debt of gratitude), Larry created the WWA and Joel formed the TWA, or Tri-State Wrestling Alliance as it was then known.

Goodheart began making a major impact in the Philadelphia area by running shows at Temple University’s McGonigle Hall. With a combination of local talent, wrestlers from some of the remaining territories (such as Jerry Lawler and Austin Idol), and free agents (Abdullah The Butcher and Terry Funk come to mind), the TWA gave fans a taste of “wrestling the way it used to be” as Goodheart used to phrase it on the radio show. Joel introduced events like the Reverse Battle Royal, where twenty competitors battled to see who could enter a steel cage and win the match. His main contribution, though, was the “return” (or introduction, if you prefer) of hardcore style matches. Larry Winters and DC Drake battled each other all over the area in many such contests and Eddie Gilbert and Cactus Jack had such a good series that Cactus was given a second run in NWA/WCW. Along the way, young future stars such as The Sandman and Sabu were exposed to fans.

Unfortunately, personal problems overtook Joel and Tod Gordon stepped to the plate to salvage things. Gordon eventually secured a 6PM Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) time slot on the local Sports Channel in 1993 and Eastern Championship Wrestling was on its way with established stars such as Don Muraco, Jimmy Snuka, Eddie Gilbert and Terry Funk to headline things. The local players still were involved as Tony Stetson, Johnny Hot Body, Rockin’ Rebel, JT Smith and Sandman saw mat and TV time as well.

My first ECW event was in the fall of the year. Scherer, Pop and Cat drove to my house from the shore. We scarfed two huge pizzas and major amounts of beer and headed to the show. Believe it or not, we got a parking space right across from the entrance, paid our jibs and went inside to find some space. Back then there were no bleachers, maybe six rows of seats and only a few hundred fans. The show featured Public Enemy’s first match, a tag battle pitting Kevin Sullivan and Abdullah The Butcher against Terry Funk and Stan Hansen, a scaffold match where The Dark Patriot (Doug Gilbert) defeated JT Smith and a main event brawl that saw Crash The Terminator (currently Hugh Morrus) and Miguel Perez tangle with The Headhunters. From our vantage point on the floor, we saw one of the Headhunters hurled through a sheet rock wall and the other take swings at Crash’s chest with a baseball bat. We were hooked and made plans to return to the next show at Viking Hall. Little did we know what was in store for us!

The next show was later entitled The Night The Line Was Crossed and featured the immortal three-way contest with Terry Funk, Shane Douglas and Sabu. Mike Awesome also debuted and nearly broke JT Smith’s back with a wicked Awesome Dive over the top rope that pinned JT along the railing (Yes, the one that used to be in the opening video collage!). The Bruise Brothers also made their first appearance and brawled all over the building with the Public Enemy. The Sheik was even there and tagged with Pat Tanaka against Kevin Sullivan and The Tazmaniac (or should that be Tazzmaniac now?). Hell, fans were passing objects for the wrestlers to use on each other. The main event was so awesome that watching it on tape could probably not do it justice and Scherer and I started a standing ovation after it was finished.

The rest of 1994 would be very interesting in ECW Land as we formed our Bleacher Bums crew during the next show with Arizona John, Rich and Cabbage Patch Dave. Each show at the Arena featured some prominent names from the past as well as the regular ECW roster and we were addicted. As the year passed, we met many more fans (Jess McGrath, Sammy Siegel, Eric Tennant, Rock and Roll Rich, Zat, Big Vin, UG, Alex) and the BB crew got larger and larger. We began targeting other fans for verbal abuse: Deliverance Boy, Septic, Pansy, Barney, Bowling Ball Boy, Slo-Mo, Anorexic Girl, Glom Boy and the ultimate wrestling fan – Stanley. It seemed like each show there were new “converts” coming from other parts of the country to partake of what Tod and his crew had to offer. Things got hot along with the weather as the “Tommy Dreamer blinds Sandman” angle unfolded and we also got to see The Funk Brothers battle The Public Enemy on two occasions – the second one being a bloody Barbed Wire Match. As most fans know, the summer of that year was punctuated with Shane Douglas’ victory in the NWA World Title tournament and subsequent dissing of the belt. Extreme Championship Wrestling was born and the wrestling world would no longer be the same! One Saturday along the way, we stopped at Tony Luke’s for sandwiches and were hooked on that as well. To this day, we still meet at Luke’s for the traditional pre-match meal when attending shows in Philadelphia.

Early in 1995, the first ECW “convention” was held. While there I met many more fans that shared my passion for watching quality wrestling (Paul Herzog, Mike Morris, Mike Clune, Chris Palacios and, no doubt, many others whose names I don’t recall at present). Tod Gordon gave us access to the wrestlers for interviews and photos. We were entertained with a card that featured Taz and Sabu winning the tag belts from Public Enemy in a Tables Match that was punctuated when Chris Benoit powerbombed Sabu from atop a table set on a turnbuckle. Benoit also shared the spotlight with Al Snow as the two gave a technical display in their bout earlier in the show. Cactus Jack and Sandman brawled around the building in a psychotic Texas Death Match as well. Paul Heyman got involved with the promotion and fans were introduced to several luchadores who would later see fame in WCW: Rey Misterio, Konnan, La Parka and Psicosis. Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero wrestled in many classic contests including a weekend where they opposed each other three times and the trio of matches was taped and marketed by the promotion!

Unfortunately, by this time ECW was more than just a blip on the pro wrestling radar screen. Eric Bischoff was gaining control of WCW and made financial overtures to many members of the ECW roster: the luchadores, Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko. ECW overcame these departures as well as subsequent ones and forged ahead by developing newer stars such as Taz, Raven and The Dudleys (Can anyone name the originals?) and bringing talent like Tracy Smothers and Tommy Rich into the fold. Eventually, the promotion expanded its reach beyond the traditional Philadelphia-New York City market and was received with the same enthusiasm by fans in Florida, Buffalo, Chicago and other parts of the country as well. ECW produced its first PPV in April 1997 and lasted for twenty more. For a while, it was televised nationally as part of the TNN deal that may have also led to its downfall.

In retrospect, ECW was like the Little Engine That Could. It turned the wrestling world upside down and shook it with radical angles like the lesbian deal between Beulah McGillicutty and Kimona Wannaleia and the steel cage battle between Stevie Richards and Luna. Its “Pulp Fiction” segments to end each (pre-TNN) program were classics for the way they promoted feuds and alliances. Most important, however, was the sense of pride that over-ruled the locker room. Everyone who walked through the doors was intent on providing the crowd the best show possible – no matter what the circumstances! Wrestlers were given a forum to express themselves – both in and out of the ring (If you’ve never seen the Steve Austin “Monday Nyquil” segments, do your best to find them on tape!) and a literal “Who’s Who” of talent appeared in the promotion. If you compare the state of wrestling today with the way it was a decade ago, there is no doubt that ECW made quite an impact on the business. Here is hoping that it does not regress for some time.

For my part, I was treated to several years of excellent mat action and promos and also met many good people such as Bill Pancoast, Bill Brown, Jeff and Peggy Lynch, Tim Whitehead, Bubba, Jeff Bowdren, and Dave Flaherty (in addition to anyone mentioned previously) from around the United States. Additionally, I had the pleasure of encountering folks from other countries as well (particularly during the Hoser Cook-Out Days). Beyond all that, I was privileged to see referee John Finegan work on a national stage (I knew JR when he first graduated high school and held ambitions of becoming a referee). When all is said and done, the friendships I’ve gained via ECW will endure for many years and I am grateful for the chance to meet so many quality fans and workers as well as my cohorts here and the folks at StrictlyECW.com. I’m sorry if this piece went too long and for any inaccuracies caused by memory failure. I also apologize to any of the good folks I met whose names I forgot to include.

Feel free to send any comments or questions to rat_supreme@yahoo.com.


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