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20 YEARS AGO TODAY - ECW RUNS ITS FINAL LIVE EVENT - A LOOK BACK AT THE PROMOTION

By PWInsider.com & Friends on 2021-01-13 02:37:00

ONE LAST NIGHT WITH ECW -JUNE 2005

Last night, professional wrestling fans from around the world got exactly what they had been wishing for the last four plus years, with the rebirth of Extreme Championship Wrestling. I certainly know that this fan's prayers were answered. I stress the word fan because first and foremost, before the word writer came into play and I began penning my thoughts and reports on wrestling, I was and always will remain an ECW fan. That is something I have always been proud of and something I will always take with me, no matter where my life leads me. I started a fan and if that was the last ECW show ever, I was there, as a fan.

I am among a very lucky group of fans who saw the landscape of the business change at the hands of a bunch of dreamers and misfits who didn't fit into national companies. I was there when Cactus Jack fought Sabu. When Rocco Rock was hung from the Eagles Nest. When the chairs rained down upon Terry Funk and Cactus Jack. When the house party ruled the scene for The Public Enemy. When Chris Benoit became the Crippler. When Sabu no showed and when he returned. When Malenko and Guerrero made the ECW Arena cry for their farewell. When Rey Mysterio and Psicosis tore down the place in their debut. When Taz and Sabu finally faced off. When Tommy Dreamer pinned Raven. When Sabu and Terry Funk tore themselves apart in barbed wire. When Barely Legal went on the air, creating a true third viable national company. When Tommy Dreamer won his World championship.

I was there for it all, walking into the ECW Arena for the first time in May 1994 and riding the extremely emotional rollercoaster of everything good and bad. Like every other ECW fan, I was blessed. Every dumb decision, every major business deal, every great match and every talent raid, I was lucky to witness it. ECW was a rocket blazing a trail of glory for the business and those who were there understand exactly what I mean in vivid detail and don't need further explanation. Those who weren't hopefully have (or can get) an idea from watching the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD.

In January 2001, I sadly walked out of the Hammerstein Ballroom, knowing in my heart it was to be the last time I would see the ECW crew in the same place at the same time. It would be the last time I would get to hear that music, feel that crowd's energy, and see performances from a most unique crew, but the gifts that company bestowed on me through the years personally and professionally, always remained.

For better or worse, ECW shaped who I was and what I loved about wrestling. It matured me, it taught me respect, and it taught me work ethic. It gave me memories and friendships I cherish dearly. It opened doors for me to do projects in other venues. It created an outlet for my creativity. For that and so much more, I will always owe a debt of gratitude to those responsible for ECW. For those same reasons, I always felt I had a lack of closure over the company shutting down and I wasn't alone.

When Extreme Championship Wrestling closed, like many fans and everyone who was involved with the company, I was heartbroken. I was hurt that a product I so closely identified with was gone, when it had obviously evolved the business. It was worth every dollar the fans put into it, but unfortunately the reality was there wasn't a proper corporate synergy to put those dollars in the right place at the right time and keep the company afloat.

It was sad for ECW fans, but the true tragedy was the ECW performers. I felt horrible for the many talented men and women who worked inside the ring, the offices, and the crew of the company, as I had seen firsthand what a wonderful group of people they were during my time working for ECWWrestling.com. All of them lost their jobs, some of them lost homes they were paying off, some had cars repossessed. It was a depressing time for many of them. Some of them have yet to recover years later, still living indy date to indy date, hoping for a chance to return to greatness and the glory that comes with being a wrestling star.

ECW died in 2001, but the spirit always lived on. The fans wanted it, the work ethic was always there, and truthfully, not one person who ever loved the company got their much deserved closure until last night. I was proud to be there, as a fan, to see so many of these talented people, and ECW fans from around the world, finally get that closure. Who would have thought a simple DVD and the passion of a fanbase that was mostly dismissed by national companies would be enough to resurrect ECW, if even for one night? Not I, but I am happy to be wrong.

On a personal note, to have 99% of my closest and dearest friends together watching that PPV live was one of the most wonderful events in my life. Despite all the problems our respective lives have thrown at us, there we were together witnessing something we all enjoyed so much, rising from the ashes like a Phoenix blazing in the sky. In short, it was one of the best nights I've ever spent at any entertainment genre. As an ECW fan, someone who was lucky enough to be around as much as I was around the origina company and someone who loves this business, I am forever indebted to everyone involved in making that One Night Stand a reality, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Which brings me to my next point. Before I go into my thoughts on the show, every ECW fan reading this should remember to thank Vince McMahon for this show even taking place. McMahon is often a lightning rod for negativity, much of the time well deserved, but he owns ECW and everything associated with it at this point, whether any of us like it or not. He could have very well let the pathetic Alliance storyline of 2001 been its last breaths. He could have just kept pumping out DVDs and using the library to augment WWE 24/7. He could have kept Tommy Dreamer behind a desk and Paul Heyman on ice, but instead, for whatever his reasons, he allowed ECW to return and to BE ECW, which is all fans ever really wanted. While WWE deservedly received criticism for their early handling of the ECW PPV build, it was because ECW fans simply want the company they love to be respected. Vince McMahon allowed that last night and everyone, all of you who love or loved ECW, owe him a thank you. So, thanks Vince.

THE BEST PPV OF LAST FOUR YEARS

ECW One Night Stand PPV, held in the intimate Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, was easily one of the best PPVs of not just the year, but of all time. I understand that is extremely high praise but beyond the NWA Great American Bash '89, Wrestlemania X7, AAA When Worlds Collide and ECW's Barely Legal, I am hard pressed to think of another PPV that I loved as much as One Night Stand from top to bottom. There have been other great matches and entertaining shows, but none on the level of this tremendous presentation.

All of the great elements of ECW were there. The atmosphere was electric, with tons of fans I haven't seen in years popping up at the PPV. The work ethic was there for most of the matches, although some didn't live up to expectations from an in-ring standpoint. I'll go more into that below. There was the insanity, the tables, the chairs, the blood, the weapons, and most of all, the emotion. It was like attending a family reunion, a Kiss concert, and the World Series all at once.

Live, the audience was so heavily into anything ECW that they rejected Rey Mysterio doing the 619 and popped for any "old school" ECW music themes that played while sitting on their hands for the familiar WWE produced themes for Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Jericho among others. There were "F*** Vince" chants when Rob Van Dam praised him for going ahead with the PPV. The crowd wanted to see ECW, not WWE, and that was obvious from the reactions. The crowd even demanded that Psicosis put his mask back on, since he originally worked ECW under the hood.

In a rare move from WWE policy, there were no signs screened or confiscated with different indy promotions and websites being plugged. With the exception of a Titantron, it was an ECW ring, the ECW entranceway and ECW style lighting. The aura of the building was exactly as it had been during ECW's last PPV in January 2001, as if you had stepped into the "next show" after Guilty As Charged 2001, from the ring announcer to the referees to Atlas Security.

From an in ring standpoint, some of the matches were below expectations, but at no point did the show rank as disappointing live, specificaly because of the energy of the live crowd, which as loud as they were on PPV, it was still a fraction of the energy that existed live in the moment. It made sense that Rey Mysterio, Psicosis, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero couldn't go as hard as they did a decade ago. They are older, working a harder schedule, and in a different position as established stars, as opposed to the hungry performers looking to make names for themselves. They had TV the next day, atfer all.  Still, it was a unique evening where you saw performers under their old guises working in a different environment and that coupled with the hot crowd, made for a special evening.

There were no bad matches, but in the fantasy world of wrestlers being able to have the best matches they ever could, I am sure there were some fans that expected more than they got on the undercard. Still, any show that provides you with Lance Storm vs. Chris Jericho, Tajiri vs. Super Crazy vs. Little Guido, Sabu vs. Rhyno, and Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit is going to have nothing but solid wrestling. The fact that the worst fear of most ECW fans, that WWE wrestlers would interfere and ruin the bouts, didn't come to pass was another major plus, with clean finishes (at least clean of WWE interference) in every match.

The inclusion of the WWE stars helped to fire up the nationalistic tendencies of the ECW fans, but also took away from the heat of Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrrero. While it was funny watching the entire Manhattan Center railing away at the Raw and Smackdown crusaders, I really wished it hadn't taken away from what might have been a great bout.

The promos on the show were nothing short of amazing. Paul Heyman keeping with his NYC tradition of arriving to address his followers was one of the most emotional moments of the year, as the cult leader finally had his cult reassembled. His comments about JBL and Edge were inside and funny, giving a different dimension as opposed to some of the stale, one dimensional promos you see on WWE TV. Likewise, Rob Van Dam's promo from the heart was the most emotional promo he's ever given publicly, railing away on the creative team that has done nothing but book him into mid-card oblivion, noting that not being able to work the PPV was worse than missing Wrestlemania.

The top two matches of the show were nothing short of phenomenal. There was a lot of sad irony to the idea of Mike Awesome, who walked out of ECW in 2000, devastating the company's  World title in the process being booked on the company's reunion show. With that said, after having the best match on the show with Masato Tanaka, if they each didn't earn WWE contracts, I would be shocked. Awesome and Tanaka broke it down FMW style with tons of tables, dives, and chairshots that decimated brain cells. They both deserved nothing more than the ovations they got after their bout.

The main event, featuring The Dudley Boys vs. Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman was nothing more than a celebration of the ECW style of wrestling and booking. Fans singing along for Sandman's entrance, to the point you couldn't hear the music because they were so psyched and excited to sing along with Metallica one last time, was one of the most electric moments of the year. His reaction shattered even the decibels for Austin's entrance.

Once the match started, it was all the great ECW elements, from ringside fans handing weapons to their heroes, run-ins galore, the return of Beulah McGuillicuty, a catfight, the BWO, Kid Kash's insane dive, and everything else under the sun, it was a fun match with all the twists and turns you come to expect from Extreme Championship Wrestling.

The surprise appearance of Steve Austin made perfect sense to set up the final huge fight with ECW running off Raw and Smackdown, as well as giving a reason to recreate the farewell toast from the final ECW event in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Only this time, it wasn't a group of friends bemoaning the end of their jobs, it was a group of athletes from all eras of the company celebrating its run.

When the PPV went off the air, the ECW stars headed to the back, leaving the heart and soul of ECW at ringside alone. Badly beaten, a loser in his "final" ECW main event, Tommy Dreamer entered the ring, surveying the fans, crying. He bowed down and kissed the ECW logo goodbye before being embraced by The Dudley Boyz and fans at ringside. I can think of no more fitting way for fans to say farewell to Extreme Championship Wrestling. To witness the man who fought to the very end for the company, Tommy Dreamer, beaten and hurt, but still standing tall even in defeat, as the last to exit the company, was touching and emotional, even if this ending came four years after the actual end of the company. If anyone deserved to shut the lights, it was Dreamer. He gave of everything for ECW.

Overall, it was one of the most historic nights in the history of wrestling, one of the best PPVs in the last several years, and an amazing final ride for ECW. Personally, if WWE never did another thing with the brand, I can be happy to know that they allowed it end the right way, as opposed to fading into oblivion with horrible angles.

I don't know what the next chapter of ECW will be, or if there is even a next chapter at all. Whether WWE makes it the next success story in wrestling or blows it altogether, this ECW fan is proud to know that the door on the ECW he loved, is finally closed.

"I wish I could make time stand still, so this moment would last forever." ~Joey Styles, ECW One Night Stand.

Amen Joey, Amen.


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