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By Mike Johnson on 2004-12-09 12:00:00

by Mike Johnson

Earlier today in my column, I wrote that I would have a ton of thoughts on Saturday night's Combat Zone Wrestling Cage of Death 3 which was the promotion's debut in the historic ECW Arena in South Philadelphia once I recovered. I stated recovered because I finally staggered back into my house in New York at 5 am, but we'll tell that story in a bit. Some thoughts and opinions on CZW's debut in Philadelphia and the ramifications:


Obviously the major news out of the show is that the promotion drew well over 1200 fans to the Arena. It was the most packed I can remember the building being in some time, as there were chairs everywhere and it was impossible to navigate across the building to reach the backstage area without sneaking under the bleachers. The crowd was hot and wanted to see CZW. The fans who came up from NYC also provided some antagonism to the Philadelphia faithful as well, which was entertaining to watch while looking down from the building's balcony where I was doing the live play-by-play of the show.

A plus for the promotion was that the size of the crowd showed that fans are watching CZW's weekly television in Philadelphia. The audience popped for the regulars on the show including Zandig, Nick Mondo, and even the tag team of Nate Hatred and Nick Gage. The audience was also made up of a lot of women (including a pair that entertained the Arena by making out before the show started), which was weird given the over the top violence that the group promotes. The audience was obviously there to see sick spots and light tubes and blood based upon what they popped for during a music video that opened the show

If you were a fan who likes surprises, this show was obviously a plus for you as Greg Matthews from Tough Enough, Winger, the Blue Meanie, Tod Gordon, the Sandman, Pitbull 1 Gary Wolfe, and Flyboy Rocco Rock all made cameos on the show to set up matches and angles building for the promotion's return on 1/12/02 at the venue.

There was a lot of hard work from performers in the show. Johnny Kashmere, Menace, Trent Acid, Nick Berk, Adam Flash, Nick Mondo, Ruckus, the SATs, Quiet Storm, Chris Devine, and Brian XL among others all took it way beyond the course of duty with their work on the show. The matches were not perfect but they were entertaining. I think that due to the amount of matches on the show and the amount of time they were all given, a lot of matches that would have stood out in other circumstances instead will mesh together and not be as remembered. My pick for best match is the elimination match featuring the SATs although the work in Acid vs. Ruckus blew everything else on the show away up until the point they went for the tables and chairs outside to set up a spot.

There was a lot of talk going into the main event about whether the "Cage of Death" would take place. With CZW had built up the match as almost a legendary, Hell in the Cell style bout within their storylines, I liken it to the first Taz vs. Sabu PPV match, where no matter what happened, it wasn't going to live up to the hype. That said, you had performers falling off a scaffold through tables, beating each other with a cactus, a barbed wire wrapped table, the hood of a car, and other weapons, culminating with an explosion coming out of the four ringposts when the belt was grabbed. Justice Pain and Wifebeater will never be confused with Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat but I thought they had a decent cage match. Unfortunately, the audience came looking to see a Mass Transit-style blade job complete with "bloody stumps" (trademark Jess McGrath) left over from a weedwhacker attack and they just weren't going to get it (yet anyway) on the promotion's first show in the venue and anyone who thinks about it, would understand that.

The show ended with a really hot angle featuring the former ECW performers. It came off especially well since it hadn't gotten out, so the fans were actually stunned. The reaction of the crowd was a lot of fun to watch as they were stunned, then chanted for the ECW performers. When Tod Gordon went off on them, they didn't know what to think and got behind Zandig and CZW when he confronted Tod's army. When Sandman showed up, the place went absolutely nuts and would have turned on CZW if they hadn't aligned him with Zandig in the booking. When the CZW workers hit the cage and the lights went back out, the Arena was ready to explode. While there are some who will say this angle is a repeat of the failed invasion angle the NWA booked several years back, the major difference is the CZW fans actually care and are behind the CZW performers, especially with Sandman on their side.

I also really enjoyed watching the reaction to the Hardcore Icon. From the second he appeared, the Sandman had his hometown crowd in the palm of his hand. Although everyone knows he is insane, the Sandman decided to prove it anyway by walking across the top of the steel cage to one of the corners and then cracking open a cold one. I have called the Sandman the Onita of America in the past, and last night reminded me of that great charisma that he has. He completely woke up a crowd that was burnt out and sent them home happy.


As a fan, I want to like Combat Zone Wrestling and see them succeed with their unique product. It is not old school, traditional athletic wrestling but there are several workers there I truly enjoy. I love the fact that the promotion allows it's junior heavyweights to shine. Eric Gargiulo, their lead announcer, has been a personal friend of mine for years so I obviously want to see him do well. But there are times when no matter how hard you want to like something, the glaring weaknesses make you just shake your head and wonder why things happen that way. Last night, I did a lot of that.

In a column previewing the ECW Arena show on 11/8, I wrote the following, "CZW needs their core performers to be ready to have the show of their lives because fans will come to that show to see what others claim is the "next ECW" try to live up to it's Internet reputation. This is not the show where anything, from the sound system to the main event, should go wrong and CZW needs to make sure they have all their ducks in a row. Nothing should be left to the last minute, not if CZW is serious about taking things to another level and building their company."

Unfortunately for all, the promotion didn't take heed to those comments. A one hour delay of starting the show is absolutely inexcusable. CZW owner John Zandig has already apologized to the fans on the promotion's website, saying that it was the first time in the building and they were overwhelmed by the amount of fans who came to see the show (Zandig states 2000, although I believe that the amount may be a little high.) While that may be true, the company did nothing to help prevent the problem in advance by taking reservations by name in advance as opposed to physically selling tickets to the show. Atlas Security (who were the ECW security team and were brought in at the request of the ECW Arena's management) were used and there were numerous complaints posted on the CZW site about the way they treated fans ranging from a lack of information being given to the crowd over the delays, confusion over where to pick up tickets, and even what door they needed to enter in. According to some, Atlas was even refusing to allow cameras into the building or fans to leave the building during the marathon show to get air. If this is true, it is hardly the best way to show a new group of fans the promotion is fan-minded.

The show finally started at 9:05 PM and ran five hours, not including the post-angle celebration with Zandig and the Sandman. Way too long. The opening segment ran for 33 minutes. The SATs' segment went nearly 40 minutes. There was way too much time given in a lot of the matches, especially since they needed time to set up a steel cage later in the evening. I have written this in the past about other independent promotions, but bookers on the indy scene need to learn when to draw the line and keep match times short. It is better to give the fans 20 minutes of the SATs (using them as an example) to whet their appetites then 40 minutes of every high spot they can cram into one phenomenal match. The reason I feel that way? Now what can the SATs do to make the fans want to see them the next time CZW runs the Arena?

There were also way too many matches, some of which were pointless when it came to the flow of the show. I can understand that with no other shows booked until January 2002, CZW needed to film as much footage as they could for their TV show, but whatever the line may be, they crossed it about 30 times when it came to pushing the limit. Even worse, many of the matches began to build well (Ruckus vs. Acid is a good example of this), only to fall into the same pattern of other bouts on the show when they went for the tables and chairs and began setting them up. It seemed like much of the show needed to be paced out better as CZW was putting it all out there with no sense of thinking about the future. That is fine but to me, you need to leave something for next time as well. If they are depending on the ECW angle to draw the next house, I am not sure that putting everything into one basket is the best idea either.

I can appreciate that CZW wanted to give everyone on the roster a chance to perform in the building, but they would have been better suited booking a Battle Royal of some sort instead of so many matches. There were workers in from Texas, who while they were very good, weren't needed for the show especially considering how many people CZW had on the show. The amount of matches more than burnt out the crowd, which was clearly just waiting for the show to end by the time the CZW Iron Man title match went on. There was a tag team who did a run in on the Eddie Valentine and John Dahmer tag team match, that I couldn't even identify but still had a slot on the show. With no ring announcement or anything to signify who these workers were and why they were out there in the context of the storylines, a lot of the time there was "dead air" from the crowd who were trying to figure out just what was going on.

On a lesser note, and this is just my own opinion, no one in the opening matches should be doing mic work of any kind. Keep the mic work reserved for angles and interviews that build somewhere. The opening matches should be setting the stage for the show with good athletic matches, in my opinion.

Final Thoughts: So after all that, I am sure you are thinking: Michael, did you like the show? I can't say I did and I can't say I didn't. I am sort of trapped in the middle, burnt out by the length and from typing all night. There were a lot of matches I really didn't care for. I know that I have several friends who went to the show and don't intend to travel back to the return date. I guess I'll have to check out the videotape to decide . I wrote that CZW was either going to catch the wave or miss it with their show last night. They ran a marathon show, and things were not perfect, but they had a crew of workers who worked hard in a building with a ton of history and a hot crowd. In hindsight, I actually feel that CZW may have made the jump to the Arena too soon, as it seemed as if they were majorly understaffed and at times, overwhelmed by how many people showed up for their debut show. Return shows at the Arena will tell the tale of whether the promotion can build a following for itself and maintain the crowd they had, or if a starved Philadelphia wrestling audience was simply dying for a good live show.

Bus Trip Notes: I joined a bus trip of 51 fans who came down from New York City for the show. On the way up, we watched a video that CZW had provided to introduce the fans to their product. When the bus arrived in Philly, CZW had a bunch of workers come on to greet the fans including Nick Mondo, The Briscoe Brothers, Ruckus, Wifebeater, The SATs, and more. Being that they are from NYC, the SATs got a huge ovation They filmed a promo with the SATs on the bus for the CZW TV. Joel of the SATs also came on the bus after the show to thank everyone for their support of the company and wish everyone a safe trip home. There were fans from Virginia and Toronto who came to NYC to take the trip. The trip finally returned to Queens at 4:30 AM, over 2 hours after the planned return. To try and make it up to fans who would have been stranded due to subway changes that were set to go into effect by the time the bus returned, they made an unplanned stop in Brooklyn to allow some of the fans an easier option to get home, delaying the return to Queens even more. For those wondering, I finally walked back into my house at 5 AM. I didn't even make it to my bedroom, instead heading and crashing right on the living room couch.

Show Notes: Lori Fullington and Jasmin St. Claire were backstage at the ECW Arena....Smoking Joe Frazier sat at ringside and was introduced twice, including once where he got in the ring. His young son sat at the ringside timekeeper's table....There was a lot of talk of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission stopping CZW from running their Cage of Death match on the Internet amongst fans. Those fans sure came off looking silly last night as not only did the match happen, but the commission's Frank Talent got inside the cage, surrounded by weapons no less, to take part in an angle. Only in wrestling....The silliest comment I've seen on the show was a fan stating that the Cactus plant used in the Cage of Death match was actually cardboard. Having walked past the thing backstage, I can state that was not the case....As you can imagine for a former staffer of ECW's website, It sure was weird being back in the building, with all the memories I have made there over the years. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting to see Paul Heyman sitting at a table giving instructions to someone and Francine crowding over a makeup mirror with the other ECW valets. It sure did seem weird, but with Tod Gordon in the building, it also still felt like home.

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