And now we conclude.
In the last three parts, I spoke about the Roster, Paul Heyman, and the History of ECW as a whole. I looked what they did within the industry, but we haven’t looked in any great depth at what they did TO the industry.
That, of course, is the best part, and it’s wise to save that for last if you happen to enjoy (perhaps too much) the drama of what it is you write about. As always, I write primarily as a fan, a fan of all things pro wrestling, and cannot help but play up the significance of
The Impact of ECW: Part Four
Changing the Face of Pro Wrestling, Perhaps Forever
It’s a chant we hear today.
One that rises up in the arena, seemingly at random, started by the few, the proud, the dedicated, and picked up by the casual… And both groups reminisce, they remember something original and smart and downright mean. And that’s it.
ECW! ECW! ECW! ECW!
It’s contagious, because it’s so enthusiastic by the hardcore fans, and it’s something everyone chants when something “extreme” happens.
Someone comes off a ladder to the outside of the ring through a pile of tables?
Old Woman Goes Through Table?
Crazy Drug Addict Jumps off of a Giant Ladder through a table?
Is it so extraordinary to be associated with something extreme? No, not entirely. It’s a great compliment, but it’s not completely unusual on it’s own.
Half a decade after you go out of business and people are still wearing your t-shirts and chanting your company name?
Ok, that’s something.
There are many different types of wrestling fans, many subjective opinions on what makes an expert, and what qualities an expert requires.
You can be a fan of wrestling and not know about ECW.
You can be a fan of wrestling and know about ECW.
But you cannot be an expert, not in my opinion, if you don’t know the story and, more importantly to me, impact of ECW.
Once upon a time, there was a man named “Eric Bischoff”. Eric was a polished man, part Wall-Street Cool, and part Used Car Salesmen. Eric was, within the WCW, an announcer. Prior to that, he had been the head booker of a wrestling company that had just gone out of business. In fairness to Eric, it was pretty much doomed when he took over, but it’s still something that “Easy E” had to some how talk his way past with the folks at Turner.
Eric had been turned down by the WWF at the time, and was plying his skills at the then number two wrestling company in the world.
Now, the boss had been ousted, and the Turner brass was looking for a new WCW President. Eric wanted the job.
And Eric had a plan, the kind of plan a guy like Turner, a ruthless businessman, could appreciate. And Turner loved his wrestling; it kept him afloat when he was launching his “super-station”. Eric looked at ECW, he clearly watched it, and he saw what was popular.
Yeah, the violence, which was something that Turner wouldn’t allow, but there were other things that Eric liked. Small, quick guys were getting standing ovations. Smarter, more adult storylines were drawing an audience not of children, which was the traditional market, but young men, the most sought after demographic in Hollywood. Even smaller wrestlers in masked were moving in ways that the top guys in the WWF could never hope to move. So Eric started hiring them, bringing them over from Japan if he could, out of Mexico regularly, and out of ECW with guaranteed contracts. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Raven, Lance Storm, Perry Saturn, Rey Mysterio, Mike Awesome and Chris Jericho were all ‘raided talent’, taken from ECW to attract the ECW fan base on a national level.
Eric then went into the second phase of his plan, showing the increase in viewers that his first venture had yielded to justify the next aspect of his business model. Eric Bischoff was given a budget that would eventually be his downfall. With the help of Ric Flair, Eric Bischoff hired Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Curt Hennig from the WWF, taking their most talented guys. The WWF raced to create new stars, only to have Bischoff hire them away at a price that Vince just couldn’t compete with. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were two of the biggest names the WWF had produced. Big guys who could talk, work and draw, both were very popular. The two also happened to be best friends in real life.
Which Eric knew…
What Eric also knew was that ECW had bred a new kind of a fan. This fan was truer to the root of the word, “Fanatic”. This fan traded tapes, and at the advent of the Internet, this fan became one of many in a community of such super-fans, trading stories, rumors and eventually tapes over the Internet to hundreds then thousands then tens of thousands of fans. And these fans longed to see a cross-promotion feud; it was the impossible dream… So Bischoff thought of a way to give it to them, only instead of paying Vince, he paid two of his guys to come work for him, and made it look like they still worked for Vince.
It was done quietly, so no one would know that these men had been let go. Vince didn’t tell anyone, and this is an assumption, because he didn’t want the leak to cost him fans. So Kevin and Scott showed up on Nitro, calling themselves The Outsiders. The implications were clear, and Vince was livid enough to file a lawsuit.
Eric didn’t care, people were tuning in to see this feud, and Internet fans, who soon became wise to the fact that this was a staged feud on the behalf of ECW, were enjoying the fact that WCW was presenting something that appealed them as ‘smarks’.
Eric continued to use ideas inspired by ECW, hiring Raven and bringing him over in the same character, giving him the same gimmick and creating for him a whole new Flock, which is something you’d never see in today’s “No Compete” era. Eric stole ideas from ECW, blatantly ripping of the Raven/Sandman feud that involved Raven’s son, using Ric Flair and Ric’s son Reid. Curiously, Vince Russo would recycle the same storyline, using Ric Flair and his eldest son David in an even more blatant rip off of the ECW angle.
Thus did WCW Prosper, presenting whatever aspects of the ECW product that it could get away with under the censor happy banner of Turner Broadcasting.
Vince, meanwhile, was taking a pounding, and forced to play catch up. At first, he struggled to make his own stars, sticking to the same product that had always worked for him. Big, simple faces, evil, mean heels.
But then Eric stole away two of the guys that Vince had built up from scratch, Razor Ramon and Diesel. Vince was hurt, but it was the nature of the business. Vince quickly adapted, starting sexually charged storylines that Bischoff couldn’t get away with on Turner. Creating characters based on contentious issues in society, much like ECW had down. No longer would we see clowns, truckers and super-patriots. These were adult characters, born of an adult world. A former country singing Roadie started rapping, characters had their names change from “Bill” to “Bad Ass”, characters with psychotic issues and masks like Hannibal Lector. Phenoms became Satanists, and one man wrestled as a closet homosexual to play on societies deep-rooted prejudices.
Then something happened.
Vince offered Bret Hart a ten-year, multimillion-dollar contract, and he wanted out of it. Vince was secretly shopping his company around on Wall Street, and his experts had told him to get rid of any long-term financial commitments.
Bret was torn. He had been a WWF super-star for many years, he viewed himself as a hero and the last bastion of good tastes in the company. But he hated some of the guys he had to work with, Vince had turned him heel against his better judgment, and he felt like he was hurting his legacy with the things he was being told to say on the air. Plus, Eric was offering him a ton of money. Bret was, according to some, willing to stay for a one-dollar raise… But Vince really didn’t want to be tied down to that contract, not when Bret was drawing the way Vince had hoped he would.
Now comes one of the most famous events in history.
The Montreal Screw Job.
I’m going to go on record here and say that I side with Vince on this one. Ric Flair said it best (in his book) when he said that Bret refusing to lose in Montreal was like Ric refusing to lose in Charlotte, which is something that he’d never do. Traditionally, you leave a company on your back, which is to say you put someone else over, and move on.
But Bret somehow believed he deserved better, that he shouldn’t have to lose, that he should be allowed to forfeit the title.
Ask yourself how Vince, as a businessman, could let Bret go work for his biggest rival as the undefeated WWF Champion. Eric would be able to say that Bret was never beaten for the belt.
So Vince screwed him.
And yeah, it was a shitty thing to do.
But I don’t see that Vince had a lot of choice in doing it. I know, if I were in his position, I would have done the same thing. And I’m Canadian; Bret’s a wrestling hero around here.
Losing Bret cost Vince, and he needed a way to spin it. He looked like a real asshole, so he decided to run with that. And Vince McMahon, owner/Announcer, turned heel.
A few years earlier, Vince had hired a fired WCW Super-Star who’d gone to work in ECW and proved himself one hell of a talker.
And for a while, Vince just kept him on the mid card, not letting him talk, keeping him generic.
But a little while ago, this guy had blown up, and Stone Cold Steve Austin was just about the biggest thing going.
So Vince made him the every man, in a gimmick inspired by ECW’s true to life characters, he gave his audience a chance to empathize with someone more than ever:
Steve Austin was a redneck, he cursed, he drank, he hit people, and he basically raised hell wherever he went. Vince was the update, Corporate Exec, the kind of guy who could (and would) sell his wife for a little more money.
Gone were the clowns, the cowboys and Canadian Police. No more evil dentists, tax collectors and strange half man, half turkey monstrosities. Now there were madmen, homosexuals, whores, cheats, everymen, giants and cults. Wrestling was darker, more violent, and more adult.
Vince went on to allow ECW style daredevil stunts, putting men through tables, throwing them off of cages, and booked them in brutal, bloody conflicts involved Tables, Ladders and Chairs.
And Vince pulled ahead, putting WCW and ECW out of business in the process, hiring the best guys (in his opinion) from either company.
The Impact of ECW has been felt since it’s inception until today. Now, the landscape of wrestling is changing again, moving away from the stagnating trends that ECW set. Many are still eager to see more and upset at the change, but many others are eagerly anticipating the first genuine change in Era’s since the attitude era, now a decade old.
Thus, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my four part series on the Impact of ECW. I hope you have enjoyed it, as I have done my very best to exhaust my own store of trivia. Please check back sooner (or later) in the month for my next column, which is a look at the changes sweeping the WWE and the reasons behind them. Odds are some of the more depressingly stubborn members of the IWC are going to send me hate mail.
Feedback is, as always, deeply appreciated. E-mails can be sent to email@example.com
Peace and Love
David “C-Nub” Goold
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