Well, fans of wrestling lore, let’s jump right into this, because I don’t want to get off topic early.
The Impact of ECW: The Roster
ECW was very much the “Little Company that Could”, in terms of how rapidly it grew in fan support and respect (if not in profit.) Paul Heyman could make a lot of money, but he sure could get the people interested.
One of the things we can say, and prove beyond what I consider a reasonable doubt, is that Paul Heyman had an uncanny eye for talent.
Paul Heyman is unlike Vince McMahon in this, because while Vince is no doubt a genius of the same genre, with larger successes than Heyman in Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Mick Foley and Hulk Hogan, Vince is also somewhat more spectacular in his failures.
To explain; Vince has created the most memorable moments in Sports Entertainment, the most memorable. That means the best and the worst, because for every “Boyhood Dream” Wrestlemania Moment, there’s a giant egg that hatches into the Gobbledee Gooker (however that is spelt) at PPV. For every Hulk Hogan, there’s a pair of Red Neck Pig Farmers and an army of midget clowns. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, which everyone loves, has to go up against things as bad as Ultimate Warrior vs. Roddy Piper, which was a crime because Warrior won in Eight Seconds! (I think it was Roddy Piper, for the universal championship. If I am wrong, someone please correct me.)
Paul Heyman created a lot of things that are very popular to a select group of people. Again, I’ll explain: Rhyno is very popular with a lot of ECW fans, but not a whole lot of guys who didn’t watch ECW, (like me) dislike watching him on tv. Rhyno makes me want to change the channel, which I know is a terrible thing to say, and something I certainly don’t hold Rhyno responsible for. His responsibility is proportional to the amount of input he has on his character, and I honestly have no idea how much or how little that is.
Paul Heyman created or allowed for the evolution of characters, characters who would be popular with him, and go on to be much more popular within the larger companies.
ECW Wrestlers who, After ECW, Would Later Go on to be Champion:
Future WCW World Champion, United States Champion, Tag Team Champ,
Intercontinental Champion, and World Title Winner at Wrestlemania
Chris Benoit was brought to ECW from Japan, before he went to WCW, after he’d left Canada. He wrestled as “The Pegassus Kid” and was very popular in Japan. He was known as a well respected technical wrestler, someone who returned some of the art to the business. Paul Heyman was looking to expand from his “Hardcore” Image without abandoning it, and needed a group of people he could bank on in terms of raw in-ring ability. Chris Benoit was hired along with Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Eddie Guerrero, Lance Storm and Chris Jericho. The entire group was allowed to put on the types of matches they wanted, with a lot more time that was given to matches on WCW or WWF television.
The addition of these people and matches brought a whole new fan base to ECW, one that WCW tried (and failed) to steal when they hired away Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn and Chris Jericho, and promptly buried them.
And while Perry Saturn was ruined by losing a “Loser wears a dress match” and then portrayed as a guy so crazy that he’d actually continue to wear the dress (his career was later partially revived by a storyline about him and a mop, one that simply faded away before it was finished), Dean Malenko just didn’t have the charisma to get over with Hogan’s camp, and as such was kept off of television, and Chris Jericho was a part of some of WCW best rated features and matches, he just couldn’t get ahead, Chris Benoit managed to rise to the Status of World Champion.
At which point, he quit.
Chris had grown to hate wrestling, and though he was now the main guy in the company, he knew that it wouldn’t stop the politics and backstage crap from sucking the joy out of his job.
He, with Eddie, Dean and Perry, left and joined the WWE, where all were involved in decent feuds with reasonable amounts of airtime.
Benoit bounced around the card, from Raw to Smackdown, feuding with top guys but never really being a top guy, until he won the Royal Rumble, and went on to win the title in one of the most celebrated Wrestlemania Main Events in years.
Future Cruiserweight champ in WCW, Television Champ, Tag Team Champ, Intercontinental Champion and First Ever Undisputed Champion
Chris Jericho went to the WCW for more money and exposure, confident that he could be as successful there as he’d been everywhere else he’d performed.
WCW, under the influence of Hulk Hogan, wasn’t looking to make that kind of person a star, mostly because then Hogan would look bad, because he simply wasn’t as talented as Chris Jericho. Jericho was faster, a better talker, younger, and roughly as charismatic. Hogan looked like he was standing still next to someone like Jericho, and refused to accept anyone like him as a main event contender.
Instead, Jericho wrestled other guys his size in the “Cruiserweight” and Television Title divisions. He was over with the fans, he was popular and frequently allowed to talk.
But, he wasn’t paid like a star, he wasn’t where he deserved to be on the card, and the WWF had a storyline for him.
Chris Jericho quit, and after a long series of ‘mysterious’ Y2J adds right at the millennium, debuted to feud with The Rock, one of the most established faces on television at the time.
Jericho went on to feud with China and win the Intercontinental Championship. He was given high profile matches against the likes of Chris Benoit, Edge, Chyna, Christian, Kurt Angle, and everyone in the upper mid-card range.
But Jericho took years to move up, many were saying that he was being held down, that Triple H was the new Hulk Hogan (a rather baseless assumption, considering how much people are willing to say about Hogan and how little is said about Triple H), until he was finally allowed to be the one who ‘Unified’ The WCW and WWE heavyweight Titles, and was crowned the first ever Undisputed Champion after beating Steve Austin and the Rock.
Future Intercontinental, Tag Team and World Champion, Most Popular Superstar in Wrestling History
The Story of Steve Austin is perhaps one of the better known, and really not something I need to go into any great detail about.
Steve Austin was a midcard talent in WCW, and was fired while injured. In his time in ECW, he was allowed to speak his mind and talk openly and honestly about WCW in what turned out to be very compelling and intense shoot-interviews. He was quickly hired by the WWF and put to work as the “Ringmaster” as The Million Dollar Man’s Million Dollar Champion. No one was letting Steve Austin talk, which was funny, because he proved he could in ECW.
Finally, Steve Austin decided he was going to take the reigns of his own character, and re-invented himself as Stone Cold Steve Austin, which he would later describe as himself with the volume turned way up. (The same thing the Rock said about his character in his book) Stone Cold Steve Austin won the king of the Ring, and cut the famous “3:16” Promo on Jake the Snake Roberts, which set Steve Austin on the path that would lead to him becoming, heads and tails, the most marketable super-star ever.
Steve went on to feud with Brian Pillman, his best friend in the Wrestling business, which started the attitude era, and then with Bret Hart, coming out on the losing end in a great Wrestle Mania match before Owen Hart injured his neck.
When Steve Austin returned to the main event, Bret Hart was gone and Shawn Michaels was getting ready to quit.
Steve Austin became the new WWF Champion, and went on to feud with Vince McMahon during the most profitable period in WWF History.
Steve’s neck injuries finally caught up with him, prompting him to give up on wrestling shortly after Wrestlemania 19, retiring as the most popular champion in WWF History.
He hasn’t wrestled since.
Rob Van Dam
Future Hardcore, Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, very popular and often heralded as one of the most deserving people never to win the World Title
Rob Van Dam was one of the poster boys for ECW, and he later came to the WWE as a mid card and hardcore talent. He quickly lost a lot of his edge as he was ‘toned down’ for the WWE Product, and received a lot of flack for speaking his mind.
Admittedly, I am not a very large RVD fan, I think he’s capable of being good, when he wants to be, but chooses to be formulaic. This can be attributed to his dissatisfaction with his role in the company, but I look at the fact that Triple H actually wrestled in Pig Shit on a PPV, and I think to myself that he still put the effort force. Of course, Triple H haters disagree with me here, they think Triple H is a no talent hack that’s only where he is because of the bosses daughter, forget the fact that guys like Ric Flair say he’s the best, and the fact that he was world champion long before he was involved with Stephanie. Bit of a tangent, but it’s just not smart.
Van Dam would go on to limited success in the WWF/E, but continues to remain as one of the most popular and recognizable figures on WWE Television.
Rey Mysterio Jr.
Future WCW and WWE Cruiserweight Champion, which he won a record number of times, one of the most popular ‘high-flyers’ in WWE history
Rey has held the Cruiserweight Championship more times than anyone else, ever, which given the popularity that the Cruiserweights have always had with their dedicated fan base, says something about his talent.
Rey went into the WCW after ECW, and made a splash as a really small guy in elaborate costumes that bounced around the ring like it was electrified. Rey put on some fantastic matches with The Ultimo Dragon, Psychosis, Chris Jericho, La Parka, Juvi and the other cruiserweights. He also feuded with Kevin Nash in one of the more entertaining David vs Goliath style storylines I’d seen to date. Later, he would go on to lose his mask and become a part of the “Filthy Animals” a group of hip-hop wannabes that didn’t fit in well with the “down south” atmosphere of Atlanta, where WCW was based. The gimmick was, however, starting to gain a little steam when Rey Mysterio accused an opponent of “Driving the Hershey Highway” on live television, which no doubt caused an Turner exec to choke on his coffee and had the effect of killing the “Filthy Animals” gimmick.
Rey stayed with the company, wrestling often without being a part of any main storylines, and was actually still under contract to AOL Time Warner when the company was bought.
He stayed home and got paid, and returned to the WWE, back in his mask, to enjoy renewed success as the only Cruiserweight to be in the main event as frequently as he is.
Future Cruiserweight, United States, Tag Team and WWE Champion, one of the most technically sound wrestlers ever in the WWE
Eddie worked well with everyone he wrestled with in ECW, and was tremendously talented and respected when he was hired, with Benoit and the others, to go to WCW and enjoy larger successes, or so I’m sure they were promised.
Eddie was one of the few Cruiserweights with any character at all, as he played a cheat and a thug most of the time, an ill-tempered heel. Eddie later went to the WWE/F with Benoit, Malenko and Saturn, and enjoyed a storyline with Chyna, which had him going from heel to face to heel again. Eddie continued to wrestle as a popular heel until he was let go for substance abuse.
Eddie was rehired, however, once he got his life back together, and returned to TV to feud with Benoit, and later join the Smackdown brand, where he rapidly rose to the top as one of the newest “Main Event” guys on the show, winning the WWE Championship and retaining through Mania in one of the most popular title reigns in Smackdown’s history.
Held Cruiserweight, United States and Hardcore Championship titles simultaneously on WCW TV
Lance Storm may not come to mind for many other people, but he certainly does for me, because of what he did in the WCW. Lance never really got ahead in the WWE, he made it as far as intercontinental champion before being shuffled off into gimmick hell, which he retired from in order to be a Road Agent and OVW Trainer.
But when Lance went to WCW, he was allowed to speak, and his stiff, military style Canadian patriot promos rapidly shot him up the ranks to World Title Contender. Lance formed team Canada and feuded with Hugh Morris’ stable, who’s name I cannot for the life of me remember right now. The feud featured very talented guys like Storm, Booker T and Elix Skipper, but was deflated by giving prominent roles to Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Hugh Morris. But, at one time, Lance Storm was the most over heel on WCW, the most enjoyable part of the show, and holder of three championships.
Boy, I enjoyed that stuff, the rest of WCW Sucked.
David Arquette, World Champion. Someone should get shot for that.
Future Hardcore, Tag Team, Intercontinental and World Champion, best selling author, commissioner, and “God” to a group of dedicated fans
Mick Foley was actually in ECW while under contract to WCW as a sort of Talent Exchange, but when he later quit WCW to find more work elsewhere, he was a feature in ECW and it’s “hardcore” scene. Foley was a fantastic talker and worker, and was soon picked up by the WWE exclusively to feud with the Undertaker.
At the height of the Undertaker’s status of Supernatural, an equally as invincible opponent had to be fashioned for him, a Kane to his Able. Making was the choice, in this plump, shrill masked man capable of absorbing tremendous abuse and prone to tearing out his own hair while sitting in the corner.
Foley went on to grow tremendously popular, cementing himself as a bonnified legend to many fans who watched him plunge off the Hell in the Cell at the King of the Ring, 1998. Foley would later wrestle and win the World Championship, winning as a face and them becoming a quasi heel as Dude Love, friend of Vince McMahon. Foley went on to win several championships before a long period where he tag teamed with the Rock as part of the Rock and Sock Connection (Just about the funniest team ever). Foley retired several times, and still wrestles occasionally, returning to the WWE in some capacity several times a year.
Would later go on to feud with Steve Austin in storyline that can be claimed as the very first show in of the ‘attitude era’, at one point the most talked about superstar in all of Wrestling
Brian Pillman was the most talked about man in Wrestling, because he seemed very much to have a death wish, and no one could tell if it was his character or not. Brian carried the gimmick so far that he was hired to be the top guy in the WWE, only to crash his car, throwing himself through the windshield only weeks after he’d signed the contract. Brian went on to feud with Steve Austin, jumpstarting the Attitude Era and working side by side with Bret Hart as the crazy step-brother to the Hart Foundation. (I have no idea what he was doing there, and no, the Step-Brother thing is a metaphor, not a gimmick)
Tragically, Brian’s injuries from the car accident lead to an addiction to painkillers, which he needed to perform through the pain, and eventually his death.
Brian Pillman is noted not for what he did, but what he could have done, had he never been hurt. He was one of the most talented guys in the business, every bit as good and as edgy as Steve Austin.
That’s not all of them either, but these are the ones of the highest pedigree, guys who are to this day some of the most popular guys in wrestling.
Look at the list, all of these guys were in ECW First, before any of the success I listed, they were all spotted not by Vince McMahon or Eric Bischoff, but by Paul Heyman, who gave them an opportunity to showcase their skills and join the WWE or WCW as future champions and Superstars.
Without ECW, it’s quite possible that none of the people mentioned here would ever have made the impact they did outside of the company that discovered them.
That concludes part Three of The Impact of ECW, next column will be the final in the series, taking an in depth look at how the way ECW forced the WWE and WCW to fundamentally change their product.
I have one other thing I’d like to talk about.
This weekend, and for the sake of honesty I’ll risk being sued, I downloaded some Ring of Honor Matches, Paul London Matches specifically, and one bout between London, AJ Styles and Low Ki in particular.
I watched in on a Monday, and it absolutely ruined Raw for me, (except for Batista going over La Resistance, but I’m a Batista mark), because compared to the way these three guys moved, a lot of the WWE Wrestlers seemed to be standing still.
If you ever have the opportunity to check it out, I recommend that you do, it’s professional wrestling taken to the level of art, and I really enjoyed it.
Also, I recently spoke to the director of the soon to be released “101 Reasons Not to Be a Pro Wrestler.” The Trailer was released, and will be re-released in the near future. I look forward to the film, and recommend you guys check it out. It should provide wrestling fans and critics alike with an interesting point of view on the business.
Peace and Love!
David “C-Nub” Goold
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