Thursday, June 3, 2010

Deadspin's Dead Wrestling Company Of The Week: Extreme Championship Wrestling

Most people who follow blogs closely have probably heard of Gawker media. They are the pinnacle of blog popularity. One of the websites under them is Deadspin, which claims to deliver sports "without access, favor or discretion." They absolutely come through on that claim as their targets have ranged from the likes of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez to Sean Salisbury and Steve Phillips. Anyway, I visit Deadspin for the sheer lulz and their often humorous take on sports. Plus, they have some excellent writers like Drew Margarey and Will Leitch. Anyway, a few weeks ago they started a weekly tribute to dead wrestlers or defunct companies. These columns have been absolutely great as they combine passion for wrestling, emotional attachment to the wrestlers along with some excellent writing. This week, the Masked Man takes a look at the company that forever revolutionized wrestling: Extreme Championship Wrestling or E C DUB! E C DUB! if you prefer.

Here is Deadspin's own description of it:
Every week, the Masked Man, Deadspin's pro wrestling correspondent, honors the sport's fallen and examines their legacies — famous and obscure alike. Today: Extreme Championship Wrestling, the notoriously bloody wrestling promotion that went bankrupt in 2001.
I will just do a teaser of sorts on here, if you want to read the rest of it, you should click right here:

On Aug. 13, 1994, at Hardcore Heaven, Tommy Dreamer lost a Singapore cane match to the Sandman in a meeting of ECW icons. The stipulation was that the winner got to give the loser 10 lashes with the cane. It had all the makings of an anticlimax, since ECW was a no-holds-barred federation and weapons were not just commonplace in matches but allowed; the extra post-match beatdown seemed a sort of unnecessary flourish, a stipulation for its own sake. (Actually, it was a stipulation for publicity's sake: They were trying to cash in on the notoriety of American Michael Fay's caning in Singapore earlier that year.)

But when Sandman — the smoking, drinking, bloodthirsty embodiment of all things ECW — unleashed his first valedictory wallop against the bare back of Dreamer — then playing a sort of prettyboy trying to win the respect of ECW's hardcore audience — it was clear that something significant was happening. Dreamer went to one knee and stood back up for another hit. The second smack shattered the cane and drew blood, and the crowd, usually enlivened by such violence, was struck with an unusual awe. As Sandman continued his assault, and while his valet, Woman (the late Nancy Benoit), taunted Tommy on the ring mic, Dreamer masochistically begged for more punishment, and a scene emerged as poignant as anything out of Dostoevsky.

It was a transformative moment: a redemption through violence, as Dreamer himself later put it. The crowd chanted in unison: "You're hardcore! You're hardcore!" Dreamer had lost the match but finally earned the approval of the crowd. In this blood feud between two average-looking guys (Sandman wrestled in a T-shirt and parachute pants, and Dreamer had the dark pompadour and goatee of a New Jersey mechanic), one can see a microcosm of ECW's place in wrestling history: redemption through violence, purification through blood.

Extreme Championship Wrestling was born out of the husk of Eastern Championship Wrestling, a regional (read: small-time) promotion operating in the Philadelphia area under the loose national banner of the NWA. When ECW staple Shane Douglas won the NWA title tournament, he (on orders from the ECW brain trust, but unbeknownst to the NWA brass) cursed the belt, threw it down, and grabbed an ECW belt from ringside. He declared himself champion of Extreme Championship Wrestling and in so doing signaled a definitive break from the old guard of pro wrestling that had held sway, particularly in the regional federations, for decades.

The act was the brainchild of Paul Heyman, who previously portrayed a yuppie manager in WCW named Paul E. Dangerously. When Todd Gordon, ECW's then owner, approached Heyman looking for new story ideas, Heyman suggested nothing short of a revolution — a pro wrestling version of the grunge music movement. Gordon bought in Heyman and handed him the creative reins. (He eventually would sell part and then all of the company to Heyman as well.)
The Masked Man returns after two weeks with a bit of a tweak, instead of paying tribute to a dead wrestler, he pays pays homage to an entire company. In some of his finest work (which is saying something with how high of a standard he has set for himself) MM reflects upon The Rise and Fall of ECW. He examined what exactly made the company, and how what brought them to the mainstream attention ultimately proved to be their downfall. Along the way, MM reflects upon the evolution of ECW as it went from from bar brawl hardcore matches to becoming a lighthouse for great, yet underutilized, wrestling styles like Lucha Libre. It's truly spectacular, as to how ECW was able to increase its appeal by introducing North American audiences to styles of wrestling that they weren't familiar with, and the Masked man from Deadspin does a wonderful job of shedding light upon that. I would highly suggest to this column to any wrestling fan just to see the impact that ECW had on the wrestling business, and why those "Holy Shit", "ECW", and "You Fucked Up Chants" are still relevant today.

For anyone who is looking for even more on the Rise and Fall of ECW, I would suggest watching the Rise and Fall of ECW documentary produced by the WWE. I own it myself, and I vouch for its quality.

The only thing I would have done differently would have been to add some comments about ECW One Night Stand 2005. It was billed as a resurrection of ECW, but it was really a celebration of ECW. A celebration of the fact that a company that found its roots in a Bingo Hall in Philadelphia became big enough that a corporate giant WWE backed it for one last PPV. Plus, it gave us this tjis classic Heyman promo.


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