Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets: Bob Magee
You probably won’t see this fact mentioned on WWE.com, but Wednesday, February 25, will be the 17th anniversary of the first ECW show.
ECW, originally known as Eastern Championship Wrestling, ran its first show on Tuesday, February 25, 1992 at the Philadelphia’s Original Sports Bar in center city Philadelphia in front of over 100 people. The first match in ECW history was a 20-minute broadway between wrestlers Jimmy Jannetty and Stevie Richards.
Much like ECW, the Philadelphia Original Sports Bar doesn’t exist any more…the site of the Sports Bar is now occupied by a Ross: Dress for Less discount store. Neither does the other site for early Eastern Championship Wrestling shows, the Chestnut Cabaret.
ECW ran in Philadelphia as a local once-a-month indy promotion, founded and backed by Tod Gordon with shows at the Philadelphia Original Sports Bar, the Chestnut Cabaret, and other small venues in the Philadelphia area from February 1992 to March 1993, when it taped and aired its first TV show. This TV taping saw 60 people gather at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia on the night before a massive snowstorm that left three feet of snow in Philadelphia.
From March to September 1993, Eddie Gilbert brought Paul Heyman, Terry Funk, and a product with Memphis and Japanese influences, which began to catch the notice of people outside the Philadelphia area.
Then, in September, 1993, Paul Heyman took over booking ECW.
That night began a period where ECW became THE promotion in the United States if you wanted creative, unpredictable angles; an exciting in ring product, with talent yet unseen by most American audiences. It was a time when a fan could come to an ECW show, and realize that (unlike the overly predictable WCW and WWF of the time) they didn’t know what was going to happen at a show that night. But they knew the odds were good they’d be talking about it the next day.
ECW’s reputation spread far beyond the fans who attended the first bar shows, as the promotion’s television first aired in the Philadelphia area on SportsChannel Philadelphia beginning in 1993, first available locally (and on satellite) for five years until SportsChannel Philadelphia went out of business, when Philadelphia’s Comcast SportsNet went on the air. ECW TV then moved locally to WPPX Channel 61, before all Paxson stations changed to the “family-oriented” PAX TV… which has now itself changed to being called ION TV, which airs, among things, MMA.
ECW’s Philadelphia TV then moved to its last Philadelphia home, WGTW, Channel 48….which sadly, no longer shows wrestling…or anything except 24 hours a day of programming dedicated to a right-wing version of evangelical Christianity.
In a way unique at the time, people actively promoted ECW online and by word of mouth, with TV expanding to New York’s MSG, then Florida’s Sunshine Network, then many of the PRIME affiliates (most of which eventually morphed into the Fox Sports Network that broadcasted TNA at one point). Along with PRIME’s national feed, ECW’s TV was syndicated nationwide on the America One Network, as well as on numerous other independent stations.
ECW then was picked up by TNN in August 1999, in a move that initially looked so promising…but may have helped speed up the demise of the company, which had already been going through major financial problems including bouncing checks to everyone from wrestlers to broadcast affiliates.
I have a lot of personal memories coming from ECW…
From May 1993 to 1995, I sat in the front row of section C (the on-camera section with John “Hat Guy/Hawaiian Shirt” Bailey and company) the first two years at the ECW Arena, before the Club ECW plan was devised. Since I’d been burned by former Tri-State Wrestling Alliance promoter Joel Goodhart for a similar plan, I refused to put out the money for the “4-packs”. It turns out that wasn’t such a bad idea, as the seats I’d regularly sat in with my brother, were the very seats that were involved in the 1995 Terry Funk-Cactus Jack “fire incident”. So I moved up with the “bleacher bums” in Section C.
As I sat there, I was fortunate enough to see ECW at its best during its golden era. I also was able to gather many other memories until December 23, 2000, the last ECW show at the ECW Arena.
Here are memories from ECW, memories many of you in the United States and around the world have seen via TV and tape…
In 1992, ECW founder Tod Gordon avoided the trap that Joel Goodhart fell into…over booking his shows with name talent. The only major names early on in the first days of Eastern Championship Wrestling were Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco along with a lot of the TWA talent, which included Sandman and JT Smith.
Some of the names of those early days ncluded Jimmy Snuka, Johnny Hot Body, Don Muraco, Tito Santana, The Super Destroyers, Larry Winters, Tony Stetson, Glenn Osbourne, CN Redd, Jimmy Jannetty, Tommy Cairo, and Don E. Allen.
About a year later, Tod Gordon was ready to take things up a step with local TV on the part-time Sports Channel Philadelphia, and brought in Eddie Gilbert to book, with brother Doug. With Gilbert also came Terry Funk, who had recently done an interview in the Pro Wrestling Torch about his idea for a “hardcore” style wrestling TV show. Along with these two came a well-known loud mouthed manager named Paul E. Dangerously. How little we knew or suspected what was to come…
Some of the names seen in ECW during 1993 included Eddie Gilbert, Doug Gilbert, Kevin Christopher, Samoan Warrior, Paul Diamond, Pat Tanaka, Ivan Koloff, Herve Renesto, Chris Michaels, Hunter Q. Robbins III, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator, Stan Hansen, Chad Austin, Rockin Rebel, Todd Shaw, Kevin Sullivan, and Sal Bellomo.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1994 were 911, Mr. Hughes, Sal Bellomo, Tommy Cairo, Sandman, Gary Wolf, Matt Borne, Ray Odyssey, Public Enemy (Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge), The Sheik, Pat Tanaka, Road Warrior Hawk, The Bruise Brothers, and Mike Awesome.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1995 were Hack Myers, Al Snow, Osamu Nishimura, Tully Blanchard, Paul Lauria, Mikey Whipwreck, Stevie Richards, Hector Guerrero, Marty Jannetty, DC Drake, Jason Knight, Ron Simmons, Vampire Warrior (aka Gangrel), Dudley Dudley, and Dances With Dudley.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1996 included Mr. Hughes, The Blue Meanie, Too Cold Scorpio, El Puerto Ricano, Bad Crew, The Headhunters, Big Titan, Damien Kane, Little Guido, Brian Lee, Beef Wellington, Devon Storm, and the Samoan Gangsta Party.
The Arena was filled as full as physical space would allow, well beyond anything permitted by city or state fire laws. The atmosphere was electric.
At 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, in the most improbable of locations: the converted Bingo Hall that staff had painted and fixed up on their own, down the street from a bargain basement store and vacant buildings… the home of a wrestling promotion founded by a downtown storefront pawnbroker, started with little more than hopes and dreams… the impossible dream came true, as “Barely Legal” went hot and started the era of ECW on PPV to the United States.
The show itself included The Eliminators defeating ECW Tag champs D-Von & Buh Buh Ray Dudley for the ECW Tag team Titles, Rob Van Dam-Lance Storm, Taz over Sabu, Great Sasuke/Gran Hamada/Masato Yakushiji wrestling TAKA Michinoku/Dick Togo/Terry Boy (aka Mens Teioh), and Terry Funk defeating Raven for the ECW Heavyweight Title.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1997 included Tommy Rich, Tracy Smothers, Chris Chetti, Bam Bam Bigelow, Louie Spicolli, Big Dick Dudley, Spike Dudley, Balls Mahoney, Tom Pritchard, JC Ice and Wolfie D, Paul Diamond, and Tommy Rogers.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1998 included Danny Doring, Roadkill, Bobby Duncum, Jr., Doug Furnas, Super Nova, Mike Lozansky, Jack Victory, Ulf Hermann, Big Sal Graziano, Rod Price, and One Man Gang.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1999 included Skull Von Krush, Bill Wiles, David Cash, Uganda, Tom Marquez, Kid Cash, Bo and Jack Dupp, and Ikuto Hidaka.
Even with all the obvious financial problems and the fact that attention was often elsewhere most of the time, there were still a few classic moments left in 2000 for ECW fans at the ECW Arena.
The last ECW show at the ECW Arena took place on December 23, 2000. With all that had been happening and all that had been reported online, many fans going inside that night suspected that this might be the last show at the ECW Arena, although nothing was ever announced or even acknowledged to that effect.
The final ECW match at the ECW Arena was Steve Corino defending his ECW World Heavyweight Title over The Sandman and Justin Credible.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 2000 included Rhino, Christian York and Joey Matthews, Scotty Anton, Prodigy, CW Anderson, Simon Diamond, Johnny Swinger, Da Baldies (DeVito and Angel), Carl Oulette, Vic Grimes, Jado and Gedo, and Erik Watts.
Since those days, many have come to appreciate what ECW brought to wrestling on national level: namely, qualities that had been missing in wrestling such as unpredictability, excitement, an outlaw spirit, coherent booking, and wrestling shows that feature…wrestling.
ECW had sex (and lots of it) in its presentation…but it didn’t feature sex as a main event segment. Paul Heyman was smart enough to use sex as the sizzle, and not the steak. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to do the same today.
ECW didn’t feature bookers or management putting themselves over at the expense of the talent….or family members and in-laws doing the same. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to do the same today.
ECW didn’t care if someone on the undercard outworked the main event. They weren’t punished for it. Hell, most of the time it was encouraged. Many wrestling fans wish certain wrestling promotions were smart enough to allow their workers to do the same today.
Along with the very public memories shared by many via tape or TV…there were the memories that came from being at the ECW Arena in person:
I also have to remember that there are also those from the ECW days that have left us and wrestling far too soon: Mike Lozansky, Bobby Duncum Jr. and Terry Gordy who worked briefly in ECW, as well as ECW regulars Anthony “Pitbull #2″ Durante, Louie Spicolli, John Kronus of the Eliminators, Ted “Rocco Rock” Petty and Johnny Grunge of The Public Enemy, Big Dick Dudley, Chris Candido, Bam Bam Bigelow, Sensational Sherri Martel, and Mike “Awesome” Alfonso.
I wish you could have been there to see what we all got to experience in person. I suppose I’m glad fans are getting to see them in the adulterated form shown on WWE 24/7 on cable systems around the United States with Vince McMahon is making the money out of these memories, and not the workers who gave world-class performances even when paychecks were bouncing toward the end. But I wish you could have been there…and that you’d been able to see the unvarnished version of what was the real ECW….not ther TV show that airs on Tuesday nights because Vince McMahon owns the legal rights to its name.
Because we’ll never see its like again.
Until next time…
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