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CIRCA
Pulp Memories of 
Extreme Championship Wrestling
June 15, 2005

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

I'm very short on time these days. I'm already a couple of days late with this column, and for that I apologize. But dammit, I can't let the ECW reunion weekend pass without offering a few thoughts on the promotion and why I remember it fondly. 
 
Six years ago, ECW Magazine allowed me my first paid gig as a wrestling writer. ECW allowed me to write for their magazine, photograph their events, and interview their wrestlers. WrestleLine.com had just come into existence. It would be my work in ECW Magazine that drew the attention of WrestleLine, and brought me

to this web site. As a result, it also brought me from New York to Florida, where I still reside.

Back in 2000 when I made the move, I was single, fresh out of college, and finding my way as a journalist who happened to love pro wrestling. Now, I'm married (one year ago) and I have a son (born two weeks ago - hence, my absence). I work for the same media company I did back then. And I still love wrestling. Especially the old school stuff. ECW isn't necessarily "old school" just yet, but I love it all the same.

To me, ECW was memorable, exciting, fresh and unpredictable at its best. At its worst, it was a failed experiment, an example of how not to finance a business, and any number of other shortcomings. In the grand picture, though, it was a wonderful effort by a group of people who loved what they did and gave it a king-sized effort every night. On top of it all, they truly appreciated their audience. You have to respect that.

ECW was a true alternative, for those of us fortunate enough to live where ECW got TV time. You could always count on a balls-out performance from the crew. You could also count on a spirited live audience that sometimes cheered, sometimes heckled, but NEVER sat on their hands. ECW had life. In fact, even in death, ECW has arguably more life in it than WCW did when it was still kicking.

I'm not going to preview ECW's One Night Stand PPV, although I am really looking forward to sitting in a comfy chair and marking out like it's 1998 again. ECW One Night Stand is about nostalgia. Thus, in lieu of a preview, I just want to throw out a few totally random, fond memories I have of Extreme Championship Wrestling, and indulge in a little nostalgia trip of my own.

-- I remember New Jack walking through the crowd of people waiting to get in to the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie for an ECW show, trading wise cracks with the fans. I also remember him walking up to my friend and I, shortly after we'd been inside the building interviewing a few ECW wrestlers. New Jack grabbed the camera from my hands, took a picture of himself, and handed the camera back to me.

-- I remember going to a nightclub in Binghamton, New York, with a different friend following an ECW TV taping in that city. New Jack and Jazz were across the floor from us with a bunch of ECW crew members, so we took the occasion to walk over and congratulate them on a great show. New Jack dove from the top of a steel cage through a table to finish the show that night (Mustafa was the victim). I bought New Jack a long island iced tea, as my friend and I quietly agreed that we were probably standing next to the toughest human being to ever set foot in that club.

-- I remember Saturday nights in college, and how we always made time in our weekend social events to get back to the dorms by 1 a.m. At that time, a fellowship of friends who all appreciated ECW gathered to have a few more drinks and watch ECW Hardcore TV, waxing philosophic about how much CW Anderson looked like Vader's own personal Mini-Me, arguing over whether Justin Credible was overrated or just overexposed during his title reign, and marveling at the latest Super Crazy vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri classic. On one of those ECW TVnights, one of our pals felt the ECW vibe so strongly that he arranged the furniture in the room to accomodate his own version of Sabu's triple-jump moonsault. HE'S HARDCORE! HE'S HARDCORE! HE'S HARDCORE!

-- I remember reading in the wrestling mags over a decade ago about the dastardly way former WCW star Shane Douglas had disgraced the tradition of the NWA Title by throwing it down and declaring himself the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. I wondered why, all of a sudden, this capable young athlete with a real shot at returning to WCW or the WWF some day would risk blackballing himself in the business by taking such action with the belt once held by Race, Brisco, the Funks, et cetera, et cetera. All the old school wrestling publications were outraged that ANY wrestler would disgrace the NWA like that, let alone a wrestler that had just won a tournament to become its champion. I thought that was a pretty outrageous thing for Shane Douglas and this small indy promotion to do... and I thought it was pretty damned cool to see someone rocking the boat of the "establishment." ECW had my attention from then on.

-- I remember getting word of numerous excessively bloody and violent ECW matches involving Terry Funk, Public Enemy, Cactus Jack, the Gangstas, and Raven, among others. I remember reading about barbed wire, and flaming branding irons, and steel chairs aplenty. I remember reading over and over again how this ECw promotion was pandering to the lowest common denominator of wrestling fan, even allowing fans to bring their own weapons for use in ECW matches. I remember this being ECW's rap for years, until 1995, when one little rivalry forced the critics to look beyond the hardcore violence and see that ECW was also about GREAT WRESTLING. I remember thinking how awesome it was that Dean Malenko vs. Eddie Guerrero could turn so many heads in such a small promotion - with all the over-the-top stuff going on around them - by simply putting on their boots, getting in the ring, and wrestling their asses off. Dean Malenko vs. Eddie Guerrero was the first of many examples of ECW being much more than its stigma of garbage wrestling and scantily clad women. Dean Malenko vs. Eddie Guerrero also marked the first time I ever really sympathized with ECW and its wrestlers for not getting their just due as a promotion where truly great wrestling was happening, not just blade jobs and chair shots.

-- I remember the first time I ever found ECW on TV where I lived. It was 1994 or 1995, and it was about 3:30 a.m. Flipping around the late-night crap on TV, I caught a glipse of Shane Douglas cutting a promo in a poorly-lit room, with questionable sound quality. Like a true wrestling fan, I put down the remote and watched anyway, because hey... wrestling is wrestling. Three things struck me about the promo Shane Douglas cut on that show: 1) It was close to 20 minutes long, far longer than any promo you'd see on a WWF or WCW broadcast; 2) Douglas covered every topic under the sun, shooting on nearly everyone he'd ever worked with; and 3) For maybe the first time since I'd become a wrestling fan, I watched a half hour of a wrestling show and didn't see any matches, nor any other face besides Shane Douglas' poorly-lit mug... and yet, I was completely entertained.

-- I remember the incredible buzz surrounding Sabu in the early 1990s, and how the real-life nephew of The Sheik was an utterly fearless daredevil. This guy took chances that few other wrestlers would, when it came to suicide dives, weapons, and overall craziness. Nobody ever said Sabu was an excellent wrestler, but his fearlessness and amazing dives into (and out of) the ring were built up as groundbreaking stuff. Looking back, it's hard to disagree... although Sabu is finally showing the signs of his years of excessive damage to his own body.

-- I remember watching as ECW worked toward its first PPV, Barely Legal '97, and wondering if the company would ever do another PPV after it. It was rare to see anyone but WCW or the WWF come anywhere near the PPV market, and even those who did produce a PPV usually did not return for another show. ECW not only returned to PPV, but they produced regular PPVs for the next four years.

-- I remember watching as the WWF entered its "Attitude" phase, and noticing just how much of this edgy, new-look WWF was derivative of something ECW had been doing for years.

-- I remember how the entire ECW staff welcomed us with open arms any time WrestleLine.com sought interviews or photographs backstage at an event. ECW had a very deep connection with wrestling fans. ECW understood better than any other company in that era that treating the fans with respect was necessary, because without wrestling fans, there would be no wrestling. I still believe ECW's appreciation of that fact played into their hospitality any time WrestleLine.com wanted to cover their product. They understood that WrestleLine (and other web sites like it) are, at their core, the result of the hard work and creativity of dozens of the most dedicated wrestling fans on earth, who have chosen to honor the wrestling business by producing a web site covering their shows. In our case, ECW thanked us for endorsing their product by letting us into their arenas, answering our phone calls, and giving up their free time to speak to us.

I'll never forget referee Jim Molineaux personally hunting down ECW wrestlers and bringing them over to us for interviews, when I'm sure he had better things to do. In between interviews, the likes of Little Guido or Francine would smile and thank you for coming to the show. Hell, even big, bad Atlas Security went out of their way for me at one event, when the folks at ECW Magazine had sent me to take pictures without the proper press credentials. Atlas Security could have just told me I was out of luck. Instead - with matches in progress - they walked me over to Paul Heyman, explained my situation to him, and got me the clearance I needed from the boss himself. THAT'S service.

I could go on and on. There was the time Taz actually posed for a photo wearing a ball cap with our company logo on it, just because we asked. There was Yoshihiro Tajiri giving a rare interview to Downtown Dave Richard, with Tajiri trying his best to answer our questions in English. There were numerous occasions where ECW workers would email our columnists unexpectedly, just to comment on their articles and say thanks for the support.

While they existed, ECW was by far the most fan-appreciative wrestling organization on the planet. Is it any wonder that after its death, ECW's fans are still compelled to show their appreciation right back?

It's been over four years since any wrestling company has connected with fans the way ECW did. Maybe the fans just miss being treated with such respect.

 
E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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