I was sat at my computer the other morning, killing time and stowing boredom. I was browsing through my obscenely large iTunes music collection and came upon ?Enter Sandman? by Metallica. It’s a rather choice piece of heavy metal so I played it and ? as is often the case with musical inspiration ? my memory stirred. I remembered the sight and sound of several thousand hardcore wrestling fans belting out the song, anthem-like and in unison, as Jim Fullington, the man who assumed the moniker ?Sandman?, made his often convoluted entrance en route to another beer-soaked ECW brawl.
Journeying further into my recollection, I juxtaposed this version of Sandman’s entrance with the version sans ?Enter Sandman? at the second One Night Stand in two-thousand-and-six. Sandman was there, ingesting beer directly into the bloodstream as usual and the fans were cheering, but something was missing. WWE had assembled the picture using an appropriate arena, the right fan-base and an emblematic performer, yet it felt wrong. Was a song that important? Perhaps, but little did I realise that three and a half years later, that oversight would come to serve as a perfect microcosm of the failure of the new ECW and everything it purports to represent. As ?Enter Sandman? concluded and I sighed wistfully, I realised the ?new? ECW stands for absolutely nothing.
It’s a sad irony that what used to be wrestling’s one true expression of freedom has seen its legacy prostituted in the name of mainstream uniformity. Vince McMahon resurrected ECW because he apparently felt the original vision would have survived had it been filtered through his creative genius. That would be funny if it wasn?t so arrogantly misguided. ECW was anti-establishment long before WWF Attitude and the principles of ECW eschewed everything Vince McMahon built and stood for. Vince has labelled his third brand ?ECW? but this is just a name. The philosophy of the original ECW couldn?t be any further removed from the passionless husk that pollutes SyFy every week.
I?m actually disappointed to note I?ve received correspondence that strongly implies some of you think this new ECW serves a valid ? and even vital ? purpose. Setting that nonsensical notion to one side, I?m forced to assume those who defend ECW have seemingly overlooked something vital. The idea of a learning curve brand, where polish and zeal can be applied before the big time, is a good and even necessary ideal. The problem is the initial reintroduction of ECW was supposed to herald a new style that would provide an obvious differential to Raw and Smackdown. Heaven forbid that actually happen though; in the process shattering the McMahon-propagated myth that only one interpretation of wrestling can possibly succeed. Hence the binning of this idea and evolution of ECW On SyFy into a no-account feeder base.
This rather sad eventuality might have been easier to bear if the WWE version of ECW fulfilled even the basic purpose its supporters apparently think it does. With the exception of CM Punk and John Morrison, absolutely no one on the WWE roster has benefited from an association with ECW. Punk and Morrison enjoyed a superior feud over the ECW Title that elevated them both and might even have been a boon for ECW itself, had it meant them staying and growing the prestige of both show and title. Alas, Punk (who would have prospered anyway with the push he received) and Morrison were soon spirited away from ECW and given meaningful assignments elsewhere. ECW continued its rapid decline and now plays host to washed-up veterans like Dustin ?Goldust? Runnels and assorted failed jabronis e.g. Vladimir Kozlov.
Anyone potentially worth a damn is very quickly pulled from SyFy and booked to fail elsewhere. Look at Jack Swagger. Shorn of the ring savvy of Christian and floundering on Raw, Swagger has been exposed as the ill-prepared and ill-equipped greenhorn Christian had so deftly hidden. Had be been allowed time to progress as an all round performer on ECW and establish a clear connection with the ?WWE Universe? he might – at a much later date – be worth the time. Right now on Monday Night Raw he’s out of his depth. It’s all well and good highlighting how productive ECW could be and how it could serve the greater needs of the future when WWE has utterly failed to do this on any level whatsoever. That’s the stonewall truth of the matter.
The point was made recently that Christian is now the longest reigning ECW Champion since the group’s ?rebirth?. To paraphrase the sarcasm of Tony Schiavone after Mick Foley’s first WWF Title win: ?Wow, that’s something to shout about and put butts in the seats?. This writer feels there’s nothing to celebrate when a man as versatile and gifted as Christian is kept in exile on ECW on the whim of an egomaniac. He possesses every necessary attribute including the most priceless of all, experience, and yet he languishes with a title that used to enjoy World Championship status and wasn?t a disparaging shade of silver. It’s an obscene and counterproductive state of affairs that fails to benefit Christian, the fans or WWE. I ask then, what is the point? It should be the over and talented Christian filling the void on Raw as WWE Champion; not wasting away on ECW with the wrestling equivalent of the old wooden spoon.
The real concern for WWE is the ECW brand is but the most conspicuous example of a company wide malaise. That the promising (but untested) Sheamus is presently the holder of the same championship worn by Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock is a worrying indictment of the creative failures afflicting every aspect of the WWE product. I can tell you now the average American may find a pasty ginger person amusing and/or intriguing but everywhere else ? including England and his ?native? Ireland ? Sheamus will be an unworthy oddity better suited to jerking the curtain in a comedy guise rather than the so-called king of the hill. Simply placing a coveted strap around his waist will do nothing to dispel the rather ugly truth that he neither looks nor deserves the part.
Artistic myopia and widespread paranoia has taken hold, this is why WWE trains, promotes and summarily bins its wrestling cookie-cutter collection whilst accepting none of the responsibility for their abject failures. Vince McMahon has forgotten the need to establish a credible relationship between would-be star and the punters before proceeding with the big push. He has abandoned the sound wrestling fundamentals upon which all his previous artistic prosperity was built and hired sycophantic hacks and no-talent Hollywood wannabes, who drum the same unfunny, robotic drivel into each and every new performer; utterly eradicating spontaneity in the process. WWE has such respect for its fans these days that it’s taken to planting buxom models in the front row (complete with inane placards) masquerading as wrestling fans. They are the sort of ?beautiful people? Vince McMahon, to his eternal shame, actually wants to watch his show. In the words of Scott Hall: ?What a joke??
It’s startling and deeply demoralising witnessing just how dreadful Raw has become. Everyone seems to be going through the motions; from the enthusiastic but clueless youngsters on to the perennially injured veterans brigade down to the unenthused and increasingly monotone Jerry Lawler and the banal Michael Cole at ringside. Its almost as if they?ve ceased trying. The Vince McMahon of old would never have allowed this to happen, or allowed personal feelings to get in the way of good business. He?d have had the courage to risk the “Kids 4 Cena” gravy train in an all out John Cena heel turn that would have sent shockwaves through the company. He?d have used this runaway train to build new alliances and forge new star after new star on the back of the dastardly Cena and the public’s desire to see him vanquished. The Vince McMahon of old wouldn’t have rested on his laurels, even if that meant plagiarising someone else’s brilliant idea, stealing talent or positively shredding the envelope. Alas, the current Vinny Mac has seemingly misplaced his bollocks.
We, the wrestling fans, can but hope that TNA can truly rise to the occasion and if nothing else, shake WWE out of its creative entropy. The alternative to this eventuality is too grim for words. In closing, I think back to those hardcore fans and their religion and I profess my love for the old ECW with its verve, it’s fortitude and its sense of freedom. I respect everything the philosophy of ECW brought to the business. As bad as Smackdown and – in particular – Raw might be at the moment, watching the soulless travesty that bears the once-mighty emblem of rebellion on the SyFy channel fills me with regret and indignation. For this, I do not apologise.
Daniel R. Browne.