Two weeks ago I supported a claim made by Evan Bourne in an interview with The Sun (click here). In said interview, (as if you didn?t know by now) Evan Bourne claimed that the WWE-rebranded version of ECW blows Paul Heyman’s ECW show on TNN ?out of the water?. Again, not only did I support Evan’s claim, I took it one step further by suggesting that, not only does WWE’s ECW blow Paul Heyman’s TNN product out of the water, WWE’s ECW blows the original ECW as a whole, out of the water. Period.
Last week, I dissected The Sun’s interview with Bourne, highlighting the instances of subtle negativity and anti WWE, pro original ECW biased displayed by The Sun’s interviewer Simon Rothstein. Through the use of clever, unassuming, imbedded phrases like ?Company man Evan? or ?Astonishing defense?? Rothstein creates an environment where the reader is less inclined to take Bourne’s side or view Bourne’s statements as credible. Thus, Rothstein’s nifty verbiage turns the reader against Bourne before he/she is finished reading the interview.
Furthermore, both of the previous ECW columns focused on Man’s inherent ability to inflate the past and glorify our idols for the sake of personal satisfaction, comfort, or a whole host of other reasons.. The original ECW is not immune to this practice. As last week’s column pointed out through a retelling of my personal conversation with Jerry Lynn; the original ECW was a mismanaged promotion full of a bunch of ?wrestlers? who had passion, but didn?t always have the skill. Most of the original ECW’s ?five star matches? that old school ECW fans hold so near and dear(such as the numerous RVD/Jerry Lynn matches mentioned last week) were not as good as one may remember. In fact, according to Lynn himself, in today’s wrestling climate, most of these ?five star matches? wouldn?t even make it to WWE TV.
Yet, despite this glaring truth, delusional, diehard fans of the original ECW refuse to even entertain the idea that, not only was the original ECW not as fantastically utopian as they like to believe, but also, that Evan Bourne’s ?astonishing defense?, claiming WWE’s ECW blows Paul Heyman’s ECW on TNN, out of the water, just might be true.
So, after three weeks of axe grinding, brainstorming, arguing, making points and counter points, defending my opinions in the face of immediate physical danger, psychological torture, cyber terrorism and death, I?m going to press the shotgun barrel firmly against the old, fragile, fissured, furry skull of the old dog known as ECW and put it out of its delusional, rabid misery once and for all.
Two weeks ago I asked for intelligent and insightful feedback (unlike the feedback displayed in the comments section of The Sun interview) either in defense of the original ECW or in support of my (and Bourne’s) claims. Thankfully, I received a lot of thoughtful, sharp replies; a lot of readers agreed with me, most didn?t. Those who didn?t agree with me offered their rebuttals, complete with a number of interesting counter points that can be broken down into four main areas of concern. So instead of addressing each email individually, which would inevitably become repetitive as well as take up way too much time and space, I decided to reply to each of the four concerns, starting with:
1. The original ECW had ‘star power? that the current ECW lacks.
One reader of The Sharp Shooter, Jason, writes ?Star Power – Bar none guys like the Dudley’s, The Sandman, Terry Funk, Sabu, RVD, and many more really got their start in ECW. Today’s ECW seems more like WCW Saturday Night; a show with a few high card veterans as “teachers” and a crop of newer talent. The show is geared toward getting people familiar with these future superstars. So getting a lot of people to watch a show like that is a lot harder than saying I’ve got RVD vs. Sabu in an Arabian Death Match. I mean which is going to garner more ratings??
Firstly, Terry Funk did not get started in ECW. To believe that is to blatantly disregard his 30 years in pro wrestling prior to his stint in ECW. ECW may have introduced a whole new generation of wrestling fans to Terry Funk, which is what I believe Jason means, but ECW was far from the place where Terry got started.
Moving on, how does one measure or define ‘star power?? Sure, The Sandman, Dudley’s, Sabu and RVD held a wealthy amount of ‘star power? in the original ECW, just as Necro Butcher holds a fair amount of ‘star power? in CZW, just as Brian Danielson holds a lion’s share of ‘star power? in ROH. However, is ‘star power? transferable between wrestling promotions? Or, like transferring currency from country to country, does the value or amount of ‘star power? change depending upon the importance and power of the wrestling company the ‘star? is being transferred to? In laymen’s terms, if the biggest fish in your salt water aquarium is transported to the Atlantic Ocean, your aquarium’s biggest fish becomes the Atlantic Ocean’s runt.
Take, for example, The Sandman. A god in ECW; somehow, this man had five championship reigns with the original ECW title. Transport him to WCW or WWE, you know, the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean respectively, and all his weaknesses that were so well hidden or went unnoticed in the small aquarium become obviously apparent in the big sea. This is why, my friends, The Sandman never made a noticeable splash in WWE or WCW; he was merely a clownfish.
Tired of the aquatic illustrations? Imagine you?re the tallest kid in your elementary school (as I was); your friends think you?re the perfect picture of strength and protection, however, upon entering junior high school, with the influx of all the new students from various elementary schools around town, you realize that you?re no longer the tallest kid in school. In the big leagues of junior high, you?re just a middle of the road, gangly kid, lost in the shuffle, another brick in the wall.
Ok, so maybe Sandman is an easy target. Let’s take, perhaps, ECW’s biggest star and the most successful cross-over star from ECW to WWE, and put him to the test. I?m talking about RVD. ?The Whole F?n Show? lit up the wrestling scene in 1996 with his Devil may care attitude, athleticism, wrestling style and signature taunts (who wasn?t doing the double-thumb pointing in the late 90’s when referring to themselves? I know I was.) In 2001 Van Dam signed with WWE amid much anticipation and excitement. By the time he debuted with WWE, his ECW reputation preceded him and his popularity upon arriving in WWE arguably rivaled Stone Cold Steve Austin’s at the time. Five years later, RVD beat John Cena for the WWE and ECW championships only to be suspended and have both his titles stripped for being pulled over while being under the influence of marijuana and being in possession of non prescribed painkillers.
For all his success, being ECW’s number one asset, taking part in a plethora of fantastic matches in both WWE and ECW, maintaining a crossover appeal that lasts even today, he is the BEST the original ECW had to offer, and I believe he is no better than say, Jeff Hardy. Certainly, WWE has produced far superior all around professional wrestlers than RVD so, if we want to praise the original ECW for anything, let’s thank them for giving us an upper-mid card talent who has a lot of charisma, middle of the line talent, and little depth. He is, in my opinion, a less interesting Jeff Hardy.
As flabbergasted by my statements as you may be, let’s take a look at a WWE star who, on a very basic level, may be compared to Van Dam, I?m talking about Chris Jericho.
At first, you may think ?yeah ok, they?re in the same league?, however that couldn’t be further from the truth. Jericho evolves every couple years or so to keep up with current trends and to stay fresh. His current character rivals Mick Foleys’ various characters in brilliance and promo ability; Jericho has completely reinvented himself and is currently doing his best work at 38 or 39 years old no less!.This is something RVD simply could not, or has not done, and it’s this lack of depth that keeps any of the ECW “stars” from breaking out in the big leagues.
So you see, even ECW’s biggest star, the biggest fish, the tallest elementary school kid was great in WWE, in my mind, even hall of fame worthy as well, but at the end of the day, he is the best all around wrestler and “star” ECW had to offer and he’s only an upper-mid carder at best in the big leagues. Not because he wasn’t pushed (he beat Cena at ONS 06 and was WWE AND ECW champion for God’s sake and then smoked that goodbye) but because at the end of the day, he could only execute one set of tricks. His character wasn’t that deep and his wrestling skill set was limited.
2. The atmosphere and feel of the original ECW cannot be topped.
Mostly everyone who sent responses to my previous ECW columns mentioned that the atmosphere and feel of the original ECW was something to behold, a special feeling that cannot be topped or replicated. I could not agree more, openly acknowledging this point in part one of this series:
?It was a different type of wrestling product. There is literally nothing else I could say to describe the attitude and feel of the original ECW that hasn?t been said in countless interviews, columns, DVD’s and personal stories, so I?ll refrain from using the terribly worn out buzz words associated with the appraisal of the original ECW. Just suffice it to say that I enjoyed the original ECW for all the reasons everyone else enjoyed it.?
However, is the unmatched feel and atmosphere of the original ECW a reason to discredit Bourne’s claims? Plainly, the fact that the original ECW had a one of a kind atmosphere and emotional spark behind it cannot be lobbied as a criticism of the new ECW; instead, it should be looked at as a positive aspect of the original ECW. Case in point, the atmosphere and feel of Wrestlemania 25 cannot be topped, as the atmosphere and feel especially of attending a Wrestlemania live cannot be topped (from experience) but that doesn?t make every Wrestlemania a perfect entity without flaws. Furthermore, as was the case many times in the past, the unreal atmosphere and feel was little substitute for a good show, and realistically, Wrestlemania, many times, wasn?t even the best pay-per-view of the year. Therefore, it is unfair to assume that WWE’s ECW cannot blow the original ECW out of the water just because the original ECW had an unmatched atmosphere and aura around it. Auras and atmospheres certainly add to the appeal of a product, but it does not replace quality.
3. The original ECW added innovation, passion and feeling into the stale wrestling climate.
Again, this is a point brought up by many a reader who responded to my ECW series. Marc, a reader of The Sharp Shooter, puts it best by writing
?ECW added innovation, excitement, passion, humor and unpredictability to a wrestling business that was quite frankly, failing. The Attitude Era WWF borrowed heavily from ECW’s innovations and saved them from going belly up when WCW was kicking their ass. No ECW and there might not be a WWE now.?
Now, while I do agree with most of Marc’s assessments, we have to look at the bigger picture when we talk about professional wrestling (specifically WWE, WCW and ECW) in the mid-late nineties. Honestly, ECW was not The Attitude Era’s primary lender, just look at the time in which The Attitude Era rested and you will see that The Attitude Era borrowed from ECW, WCW, pop culture and mainstream American trends; something that all good wrestling promotions should do to stay afloat.
Around the time The Attitude Era started to bubble and boil (96-97?ish) American pop culture saw a heavy influx of in your face, uncensored performers taking over all means of American entertainment and rebranding American social trends. This time period and the late nineties in general saw the rise of Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Korn, a rejuvenated Rob Zombie, Kid Rock, and South Park. ICP got hot, Tupac Shakur, Notorious BIG, Tom Green, Scream, Half Baked just to name a few. All of these influences, in conjunction with ECW, and WCW’s domination of the ratings with the N.W.O. (a concept that had nothing to do with ECW influence) pushed WWE to change with the times and present an edgier, sexier, more violent product. Fans of the original ECW who claim that it was ECW alone who forced WWE to jump into The Attitude Era need to lose their ECW-centric view of history and check the facts.
The point is, ECW did add innovation, passion and feeling into a the stale wrestling climate, but it wasn?t wrestling’s primary lender, as pop culture in general shifted at that time and added enough incentive for WWE and wrestling in general to change gears.
4. WWE’s ECW is a watered down version of the original designed by Vince McMahon to kill the original and to make the ECW Originals look weak.
This is a fun one presented by some of our readers because it deals with the idea of a conspiracy. As much as people love to inflate and embellish the past, we also love a good conspiracy; the government killed JFK, we never landed on the moon, 9/11 was really a well executed government demolition, the government killed John Lennon, Andrew Martin was killed by WWE. These sorts of things add credence to peoples? boring existences and, like in the movie Memento, send us on life-fulfilling quests that can never be solved, giving us some sense of a life outside of what we can see and hear.
Listen folks, as I laugh while typing this, firstly, McMahon never killed the original ECW; in fact, he was the only one giving it CPR whenever it was dying. Remember, in the late mid to late 90’s that McMahon was subsidizing ECW in no small way while also providing it with national exposure by allowing ECW performers to show up on Monday Night Raw and make his WW(F) wrestlers look foolish; an act of kindness unheard of in the wrestling business, especially at that time.
Furthermore, when Vince McMahon purchased ECW in 2001, he not only signed and attempted to push ECW’s most promising stars (as mentioned with RVD), he also created a whole ground breaking storyline revolving around the alliance of ECW and WCW trying to kill WWE. If Vince had truly wanted to put the original ECW out of its misery, why not quietly purchase the promotion, rebrand the ECW wrestlers he wanted to keep and never speak of the fallen promotion again? That would be the easiest solution. But no, a few years later, at the request of RVD, McMahon actually put together a reunion show for the original ECW, a show which was probably as authentic an original ECW event as you?ll ever see again. This act was repeated a year later, buzz swirled, interest grew, and WWE’s ECW was born. Hardly something you?d do if you were looking to kill off the original ECW that you supposedly despised so much.
The WWE’s version of ECW was never going to be the original ECW because the original ECW had too many flaws in it that Vince McMahon did not want to inherit or recreate. We watched for the first year or so as many of the ?ECW originals? (Sandman, Sabu, Balls Mahoney) feel flat performance wise and exposed themselves to be the small clownfish that they were. For Vince McMahon to build the new ECW in the same light as the original, he would have to depend on the ECW originals to carry the show and garner popularity, however, it was plain to see that all but a few of the originals were depthless, one trick magicians (does anyone truly remember a good Sabu match in the new ECW?)
Sabu, in particular, oh how he was heralded by some as the poor man’s Shawn Michaels, surely if he were to make it to WWE he would show those WWE fat cats who’s the man and reach unheard of highs within the company. Well, sadly, the only high Sabu reached was in the passenger seat of RVD’s car cruising down the highway that fateful night in July.
Without the influx of new, young stars with the talent and passion that Sabu, Sandman and the like waved bye-bye to years ago, the new ECW was doomed to failure. Therefore, McMahon knew he had to get rid of the old baggage; the ECW originals who weren?t cutting it, to make way for young, hungry talent.
Nowadays, the young, hungry talent (such as Bourne) reach a certain star power in the new ECW, a certain level of experience, and then are launched into one of the two more prestigious brands (Raw or Smackdown). Talk about star power, WWE’s ECW has harvested the likes of CM Punk (currently the hottest entity in WWE), Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, Jack Swagger, The Hart Dynasty. It’s rejuvenated the likes of Christian, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy, Shelton Benjamin and has even provided us with a kick ass announcer in Matt Striker. How could you not agree with Bourne and I? The original ECW was a farm-team of sorts, buttering up talent to make it to the big leagues, and WWE’s ECW does just the same thing, only with better ratings in a shorter time period and with markedly better results. McMahon didn?t create a watered down version to kill ECW and to make the originals look foolish; McMahon created an enhanced, evolved ECW that shredded off the originals like dead skin to make way for a whole new layer of possibilities. WWE’s ECW has most of the obtainable pros that the original ECW had with a fraction of the flaws, and WWE’s ECW is only 3 years old. Compare the original ECW at three to WWE’s ECW at three and see who’s made more progress with better results.
In closing, I hope 6,000 plus words broken into three columns is enough to show you that blindly attacking Evan Bourne’s comments without critically analyzing the his statement, hurling insults at him without even testing the hypothesis, and blindly praising the original ECW without wanting or having the ability to see its faults is, to steal a phrase from the wrestling world, cheap heat. Getting pissed off for the sake of getting pissed off has no value behind it, no value = no worth. People who blindly attack Evan Bourne while lavishly praising the original ECW are as worthless to the wrestling world as a heel who gets heat by using ten minute curse-laden promos instead of actual talent. As I detailed extensively in these three columns, the ECW of old is not as glorious as you remember it, just like that old girl friend of boy friend of yours you dated ten years ago; there’s a reason you broke up with him/her and there’s a reason the original ECW went under and WWE remains dominant. I?m going to play Nietzsche here and say, once and for all, Extreme Championship Wrestling is dead. How do I know? I just put a bullet in its forehead. What lives in its stead is WWE’s ECW, a product that implements the best parts of the original ECW with none of the original’s flaws. WWE’s ECW will last longer and produce more stars than its predecessor, and yes, WWE’s ECW blows Paul Heyman’s ECW out of the .ing water; out of the mother.ing water. God, cursing like that makes me feel like Shane Douglas. I?m going to go wash off now.