Tuesday, April 10, 2007

E-C-F'n-W!

First off, I'm psyched about Mick Foley coming in to talk to us tomorrow, and if it's okay with Sam, I'm definitely getting an autograph. But before I get into his book, I wanted to make a post on my take of ECW with the DVD we just saw fresh on my mind.

I never saw ECW during its heyday, I'll say it right off the bat. The only wrestling we ever saw was WWE wrestling, and my knowledge of ECW stems from watching the (WWE produced) Rise and Fall of ECW DVD, catching the first One Night Stand (a PPV that WWE produced, "bringing ECW back" for just one night - very clever name for such a PPV), seeing the failed ECW "invasion" in 2001 and now catching the new version that comes on Tuesday nights. That might sound like I know a thing or two about ECW, but I'm sure any ECW loyalist will tell me to shove it and that I know nothing about ECW and what it meant to its fans at its prime. And you know what? They may be right.

What I do know is that ECW fans are incredibly loyal fans who truly loved their small-time company that hit it big. I do know that ECW was more than just broken tables and tables lit on fire. There was a spirit in the company and in its presentation that made it so contagious to be a fan, and that effect is still there. When ECW was being "brought back" by WWE, there were so many fans that were all supposedly hardcore ECW fans, but I'm willing to bet that a good portion of them never saw guys like Dreamer, Sandman, and Taz in action in ECW. I'll go a step further and say that a lot of modern-day ECW fans probably never even saw the company in the 90s, and only got onboard their popularity train when it was brought to WWE. There was this allure to ECW, a legendary pull -- when ECW said extreme, they meant EXTREME (cue shots of Cactus Jack here). The fans were so rabid and adamant and so in love with their small company that Vince decided to cash in and bring it back. He reinstated ECW, got it its own night of television each week, sent in his own WWE guys to make for some kind of invasion storyline, and he even had John Cena lose his championship to Rob Van Dam at One Night Stand in the Philadelphia hall, where some fans carried a banner that said "IF CENA WINS, WE RIOT." That might've been laughable in a WWE arena, but it's a good thing John lost the match because, well, you just never know with an ECW crowd.

I made a post not too long ago saying that I think, nay, believe, that Vince is a smart man who knows what he's doing... most of the time. As much as people want to slam him, I don't think many would be so eager to fulfill his role in the company, and even less would succeed, if any at all. With that said, I think Vince dropped the ball with ECW (I shouldn't say "I think," but well, this is my opinion and with who knows who reading, I feel this is appropriate wording). This didn't even happen once - it happened twice. The first time was with the WCW/ECW invasion storyline, which some point to and say, "this is where wrestling lost it." What should've been the hottest angle he had ever done, and with so much talent and history right in his hands, Vince just... let it die.

But the fans wouldn't let ECW die. I found it interesting how down on ECW Eric Bischoff was, saying that they were never close to being #2 out of "the big 3." And yet, WCW went under and I've never heard a crowd chant for that company to make a comeback. Not the way ECW chants would randomly start up here and there. Not bad for being #3!

Enter mistake #2. Vince reinstates ECW and once again, word is out and it seems as though, to steal JR's line, business was about to pick up! He seemed to legitimately want the company to succeed, and RVD was going to be the face of the new brand. Joey Styles delivered a killer promo on Raw when JR returned, a promo that was so good it stills gives me chills to remember it - and off he went to ECW, with a full head of steam. Paul Heyman, mastermind of the original ECW, was back, and there was a buzz about this company. The fans hadn't let the spirit die, and now they were being rewarded.

At first it did well. But slowly, it started getting out of Paul Heyman's hands, and going to the hands of the guy who controls everyone's wallets, Vinnie Mac. And this is a mistake I think ECW is still struggling to recover from, the second mistake that Vince did. If he truly wanted the brand to work, he should've left it at the hands of Heyman. Heyman had a vision and was the man who originally gave ECW life, and he should've been the one to bring the new version life too. Instead, we got a bastardized version of Smackdown, with more WWE guys main-eventing ECW shows at first than ECW guys! Now the show is staying afloat, but unless Vince shakes it up, it probably won't last another year. Was his pride too much to swallow, to finance the brand but allow Paul Heyman to work his creative magic and keep his own nose out of it? Or was he justified in taking an active role in overseeing and adding the WWE touch on a show, that was, well, a WWE show? Personally, I'd say he's more than justified since he's footing the bill and it is his show, but if he wanted to appeal to that special spirit of ECW in the fans, he should've stepped back and let the man who created that spirit do what he does best - fire up those fans and keep that spirit alive.

3 comments:

Jill said...

Heyman is an enigma in the wrestling business. From all reports, he doesn't tell Vince what Vince wants to hear, and the only way to push your own agenda is to push Vince's agenda first. But as someone who does hold a few shares of WWE stock, isn't the primary job of the Chairman to make the shareholders money? If WWE were a company whose Chairman didn't own 2/3 of the stock, Vince would have been removed several times as Chairman. His behavior on HBO was embarrassing. And his decision to reign down on Heyman's creativity, especially after Heyman had just made chicken salad out of chicken scratch OVW, is a great example of a Chairman's meglomaniacal ego hurting his own company, and hurting shareholder value.

Sam Ford said...

Jill, that's precisely why WWE will always remain in Vince's hands. It's interesting, because shareholders almost always means that guys like Vince could never get away with some of the terrible moves they've made, but they also would not be granted the autonomy to take some of the risks he's taken that have paid off big.

As for Carolina's post, I think reading the modern ECW in conjunction with the materials we've read and viewed about Vince and this Rise and Fall of ECW is quite appropriate. As you mention, Vince was perfectly within his rights to manage ECW and to transform it into "his" ECW, but it's the constant battle in trying to turn a niche brand into a mainstream phenomenon. The problem with the modern ECW, though, is that the audience has shrunk instead of gained, at least when looking at the buy rate for the ECW PPV that launched the new version of the brand and the December one that was many times lower, with the latter being promoted by months of television.

I think Vince's attempts to make ECW his led to a lot of "making an example" out of the brand to send a message. ECW's more violent style should be minimized, for the longterm health of the wrestlers, but ECW came off as a C-level brand from the beginning, which is where it will likely stay, even though it's still one of the highest-rated shows on the Sci Fi Network.

Michael Wehrman said...

ECW is an interesting phenomenon.

I think it's legacy is vastly superior to the actual product. If you buy a WWE produced ECW video, or if you happen to own the Pioneer released ECW videos, you'll see one product.

Time and editing/postproduction give you a vastly different show than what ECW was.

Simply put, people really forget that ECW sucked at times.

The Sandman never approached being a mediocre wrestler in his career.

RVD has no idea what to do in a wrestling match if he isn't posing or in the middle of a signature spot. He still doesn't.

Steve Corino? Seriously?

Let us not either forget the laundry list of lousy or totally forgettable ECW talent: 911, Sal E Graziano, Don Muraco (!), Mikey Whipwreck, Chilly Willy, Ian Rotten (and Axl too!), damn near all the FBI, Chris Chetti, Justin Credible (sad to say, as I liked the guy), and dozens of others.

Yes, we applaud Heyman for making the talentless into talent - but consider 911. What did he ever do? Why do we, as "smart" fans, crap on the Great Khali and yet we were the same guys chanting "911!" at ECW shows?

Yes, yes, of course, ECW gave you what the WWE hasn't for half a decade: wrestling. They let Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, Jerry Lynn, Tazz, and others who *could* wrestle actually wrestle. But I think that hindsight and rose-colored glasses let us forgive and forget all the bad that happened to the promotion that truly was never even close to #2.

Look, I bought it, hook, line, and sinker. And I'd rather sit through the "Bad Breed" take on Hack Myers and whoever else than watch the current round of Tuesday Night Raw they call ECW.

But I can't help draw parallels between pro wresting and what I experienced growing up around various punk rock subcultures. The hierarchy of punk rock kids considered things "authentic" the further away they were from being "corporate." The less well-known a band, the more raw, the better. It was a black day when Bad Religion "sold out" to a major label.

Lkewise, with wrestling, it's cool to adore old ECW and hate WWE. It's cool to gush over ever bloody thing ROH does and claim that the WWE is dead and stinks. It's the same kind of elitism (combined with the thrill of being a "part of something," rooted in the hopes of being associated with something as it goes from unknown to popular).

One thing I can't do is dismiss what ECW brought to us, as fans, in storylines. When WWF was giving us kids' characters like Isaac Yankem and The Goon, ECW gave us Kimona, ECW gave us The Sandman, ECW gave us Raven. These were people we knew (perhaps not Kimona), people we identified with, and storylines that broached realism in a way the WWF couldn't do at the time.

Nevertheless, and I don't want to be the cynic here, I think ECW's legacy is remembered incorrectly. Today, ROH is the new ECW. Wrestling fans still cling to the "working-class authoritarianism" as mentioned in the second weeks' readings. Instead of looking at faces and heels in this way, however, we look at promotions the same way. ROH can do no wrong, and WWE can do no right. As fans, we lament that WWE signed CM Punk and don't push him the way ROH did, and we lament that they signed Colt Cabana, as we watch with a smarmy all-knowing fear that *we* know how to push Cabana and sate ourselves in the smug assurance that the WWE will catastrophically screw it up.

As for OVW, they're doing a helluva job without Heyman at the helm, and, I'd argue, put on the single best hour of wrestling on TV today. Heyman is nice to have, but he's not the single greatest mind in the industry. As an influence in modernizing the business via early ECW, yes, give him all the accolades he deserves. However, I think (and I do dare think!) that the business is modernized sufficiently. Heyman is no longer needed, as any decent set of writers can use that modernization to create good storylines (and, to be frank, I haven't seen a good feud I've been into since the CM Punk/Raven feud from ROH).

Let me put it this way: Heyman was at the helm of the new ECW from its beginning, and lasted for several months. The show, however, has always sucked beyond comprehension. Even when he was a part of it.

This may be an interesting question for Mick tomorrow, since some people (even Raven, I believe) have suspicions that WWE brought back ECW to kill it: that all this money is being spent to make the "ECW" name so unpalatable, so awful, in fans' minds that nobody *dare* chant ECW anymore (and, I've noticed, they don't!). Foley even mentions his suspicions of the WWE braintrust trying to kill off last year's ONS show. I'd like to find out, if possible, the extent to which Foley thinks/knows of intentional sabotage of the business, as well as why it happens.