Tuesday, April 17, 2007

E is for Extreme

The documentary we watched the other night titled The Rise and Fall of the ECW, was one of the more interesting documentaries we have watched this semester. Since the events of the documentary took place relatively recently, it is easier to see the impact that the organization had on all of wrestling. The ECW wrestlers’ commentary provides first-hands accounts on the events and we are able to hear their perspective on some of the behind-the-scene issues.

The Extreme in ECW was the single most important motivation for the wrestlers. They wanted to set themselves apart from the more widespread WCW and WWE. Paul Heyman openly admits that they couldn’t compete with the two superpowers’ production capabilities so they focused on being better at their strengths. Consequently, lucha libre and hardcore styles became characteristic of ECW. The wrestlers pushed the limits in both cases and the fans loved every minute of it.

ECW wrestlers and their wrestling style had a very big impact on the rest of wrestling. Up to that point wrestling was very formulaic and somewhat predictable. ECW wanted to break this mold and really put on a show for the fans. I remember I thought that the show was unscripted and as close to real as possible the first time I watched an ECW show. Bloody wrestlers and high-risk maneuvers made the show very extreme and realistic. I thought that the way the show incorporated the fans was a good idea. It made the most important part of the show actually part of the show. Their participation was a key part of an ECW show and it greatly contributed to the cult following that ECW possessed.

One of the things that caught my attention was how those from ECW viewed WCW. Even during the documentary it seems like Paul Heyman still had some hard feelings towards Eric Bischoff and his underhandedness. It seems like the recurring theme in these documentaries is the bigger guy is always trying to “steal” from the smaller guy. The organizations with more bargaining power drew the wrestlers from the smaller companies. First the WWE stole all the talent from the territories. Then WCW stole wrestlers from the WWE and, inversely, the WWE stole wrestlers from WCW. Now, the new story is that WCW was stealing from ECW. I thought it was funny how those wrestlers from the WCW were later stolen by the WWE (but then again most wrestlers would end up in the WWE).

The documentary was able to shed some light on the events that I had only heard of and the organization that almost made it. The current style of wrestling that we have become accustomed to is definitely a product of the ECW’s extreme style of wrestling. Although I wasn’t able to see how the ECW fell, it seems unlikely that they would’ve been able to compete with the WWE. Even though the WWE eventually bought out ECW, ECW was able to make a lasting impression on wrestling.


Carolina said...

I thought the documentary was interesting as well, especially since I had only heard raving things about it. One thing I've learned though through watching McMahon, The Monday Night War, and The Rise and Fall of ECW is the phenominal effect and bias that the WWE uses in these documentaries. Of course, it can't really be helped - they're the ones telling the story, after all. But it does raise questions of what's authentic and what you should probably take with a grain of salt, and for the most part, the distinction is hard to make.

For instance, Paul Heyman had harsh things to say about Eric Bischoff and WCW. And Bischoff's defense was that he never stole Heyman's talent, and he condemned the use of the word "raid." But seriously... what else could it possibly be called? Interestingly, it made both Heyman and Bischoff look like guys who liked to harbor grudges, while conveniently keeping Vince away from that. Vince was portrayed as a guy who stood up for ECW and helped them out when they needed it the most, lending them a nice helping hand. But put in the AWA DVD and you'll get him saying that yes, he took the talent, for business purposes (sounding almost exactly like Bischoff and having Heyman sounding just like the Gagne's). On the flip side, put in The Monday Night War and Vince all of a sudden is the sympathetic victim of talent raids and direct competition. How quickly opinions change, huh?

Anyways, I've diverged on a tangent. Yes, it's clear that the WWE stole parts of what made ECW so famous. But the WWE has always incorporated different acts into its show. Lucha libre revolutionized WCW with their cruiserweight division, putting focus on smaller guys and people loved it. You have to believe that that had a little to do with Rey Mysterio eventually becoming heavyweight champion, much like ECW made Rob Van Dam who he is and defined his style which he still keeps. That certainly had a little something to do with his own title reign. ECW is unique in that it's a mindset that fans aren't letting go of anytime soon.

Sam Ford said...

Carolina, very astute comparison of Vince's role in each of the three documentaries. They are each quite different, based on Vince's position in each--the young up-and-comer battling the industry, the wrerstling guy versus a corporate regime, and then the benevolent wrestling czar above the Bischoff/Heyman squabble.

But I think that presentation of the two sides of the Heyman/Bischoff debate was the most fascinating part of the debate, and I'd be interested in your followup after we watch the conclusion next Monday. The idea of "stealing" versus acquiring is quite interesting, and the irony that all of these people ended up in WWE is particularly appropriate to the discussion of a WWE-created "documentary."

Luis Tenorio said...

I thought the documentary really set the tone for the kind of company ECW was and what drove the men behind it. I really don't think that Paul Heyman is that great a person, as I mentioned before, I am sure he still owes Mick Foley money. But also, why be upset that he stole their talent? It is like real sports and you really can't be angry because it takes two to tango. The talent wants to make it big leagues. And the Dudley Boyz give the best example of the lack of effort that Heyman displayed, he would not even give them a dollar raise. I am just wondering why there was no mention of the barb wire match between Sabu and Taz,(I think that was it)

Sam Ford said...

Luis, it seems to me that Heyman can't be understood in terms of "good" or "bad" but it is the allure of his enthusiasm that makes him a strong leader, and this incorporates both the positives and negatives of Heyman's approach. His resolve and passion for what he does makes him a tremendous leader, but it's what also leads to his being such a smooth talker.

Paul's biggest problem, and his biggest strength, is how stubborn he is, so it wasn't a lack of effort in not giving the Dudleyz a raise but rather Paul's business approach that he would not abandon for anything.

Look at Paul's employment history with WWE since the collapse of ECW to see how both he is still regarded as a creative mastermind but also too much trouble to deal with.