Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ECW: Revealing Look

Again, I have been a wrestling fan for a while but was never exposed to ECW just as I was never exposed to WCW. And it was for the same reason. When I started watching WWF programming, that was when the Dudley Boyz came in, that is when Chris Jericho made his debut. A low card wrestler name Raven came onto the show some time after. Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, then came in around the same time as well. Watching the Rise and Fall of ECW really opened up my eyes to what ECW was and how it worked, the kind of feeling it had to it and how much the wrestlers were involved in other aspects of the company. And i was pleasantly surprised to hear that most people agreed this documentary was fairly accurate.
I had read about the ECW before taking this class and to me it seemed that it was reminicent of the territories that we read about in class. And it should be. It used to be called Eastern Championship Wrestling. The production values were lower than that of the Big Two and it had it's own homegrown talent. And yet it survived. I suppose the reason it thrived, in addition to being in Philly, was that the Big Two did not see ECW as potential competition. It reminds of me other types of products where people put out something that is in the same category but appeal to different demographics. Video Games is the newest example I can think of. The Wii is obviously not aimed at those hardcore gamers who want the latest technology and most bells and whistles. And that is what ECW seemed to be like. LIke the Wii it seems to try to appeal to a different market that the other companies have not tapped into. But of course, the product is discovered by people of the more mainstream market and it becomes bigger than people could have envisioned. Of course this is happening with the Wii and it sort of happened with ECW. While the ECW did not explode into mainstream wrestling popularity, it did have its spirit incorporated into the WWE. Would there have been a Hell in a Cell match between the Undertaker and Mankind had it not been for ECW? Or the TLC match? So much is owed to the ECW for pushing the bar of entertainment and thrills.
It was amazing to see that the wrestlers that used to work for Paul Heyman were always speaking about him as if he was their big brother who looked out for them. I had read lots of negative stories, about people who were owed money and still had not been payed. I think one of those people is Mick Foley. The demise of ECW is just like the demise of the other territories. But this was different. It wasn't that Paul Heyman didn't know how to compete. It wasn't that he did not nurture talent and use them to their fullest, it was just that ECW didn't have as much money as the WWE. He had always known that to succeed, Pay-Per-View was the next step and getting on cable was also important, but when he did get there, he didn't have the money to stay there and keep the ECW from being pushed aside. I really think that ECW could have possibly taken the place of WCW as #2 had it just had more money, or simply the WWE not pushing it out of TNN. Of course, having more money meant it would already be #2.
One surprising thing I found was the way the wrestlers in ECW were beloved by the fans and the reaction and stories they were put into. Raven in particular. When I saw him the WWE, he never seemed like anything special. But the documentary showed otherwise. The whole rivalry with Tommy Dreamer and the story involving the Sandman's son, just seemed brilliantly done. But when he was in the WWE, there was hardly a story, a rivalry. He was Hardcore Champion on and off but thats it. And I think this kind of mismanagement of talent is happening in the ECW brand of the WWE. Bobby Lashley is champ but do you see the talent that they have there that could be contenders for the championship? Most of the guys that were in ECW before are there and having someone like Sandman or Tommy Dreamer as champ would make a much more interesting story than having Bobby Lashley at the top. It really is unfortunate that this happens. Why keep talent if you are not going to use it properly? I really think it is a shame the way the ECW brand is used in the WWE. Aren't the matches supposed to be extreme rules? I would like to know how fans of the ECW feel about the "new" ECW. ECW had so much potential and this brand seems to have that same potential, it just seems to only live on what people remember and not what it is or will be.
One last thought, why was there no mention of the Barb Wire Match? That I think would be very important to discuss as part of the history of ECW.


Sam Ford said...

Luis, I think the case is, as with the AWA piece we watched early in the term, that you just can't fit the whole history of an organization into one story. There are so many aspects of the ECW product that we could get into, but that's a long and detailed story.

I think you bring up a good point about entertainment in general, though. Paul Heyman had limited resources at his disposal, so using everyone on his roster to the best of their ability was vital. WWE has everything at their disposal, so the majority of the mid-card characters don't really seem to be very well fleshed-out. WWE isn't putting as much attention into the details precisely becuase they don't have to. If John Cena or Undertaker or whoever they have at the top of the card draws most of the money and fills the arenas, so the logic goes, spend most of your creative time at the top and just fill the rest of the card with the other acts.

ECW seemed to have a storyline and a place for almost everyone on its roster. They weren't always good or very deep storylines, or completely developed characters, but there was not an abundance of extra talent. WCW was the extreme of this, with about four times the roster than they could even fit on the show, and so many guys getting paid that the fans couldn't even keep up with who was still with the company or not.

Fans like these narrative story worlds that they can immerse themselves in, and I've seen plenty of fans spend hours making up what they think should be the next PPV card or what feuds they think the creative team should be doing. Heyman played this game well becuase the promotion was small enough that everyone had a part, no one was time filler. He simply didn't have enough resources at his disposal to waste any. And that makes for a much tighter show in the process.

Omar said...

I would agree that a source of ECW's success was their ability to cater to a different audience.

Product differentiation is the name of the game. Just as Eric Bischoff built his WCW empire as a wrestling program that catered to the viewer's desire for spontaneity, Paul Heyman sought to take viewers to the edge to experience a more raw, streetfighting style of wrestling. From the documentary we watched in class we learned that even the PPV bookers thought that the ECW was too real.

Part of what bolstered this success and appeal to "real fighting" was the inclusion of fans in the performance. Again, ECW was able to distinguish its product from that of the WWE and WCW by claiming its fans were the most hardcore.

Ismael said...

Having not known much about ECW, I found the documentary to be very revealing. The thing that caught my attention the most was how many vivid images there were. Heads dripping with blood, people being crucified, and wrestlers being caned and coming back for more were just a few of the shocking images. ECW allowed for things that could never be done in the WWE or WCW. Even if you were completely against the ECW and opposed to the things they did, it was a source of discussion. People knew that ECW was like the rated R version of WWE (if there is such a thing) and this is where it was able to cater to a different audience.

Sam Ford said...

The grittiness, the visceral nature of ECW...this is what Paul Heyman thrived on, why his version of ECW just couldn't be done as a big-time show. There's just something fascinating about this spectacle, and it retains that 70s feel in a way the WWE product doesn't. That's not to criticize WWE's amazing production values but rather to emphasize how ECW was able to find that niche and exploit it.