Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Monday, June 13, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- It has always been said that today's pro wrestling fans would never really be able to understand what Extreme Championship Wrestling was and what it stood for, unless they were there at the time. With last night's ECW: One Night Stand reunion show on pay-per-view, newer fans can now finally understand what all the fuss is about, and old ECW fans like myself had a chance to reminisce about old times and make new memories. For one more night, ECW was alive and well, and it was a shot in the arm of a pro wrestling industry that has sorely missed the ECW-like atmosphere of last night's broadcast.
Whether or not you were an ECW fan when the company was in its heyday in the mid-to-late 90's, One Night Stand was the best pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year, even beating out WrestleMania. The fact that it was still ultimately produced by WWE, which bought the rights to all things ECW when it went out of business in 2001, did detract from the show in some ways, but nowhere near as much as I expected.
Recreating the Authentic ECW Atmosphere
Going into this event, I was honestly expecting just another WWE pay-per-view, and I didn't really expect it to have an authentic "ECW atmosphere" after how badly the WWE creative team blew the WCW Invasion storyline a few years back. On the contrary, the event did have an authentic ECW atmosphere and did feel a lot like an actual ECW show, thanks to the fact that the show was in New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom (which was ECW's #2 home-base arena, behind only ECW Arena in Philadelphia), and thanks to the production values, which maintained the look and feel of ECW's old pay-per-views. The only thing that wouldn't have been on the old ECW pay-per-views, from a production standpoint, is a commercial for the next WWE pay-per-view, which was very out of place and inappropriate for the situation.
Recreating ECW's atmosphere was helped greatly by the fact that they got the voice of ECW, Joey Styles, to come in and do play-by-play for this one night, even though he has never worked for WWE in the past and has been on bad terms with WWE management for years. The choice of Mick Foley as the color commentator to join Styles in the booth was the perfect choice to help the show retain an authentic ECW feel, without having Joey Styles as the one and only person on commentary (as he often was on ECW's TV shows).
It was also essential to include former ECW owner and booker Paul Heyman on this show and the build-up to this show, even though he has been on bad terms with WWE management and had essentially been doing nothing in any professional capacity since being removed from the WWE writing team last year. (Heyman is still under contract with WWE until late 2005, but it's considered a strong possibility that he will be leaving WWE after that.)
More than anything, the incredibly enthusiastic crowd gave the show a unique, edgy feel with an energy level that has not been felt in WWE since the peak of the Monday Night Wars in the late 90's, and has not been felt anywhere in the pro wrestling industry since ECW went out of business. The crowd was in a frantic state all night long, and there were chants about anything and everything that was on the crowd's mind, many of which can't be repeated on network television (or any form of television other than pay-per-view). The high energy level of the crowd forced the wrestlers to maintain a similarly high energy level, and that's a big part of what made ECW so much fun in the first place.
WWE Influence Evident in Short Match Times
If ECW was about two things, it was about the rabid enthusiasm of the audience, and high-quality wrestling. When I say "high-quality wrestling," I mean routinely having more than one Match of the Year candidate match on the same card, which is a rarity in WWE. Someone who has never seen an ECW event before and just saw this event would have gotten the full effect of the atmosphere created by the crowd, but they wouldn't have gotten the full effect of the "high-quality wrestling" side of things. The in-ring wrestling that was here was very good, but the matches were simply too short. The biggest reminder that this was still ultimately a WWE-produced pay-per-view was the fact that the first five matches were all less than ten minutes long.
One of the best things about ECW from an in-ring standpoint was the creative freedom that it offered its wrestlers. Instead of being given an exact number of minutes that they are allotted (which is how it works in WWE), in many cases the wrestlers in ECW would simply be told by Paul Heyman to "go out there and put on a hell of a match." The finishes of the matches and any storyline elements were dictated to the wrestlers as you'd expect, but the length and content of the matches were left up to the wrestlers, and many classic matches ensued.
I'm not suggesting that they should have sent wrestlers to the ring with no time range to work with, but for the love of God, they could have given them more than ten minutes! Tajiri vs. Little Guido vs. Super Crazy in a three-way match, Chris Jericho vs. Lance Storm, Sabu vs. Rhyno, Psicosis vs. Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero all had the potential to be great matches. In particular, the three-way match and the Benoit-Guerrero match could have been Match of the Year candidates if given enough time to build.
Instead, all five of these matches were booked to last a paltry six to nine minutes each. They were all still good matches, especially Sabu vs. Rhyno and Benoit vs. Guerrero, but the fact that they were all booked to be less than ten minutes prevented any of them from being great matches. That's just lazy WWE booking at its finest, especially given the fact that they had PPV time until 11:00 PM and they ended up going off the air at 10:30 PM. So, this event didn't fully expose newer fans to how truly great the in-ring wrestling was in ECW on a regular basis, but the first five matches were all either good or very good, and that's all that was needed on this night with the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd.
Awesome and Tanaka Deliver a Classic Match
The final two matches were given slightly more than ten minutes each, and delivered a strong tag team brawl with The Dudleys vs. Tommy Dreamer & The Sandman, as well as an absolutely amazing match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka.
I fondly remember the classic series of insane, risky matches that Awesome and Tanaka had in the last few years of ECW, but I didn't think there was any chance in hell they would be able to duplicate that kind of dangerous, high-impact match style a half-decade later. Fortunately, I was wrong. This match tore the roof off an arena that was already going nuts for every match, with more "Holy S--t!" chants than any match that I can remember. This match also had enough hard chairshots and risky bumps that just make you glad as a viewer that both men were able to escape from the match without being seriously injured.
As Joey Styles and Mick Foley pointed out on commentary during the match , this is one of the things that ECW was all about: Wrestlers sacrificing their bodies in order to put on a show for the fans that was the best damn show they could possibly put on. Mick Foley spent his entire career doing that, including many memorable moments in ECW, and it was amazing to see that Awesome and Tanaka could still do it half a decade later.
Bradshaw and Bischoff's Legitimate Anti-ECW Feelings
The only thing that detracted from the incredible Awesome vs. Tanaka match was the constant cut-aways to the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers who were in the crowd to "protest ECW" as part of the storyline. The overbearing and constant nature of the cut-aways during the Awesome-Tanaka only served to remind you that you were still watching a WWE-produced pay-per-view and were not actually back in the glory days of ECW.
Not only that, but it was ridiculous and insulting to see John Bradshaw Layfield mocking the Awesome-Tanaka match as it was taking place. All of the wrestlers who were involved in the storyline of, "WWE wrestlers are going to show up at the ECW reunion to protest" had to state their distaste for ECW in interviews leading up to the show, but the difference is that JBL actually means it.
It was Bradshaw who decided to do a shoot promo about ECW and Paul Heyman at a recent Smackdown TV taping, where he was only supposed to run down ECW in general, but he took it a step further and took lots of personal shots at Paul Heyman (most of which were edited off the show that actually aired on UPN). It's Bradshaw who has made it no secret among his co-workers that he considers "hardcore pro wrestling fans" in general and "ECW fans" in particular to be losers who are beneath him.
So, when you see a classic match like Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka taking place, and the camera is constantly cutting to the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers in the crowd instead of focusing on the actual match, and you can see Bradshaw mocking the match, you don't have to be a hardcore ECW fan to be offended. It detracted from a great match, and Bradshaw's positions on ECW are very transparent. He can make his little gestures and facial expressions during the match, but the fact of the matter is that Bradshaw has never, ever been involved in a match that is anywhere near that level of quality, nor has he ever been involved in a match that elicits the kind of frantic, emotional response from the crowd that the Awesome-Tanaka match did.
The same can be said for Eric Bischoff, who was the president of WCW for years and now works as the storyline "General Manager" of WWE Raw. Bischoff has held the position for years, dating back to when he ran WCW and going all the way to the present day, that ECW was garbage and its fans were low-class "Kool-Aid drinkers" (meaning cult members) who don't deserve the time of day. Bischoff can say whatever he wants about ECW, and he did when he was briefly on color commentary near the end of the event and said that ECW's wrestlers are "out of shape losers who can't get a job anywhere else." But the fact remains that Eric Bischoff witnessed something on Sunday night that he never witnessed in all his years of running WCW. He witnessed a product that connected emotionally with the fans in a way that WCW never did.
WWE Invasion Storyline Should Not Have Been on This Show
In all honesty, John Bradshaw Layfield, Eric Bischoff, and any other current WWE employee who was never in ECW should not have been on this event. The only reason that WWE's creative team, led by Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, decided to create the storyline of a bunch of current Raw and Smackdown "invading the ECW reunion show" was because A) They still don't think that ECW is strong enough to stand up on its own two feet without an outside boost from WWE's wrestlers, and B) If the ECW pay-per-view did surprise everyone and draw a huge pay-per-view buy-rate, they sure as hell couldn't be in the position where Paul Heyman and a bunch of former ECW wrestlers would get all the credit for drawing a huge buy-rate.
The management team at WWE can spin it any way they want, but the fact of the matter is that if they had only the best interests of this show in mind and wanted to make it a truly authentic "ECW reunion show," there shouldn't have been any WWE wrestlers on this event who were never part of ECW. It was also not "true to ECW" to have Steve Austin be the head spokesman for all of the ECW wrestlers at the end of the show right before the big ECW-WWE brawl, when in reality it should have been Tommy Dreamer, or The Sandman, or Taz.
It was also hypocritical for WWE to book Eric Bischoff as the #1 heel whose beatdown at the hands of all the ECW wrestlers was the climax of the entire show. Sure, Eric Bischoff did a lot of "raping and pillaging of ECW" (to quote Vince McMahon) when Bischoff was running WCW, but Vince McMahon was just as guilty of that during the same time period. Funny how that part of the story gets swept under the rug of ECW's history...
Rob Van Dam's Amazing Shoot Promo Straddles the Line
One of the things that Paul Heyman pushed hard for in dealing with WWE management in the past couple of weeks leading up to this event was for Rob Van Dam to be given a solid five to ten minutes of in-ring promo time with a live microphone. It was Van Dam who suggested to Vince McMahon in late 2004 that a one-time ECW reunion show might be a good idea, and McMahon was eventually talked into it. Van Dam was a huge star in ECW, but has never been given a serious push in WWE, and he has always been given an extremely small amount of microphone time by WWE even though he can cut a good promo when he needs to.
Giving someone a live microphone with just a rough outline of what to say (and with no actual scripted dialogue) is not how WWE works these days, as promos are usually written out word-for-word. Everyone who knows anything about the wrestling business, from Mick Foley to Steve Austin to just about everyone else, has said that this approach to interviews effectively kills the creative opportunities of the wrestlers, who used to be able to make stars out of themselves if they had break-out performances on the mic. So, giving Van Dam that much mic time to just speak his mind was a lot to ask of WWE, but WWE management eventually caved into the pressure from Heyman and Van Dam.
Rob Van Dam didn't disappoint, delivering the best promo of his career and proving to WWE that he can show fire and emotion when called upon to do so. RVD did a semi-shoot promo, in the sense that he meant every word he was saying, but he was careful to not cross a certain line into offending certain members of WWE management. What that means is basically that he never mentioned Stephanie McMahon or Triple H by name, even though that's essentially who anyone is referring to when they complain about "the WWE writing team." He can hardly be blamed for that since, after all, his future livelihood as a pro wrestler is dependent on WWE as the one big pro wrestling promotion in the United States.
Still, in what he did say, Van Dam got in a lot of good, biting points. He looked up at the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers, who were in the crowd at that point, and told them that they didn't belong there and have nothing to do with ECW (which is something that Van Dam really believes and tried to fight for behind the scenes in the last couple weeks). Van Dam said, "This has nothing to do with you. This is going to be one of the biggest pay-per-view buy-rates of the year... and you deserve zero credit for tonight's success."
Van Dam then spoke for several riveting minutes about how woefully mis-used he has been in WWE. That's something that any pro wrestling fan could tell you for years, but seeing it actually said on a WWE-produced pay-per-view event was amazing. Van Dam said, "I don't have any creative geniuses writing scripted lines for me tonight, so I'm going to be shooting from the heart." He asked people to remember a time when he was in ECW and his vocabulary wasn't limited to the words "whatever" and "cool," which seem to every other word in his WWE-scripted promos. He talked about how he had a voice, and he put on the best damn show he could put on to make sure that the fans got their money's worth and went home happy. "That's how you showcase my skills," he said.
Paul Heyman's Amazing Shoot Promo Straddles the Line, Then Jumps Over It
While Van Dam still had to protect his career prospects and didn't want to cross a certain line in any shoot comments that he made, Paul Heyman has nothing to lose at this point and had no problem crossing that line. Heyman's WWE contract expires in late 2005, and he has many other opportunities that he could pursue in the pro wrestling business. So, during an in-ring promo near the end of the show during which he was only scheduled to make his obligatory on-camera appearance and then leave, Heyman pulled no punches and delivered some of the most memorable moments of the night.
When Heyman first came out, making his first and only on-camera appearance during the show, the crowd erupted into "ECW" chants and Heyman already had tears in his eyes as he walked down the aisle. When he got into the ring and the crowd broke out into a "Thank you Paul, Thank you Paul" chant, he started to cry. After a long period of sustained, ear-splitting cheering from the crowd (I had to turn down the TV volume), Heyman composed himself and thanked several of his ECW business partners, and thanked all the wrestlers for their hard work and sacrifice, and thanked the fans as he said, "You people are the craziest bastards in the world, and I love each and every one of you."
The mutual love-fest between Heyman and the crowd was wrapping up, and Heyman's segment appeared to be over. In fact, it was only just beginning, as Heyman proceeded to cut a vicious shoot promo that may very well get him fired from WWE. Heyman said, "I was going to take the high road and just say thank you and leave, but I have something to say to you" Heyman looked up at the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers in the crowd and said, "I've been waiting a long time to say this to you, Eric Bischoff. In case you didn't notice, it's not Paul Heyman with his tail between his legs forced to go to a WCW reunion show. It's Eric Bischoff with his tail between his legs forced to go to an ECW reunion show."
Those comments alone wouldn't have gotten Heyman in trouble with WWE management, but his next comments almost certainly will. Heyman said, "Wait a minute, it's Edge! Hide your wives! Edge, I know nobody with a promo written line-for-line has the balls to say this to you, but I have two words for you: Matt Hardy."
Heyman was referring to the real-life, behind-the-scenes situation in which Edge started having a relationship with Matt Hardy's longtime girlfriend, Amy Dumas. When he found out about it from Edge's wife, Hardy made a few posts about the situation on the Internet. Hardy was then fired from WWE for talking about personal business like that in a public setting. Ever since word of Hardy's release hit the Internet, fans at arenas across the world have bombarded Edge with chants of, "You Screwed Matt" and "We Want Matt," but WWE's announcers and wrestlers have been forbidden from acknowledging those chants or speaking Matt Hardy's name since he no longer works for WWE. (More on the Edge-Dumas-Hardy situation on Ivan's Blog here and here.)
For Heyman to say something like that to Edge not just in the form of an Internet post or something like that, but on a live pay-per-view with a huge worldwide audience, is a huge violation of any and all WWE policy, as is mentioning Matt Hardy's name on the air under any circumstances.
Paul Heyman Signs His WWE Career Death Certificate
However, it was Heyman's last shoot comment that will undoubtedly get him in the most trouble with WWE management. As I wrote about earlier in this post, John Bradshaw Layfield recently injected many shoot comments into an interview on Smackdown, during which he took many personal pot-shots at Heyman, most of which were edited off the show before it ever saw the light of day.
On live pay-per-view, Heyman said, "I almost forgot about you, Bradshaw. Mr. Shoot Promo himself... bounced checks, ECW, we're out of business, and all that. Hey John, on a personal note from all of us to you, since you want to shoot, cowboy: The only reason you were the WWE Champion for a year is because Triple H doesn't want to work Tuesdays."
Even the hardcore ECW crowd seemed stunned that Heyman would say that, as he more than likely just signed his own death certificate as far as his WWE writing career goes. For any WWE employee to publicly criticize the WWE writing team (as Rob Van Dam did earlier in the show) is generally frowned upon, but to specifically reference Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H as being the heads of the writing team is forbidden and is just plain unheard of.
Heyman basically said what everyone in WWE knows, but would never dare to say publicly (or privately, out of fear that it would get back to management): That Triple H is ultimately in control of who holds which title belts in WWE, and that he has a long-term monopoly on the world title picture on the Raw brand, and that the only reason ANYONE is able to be a long-term champion on Smackdown is because Triple H isn't on Smackdown (which is taped on Tuesdays, hence the line about working on Tuesdays).
The champion of the Smackdown brand is ultimately just the "B-level champion," and is only the champion because the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, Triple H, isn't on Smackdown. Anyone who follows the pro wrestling industry knows that, but for a WWE employee to actually say that in any setting, much less on live pay-per-view, is absolutely unthinkable and was the single most shocking moment on the show.
Paul Heyman's Future and "The Next ECW"
Paul Heyman could very well lose his job in WWE as a result of his comments, and personally, I hope he does (and maybe he hopes so, too). Only when Heyman is contractually free from WWE, and free to start a new pro wrestling promotion of his own someday, will wrestling fans ever have a chance to truly see "the next ECW" be conceived and born all over again.
In the meantime, for one night at least, hardcore ECW fans and newer wrestling fans alike were able to take themselves to a different time and a different place. For two and a half hours on Sunday night, an old friend named ECW was back. Joey Styles may have put it best when he said on commentary during the closing moments of the show, "I wish I could make time stand still and enjoy this moment forever."