The X-Factor: The All-New ECW

Joey MacQueen

Five years ago, the bronze medal in a three-way popularity race amongst televised wrestling was bought out by the then-WWF (World Wrestling Federation). That wrestling was extreme. That wrestling was brutal. That wrestling was barbaric.

That wrestling was ECW.

Paul Heyman (also known as Paul E. Dangerously) ran Extreme Championship Wrestling for several years, making names of Rob Van Dam, Raven, Chris Benoit, Tommy Dreamer, and Chris Jericho. Benoit and Jericho have had solid runs in the WWE, both holding their share of major titles for the company, while RVD just captured his first WWE title from John Cena, in a controversial finish that saw Paul Heyman refereeing the portion of the match where RVD pinned Cena.. While Raven and Tommy Dreamer never made huge splashes in WWE, both are having their share of success in their post-ECW lives. Raven has held the biggest title in TNA Wrestling, and is currently a big star for the rising company. Tommy Dreamer is one of the masterminds behind last year’s phenomenally successful ECW: One Night Stand, and was a significant player in, not only this year’s One Night Stand PPV, but also the new ECW television series, which began airing on the Sci-Fi Network on June 13th.

In 2001, the WWE also bought out WCW (World Championship Wrestling), which had been on life support at the time, despite holding quite a few big names of their own, including Sting, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Ric Flair. Later that year, an “invasion” took place in the WWE, where superstars from WCW and ECW formed an alliance against Vince McMahon’s third child: the World Wrestling Federation. In fact, his own flesh and blood, son Shane and daughter Stephanie, had taken the reigns of the alliance, and started a war with their father. What resulted in a successful part of wrestling history for some was a complete and utter disappointment for others. Despite mixed reactions, the WWE continued to employ many names from the two dead companies, many of which remain with us today on RAW and Smackdown.

Four years after being pronounced dead, ECW was resurrected, in the form of One Night Stand. While the majority of fans (including yours truly) called the PPV “WWE Presents: ECW One Night Stand”, the show still held the heart and soul of Extreme Championship Wrestling. Featuring the likes of The Dudley Boyz, “Lion Heart” Chris Jericho, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and play-by-play man Joey Styles, ECW was alive and well on June 12th, 2005, supposedly for just one night.

That all changed this year, when the WWE announced ECW: One Night Stand as a brand new PPV event to air exactly one year after the first event, on June 11th of this year. Then, with mere weeks left before One Night Stand was set to air live on PPV from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, broke news (news that was previously rumored on many internet sites) that the Sci-Fi Network had picked up an ECW television show, which begin broadcasting just two days after One Night Stand.

Fans gave mixed reactions to One Night Stand last year, and continued with more mixed reactions to a “sequel” this year. So, it should be no surprise whatsoever that the idea of an ECW TV show has not been met with unanimous love from wrestling viewers. Personally, I could not be more anxious to see what Paul Heyman, Tommy Dreamer, and Vince McMahon can produce with a new ECW, despite a well below-average premiere this past Tuesday..

I can completely understand why fans are not warming up to this so quickly. Take classic cartoons for example: it would be difficult to accept a TV show called “The All New Bugs Bunny Show” as a solid continuation of classic Bugs Bunny ‘toons. When the words “new” finds its way into a TV show title, it usually means a poor recreation of a classic. Unless the show is called “The New Adventures of Old Christine”, which I swear is not a recreation of a classic TV show… unless you think that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is just recreating her Elaine Benes character of 1990s classic sitcom, “Seinfeld”.

In any event, I’m willing to accept this as “The All New ECW”, or “WWE Presents: ECW”. It’s been five years, and there’s no way to turn back the clock and have ECW continue as its own company. Some might say that it would have been best to leave ECW alone and dead in 2001. My response to that is that there are plenty of stories left to tell for ECW. The talent involved includes many names from ECW past. Right now, ECW has nothing to lose (except, I suppose, some dignity) and everything to gain with viewers.

Last year, I watched my first ECW event, which was One Night Stand. I was deeply entertained by the majority of the event, especially the main-event, which featured Sandman, Dreamer, The Dudleyz, and appearances by bWo, Balls Mahoney, Axl Rotten, and Kid Kash. It culminated in a showdown between ECW and WWE (represented by JBL, Kurt Angle, Eric Bischoff, among others), which was the lowpoint of the ongoing feud for some. Most saw adding WWE talent as a way of boosting sales for those who may not have watched ECW: One Night Stand just for the ECW talent involved. Pretty much, that was the truth.

This year, in an effort to turn ECW in a new direction, Paul Heyman has already announced a new vision for the company. That vision, in his eyes, is epitomized by Kurt Angle, whom he acquired in a draft pick deal several weeks ago on RAW (his other draft pick being RVD). The word “new” continues to be thrown around. I guess it also happens to be a new vision for Kurt Angle, considering Angle was one of the team leaders of the Crusaders last year, fighting the “evil” of ECW. Angle being sent to ECW is going to be a great idea for the brand itself, but I certainly question if there were better candidates. I suppose in the long run, Angle is a main-event player for WWE, and will be a main-event player for ECW. If anything gives ECW a boost in popularity (outside of ECW itself), it will be Kurt Angle.

This year’s One Night Stand was, quite possibly, even better than last year’s PPV, and I really enjoyed last year’s show. Matches between Balls Mahoney and Masato Tanaka, as well as the FBI and Tajiri & Super Crazy boasted solid performances from all involved, but the truly A+ matches were Edge and Foley vs. Dreamer and Funk, Angle vs. Orton, and Cena vs. RVD. And, well… the less said about Tazz vs. Jerry Lawler, the better.

Two nights later, the party ended and the hard work began. Unfortunately, ECW tripped out of the starting gate. The positive feedback for the debut ECW show on the Sci-Fi network was found few and far between. Personally, I realize that the premiere had many down moments (what exactly was with the striptease dancing of Kelly the Exhibitionist?), but there was an enjoyable Extreme Battle Royale, with an unexpected outcome that saw Sabu eliminate Big Show, which gives Sabu a match against John Cena at Vengeance this Sunday. And how often will we see The Sandman bash a guy’s head in that’s called The Zombie.

Unfortunately, the influence of Sci-Fi is evident. I believe The Zombie was intended to be ECW’s way of showing the fans that the Sci-Fi influence is minimal at best, as Sandman literally bashed the dust off The Zombie’s “rotting carcus”. However, as the camera looked over the outside of the arena, a vampire (played by Kevin Fertig, the man behind the short-lived Mordecai) made a bunch of silly faces that a pre-schooler would make while dressed up for Halloween. Fortunately, a vampire gimmick isn’t completely far-fetched, considering being goth is considered “gnarly” with the kids today. Gnarly is still a tubular word, right?

Finally, and most importantly, my biggest fear with the ECW show is the influence of the WWE. On the premiere episode, the opening segment featured the WWE Title on RVD’s shoulders, with appearances by RAW superstars John Cena and Edge. New ECW acquirement, Kurt Angle, took down former ECW Champion Justin Credible in only a short period of time. And, The Big Show dominated the battle royal, and nearly won the extreme showdown. I realize that a major showing by Big Show and Kurt Angle in the premiere episode was a necessity for the WWE fans, but I remain optimistic that the ECW talent that is signed (and future signings for the company with an ECW past) will remain more prominent on the show than the WWE guys. The main-event for tonight’s show essentially features three WWE guys (Randy Orton and Edge, as well as Kurt Angle, who has only been an ECW guy for a few weeks.

Changes will come, but I hope it’s not too late. Last week, the premiere was the highest rated show on cable, with over 3 million viewers. An incredible premiere rating surely does not equal an incredible second week number for the show. WWE likely remains optimistic that the viewers will tune in to see if the quality increases, and I’m one of those viewers. It’s time to turn on the power full-blast, and give everything they have. ECW has the opportunity to attract more money and more viewers to the WWE. It would be a horrible misstep in ECW’s history to have an unsuccessful revival, several years after it initially ended.

Altogether now… ECW! ECW! ECW! ECW! ECW!

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