ECW Changed My Life

Justin LaBar

OK, not really. But 15 years later, the Kool-Aid still tastes great!

I enjoyed perusing Twitter on the 15th anniversary of the first-ever ECW PPV, “Barely Legal.” Most tweets were variations on a theme: “ECW revolutionized wrestling.” “ECW changed my life.” “Nobody thought it could be done.” Grandiose. Deep. Poetic.

Then, just four years later, ECW went out of business.

What the heck happened?

Look at history. Most revolutions don’t last very long. Most revolutions get co-opted by the establishment. Most revolutions lead right back to the status quo. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

ECW went out of business because not enough people paid to watch. Circumstances mitigated, to be sure. Talent raids. TNN giving the time slot to WWE. Ill-advised interpromotional links. But no wrestling company ever went out of business despite a lot of people wanting to see it. (Except WCW. Totally different story.)

Yet, despite the victors writing history, ECW is still treated with an insane reverence by a vocal minority of wrestling fans and by its former participants. That’s why “extreme” reunions still pop up. Why Impact created buzz through a brief re-branding.

That’s down to one reason. One man. Paul Heyman.

Not only was Heyman the constructor and conductor, he was a one-man PR firm. I heard one of his backstage rah-rah speeches. He made you BELIEVE. That passion and commitment – with a heaping helping of carny huckster stirred in – bled through the television and turned ECW fans into ADDICTS.

Problem was, not enough got infected. ECW never got mainstream. Enough “extreme” elements were incorporated by WWE to woo hardcore fans. Then, ultimately, there was WWE’s absorption of ECW and compromising of the brand. I say “compromising” because it was never the same. It was turned into a minor league so you’d believe that’s what it was all along.

But you didn’t.

Most of you just forgot about ECW. That’s what people do. They move on.

But that vocal minority remembers ECW as “changing the world.” It didn’t. It was held together by a shoestring, and the shoestring snapped. It provided some great TV. It changed the business, but it went out of business. That was no one’s fault but ECW’s.

I wonder what kind of person would say, “ECW changed my life.” Yikes. I’m not disputing the notion. I’m just envisioning the circumstances. Marriage changes your life. Kids. Illness. Work. Did ECW really change anyone’s life outside ECW?

That’s what a wrestling company wants when it wants to hire Paul Heyman. Not Paul’s ideas from back then. Not the new ideas he would undoubtedly come up with. They want Paul’s passion and commitment. His ability to CONVINCE those in the workplace and those in the audience. Paul Heyman is a LEADER.

That’s what wrestling companies want. That’s what wrestling companies lack.

Consider WWE’s “it’s his turn” philosophy. It was NEVER Tommy Dreamer’s turn, but Heyman made Dreamer a star. Consider Impact’s stupidity. ECW, under Heyman, MADE SENSE. When you’re the little engine that could, that’s your obligation. You’ve got no star power. At the very least, you owe the fans LOGIC.

Any time there’s an Extreme reunion, Heyman should get a cut. Fifteen years later, that fire still burns. (Quick thought: Paul probably still owes those people money. Let’s call it even.)

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh, PA (105.9) . Check out his web page at Contact Mark by emailing . FOLLOW MARK ON TWITTER: @MarkMaddenX

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