The Rise and Fall of ECW — Disc One
Released by WWF: November 16, 2004
Matt’s review of The Rise and Fall of WCW inspired me to do more of a play-by-play review for the documentary instead of the three paragraphs I had previously. Sort of an abridged ECW history according to this WWE-produced release. While the WCW documentary goes only about 90 minutes, the much shorter history of ECW is given almost a whopping three hours! No justice, right, WCW fans?
Hour One: 1992-96
- Right off the bat, Mick Foley puts over Paul Heyman as one of the greatest minds in wrestling. Cue the generic music!
- It all started in 1992, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tod Gordon was the owner and Eddie Gilbert handled the booking. Gordon and Gilbert had a falling-out, so out went Gilbert and in came Heyman. His first creation: The Public Enemy.
- We roll through some feel good bits highlighting early Taz and Sabu, then move onto Terry Funk. Heyman on Funk: “There would not have been an ECW without Terry Funk. He was the only veteran from that era who had the reputation of being legitimately tough, but also had the business sense to realize, ‘I gotta get the next generation ready for there to be a business.’” In case you don’t get the message, Heyman goes on to bury the stars from that era who were “clinging and clutching to their spot.”
- Onto to early ‘94 and the big three-way dance between Sabu, Funk, and Shane Douglas that went to a 60-minute time limit draw. None of the three were interviewed in this documentary, and instead Tommy Dreamer is the guy telling us about this.
- Paul E. had a lot of beef with WCW from his time as a manager there, and Dreamer says Paul E. was on a mission to spite WCW.
- Dreamer and Sandman had a Singapore Caning Match, referencing a real-life news item at the time. After losing the match, Dreamer was subjected to repeated cane shots by Sandman, which got him over as a tough guy instead of a pretty boy. Philly don’t like pretty boys, you know.
- Dreamer and Heyman get more and more face time (get used to that) as they explain what set ECW apart from WWF and WCW at the time. Violence, blood, slutty women, no cheesy gimmicks, all that good stuff.
- Cactus Jack, at the time a WCW employee, had a “dream match” with Sabu in ECW. Dreamer vaguely mentions that this was a favor meant to settle a legal issue between the two companies, while Foley and Paul E. both claim it was just a friendly deal. Thing is, Cactus spit on his WCW Tag Team Championship belt on ECW TV, which pissed off Ric Flair and everybody else down in Atlanta. He wasn’t fired immediately, but it wasn’t long before he became a ECW full-timer.
- Mikey Whipwreck: He was just a member of the ring crew who they put in the ring. When he started, he didn’t have any offensive moves, but he somehow went on to hold all three ECW titles.
- The NWA needed a new champion, so they took their belt to the ECW Arena. After Shane Douglas beat 2 Cold Scorpio in the finals of a title tournament, he buried NWA’s history, tossed the belt down, and held up a new belt, calling himself the ECW champion.
- The promotion started attracting fans not just in Philly, but New York, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
- It’s 1995, largely considered ECW’s most revolutionary year. Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit all showed up on the block with their Japanese-style technical wrestling, fleshing out the product to be more than just blood and barbed wire.
- Paul E. explains his philosophy about how to book talent: Hide the negatives. Accentuate the positives.
- The ECW fans get a short package. You know: The same people at every show in the same seats. Loyal, wild, bloodthirsty, knowledgeable, yada yada.
- They intro the Raven/Dreamer feud, with more coming later.
- Sabu missed the main event at a big ECW show, having double-booked himself and opting to make his date in Japan, so Paul E. publicly fired him at the beginning of the show. Not to worry, Sabu eventually came back.
- Taz broke his neck and was paid during his time off, which cemented his loyalty to Paul E. This will be ironic when we get to ‘99, when some guys weren’t paid at all!
- Guerrero, Malenko, and Benoit all left town for WCW. Eric Bischoff defends himself against Heyman’s claims that WCW “raided” his talent. Vince plays Mr. Nice Guy and says that he didn’t feel right taking ECW talent and not giving anything back, so he put Paul E. on his payroll. The truth comes out! OK, the truth was already out, but it’s kind of nice to see it plainly acknowledged here, even though McMahon uttering the words “I didn’t think it was right” is just ridiculous.
- Lucha libre! Rey Mysterio does a hurracanrana off a car! “Oh, My God!”
- WCW tossed Steve Austin to the curb (Oops!), so he went to ECW and got his frustrations out on TV. Again, it seems weird that Dreamer and Heyman are the ones commenting on this (along with ECW’s television producer Ron Buffone). This leads to a big put over segment for the classic promos done by Austin and Cactus Jack.
- Raven abducted Sandman’s wife and 8-year-old son, which made Sandman CRY! It was ECW’s most emotional angle, Heyman says.
- Stevie Richards, Blue Meanie, and Nova parodied the nWo with the Blue World Order. Fun stuff.
Hour Two: 1996-98
- More from the Raven/Dreamer feud. The pregnancy angle! The lesbian angle!
- Now we talk about the connection between ECW and WWF. I won’t venture to claim whether McMahon and Heyman are completely lying or just watering it down, but what did you expect? “We came up with a way where everybody won,” Heyman says. ECW invaded WWF at In Your House: Mind Games in 1996. Taz claims this came as a surprise to the WWF wrestlers performing. It was also a surprise to a security guard who tried to stop Taz from jumping the guardrail and ended up with a broken shoulder. More invasion coming later.
- After giving Sandman a whipping, Raven and his flunkies tied him to a Holy Cross! Pretty tasteless, even ECW fans thought so. To make matters worse, Kurt Angle was the special guest for the night, perhaps with plans of wrestling there, and he threw a fit about it. To cap it off, Raven was asked to apologize to the fans, which he did with little sincerity. Although this documentary doesn’t mention it, it is the apology that became one of the most criticized moments in all of ECW history.
- Now begins the quest for pay-per-view. Heyman puts over the fans for “being our army” in the fight to get a big show on the airwaves.
- Hold it! Before that pay-per-view thing could materialize, there was a little incident at a house show in Revere, Massachusetts. A 400-pound, 17-year-old wrestler lied about his age and asked to be booked on the show. As luck would have it, he was able to fill in for Axl Rotten, who missed the show for a family emergency. Axl was scheduled to team with D-Von Dudley against the Gangstas. The 17-year-old, who performed under the name Mass Transit, was reported by many backstage to have completely misunderstood his role, which was to simply take a beating from a garbage can full of weapons. He also offended and annoyed several workers backstage. He even asked New Jack to cut his forehead open during the match because he wanted to blade but had never done it before. BAD IDEA! So, when New Jack cut him open, the Original Gangsta Himself decided to cut a little deeper, which resulted in the kid’s head shooting out blood like a fountain until he passed out. BUT GUESS WHAT? This documentary completely glosses over all of what actually happened, and all we get is Paul E. saying the kid lied about his age and D-Von Dudley saying that it was an ugly beating, along with a completely unrelated clip of New Jack in action. That’s it.
- And in light of that … POOF! There went the pay-view-view. But not to worry, Heyman talked his way into getting the cable companies to carry the show after all. ECW Barely Legal was set to run on April 13, 1997, just three months after the previously scheduled date.
- Back to the invasion. ECW got some serious exposure on Raw a couple months before Barely Legal. Jerry Lawler says he still doesn’t understand what the hell Vince was thinking allowing this and basically claims the ECW performers were a bunch of arrogant hooligans. His genuine distaste for ECW was mirrored by his character during the ECW vs. WWF angle that ran for a few months.
- Barely Legal gets a bunch of clips. Everyone has something good to say about it.
- Raven finally gets pinned by Dreamer and takes off to WCW after a three-year feud.
- Leave it to Heyman’s booking to have that lead right into Jerry Lawler’s infamous invasion. Lawler nailed Dreamer in the balls with a golf club, which connected for real and Dreamer ended up in the hospital!
- Heyman discovered that Tod Gordon was trying to gather a whole group of ECW guys and bring them to WCW for another invasion, so Tod was fired. (He technically resigned, but he would have been fired if he hadn’t.) In case you’re slightly confused as to how Gordon was fired from a company he owned, what this documentary fails to explain is that Heyman actually owned the company as of April 1995, having been awarded 49 percent of the company for having worked for free since his arrival in September 1993 and having bought the remaining 51 percent from Gordon.
- Bill Alfonso was also behind Gordon’s WCW plans, but he saved his job by putting on a classic and bloody bout with Beulah McGillicutty. Only in the world of wrestling could you get away with attempted sabotage by bleeding like a stuck pig and selling a Beulahcanrana.
- A bunch of guys had side jobs in the company. Bubba Ray Dudley booked venues. Stevie Richards took phone orders for merchandise and tickets. Taz was in charge of designing T-shirts, and he also ran the ECW wrestling school. Dreamer was in charge of all kinds of other business dealings (duh). He had a bunch of wrestlers’ wives and girlfriends helping him out.
- Everyone talks about working with Paul E. as a booker. His desk was in the middle of the locker room, he got in hour-long conversations with guys about their angles, he got guys to do crazy things they never would have done otherwise, and so on.
- Paul E. comes up with Al Snow’s head gimmick.
- Everyone argues over how much the big two stole ideas from ECW, and we watch clips of arena-wide brawling, middle fingers, Santa Claus taking a Stone Cold Stunner, etc.
- Bam Bam Bigelow crushed Taz through the ring mat at Living Dangerously ‘98. How could you possibly do an ECW history without that? Taz creates the FTW belt.
- The Dudley Boyz! Trash talk! Flaming Tables!
Hour Three: 1999-2001
- And on we go to the “fall.” The workers hardly got paid. Money wasn’t managed right. Dreamer, Spike Dudley, Lance Storm, Little Guido, Al Snow, Stevie Richards, and the Dudleys all talk about it.
- But wait! Things turned up for ECW once they got onto national TV! Umm, well, not really. I lied. The financial problems were only made worse by the TV deal. This was October 1999, and the product wasn’t as unique in comparison to WCW and WWF as it had been in years prior. Taz and the Dudleys left for WWF about a month before ECW went on TV. Plus, the fabric of the roster in years past had already left town by this point. Taz and the Dudleys explain their departures. McMahon calls Taz “The Suplex King.” Hey Vinnie, it’s “The Human Suplex Machine!”
- Taz was pinned two minutes into a three-way dance with Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka to drop the ECW title. Conversely, the Dudleys actually beat Spike Dudley and Balls Mahoney for the tag titles in their goodbye match, only to be dethroned moments later by Dreamer and a freshly returned Raven.
- Paul E. complains that TNN censored the product. He creates Cyrus the Virus to represent the network. Dreamer explains that Paul E. was stubborn and never gave TNN what they wanted, even on the very first broadcast. He didn’t like the premiere taping, so he played the RVD/Jerry Lynn match from Hardcore Heaven ‘99 instead.
- Paul E. didn’t want to upgrade the production value, nor would he tone down the content to meet TV standards. He wouldn’t budge. Worse yet, there wasn’t any advertising, and the show did horrible ratings. Meanwhile, TNN was preparing to strike a deal with WWF, so everyone knew the show wasn’t going to last very long.
- RVD gets a short package about forfeiting the TV belt due to injury.
- Mike Awesome suddenly appeared on Nitro while holding the ECW title. They managed to bring him back for one night to drop the title to … Taz? A WWF employee? Then, Taz takes the belt to Smackdown in Philadelphia and jobs to HHH? Dreamer ended up becoming the champion since he was the only one who could be trusted not to jump somewhere else with it. It was bad.
- ECW was taken off the air after just over a year, and they couldn’t get onto another network. It was bad.
- Checks kept bouncing. Van Dam, arguably the last marketable star they had, left town after realizing he would never see all the money he was owed. It was bad.
- And that was it. Before many of the workers expected it, there was no more ECW.
- This was especially bad news because WCW shut down right around the same time, and there were 90 newly unemployed wrestlers on the market and only one big company.
- The downfall had to do with the product’s nature being destined for a niche audience, while the financial mismanagement didn’t help, everyone says. Everyone except Paul E., who claims it’s solely because they couldn’t get on another TV network.
- Everyone puts in their good words. That’s all folks.
Final Thoughts: It’s pretty well done, I must say. It’s downright fun to watch. The footage keeps you interested for three hours, although hearing the same voices does get tiring. It’s not what I would call comprehensive considering how many huge players weren’t interviewed but probably could have been. I think they may have given Heyman just too much of a soapbox without presenting many counter arguments to his claims. Then again, he’s Paul E. He is ECW, so they obviously could have done worse. All in all, ECW fans should just be happy to get a three-hour documentary about the good old days, despite the flaws. Thumbs up for disc one.
Check out the independent documentary “Forever Hardcore,” which lacks ECW footage but has loads of uncensored interviews with a lot of guys who aren’t on here, such as Terry Funk, Shane Douglas, Tod Gordon, Sandman, Sabu, Raven, New Jack and some others. Also, the book “Turning the Tables: The Story of ECW” is a breeze to read and the best history of ECW available.