(Lots of nerdy pro wrestling terms and shit in this post, so please skip now. You have been warned.)
In the mid-1990s, the same two big-time pro wrestling organizations, WWE (then WWF) and WCW, were stinking up the joint with bad wrestling, lack of imagination, and general blandness, and believe me, I have the video tapes to prove it. But Paul Heyman, a former WCW manager who got fired/ran for his life from the stifling atmosphere, started Eastern Championship Wrestling, one of dozens of little "independent" promotions that exist in this country as a sort of proving ground for fledgling wrestlers trying to get to the big time. And because Heyman doesn't like doing things by the book, he started writing scripts for his promotion that were cutting-edge and out-of-the-box, like letting his wrestlers drink and smoke on the way to the ring as a way of getting the characters over with the fans, or having a wrestler suspect his girlfriend/valet of cheating only to have him and the viewers find out that she was fucking another female valet. And because wrestling fans were looking for something, anything, to watch that wouldn't put them to sleep, this promotion became very popular through word-of-mouth and through this new creation called the internet. Heyman them ramped up the violence and edginess and selection of metal and grunge music as a way of setting the theme and changed the name of the promotion to Extreme Championship Wrestling. And ECW went on to capture many hardcore fans because it was in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, "politically incorrect--and damn proud of it!", as one of their commercials used to scream. But all of this attitude was combined with some of the best wrestling in the world, and what that created was a place that longtime fans of workrate and innovation in the ring, like me, had to gravitate towards, like a magnet, or else we felt like we were missing out on something special. I watched several ECW events live at friends' houses (and I have all of their pay-per-view efforts on tape), and it was always a loud, raucous affair, with most of us howling at the unreal moves executed in the ring by wrestlers who could hone their craft without anal-retentive bigwigs looking down their noses going, "Tsk tsk, those 30-minute matches with all the acrobatic moves will never make people watch, you have to have tanned, jacked-up movie stars like Hulk Hogan or The Rock, or else you'll never make it." I was addicted to the point where I didn't watch the Big Two, WWE or WCW, for about a year out of boredom with their products. If it wasn't ECW, I wasn't interested.
Unfortunately, little independent promotions don't make enough money to keep those talented wrestlers around. And slowly, almost all of the guys and girls that made ECW what it was left to go work for one of the Big Two because they could make much more money there. At the same time, both of the Big Two started incorporating elements of edginess and raunch that basically stole the thunder of that innovative style from ECW and put it on a bigger, worldwide stage, and as a result, ECW couldn't grow its audience, couldn't create revenue, and eventually had to fold in early 2001. That same year, WCW also folded, and the only promotion left standing was WWE, owned by the notorious Vince McMahon, who hated the success that WCW and ECW briefly had against him so much that he brought in the key talent from both of those leagues, scripted them to unify as The Alliance, and proceeded to have his WWE Superstars destroy them in matches around the world the rest of the year. Eventually he got bored and cut a lot of those guys from the roster after having them lose at Survivor Series in late 2001.
Now, McMahon didn't just bring in a bunch of guys from WCW and ECW and have his announcers say, "Here's some new guys who used to be popular elsewhere, and now they want to take over WWE." No, he bought the intellectual rights to WCW and ECW after they folded. So, instead of rebuilding one or both of those brands and recreating that alternative to WWE that wrestling fans craved, he basically killed off any notion that those leagues were ever any match for WWE, and tried to kill the leagues' credibility in the process. A funny thing kept happening, though: Any time someone wrestled in WWE who used to work in ECW, in arenas across the country, the vocal section of hardcore ECW fans would yell out, "ECW! ECW! ECW!" And for someone with McMahon's ego, this had to be the most irritating thing. How could people still yell for a bankrupt company whose biggest announced crowd ever was about 3,000 (WWE claims that WrestleMania III in Pontiac, MI, in 1986 drew 93,173) and who never had anywhere near the glitz and glamor and Hollywood-like atmosphere of the great WWE? The reason, of course, was that ECW captured the heart, determination, and desire that the everyday "dude" relates to, and WWE, with its roided-up monsters and no-talent wannabes who made teenage girls squeal, does not and never will capture.
So McMahon hired Paul Heyman, founder of ECW, to write for his company and make some of that magic happen for WWE. Nope, not gonna work. Not when most of Heyman's cutting-edge stuff can't be approved for McMahon's sponsor-heavy network television shows. Then he sent Heyman home, just paid him to sit at home so that no other benefactor could give Heyman the capital necessary to do his thing and embarrass Vince again. Then he let him have one pay-per-view show last year, "ECW One Night Stand," where Heyman could satisfy some of that vocal audience thirsting for an alternative while Vince could try to grab some of those hardcore fans and sway them to watch his product. The show was everything one would expect an ECW show to be--except for the rumored $300 ringside seats and the storyline where the WWE guys storm the ring to try to teach the ECW guys a lesson on who's boss. I watched it with my uncle. It was the only wrestling I watched at someone else's house in the past year. It was the only wrestling that felt like an event that I wanted to catch, and I'm sure a lot of other folks felt that way.
Tonight, "ECW One Night Stand"--part deux; I guess it's a hell of a one-night stand if you feel the need to return--is airing on pay-per-view. I am not watching. I saw the first, and it was great, and I don't need to see it again. You can't top the original. But that's not all that's happening in the world of hardcore. Somehow, McMahon convinced Sci-Fi Network to air a weekly ECW show starting this Tuesday night. Now, how do you think he managed to do that? By showing old ECW footage and scaring the shit out of Sci-Fi execs? Nah, I think he showed them the ratings for his weekly WWE cable show, "Raw," which has been near the top of cable ratings every year of its 14-year existence, and said he could deliver those ratings for this "new" vision of ECW. Heyman has been giving interviews left and right to various media sources touting this "new" vision of ECW, how it's going to be "everything ECW was before, and a whole lot more." But whatever this "new" vision is, it will have to be very very toned down for the new network; very very toned down for WWE's sponsors since WWE, by owning ECW, is now responsible if ECW offends anyone's delicate senses; very very toned down for WWE's stockholders...in short, watered down and diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. And I think that's exactly what McMahon wants. He wants to paint a new picture of ECW in everyone's minds that ultimately will call to mind not success against all odds, not rebelling in the face of what's expected out of a promotion, but mockery and foolishness, and by putting his hands all over this "new" vision of ECW, I predict that's what he will do. You cannot continue to yell out "Join the hardcore revolution!" when the organization you're trying to revolt against owns your ass. This is like Ice-T putting out "Cop Killa Pt. 2" under a new record label owned by the LAPD. No matter what, you just know that the message will be muffled, and therefore slowly silenced.