Our final addition to the 1997 timeline is ECW; the “Big 3” that was never really Big. ECW is likely the biggest “Indy” promotion of all time, garnering a cult following in the mid-90’s with its irregular seedy programming. ECW Hardcore TV aired whenever the hell the stations could slot it in, regularly changing days, but you could be damn sure it was in the middle of the night.
With the punch-drunk WWF, and the arrogant WCW as its main competitors, ECW literally took a niche that didn’t previously exist, and exploited the hell out of it. Owner Paul Heyman was more in touch with the ripped jeans headbanger grunge rebellious youth of the mid 90’s than Eric Bischoff or Vince McMahon could hope to be; no matter HOW many focus groups they held. Paul could smartly take underutilized talent from the big stage, or unknown talent from the indy world, and give them a pulse. In-ring ability was second to connecting with the Kool-Aid drinking, rowdy Philadelphia locals, and as long as you had the right attitude, you were set for life.
On the cusp of entering pay-per-view in late 1996, Heyman showed the kind of bad judgment that would have had him castrated in the social media era; by allowing a 16-year old kid to wrestle without conducting any background checks, and watching New Jack nearly murder him (legitimately) in front of the blood thirsty locals. His initial PPV offering was cancelled, and ECW seemed to be back to square one.
Of course, Paul Heyman wouldn’t lie down like that. Doing the socially responsible thing and owning your actions wasn’t necessary without an outraged community hounding you with torches and pitchforks, so Heyman managed to smooth talk the distributers into getting “Barely Legal” put back on the schedule to air in April of 1997.
Now with his first chance at real, moneymaking, national exposure just months away, I’m adding ECW to the rotation of shows I recap, so we can watch the highs and lows of all 3 companies working through the last pro-wrestling gold rush together.
JOEY STYLES welcomes us to the ECW Arena; and we have a changing of the guard. The Eliminators captured the tag-team titles at a live event this week, ending the 4 month reign of the Gangstas. Yes, even after an unjustified homicide attempt, it would take another month to get the title off New Jack. THIS is ECW.
New tag-team champions THE ELIMINATORS brag about their path of destruction. They’ve defeated, in no particular order, the Bruise Brothers, Cactus Jack and Mikey Whipwreck, the Pitbulls, 911 and Rey Mysterio Jr., The Samoan Gangster Party, Rob Van Dam and Sabu, Dr. Death and Terry Gordy, and now the Gangstas. They’ve been out of their element for months, chasing them in street fights where they’re major underdogs, but Total Elimination is the great equalizer. Same strategy as DDP, focus on the explosive finisher, and push the hell out of them. Not rocket science.
ROB VAN DAM vs. CHRIS CANDIDO
This is from an ECW fan-cam in Allentown, PA. It’s absolutely unbearable footage. Taken on a grainy VHS camcorder by a shaky front row presence, the fact this is on TV is embarrassing. Van Dam nails a jumping spin kick, and then does a super convoluted process including a springboard to take us to an eventual hiptoss. Springboard crossbody gets 2. Candido charges his opponent, but gets backdropped to the floor. Chris slowly gets to his feet, missing Van Dam’s somersault plancha.
We zip ahead to a series of pinfall reversals, before Candido just flattens Rob with a nasty short arm clothesline. Chris starts to stalk Van Dam around the ring, but misses a corner charge and eats a springboard jump kick to the chops. Rolling Thunder gut punch sets up a front suplex for 2. A scoop slam sets up Van Dam’s ultra-fast top rope guillotine, scoring 2.
Another flash forward has Candido back in control, with Van Dam perched on the top rope. He fights off a powerbomb attempt with a backdrop, and hits a big crossbody – but Candido rolls through for 2! A bunch of standing switches are won by Van Dam, and Candido is laid out crotch first on the top rope. A springboard back elbow knocks Chris off, and gets 2. Van Dam attempts to do more, but is backdropped over the top rope where he hits the guardrail. A frustrated Van Dam grabs a giant wooden chair, tosses it to Candido and tries the Van Daminator. Candido ducks and throws the chair in Van Dam’s face. He goes for another, but the Van Daminator is waiting for Candido, knocking both he and the referee who was a little too close, out. And, a knocked out referee is all SHANE DOUGLAS needs to hit the ringside area and wrap a chain around his Triple Threat buddy’s arm. He punches Van Dam in the face, as LOUIE SPICOLLI enters the frey in a referee’s shirt. Spicolli takes the place of the downed referee, so when Candido goes to try and wake him up, he’s given a big surprise to see his current nemesis lying there. A Death Valley Driver is delivered, and Van Dam dives on top as the referee recovers for the win at 8:02 (at least of what aired).
Recently, a camera caught up to TAZ as he left the ECW Arena. He’s pissy because Rob Van Dam needed to bring a chair into their match, when all the weapons he needs are his fists. However, he’s not a complainer, because he knew he’d one day choke him out. And now, he’s going to teach him something else … disrespect.
JOEL GERTNER claims he was recently hand-picked by Bryant Gumble to replace him on “Today”, but he chose to stay back in ECW. Also, he’s allegedly pantless and fully erect. Like, that’s literally it. Glad he’s here.
JOEY STYLES announces that some 20 years after losing the NWA World Title, Terry Funk will return to ECW to … face Brian Lee? I’m not drawing the connection, but we’ll roll with it.
Would you like Brian Pillman’s new t-shirt that will allegedly get them thrown off TV if they air it because it’s so controversial? Well you can have it, sight unseen, for only $20! I don’t hate the marketing, even if the only thing that’s controversial here is the fact that they’re making money off a WWF guy instead of their own talent, but bottom line is bottom line yo.
TV champ SHANE DOUGLAS and FRANCINE gloat about their killer 1996 run. Of course, I imagine the number of men that Douglas put down pales in comparison to Francine; so really she’s probably deserving of the promo time. He tells Tommy Dreamer he isn’t allowed the belt, because it’s all his – just like Francine and her 2 inch vertical gumline.
MIKEY WHIPWRECK vs. RAVEN (with Lori Fullington) (for the ECW world heavyweight title)
Mikey Whipwreck is of course the former job guy, who went on an unprecedented run of success without so much as knowing how to perform any moves. As one might expect, Mikey managed to grow into role, and learned a few things along the way. With an offensive repertoire now at his disposal … his days as a champion were over. Go figure. These days he’s kicking around in the loser gimmick, and somehow inspiring clones in his likeness over in WCW (wassup Jimmy Graffiti!). Raven works a headlock, but releases it to take issue with the fans paying more attention to his lackeys (THE BWO, who are looking on from Raven’s Nest) than him.
Cutting ahead, Raven nails the Evenflow DDT, which somehow injures Mikey’s knee, and Raven retains at 1:29 of what aired. Lori throws in a couple of extra shots after the match, as THE SANDMAN rushes the ring. Raven DDTs him quickly, and hands the Singapore Cane to Sandman’s ex-wife. Lori happily belts the Sandman in the eye. Mikey tries to save, allowing Sandman back to his feet … where he takes another Evenflow. Raven breaks the cane in half, and poses for the fans, missing the fact Sandman’s on his feet again. Raven takes a DDT, and Sandman leaves with the World Championship belt as ECW heads off the air.
I didn’t promise it was the most intelligently written show on the planet; but it’s got plenty of violence, and for the hungry fans who’d never seen anything like it before, it wound up being the perfect storm of Right Place, Right Time. They never really had a legitimate chance at taking over one of the big 2, due to the graphic nature of their shows, but as long as they’re able to accept their niche role as the Alternative, they’ll be alright.
We’ll be seeing lots of them throughout this year.