Documental 08: The Rise and Fall of ECW

Posted on March 20, 2013

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“E-C-Dubyah! E-C-Dubyah! E-C-Dubyah!” Is there a more pervasive and recurring chant in the history of pro wrestling? Back when wrestling was a legitimate big deal, this chant could be heard from pockets of the audience at both WWF and WCW shows, whenever something particularly cutting happened or a particular move was performed. ECW was spoken of either in whispers or bellows, and was the proverbial devil on the shoulders of the big two. ECW was doing things that WWF would claim they innovated years in the future. ECW had the most rabid fanbase of any wrestling promotion in history, and was home at one time to some of the biggest stars the business has ever produced. So what happened? Why did it fall apart? Why is it looked upon with either complete adoration or dismissive scorn?

‘The Rise and Fall of ECW’ is a WWE produced documentary released to critical acclaim in 2004, and it directly led to the ‘One Night Stand’ pay per view in 2006, the success of which led to the ECW brand being resurrected on WWE TV, all be it to a very mixed response. The rise of ECW from just another territory promotion to the de facto third party in American Wrestling is covered in full, as well as the financial and political issues that were constant and led to the eventual demise of the brand. A lot of the guys who played prominent parts in the organisation were under contract at WWE at the time of release, which meant that key players were interviewed in a very open style. In fact, the little insights they give are by far the best part of the entire documentary. For instance, I had absolutely no idea how integral to the actual running of the company many of the top guys were, be it Stevie Richards running the fan line, Tommy Dreamer taking care of shipping merchandise or Bubba Ray Dudley booking venues for shows. I particularly loved the display of nerves that Stevie Richards displayed when talking about the main event of ECW’s first ever pay per view. A lot of wrestling is often cloaked in layer upon layer of bravado, so to see this honest timidity was really endearing.

I was always pretty skeptical of ECW in general, and especially the cult like status it was afforded. I figured it was people making something much bigger than it actually ever was, making a deity out of a flawed artist. However, the passion and pure genuine love displayed throughout by everyone involved show that whilst a section of the audience may have done so, to everyone in the belly of ECW for its tenure it really was the be all and end all. Tommy Dreamer in particular comes across as a man who put his all into it, and its also easy to forget just how many classic feuds that man had. Indeed, its easy to forget how wonderful some of the writing was, not to mention being completely ahead of its time. Whether it was Raven/Dreamer, Cactus Jack’s anti-hardcore promos, the Sandman/Raven feud over a brainwashed child or Jerry Lawler’s invasion, the company was constantly on the very edge of what was innovative in wrestling. They really were the Attitude Era before the Attitude Era was conceived.

Of course, it is nigh on impossible to talk about ECW without mentioning the one man who personified the company more than any other, the man who ran the show and was the genius behind the stories, the man whose tireless work ethic took another territory promotion to international cult status, and ultimately the man whose business failings would lead to the downfall of the company. That man of course is Paul Heyman. Is there a man held on a higher pedestal in all of professional wrestling than Paul Heyman? Off the top of my head, I really don’t know. Whenever booking decisions are questioned, or creative seems to be losing their way, the internet is awash with people demanding Paul Heyman be put in total control. When he comes out with Lesnar, Punk or whoever and delivers a promo, we all convulse in besotted wonder, and 90% of the time it is with good reason. There isn’t a man in all of professional wrestling who was, and still is, as in tune with the audience as Paul Heyman. The history of ECW is in many ways the history of Paul Heyman in the wrestling business. He holds himself with dignity throughout, gives the most insightful comments and carries with him the weight of importance, the aura of a man who took his prime and shook every last drop of sweat out of it.

There are a few things to dislike about this documentary, and there was a heck of a lot to dislike about ECW, but if there is one thing everyone can learn from it, and yes that is everyone and not just the wrestling industry, it is Paul Heyman’s finest booking trait. Accentuate the positives, focus on the things you can do rather than drawing attention to what you struggle at.

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Posted in: Documental, Wrestling