Historically Speaking: Don’t Question Their Heart

“I said there was but one solitary thing about the past worth remembering, and that was the fact that it is past-can’t be restored.” – Mark Twain

The Opening Chapter
Wrestling is one of those things that seems like is always rattling around in my brain. I’ve been a fan for almost twenty years now and I probably always will be. I say this because I love the opportunity I’m given to be able to write for a site like Inside Pulse. Sometimes it may feel like a drag when I know that something is due, but I don’t have the energy/motivation/inspiration/whatever to crank out a worthwhile column. Then there are other times I get thoughts of inspiration and quickly write them down so that the thought isn’t fleeting. This little Word document has now expanded into dozens of pages of column ideas, fantasy-booking thoughts, predictions, favorite quotes, matches and events, and pretty anything that pops into my head at a certain time. It comes in handy when a column deadline approaches and I’m dead in the water regarding current topics. This was one of those times.

I looked through all my pages and stuff and found a little quote I copied from a Sandman interview he gave around the time of the original One Night Stand. He talked about ECW wasn’t built on just one or two guys, but rather estimated that there were “about 20 guys” that really built the foundation of Extreme Championship Wrestling without naming names. This got me thinking about whom those 20 guys were that he was referring to. ECW was always such a small, tight-knit group that needed to rely on a big core of talent because no one ever knew when one of the top guys were going to move and sign with a more profitable company. There needed to be a group of guys that were all able to step up and take the main event role if called upon.

So to humorous myself I’m going to take a brief look back at those main players in Extreme Championship Wrestling. I guess it could kind of be considered the ultimate ECW roster. It’s also a way for fans to look back at the original incarnation, and not the Mike Adamle-hosted “thing” on Tuesday nights currently.

The Main Players
These aren’t in any particular order, but rather just a group off the top of my head who truly equaled ECW and helped define it as something innovative.

Shane Douglas – Douglas got his first national stint as a pretty-boy “Dude” in the old NWA in 1990, followed up a lackluster vanilla babyface run in the WWF in 1991 and another run in WCW in 1992, once again as a vanilla pretty boy. He soon became fed up with WCW politics and Ric Flair in general, and ended up in Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1993. In August 1994, he threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship after winning it in a tournament. He disrespected the Championship and the National Wrestling Alliance in general. With that one instance, Extreme Championship Wrestling was born, and Shane Douglas become the company’s first “franchise” player. He became the company’s top true heel in a time when it was cool to cheer the “heels.” His Triple Threat stable was the company’s first real group and he treated his valet Francine in a better manner than any other top heel in wrestling has ever treated their valet.

The Sandman – Forget Steve Austin slinging beers across the ring on RAW. Forget the nWo smoking cigarettes on the way to the ring. Forget everyone singing along to “Miseria Cantere” when CM Punk walks out. The Sandman was the originator of all of that. In 1994, while Hulk Hogan was wrestling Avalanche at Universal Studios and Doink was getting a big payday in the WWF, Sandman was carrying a Singapore cane to the ring, smoking real cigarettes and drinking real beer as the crowd sung along to his Metallica-sung version of “Enter Sandman.” He couldn’t really wrestle a lick, but his character dictated he didn’t need to. He was hardcore before that was even a word in the wrestling lexicon.

Sabu – By mixing old-school, kayfabe keeping elements of staying in character at all times and not speaking with new school high-flying tactics and dives through conference room-style tables, Sabu was truly something unique. He took the old-school gimmick of an Arabian sheik but mixed with these crazy antics of a daredevil. The crowd had really never seen anything like Sabu. It’s a shame his body hasn’t held up well over the years or else I believe his legend would be even bigger than it is. His most recent runs in WWE and TNA have exposed him as a little broken down, but who would have ever guessed that Sabu would ever get a WrestleMania payday?

Raven – Talk about a reinvention. He separated himself from the family-friendly, rich boy gimmicks of Scotty Flamingo and Johnny Polo from WCW and WWF and reinvented himself as Raven, the depressed, grunge-era icon that was full of eloquent and literary-themed promos, mixed with a thirst for pain and vengeance. He was a cult-like leader that could round up weak souls to follow him and do his bidding, even while abusing them physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s often said that every wrestling promoter creates a character in his or her own image. Vince McMahon had the “Million $ Man,” and Paul Heyman had “Raven.” If Jake “the Snake” Roberts is the doctoral professor of psychology, then Raven is his understudy. He understands the psychology, crowd interactions and character aspects of wrestling more than just about anyone in the wrestling business today.

Tommy Dreamer – For every good villain there needs to be a hero to fight against them. For Raven there was Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer came into ECW as a pretty boy technical wrestler that couldn’t gain any respect from the ECW die-hards. But through heart-felt, honest performances in front of the crowds, from his “thank you sir, may I have another” while being caned by Sandman to “I’ll take them both” in regards to Beulah and Kimona, Tommy became the everyman hero for the ECW faithful. His years-long feud with Raven is stuff of legend. Even today those two are intrinsically tied together, and when talking ECW it’s hard to say one without the other. Even to this today, he remains the last bastion of the original ECW. His heart, desire, passion and selflessness in the pro wrestling industry is unparalleled.

Taz – Another of Paul Heyman’s major booking traits was his ability to hide a performer’s weaknesses while accentuating their positive. Somehow Heyman was 5’9 stocky guy with a bad caveman-era gimmick and turn him into a bad ass, MMA-influenced fighting machine, a gimmick that is still being emulated today by guys like Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle. Tazz’ shortcomings were unfortunately exposed during his time in WWE, but it’s a testament to his time in ECW that someone with his stature and build was even offered a contract by “big brother” up in Connecticut.

Terry Funk – Terry Funk has been considered old and ready for retirement since he late ‘80s. Yet somehow he keeps coming up with ways to reinvent himself. In the early days of ECW, Funk was there willing and ready to put each and every new budding star over in hopes of getting ECW off the ground a s a viable alternative. He could wrestle on the ground. He could take to the air with his crazy old-man moonsault. He could teach those “young kids” how to really wrestle hardcore. Funk brought a sense of legitimacy to this upstart Philly ragtag group and helped become something more than just your usual indy.

Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley – What started out as a little gag by Raven to entertain himself, a gaggle of “brothers” who looked or sounded nothing alike began appearing on ECW TV. Apparently they are sons of “Daddy” Dudley who was a traveling salesman who left part of himself in every place he went. An angle like this would get crucified in the WWF, but somehow it worked in ECW where nobody took it too seriously. Amidst the jokes of Snot, Dances with Dudley, Dudley Dudley, Big Dick and the others emerged Bubba Ray and D-Von. The pair eventually moved from their former comedy roots and became the cornerstones of the ECW tag division. Bubba’s pre-match profanity-laced, hated-filled promos were stuff of legend, and a throwback to the old days when fans really wanted to jump the rail get the better of the bad guys. Which is kind of funny to thank that these so called ECW smarts would be the same who would fall for Bubba’s insults and be ready to jump the rail just the marks of old.

Rob Van Dam – He was so acrobatic. He was an innovative high-flyer. He was arguably the most flexible male wrestler alive. He was so damn laid back and cocky that it was hard to hate him. He had more nicknames than most wrestlers championship reigns. Plus his well-publicized love of the marijuana also helped him standout in ECW. He was Rob Van Dam. During his time in ECW he never dogged a fight, and preferred a long match where he could exhibit his moves rather an short, high-speed spot fest. He put ECW’s Television Championship on par, or higher than the World Championship, during his near 2-year reign as Champion. While he was known for his athletics and aerial abilities he wasn’t afraid to use a chair or table, which helped to endure him with the ECW faithful.

Jerry Lynn – I talked ying/yang earlier with Dreamer and Raven, and here’s another case. For Rob Van Dam’s flashy, cocky style there was Jerry Lynn, no nonsense, no frills wrestler who wrestle, fight, brawl, take to the air or go hardcore. His matches with Van Dam made him a star in fans eyes. While in ECW he gained his notoriety, something he failed to achieve during his brief forays in both WCW and the WWF. Once again Lynn was a testament of Heyman’s theory of hiding the negatives and pushing the positives. He simply let Lynn do what he does best – wrestle.

New Jack – New Jack was another of those one-of-a-kind guys. He was a legit criminal that wasn’t high on wrestling ability, but was just one crazy motherf***er. All of his matches involved a literal shopping cart full of weapons while the song “Natural Bon Killers” played over the PA system, not just during his entrance, but during the entire match. He took crazy bumps off the top of scaffolds or second story balconies, all for the good of his profession. He was really cemented as an ECW legend when he cut up young wrestler “Mass Transit” who had asked Jack to blade him. Unfortunately, Jack didn’t just blade him, but rather cut him all the way across the forehead. The incident almost caused ECW to lose their pay per view privileges, while New Jack’s own personal stock rose.

Public Enemy – Before the Dudley Boyz become the tag team of ECW, Public Enemy were the guys. When they began to put opponents through tables in the mid ‘90s it was still fresh and entertaining. They were white guys who liked rap music back before that become a punch line to an outdated joke. Their moves, look, antics and appearances were all new and fresh during their initial ECW run. They thrived in the south Philly environment while they looked out of place in WCW and utterly failed in the WWF. As they left ECW for good 1999, they passed the torch to the Dudley Boyz as THE team of Extreme.

Mikey Whipwreck – Upsets and underdogs have always been commonplace in wrestling, but a guy like Mikey Whipwreck was something special. He was well under 6’ tall and 200 lbs. He wasn’t built like a prototypical wrestler and looked like a guy off the street. Yet his ability to take inordinate amounts of punishment made him a sympathetic favorite with the ECW faithful. He became so over that he ended becoming an ECW Triple Crown winner, despite rarely hitting an offensive maneuver ever. It gave hope to small, skinny fans of ECW that they too can become pro wrestlers. Mikey’s original gimmick was so successful and popular that even on today’s version of ECW the story is being played out again, only this time with Colin Delaney playing the loveable loser role.

The Supporting Players
The above 15 guys were arguably the go-to guys in the old ECW. They were the defining in-ring male performers of the company. But they couldn’t have done it without a supporting cast of characters that also helped shaped the company’s storied legacy.

Rhino – During ECW’s tail end Paul Heyman was always on the lookout for new stars as his established guys were going to WCW and the WWF left and right. He took a short, stocky, 280 lbs. man simply named Rhino, dubbed him “The Rookie Monster” and had him go on the warpath through the ECW roster. At ECW’s final pay per view Rhino, already ECW Television Champion, walked out as ECW World Champion. When the company finally closed its doors for real it was Rhino of all people who was holding both the singles championship belts.

Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka – Two more products of ECW’s later days, Awesome and Tanaka came to ECW from FMW in Japan and took the company by storm. Rather than established talent like Raven and Dreamer, these were the two guys who were crowned the new main event players in ECW when Taz took off for the WWF. They brought all the right elements to ECW: solid in-ring talent, aerial ability and crazy, violent, hardcore antics. Awesome also became a vital part of ECW lore when he walked out of the company as World Champion and into a million dollar WCW contract. Overnight he became the most hated man in ECW history, but his demise led to one of the most unique situations in wrestling history when Awesome, a WCW contracted wrestler, lost the ECW Championship at an ECW promoted event, to Tazz, a WWF contracted wrestler.

Spike Dudley – In the same vein of Mikey Whipwreck, ultimate underdog, comes Little Spike Dudley. Spike, the youngest and smallest of the famed Dudley half-brother clan, was the giant killer of ECW. He was maybe a 150 lbs. and 5’9, but he got over due to his insane bumping skills and ability to take punishment. Heyman got him over as a “giant killer” by feeding him super heavyweight monsters, and having Spike pin them after a nut shot and an “Acid Drop.” He was a great undercard comedy face that got the crowd involved in a big time way.

Bad Breed – Bad Breed, Ian and Axl Rotten, were the guys that people point at when they say that ECW was nothing but a violent, hardcore mess filled with guys who couldn’t actually wrestle. They engaged in uber-violent bloodbaths including taped-glass fists, barbed wire and thumbtacks. When ECW’s remembers its ultra-violent, hardcore history, you can’t forget the Rotten brothers, no matter what you really think of them.

Benoit/Guerrero/Malenko – On the other side of the ultra-violent history of ECW is the ultra-technical, mat wrestling side. While The Gangstas and Bad Breed were opening the card with all-over garbage fights, guys like Benoit, Malenko and Guerrero were showing another side of ECW, by putting on absolutely amazing mat and aerial wrestling classics, with spots that are still duplicated on the independent circuit today. With guys like these, Heyman showed that ECW wasn’t just about brawls and violence. He showed that hardcore meant more than thumbtacks and chairs.

Rey Mysterio, Jr. – ECW really became the home of a variety of styles and people. Tazz has since recalled ECW as the “Land of Misfit Toys” and that was an apt way to describe all the various talent and wrestling styles that populated South Philly. Rey Mysterio, Jr. brought the Mexican lucha libre style to a more widespread American audience, thanks to his brief foray in ECW. Mysterio, along with contemporaries like Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis, showed the American audience moves and speed that fans had never seen before. Thanks to their brief stop in ECW, all these top, young luchadores ended up in good money deals in World Championship Wrestling, and ultimately WWE.

Honorable Mention
The guys mentioned above were the core of Extreme Championship Wrestling. They all brought something different to the ECW puzzle. They were either an integral part in the beginning or the end of ECW, brought a new style to audiences, or was a mainstay that carried the company through.

That being said I do want to make brief mention of a few other talents who were an integral part of the ECW fabric.
Steve Corino: Brought the ‘80s southern style of hardcore to a new generation of ECW hardcore.

bWo: Another of Raven’s little inside jokes that took a hugely unexpected life of its own.

Bam Bam Bigelow: Another legend that used ECW to revitalize his career and inject their credibility into the company.

The Impact Players: The top heel stable in the same vein of Shane Douglas’ Triple Threat that somehow made Aldo freakin’ Montoya a semi-credible star, and gave Lance Storm (who I’m a huge mark for) his first taste at international stardom.

Steve Austin and Brian Pillman: Both were shortly out of WCW and en route to the WWF. ECW was a logical pit stop in between to hone their new characters in a place where they were given carte blanche to do what they wanted. Austin used his time in ECW to show that there was more to him than “Stunning Steve” while Pillman was able to hone the “Loose Cannon” into something really special.

Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch: The first couple of ECW. Candido was always overshadowed in the WWF by Tammy’s looks, but he used ECW to actually showcase his wrestling ability and talent.

Francine: WWF had Miss Elizabeth as their original flagship female. WCW had Missy Hyatt. ECW had Francine. She was THE girl in Extreme Championship Wrestling and her name is synonymous with company.

Beulah: Every good romance angle in wrestling needs a solid female to hold it all together. Beulah was that girl that was the catalyst for the epic Raven-Dreamer feud that defined ECW.

Bill Alfonzo: He started out as the straight-laced, rule-enforcing referee that drew the ire of ECW faithful only to transition into ECW’s most successful male manager. He had a hand in guiding Taz, Sabu and Rob Van Dam to varying degrees of success. His annoying whistle blow is still a trademark of times gone by.

The Perspective
Even though in that interview Sandman was alluding to the fact that their company wasn’t this big franchise that was carried on the back of one or two guys, it is obvious to see that there was a core group of talent through the years that becoming synonymous with the ECW brand, and still are today. I’m sure he was hinting at the fact the WWWF/WWF/WWE was always represented by one or two guys like Sammartino and Backlund in the early days, Hogan through the ‘80s and then Austin during the “Attitude” era, while the NWA/WCW was always symbolized through someone like Race, Flair or Sting during different periods.

This got me thinking, what would be considered a definitive roster for WWE and the now defunct WCW. Some men like Benoit, Guerrero and Jericho were hugely successful in all three major companies, but that is just a testament to their talents and abilities. So after this week’s little adventure into the “land of Extreme” be on the look out for ultimate dream rosters for both WWE and WCW. To many people around my age, the WWF always meant Hulk Hogan and the Attitude era while WCW meant Ric Flair and the nWo. But who were the rest of the big time players, and the supporting characters, who gave both companies their respective identities? What competitors made the WWF what it was? Who best represented World Championship Wrestling?

I’ll give you a hint…Shawn Stasiak either appears on both rosters, or neither roster. It’s up to you to guess.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
MM give his thoughts on ECW, including hope for more of a push for Mike Knox. *shakes head*

David B. remembers that one time when Val Venis slept with that one girl.

Scott Keith reviews a weird MSG house show from 1986 where everyone on the card was a tag guy.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1981 – Harley Race defeated Tommy Rich for the NWA Heavyweight Wrestling title
1981 – Gene & Ole Anderson defeated Paul Jones & Masked Superstar for the NWA World Tag Team title
1984 – Tully Blanchard defeated Mark Youngblood for the NWA Television title
1993 – Brian Christopher defeated Jeff Jarrett for the USWA Southern Heavyweight title
1994 – Shinya Hashimoto defeated Tatsumi Fujinami for the IWGP Heavyweight title
1995 – Jerry Lawler defeated Razor Ramon for the USWA Unified Heavyweight title
1995 – PG-13 defeated Brickhouse Brown & the Gambler for the USWA Tag Team title
1998 – Booker T defeated Chris Benoit for the WCW Television title
1998 – Toshiaki Kowada defeated Mitsuharu Misawa for the All-Japan Triple Crown

1965 – Booker T was born
1973 – Gary Steele was born
1974 – Jade was born
2003 – Miss Elizabeth (Elizabeth Heulette) died of a drug overdose at 42

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

Most of the time I pick up WWE DVDs for their entertaining, albeit oftentimes biased, documentary features. This was not one of those times. I picked up Rey Mysterio: Biggest Little Man for quite simply the entertaining in-ring matches. I’ve always been a mark for lucha libre and was ecstatic in 1996 when WCW began importing the top luchadores up to America. Those early matches with Rey Mysterio, Jr., against Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera were simply things of beauty. This DVD set is thankfully full of entertaining matches from a decade ago. I found myself marking out for some of these matches probably more now than I did upon first viewing all those years ago. A long forgotten Cruiserweight Title match against Juventud Guerrera on WCW Thunder caused me to mark out like crazy landed on his feet after an attempted 450 splash. There’s also a hidden gem against the now-retired Blitzkrieg from a random episode of Nitro that I’m glad that was included. I would remiss if I didn’t mention his classic match with Eddie Guerrero from Halloween Havoc ’97 that I’m glad made on this set even though it was already on Guerero’s set as well. Plus there are two really good matches with Dean Malenko that put the cruiserweight division on the map. His whole run unmasked is glossed over, which isn’t that big of deal really, as his work suffered during that period due to his knee injuries. Plus he was lost in the shuffle of the Russo era mid-card and didn’t really have any standout matches anyways. The other half of the set includes his WWE work, including the great WWE Tag Championship match with him and Edge against Benoit and Angle, but I picked this up for his early work. I’m disappointed that his legendary opening match from Bash at the Beach ’96 against Psicosis wasn’t included, but apparently that was included on Mysterio’s first compilation set. It’s good stuff here, but don’t watch too many of those early matches in a row or you’ll burn yourself out quickly on his early style of work.