Welcome to part two, if you haven’t read part one, you’re missing the entire first five years of the company from 1992-1997, and you should definitely check that out first right here.
And now that you’re all caught up, lets get into part two.
What Goes Up…
After the PPV though, ECWs most diverse character (perhaps the most in the world at that point) and central star, Raven, was called by WCW. Not having the title anymore, Raven took the offer and left. While the other performers hurt the company, none did more than the absence of Raven who held together the main event scene and was the catalyst of many others own “overness” and heat garnering. With Raven left Perry Saturn & Stevie Richards (Louie Spicolli also left but that was more due to his drug problems than WCW… although to be noted, when he did appear in wrestling again it was for WCW), which took away the bWo, and ECWs top tag team. It seemed as if Eric Bischoff and WCW had true fear in their hearts of ECW and a vendetta against them.
Heyman refused to give up though. He continually had his top stars taken from him and continually proved that with the right booking, anyone could be a star as long as they were presented in the right way and given angles that people were interested in. Heyman began running more cities in the North East. He added Manhattan & Syracuse to his NY loop, added Providence, Rhode Island, he added a spread from Pittsburgh to New Jersey and even went down into Cornette’s Kentucky territory. Heyman also added new workers. He added Bam Bam Bigelow (from WWF), Balls Mahoney (from SMW), Al Snow (from WWF), Jerry Lynn (from WCW), Spike Dudley (from APW), Jenna Jameson (from… pornos), Justin Credible (from WWF), Chris Candido & Sunny (from WWF) and more.
Heyman found problems with these workers more than he had to deal with before though. All of these workers, or at least the majority of them, had been made out as fools in their previous companies. These no longer were diamonds in the rough, most of these guys were “not good enough” to make it on the national level and were rejects from bigger companies. Justin Credible could bump his ass off for you, but the fans knew that he wore a piss colored jock strap on his head and was pretending to be Portugese just recently. Chris Candido was one of the best workers around at that point but he had just been a Bodydonna aerobics instructor that had a transvestite manager. Bam Bam, a huge star around the world at one point had just lost to a football player at WrestleMania and in quite convincing fashion to boot. Stevie Richards returned after flopping in WCW but was gone immediately with neck injuries.
Injuries also took their toll. Not only was Shane Douglas viewed as a sell out and a WWF reject with a bad gimmick (which his interviews basically made everyone forget) but he was beaten down and deteriorating. Sandman & Tommy Dreamer stayed loyal to ECW but their hardcore matches were destroying their health regardless of the fact that their loyalties made them the most over people in the company. Mikey Whipwreck’s loveable loser gimmick had run its course and he was now wandering from match to match through the cards. Injuries were common for the entire roster though. After the PPV, Heyman stopped running once or twice a week and began running four times a week. With the style and all out abandonment for their physical safety that came with it, the ECW wrestlers were a wreck and their performances began to show it.
But Heyman trudged forward. At his next big arena show on 6/7/97, Van Dam, Sabu, Fonzie, and Lawler laid waste to Tommy Dreamer- highlighted by Lawler getting THE loudest and wildest heat that night for his appearance and actions. Taz choked out Shane Douglas to win the TV title, and Raven made his final ECW appearance (until his second, lesser run years later, of course) when he blew off his feud that had lasted years with Tommy Dreamer and finally lost to him clean in the ring once and for all.
Not really of note, but it is at the same time. In the beginning of July, Heyman made all the workers that worked hard, but still weren’t very good or plain sloppy in the ring, arrive at 5pm for every show to work out in the ring and improve. If you complained about it, he slowly killed off any push you had behind you. I think that’s just an awesome idea, and I’d never heard it actually put in to use before so I figured I’d bring it up.
Homicidal, Genocidal, Suicidal…
The build up to ECWs next PPV began here. Hardcore Heaven had been run before but never on PPV, and this year it was coming from Fort Lauderdale (after turning down sites in Orlando & Cincinnati) on DirecTV. The ECW loyalists Sandman & Dreamer built against Sabu/RVD/Lawler, the Triple Threat was formed with Shane Douglas (who was in a heated feud with Terry Funk for the heavyweight title), Chris Candido (who went after Taz for the TV title), and Bam Bam Bigelow (who just wanted to beat people up).
Attended by 1,950 people, Hardcore Heaven was a solid show but wasn’t up to the quality of Barely Legal, in fact many argue that they never again reached that level. Taz choked out Candido (who now had his girlfriend, wife, whatever, Sunny with him) to retain his TV title, BBB beat the shit out of Spike Dudley, RVD beat Al Snow, The Dudleys won the Tag Team Championships from The Gangstas (who the Eliminators dropped them to before Saturn left for WCW), and then they defended them against PG-13 and kept them again. Tommy Dreamer ended the WWF/ECW feud by pinning Lawler. There were appearances by Jenna Jameson, Jake Roberts, and the ICP, and the main event had Shane Douglas win a three way over Sabu & Terry Funk and capture the ECW Heavyweight Championship. The show gained another profitable buyrate of 0.21, but there was another PPV in three months. In the weeks to come Paul Heyman would find something out that I deem to be the nail in the coffin for Extreme Championship Wrestling.
In September, Paul Heyman found out that Tod Gordon was a “rat” or “mole” and was trying to destroy ECW from the inside. Gordon had sold ECW to Heyman outright in 1995. He still remained in a commissioner role and was the local promoter in Philly, and also was the financial backer and ran the books of the company but he had become disenchanted with how he was left out of the main loop. So for reasons truly unknown, Gordon made a call to WCW booker at the time, Terry Taylor, and was promised a high level job within WCW if he could get an nWo style invasion of ECW wrestlers. Gordon only succeeded in getting one wrestler into WCW as part of this plan, Perry Saturn, before Heyman had found out and fired him. Heyman & Gordon surprisingly didn’t hate each other after all of this. Gordon was announced on TV as having resigned to better take care of his family rather than buried. But things would never be the same. Heyman lost all of his trust and was emotionally blown apart and vulnerable by the heinous treason and from a business stand point, without Gordon taking care of the books and having it left to Heyman, the company would build itself a debt that would eventually cause a filing of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and to close up shop.
ECW still trudged forward as they always did regardless of the countless and endless major blows they suffered. Rob Van Dam & Sabu were still the main heels. The FBI (Tracy Smothers & Little Guido) were given a temporary reign as tag champs to keep the division hot, and Bam Bam Bigelow even defeated Shane Douglas for the ECW Championship. On 11/30/97 from Monaca, PA before 4,634 fans (a company record at that point), ECW presented November to Remember on PPV. It was highlighted by the awesome Storm/Candido team beating Lynn & Tracy Rogers, Taz choking out Pitbull #2 in roughly 90 seconds, The FBI retaining the titles over the Dudley Boys, Balls Mahoney & Axl Rotten, & The GangstaNators (Kronus & New Jack). Tommy Dreamer and RVD went to a No Contest when Stevie Richards made his return and joined the traitors, Al Snow debuted the mannequin head he claimed talked to him and became insanely over (seriously, you should see some of the reactions and images of his entrances from the height of that gimmicks popularity in ECW), Sabu beat the Sandman in a “Table & Ladders” match, and in the main event Shane Douglas beat Bam Bam to recapture the ECW Heavyweight Championship.
Asbury Park’s Finest…
The show was met with more bad reviews than good. WCW had taken its best workers, but the WWF took its style and fine tuned it for their own needs with the creation of “Attitude” led by Shane Michaels rebellious character and DX stable, and Steve Austin’s era of 3:16 and classic feuds with Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, as well as Sable taking off her clothes at every opportunity. And while the WWF may have been copying ECW; the fans knew the WWF more intimately and assumed that ECW was a lame rip off trying to grab on the coat tails of a successful WWF idea. ECW was outclassed at its own style and creation. Brawls from people such as the Dudleys and Gangstas couldn’t compare to those provided by Mick Foley and Steve Austin. RVD and Lance Storm put on great matches but they couldn’t compare to Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart. The Triple Threat stable was still fun but compared to DX it paled. Even gimmicky tag teams weren’t theirs alone anymore as the New Age Outlaws got more over as two average wrestlers with their weaknesses hidden and strengths shined upon, were arguably more over than the Public Enemy team which had started the trend. Even ECW’s women who were often involved in fights themselves or baring their bodies were shown up by WWF women willing to do the same thing or more. So while ECW had it’s largest gates, profitable PPVs, and a larger than ever cult following- they were also losing the war. Money would only come in for so long and there were only so many wrestlers that had failed before that Paul Heyman could make stars out of, not to mention the never ending state of change in the locker room and writing that had to be compensated for as a result of that.
The Push To Survive
As 1998 began, Paul Heyman came to the realization that if he wanted ECW to stay and live on and keep his wrestlers on board with him he had to get on television. He needed to be able to offer the exposure and dollars that the TV market created and he needed to do it fast.
On March 1st, ECW offered Living Dangerously from Asbury Park, the home of Bam Bam. Masato Tanaka pinned Doug Furnas in short time, RVD was helped to be built more by having a great match with Scorpio, Sabu pinned Sandman in a Dueling Canes match, and in somewhat of a rip off main event Lance Storm & Al Snow beat Shane Douglas & Chris Candido in 4:49. The highlight though was Bam Bam winning the TV title from Taz in an infamous match where the pinfall came under the ring as while Taz had his Tazmission locked on, Bigelow fell backwards and the two crashed through the ring, leaving a gaping hole. The card wasn’t met with much thrill and at next PPV their inability for intriguing storylines at the time and injured roster shone even brighter
Love him or hate him, the guy was over huge…
The month of May held the WrestlePalooza PPV. Lance Storm & Chris Candido kept their tag titles from Balls & Axl Rotten, TV Champion Rob Van Dam, who had won it in a great match with BBB the previous month, went to a thirty minute draw with Sabu that people really didn’t like at the time, Bam Bam beat New Jack, and Shane Douglas kept the ECW Heavyweight title, retaining it by defeating Al Snow. Of course this PPV isn’t all bad. With the 3,400 in attendance at the Marietta arena, ECW set a per capita US record for merchandise sales among the wrestling industry as they sold $18.97 per person that night.
House shows were still growing. They averaged around 3,000 per show in any given city. For the push to TV, the push of Taz continued. Taz came back in the summer, the first time since his being forced through the ring, and brought with him his own title. Sick of the ECW title scene he brought in the FTW or “Fuck the World” championship and declared himself the FTW World Champion & sent out a message that he was going to beat Bam Bam to death for the injury he caused him. Candido & Lance Storm were finally getting ready to have their blow off and he’d struck a deal with FMW to exchange talent. Heatwave 1998 came on August 2nd and many people consider it to be the best ECW PPV of all time.
Heatwave, from Dayton, Ohio, in front of 4,376 fans went down like this: Balls & Axl beat the FBI in a fun match, Justin Credibile beat Jerry Lynn in a great match, Candido pinned Lance Storm, Masato Tanaka beat Mike Awesome in a really great match, Sabu & RVD retained the tag title by defeating Jinsei Shinzaki & Hayabusa in a good match, Taz made Bam Bam tap out in a Falls Count Anywhere match for his FTW title and the main event saw Spike Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, and the Sandman defeat the Dudley Boys (Bubba, D’Von, & Big Dick) in a Street Fight.
These guys only went on to hold about 50 World Tag Team Championships…
The show was a success with a 0.25 buy rate and ECW began resurging. Sandman left the company for WCW and Justin Credible stole his gimmick to insult him, calling himself the true “Hardcore Icon” and now always seen carrying a Singapore Cane as he was built towards being the company’s top heel. Heyman himself even made a speech about saying he’d like to have been able give him a farewell tour or actually be called and told but who was he to judge. All He “knew” was that “Taz turned down WCW, and Sandman did not”. Storm brought in Tammy Lynn Bytch as the equalizer to Candido & Tammy Lynn Sytch (Sunny), who went on to better fame as Dawn Marie. Taz was asked to join with Sabu and RVD and temporarily did to battle the Triple Threat of Douglas, Bam Bam, and Candido. 911 even made an appearance but was beat up by Spike Dudley who had the new version of his old gimmick.
Heyman tried again to get another TV deal in New York City, the most important market in all of wrestling, but was turned down by potential broadcasters WWOR. Mike Awesome went down for a year with a double knee injury that required major reconstructive sugery But with that bad news also saw new players arrive. Masato Tanaka stayed in ECW and got over by working some of the best brawls anywhere in the world. Lance Storm developed anti-charisma and a great catchphrase and continued to become more and more loved by the ECW fans for his work and character development. Even “Cyrus the Vyrus” Don Callis came in and proved a sensational talker on air and as a commentator alongside Joey Styles. Two stand outs of their TNN days, Super Crazy (who had been working as “Histeria” in AAA) & Tajiri also came on board. More good news came as ECW began appearing on the Bravo network in England from 10pm to 10:30pm Monday through Friday.
November to Remember of 1998 came and went and was lambasted. Yokozuna was originally scheduled to come in and put over Spike Dudley but couldn’t as he failed the physical of the Louisiana State Athletic Commission with the reason being obesity. He was replaced in that spot by Mabel. The opening matches were Doring and Roadkill vs. Meanie & Nova, and a Rogers/Smothers Battle of the Tommys match. Lance Storm & Jerry Lynn had a great match with a bad ending as a result of so many run-ins, Masato Tanaka & Balls beat the Dudleys (who had just beaten Sabu & RVD) for the tag championships. Tommy Dreamer & a mystery man who turned out to be Jake Roberts (it was supposed to be Vader but he decided he needed to rest up for his upcoming AJPW tour & because Stan Hansen told him it’d be a horrible move for Japan politically speaking) beat Justin Credible & Jack Victory when Roberts pinned Credible which was a horrible twist of fate (he did so because Victory was planned to but broke his leg one minute into the match). Roberts looked terrible and on something and left the company afterwards and here he is going over the guy groomed to be their top heel. After the match Terry Funk jumped Tommy Dreamer. He was upset at not being chosen to be the mystery partner and Dreamer’s defense was he thought he wanted a lighter schedule now so Funk started slapping the shit out of him but Dreamer wouldn’t hit him back so Funk jumped him. In the main we saw the Sabu, Rob Van Dam, & Taz defeat Douglas, Candido, & Bigelow where the man who won was the new #1 contender (Sabu won but it was expected as earlier in the month he had been fighting Douglas and often going to double pin draws).
The event got an 0.21 buyrate but the reviews were horrible. To add to this Bam Bam Bigelow left for WCW for a program with Goldberg - another WCW move that really hurt ECW as now it killed their most established stable and a guy who was renowned world wide as a top star and could actually put on some great matches. Of course Bigelow should be looked at with admiration as he signed the deal before the PPV and worked the show anyways for them (and Heyman made an interesting counter offer of offering him to be the ECW New Jersey promoter and have shows in high school gyms every Wednesday night and keep $1 per head and $2 per head over 1,000 as long as he cut back on blood and brawling through the stands at his shows, used a lower budget, and used local New Jersey talent and ECW talent that was in town). After the show Taz, Douglas, and Van Dam almost came to blows. Taz felt his heat spot for a future program was ruined by RVD jumping up to the top rope to dive out onto Bigelow and Douglas’ elbow at this point was just about dead and he couldn’t do much of anything in the match and stormed out of the building when it was done.
ECW was now trying to get back on NYC TV. Fox Sports Net lifted its unofficial ban and ECW began trying to purchase time on their MSG and other local networks for $250,000 per year and did which got him back on MSG at 1am on Saturday nights. Heyman also had to pay off the costs of his new production equipment and had one last goal on his way towards TV and that was to bring in Chicago as a market. He wanted one of his 6 PPVs in the upcoming year to be held in the Windy City, and once they were established he would make the final run of Justin Credible as top heel and Rob Van Dam as top face. Van Dam was considered ECW’s own Shawn Michaels and Heyman began booking him in twenty minute matches to prepare him and let him have some experience for when he eventually (well…) had world title matches. Also at the end of 1998, Chris Candido and Sunny got in hot water with Heyman as they no showed an FMW PPV and cancelled flights to Japan. Candido’s push would be killed and you’d hear more about him in the spring of 1999. Mikey Whipwreck & Chastity were also brought in to WCW from the advice of Raven. Big Dick Dudley was also fired again but did end up working on and off for the promotion for a while longer, and though he was supposed to go to WWF for an angle & character made specially for him by Vince Russo, that obviously never came to be. It is also at this point that, for one reason or another, porn mogul Rob Black was first bit by the wrestling bug. He’d met with the ECW hierarchy about getting on to a show and was noted as saying he’d do very hard training and juice up heavily if he had to. ECW considered this because of his notoriety and the possible help that could create with PPV buyrates but ultimately declined and Rob Black went on to form XPW, a promotion in the vein of the hardcore aspect of ECW. ECW also inked a deal with H & S Media out of Chicago for a 6 issue per year official magazine, along with publishing posters & poster books.
Guilty as Charged was the first PPV with the new price tag on it as they had moved up from $19.95 to $21.95 as a segue to their wanted price of $24.95 starting on the March PPV show. The PPV came from Kissimmee, Florida on January 10th, 1999. The show had a great card and was a success. Tajiri & Super Crazy had their first great meeting, Sid Viscous debuted and destroyed John Kronus drawing an enormous reaction and this continuation of big name surprises on PPV didn’t sit well with the fans of 3-4 years ago, but they were drawing well despite that. RVD retained his TV title by defeating Lance Storm in a great match, Justin Credible pinned Tommy Dreamer in a Stairway to Hell match that really put him on the map and wasn’t short of moments for their highlight reels, and in the main event Taz choked Shane Douglas unconscious to win the world title.
He came, he saw, he… well, that's about it actually.
It as also at this time that people started to take notice of how much a financial hole Heyman was burying himself in. Guilty As Charged would mark the beginning of when wrestling insiders and educated fans were almost more interested and talked more about the fiscal situation of the company then what was on screen. Checks began to bounce, wrestlers hadn’t even had their 1998 PPV bonus checks yet, they could no longer afford to fly in their low card wrestlers, many workers and employees sent out feelers in the big two, and morale plummeted while rumors of ECW shutting down became the norm. The fact that Heyman couldn’t “keep a book” was now becoming known as he showed his locker room that as great as he was creatively, he was poor with the business side, and despite a $750,000 dollar loan from Quantum financing he was having a hard time with his checks and balances. Now much of this stems from the fees Heyman was paying the television stations to get on the air. If they had no TV, they’d have no future and he truly thought that it was in the employees best interests to struggle now for profiting later.
He paid $156,000 per year for Chicago TV, $250,000 per year for NYC TV, and I’ve yet to find the numbers for other markets but I’m sure they were up there as well, and these were amounts that even his top wrestlers usually couldn’t claim to be bringing in. And around this time they actually lost a lot of major markets due to their bounced checks. Heyman was paying a lot for Chicago and still hadn’t had a house tour run through there. He felt it was worthless for that price when they don’t run and the station didn’t even cover all of Chicago so he decided he’d wait for a new deal. They were paying $850 a week for Buffalo but didn’t renew that either since they didn’t have a set time slot or played at different days/hours each week. Pittsburgh was lost because of bounced checks, but they did get a new deal with WMIA in Miami to start a week after the Living Dangerously PPV and this was a great deal because, though nobody tends to acknowledge it, Florida was one of the strongest markets for ECW perhaps only rivaled by their Philly homeland. In total they lost Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Buffalo, & Pittsburgh all on roughly the same time period and like the same week. Heyman began losing money, and losing it fast. On house show tours around the East Coast, Heyman lost money while gates and merchandise sales were at an all time high, on top of TV deals he now had to rent out larger buildings and pay traveling expenses for his entire crew. The push for a real TV deal on a national network rather than being raped by the Fox Sports affiliate stations was something Heyman desperately needed. The pressure was certainly getting to Heyman himself at this point.
Heyman had to be in charge of booking the shows, producing the television and PPVs, finding and taking care of the talent situation, the companies public spokesman, the owner and all that goes along with that title, the broker of all his own deals, the peacemaker backstage, the inspirational leader of the locker room, the book keeper, keeping the financers off his back or at least at bay, and really just about every other job you can think of with few people around to help him with any of it. This showed not only in Heyman’s hairline but also the booking of his shows, which were still strong as he built RVD, Credible, & Taz and kept them in interesting storylines, but they were a far cry from the creative genius and groundbreaking, landscape determining product of years ago. While Heyman was reaching a climax of burn out, the WWF was peaking. Vince McMahon’s WWF had just come off a highly successful building year in 1997, an engrossing McMahon vs. Steve Austin feud on the top card in 1998 and was about to take a dip creatively in 1999 but a great year fiscally while The Rock came into his own as a top star along with HHH, and also Mick Foley.
Nevertheless, Extreme Championship Wrestling went forward to their next PPV, March 21st’s Living Dangerously from Asbury Park, New Jersey. In another of their great series together , Super Crazy pinned Tajiri one more time, RVD pinned Jerry Lynn in a match that got the entire industry talking. Steve Corino lost to Balls Mahoney but was impressing Heyman with his heel interviews and ring work, Sid & Spike beat the Dudley Boyz, Dreamer & Douglas pinned The Impact Players (Lance Storm & Justin Credible), & Taz choked out Sabu to unite the FTW and ECW Heavyweight championships.
Heyman had just two more months until his next PPV, secured some new TV deals along the way (WCIU in Chicago at 3am and Buffalo on WNYO at 10am Saturday mornings), and it arrived on May 16th from Poughkeepsie, NY. Taz choked out Candido in just one minute and ten seconds to open the show. Then The Dudley Boys pinned Balls and Spike (I believe this is the match with the powerbomb through the flaming table) and that was followed by Super Crazy going over TAKA and Tajiri going over Little Guido. Lance Storm pinned Tommy Dreamer in around fifteen minutes because when a star needed to be made they went over Tommy, that’s how he liked it.
He was in ECW from the beginning and any success he had was thanks to Heyman and he knew it. He helped out backstage as an assistant to Paul to help take some of the burden off his Atlas’ shoulders and had enough power to have been champ time and time again. But he didn’t do that once. He knew he was the embodiment of ECW, he never left, he never complained, he was the definition of a class act, a loyalist, and a company man. Tommy wanted to help the company as much as he felt the company helped him. So he laid down for Storm, Credible, Taz, and any other star that Heyman needed help in creating. Tommy broke his back and took no time off because he didn’t want the company to suffer. He gave everything he had to ECW and Paul Heyman and did it with a class that I truly haven’t ever heard of being matched and he should be respected as a great man, because in a business led by psychopaths & narcissists. Tommy stood out as a man and never once let his own ego overcome his heart and soul. People make me sick when they talk badly about Tommy Dreamer; he’s probably the classiest guy the business has ever seen.
One of ECW’s greatest wrestlers, Lance Storm
Back to the PPV results- Rob Van Dam pinned Jerry Lynn in twenty-seven mintues in a No Time Limit rematch. Sid & Justin Credible went to a No Contest after just a minute of action (Douglas was supposed to put over Credible in his final ECW match but no showed and then refused a Heyman phone call resulting in his immediate firing), and in both men’s second match of the night Taz defeated Bubba Dudley by submission in a match I loved at the time and still do today as it truly showed Bubba could do something in singles. This was something he hadn’t had a chance to show since his debut as the stuttering, fun-loving but hot-headed idiot Dudley brother as a new to the scene worker from years ago.
Also in May some more good & bad occurred as ECW couldn’t seem to go very long without something newsworthy. Chris Candido and Tammy Sytch were fired from the company. They had been in trouble since no showing ECWs partner FMW in late 1998. Sytch has passed out at one point in the locker room and passed it off to someone spiking her drink though most people with a brain knew otherwise as Candido & Sytch were garnering themselves quite a reputation as substance abusers and both often came to work in no condition to perform. Sytch’s personal appearance, her selling point, had begun to drop. At one point the hottest woman in the business and even the most downloaded woman online (and one people still reference as the hottest woman ever in wrestling) Sytch was now noticeably gaining weight, slow in her spots, and her eyes and face told a dark tale. Sytch had been arrested earlier in the year for going on her mother’s property and refusing to leave- violating a restraining order. Candido posted online that he was going to sue ECW for telling people that publically. In a classy reaction by Heyman, he told them that unless they cleaned up their acts and went to rehab and enrolled in college and showed him proof that they were doing and also posted online that they were doing so and be suspended for a month without pay or that they would never work for him again. He could make such threat because he knew that neither WCW or WWF would put up with the people they had become. He also said his that although he has always been adamantly against drug testing that Candido & Sytch would have to take them from now on. The injectable Nubain was becoming a problems amongst certain workers and that he had told them to choose ECW and their jobs or the Nubain and unemployment.
Sid also left the company after arguments about back pay with Heyman & no showing the Cyberslam 1999 card. Douglas got into a bitter rivalry with Heyman over back pay owed to him as well. The fact that Heyman fired the guy in charge of merchandise sales in a cost cutting attempt who happened to be one of Douglas’ best friends, and Heyman wanting to phase him out for younger and newer guys. Douglas left the company for WCW that same month (after a deal, believe it or not, was seriously thrown around between he and the WWF of him coming in to be built up huge and feud with Austin as both sides let their heat over the “Dean” gimmick go away and blamed it not getting over on Michaels, Nash, & Hall holding him down rather than WWF or Douglas failing. It ended up not happening due to Douglas’ broken down body at that point). New Jack was off because of the court case from the Mass Transit Incident which had begun in late 1998, the actual charges being felonious assual and battery with a deadly weapon, and the juried trial began in late May where he faced eleven years in prison. Axl Rotten was released from the company as well after now showing a Florida house.
All was not lost though. Paul Heyman not only managed to get ECW a video game deal with Acclaim (who outbid Take Two Interactive), but he also came to a deal where they would take 15% equity stock of the company and help absolve the financial perils he had been going through.
Acclaim buys in.
More importantly, in the next month after trying to get on any channel he could find Paul Heyman finally got a nation cable television deal with TNN (The Nashville Network known for The Walton, Roller Jam, & Bullriding) after having talked with TNN, MTV, & Showtime. ECW got a one year contract for a weekly Friday night program to start in September, giving him three months time to get his product ready for that kind of exposure and television presentation worthy production. The TV deal also convinced Viewers Choice Canada to begin offering the ECW PPVs in their markets as well. The upside was obvious, Heyman now had a chance to get national and Canadian exposure, expand his house tours, gates, and revenues, while hopefully managing to stay fiscally above water and begin making a profit once again. Many TV and wrestling insiders had even thought that ECW could take over WCW as the number two promotion in the country. The downside was that ECW had to pay for its own production costs ($25,000 per week, $1,300,000 per year) and TNN kept a share of advertising revenue that many would call outrageous, and TNN wouldn’t allow any footage from the TV show to appear on ECWs syndicated show. Heyman was willing to accept the terms though out of confidence that he could bring ECW success and good ratings to the station and would renew a better contract with better prices and a better timeslot. He simply had to recreate the old magic of ECW and was as determined as ever (and under more pressure than ever) to do so.
As part of the plan for ECW on TNN, Heyman decided that his show had to revolve around something that wasn’t already being shoved down the fans throat from the WWF & WCW. Already having stolen his attitude, Heyman decided that it would have to be on the in-ring aspect. RVD excited fans as much as any performer in the US at the time, Jerry Lynn was someone Heyman wasn’t big on until he realized he couldn’t send him out there and ever see a bad match, the Tajiri v. Super Crazy matches were the talk of the dirt sheets and he could revive them on the television shows. Justin Credible would bump like crazy to make up for any low points he might have in the ring, and Lance Storm was among the most solid workers worldwide. Performers like Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, and others that weren’t great workers would be more involved in the angles that supplemented the great matches. Because sure WCW had great matches around that time, but announcers couldn’t & didn’t ever put them over and people forgot about them the next day. The WWFs strong point at that time period between workers like Hart/Michaels and Angle/Benoit was main event brawls by guys that could bring a ton of heat to the matches through their great characters and promos. He decided to mainly show vignettes of Sabu for a while and build up intrigue and want to see him rather than just throw him out there. Heyman decided that Joey Styles would need a cohost (finally, after fans had said for years that him alone for 3hrs every single show was killing him) and it would be Joel Gertner. And he would do 2 tapings a month of two weeks worth of one hour shows.
The July 20th Heatwave PPV leading up to the event made it obvious to anyone that there was excitement in the air. In front of 3,400 fans in Dayton, Ohio, Balls & Spike finally won the tag titles from the Dudley Boys, Francine defeated Steve Corino, Taz beat Tajiri (via pinfall rather than submission for a change) in a solid ten minute match, and in an awesome main event Lynn & Van Dam teamed up and defeated the Impact Players (Justin Credible & Lance Storm). The PPV debuted Don Callis as the PPV announcer in a role he was widely heralded for (and a show on which he plugged TNN endlessly on), and it got an 0.26 buy rate, which tied with Barely Legal as the second highest ECW PPV buy rate in history. It was surprising but very promising to Heyman as it was built on solid match ups and very, very little from storylines.
Heyman had to build quickly. He just had a great, and more importantly, seen, PPV and now he had to get the best roster he could and get to the drawing board, so to speak. He brought in Amy Dumas (who later became “Lita”) from the Carolina’s who at that point was most notable for working Music City Wrestling and being trained by the yet-to-explode Hardy boys and made her “Angelica”, dirty tongued Danny Doring’s valet. She only made $100 a shot and had to provide her own transportation from show to show. He also took back Axl Rotten after Rotten admitted to his drug problems and his work to overcome them publically on the Internet. He once again talked to Vader about coming in to work a program and put over one of his guys but Vader couldn’t because of his ties with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He also looked to Michigan and brought in Rhino, a green wrestler with a great look and great intensity who would be managed by Steve Corino. Heyman also made moves to get Jinsei Shinzaki (Hakushi in the WWF) in as a full timer for ECW but those talks never panned out. He also began talks to bring in the wrestler that Chris Benoit himself considers the best in the world, Johnny Smith and pair him off with the Impact Players which did eventually happen though not with any swiftness. He also signed David Cash who was best known then as Davey Jericho before Heyman repackaged him as Kid Kash. At this same time though, WWF had just inked a deal with UPN for a new show starting also in the fall after a successful pilot run of the “Smack Down!” program and Vince needed to expand his roster. Of course this would not come until the first week or so of the show (roughly speaking), WWFe signed ECWs world champion Taz and tag team champions The Dudley Boys (Bubba & D’Von) all to three-year deals. The specifics with Taz get confusing.
Before Taz signed with the WWF the first show was going to feature Jerry Lynn going over RVD for the TV title and on the second show we’d have seen RVD beating Taz for the world heavyweight championship. When Taz decided to leave the company, that was nixed… which I don’t understand why, but I can see the point as they came up with the idea of pushing RVD as the unbeatable TV champion and play up his lengthy reign. Taz at first was going to stay but had Brad Small, his agent, contact WWF & WCW asking $450,000 and the maximum number of dates worked. WCW never responded seriously and Taz was told they’d only sign him to keep him out of WWF, not to use him, and WWF said no thanks unless he would accept a $200,000 downside guarantee deal. The maximum money in ECW was $3,000 per week (they counter offered with top money, a huge push as the top star, and medical insurance for his entire family) or $156,000 a year, and apparently that was all he really wanted as he must’ve realized he was getting on in years.
With Heyman putting storylines on hold until the TNN show, house shows attendances were quickly going down to the break even # of 1,700 paid despite the recent buy rate success of the Heat Wave PPV. Leading into the TNN show an article aired in Entertainment weekly (8/13/99 if you’d like to find it) in which they described it as more “brutal” than WWF or WCW and quoted Eric Bischoff as saying, “If they bring that (envelope pushing) formula to TNN, and TNN doesn’t discipline itself, I think wrestling in general will suffer.” In a widely published AP article David Hall, a TNN executive, stated the show would be emphasizing in-ring wrestling and less outside drama and that the show would be a “consumer-friendly, mainstream approach”.
Well, you’ve now read part one covering ECW’s transition from a small, overly violent indy run by Eddie Gilbert and a jewelry store owner through the period many consider it’s best time period and up to their first ever PayPerView, Barely Legal. In part two we have followed along as Extreme Championship Wrestling takes its usual jagged path of highs and lows until they finally make a deal with TNN to arrive on national television. On the face level, it was a blessing. But what lies beneath?
If you’d like to reply, I’d love to hear any and all views and responses to all and any parts of this column. You can of course do this in the best place to talk intelligently about wrestling online, The Oratory Forums, or you can e-mail me directly at DaysWorkrate@hotmail.com. As I said, I’d love and appreciate some feedback for this.
See you in part three, which will be up sometime on Saturday.