Thursday, November 10, 2011

Extreme Championship Wrestling

Paul Heyman
Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was a professional wrestling promotion that was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1992 by Tod Gordon and closed when his successor, Paul Heyman, declared bankruptcy in April 2001. After subsequently purchasing the assets of ECW, World Wrestling Entertainment relaunched the Extreme Championship Wrestling franchise as a WWE brand from June 2006 until February 2010 to complement their existing Raw and SmackDown brands.

Shane Douglas
The group has showcased many different and international styles of professional wrestling, ranging from lucha libre to puroresu to hardcore wrestling. It was described as an alternative to the highly produced sports entertainment programs that the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling presented at the time.

Tommy Dreamer
ECW had its origins in 1989 under the banner Tri-State Wrestling Alliance owned by Joel Goodhart. In 1992, Goodhart sold his share of the company to his partner, Tod Gordon, who in return renamed the promotion Eastern Championship Wrestling. When Eastern Championship Wrestling was founded, it was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). At the time, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert was the lead booker of Eastern Championship Wrestling. Gilbert, after a falling out with Tod Gordon, was replaced in September 1993 by Paul Heyman. Heyman, known on television as Paul E. Dangerously, had just left World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and was looking for a new challenge.

The Sandman
Eastern Championship Wrestling contrasted contemporary professional wrestling, which was marketed more towards families. What would become its successor, Extreme Championship Wrestling aimed at males between 18 to 35, broke many taboos in professional wrestling such as blading. Heyman saw ECW as the professional wrestling equivalent to the grunge music movement of the early 1990s and focused on taking the company in a new direction.

Extreme Francine
 In 1994, Jim Crockett's non-compete agreement with Ted Turner, who purchased World Championship Wrestling (WCW) from Crockett in November 1988, was up and he decided to start promoting with the NWA again. Crockett went to Tod Gordon and asked him to hold a tournament for the NWA's top prize, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, in ECW's home area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 27, 1994. NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo alleged that Crockett and Gordon were going to try to monopolize the title (akin to Crockett's actions in the 1980s) and stated Crockett did not have the NWA board's approval, which resulted in Coralluzzo personally overseeing the tournament. Gordon took offense at Coralluzzo for his power plays and began contemplating a plan to secede ECW from the NWA through a controversial and public manner that would attract attention to ECW and insult the NWA organization. Gordon planned to have Shane Douglas, who was scheduled to face 2 Cold Scorpio in the tournament finals, throw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship upon winning as an act of defiance.

The idea of throwing down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was originally planned by Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman. Heyman persuaded Douglas by noting that the negative would only be that NWA traditionalists would just see them as traitors to tradition. Adding to Douglas' decision was the animosity between Douglas and NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo, who at the time publicly criticized Douglas and told NWA affiliated bookers not to book Douglas for shows. Coralluzzo believed that Douglas was a "bad risk" and had the tendency to not appear at events in which he was scheduled. Douglas ultimately decided to go through with Gordon and Heyman's plan, inspired by his father's motto of "doing right by the people that do right by you." After looking up and saying, "This is it tonight, Dad," Douglas threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship stating that he did not want to be champion of a "dead promotion" that "died seven years ago." He then raised the Eastern Championship Wrestling title and declared it to be a World Heavyweight Championship— calling it the only real world title left in professional wrestling. When recalling this event years later, Paul Heyman stated the following in an 1998 chat:

Rob Van Dam & Sabu
“The National Wrestling Alliance was old-school when old-school wasn't hip anymore. We wanted to set our mark, we wanted to breakaway from the pack, we wanted to let the world know that we weren't just some independent promotion.”

Coralluzzo was interviewed after the event and declared that Douglas would be the world champion of the NWA "whether he likes it or not", calling Douglas' actions a "disgrace" and said he would move to have Douglas stripped of both the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and the Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Championship, calling him "undeserving" of both titles. Gordon made the following announcement on the next edition of NWA-ECW programming.
“I listened with great interest as the representative of the NWA board of directors took it upon himself to inform you that they have the power to force NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling not to recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as a world heavyweight champion. Well, as of noon today, I have folded NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling. In its place will be ECW- Extreme Championship Wrestling- and we recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as our World Heavyweight Champion. And we encourage any wrestler in the world today to come to the ECW to challenge for that belt. This is the ECW, Extreme Championship Wrestling, changing the face of professional wrestling.”

This new ECW's unorthodox style and controversial storylines made it popular among fans in the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. The promotion showcased many different styles of professional wrestling, popularizing hardcore wrestling matches as well as lucha libre and Japanese wrestling styles. It became known for providing an alternative to North American wrestling with more technical styles that were common in Europe and Asia. ECW was promoted as counterculture and a grittier alternative to multi-million dollar organizations such as the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.

The Sandman
In April 2000, Mike Awesome made a surprise appearance on WCW Monday Nitro — making his debut by attacking Kevin Nash — while still reigning as ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Awesome's friend Lance Storm has said that Awesome refused to sign a new contract with ECW until Paul Heyman paid him overdue wages. There were rumors that WCW Executive Vice-President Eric Bischoff wanted Awesome to drop the ECW World Championship belt in the trash can on television, as had been done previously with the WWF Women's title by Madusa when she jumped from the WWF to WCW. Due to concerns over legal issues, WCW refrained from having Awesome appear on Nitro with the belt, but did acknowledge him as the champion. Eventually, a compromise was reached. Awesome (a WCW employee and the reigning ECW World Heavyweight champion) appeared at an April 13, 2000 ECW event in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he lost the title to Tazz (who was working for the World Wrestling Federation).

Bam Bam Bigelow,
Extreme Francine,
Shane Douglas,
and Chris Candido
In August 1999, ECW began to broadcast nationally on TNN (for what was initially a three year contract). Despite no advertising and a low budget, ECW became TNN's highest rated show. ECW on TNN was canceled in October 2000 (with the final episode airing on October 6, 2000) in favor of WWF Raw moving to the network. Paul Heyman stated he believed that the inability to land another national television deal was the cause of ECW's demise.

ECW struggled for months after the cancellation, trying to secure a new national TV deal. On December 30, 2000, ECW Hardcore TV aired for the last time and Guilty as Charged in 2001 was the last PPV aired on January 7, 2001. Living Dangerously was scheduled to air on March 11, 2001, but because of financial trouble it was canceled in February. Despite help from the WWF, Heyman could not get out of financial trouble and filed for bankruptcy on April 4, 2001. Heyman supposedly had never told his wrestlers that the company was on its dying legs and was unable to pay them for well over a month before finally filing for bankruptcy.

Mike Awesome
The company was listed as having assets totaling $1,385,500. Included in that number was $860,000 in accounts receivable owed the company by In Demand Network (PPV), Acclaim (video games), and Original San Francisco Toy Company (action figures). The balance of the assets were the video tape library ($500,000), a 1998 Ford Truck ($19,500) and the remaining inventory of merchandise ($4). The liabilities of the company totaled $8,881,435.17. The bankruptcy filing included hundreds of claims, including production companies, buildings ECW ran in, TV stations ECW was televised on, travel agencies, phone companies, attorney's fees, wrestlers, and other talent. Wrestlers and talent were listed, with amounts owed ranging from $2 for Sabu and Steve Corino to hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars. The highest amounts owed to talents were Rob Van Dam ($150,000), Tommy Dreamer ($100,000), Joey Styles ($50,480), Rhino ($50,000), Shane Douglas ($48,000), and Francine Fournier ($47,275). These assets were eventually purchased by the World Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE.

By 2005, WWE began reintroducing ECW through content from the ECW video library and a series books, which included the release of The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary. With heightened and rejuvenated interest in the ECW franchise, WWE organized ECW One Night Stand on June 12, a reunion event that featured ECW alumni. Due to the financial and critical success of the production, WWE produced the second ECW One Night Stand on June 11, 2006, which served as the premiere event in the relaunch of the ECW franchise as a WWE brand, complementary to Raw and SmackDown. On June 13, Paul Heyman, former ECW owner and newly appointed figurehead for the ECW brand, recommissioned the ECW World Heavyweight Championship to be the brand's world title and awarded it to Rob Van Dam as a result of winning the WWE Championship at One Night Stand 2006. The brand would continue to operate until February 16, 2010. Under the WWE banner, ECW was presented following the same format of the other brands, with match rules, such as count outs and disqualifications, being standard. Matches featuring the rule set of the ECW promotion are now classified as being contested under "Extreme Rules" and are only fought when specified.

Following Tommy Dreamer's debut in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, a new stable was formed called EV2.0 consisting of former ECW alumni. TNA President Dixie Carter agreed to give the stable their own reunion show at TNA's annual Hard Justice Pay Per View. Billed as the last ECW reunion show, Hardcore Justice aired on August 8, 2010. EV2.0 remained on the active roster for the remainder of the year. The Hardcore Justice Pay Per View returned the following year but was not an ECW reunion.

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