MR. TITO: Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) Ruined Wresting Fans and WWE/AEW for the Worse
On the Pat McAfee Show on February 8th, Seth Rollins was a guest and it was a great conversation as Pat usually has with wrestling folk. However, when it came time to discuss workrate, Rollins expressed how many times he wrestled in the past year (between 130 matches) and then discussed a time when he wrestled over 200 matches for 3-4 years matches straight. Pat then joked that the older generation called today’s wrestlers as the “soft generation” to which Seth responded with the following quote: “We’re not sitting in headlocks for 2 hours out there. We’re going off the top rope, flying all around, the expectations and the audience is so much different”.
There it is in a nutshell, folks… How a Pro Wrestling veteran not only perceives what HE has to do, but what YOU, the audience, expects.
If you watch any WWE, AEW, Impact, or ANY and I repeat ANY Independent show these days, what do you see? Lots of high spots coming off the top rope, at least 1 Table spot per show (if not more), and a good chance of a botched move because of trying too hard to be high risk and creative inside the ring at the same time. In other words, Botchamania (YouTube channel that plays wrestling bloopers) exists thanks today’s wrestling.
However, if you log into your WWE Network and watch Pro Wrestling from 25 years ago or longer, you’d hardly ever see any table spots or high risk maneuvers. Furthermore, even though wrestlers actually worked MORE dates, their rate of injury was much lower than today’s wrestler. Seth Rollins mocks “doing headlocks”, but workers performed SMARTER back then than today. They did MORE WITH LESS and did things psychologically to connect fans instead of feeding their sugar highs with high impact moves or table spots. Hell, Steve Austin worked with a broken neck from 1997-1998 and became the MOST OVER wrestler in history by doing MORE WITH LESS.
What happened? Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) happened.
The company that began pushing the violence and high risk maneuvers was none other than Paul Heyman‘s promotion based in the Northeast. When Heyman pushed the envelope, it was still brand new and often the violence or use of weaponry was specific to a wrestler. The guy going through Tables was Sabu. The one swinging the Kendo Stick, which he referred to as the “Singapore Cane”, was the Sandman. Stop sign gags were reserved for Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven. They weren’t overdone to the point where everybody was doing the same thing. Each person on the ECW roster had their own purpose and select weaponry was part of their gimmick.
But that is NOT what the younger wrestling fans, some of whom became wrestlers themselves saw.
And that is NOT what rival Indy promotions saw, either.
BOTH saw the violence only and tried to replicate it.
Many ECW clones arrived during the late 1990s and early 2000s, or existing Indy promotions changed up their shows to become more ECW-like on the level of violence. THEN, to make matters worse, WWE and WCW started pushing ECW’s ideas of going through tables, using chairs, all kinds of weapons (WWE’s excessive use of trashcans and cookie sheets disgusted me!), and also ladders… WWE, in fact, perfected the use of violent matches through Mick Foley but also the INSANE Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches between Dudleys, Edge/Christian, and Hardys. Suddenly, the WWE had more hardcore matches, had a Hardcore Title, and were using cage matches much more often while also creating other crazy gimmick matches. Sooooooo many tables being used now and has been for the past 20 years.
When WWE, WCW, and many other Indy promotions began pushing weapons and violence into their matches, it drown out ECW. By 1999-2000 when ECW finally made its debut on national television with their Friday Night show on TNN, nobody cared. For one, ECW lost many of its colorful characters that made ECW fun (we’ll get to that point in a moment), but the violence and weaponry pushed on their shows wasn’t getting over. ECW underwhelmed on that TNN show, insomuch that Viacom dumped them quickly when WWE wanted to move its Monday Night RAW show to their channel. ECW was dead just 6 months later without a television contract.
Here’s the deal with ECW… We didn’t just tune in back there for the violence… No, we tuned in because the CHARACTERS were awesome. Yes, Sandman swung a “Singapore Cane” at people, but he also came to the ring with a cool entrance of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica while drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. By the way, WWE stole the beer drinking stuff and incorporated it with Steve Austin. Except the Sandman bashed the cans over his head and spit beer on the audience, and they LOVED IT. Raven was diabolical and pure evil, a complete bully to the likes of Tommy Dreamer and Stevie Richards. Everyone was hooked into seeing Dreamer overcome his bully, while it was a complete delight when Stevie Richards broke out and showed confidence in forming his own group, the Blue World Order.
Go look back on Taz, who was hyped as the “Human Suplex Machine”. He didn’t look so small in that ECW ring and he commanded a very tough presence that he instantly lost in the WWE and never got back. Shane Douglass was “the Franchise” in ECW and he never looked better in any other promotion. He was their cocky heel and later gained a beautiful manager named Francine who added to that heat. And that’s another thing… Women in ECW had a reason and a purpose. Francine was always stirring up things but Beulah was always in the middle of a major storyline. Then, you had the Gangstas… Paul took what Jim Cornette built in SMW and amplified it. Again, New Jack had his own thing of throwing a garbage can full of weapons and taking large dives… Nobody else did that, which made it fun! Now, every wrestler takes crazy dives…
Then you had the Dudleys… First, it started off as a goofy family with all kinds of members, resembling what you saw from Slap Shot. Then, the “Black Sheep” (ECW’s words, not mine) named D’Von Dudley arrived and it created friction among the group. However, Buh Buh (or Bubba) Ray Dudley decided to team up with D’Von to officially form the GREATEST TAG TEAM EVER. Later, they’d add “Big Dick” Dudley and Sign Guy Dudley to their fold, along with Joel Gertner who cut some of the most hilarious promos ever. They’d initially battle with, in my opinion, one of the coolest tag teams of all time in the Eliminators and then the Ganstas were added for purely chaotic tag matches. Sabu and Rob Van Dam were added to the mix, as well… Tag Team wrestling was ALWAYS GREAT in ECW!
Speaking of that last team… While Sabu went through tables and took other high risk maneuvers and Rob Van Dam is arguably the best high flyer of all time (with only Rey Mysterio up for that debate), it was their CHARACTERS that made both cool. Just go look up Sabu’s pictures online. He looks CRAZY and he worked like a crazy man inside the ring. He was one of the main guys not only going through tables, but he used to throw chairs violently at his opponents. Sabu appeared legitimately crazy inside the ring and it sold, as WCW bought into it as well when they tried to bring in Sabu. But Rob Van Dam… If there was EVER a definition of “COOL” in the dictionary, RVD’s picture would be there. Yes, he dazzled in the ring, but that was icing on the cake. Hearing him get on the mic and proclaim that he was “Mr. Monday Night” and then being totally ahead of his time on the 4/20 drug references… He was a unique bird in ECW that got over quickly in WWE when he joined them in 2001.
And you had a host of other great characters… Terry Funk experienced a rebirth in ECW and mattered. Public Enemy had their own table stuff, but connected well with the audience by pushing hip hop themes within their characters and antics. Tajiri was awesome in ECW and completely unique. He legitimately made me feel like I was watching the Great Muta in 1989 all over again. Mikey Whipwreck wasn’t much to look at as a wrestler, but he was a character pushed as an underdog. Same thing later with Spike Dudley, who could take a tremendous beating! How about Al Snow? Complete dud in the WWE with the various odd gimmicks he had, but he comes to ECW, he’s completely reborn with the “Head” gimmick. Saved his career and gave him a WWE return with the same gimmick.
THAT is what many local Indy promotions and wrestling fans eventually turning wrestlers MISSED.
ECW became popular not just for its violence and adult themes, but for its uniquely fun characters.
However, ECW became known for its violence because all of the Indy promotions, WWE & WCW, and wrestling fans tried to imitate what they THOUGHT ECW was all about. To this day, WWE still has many people going through Tables and many no-disqualification matches with weapons. Ditto with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), who does it nightly with their younger wrestlers who are heavily influenced by ECW.
The biggest problem with ECW was its influence on wrestling fans who later became wrestlers that you see featured in WWE but heavily featured in AEW. They saw the flashy moves and violence of ECW and thanks to WWE/WCW/Indy promotions pushing that as well with time, that’s how they THOUGHT pro wrestling was all about.
Remember those “Best of Backyard Wrestling” videos of the early 2000s? Were those matches about characters or basic moves? Or were they about kids violently hitting each other with weapons or going through tables on high spots? Oh yeah, the latter point. The violence. In fact, the backyard scene would actually have an influence back onto the Indy scene as bashing each other with lightbulbs or going through makeshift “tables” made of lightbulbs is often scene in Indy promotions now.
These younger wrestlers who grew up with the ECW violent style of wrestling and THOUGHT THAT WAS THE NORM is what you’re seeing infiltrate WWE and mostly AEW now. Not only that, but ECW introduced Lucha Libre wrestling as well during the mid 1990s with Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, and others… The high flying, often NO SELLING after high risk after high risk move hit infiltrated WCW at first and then WWE. Before, taking a high risk match or going through a table or being hit with a chair would finish a match. Now, you can take like 10 high risk maneuvers and still easily kick out of a pin. Go through several tables during a match, no problem at all… Just barely sell it to get ready for the next spot.
Furthermore with this more VIOLENT style of wrestling that has been pushed into today’s wrestling… It’s SCARING legitimate athletes from ever wanting to try to become Pro Wrestling. If you look at the top stars of the past, Pro Wrestling was NOT their first career choice… They settled in becoming pro wrestling when their Football, Basketball, Bodybuilding, or Amateur Wrestling careers were done with and were often recruited by the promotions to try it out. What you see now are kids who weren’t athletic to begin with that decided to become a pro wrestler because they thought going through tables was COOL… Jumping off the top rope, like they did on their trampoline or off a dive in a pool, could give them a career.
Worst of all, this new infused style of high risk and violence, thanks to the late 1990s pushing of the envelope style, escalated some very bad problems in wrestling. Instead of doing “2 hours of headlocks”, as Seth Rollins suggested that the oldtimers did, wrestlers were becoming hurt more often. With more pain, comes more self-lubrication to stay afloat on the road. Not only more drinking of alcohol, but increased use of painkillers. Worse yet, more concussions and potential for long-term brain damage. Go watch Chris Benoit matches and count how many chairshots he took to the head along with the many flying headbutts he took. No doubt, he probably had like over 30 concussions in his lifetime and kept working through them because nobody told him to STOP with his style. No, in fact it was encouraged and enabled. Combine bad head trauma with lots of performance enhancing drugs, pain killers, and alcohol, then you have a madman in June 2007.
While both WWE and AEW have concussion protocols, thanks to Chris Benoit’s actions, wrestlers are still getting injured often as they try high risk maneuvers, use weapons, or go through tables. It’s NOT SAFE… Then, both WWE and AEW get mocked because they try to stage high risk maneuvers with Crash Pads… Considering guys of the past went through real tables, it makes the WWE and AEW look completely silly when it’s obviously fake. While I applaud both AEW and WWE for taking safety measures, I want to inform them that THEY DON’T NEED HIGH RISK MANEUVERS TO MAKE WRESTLING POPULAR!!!!!
Getting back to “what made ECW great”… It was their characters. Not all of their matches were violent… Their wrestlers could cut promos and it was their storylines that packed those bingo halls with repeat customers and a growing audience behind them. However, many younger and impressionable kids saw the table spots… Worse yet, wrestling promoters whose job it should be to protect the wrestling business began exposing it by having hardcore matches where guys would be hit with multiple weapons, going through many tables, and yet stayed on their 2 feet as if nothing harmed them. I remember Kevin Nash commenting on this rising hardcore push, saying that “if I ever hit someone with a frying pan, they are staying down”. But nobody is. Many table spots happen NIGHTLY in both WWE and AEW and that’s never a finish. Just a regular move now…
The end result of TWO DECADES of the WORST part of the ECW Style infiltrating wrestling?
– WWE RAW used to have 6-8 million viewers, now barely has 2 million. By the way, they had just over 4 million during 2015 when everybody had streaming services and smartphones, too.
– As Seth Rollins just said, he’s wrestling 130 matches which is actually on the low end. Why? Because the high risk style isn’t drawing. The reason those oldtimers doing headlocks for 2 hours worked so much is that their characters drew and packed houses. The WWE machine with high risk maneuvers of the 21st century was beginning to cut back on houseshows before 2020’s pandemic hit due to low attendance.
– AEW cannot consistently draw 1 million in a prime time slot on a TNT network available to 85 million households.
– AEW’s attendance for their Dynamites and Tapings is struggling, too… They can only go to arenas of 5,000 capacity, too, and they struggle to fill those in certain areas.
The end result is a SMALLER Pro Wrestling fanbase because fans are fed too much sugar with these high risk maneuvers and table spots. Once you see one of those spots, it becomes the norm and you’re not impressed with the next one. Making matters worse, FEMALE pro wrestlers are doing these high spots and going through tables, too. With due respect to women, but biology and physics disallows for their attempts at high risk to create less of an impact than men. When both men and women are performing high risk maneuvers throughout a show, it burns out the audience.
Guys from the past, Seth, who did “2 hours of headlocks” worked SMARTER than you and your current contemporaries. They conserved energy and didn’t have injuries piling up like today’s wrestlers. Gee, how did Lou Thesz work for 50 years? How did Ric Flair last for 40 years? Hulk Hogan for over 30 years and oddly enough, he has health problems for the way he worked. Dropping that leg drop nightly has caused him long-term effects… Imagine if he went through tables nightly or came off the top rope? How is it that the Rock N Roll Express can still work? And bless his soul in recovery, but Jerry Lawler worked forever. Why? Because he worked SAFELY in the ring.
CHARACTERS draw, folks, and the hype of a conflict in the ring is what packs in the audience. If it’s a good match, that’s just a cherry on the top of the cake that was already made.
Want any proof? Go rewatch that Bloodline storyline with Sami Zayn. Sami needed nothing but his personality and a microphone to get over. He gave new life to the Bloodline during 2022 and things are going to explode at Elimination Chamber in Montreal when Sami gets his shot at Roman Reigns.
Furthermore, if you watched Roman Reigns matches from 2014-2019, what did you often see? Oh yeah, going through that stupid announcer’s table. Every, single, match… But what did you see when Roman Reigns returned at SummerSlam 2020 and then appeared on Smackdown with Paul Heyman, signaling that he turned heel. For the past 2+ years, Roman has basically become a “larger than life” heel character whom I’ve referred to as the “Thanos of Wrestling”. He literally has to do nothing but get in that ring and cut promos on his opponents or the fans ringside. Instant heat.
At Royal Rumble 2023, he and the Bloodline were dealing it Kevin Owens after the match by handcuffing him to the ropes. Then, as a dastardly heel, Roman delivered chairshots to Kevin Owens. Now, THAT is the proper use of a weapon, as it was done in the construct of a HEEL CHARACTER and a STORYLINE. Then, Roman offered the chair to Sami Zayn and instructed him to blast Owens with it… Sami couldn’t… Why? Because AS A CHARACTER, Kevin Owens was his longtime friend and rival that he respected. Instead, he blasted Roman with the chair. The end result was the Bloodline turning on Sami and beating him down to an incredibly LOUD “F*** YOU ROMAN” chant.
Think about that for a second… That Royal Rumble show had 2 Rumble Matches on it and a stupid lights out match that featured a high spot (but one that was incredibly botched) following LA Knight vs. Bray Wyatt. Yet, what stands out? The Bloodline ending AFTER the Main Event match. People will talk about that segment for YEARS… Michael Cole, WWE announcer, argues that WWE should win an Emmy for that Bloodline storyline and he’s 100% correct. Yet, if you’ve watched most of that storyline, the MAJORITY of it has been INSIDE THE RING with MICROPHONES… The Bloodline stuff is mostly talk… And when they wrestle, it’s very psychological because Roman and the Usos are HEELS. They are DOING MORE WITH LESS!!
I know, you’ll call me “Old Man Yelling at Clouds”, but the long-term effects of ECW have RUINED Pro Wrestling. Wrestlers are not performing safely, they are overexposing the business by no-selling those major spots in order to immediately perform another, and the violent style is discouraging athletes from other pro sports from trying wrestling. Notice how quickly Rob Gronkowski rejoined football and has NEVER returned to the WWE?
Wrestlers and promotions need to WORK SMARTER and DO MORE WITH LESS. That is what the ECW influenced era has lost… If you’re repeatedly doing table spots, law of diminishing marginal utility sets in… Yep, that’s an economics term… Think of it this way: eating pizza. First piece tastes great, while the 2nd piece is good but not as good as the first one. 3rd piece isn’t as good as the 2nd or 1st. By the 4th piece, you start to feel full… Eating the 5th piece, you really start to feel full, insomuch that you feel like you could delivery puppies. The 6th piece makes you legitimately sick. OK? So think of that premise as it applies to repeatedly seeing the same high risk maneuvers or table spots.
Seriously, does EVERY match have to feature wrestlers jumping over or through the ropes onto a wrestler or group of wrestlers WAITING to be landed on?
FINGER OF SHAME at you, Paul Heyman, for what you created at ECW. While ECW was fun to watch back then as an alternative to WWE & WCW, it appears that the hardcore and high risk elements that you introduced have made the permanent impression on the business. Furthermore, this high risk and hardcore style is scaring away legitimate athletes who once sought pro wrestling as a back-up career and encouraging people who lust as doing dangerous stuff inside the ring. Guys like Rock, Austin, Goldberg, Lesnar, Angle, etc. all were legitimate athletes who became great wrestlers because they had the confidence and athleticism to pull it off. However, today’s wrestlers grow up wanting to be wrestlers and are either self-trained or being trained by Indys who converted to the ECW hardcore style.
But if you look at what just happened with the Bloodline, CHARACTERS make wrestling become successful. More money is made on the microphone to entice fans to pack arenas than the matches themselves. THAT’S A FACT!
And you don’t get injured cutting promos on a microphone, but you can going through a table.
So just chill… till the next episode!