Mike Johnson is on vacation this week. Here is his 2004 review of the WWE's Rise and Fall of ECW DVD
"ECW equals fun" ~Chris Jericho
I felt a strong sense of closure after watching the Rise and Fall of Extreme Championship Wrestling DVD. As someone who wouldn't be writing today about the business if it hadn't been for Tod Gordon, Paul Heyman, Tommy Dreamer, and their band of merry men and women, I have always been very protective over my memories and nostalgia of the company. I was very worried going into the DVD that WWE was going to paint a picture of an inferior product that wasn't worth the time that it existed on Planet Earth.
To my relief, the opposite is actually the case. If anything, someone who followed Extreme Championship Wrestling during its run from 1992-2001 will be pleased to see that the company is (in many cases, for the first time) given credit with the change of attitudes in professional wrestling, providing an outlet for top talent to make a name for themselves in the United States, and changing the face of professional wrestling history forever.
Almost every major player in the story of Extreme Championship Wrestling is featured or spoken to during the course of the DVD, including Paul Heyman (who until this DVD, has remained very quiet in terms of comments on the company after its death), Tommy Dreamer, former ECW producer Ron Buffone, Mick Foley, Nunzio (Little Guido in ECW), Bubba Ray Dudley, Chris Jericho, D-Von Dudley, Tazz, Al Snow, and Dawn Marie, Rob Van Dam, and Spike Dudley.
Even better, The Public Enemy, Sabu, Shane Douglas, Raven, Tod Gordon, The Sandman, and Mikey Whipwreck are among the players who graced ECW who are discussed but are not interviewed for the feature. Although WWE could have gotten a few more names that weren't under contract for interviews (Tod Gordon, Joey Styles, Strictly ECW fan leader Tony Lewis come to mind), the fact that they acknowledge names when they could have easily revised history is classy enough to stand on its own.
The discussions cover almost every aspect of the company's history (with the exception of the October 1995 fire incident) including Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer discussing the Raven feud in depth including Heyman's confession of how upset he was when Raven made the decision to leave for WCW as Heyman felt the character had so much more depth to cover. They discuss the loss and recovery of Extreme Championship Wrestling's first PPV Barely Legal, with D-Von and Heyman commenting on the Mass Transit incident. They look back at the Night the Line was Crossed and how it put ECW on the map, how Shane Douglas threw down the NWA championship, and how important the first PPV was to continued existence of Extreme Championship Wrestling as a company.
Everyone who handled a backstage role discusses their behind the scenes responsibilities for the company with Bubba discussing his role as house show promoter, Tazz discussing ECW's training school and how Paul Heyman was more concerned with finding people who cared about the business and breaking them in than turning a profit. Tommy Dreamer discussed all of his backstage roles and how it would often be he, D-Von, and Guido mailing out the merchandise to fans who ordered via the mail. Stevie Richards admits that when fans called the ECW office all those years and spoke to â€œLloyd Van Buren" that it was actually him answering the phone.
"Our fans were so famous that they had fans." ~ Rob Van Dam
The backbone of Extreme Championship Wrestling was always its fan base, and they are heavily covered during the DVD's documentary main feature. Paul Heyman notes that he doesn't think ECW could have been birthed anywhere other than Philadelphia because of the hard nosed, fanatical fans that live in the area. He discusses (complete with graphics) the placement of Philly and how fans would travel from nearby cities. Tommy Dreamer notes that ECW never lied to the fans and always addressed things in the ring when there was a problem, showing clips of Heyman firing Sabu the night of the Three Way Dance. Van Dam notes that the first row fans were among the most famous fans in the world and they ended up with fans who would dress like them on purpose when ECW went to other cities. All of the famous faces from front row, section C in the ECW Arena are shown as well.
Heyman praises the fan base, stating that they were ECW's soldiers and without them, not only would ECW have never made it to PPV, but they wouldn't have been on New York City television. Dreamer recounts all the whacky weapons that were used and brought into the building by the fans back during ECW's infancy as well. The Internet's role in the company is discussed, with Dreamer bringing up Cyberslam conventions and live Internet play by plays, among other things the company did that was on the cutting edge at the time.
"I don't know that you would have seen WWE Attitude if it hadn't been for ECW." ~Mick Foley
Extreme Championship Wrestling's place in the history of the business is, for the first time nationally, accounted for as current WWE stars discuss things that ECW did that were groundbreaking at the time. Paul Heyman discusses that he saw pro wrestling in the same vein as 1980s hair metal and ECW was the genre's Nirvana, breaking things open and shaking things up. From lesbian kisses to table breaking to blood to pregnancy angles to cruiserweight action, it's all accounted for here, and noted that it all took place before any of it was seen during the Monday Night Wars.
Vince McMahon even notes that he put Paul Heyman on payroll, partially for the talent and creativity that he took from ECW. A renegade ECW chant at the King of the Ring PPV in 1995 is recounted, along with secret plans between the two companies for ECW to invade Raw and In Your House: Mindgames in 1996 in order to further ECW's counterculture persona. Taz recounts a story about how a WWF photographer tried to stop him from hopping a guard rail in Allentown, PA and ended up with a broken shoulder after he was warned not to do it.
Former WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff of course denies everything from stealing concepts to raiding talent, to which Heyman responds, â€œBischoff is full of sh**. Bischoff goes on to claim that ECW's styles was something that never would have washed nationally and that was something that killed them longterm. Of course, as he states this, we see footage of the Sandman and Bam Bam Bigelow engaged in hardcore carnage....from a WCW PPV.
"Appreciate what you have, because you never know when it will be gone." ~Dawn Marie
The above quote is probably the only great contribution Dawn Marie makes to the DVD as she came into the company late in its run and likely wasn't the ideal person to discuss it's growth. However, even the latter end of ECW is covered with honesty. Paul Heyman equates the wrestling business at the time to the dot com industry, noting that the bubble had to burst. Unfortunately, a bad television deal put them in a position where they had to pay to improve production, weren't making money and couldn't get out of the deal at the same time their Network was offered $100 million to WWE. Heyman blames the demise on the company on ECW being unable to find a network deal in time before it expired, while many others blame the death of Heyman's shortcomings as a businessman.
"I told him I want my check and if I was ever seen associated with that, he'd be hearing from my lawyers." ~Kurt Angle
Some of the more interesting footage shown on the DVD is footage that didn't even make air on Extreme Championship Wrestling's videos and TV show, including Heyman's public firing of Sabu, The Sandman crucified to a cross by Raven's minions, and Raven's subsequent out of character apology (the first and only time Scott Levy broke character in ECW publicly) complete with comments by Kurt Angle on how offended he was, Heyman on how it happened, and Stevie Richards on how he and partner The Blue Meanie both knew it was, â€œF****ed up" to do as they were doing it.
"Then Paul fired Tod" ~Tommy Dreamer.
The DVD is an awesome look back on the company but there are some small errors. Tazz discusses his September 1990 championship loss to Mike Awesome as if it was his last night in the company, although he did matches against Sabu and Rob Van Dam through November of that year. The "mole" situation involving Tod Gordon is discussed, complete with Tommy Dreamer discussing phone messages Heyman played for him and Heyman firing Gordon, although Tod has already revealed publicly that that aspect of his departure was a work. Bubba Ray Dudley notes the evolution of flaming tables and while he doesn't say he invented them, the editing gives that impression, when The Public Enemy was actually doing it in the fall of 1995 in ECW. However, these are small, minor nitpickings (although I would assume Tod Gordon will feel differently about how his departure is portrayed) in an otherwise awesome profile on a company that deserved to be remembered as such.
"The fans were our soldiers." ~ Paul Heyman
Overall, this is a DVD that is a must for anyone who misses their Extreme Championsip Wrestling. If you ever chanted for the BWO or pointed to the lights for Sabu, this is for you. If you hopped in the ring with The Public Enemy to wave your hands or pointed your thumbs at yourself for Rob Van Dam, this is for you. If you miss the likes of Tajiri and Jerry Lynn and Dean Malenko going all out, balls to the wall, and showing the world what true professional wrestling was about, this is for you. If you miss the days of being insulted by the Dudleys, the days of Taz dropping people on their heads, the ring of "He's Hardcore" in your ears during Tommy Dreamer matches, and sneaking in weapons to the ECW Arena, this is for you. If you miss chanting ECW as if it was your battle cry for demanding great wrestling, this is for you.
To put it bluntly, if you think wrestling sucks today without your ECW, this is for you.
If you are among the unfortunate ones to not have been given a chance to witness the revolution live or on PPV, consider this an education into the sum of all the small parts that made ECW great - the fans, the work ethic, the stars, and the mad scientist that stirred it all up like â€œThe David Koresh of Wrestling" as Bubba Ray Dudley calls him on this DVD.
The DVD set features seven complete matches on disc two:
*ECW World Tag Team champions Raven & Stevie Richards vs. The Pitbulls - Best of Three Falls Dog Collar Match (Gangstas Paradise, September 1995) Perhaps the most celebrated ECW match of all time, with more crazy bumps, blood, shattered tables, run-ins, and twists than anyone could imagine.
*Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Psicosis - Best of Three Falls (October 1995, ECW Arena) Designed to show that ECW showcased international talent better than anyone else and before other national companies, this match holds up well, especially when you see what a sparkplug Rey Jr. Was in 1995.
*ECW World champion The Sandman vs. Mikey Whipwreck - Ladder Match (10/28/95 ECW Arena) Although sadly this is the TV version of the match, it features a cameo by Steve Austin with some awesome mic work and insane punishment by both Whipwreck and Sandman. This was TLC before Edge was even in the WWE.
*ECW World Television champion 2 Cold Scorpio vs. Sabu (Cyberslam '96, 30 minute draw, February 1996) A tremendous 30 minute bout between two men that probably have never been given their just due as in-ring performers by the masses.
*Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer - the final confrontation (WrestlePalooza '97, June 1997) The final confrontation of ECW greatest feud ever, complete with the lone appearance of the late Louie Spicoli on the DVD and one of the greatest angles ever in ECW, the debut of Jerry Lawler as he brings an invasion to the ECW Arena.
*ECW World Television champion Tazz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (Living Dangerously '98 PPV, February 1998) The infamous night Tazz and Bam Bam Bigelow crashed through the ring live on PPV. Just as awesome to see now as it was live in the building. Pay attention to the crowd reaction after it happens. Rewind and watch again as 3,000 fans are stunned, then go completely apesh**.
*ECW World Television champion Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn (Hardcore Heaven '99 PPV, May 1999) An awesome athletic battle between Lynn and Van Dam, which leaves one thinking of how badly WWE has missed the ball on RVD. The match features an introduction where Van Dam notes that this is when he was known as the "Whole F***ing Show."
*Steven Richards Apologises for Leaving ECW Richards discusses bad decisions made in his youth during the end of his run with ECW that looking back, were disrespectful things to do to the company, and publicly apologizes to those who were there at the time.
*Tazz Seeks Paul Heyman's Blessing. An emotional Tazz nearly breaks down as he tells the story of calling Heyman as he drove to Madison Square Garden for his WWF debut and how much it meant to him that he received Paul's blessing and encouragement as he himself was doubting the move to the WWF.
*Paul Heyman: Travel Agent - Chris Jericho tells a story about how haphazard travel arrangements were while working for ECW and the time he and Johnny Smith flew on a bereavement fare due to the death of their "brother-in-law" Chris Benoit.
The chapter list for the DVD is as follows:
*The Public Enemy
*The Night The Line Was Crossed
*Paul Heyman vs. WCW
*The Extreme Begins
*Sabu Gets fired
*Taz breaks his neck
*The Monday Night War
*Steve Austin Comes to ECW
*Cactus Jack Leaves ECW
*Beulah & Dreamer
*ECW & WWE
*The importance of PPV
*ECW loses the PPV
*The PPV is back on
*Barely Legal: Lance Storm vs. RVD
*Barely Legal: Taz vs. Sabu
*Barely Legal: The Main Event
*Raven goes to WCW and Jerry Lawler invades ECW
*A Locker Room mole?
*The Superstars' Roles (a discussion of everyone's out of the ring responsibilities)
*Paul Heyman's creativity
*WCW & WWE's ECW Imitation
*Taz & the FTW Title
*The Dudleys: the most hated tag team
*The TNN Deal & Taz Leaves
*The Dudleys Leave ECW
*Disappointment with TNN / RVD - the whole F'n show
*Mike Awesome controversy & Tommy Dreamer wins the title
*The Demise of ECW
*Paul Heyman debuts on Raw
Among the Easter Eggs on the DVD are The Public Enemy training Mikey Whipwreck for his ECW World title match against the Sandman, Michael Cole being shown an injury by Rob Van Dam from his feud with Jerry Lynn, and the build to Taz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow.
The Rise and Fall of ECW is now available in the PWInsider.com Superstore.