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The hardcore history of ECW
ECW announcer Joey Styles chronicles every brutal chair shot in this hardcore history of sports-entertainment's most daring promotion, Extreme Championship Wrestling.
This is the story of a group of renegades in a bingo hall in Philadelphia who changed the way the world sees sports-entertainment.
It begins in 1992 with the foundation of Eastern Championship Wrestling by a pawnbroker named Tod Gordon and ends on Feb. 16, 2010 with a match between Christian and Ezekiel Jackson. Along the way, the daring promotion, propelled by the boundless vision of Paul Heyman, launches the careers of Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero, triggers WWE’s Attitude Era and WCW’s Cruiserweight division, offends common decency, busts more chairs than a fat camp, goes bankrupt, folds, resurfaces as a WWE brand and folds again.
What’s left behind are the barbwire laced memories of sports-entertainment’s most fearless brand.
Feb. 25, 1992
Beasts from the East
Tod Gordon, a pawnbroker and jewelry store owner, promotes the first Eastern Championship Wrestling card in front of around 100 fans at the Original Sports Bar in Philadelphia. The opening bout is a 20-minute draw between longtime ECW staple Stevie Richards and historical footnote Jimmy Jannetty. In the weeks to come, the company brings in big names like Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and Don Muraco, while “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka is crowned the first ECW Champion.
Sept. 18, 1993
The controversial Eddie Gilbert publically quits his behind-the-scenes role with ECW. As his replacement, Tod Gordon hires former World Championship Wrestling manager Paul E. Dangerously. Now identified by his birth name, Paul Heyman, the mad scientist of sports-entertainment draws inspiration from MTV and pop culture to point ECW in a groundbreaking new direction.
Aug. 13, 1994
Take a Seat
Following a brawl pitting Cactus Jack and Terry Funk against “Flyboy” Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge of The Public Enemy, an iconic scene in ECW history occurs. After Funk tells an audience member to toss him a chair, the crazed Texan makes the mistake of asking for more. Obliging their hardcore idol, the ECW faithful begin to launch steel chairs into the ring from all directions, covering the canvas and knocking Funk silly. ECW’s reputation as sports-entertainment’s outlaw promotion begins to spread.
Aug. 27, 1994
Due to its association with the National Wrestling Alliance, ECW holds a tournament to crown a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion, which Shane Douglas wins after beating 2 Cold Scorpio. But during his victory speech, “The Franchise” throws down the title, proclaims the NWA as dead and declares himself the ECW Champion. The following week on ECW’s syndicated television program, "Hardcore TV," Tod Gordon says that the letters ECW now stand for Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Aug. 28, 1994
May I Have Another?
Despised by the ECW faithful for his grinning, good guy attitude, Tommy Dreamer earns the respect of the tough Philly crowd when he loses a Singapore Cane Match to the aggressive Sandman and takes his lashings like a man. With his back lacerated and covered in welts, Dreamer refuses to beg for mercy and instead turns to his victimizer and says, “Please, sir, may I have another?” In that moment, a hardcore icon is born.
April 15, 1995
During a brutal match against Terry Funk, Cactus Jack notices a fan in the front row holding a sign that says “Cane Dewey” — a vicious message directed towards Jack’s three-year-old son. Outraged, the dangerous competitor soon begins delivering a series of “anti-hardcore” rants wherein he verbally attacks the audiences who celebrate his suffering. Paul Heyman later calls these the greatest sports-entertainment interviews ever recorded.
Aug. 26, 1995
Best in the World
Proving that ECW showcases more than just unrepentant brutality, Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero leave Philly fans speechless with their lightning-fast matches, featuring a hybrid style of Mexican and Japanese wrestling that has never been seen before in the United States. In their final night in ECW before joining WCW, the brilliant competitors battle in a 30-minute 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. (WATCH) Usually, ECW fans chant “You sold out!” to competitors on the way out. On this night, they chant “Please don’t go!”
Sept. 16, 1995
Ay Dios Mio!
ECW rebounds from the exits of Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero by introducing American wrestling fans to thrilling Mexican luchadores like Rey Mysterio and Psicosis. (WATCH) At this time, the high-flying stars are considered too small by WCW and WWE, but not long after the ECW debut of the masked men, WCW creates a Cruiserweight division. A decade later, Mysterio is WWE Champion.
Nov. 18, 1995
Austin! Austin! Austin!
Recently fired by WCW while injured, Steve Austin comes to work for his former “Dangerous Alliance” manager, Paul Heyman. Granted the freedom to say whatever he wants on TV, the frustrated competitor excoriates Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and many more. Austin only has two matches in ECW, but his classic interviews help shape his future “Stone Cold” persona.
Feb. 24, 1997
Invasion of the Body Smashers
After interrupting the action at both 1995’s King of the Ring and In Your House: Mind Games in 1996, ECW stages a full on invasion of WWE during a live edition of Raw from The Manhattan Center. Despite the relatively small promotion’s lack of national exposure, the NYC fans are vocal about their support for The Eliminators, The Blue World Order and Sabu, who famously leaps off the top of the giant “Raw” letters that hang above the entranceway.
April 13, 1997
ECW’s first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, almost doesn’t happen. With many cable companies refusing to associate with the controversial promotion, the event, which emanates from a bingo hall in Philadelphia that barely supplies enough power to sustain the live broadcast, secures a provider at the very last minute. Despite setbacks, the show goes on with Tazz and Sabu finally facing off after a yearlong rivalry and Terry Funk capturing the ECW Title in an emotional main event.
June 6, 1997
A brutal two-year rivalry comes to an end when Tommy Dreamer finally rids himself of childhood enemy, Raven, in a wild Loser Leaves ECW Match. Following the loss, the grungy grappler heads to WCW where he becomes United States Champion. Dreamer remains in The Land of the Extreme until its 2001 demise. He’s the only competitor to stick with the promotion all the way through, earning the nickname “The Extreme Original”.
March 1, 1998
In his hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., “The Beast from the East” Bam Bam Bigelow finally wins the ECW Television Title, but has to literally put Tazz through the ring to do it. (WATCH) The sight of the two competitors smashing through the canvas is so wild and unexpected, ECW fans express their disbelief with an explicit chant that would live on in sports-entertainment long after this event.
Aug. 27, 1999
ECW begins to broadcast nationally on The Nashville Network (which later turns into Spike) and becomes the channel’s highest rated show despite no advertising and no increase in production budget. Although it appears to be the alternative brand’s opportunity to finally compete with WWE and WCW on a major playing field, the deal turns out to be a nightmare as network involvement damages the product before the show is canceled in October of 2000 when TNN signs Raw away from USA.
April 13, 2000
Wrestling history is made after Mike Awesome appears on WCW Monday Nitro while still ECW Champion, claiming that his ECW contract has been breached because of past due wages. Following a legal injunction, Awesome — now a WCW contracted employee — returns to ECW to face Tazz — a WWE Superstar — for the ECW Title in a sports-entertainment first.
April 20, 2000
Champion vs. Champion
One week after creating a bit of sports-entertainment trivia, the extreme promotion does it again when ECW Champion Tazz collides with WWE Champion Triple H on SmackDown. Although his title isn’t on the line, The Human Suplex Machine falls to The Game in an ugly loss after Tommy Dreamer attempts to help Tazz, but accidentally plasters him with a steel chair. (WATCH) One week later, Dreamer beats Tazz for the title.
Jan. 7, 2001
The End Begins
Suffering from serious financial issues stemming from bad business decisions as well as the continued loss of major talent to WWE and WCW, ECW presents their final pay-per-view event, Guilty as Charged. The show, which is headlined by a blistering bout between Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn, sends the renegade company out on a high note. Three months later, on April 4, ECW files for bankruptcy with financial assets totaling 1.3 million dollars and financial liabilities totaling almost nine million dollars.
July 9, 2001
On Raw, a group of former ECW competitors, including Raven, Lance Storm and Tazz, aligns with WCW and Shane and Stephanie McMahon in their mission to overthrow Mr. McMahon’s WWE. Although The Alliance ultimately fails to destroy The Chairman’s empire, ECW standouts like Rob Van Dam and The Dudley Boyz make a major impact in WWE.
June 12, 2005
One Night Stand
In 2004, after finally purchasing ECW’s assets from a bankruptcy court, WWE releases “The Rise and Fall of ECW,” which tells the wild story of the alternative promotion’s carnal history. The documentary is such a success that WWE follows it up with ECW One Night Stand on pay-per-view. Originally intended to be a one-night-only affair, the show, which features The Dudley Boyz beating Tommy Dreamer & The Sandman, helps reignite the dormant brand.
June 13, 2006
Rebirth of Cruel
Two days after Rob Van Dam defeats John Cena to win the WWE Championship at the second ECW One Night Stand event, WWE launches ECW as a third brand on Syfy. Featuring familiar ECW faces like Sabu and The Sandman as well as major WWE Superstars like Big Show and Kurt Angle, the program immediately hits the top of the network’s ratings charts.
April 1, 2007
WrestleMania Gets Extreme
More than 80,000 WWE fans begin chanting “E-C-W!” as ECW Originals Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, The Sandman and Sabu win an Eight-Man Tag Team Match at WrestleMania 23 as Joey Styles and Tazz call the action on commentary. It’s a huge moment for these six men who started out in front of a few hundred fans in a bingo hall in Philadelphia.
Mar. 29, 2008
Moments before WrestleMania XXIV kicks off at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Kane wins a battle royal on WWE.com for the opportunity to challenge Chavo Guererro for the ECW Championship. Later that night, The Big Red Monster defeats Guererro to win the title in only eight seconds, setting the record for the shortest match in WrestleMania history.
June 7, 2009
At Extreme Rules — a WWE event directly inspired by ECW — Tommy Dreamer wins a Hardcore Rules Triple Threat Match against Christian and Jack Swagger to become the only wrestler in history to hold both the original and WWE versions of the ECW Championship. The emotional triumph is a testament to the tenacity and loyalty of The ECW Original.
Feb. 16, 2010
On the final episode of ECW on Syfy, Ezekiel Jackson, managed by William Regal, wins the ECW Championship from Christian in an Extreme Rules Match. (WATCH) Unless WWE revives ECW again (anything can happen in WWE!), The Personification of Domination will go down in the record books as the final ECW Champion.