Two weekends ago, ECW ran its first live event at the venerable ECW Arena in Philadelphia in nearly six years. This past Tuesday, on the 230th birthday of the United States, the Extremists of ECW once again returned to the promotion’s birthplace for the first live television broadcast since the April 1997 Barely Legal pay-per-view. And even for some of the men who called ECW home in its original existence, the return to Philadelphia was a nerve wracking experience.
“I was nervous actually coming out, because those fans aren’t like any fans in the world so I didn’t know how they were going to react after all this time,” former ECW Tag Team Champion Danny Doring told ECW.com. “I was preparing for a negative reaction but it was super positive, and they really seemed to appreciate what we did out there. It was really cool; I can’t explain it but it made me feel really good about being back there. Credit those guys, because when I got there it felt like I was home.”
For others, the homecoming was a bit of vindication.
“It’s just beyond words…it sort of felt career-wise like a rebirth for me, because I’ve never really found my niche on RAW or SmackDown,” said Stevie Richards. When that ECW Arena show happened, with the rebirth of ECW, I felt like maybe that would be the spot that Stevie Richards truly belongs in, which ironically was the first spot in which Stevie Richards became a star in wrestling. I think the ECW Arena, the atmosphere and its fans are probably the most intense fans anywhere; it felt magical.”
Balls Mahoney added that “it felt incredible to be back in the arena with ECW. It was a vindication of how long I stood up for the company. I have wrestled there a couple times (since 2001), but it’s not the same. It was just an incredible feeling and the reaction that we got was great.”
As a man who has wrestled all over the world, Al Snow had a slightly different take on the return to the ECW Arena.
“It was kind of like a soldier coming back from Iraq returning to see his family,” Snow said, “because the fans at the ECW Arena were just as much of an integral part of what ECW was and what it became as the wrestlers were.”
Over the years, the ECW Arena wasn’t the only venue in Philadelphia that saw ECW action. Tuesday night, however, the Wachovia Center became the largest building that had been taken to the extreme. To some of the ECW Extremists, it was something they had previously only imagined.
“I thought that it had the potential (to run at the Wachovia Center), but I never expected it,” Snow said. “It had the possibility of being able to do exactly that, but I didn’t know if it would ever come to that. To be honest, it was kind of suited for where it was. The experience was more for that kind of building than it is for this kind of building.”
“We always hoped back then that it would grow. We used to go into buildings where it only fit 3,000 people, so for it to work up to the Wachovia Center which is much bigger is great,” said Little Guido. “Little by little we were just hoping the company would grow; now we are in the Wachovia Center and now we are on a different level.”
To Stevie Richards, it was actually a surreal experience.
“At the time I was wrestling for ECW it was mostly smaller buildings like the Arena, and even smaller than that at times,” he said. “Now it’s very surreal to see the past three weeks of ECW television emanating from bigger arenas. Even tonight in Philly at the Wachovia Center, it just seems very surreal. ECW was mostly suited for the smaller arenas with that atmosphere, and I just hope that we’re going to maintain that magic and that atmosphere.”
Above all, many of those who have called ECW home before were happy to be back in Philly.
“It’s kind of cool to be in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July, with Philly being one of the birth places of the nation,” said Al Snow. “It’s kind of corny, but at the same time cool. It wouldn’t matter where it was in the country, but here in the home base of ECW the crowd’s going to be amazing and we’re going to have a blast.”
Little Guido added that “I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m glad to be here in Philly; for me it isn’t bad because I live in New York, so this isn’t that bad of a trip for me. I just love the wrestling business, and if it makes me be in Philly on the Fourth of July to work then that’s what I have to do.”
And for Balls Mahoney and Danny Doring, the ECW show was a chance to spend the Independence Day holiday with people they consider family.
“Every day coming to work is like a breath of fresh air. It’s a vindication because I was one of the guys who are still living and breathing ECW and still wearing my jackets and my t-shirts,” Balls said. “Every day I come back here it’s like being with the family again. We were all one big family of misfits and it’s phenomenal to have us all back together again.”
Doring added that “I don’t have a family anymore, unfortunately; I just have my brother and my dog and that’s it. So what better than to be in a locker room with guys who I’ve considered my family for so many years. I couldn’t be happier, and to be back in front of the rabid Philadelphia fans, I couldn’t ask for a better Fourth of July. It’s the best one I’ve had in the last 10 years.”
For fans and Extremists alike, it’s relatively safe to say the ECW’s first return trips to Philadelphia have been successful ones. But as Stevie Richards warns, ECW will only grow if that success continues elsewhere.
“ECW now is not the ECW it was eight or ten years ago; right now it’s in a transition period and getting introduced to the casual viewers,” Richards said. “It’s trying to retain the fans that knew it all along while trying to get new viewers as well. We’re trying to please so many people and still stay true to the product. It’s a very difficult place for everyone on the roster to be in, but we’re up to the challenge and we’re going to make it the best brand in WWE.”