Heading to the promised land

Monday night, ECW will break new ground in New York City. For the first time in the brand's history, the Extremists will set foot in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. While New York City has long been an ECW hotbed, it has always called either the Hammerstein Ballroom or the Elks Lodge in Queens home. But now, on Sept. 11, ECW will finally reach the Mecca of sports-entertainment.

As in any facet of life, there are places that sports and entertainment fans and performers alike consider hallowed ground. Every sport has its most famous battle ground; from the Rose Bowl to Pebble Beach Golf Links to NASCAR's Daytona International Speedway, athletes always seem to step up their game when they get there. In New York City alone, there are several venues that are considered tops. Yankee Stadium, Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall are all world-renowned facilities, and while there's no one specific big venue for stage actors, they know they've "made it" when they perform somewhere on Broadway.

Sports-entertainment is no exception. While there are many venues around the country (and around the world) that are staples of the industry's history (from San Francisco's Cow Palace to the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia to the Greensboro Coliseum), there is only one Mecca…and that is Madison Square Garden. It's known as the World's Most Famous Arena, and it has been WWE's unofficial home base for nearly five decades. There have been literally thousands of famous moments in the Garden; from the beginning of Hulkamania in 1984 to the first edition of WrestleMania and beyond, MSG and WWE are forever intertwined.

ECW representative Paul Heyman is no stranger to the Garden. Heyman hails from Scarsdale, N.Y. (about 20 minutes outside of New York City) and was a frequent visitor as a child. And throughout his WWE career as an announcer, manager and General Manager, he has performed in the Garden multiple times. But for the man who personifies ECW, bringing his extreme tribe there for the first time will be the most memorable visit of all.

"As big as ECW's first pay-per-view, as big as ECW's first broadcast on cable television, as big as One Night Stand and ECW on Sci FI…ECW coming to Madison Square Garden is yet another milestone," a very candid Heyman said. "It's one that's rather emotional and overwhelming to me. As a kid growing up in New York, MSG is the center of the universe. There is no other arena on the face of the planet that I have dreamt of bringing ECW to. No brand or promotion besides WWE RAW and SmackDown has ever flown its flag in MSG; Ted Turner's WCW flag, despite all his millions, never flew there…but ECW will. I am so humbled…my breath is taken away by this miraculous godsend of an achievement for ECW."

Several ECW originals who grew up and live in metropolitan New York City echoed Heyman's sentiments. Tommy Dreamer, who also hails from nearby Yonkers, was another frequent visitor to the Garden, but this will be the most special trip to the Mecca for him as well.

"Considering that I have probably attended more events at MSG than anyone I know, this is huge," said the emotional ECW Original. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think ECW would be in Madison Square Garden. I don't know what my emotions will be, but it will be an amazing moment for both me and the ECW fans. It's amazing how far we've progressed."

In Dreamer's Diary of Violence for Sept. 2, he wrote about the feelings he had going back to Atlanta, which is where he made his first WWE appearance on July 9, 2001. It was one of the biggest moments of his career, but another one of his biggest moments came at MSG.

On August 27, 2002, Dreamer took on fellow ECW Original Rob Van Dam in a match to unify his Hardcore Championship with the Intercontinental Championship held by RVD. Dreamer was on the losing end that night, but he will never forget the atmosphere surrounding the contest.

"I had my own quasi-ECW moment when I fought RVD; the whole building was chanting ECW, and that felt amazing to me," an emotional Dreamer admitted. "I actually started crying on the ramp, because I never thought that I would be in the semi-main event of RAW. Now, I pinch myself…as I wrote in my Diary of Violence about Atlanta, I felt that really closed my ECW career. Never did I think I'd get a second chance, especially in the Garden."

A native of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, Tazz is an ECW original…but when he came to WWE, he made his debut in Madison Square Garden at the 2000 Royal Rumble. Tazz defeated Kurt Angle that night in a moment he has said he never would've believed; on Sept. 11, that feeling will return.

 "I was just talking to Joey Styles about this last week…I never thought the day would come that ECW would perform in MSG," Tazz admitted. "I can't wait to see the reaction ECW gets compared to the one RAW gets. I think it will be amazing."

While he's happy to be heading to the Garden, Tazz is actually happier for those who've worked hard but have never quite gotten there.

"For guys like Sandman, Sabu, and Balls Mahoney…the ECW originals that have never gotten to work in the Garden, I feel happy for them. The Garden is the World's Most Famous Arena; once you make it there, you've made it."

For both Little Guido and Justin Credible, it will be a double homecoming. Both are ECW originals, and both men are from New York (Guido from the Rockland County suburbs, Credible from the Ozone Park section of Queens). And while both men have also performed in the Garden as part of the WWE roster, they say that doing it as part of ECW is a dream come true.

Guido: "I've been to MSG many times for Knicks games, Rangers games, wrestling, the circus, you name it," Guido said, "so the first time I performed in MSG for WWE was great…but now I'm doubly excited about ECW. Right down the street, the Hammerstein Ballroom was one of the homes of ECW. We had some great shows there, so I'm looking forward to being back in NYC. Finally, ECW will take MSG to the extreme!"

Credible added that "it will definitely be groundbreaking. In the early days, that's the last place we ever thought ECW would make it to. It's the Mecca."

It will be a special homecoming for one of ECW's newest Extremists as well. For Matt Striker, another native of Queens, this will be the first time he's been on the "other side" at Madison Square Garden.

"My father took me to MSG from the time I was 7, and we still went together into my adult years. It's a place where we bonded; we'd go and have the same seats every month," Striker recalled. "We saw the transition from WWWF all the way to WWE. Coming to the Garden alone has a special place for me; it's nostalgic."

Even while talking about it, Striker was getting fired up about making his Garden debut.

"I am coming home to the place I came to study the art of professional wrestling…I get goose bumps talking about it," he said. "If I get a chance to walk out into that arena, take a good close look at me. You will see me look around and inhale; I'll smell the moments that I remember as a small child, when I would almost jump the barricade to get to Don Kernodle. To be there on Sept. 11 is a blessing that I thank the Lord for."

For anyone and everyone in ECW, performing in Madison Square Garden will be a career highlight. And while it has been done before, this time it will be for real when the fans in the Garden chant those three famous letters...E...C...W.

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