Story by Chris Graham
ECW at its height was the antithesis of what professional wrestling has become – corporate, antiseptic, formulaic.
The question of the summer is – how can the people who pioneered the concept of corporate, antiseptic, formulaic wrestling possibly do justice to the memory of the ECW revolution?
“When WWE debuts the new ECW, there are going to be people ready to jump all over it as soon as they see something that feels artificial – and unfortunately WWE’s forward momentum is going to make it feel artificial,” said James Guttman, a wrestling columnist and author of World Wrestling Insanity, which offers readers a glimpse inside the inner workings of the Stamford, Conn.,-based World Wrestling Entertainment.
“One of the main problems at the outset is that they’re trying to go with a new vision with ECW, and I think the audience that they’re trying to draw in with ECW doesn’t want a new style of ECW,” Guttman said.
“A lot of us complain that ECW was more than barbed wire, it was more than tables – that’s what people who really appreciate the business and appreciate what it can be say. But I think a lot of ECW’s fan base liked that specific part of ECW. So when WWE says they want to do something new and different than what we saw in 2000, I don’t know if their hard-core fan base, the people who are really going to be into the ECW angle, are going to want to see anything different than they used to see,” Guttman told The Augusta Free Press.
But that’s precisely what WWE chairman Vince McMahon is saying is going to be the case. In an interview with WWE.com, McMahon emphasized that while the plan for the relaunch is to bring in stars from the ECW era, “it can’t be the same.”
“That’s pretty much impossible. It’s now five years later. A lot of the performers now have five more years under their belt, and the ECW style has taken a great deal out of them. This is something that the ECW audience already realizes. They know that if ECW was still in business today, they would be very different from what they were five years ago,” McMahon said.
The level of involvement of former ECW head honcho Paul Heyman in the relaunch of the brand is another subject of speculation in the wrestling world. Heyman appears to have been given something of a significant role – but as McMahon himself noted in the WWE.com interview, “at the end of the day, Mr. McMahon is in charge.”
And McMahon’s fingerprints are all over a move that Scott E. Williams, the author of Hardcore History: The Extremely Unauthorized Biography of ECW, thinks could be a “recipe for death” for the new ECW.
“The plan that they have to tape the ECW matches before ‘Smackdown’ in the same arenas – that to me doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Williams told the AFP.
“If you do those matches before the ‘Smackdown’ tapings, there are only two possibilities of what can happen – either they’re going to have to go out and do such a watered-down version of what ECW was that it’s never going to get over in a million years, or they’re going to go out there and go all-out, put on some really innovative, great matches, and then the crowd’s going to be burned out by the time the so-called main-eventers come out,” Williams said.
The decision to go this route is also a signal that WWE executives are planning to put their mark on the production of ECW shows – which Williams said is going to be another sign to fans that “this is not the real ECW.”
“What they’re going to have to do if they want to make this thing work, if they insist on doing it their way, they’re going to have to cultivate a new ECW audience.- because the old ECW audience isn’t going to watch it,” Williams said.
That all having been said, Williams said he thinks the new ECW “has the potential to be really, really strong.”
“If you’ve got a Paul Heyman who’s working the creative end, and is not hampered by the business-fiduciary end, which was never his strong point – and I think even he would agree to that – if you have a Heyman unfettered by all this other stuff, who can go and be creative, I think he’s shown everywhere that he’s had a chance to be creative that he excels with whatever he’s given,” Williams said.
One person who thinks a Heyman-led ECW revival could work is former ECW star and current TNA star Raven.
“I think to do it again – first of all, there’s only a few people in the wrestling business who I think have the creativity. To be a great booker, you have to understand the business – but to be a booker in 2006, you have to understand current trends and styles. Because you want to appeal to the young consumers, the 18- to 35-year-olds. So it doesn’t matter that Paulie is whatever age he is. Paulie keeps his fingers on America’s pulse,” Raven said.
Raven as well likes the approach that WWE seems to be taking with regard to the debut of the new ECW.
“If they’re going to make it successful, they’re going to have to use the old guys to establish something, then use all new guys to create a whole new revolution once again. Because you can’t recreate the revolution. The American Revolution was fought in 1776, and then we fought a whole new war in 1812. If we’d have fought the same war in 1812, we would have lost. You can’t have a revolution with a bunch of guys who are past the revolutionary age,” Raven said.
“You can’t make a revolution out of guys and something brand new out of guys who have been doing the same thing for 10 years. I think Paulie is smart enough to know that – so I think what he’s going to do, it can’t be a nostalgia tour. It’s got to be Paulie taking a whole bunch of new guys that you’ve never heard of and putting together a whole bunch of new acts and using the guys who were there before to get them over and then creating a whole new revolution,” Raven said.
Wrestling journalist and author Steve Johnson cautions that the talk of revolution – or that WWE will even do better than break even with the new ECW – is probably going a bit too far.
“You have to consider, for one thing, that when Paul Heyman was running it, ECW had a better timeslot and a better network – and it didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons,” said Johnson, the coauthor of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams.
“You want a sports analogy that’s really an apt comparison – ECW is to WWE what the WNBA is to the NBA. I don’t know that it’s something that’s going to produce money, and I don’t know that it’s ever going to have an appeal beyond a certain select segment of the audience,” Johnson told the AFP.
“ECW was essentially a small seat-of-the-pants promotion that operated in a very limited part of the U.S. There are promotions that haven’t gotten one-tenth of the attention that ECW had that operated for longer periods of time in larger geographic regions. Whether they can capture that magic in a bottle again, we’ll see. It’s an interesting try,” Johnson said.