Some of you may remember, back in the dark and mysterious days before NXT, that I used to write recaps on here about ECW. Back then, as now, I wasn’t the most reliable recapper. A real life involving a full time job, 4 year old twins and a crippling Dandelion & Burdock addiction would often conspire to leave me without enough time to do the show justice. Also, with ECW being a shorter show than Raw or Smackdown, there was a higher wrestling to messing about ratio – and let’s face it, this blog is more concerned with the messing about part on the whole.
Towards the end of ECW’s run back in February, I did briefly address this in a blog about the announcement that ECW was being replaced with NXT. At the time, Taz was very dismissive and outspoken about the treatment that ECW had been given by Vince McMahon and the WWE. I was quite taken aback by Taz’s comments, especially since he was quite happy to admit that he defected from ECW to join WWE for the money, yet he was happy to criticise Vince McMahon for making money from the ECW initials.
Fast forward to this week, and Tommy Dreamer’s recent promo on TNA iMPACT! If you haven’t seen it (and quite frankly I hope most of you haven’t, as giving TNA viewing figures is only encouraging them) then you can view it via YouTube here:
Powerful and emotional stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. The incredibly masculine holding back of the tears… the supportive hands of Mick Foley… Dixie Carter offering full control of the PPV to Dreamer and the others… Except of course it isn’t. It’s bloody awful and Dreamer, Rhyno, Raven, Richards and Foley should be ashamed. For all the bluff posturing of the “ECW Originals” decrying Vince McMahon’s bastardisation of ECW – nothing he did once the weekly show started was anywhere near as disheartening and insulting as TNA’s constant toadying to wrestlers who may have been a big name “in the other company”.
It’s been a long list so far: ex-WWE guys who have been dragged out of retirement (or unemployment) by TNA and given top pushes or, even more disturbingly, positions of actual power. Jeff Hardy (twice! the second despite his highly publicised drugs arrest), Shannon Moore, Kevin Nash, Mick Foley, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Brian Kendrick, Elijah Burke, Kurt Angle, Ken Anderson and more.
And now, TNA have moved on to pastures new – picking up ex-ECW wrestlers to put on HardCORE Justice (their annoying capitalisation, not mine) “a one-night-only celebration of hardcore wrestling featuring a never before seen reunion of legendary wrestling superstars” that is being billed as “The Last Stand”. OK, so – assuming that none of us have ever seen, or even heard of, the excellent original ECW One Night Stand PPV that the WWE put on, TNA are organising a “never before seen” reunion of ECW guys in a PPV environment, while coincidentally using the words “ONE NIGHT only” and “last STAND” on the official website.
Although of course, ECW One Night Stand wasn’t even the first reunion show for ECW guys. Two days before that there was the first show in a short series known as Hardcore Homecoming, featuring ECW talent in a series of hardcore, no holds barred matches. Still there’s no way TNA could have heard of these relatively obscure shows, not unless they happened to include current TNA talents like Mick Foley, Raven, Rhino and Team 3D. Oh, and of course, they would also need to have been booked and promoted by somebody heavily entrenched in TNA management such as… oh I don’t know… Jeremy Borash say. And while we’re stretching the bounds of possibility, lets be really outlandish and say that Borash would have had to also hypothetically film, edit and produce a documentary about the shows called Hardcore Forever…
Anyway, making fun of TNA and their unfathomable booking decisions is as easy as shooting Hardys in a barrel. The issue I have at the moment is the Tommy Dreamer promo. This is a guy that was first employed by the WWE back during the Invasion angle, was given 14 Hardcore Championship reigns, then a number of office jobs within the company, and eventually was given an ECW Championship run by the WWE that left him in the record books as the only person ever to hold the ECW Title in both “Original” ECW and “WWE” ECW. All this despite, lets be honest, him not being the best wrestler in the world. During the old ECW days that may not have been so important, but once he made the transition to the WWE style his shortcomings really began to show, and it became more and more apparent as a fan that he has was taking up roster space and TV time that could have been better utilised by other wrestlers.
It’s worth noting before we go on, Tommy’s first ECW Championship reign under Paul Heyman lasted a whole 30 minutes; whereas the terrible company that “punished” him and his friends gave him a 7 week Championship run. Oh yeah, the “punished” thing? That comes from TNA’s hardcorejustice.com site, where a quote attributed to Tommy states:
“Dixie has allowed us to have a chance to finally thank the fans that have supported us for all of these years [...] In the past, we’ve been lied to and we’ve been punished for being who we were and building what we did. Now we have a chance to get everyone back together for one last night.”
Now I like Tommy Dreamer as a person, he seems like a nice guy for the most part. His twitter feed has been consistently entertaining, and his appearance for independent companies such as Wrestlegasm favourites CHIKARA are good publicity. But I can’t figure out how I’m offended by this. I know I am offended, just not in which way. You see, I can look at the promo in one of two ways:
1. It’s a shoot.
Tommy genuinely believes that he, and all the other ex-ECW wrestlers, were treated badly by Vince. A statement that seem deluded at best, and genuinely ungrateful and petty at worst. As I’ve mentioned, Tommy wasn’t the best wrestler in the world, yet WWE kept him on far longer than they perhaps should, giving him a title reign and constantly referring to him as the “Heart and Soul of ECW” – a title which I am sure he took great delight in hearing each week.
2. It’s a work
Tommy doesn’t believe any of this, he realises how lucky he was to be a part of such a huge entity as the WWE. He knows that the exposure and publicity he received mean he can pick and choose appearances and independent bookings for as long as he wants, and that the WWE actually made more of a success of the ECW brand that people give them credit for. However, despite knowing all this, he is prepared to stand in the ring of the main competitor and run down WWE, and Vince in particular.
Either way, Tommy doesn’t exactly come out of this situation smelling of roses. But, it’s only fair that we look into this a little deeper. Tommy’s main complaint seems to be the way that some of the other guys were used and tossed aside by the WWE for being the same people they were in ECW. I’ve no doubt that there is some truth in this; however, you have to look at the kind of people we are talking about here. Let’s take a couple of the main ECW wrestlers who made the leap to WWE.
Rob Van Dam – Became the first ECW Champion in the new promotion, beat John Cena in a PPV main event match, becoming the first wrestler in history to hold both the WWE Championship and the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, and the only one ever to hold them at the same time. Managed to get himself suspended for a marijuana offence, but then came back to be given numerous title shots and a Wrestlemania payday. Even after leaving the company due to his wife’s illness, Van Dam came back to make a surprise appearance on both the Raw 15th Anniversary show and the 2009 Royal Rumble.
Sabu – Was released by TNA, and was given a World Heavyweight Title shot in his debut match for WWE shortly afterwards, against Rey Mysterio at One Night Stand. Two months later he won a Battle Royal and was given a PPV match against John Cena. Despite then being arrested for possession of drugs, Sabu was still given a title match against Big Show at Summerslam and a Wrestlemania payday.
Hardly being treated terribly, and the same goes for other ECW Originals such as Balls Mahoney and The Sandman – both of whom were given pushes and storylines far outweighing any actual wrestling ability.
On the flip side, WWE’s incarnation of ECW was arguably responsible for bringing up a new crop of Superstars and giving them space to learn to react to much larger crowds than they may have been used to previously; as well as reinvigorating the careers of established wrestlers such as William Regal and Christian.
People like CM Punk and Evan Bourne, both of whom had worked with great success on the independent scene, were given space and time to learn how to adapt their style to fit in with the WWE and it’s larger arenas – most notably with Punk fazing out the use of the Anaconda Vise as a finisher and focussing more on the Go To Sleep (a move which can be appreciated from a greater distance in the crowd.)
Less experienced wrestlers had the opportunity to use ECW as a training facility of sorts – people such as Seamus, Jack Swagger, Yoshi Tatsu and Zack Ryder all came into their own on ECW. After Joey Mercury had his face destroyed by the Hardy Curse, Johnny Nitro was floundering in singles competition until a transfer to ECW and “THE INCIDENT” gave him an unexpected title shot. Cue the transformation to John Morrison and a greater deal of success that anyone could have foreseen.
The trouble seems to be one of perception with ECW. People such as Tommy Dreamer, perhaps understandably, will only focus on the elements of ECW that they were involved in and that made them famous – the hardcore matches, the brawls throughout the ECW arena, the use of weapons… I would argue however, that the thing that made both forms of ECW great was instead the opportunity it gave wrestlers who didn’t necessarily fit the WWF/WCW mould. I’ve mentioned some of the people that the new ECW gave new life to, but the same happened with Heyman’s show.
Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin, Lance Storm, Eddie Guerrero, Tajiri – all people that were overlooked or dismissed from the WWE or WCW and were given breaks on ECW. I said it last time and I stand by it now : both forms of ECW were great.
The original ECW wasn’t great because of any perceived anarchic outsider status (after all, they were bankrolled by Vince McMahon for some time)
It wasn’t great because of the weapons and bloodshed (after all, if there was such a demand for that style, CZW would be challenging TNA for viewers)
It was great because, in between the brawls, they showcased some amazing wrestling from some amazing wrestlers. This is what made the original ECW so enjoyable to watch – the variety, and it’s the true legacy of Paul Heyman’s work that was carried on through to the WWE version. Building a show around the hardcore elements of ECW was always a bad move, even when the wrestlers involved where in their heyday.
The original ECW themselves didn’t do this; their PPVs always offered a combination of brawling, weapon based matches and high-flying technical wrestling. WWE didn’t do this; go and look at the line-up for the first One Night Stand. As well as the incredible Masato Tanaka vs Mike Awesome match, and the main event fight between the Dudleys and Dreamer/Sandman – the PPV featured some great wrestling matches with Lance Storm vs Jericho and Mysterio vs Psychosis being the stand outs for me personally.
It remains to be seen just how much of the HardCORE Justice PPV is given over to the hardcore style matches – but it seems a pretty safe bet given TNAs over reliance on older names to push their shows that Dreamer will be in the main event, and that it will be weapon-based. It will also be interesting to see just who they manage to get involved. They’ve already exhausted the “top tier” of ECW wrestlers available to them, and have delved down to the levels of Simon Diamond.
I’m not going to deny Tommy Dreamer has contributed a great deal to the wrestling industry through his passion and commitment, and I would never deny anyone the right to pursue a pay day – but at some point the nostalgic rose-tinted view that some people have of certain elements of a company that once employed them, whether they had a right to be in a wrestling ring or not, had to stop. And the over reliance on washed-up, used-up and burnt out names to sell PPVs in 2010 is starting to verge on the pathetically hilarious.
I’ll leave you with another Dreamer quote from the TNA site. “TNA is the only place that this event could happen , […] There are no politics to worry about and no restrictions in place. The fans know that I have a lot of extremely close friends, so they can expect anything and everything to happen. I have some surprises for everyone. ”
Let’s hope he’s right, and we’re all pleasantly surprised…