Monday, May 16, 2011

Looking Back to Look Forward: Paul Heyman's ECW Legacy and Helping the UFC

Paul Heyman is a pro wrestling icon.
Pro wrestling guru Paul Heyman is assisting with the production of Spike's UFC Countdown for UFC 131.

News that Paul Heyman is working with Spike TV to help produce UFC Countdown can only be good news. With the Edgar vs. Maynard, Evans vs. Jones, and Lesnar vs. JDS headliners scratched from upcoming tickets, the UFC can use any boost it can get. And who else but the legendary professional wrestling promoter Paul Heyman to help do just that?

Paul Heyman has been an active force in the pro wrestling scene since the 1980's, working promotions big and small. He is also the man who managed one of the biggest sports and entertainment icons, Brock Lesnar, to big show status with the WWE. Yet, when I think about Paul Heyman, I don't think Brock, WCW, WWF, or WWE. Paul Heyman's perhaps most outstanding accomplishment is the ECW...

ECW: Eastern Championship Wrestling to Extreme Championship Wrestling
Most casual pro wrestling fans will nod their heads, thinking, "yeah, I remember the ECW"(Extreme Championship Wrestling). But, unless you resided in the Philadelphia (PA, NJ, DE tristate) area during the 1990's, or you're just a hardcore pro wrestling loyalist, you probably don't remember the 'real' ECW. As I remember it, the ECW began as Eastern Championship Wrestling. In fact, even after it was renamed Extreme Championship Wrestling, many fans continued think of it as "Eastern Championship Wrestling" when saying "ECW." This was years before promotion was rebranded under the WWE banner. I'm talking about the original, dirty, 'sho 'nuff nasty ECW.

At any rate, the ECW was Paul Heyman's brain child. It was a small promotion, produced out of a low-key industrial area just north of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia. Housed in a warehouse building, the humble promotion built up a devoted fanbase of hard-nosed working class fans. ECW was jagged-edged and trend-setting. They were doing things in the 1990's that made the WWF and WCW look like Mr. Rogers. Fans would bring random household objects to ECW events hoping that The Dudley Boys would call on them to offer up a weapon to use. Sexually provocative scenes were the norm, and violence was overflowing.

Fans like myself will recall tuning their box television sets to channel 61, or later channel 48, to catch ECW events usually following Spanish language programming or Home Shopping Network. The ECW introduced acts like Taz, Chris Jericho, The Gangstas, The Dudley Boyz, and none other than Paul E. "Dangerously" Heyman himeself in the sluttiest, put-the-kids-to-bed format. The building was dimly lit and not always the cleanest. The crowd was rowdy, and oftentimes meaner than the wrestlers themselves.

Behind all the sluttiness and grittiness, there was intelligence at work. Through the ECW, Paul Heyman revolutionized pro wrestling. He changed professional wrestling from a boring, family-friendly experience, to an edgy, hardcore culture that was always full of surprises. Much of this is owed to the fan participation element that was a major part of the ECW's popularity during the 90's. In the ECW fans were a part of the show.

Speaking of fan participation, two of my fondest ECW memories take fan interaction to a new level. I was just talking to a buddy from Philadelphia about two of my favorite ECW moments -- the ring collapse, and the folding chair pile-up. Relish in those memories with the following videos:

Ring collapses and makes fans party harder!

After Public Enemy defeats The Gangstas in a tag team match, the fans invade the ring which collapses under the weight of the raucous crowd. has the run down...

"In the early era of ECW, the fans were a big part of the show. They used to bring weapons to the arena for their favorite wrestlers to use on their opponent. As a way of thanking the fans for their support, The Public Enemy invited them into the ring to celebrate after a match. Too many fans entered the ring and it collapsed. Fortunately, no one was injured."

* * *

And what about the infamous folding chair incident.

I still get the urge to wing a folding chair everytime I see one and it's because of this classic ECW moment.

Props to YouTube poster StupidWrestling for the vid and this excellent synopsis of the incident:

On August 13th, 1994 at ECW's Hardcore Heaven event at the ECW arena, one of the most infamous and replayed moments ever in ECW's history happened after a match between Terry Funk and Cactus Jack went to a no-contest.

The Public Enemy (Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge) came to the ring and began attacking the two men, with Funk and Jack eventually getting the upper hand. After Funk & Jack had the Public Enemy subdued, Funk turned to the crowd and signaled for someone to throw him a chair.

That's when all hell broke lose.

Funk got not one, but hundreds of chairs from the ECW audience. One by one, steel chairs began flying all over the arena into the ring along with garbage and trash cans, completely burying the Public Enemy underneath. Not only that but both Jack and Funk were hit with chairs as they stood lowering their heads in the corner.

This same scenario has been done several times in several different independent promotions across the United States, and even once in TNA. Some promotions and wrestlers have even use the "chair riot" as a wrestling spot and it is, without a doubt, one of the most memorial moments in wrestling's history.

Paul Heyman made changed the game in the 1990's. He made pro wrestling a full circle experience. Heyman is the Jerry Springer of professional wrestling. He pushed things to the limit to create unforgettable moments in the ring. What this means for the UFC Octagon still remains to be seen, but with the UFC's current state of vulnerability, things can only go up from here.

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