Extreme Championship Wrestling Is Dead. Long Live Independent Wrestling.
I knew Shane Douglas’ Extreme Reunion project was dead in the water the very moment I saw him take off a silver wrestling mask and shirt to reveal his bleach-blonde locks, the t-shirt bearing his name and copyright-skirting logo. I knew it was dead for two reasons:
- Douglas, despite sitting opposite the hard camera, didn’t have the foresight or the money necessary to purchase front row tickets, or wait until something more significant than a Kane/Big Show match was going on.
- Douglas’ dramatic reveal—which, considering the fan who wound up getting his flop-sweat covered overshirt in his face—wound up being one of the great non-events in wrestling. Nobody popped, nobody gasped, and only a few people chanted “E-C-DUB” as the dejected former Franchise ambled his way slowly up the stairs of the Wells-Fargo arena, whereupon he tried to make it look as though he were forcibly ejected from Vince McMahon’s family friendly show not because he was a dickbag making an unnecessary, unwelcome commotion for those in his immediate era, but because he would soon be firing a warning shot against so-called corporate wrestling.
But WWE didn’t really know what to do with the wave of nostalgia that it was suddenly swept up by, as ECW One Night Stand 2006 and the subsequent launch of ECW as a third, developmental brand quickly led to cries that the WWE had “killed” the legacy of ECW despite a number of DVD retrospectives of what was really a fringe company, despite the public knowledge that it was Vince McMahon who helped Paul Heyman out with the occasional check, despite ECW on SyFy eventually finding its bearings and becoming the best wrestling show on TV, perhaps the best since Heyman-era SmackDown!. But essential bits of ECW ephemera lived on, perhaps most importantly the ECW Arena, the significance of which was not lost even on the WWE, who held the ECW brand’s first house show there. The ECW Arena, post-ECW, became a mecca for independent wrestling, housing the biggest shows from a number of Philadelphia-based, ECW-influenced promotions, chief among them being Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, and Chikara. I visited The Arena in June for Chikara’s Chikarasarus Rex event, and while the building was as hot and miserable as the legends foretold, it rekindled and refocused my love of professional wrestling in profound ways. Shortly after that event, the venues owners announced that they’d no longer be hosting wrestling events. Shortly after that, Extreme Reunion was announced, complete with videos of Shane Douglas telling Vince McMahon and Dixie Carter—whose own ECW reunion effort was reportedly quite unfair to the talent involved, in terms of pay—to watch their backs, as the spirit of Extreme Championship Wrestling was back, the torch had been rekindled, and something both a little old and a little new was set to once again play the spoiler, the underdog, the outsider, the little engine that could.Needless to say, Extreme Reunion was an absolutely terrible show.
I wasn’t there, of course, but over 2,000 people were, and the eyes of the wrestling world were divided between the ROH/Chikara doubleheader in Chicago Ridge and Shane Douglas’ proclamation that a change was gonna come. What I’ve read about the show has been brutal—one or two good matches (Jerry Lynn/Crowbar was reportedly fantastic) peppering a bunch of ECW-style run-in finishes that didn’t have real bouts attached to them. The cost to attend the show was roughly that of a WWE house show, with tickets ranging from $20 G.A. tickets to more prohibitively priced seats in the first five rows. 2,100 people attended, which is roughly double the number the last ECW show at the ECW arena pulled. For an independent wrestling show, that’s a major miracle. The Chikara portion of Chicago Ridge’s doubleheader on the same day had an estimated crowd of 500, and that’s a card featuring highly-anticipated bouts featuring some of the best wrestling talent in the world. Even though Sabu went to the hospital and Justin Credible was deemed unable to compete, the mass of humanity gathered in the spirit of their favorite defunct wrestling company deserved a show. Instead, they got a card featuring the likes of “Cordova” and “Bu Ku Dao,” exciting young newcomers who probably got their spot on the card by driving Shane Douglas to the arena. The crowd was reportedly very hostile, chanting things like “REFUND,” “SAVE THE SHOW,” and, tellingly, “FUCK YOU, SHANE.”
In 1994 Shane Douglas was responsible for the night ECW crossed the line and became a national entity. Let it be known that he’s also responsible, in 2012, for the day ECW finally died.
Believe me, I understand nostalgia. ECW One Night Stand 2005 was the show that brought me out of self-imposed wrestling exile. But the fact that 2,100 people gladly forked over their money to see a bunch of middle-aged wrestlers poorly emulate the stuff they were doing close to 20 years ago absolutely boggles my mind, especially when Chikara and ROH, having refined and perfected the best elements of ECW while boasting a roster of talent that blows that company away at its peak, can barely draw half that number to their biggest shows. At what point did the fans at Extreme Reunion realize they’d made an error of judgement? To me, there’s at least a slight chance that their incessant chanting was less a passing of judgement than an attempt to mask their embarrassment for being there. They’d been duped, afterall, and wrestling is one of the few products that allows its fans to vocalize this while the show is running.
I wonder, however, how many of the 2,100 people at Extreme Reunion were jaded ex-fans hoping for a little bit of ECW magic, hoping that whatever made ECW special would magically manifest itself and make the evening bearable, if not more than a little fun. I feel bad for those guys, and I want to encourage them to retire their “E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB!” chants and give independent professional wrestling—real independent professional wrestling—another try. See a Chikara show. Watch ROH on TV. If death matches are your bag, check out CZW (and be prepared for a surprise—more than a few guys on the CZW roster are great wrestlers in their own right). Extreme Reunion could have done themselves a huge favor and booked the new generation of torchbearers—wrestlers like Eric Ryan, Rickey Shane Page, BJ Whitmer, and so on—but they didn’t and, in doing so, exposed a fatal weakness of their product: In 2012, independent wrestling doesn’t need ECW. Its death is mourn-able, but indie wrestling has thrived and pushed wrestling ever closer to a new golden era precisely because it has moved on. I know about memories, and I know it’s been fun, but wrestling fans, it’s time you moved on, too.
To that end, I am going to cheaply plug the next show by the company that I work for (in an extremely limited capacity), Absolute Intense Wrestling’s J.T. Lightning Invitational Tournament, which takes place May 11 and 12, in Cleveland, Ohio.
I love Chikara and I love ROH (and I’ve yet to give CZW a try), and I know and respect and appreciate their take on wrestling, but if you, dear fan, are looking for the show that best encapsulates the “ECW spirit,” or whatever you were looking for and did not get from Extreme Reunion, I can tell you from my experience as a fan (I only announce the women’s matches, something ECW was quite short on) that AIW’s show is it. Like Donnie and Marie were a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, AIW features technical wrestling, hardcore wrestling, high-flying wrestling. It does tag team wrestling well. It does womens wrestling well. It has a tremendous roster of Ohio talent. It brings in some of the best talent from America and around the world. It does this on a shoestring budget with no profit margin. If a quarter of the crowd who showed up to Extreme Reunion (that’s 525 fans) came to night one or night two, not only would the promotion be setting attendance records, but the show would send far more people home talking about how great wrestling is than Douglas’ meager effort did despite its overwhelming exposure.
If you head over to AIW’s Facebook page, you can not only see the talent they have booked for the tournament, but see nearly-complete match listings. If you like technical wrestling, Tim Donst, Colt Cabana, and BJ Whitmer are booked. If you dig high flyers, ACH, M-Dogg 20, and Willie Mack have you covered. If you’re a grit-and-determination guy, Gregory Iron, Rickey Shane Page, and Eric Ryan have it for miles. If you like hardcore brawling, Madman Pondo and John Thorne are having a No Disqualification match on Night 2. If you’re a fan of women’s wrestling, Allysin Kay will defend her AIW Women’s Title against AAA standout “Girl Dynamite” Jennifer Blake. If you only go to shows with ex-WWE stars, Brian Kendrick will be wrestling as Spanky, and Colin Delaney, free from the shackles of his injury-prone, hapless loser gimmick on ECW, is one of independent wrestling’s most underrated names. Chikara fan? The Batiri and Archibald Peck will be there. Wrestling fan? It’s a two-day, 24-man tournament featuring wrestling’s best—present and future, because AIW doesn’t have time to look back.
I know, I know, you only think I’m putting this show out there because I work for them, but that’s not it. I know Ring of Honor has an iPPV on the same day as Night 2 of the tournament, but, from a fan’s perspective, this is the indie wrestling megacard between Saturday’s Chikara/ROH doubleheader and Chikara’s King of Trios in September, and there have been few tournaments this stacked with talent since the dissolution of IWA: Mid-South. This is the kind of show I get I book a hotel room for, the sort of show I pack friends into a car and road trip to, the type of show that made me fall in love with indie wrestling. If you were expecting that from Extreme Reunion, I apologize. Come to this show and let Absolute Intense Wrestling make it up to you. If you leave a comment on this post and introduce yourself at Turners Hall, I’ll buy you a beer or a slice of pizza or something. At the very least, I’ll offer you a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Extreme Championship Wrestling is dead, brother, but it’s OK. Independent wrestling isn’t going anywhere.
Absolute Intense Wrestling presents the J.T. Lighting Invitational Tournament on May 11 and 12 at Turners Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets are currently $15 for each day, but will soon be $20 and will be $20 at the door. To purchase tickets, visit shop.aiwrestling.com. For more information on the show and a special deal at the local Howard Johnson hotel, visit AIW’s Facebook page here.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.