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ECW Is Truly A Product of It's Time

I’ve been watching Extreme Championship Wrestling on the WWE Network lately—I tend to watch PPVs and events in chronological order because I have a thing where I can’t watch or read anything out of order—and it’s a product that doesn’t hold up over time.

It’s not exactly a new sentiment. When I started going back over old school wrestling some years back and watching the product and it was like “This isn’t all that interesting anymore.” It’s all ECW either, Hardcore TV between 1994-1995 and 1999-2000 were fun for two different reasons. It’s that 1996-1998 period—where WWE started to bite off ECW and forge the Attitude Era and when the pre-ROH-type talent raids started—that I just didn’t care for overall and didn’t age well.

Taking 1994-1995, it was interesting because it was when the company really stared form around its native talent and some newcomers who fit what the company’s product and vibe. While it wasn’t the first time an American company had wrestlers who weren’t exchangeable and truly a part of the company (see USWA/Memphis/CWA or AWA or NWA), it was the first I’d seen a company with wrestlers who bleed, sweated, and breathed their company. They didn’t have a bunch talent who were interchangeable with WCW or WWE or ECW without the company having a drastic product shift.

With 1999-2000, you had a company that was shifting its main event focus more towards the Shane Douglas/2 Cold Scorpio-standard or the Taz-Sabu-standard (especially Taz who was the prototype for American strong style...which has to be another article) where you had stories based around athletic workers and solid competitive-style matches. Rob Van Dam, Jerry Lynn, Justin Credible, Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Rhino, and Steve Corino became the focus—guys who could go extreme, but shined outside of that.

If you look at that period in ECW and the first two years of ROH, you can see where ROH is the successor of the company down to being formed by former ECW production guys who were pupils of Heyman’s booking. While it was time of decay for ECW, it is an interesting period to me seeing that change in direction.

The 1996-1998 period was the opposite. It was when a more soap opera approach to storylines was taken and there were longer promos—something that sadly stuck around and was really what prompted the practice in WWE during the late-New Generation period and beyond. That isn’t to say the period was without good feuds—you had The Gangstas vs. The Eliminators, The Dudleys against everyone, Taz vs. Sabu, Taz vs. The Triple Threat, Raven vs. Sandman and Dreamer, and Funk’s “last run.”

The sour point for 1996-1998 is that it was ECW’s most accessible period. Ideas were taken from ECW at this time and then talent was snagged. It didn’t hurt ECW’s talent pool much early on as Heyman planned ahead for talent leaving (just look at the tag teams, there was always an extremely cohesive team in place when one team left).

Towards the end of that period into 1999 those departures started to become more frequent and were hitting towards the top of the card. Not only that, but it seemed that by 1999 people pretty much bounced on ECW when there was some entertaining stuff bubbling up in the later end of the year.

Going back to ECW not being a product that stood time, the weight of that is on the content then there’s the disorganized nature of the events and PPVs. While the latter is a selling point of ECW, sitting through PPVs 16-21 years after they happened they’re very hard to sit through in their entirety. It’s not a good blueprint on running major events anytime after 2001.

Sure enough every promotion that took the ECW formula to a “T” eventually sunk. Pro Pain Pro Wrestling (3PW)? Out after two and a half to three years. Xtreme Pro Wrestling? Dead after four years and a move from California to Philly. Extreme Rising? Gone in around two and a half to three years.

That list isn’t including a company like Dreamer’s House of Hardcore which is still active and doesn’t go into full blown ECW territory or  promotions that adapted hardcore when hardcore became popular like IPW Hardcore in Florida, USA Pro Wrestling on the east coast, the early years of Jersey All Pro-Wrestling, IWA Puerto Rico, or deathmatch promotions that popped up following the IWA Japan King of the Deathmatch, Big Japan Pro Wrestling’s hottest period of the 90s, and Bad Breed’s deathmatches in ECW.

Simply put, hardcore wrestling or rather extreme was very much a product of the 90s like “Japanimation”, nu-metal, Mortal Kombat, Beavis & Butthead, Savage Dragon, the Spice Channel, Fox Kids, and Rob Liefeld’s artwork. While its influence launched many promotions stateside and helped WWE pick up business it's not a product that needs to return no matter how much a segment of wrestling fans say the business needs to go back.

M. Swift is a long time wrestling fanatic. When he's not writing about wrestling history and other stuff he is often writing short sci-fi stories, listening to heavy metal, and playing RPGs. 
M. Swift

Swift is a wrestling fan who enjoys the history of the art, lover of RPGs and strategy games, a huge comic book fan, and a metalhead. He is the host of The Danger Zone '92 podcast.

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