Monday, February 29, 2016

ECW On TNN: a WWE Network Review

One of the greatest things that has happened to wrestling fans over the last couple years has been the creation of the WWE Network. An over-the-top streaming service, the WWE Network is basically a wrestling Netflix. The awesome thing about this network is that WWE has essentially consolidated 90 percent of all the wrestling in the past and present in America.

If there was an old promotion in the past that you enjoyed watching, the odds are high that for only $9.99 a month you can watch their programming on the WWE Network. And, several months out of the year they do a "first month free" deal, so you can usually try it out with no strings attached.

One of my favorite promotions as a pre-teen and early teenager was Extreme Championship Wrestling. Led by Paul Heyman from 1993 until it went out of business in 2001, the small promotion went from a regional wonder to a syndicated company with pay-per-view events all the way to one of the top promotions in the world with a weekly show on the cable network TNN, currently known as Spike.

I was so excited when the news of the TNN show came out. Before then, it was hard to watch ECW if you were a fan. Due to their "hardcore" style, full of blood and profanity and all that other stuff a kid likes, it didn't have a lot of syndication so magazines and video rentals were your best options to see EC-Dub.

The biggest issue was the time slot. Friday at 8 p.m. for a one-hour show was hard to remember. Due to its extreme nature, I would often forget and assume that it came on at 9 p.m. I would tune in at 8:58 to see the end of the show and get angry with myself.

It took the better part of two years to get most of the ECW content available on the WWE Network. Part of that was because they didn't want to give it all away at once. The other part was because they used a lot of unlicensed music and logos and WWE had to go back and digitally edit all of the episodes before they were suitable for airing.

The ECW On TNN episodes went up last week. And I've jumped into full nostalgia mode and have decided to watch all of them from beginning to end, over one year of shows and several pay-per-view events. I have watched the first four episodes, the next pay-per-view in chronology, then the sixth episode. For some reason, the fifth wasn't available. 

For my newest feature here, I will periodically check into the time machine and present to you a condensed version of what ECW is pushing, if the show is still good, and my thoughts on the whole thing.

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First off, ECW was in trouble right off the bat. Their top singles wrestler, Taz, and their top tag team, The Dudley Boys, had both signed with WWE. The Dudleys were gone by episode two and Taz lost his world heavyweight championship at the pay-per-view after the fourth episode, but stuck around for another month or so.

Storylines ECW was pushing:

Taz as the unstoppable monster ... He quickly laid waste to Tajiri and Rhino in singles matches, showing that his catchprashe "Beat me if you can, survive if I let you," was definitely true.

Rob Van Dam vs Jerry Lynn as the marquee matchup ... This feud was pushed heavily on the first episode of the program and they were the main event of the 2nd and 3rd episodes of the show. It was hyped by the announcers that Rob Van Dam was unstoppable, already a year-plus into his TV title reign, but that if anybody had his number, it was Lynn.

Mike Awesome is the new top guy ... The pay-per-view main event was Taz vs Masato Tanaka. When showing footage of Tanaka to the ECW audience, they included footage of him defeating Awesome. That did not go over well with the 6'8" 300 pounder, who could fly around the ring like a man a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter. He showed up unannounced to the PPV, inserted himself into the match and won the belt. Since we had already seen Tanaka defeat Awesome, we now had a legit number one contender.

Rise of the Impact Players ... Lance Storm and Justin Credible were the top bad guys in the ECW, making a name for themselves by taking out everybody around them and causing chaos on every show they appeared on. At the Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view, Storm scored a hard-fought victory over Jerry Lynn and Credible defeated Sabu in a bloody war that even had the jaded ECW fans showing their respect.

Raven vs Tommy Dreamer, the slow burn ... The top feud in ECW for two years ended in 1997 when Raven went to WCW. When the Dudley Boys won the tag titles and threatened to take them to WWE, out came Dreamer - two herniated disks in his back and all - to fight for the promotion's pride. He took an awful beating for several minutes until a familiar figure ran out of the crowd, dropped the Dudleys, and got the pin. Raven had surprisingly left WCW and was back in ECW. He and Dreamer were grudgingly partners. By the end of episode six, they were still champions, but they were clearly no longer on anything resembling good terms.

Sabu is crazy ... He was known as being "Suicidal, Homicidal, Genocidal" and he was a star. Sabu was presented as such a wildman that he was banned from competing in the United States by the athletic commission. It wasn't lifted until right before the pay-per-view. So, if you finally wanted to watch him in action you had to pay for it. Good marketing there.

Steve Corino and Rhino ... Corino would later morph into one of ECW's biggest crowd-pleasing stars. But before that, he was a midcard troublemaker, trying to manage his "Rookie Monster" Rhino to the top. Despite the fact that Rhino would also later turn into one of ECW's top stars, in the first five episodes (1-4 & 6) he lost four matches, singles matches to Taz, Super Crazy, and Mike Awesome, as well as a tag match to Raven & Dreamer.

Super Crazy vs Tajiri ... One of the more exciting midcard feuds in the later years of ECW was in its infancy during the early TNN days. Occasionally, Little Guido would get involved as well. Usually, more often than not, Tajiri came out on top.

Spike Dudley, giant killer ... Kind-hearted, dimwitted 5'5" Spike was shown in a montage on the first episode defeating several larger competitors. On the program, he defeated 600 lb Sal Graziano twice.

Those were the main feuds from the beginning days of ECW on TNN. I cringe now watching all of the chair shots to the head, after all that we know about brain damage and concussions. ECW - and to a lesser extent all of wrestling back then - was known for crazy chair shots. And there were several. There were a lot of high dives. Rob Van Dam, Super Crazy, Tajiri, and Mike Awesome all took several dives from inside the ring to the crowd.

The program was treated as a big deal by the announcers. The action in the ring was focused on, with viewers being informed about pertinent storylines during the match. I'm sure a lot of it flew over my head in 1999, but there were several insider terms thrown out, which was the style at the time. I heard several references to "marks" and somebody saying that their statement was "a shoot."

Overall, the first five episodes (1-4 and 6) are all great. They presented everything in a clear, sensible manner. The matches were all of a high quality. They made you care about several competitors. Back then, the business model was "watch the show and then buy the pay-per-view." I think they did a great job with the first four episodes of the tv show as a build to the PPV event.

I'm in for the long haul. I'm gonna keep watching. I'll let everybody know when and if it starts to get dull. And if you know any backstory about the awful deterioration of the relationship between ECW and TNN, then you'll know that the coming months will get very interesting. 

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