From the Harley Races, to the Barry Windhams, to the... Ric Flairs, I accept this heavyweight title. Wait a second... wait a second, of Kerry Von Erich, of the fat man himself Dusty Rhodes... this is it tonight, Dad...God, that's beautiful...and Rick Steamboat...and they can all kiss my ass! [...] Tonight, let the new era begin! The era of the sport of professional wrestling! The era of the Franchise! The era of the E-C-W!—Shane Douglas
The little wrestling promotion that could - and did - change everything.
The promotion started in 1991 as a small regional promotion named Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, which based itself in Philadelphia; after it was sold to Tod Gordon in 1992, he renamed it "Eastern Championship Wrestling" and turned it into a member promotion of the National Wrestling Alliance. But it wasn't until 1993, when former WCW employee Paul Heyman joined the company as a booker, that the company started to show signs of life.
In 1994, the company was part of an NWA World Heavyweight Championship tournament that would crown a new champion. The NWA president was worried that ECW was going to monopolize the title much like Jim Crockett Productions (aka WCW) did in the '80s, so he took control of the tournament. In retaliation, Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman devised a plan with the man booked to win the tournament - Shane Douglas - that went into effect after Shane won the title. The quote that starts off this article comes from Shane's post-match speech after defeating 2 Cold Scorpio for the title; Douglas ended up tossing down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt, raised up the ECW World Heavyweight Championship belt, and declared himself the "new ECW Heavyweight Champion of the World". August 27, 1994 would forever be known as the day Eastern Championship Wrestling died; the NWA dissolved its association with the company and stripped Douglas of its world title, while the company itself would change a single word in its name just days later - it was now officially Extreme Championship Wrestling.
For the next seven years, ECW would drastically change the landscape of the national pro wrestling scene. Taking a cue from Garbage Wrestlers of the past (like Terry Funk - himself an ECW alumni - and Abdullah the Butcher), as well as Japanese "deathmatch" promotions like FMW, ECW popularized "hardcore" wrestling in the United States; practically every match was fought under what's now known as "Extreme Rules" (where pretty much anything except hitting a ref was legal). Several other wrestling styles were also highlighted and popularized thanks ECW, including lucha libre (which led WCW to raid ECW's talent roster for the best luchadores they had to create their famous Cruiserweight division).
ECW presented a product for a more mature wrestling fan, giving them flawed heroes, deeper storylines, dramatic matches, and - oh, yeah, how could we forget - plenty of sex and violence. Their product was a stark contrast to the family-friendly comic-book superheroes of the WWF and WCW, as well as the highly-kayfabed style of the NWA. ECW also invented and/or popularized many things that the modern wrestling fan takes for granted these days: having an arsenal of weapons under the ring, the presence of an Evil Authority Figure (in the form of Bill Alphonso from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, and later Cyrus from "The Network"), many of the most daring maneuvers that are now seen on TV on a regular basis (mostly in Gimmick Matches), and a more "shades of grey" booking style where very few people are pure faces or heels (at least for very long). ECW also turned a whole bunch of wrestlers who were rejects from the big promotions (because they were too short, or not muscular enough, or too ethnic, or anything not having to do with actual skill) and turned them into hot commodities, leading to many of them having long and successful careers with the bigger promotions. (Amongst the ECW alumni that left the company to go on and have memorable careers were Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Amy "Lita" Dumas, Chris Jericho, Mike "Crash Holly" Lockwood, Raven, Ron Simmons, Rob Van Dam, and - arguably the most famous of them all - Stone Cold Steve Austin.)
Even the ECW crowds had a big influence on other wrestling fans. The "WOO!" when one wrestler chops another (a Homage to Ric Flair), the "This is awesome!" chant for a great match, the "Holy shit!" chant for a particularly impressive move, and the "You fucked up!" chant when a wrestler misses a spot were born in ECW, and almost all of these chants remain ingrained in wrestling crowds to this day. The fans were also allowed to bring their own weapons to the show in its early days, and wrestlers would use them during matches (infamous weapons included a cactus, a ladder, an NES, a VCR, a two-man kayak, and a cast-iron skillet, whose use by Mick Foley against The Sandman brought "Bring Your Own Weapons" nights to an end).
The promotion was not without its share of controversy, either - in 1996, two incidents marred the company almost to the point of ruination. In early 1996, Raven defeated The Sandman for the ECW Championship, and after the match, Raven and several of his allies tied Sandman to a crucifix and carried him out of the arena. This incident caused many fans to go silent as it happened, marking the first time even the ECW Mutants (as the fans came to be known) were left speechless. Fearing possible backlash, Raven was ordered to apologize for the act to the crowd. The incident would not be seen until nearly a decade later thanks to Kurt Angle - he had attended the show where the "crucifixion" happened and even appeared in the ring to set up an angle between himself and Taz, but threatened to sue Heyman and ECW should footage of him at that show ever be aired; the footage of both Angle and the crucifixion wouldn't be seen by the general public until The Rise and Fall of ECW was released.
On top of that, there was also the "Mass Transit Incident". In late 1996, a young man by the name of Eric Kulas managed to get into a match when another wrestler no-showed due to travel issues; going by the ring name "Mass Transit", Kulas competed in a tag team match and was cut open pretty deep by infamous hardcore wrestler/psychopath New Jack. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but in Kulas' case, he was underage and had no wrestling experience of any kind - he had lied to Heyman and other ECW bookers to get a spot on the card. The incident caused ECW to come under major scrutiny and almost cost them their first big pay-per-view spot until Kulas' lying to the booking team came to light. You can read more about this at That Other Wiki.
Once the colorful supermen the WWF had built their company on started to fail and they found themselves chasing WCW's lead, its rise back to dominance came through mimicking the ECW style. ECW's popularization of "hardcore" wrestling also resulted in countless independent federations, such as XPW and CZW, mimicking that style. ECW also brought back old-school technical wrestling and high-flying spot-wrestlers, too, and thus served as a big influence on Ring of Honor. Both the WWF and WCW raided ECW's talent rosters with varying levels of success (the biggest success being Steve Austin, whose firing from WCW led him to go to ECW for a brief period before entering the WWF and becoming the most famous pro wrestler since Hulk Hogan).
Sadly, ECW was not long for this world: combined with a TV deal with cable network The Nashville Network (the precursor to Spike TV) that went horribly awry thanks to the WWF, Paul Heyman's notoriously bad business sense (something even Heyman owns up to) sent the promotion into bankruptcy even as the wrestling styles and writing style they popularized took the wrestling world by storm. Wrestlers were lucky to get paid in the final year or two. In the end, the company went out on pay-per-view - its last event was their "Guilty as Charged" PPV in January of 2001, and the main event saw Jerry Lynn face a returning Rob Van Dam (who had taken a hiatus from the company because of contract disagreements) in the last great match of the promotion. (Incidentally, the show was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, which was the same building that the two ECW One Night Stand pay-per-views were held.) Once the company officially declared bankruptcy, the WWF bought the promotion, getting all of its trademarks and its video library in the deal. This buyout, coupled with the eventual buyout of WCW just a couple of months later, left the WWF as the biggest wrestling promotion on the planet.
In June 2005, the ECW name was revived by WWE for ECW One Night Stand, a one-night pay-per-view reunion of ECW alumni (that same weekend, there was another ECW tribute show - Hardcore Homecoming - which was spearheaded by Shane Douglas and featured several ECW wrestlers who didn't appear at One Night Stand). The event proved so successful that a second ECW One Night Stand was held a year later - this time, ECW and WWE talent was mixed together, since this event would be the starting point for ECW becoming WWE's third brand (alongside Raw and SmackDown). WWE's ECW brand, which had an weekly hour-long show on Syfy, would last until February 16th, 2010 - the next week, it was replaced with WWE NXT, the wrestlers on the ECW brand were split up and placed on the Raw and SmackDown rosters (or released outright), and the brand was laid to rest by WWE for good. In the summer of 2010, TNA would put on Hard Core Justice as a "tribute" to the ECW Originals, and brought several of them in as members of the roster after the PPV under the group name "EV 2.0" (with "EV" standing for "Extreme Violence").
Despite whatever damage the WWE's version of ECW and TNA's "EV 2.0" may have done to the promotion's legacy, most fans agree: there was only one real ECW.
- Action Girl: Beulah McGillicutty, as well as Francine (on occasion).
- Arch Enemy: Eric Bischoff and WCW. It really cannot be exaggerated how much the fans of ECW hated this man. While some would put WWE here as well, their relationship was a bit more complicated.
- Bilingual Bonus: In wrestling, fans have a tendency to count to ten when a wrestler climbs the ropes and delivers punches to a dazed opponent while he's in the corner. The ECW fans took it a step further by chanting to ten in Spanish when Mexican wrestlers did it.
- Bittersweet Ending: Rob Van Dam returning to wrestle Jerry Lynn...at ECW's final event.
- Cat Fight: Aside from being a Joey Styles catchphrase, it was both played straight and subverted. The ECW girls absolutely would roll around a ring trying to tear each other's hair out . . . and then later piledrive, powerbomb, and hurricanrana each other.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Cyrus, a representative of "The Network", during ECW's run on The Nashville Network.
- Darker and Edgier: While WCW and the WWF were still putting on shows with colorful larger-than-life personalities, ECW was putting on a product with a more realistic edge, featuring much more sex and violence than any other major promotion at the time...until the WWF decided to take a lot of ECW's edge and inject it into their company, creating the Attitude Era.
- Evil Foreigner: Surprisingly subverted a lot of the time, as many foreign wrestlers were treated as faces or heels depending on their in-ring actions (and their face/heel alignment in their home countries).
- Fan Nickname: The original ECW is often referred to as "E-C-Dub", due to the famous chant.
- Rabid ECW fans are referred to as "The Mutants".
- The ECW revival was often referred to as "WWECW".
- Follow the Leader: A few things that are copied from ECW to this day include submissions symbolized by tapping out, three-way matches, saying "WOO" when using Ric Flair's moves, lucha libre and Japanese-influenced lightweight wrestling, and of course, hardcore wrestling.
- Franchise Zombie: Between WWECW, the Extreme Revolution (an ECW stable in early TNA), Hardcore Homecoming's tours and EV2.0, a lot of people seem to have trouble letting go.
- Fun with Acronyms: Little Spike Dudley. (His finisher? The Acid Drop.)
- Happily Married: Long after ECW went out of business, Tommy Dreamer married Beulah McGillicutty.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: After the company became Extreme Championship Wrestling, pretty much every match became this in theory, as pretty much anything and everything was allowed during a match (except hitting a referee intentionally).
- Once an Episode: ECW Hardcore TV frequently ended with several "surprise" run-ins and the match turning into an all out brawl. When Chris Candido asked Jim Cornette to participate saying "we always have a surprise ending!", Cornette remarked that it's not much of a surprise if it's done every night.
- Person with the Clothing: Hat Guy.
- Power Stable: The Dudleys.
- Really Seventeen Years Old: The infamous "Mass Transit incident". See the trope page for details.
- Real Song Theme Tune: ECW were notable for using real songs for wrestlers' entrance music - most famously, "Enter Sandman".
- Refuge in Audacity: A lot of ECW, but anything out of Joel Gertner's mouth. Forget Getting Crap Past the Radar - Gertner took the Radar out behind the toolshed and made it cry for its mama.
- Scary Black Man: NEW JACK. Full stop.
- Screwed by the Network: TNN would only air commercials for ECW during the actual show, meaning there was virtually no way to pick up new viewers. Then, TNN opened up public negotiations with Vince McMahon to put WWF Monday Night Raw on the channel, meaning ECW would eventually get axed. ECW, however, couldn't shop for another network until TNN officially cancelled them. By the time they did, ECW was flat broke. Heyman feels this is the reason ECW doesn't exist today.
- Take That: The Blue World Order. As Joey Styles put it during the first ECW One Night Stand event:
- And then there was Paul Heyman's infamous shoot promo on The Nashville Network (later The National Network, and now Spike TV) at the end of ECW's run. "Hey, Network - throw us off the air! I DARE YOU!"
- Unnecessary Roughness: The infamous Barbed Wire Match between Sabu and Terry Funk; the Mass Transit Incident.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Believe it or not, this was the relationship between ECW and WWE.Despite several employees, most notably Jerry Lawler, openly admitting to hating ECW, WWE did damn near everything they could to help ECW get off the ground. Both did quite a bit of cross promotion, and Vince even helped ECW get out of a bit of financial trouble from time to time. Really, most of the hate seems to stem from the fact that WWE replaced ECW on TNN, ultimately leading to the latter's dissolution, and that's more TNN's fault than WWE's
- World of Badass: Compared to WWF and WCW at the time.
- Would Hit a Girl: Absolutely everyone, but most notable in the case of Tommy Dreamer's repeated piledriving of Raven's female compatriots.
- Wrestling Doesn't Pay: In this case, literally; when the promotion declared bankruptcy, some wrestlers were still owed hundreds, if not thousands, in back pay from Paul Heyman.
- This was one of the reasons that WWE didn't immediately purchase the assets of ECW following its demise, instead waiting for the bankruptcy court to go about its business (though they managed to earn a stern warning from the same bankruptcy court for utilizing ECW trademarks during the Invasion period, necessitating a quick-fix rename of the WCW/ECW faction to "The Alliance"). WWE was actually listed as a creditor in ECW's bankruptcy, to the tune of $587,500 - which was, not-so-coincidentally, very close to the same amount listed as the value of ECW's tape library.
- Many of the wrestlers did double duty through much of the promotion's existence - Stevie Richards would take calls, Bubba Ray Dudley booked venues, Tommy Dreamer dealt with shirts and merchandise, Taz designed logos, etc. Of course, Paul Heyman handled the finances, and we all know how well that went...
- Wrestling Family: In kayfabe, the Dudleys were all fathered by the same man (a traveling salesman), but were born to different mothers.
- C.W. Anderson was related to the famous Anderson family in kayfabe. In real life, like all the Andersons, there's no actual relation, just a strong resemblance.
E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB!