AS I SEE IT 7/21: A trip down memory lane
AS I SEE IT
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
The management of the 2300 (ECW) Arena has been doing Throwback Thursdays on their Facebook, and asked me for some ECW Arena history pieces. So I updated some of what I’ve done here for them, and am repeating it this week.
May 14, 1993, was the date that Eddie Gilbert and Tod Gordon scheduled their first show of Eastern Championship Wrestling. It was in a Bingo Hall, run by the Viking Club Mummers organization, located at Swanson and Ritner Streets. The building was called Viking Hall. Back in those pre-internet days, if someone tried to look up the intersection on a SEPTA map, they’d have found the intersection officially didn’t exist.
It turned out the Viking Club had paved over freight train tracks and created an unofficial extension of Swanson Street. In those days, Philadelphia area independent wrestling fans were used to going to shows at flea markets. They were used to going to shows at elementary, junior high schools, and high schools. So when they heard a Bingo Hall, they scratched their head. First, this show is at a street corner that doesn’t exist, and it’s located at a Bingo Hall?
So on the afternoon of the show, fans asked around the neighborhood. Finally arriving at the local Forman Mills discount store, I asked where the Mummers practiced. The sales clerk pointed down the street. Yup, it was there. They walked in, looked up at the wall, and saw the Bingo board up on the wall.
It’s a part of Viking Hall lore that they did “Midnight Bingo” at the Viking Club there to help fund the Viking Club’s annual march up Broad Street in the annual Mummer’s Parade.
In the early years of what became known as the ECW Arena, wrestling was supposed to be out of there in enough time to allow set-up for Midnight Bingo. As fans left ECW shows, the “bingo ladies” were out in line waiting impatiently to get in. Some nights ran a bit long.
Beginning that night, Viking Hall became the home for ECW, Eastern Championship Wrestling, and later Extreme Championship Wrestling. Viking Club, which solely became known to fans at the ECW Arena, became the home of the most controversial wrestling promotion of the 1990s. It featured incredible technical wrestling, unbelievable violence and some of the most creative booking ever.
Here are memories of the ECW Arena, memories many of you reading have seen via TV, VHS, DVD, online, and via the WWE Network; starting with 1993.
Tod Gordon began Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1992; picking up the ashes of promoter Joel Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling Alliance; and a year later was ready to take things up a step.
He got a contract with Sports Channel Philadelphia. The fledging promotion’s only exposure had been low-power TV clearance on W07CB Channel 7, viewable in center-city and West Philadelphia only). They brought in Eddie Gilbert as the booker, with brother Doug. With Gilbert also came Terry Funk, who had recently done an interview in the Pro Wrestling Torch wrestling newsletter about his idea for a “hardcore” style wrestling TV show. Along with these two came a well-known loud mouthed manager from Memphis and WCW named Paul E. Dangerously. How little fans knew or suspected what was to come.
The first TV taping at Cabrini College on March 13, 1993 ran before about 60 people. This small crowd came because of a snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow on the Philadelphia the next day, and cancelled the second day of tapings. Cabrini College decided they weren’t interested in wrestling, leaving Tod Gordon to find a new home.
Fortunately, they found a Bingo Hall.
April’s TV taping set things up for the promotion’s first big show, The Texas Chain Match Massacre with Terry Funk vs. Eddie Gilbert on June 19, 1993. These two gave the fans at the Arena an old school all-Arena bloody brawl of a kind not seen anywhere in Philadelphia, save Gilbert’s own program in 1991 with Cactus Jack in ECW’s predecessor, the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance.
In August 1993, many ECW fans got their first live exposure to Japanese wrestling through W*ING workers The Headhunters, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator (aka Hugh Morris), and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga.
September 1993’s Ultra Clash brought Stan Hansen, Abdullah The Butcher, Kevin Sullivan, and The Dark Patriot (Doug Gilbert) against JT Smith in a Scaffold Match.
September also brought an end to the Eddie Gilbert era and the beginning of the Paul Heyman era in ECW; as Gilbert left the promotion, due to disagreements over a prospective involvement with Jim Crockett’ s World Wrestling Network (a promotion that, ironically enough, never took off). During the show, Eddie Gilbert walked into the Arena unannounced, acknowledged he was leaving ECW, but told fans to keep supporting the promotion.
Some of the names seen in ECW during 1993 included Eddie Gilbert, Doug Gilbert, Kevin Christopher, Samoan Warrior, Paul Diamond, Pat Tanaka, Ivan Koloff, Herve Renesto, Chris Michaels, Hunter Q. Robbins III, Miguelito Perez, Crash the Terminator, Stan Hansen, Chad Austin, Rockin Rebel, Todd Shaw, Kevin Sullivan, and Sal Bellomo.
As 1994 began, 150 fans made their way into the ECW Arena for a January TV taping. That doesn’t sounds remarkable, except this was a TV taping that was postponed a day because of an ice storm that kept 350,000 people without power. Many of those coming to the show still didn’t have power themselves. In those pre-social media days, they were informed via nothing more than a ECW phone line that operated out of the home of ring announcer Bob Artese.
February brought The Night The Line Was Crossed, with Shane Douglas vs. Terry Funk vs. Sabu. This was the original “Three Way Dance”, although it wasn’t referred to as such at the time. It was a one hour long match that put the cartoon shows that masqueraded as professional wrestling of the time to shame. Between the blow-away effort of the three wrestlers, Heyman’s booking had fans going with a match that told a story in creating the storylines that moved along the three pivotal characters of the golden era of ECW. Heyman took the 3 way match which had recently been established in Mexico’s AAA promotion.
Then, in April, the ECW Arena saw an angle that saw Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton do a run-in, resulting in one of the loudest pops in Arena history. This was a run-in that was kept 100% quiet in those pre-social media days…so quiet, that in fact some of the ECW workers and staff had no clue what was going on when they saw Anderson and Eaton backstage. This set things up for the When Worlds Collide show in May 1994 with Sabu and Bobby Eaton matched up with ECW Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk and partner Arn Anderson. When Worlds Collide set a record crowd for the ECW Arena with nearly 1,600 in the Arena.
June saw Hostile City Showdown and the debut of wrestling legend Dory Funk Jr, teaming with brother Terry against The Public Enemy in the first teaming of the pair in Philadelphia wrestling history.
July’s Heat Wave show saw Public Enemy took on Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. in a barbed wire match. This match concluded with the infamous scene of a bloody Terry Funk calling on fans to throw chairs into the ring, a scene that aired on ECW TV in the show’s opening for years.
August 27, 1994 saw the beginning of the “extreme” brand; described in my AS I SEE IT column ten years (and now we recount it TWENTY years) later as:
“If someone had told us that this wrestling promotion owned by a center city pawnbroker… would be seen nationwide on cable television… that it would go on PPV… that it would have wrestling fans around the world chanting “ECW… ECW… ECW”, to this very day…
If someone had told us that it would feature talent ranging from New Japan stars Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit… to lucha stars Rey Misterio, Jr., Juventud Guerrera, La Parka, and Psicosis to All Japan stars Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas, and Gary Albright… to Japanese lucha style stars Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada, and TAKA Michinoku…
If someone had told us that it would see the creation of the most memorable new character of the last decade… a character called Raven… and that the company would change the direction of the professional wrestling industry… if someone had told us ALL these things would happen and more…
We would have looked at you, and told you that you were in need of serious psychiatric help.”
If all that hadn’t happened, none of you would care about a warehouse turned bingo hall turned wrestling venue on Swanson and Ritner.
The backstory was that ECW had been called NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, beginning in late 1993. In 1994, after the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner and the completion of a resulting non-compete agreement with Ted Turner, Crockett decided to start promoting with the NWA again under something called World Wrestling Network, which as it turned out never got off the ground.
WWN already had indirectly set the stage for ECW’s future, as early news of this upcoming WWN relationship back in 1993 was reported to have been the reason that Eddie Gilbert resigned as ECW booker back in September 1993, and resulted in Paul Heyman being given the booking position.
So in 1994, Crockett went to ECW’s Todd Gordon and asked him to hold a tournament for the NWA Heavyweight title. NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo saw this and felt that Crockett and Gordon were going to do what had been done before… namely to make the NWA Title a company title as Crockett had done in the 1980s by keeping the NWA title within WCW. This would have killed any hope of keeping alive the fledging alliance of promoters under the NWA banner that was starting to reform.
As a result, Coralluzzo told Crockett as well as Gordon (who had already been butting heads since the 1992 founding of ECW, which competed with Coralluzzo’s NWA Jersey shows) that the NWA Board would not approve their control of the belt. Coralluzzo and the NWA Board then attempted to take control of the tournament.
The tournament, which excited many area wrestling fans, would feature Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Osamu Nishimura, Two Cold Scorpio….and Shane Douglas. The show also would feature Cactus Jack and “underdog” Mikey Whipwreck going against The Public Enemy for the ECW Tag Team Titles. But it would feature something we’d never have imagined.
Following the situation with Coralluzzo, Gordon and Shane Douglas, who had been designated by Gordon and Crockett to win the tournament (reports at the time suggested that Coralluzzo wanted Benoit to win the tournament) planned to stage the controversial angle where Douglas would give his moving speech dedicating the title to his father, cite the NWA Champions he was succeeding, and then throw down the title. ECW would then break away from the NWA, and change the promotion’s name to Extreme Championship Wrestling.
October and November saw the Sandman “blinding angle” that won a Wrestling Observer Angle of the Year award. It was so well done, those working in competing promotions called friends to ask if it was a work.
It was set up after a man was arrested in Singapore and sentenced to a caning. ECW jumped on it and hada Singapore Cane match between Dreamer and The Sandman (loser getting 10 lashes). Dreamer lost, took his lashes, then asked the Sandman “Thank you, may I have another”. This introduced the Singapore cane into ECW.
Then, the October setup saw an I Quit match, that saw Sandman piledrive Tommy Dreamer twice. Inbetween piledrivers, The Sandman lit a cigarette. Tommy Dreamer got up and swatted the lit cigarette “into one of Sandman’s eyes”. Woman (Sandman’s manager), hit Dreamer with Sandman’s Singapore cane. Tommy Dreamer grabbed the cane, and smacked The Sandman in the face “damaging the other eye”. Sandman then screamed, causing the locker room, faces and heels, to run out as if Sandman had legit been blinded with Dreamer yelling “it was an accident”.
Fans weren’t sure what had really happened, including some people wondering if Sandman had been ready to blade himself and been hit with the blade going into his eye. It wasn’t just fans. I still remember Brian Hildebrand calling me and asking me what had happened.
This angle was designed to blur forever in ECW the lines between “babyfaces” and “heels”, in ECW and in wrestling (seen in WWF/E in their “Attitude Era”), as well as creatively working smart mark fans, also new to wrestling. Sandman sold the angle by seldom coming out of his real life house. The payoff came at November To Remember, when Sandman came out to “retire”, only to rip off the bandages, show he hadn’t been blinded, and stiff the hell out of Dreamer.
Some of the other names seen in the ECW Arena during 1994 were 911, Mr. Hughes, Sal Bellomo, Tommy Cairo, Matt Borne, Ray Odyssey, The Sheik, Pat Tanaka, Road Warrior Hawk, The Bruise Brothers, and Mike Awesome.
So there’s 1993 and 1994.
Until next time….
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