SLAM! Sports
SLAM! Wrestling

Tuesday, August 24, 1999

International partnerships bolster ECW

By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

 ECW executive producer and booker Paul Heyman often gets credit for his influential booking style. You need not look any further than the WWF to see Heyman's influence.

After years of promoting their product as family, sports-entertainment, the WWF decided to go extreme by introducing hardcore matches, wild brawling and blood. Heyman's storylines, promotional tactics and key pieces of talent have been lifted by the WWF and WCW at one point or another.

Heyman's booking acumen is unquestioned.

What Heyman doesn't get ample credit for, however, is his success at promoting international wrestlers. WCW and the WWF, inept at using the Mexican and Japanese talent they have in their roster, could learn a thing or two from Heyman. Whats more, Heyman has a long track record of taking North American wrestlers who couldn't find a spot on a WWF or WCW roster due to the politics of North American wrestling and turned them into superstars.

It all started during the infancy of Extreme Championship Wrestling. On August 27th, 1994 Paul Heyman and ECW, then known as Eastern Championship Wrestling, hosted the tournament to crown a new NWA Heavyweight champion. Heyman, wanting to bring some credibility to the tournament, brought in several top wrestlers working overseas in foreign promotions.

Knowing good talent when he sees it, Heyman retained the services to Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and 2 Cold Scorpio. At the time all three were competing in New Japan Pro Wrestling (Scorpio was splitting his time between Japan and Europe while Benoit was globetrotting between Japan, Europe and Mexico), exiled from American promotions by clueless bookers who said they'd never get over with an American audience because of their size.

The shortsitedness of Heyman's peers didn't dissuade him. He booked the three international stars in the tournament. Heyman continued to use them after the tournament as they all became key figures on the ECW roster. Before long, they were getting over night after night before the most demanding and critical fans in wrestling - the ECW Arena audience.

Heyman added another key addition to the roster when Eddie Guerrero debuted at the ECW Arena on April 8th, 1995, defeating 2 Cold Scorpio for the ECW TV title. Guerrero, a regular with New Japan, had just been let go by the AAA promotion in Mexico as a cost-cutting measure.

Guerrero found a new home in ECW where he immediately was programmed with Dean Malenko. Amidst all the hardcore, brawling matches that ECW was churning out it was the scientific-mat wizardry of the Guerrero and Malenko series that set ECW on fire.

The critical success of the feud was redemption for Guerrero and Malenko who proved they could excel when given a proper platform to perform (something that every major American promoter wouldn't do) proving they could make a dent in the American wrestling scene.

The series was also a feather in the cap of Heyman as he had clearly succeeded where WCW and the WWF failed miserably.

Heyman has displayed a profound respect for foreign wrestling cultures. Rey Misterio Jr. and Psicosis debuted in ECW in September of 1995 and were put in a top programs. Unlike the WCW booking committee, Heyman didn't diminish the luchadors by booking them in demeaning, jobber matches, nor did he take one of their masks in some meaningless mask versus mask match.

As Misterio and Psicosis set a standard for match quality in the 1990s, Damian 666, Juventud Guerrera, Konnan and La Parka made appearances in ECW. ECW was, in essence, a farm league team for WCW as all the Mexican stars were quickly gobbled up and signed to contracts.

After losing Rey Misterio Jr., Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera to WCW in 1996, Heyman rebounded the following year by bringing in stars from the Lucha Libre-influenced Japanese promotion, Michinoku Pro Wrestling. Stars such as The Great Sasuke, Gran Naniwa and Gran Hamada set ECW on fire with their fast-paced matches. The Michinoku Pro stars were so impressive that Heyman booked a match on Barely Legal, ECW's first PPV, in 1997 pitting Sasuke, Masato Yakushiji and Gran Hamada versus Taka Michinoku, Dick Togo and Mens Teoh.

The Japanese invasion continued last year when Jinsei Shinzaki (former WWF star Hakushi) and Hayabusa challenged Sabu and Rob Van Dam for the ECW Tag Titles at last year's Heat Wave '98 PPV. Also in 1998, Masato Tanaka and Mike Awesome, from the Japanese FMW promotion, put on a series of hardcore matches.

Heyman is also largely responsible for introducing key pieces of talent to the American wrestling landscape for the first time.

Heyman signed two North American wrestlers competing in Japan in 1996, one who was languishing in mid-card status for All Japan Pro Wrestling, the other making waves in Genichiro Tenryu's WAR promotion. Both workers came to ECW and on the strength of their ECW runs, became two of the hottest prospects in the 90s.

Their names: Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam.

Van Dam was just another worker in All Japan before Heyman brought him to ECW and immediately programmed him with Sabu. It was only when Heyman gave him an opportunity in ECW that Van Dam flourished, becoming one of the hottest prospects in wrestling today.

Chris Jericho was given the ECW TV title and had fantastic matches with the likes of Sabu, Taz, Shane Douglas and 2 Cold Scorpio. It was on the merit of his work with ECW that WCW became interested and signed him.

Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat, at the time competing in All Japan Pro Wrestling and regarded as the best tag team in the world, came to ECW in 1996 to feud with Sabu and Rob Van Dam. The WWF, looking to replenish their depleted tag team division, signed them up shortly after.

Heyman has literally scoured the globe for talent to bring back to ECW. Top talent from England (Johnny Smith and Dirt Bike Kid), Germany (Ulf Herman) and Puerto Rico (Miguel Perez) have all played their trade at one time or another in the ECW Arena. ECW maintains a strong international presence today with Mexican stars Super Crazzy, Mosco de la Merced and Antifaz del Norte and Japanese sensation Yoshihiro Tajiri.


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