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  Feb 1, 2001

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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: The cold, hard truth of ECW's imminent demise
By JOHN POWELL -- SLAM! Wrestling

There are things about our jobs that we all hate. For journalists in particular, the toll emotional stress can take is a clear and present danger. We are, after all, human beings and sometimes no matter how hard we try to separate ourselves, a story can affect us on a personal level for good or for bad. You can't look away from a scene of an accident when you are on the scene. You can't ignore the personal suffering of an interviewee who is dying of AIDS. You can't help but to get swept up in a hometown sporting event that has brought a crowd to their feet.

As the Senior CNEWS Editor at CANOE, there are times when I wish that I didn't have to read all those stories and open the accompanying photos on the news wires. Last week for example, there was a story about an inquest into the starvation death of a baby here in Toronto. Reading the story was bad enough. Looking at the autopsy photos was a nightmare. The image of that poor, frail child is still burned into my memory. It is something I won't ever be able to forget no matter how hard I try to. Some in my field are able to push those things away into the dark recesses of their mind and bury them there for good. I can't and won't because I don't want to ever be able to switch my humanity on or off like that. I feel I would lose part of myself in the process.

There are parts of a journalist's job that are a total drag. I didn't want to report on the information I acquired about the status of Extreme Championship Wrestling last Friday. It wasn't news that I wanted to hear. I admire the organization for what they've been able to accomplish in the short span of their existence. Though their product has been rough around the edges, they have put on better matches than the WWF and WCW combined in recent years. I didn't wish to be the bearer of bad tidings and incur the wrath that was sure to follow but news is news and if I turned my back on such a story, I would doing a great disservice to you the readers and myself as a professional.

We've all heard the woeful rumours. We've read about how many of ECW's most prominent stars are actively seeking employment elsewhere. How the company is in such financial turmoil that it isn't able to pay the traveling expenses or salaries of their employees. Who's to blame? Who's at fault? Ironically, ECW's greatest asset is also its greatest liability. Of course I am speaking of ECW owner Paul Heyman.

In an interview with SLAM! Wrestling's John Molinaro in August 2000, former ECW superstar Shane Douglas predicted the federation's present troubles. "I think ECW is clearly on its last legs," he told Molinaro. Engaged in a money dispute (as so many other notable names have been) with Heyman, Douglas could see the writing on the wall back then and split the scene for World Championship Wrestling. It was the beginnings of the mass exodus we are seeing right now. The mainstays have departed. The Dudley Boys, Tazz, Raven, Mike Awesome and Lance Storm headed for higher ground. If there was a future in ECW, you can bet that everyone would be staying put and not risking the years they've put into the organization. Like anyone else, wrestlers need to feed their families and pay their bills. Heyman wasn't carrying through on his responsibilities as an employer so they walked and I don't blame them one bit. Who can afford to work for free these days unless you are breaking into the business and paying your dues? Nobody.

Douglas wouldn't. "You have to get paid for what you do. And when it starts to become that you're $30,000 behind, $40,000, $50,000 -- hey wait a second, $60,000 -- at some point you have to understand that this talent is going to walk sooner or later," Douglas told Molinaro about his situation.

Douglas isn't alone either. Raven, another former ECW great, told our own Chris Gramlich that the reason why he left ECW for the WWF was that he had "done everything there was to do" in ECW and "needed to make some money" because he "really wasn't making s--t there".

Money difficulties aside, Paul Heyman's greatest failing is that he is a phenomenal booker, probably the best in the industry right now, but he's a terrible businessman. There is no doubt that Heyman's vision behind ECW changed wrestling as a whole. The much-lauded "WWF Attitude" is nothing more than what has made ECW a success for years. ECW began the revolution but didn't capitalize on it. It should've rode that wave of wrestling popularity basking in the mainstream popularity and media attention. Instead, it remained as a money-losing venture and a distant third in the Big Three. That's Heyman's fault for not putting into place a professional infrastructure which could handle important tasks such as marketing and publicity with grace and ease to boost the company's status.

"Paul Heyman is one of these guys that will sit back and be content to rip you off for five bucks out of your pocket when there's five million in a legitimate business deal," Douglas also told SLAM! Wrestling. "That's just the nature of the beast with him. He is so small-minded."

And that lack of foresight caused everything to come tumbling down when the TNN deal ended unceremoniously last year and the WWF entered the picture. To make matters worse, you can bet that ECW's hostile relationship with TNN (a subsidiary of Viacom which also owns broadcast heavyweights CBS and MTV) has not gone unnoticed by other television organizations, which is why the federation's flagship show can't find a home and probably won't ever return to the national airwaves.

Heyman's outright refusal to hand over the corporate responsibilities to others and not permitting outside investment to take ECW to the next level has cost ECW its future. That's the reality ECW fans like myself have had to face. The outlaw federation has been in the critical ward for years. Whereas Heyman has been able to dodge the bullet in the past, his mistakes have finally caught up with him. All us fans can hope for is that a miracle cure is found or ECW's last hurrah is one to remember. It may not be the news we want to hear but it is the cold, hard truth.

Reader Feedback

  • Jan. 25In defence of Lucha Libre

  • First of all, the disclaimer: I love lucha-style wrestling, and I feel it adds something great to all the major federations. (Yes, I actually watched RAW back in 1995 when they went through their luchadore/Max Mini phase, and I enjoyed every second of it).

    But I should caution you on demonizing lucha's critics. If you look at past episodes of TSN's Off The Record and even his documentary, you'll find one of the most strident critics of lucha wrestling is Bret Hart. From his perspective I can see why: the Cirque Du Soleil style performances run completely contrary to the more subtle, ring-psyche based wrestling that's his own. I don't agree with it, but I definitely see his point.

    Tom Yeung, Staff Reporter, Xtra West, Vancouver, BC

    I do respect your opinion on Lucha Libre and I tend to agree with you on some points. The only thing I don't like about this type of wrestling is not the choreographed stuff or the high flying, it's the "slap in the back" to push an opponent standing, motionless, into the ropes. That is really ridiculous. And I'm not even talking about the luchador running the ropes and getting the "slap" to continue the momentum. I've seen too many times two wrestlers facing each other and the other one giving him the "slap in the back" to whip him in the ropes. However I agree with you that a lot of great wrestlers knows how to wrestle the "Lucha Libre style". Even a guy like Yoshihiro Tajiri wrestled a lot of Lucha Libre.

    Manuel R.,

    Lucha Libre is unrealistic just like American wrestling is sometimes. You don't see American wrestling in the WWF do that stuff as often as Mexican wrestling does.

    You write: 'Another knock I've heard is that there's too much co-operation in Mexican wrestling and that it destroys the illusion of the work looking 'real'. Come off it! You don't think there's co-operation involved when Kevin Nash powerbombs some poor stiff? Co-operation is the cornerstone of American wrestling.'

    Ya, smart stuff, but when Nash powerbombs it's not as obvious as when two lucha libres hold hands and start rolling around the ring together. I mean what the hell is the point of that?

    'It is a brilliant dichotomy of precise execution and improvisation. By way of death-defying tope con hilos, spine-tingling quebraduras and perfectly displayed Tapatias, Lucha Libre manages to defy the laws of physics and gravity.'

    You're not impressing anybody by using those words. Lay off the Americans, you're not Bret Hart -- stop trying to play his old character, and stop being so prejudiced just because Canadian wrestling and Mexican wrestling isn't as popular as American. If it's so bad, then why are we kicking both ya'lls asses in the wrestling world?

    I myself am not a big fan of lucha libre. I do enjoy a match or two when WCW ran them back in the good ol' days ('96-'98). But, when you watch them they are nothing but high spot after high spot. Which is okay, until its 12 minutes into the match and everybody in the ring should be dead from the moves they have taken or dished out. So my biggest gripe with it, is that it doesn't really tell you much of a story. It's all about athletic manouevers, which I applaud them on doing and for a short time is fun to watch.

    Also, all the guys you named that spent time in Mexico polishing skills have came to the U.S. and learned the craft of story-telling in a match. The art of selling, which Mexican wrestling doesn't have. Come to think of it maybe the Road Warriors are Mexican as they don't sell moves either? But my point is Mexican wrestling is okay to a point. But I would rather watch a guy like Benoit who has the package and can use many moves, and many styles to tell a story in his match.

    Past editorials

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