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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, July 14, 2000

ECW is hardly the big leagues

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I don't often have much to say about ECW. In Canada, many of us only get their ECW on TNN program, and that's just one hour a week of wrestling. Plus, I remember being told at some point to say nothing when you have nothing good to say. Oh well, so much for that.

There is no big three. ECW is a second-rate promotion, and at this rate, that's the best they'll ever be. Here are five reasons why.

1) A horrible champion.

Paul Heyman's refusal to push Rob Van Dam -- arguably ECW's only truly marketable player at this point -- is beyond me. Justin Credible is a fine wrestler. He was a fine wrestler in the WWF as Aldo Montoya. No one cared. It didn't matter that he could climb that top rope then, just as it doesn't matter that he can execute all kinds of crazy stunts now. He's not over, or at least no more than Spike Dudley would be if he were holding the belt of the number three promotion in the United States.

I'm not saying there are a lot of alternatives. Shane Douglas was an excellent ECW heavyweight champion, and gave them a lot of credibility. His heel title reign was filled with matches in which I thought he would lose, and wanted him to lose, but he never did. That caused me to tune in the following week or pay-per-view to see him defend it again. He can be an extremely aggravating person when he wants to be. Tazz was good, too. He embodied what ECW meant to a lot of fans, I think, and put on some decent defenses himself. Considering the circumstances, I think Mike Awesome's reign was about as good as it had any right to be. I mean, here comes this guy out of (seemingly) nowhere, winning the ECW title. It was downright strange. But ultimately, he was built well and wrestled some strong matches.

Justin Credible, though, devalues the title more than it elevates him. As long as Rob Van Dam is back and wrestling I'll never understand why he's not being pushed higher -- unless ECW is running on half-speed until they get out of their TNN deal.

2) Awful production values.

Their show looks like it belongs on cable access, not cable. Aside from the fact that a lot of very fixable things are just decrepit, like lighting and sometimes sound and camera angles and such, the show is put together truly horribly.

Commercials cut right into wrestling matches, sometimes twice in one match. We get more self-promotion from ECW in an hour than either Nitro or RAW in two, with their show dates and everything.

To boot, the show is put together in the most un-interesting way possible, with little or no hype for main events sometimes.

It all comes together to take away any feel or appearance of a big league show that ECW might otherwise have.

3) Roster problems.

I'm not even talking about the fact that Paul Heyman's having trouble paying his people now. He seems to be resigned to being a farm team for the WWF and WCW. Sure, he's got Rob Van Dam locked up, but he doesn't want to go anywhere and nobody wants him. Other than that, his whole roster from 1995-1999 can be found spread out amongst the bigger feds.

Sure, to a certain extent there's nothing he can do about that, but lately he seems to have given up. Wrestlers are getting their releases way early, and I think WCW actually bought and paid for Mike Awesome, then the only credible champ in the federation.

If this continues, then by definition Heyman will never possess a marketable star, because as soon as there's any hint of it, he'll be snatched up to go job to Kane or Kevin Nash. Bye bye, Raven.

4) No more fresh ideas.

Paul Heyman used to be the icon of good wrestling booking. He had new, innovative ideas. His angles were well-booked, with thoughtful progression and hot finishes. He almost single-handedly reinvented wrestling with his hardcore and raunchy and, at the same time, provocative style.

Now, it seems to me that he's a shell of his former booker self. Every match on the TNN show is a shmozz, every finish predictable or nonsensical. Guys are facing each other fifteen million times in a row with no explanation, and it's barely a feud. Plotlines are lacking, and sometimes it seems that he's not even trying.

It's bad enough that the WWF and even WCW have completely rehashed his style, even improving on it. That alone makes the whole innovative part of ECW's appeal obsolete. The fact that ECW can't even reach that level of interest says a lot about the promotion.

Maybe with so many deals and struggles, Paul Heyman's mind is somewhere else. I certainly don't know. But I do know enough to see that the ECW we're seeing today is very different from the ECW of three or four years ago.

5) The death of hardcore.

Actually, to say that hardcore is dead in ECW would be insane. To say that it's dead in the spiritual sense, or that it's morphed into something completely different -- that makes more sense. Hardcore in ECW has become gratuitous, with guys going through tables all the time and for no reason. Chairs have become a mainstay in the WWF and also WCW -- triple that problem in ECW. It's almost like a crutch, like they can't think of any other way to tell a story. Or perhaps they've gotten so used to it, they just assume that's what the fans want. Either way, it's mucking up ECW's last great asset: wrestling.

Extreme Championship Wrestling still has a lot going for it. Just last week there was a seventeen minute match on ECW Hardcore, and two seven minute matches (five total) on ECW on TNN, both sixty minute shows. That's wrestling you won't get anywhere else on free television.

But subtract interesting angles, strong finishes, good production values, and throw in gratuitous violence, the same pairings week after week, a lack of star power, and ECW's only strength won't get them very far.

I mean, I can go to a local indy show if I just want to see talented young guys go at it. If I'm tuning into a program on national television, I expect more.

So's any network who might consider picking up ECW after they get dumped by TNN. ECW had better clean up their act, real soon. This may be their last chance to make a real effort at serious contendership.

That's all for this week. Here's the mailbag.

Shujaat, from , writes:
"Hi Eric. Firstly, I don't think the tag team stable in the WWF has ever been better...or at least it's been a while. With teams like the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, Acolytes, Dudleyz, you have a bunch of legit potential title-holders! What do you think?

Secondly, Jeff Hardy is one of the most talented and entertaining wrestlers to watch, and he DOES take most of the abuse. When's he gonna get a push, either in the tag division or even in single?"

Shujaat, I agree on both counts. I absolutely love the WWF tag team stable right now, and I look forward to their matches (when they don't involve DX) most on pay-per-views these days. I think they're really holding up the company while it shifts gears to promote new talent. I also think it does wonders for house shows.

I also agree that Jeff Hardy is an absolutely terrific wrestler. I do have two comments about what you suggest, though. Firstly, I don't think it's a good thing that he's Mick Foley: Bump Machine 2000. I'd like to see him get over just with fast-paced, safe action. Frankly, if he keeps doing what he does, it won't take much to put him out of commission for good, and at the very least, he'll regret it by his late thirties. Also, I don't think he's got what it takes to be a real singles contender in the WWF. He just doesn't have the charisma outside the ring. He tells a story beautifully from inside, but he's got to get better on the outside. Being part of a tag team helps mask that, and helps him develop too. So I don't think he's going anywhere for now.

Stacey Locantro,, writes:
"Please tell me if Chyna and Triple H and are still together. I think they are made for each other. The story line with Steph is getting on my nerves. I also read that the Undertaker is getting married, please give me more info on this if you can. If it isn't to hard can you give me more info on the Big Red Machine, like if you have a picture of him without his mask on that would be nice. I like both of the brothers (are they) and would like all the info you have. Thank You Loyal Fan Of the Undertaker and Kane."

Okay, I can address every question but one:
* Chyna and Triple H, according to a recent magazine interview with Chyna, are still together behind the scenes. I guess if you liked them, you wouldn't like any woman with Triple H. I confess, Stephanie is getting a bit on my nerves, as well. [Editor's note: Magazine articles are often a long-time in the making, and it HHH & Chyna may not be a couple anymore.]

* I have no idea about Mark Callaway (Undertaker) getting married. He keeps his life pretty private, so I don't hear or read much about him. It's possible.

* Kane, the Big Red Machine, is portrayed by Glen Jacobs. Glen Jacobs has also played two other characters in the WWF -- Dr. Isaac Yankem, D.D.S. as well as Fake Diesel. I'd suggest looking for pictures of them if you want to see Jacobs unmasked.

* Kane and Undertaker are half-brothers in the story, not related at all in real life.

Hope that helps.
ThatŐs all for this week. If you have any comments, as always, I welcome them. Thanks to those who wrote this week, and thanks to everyone who reads the column. Have yourselves a great week!

Bob Kapur's response: ECW is a major league player

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