ECW has an intriguing legacy. So many fans have fond memories of the Monday Night War era when WWE and WCW were in direct competition with each other, and that saw the rise of the New World Order, and WWE implement its Attitude Era with acts like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and D-Generation X at the fore. But for those fans who considered themselves even more hardcore into the indie scene of things over mainstream wrestling, there was ECW. Fans remember it as the little promotion with edgy storylines and extreme violence that cultivated talent and influenced the creative direction for the bigger companies. In the end, ECW emerged as a clear cut number three promotion of the time, in terms of reaching an audience and building national level stars; plenty of fans would argue ECW was number two, or even number one in terms of entertainment or match quality.
For how fondly ECW is remembered now, not everything about the company was so great. Indeed, with a small promotion that had minimal corporate structure came a lot of questionable business moves and practices, as well as sketchy backstage happenings related to the talent themselves. Sure, the big business nature of WWE and WCW limited what the companies could do at times to protect their mainstream images and serve the needs of business partners and, particularly for WCW, corporate oversight. Just the same, the relatively organized nature of those promotions kept them from going too far off the deep end with some choices that caused ECW issues in the long run, or that people look back at as insane in hindsight.
This article takes a look back at 15 dark secrets that have been revealed by former ECW employees.
15. Tommy Dreamer Answered Phones
Yes, part of the charm of ECW was that it operated like a mom and pop shop with lots of people pitching in to get work done, often in unconventional ways. In WWE’s The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary, however, it was revealed that Paul Heyman and his company really tested the limits of an all hands on deck strategy. That included popular in ring talent doubling in thankless behind the scenes roles. Tommy Dreamer, among others, answered phones for the company to handle merchandise sales.
In retrospect, it’s pretty absurd to think that a hardcore fan of ECW might have called in to order merchandise pertaining to their favorite wrestlers, and not even realized that it was one of their favorite wrestlers on the other side of the phone line taking their credit card information.
14. Sunny Was So Desperate For Substances, She Offered ‘Services’ For Them
There are a lot of stories floating around about Sunny’s exploits back in the mid to late 1990s. One of the more outrageous ones has her offering Sabu oral sex, or to show him her breasts in exchange for pills.
Sunny has denied these uproarious stories, but a number of parties from the ECW locker room have claimed variations on the story with the same core elements in place in shoot interviews. The fact that other anecdotes are out about Sunny doing sexual favors for Ahmed Johnson in WWE for cocaine, and getting in trouble with WCW management suggest that this story could have some credence. Of course, like all rumors, there’s also a very real possibility the situation has been exaggerated or distorted over the years.
13. Rob Van Dam’s Ego Was a Deal Breaker For An ECW-WWE Crossover Match
WWE staged a brief ECW invasion angle of its own that included ECW talent hitting the ring or sitting in the front row for shows. It was a mutually advantageous situation that gave ECW national exposure in advance of their first PPV, and gave WWE some extra buzz for the allure of talent from outside the company—not to mention talent from an increasingly popular indie—on their programming.
A number of parties have suggested the arrangement was intended to go further, including ECW talents working a match at a SummerSlam PPV. The negotiations reportedly broke down because ECW talent was reluctant to put over WWE talent in the build to the show. Rob Van Dam, in particular, balked at putting over WWE’s mid-card talent because he considered himself a main event talent. The result was that the mid-1990s crossover was a shorter and less involved than it otherwise might have been.
12. The Dudleys Handled Merchandise Shipping
Not unlike how Tommy Dreamer was among a cast of wrestlers anonymously answering ECW’s phone lines, Bubba Ray Dudley reported that wrestlers were also often tasked with odd jobs like packaging t-shirts to be shipped out to fans who’d ordered them over the mail.
On one hand, work like this demonstrates the commitment wrestlers had to their company, because they were willing to offer up their downtime and do manual labor in service to seeing ECW at large succeed. On the other side, one could view this is an example of Heyman exploiting his talent, foregoing the need to pay additional employees by manipulating his own wrestlers into completing menial tasks as a cost saving measure. Regardless, it seemed to work for a time as wrestlers like the Dudleys don’t seem to hold a grudge, and moves like this surely helped ECW’s finances as the company grew.
11. The Sandman Nearly ODed At A Show
For many fans, The Sandman is the embodiment of made ECW what it was. Before Steve Austin had his beer bashes, The Sandman would drink a beer on his way to the ring and hit himself in the head with a kendo stick en route to wild brawls. The guy never exhibited much athleticism, but he was precisely the brand of the over the top, adult oriented character that separated ECW from the more polished product WWE and WCW had to offer (and that’s arguably why the guy didn’t accomplish in his subsequent stints with WCW or WWE).
In a particularly outlandish story, Tommy Dreamer has spoke in a visit to Steve Austin’s podcast about The Sandman actually ODing in a car on the way to a show. Dreamer was in charge for the night while Paul Heyman was away, only for Rhyno, who was late, to come in to report The Sandman had died. Dreamer reports that Rhyno said they dropped off Sandman at a hospital, only to be revived by hospital staff, then show up and still wrestle.
10. Rob Van Dam Slapped Taz in The Locker Room
While Rob Van Dam is known to be cool and laid back, there’s also a formidable collection of stories about the guy standing up for himself when he feels disrespected, ranging from cutting off Triple H when he poked fun of him backstage at WWE, to slapping Taz in the face and daring him to react in ECW.
The latter story goes that, after something went wrong in a match, Taz commented on wanting to fight RVD. By the following week, word had made it around to Van Dam who slapped Taz in front of the whole locker room, basically indicating that if he really wanted to fight, Van Dam was game. Taz backed down and RVD was all the more respected by his colleagues in the aftermath.
9. Paul Heyman’s Lies Cost Sabu A Big Money Deal With WWE
Multiple sources, including Sabu himself, have indicated that WWE wanted to bring him in much sooner than they did, and that there may have even been plans for him to play The Sultan. In Sabu’s absence, that gimmick went to the man who would become Rikishi instead, and he wound up most famously jobbing to Rocky Maivia at WrestleMania 13.
Sabu has indicated that WWE put a lot of money on the table, but that he held fast out of loyalty to ECW, and particularly because of Paul Heyman’s promises that the company and Sabu would grow together, and he’d wind up even more successful for it. Sabu has gone on record to say that, had he known how things would turn out in reality, including Heyman’s limited resources, he probably would have taken the life changing money WWE offered him.
8. Paul Heyman Dictated That Wrestlers Film Many Takes Of Their Promos
A number of past ECW stars have spoken about Paul Heyman direct take after take after take of backstage promos filmed on wrestlers’ days off when they weren’t working in the ring in front of a live crowd. A lot of these reports suggest that Heyman was a perfectionist who wanted to ensure that he got the very best out of a performer’s promo. Another interesting theory arose from Steve Austin, however, who Heyman brought in primarily as a talker before he was ready to wrestle again after WCW released him.
Austin claimed that Heyman kept him waiting for hours while he shot and re-shot other guys’ promos, and that it wasn’t until afterward that Austin realized what might have been going on. His promos were rooted in selling his anger at how WCW, and particularly Eric Bischoff had treated him in minimizing his role on TV before eventually firing him via FedEx after he got hurt. Austin saw the wisdom in Heyman getting Austin annoyed all over again about wasting his time, so he’d release the most emotionally authentic promo possible when he did tear WCW apart.
7. Jerry Lawler Legitimately Hurt Tommy Dreamer
Jerry Lawler had an unusual relationship with ECW. In his work as a color commentator for WWE, he openly denounced the brand as representing Extremely Crappy Wrestling. Just the same, he’d wind up working with ECW a number of times in a way that suggested perhaps his disapproval was more of an act than an actual sentiment or that, at the least, he was willing to put aside his feelings in the name of doing business.
Lawler made one particularly infamous surprise appearance, which featured him attacking ECW fan favorite Tommy Dreamer a kendo stick, which included giving him a stiff low blow. It turns out that this shot legitimately hurt Dreamer in his private parts and wound up with him having to take a trip to the hospital.
6. ECW Invaded Memphis
Jerry Lawler wouldn’t only visit ECW, but also had ECW come to him to do some business. The King had famously worked an intriguing angle earlier in which he played a heel in WWE, but brought in WWE talent to his territory in Memphis to play heels to his uber-face character. It seemed as though he meant to recreate that magic with the hot ECW brand and staged an invasion angle with ECW talents hitting Memphis.
By most accounts, the angle went awry when ECW was over enough for its stars to actually get cheered in Memphis over the home field talent, creating an awkward dynamic. Lawler and company purportedly called an audible, canceling the angle before ECW talent might throw his own promotion too far out of whack.
5. Bubba Ray Dudley Truly Incited Fans
The Dudley Boyz are a legendary tag team, known for having thrived in a variety of companies over a lengthy career, mostly as a unit. Throughout that time, Bubba Ray was generally recognized as the better talker, particularly adept at drawing heat with crowds. That talent got a spotlight in runs including a recent period as the top champion for TNA.
During Bubba Ray’s time with ECW he was far more over the top, though, notorious for singling out fans in the crowd to make fun of how they looked and curse at them to incite them to the point of actually wanting to fight him. While tactics like that woudn’t be a great idea for a mainstream company, they worked beautifully within the culture ECW had built.
4. The Company Skirted Copyright Laws Around Entrance Music
Professional wrestling promoters are known to steer clear of using popular music that they do not own for wrestlers’ theme music because paying the appropriate intellectual property fees can be costly and a hassle. In a panel discussion for the WWE Network, Paul Heyman discussed how, for all of its limited resources, still used songs like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” for its talent.
Heyman knew the laws, and that anything played beneath a certain volume level could be considered ambient noise rather than part of a performance. Thus he got in the habit of having songs ECW didn’t have the rights to played over a microphone rather than the PA system proper so that it would be loud enough for fans to hear, but not loud enough for him to need to pay out to any record companies or original artists.
3. Paul Heyman Wasn’t Subtle About Ducking Calls
As a wrestling promoter, and particularly one in charge of a popular promotion, you’re going to get a lot of calls. As ECW began to gather momentum in the 1990s, it’s unsurprising that Paul Heyman had a lot of indie talent reaching out to him in search of an opportunity. Tommy Dreamer recalled, in a WWE Network special on ECW, his own experience trying to make contact with Heyman to get booked.
Apparently, Dreamer actually met Heyman, thought he’d made a good impression and got his phone number. When Heyman answered the phone, however, he claimed not to be himself, but rather his friend Doug. Apparently, it was a common tactic for Heyman to act like he was somebody else on the phone to manage calls and string along talents rather than having to commit to them before he was ready.
2. Mick Foley Actually Thought ECW Went Too Far
Mick Foley is known as The Hardcore Legend, and earned that title for his many violent matches, and particularly his willingness to take abuse over the years including being thrown off and through Hell in a Cell, going through a burning table, getting slammed into thumbtacks, and having his ear torn off in one match. Ironically, however, Foley felt ECW went too far.
The main issue was when his then-young son Dewey became involved in storylines and fans began calling for someone to “Cane Dewey.” Surely most of the fans were relishing the absurdity of the idea rather than actually suggesting violence against Foley’s kid. Just the same, as a father, Foley was justifiably put off from the company and its supporters. While Foley would go on to work the hardcore style famously with WWE and even TNA when he was even older, the experience with ECw seemed to put a bad taste in his mouth.
1. ECW Trashed WWE While Taking Their Money
Paul Heyman did a masterful job of building ECW’s credibility on the concept that they were underdogs, snapping at table scraps relative to the dominant WCW and WWE with all of their resources. According to a variety of sources, however, WWE actually helped prop up ECW with not only exposure during the brief invasion angle, but investments to help keep the company afloat. The most commonly theorized rationale was that WWE liked having ECW around as a place to build talent and inspire ideas, and didn’t view as competitive enough to ever be a real threat to WWE’s business. This set up may explain why Heyman’s vitriol always targeted WCW a little more fiercely, as they stole talent never offered ECW anything in return.
Heyman has been cagey about whatever arrangement there may have been, and particularly explicit about never being on the WWE payroll while he was with WWE. Still, it seems that while ECW cast WWE as an enemy, in reality, the company helped them to at least some degree.
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