Wrestling fans complain a lot, and we've got long memories, so it goes without saying that many of us are still holding a grudge about WWE's arguably cynical, opportunistic attempt to reboot ECW in 2006. The original ECW - extolled by a small but vocal contingency of cultish fans - closed in 2001. For some, WWE buying and then bastardizing ECW was the equivalent of dragging a razor blade across a wound, then pouring salt upon the newly rebleeding gash.
When ECW first came about in the mid '90s, WWE and WCW might as well have been cartoon shows with a reduced emphasis on athleticism or physicality, but a lot more Dungeon of Doom monsters and circus clown characters running around, in the interest of getting over with small children. As much as ECW has been mythologized as a wild 'n crazy show for wild 'n crazy people - justifiably, what with all the blood and boobs and F-bombs and so forth - it was actually a far more traditional professional wrestling program than what the big two were producing at the time.
After acquiring ECW - along with all its trademarks, content, and debt - WWE had some success with a pair of One Night Stand ECW PPV's at the historic Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. To capitalize on their audience's apparent interest in more ECW, WWE relaunched the brand as a weekly show on the SyFy Network. Much to the dismay of anyone hoping for anything resembling the old Hardcore TV syndicated ECW show, ECW on SyFy morphed into a standard hour of second-tier WWE. Somewhat alarmingly, ECW on SyFy lasted about four years, meaning WWE's version of ECW technically had about as much longevity as the first version of Extreme Championship Wrestling (although, not so much if we include its pre-extreme, "Eastern Championship Wrestling" period).
Where did WWE go wrong? All over the place, but we've picked out 15 specific faults with WWE's ECW, forever remembered as the Fake ECW.
12 Trying to Fit in With The SyFy Network For About 10 Minutes
Understandably, SyFy pushed to add a few not-exactly-realistic elements to ECW, in order for the product to appear as though it had any business on a network ostensibly devoted to science fiction. Hence, at the inaugural edition of WWE's ECW, The Sandman faced The Zombie. Tim Arson Roberts - who portrayed The Zombie, and sadly died this summer - did his best Frankenstein’s monster impression on the way to the ring, grunting and hollerin’ like a remnant from an Ed Wood movie. Then Sandman whacked his brains in and pinned him immediately.
Some fans will tell you that The Zombie was the first sign that the new ECW was in trouble. I tend to think new characters with a sci-fi/fantasy slant could’ve worked in ECW, so long as they remained tongue-in-cheek. Not everything in the original ECW was based in realism, let’s remember. It’s not as if anyone believed D-Von and Buh Buh Ray were real life brothers. But the new ECW's flirtation with the supernatural didn't last long....
11 The Return of The Brood Got Scrapped
Rumor has it that Kevin Thorn, Shelly “Ariel” Martinez, and Gangrel were tentatively slated to join forces as a new incarnation of The Brood - the vampire stable that launched the WWE careers of Edge and Christian. Gangrel - who many forget to credit as an ECW original - wielded in-ring prowess that was sometimes overlooked by his shoot weirdness. Martinez was loaded with potential and Thorn was, um, uh, he was okay too! The new Brood would’ve kicked ass.
Sadly, Martinez got fired for arguing with Batista, everybody forgot about Thorn, and WWE held off on using Gangrel due to his alleged weight gain. Which is pretty ironic, considering…
10 Big Daddy V’s Man Boobs
We don’t mean to disrespect or mock the dead, and we’re sure WWE had their reasons for repackaging Nelson Frazier Jr. as many times as they did. But the decision to put Frazier in a singlet instead of the bodysuit he wore during his Mable and Viscera tenures was a huge mistake. The man had huge, remarkable, eerily genderless man boobs. The hypnotic fact of Frazier’s man boobs - tangible evidence of what kind of Cronenberg-esque mutations the human body is capable of - totally distracted audiences from whatever else was transpiring in the ring at the time.
12. The ECW Originals Are All Buddies?
Putting all available members of the original ECW locker room in a quasi-stable might’ve made sense during the oft-maligned Invasion angle. But booking old guard favorites like Sandman and Sabu together in tag teams as if they were old friends felt pretty contrived. Sandman and Sabu spent years trying to kill each other every night, as anyone who watched the original ECW remembers fondly. When Raven went out of his way to ruin Tommy Dreamer’s life, Stevie Richards happily joined in the effort. And we were meant to believe all four of these guys would suddenly join forces to defend the honor of ECW? Did we also forget about the time Sabu and RVD joined Jerry Lawyer’s effort to humiliate and destroy ECW at Wrestlepalooza ‘97? I call implausibility on the “ECW Originals.”
9 Toning Down the Violence
In fairness, we could make the exact same complaint about ECW’s ill-advised TNN show, because cable TV censors have an issue with wrestlers setting each other on fire, because life isn’t fair. However, WWE’s usual definition of what counts as a “hardcore” match definitely falls short of the mayhem that helped make ECW a viable alternative to WWE and WCW in its heyday. Maybe there wasn’t a way to do otherwise, but WWE’s version of ECW certainly lost some of the O.G. extreme fanbase by dialing back the brand’s trademark no-f’s-given chaos.
8 No More 'Pulp Fiction' Promos
There were plenty of old school ECW devices WWE could have adopted without horrifying any censors. For instance, the revered “Pulp Fiction” promo montages, in which diatribes and one-liners from noteworthy ECW personalities appeared, edited together for maximum oppmph, as Dick Dale’s iconic “Misiru” played in the background. It was a way to disseminate character and story developments without necessarily devoting much screen time to any one in particular. WWE could’ve easily done something similar with a generic, copyright-free surf rock theme, and still could, but didn’t and won't, ‘cause they’re dumb sometimes.
7 Al Snow Stopped Using Head
Before he found Head, Al Snow’s career was floundering - having bounced from the personas of Avatar, Shinobi, and Leif Cassidy during a quick, confused WWE run - and dropped back into his boring ol’ self in ECW. Head may have been an inanimate object, whose voice was fueled by Snow’s deteriorating psyche, but he (she?) was still the best thing to ever happen to his career. Why Head had been phased out by the time WWE’s new ECW rolled around remains a mystery. Perhaps Snow and Head had a major disagreement of some kind. Maybe Head was released by the WWE following one-too-many wellness violations. In whatever case, Snow was once again adrift without Head’s uncanny direction and wisdom.
6 Too Much Brand Crossover
It’s noteworthy that the first three wrestlers to appear on ECW on SyFy were RVD, Edge, and John Cena. The first five minutes of WWE’s ECW could’ve easily been the first five minutes of any episode of Raw. With Kane, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy, and other WWE regulars winning the ECW title later on, the perception that ECW had been turned into just another WWE show became inescapable. Had ECW been able to retain its own identity, it had to play out as something unique, and apart from what was happening on Raw and Smackdown. In other words, had ECW been been allowed to function kind of like how NXT does - it might not be considered a fiasco today.
5 Better Production Values Aren’t Always a Good Thing
Part of the charm of the original ECW was staying up until 3 a.m. on a Friday so you could watch it on the Spanish channel. And it looked grainy and low-budget, like a true underground, D.I.Y. endeavor. The production values spiked in quality when it arrived on TNN, but even then, it didn’t come off like typical WWE fare with 12 cameras or whatever else the larger company used to look slick on TV. WWE’s version of ECW was like watching a band you used to see play in shifty clubs and basements performing at the House of Blues and hearing their songs appear in commercials for Bank of America. Ironically, WWE could’ve produced a more authentic ECW by spending less money.
6. Where Were the Dudleys?
Yeah, okay, we understand the Dudleys were in TNA in 2006 and were therefore, even if they wanted to, contractually unable to participate in WWE’s ECW reboot. Nonetheless, when the Dudleys first bounced from ECW to WWE in 1999, something always felt missing from the land of extreme. Without Buh Buh Ray Dudley grabbing a microphone, singling out one or two especially obnoxious fans in the front row, and explaining to them in detail how many sexual adventures the Dudleys had participated in alongside that particular audience member’s immediate family, ECW was forever without one of its main attractions.
5. Exit Paul Heyman
Legend has it that Paul Heyman and WWE parted ways after the horrendously disappointing December to Dismember PPV. It was Heyman’s choice to leave, but it wasn’t a hot move on WWE’s part to let the guy who was in charge of ECW in its prime walk while they ostensibly attempted to resurrect ECW. Apparently, Heyman wanted CM Punk to go over Big Show in the December to Dismember’s main event, which would’ve made Punk the ECW champion about a year before he wound up claiming the strap anyway. Listening to Heyman and giving Punk the belt straightaway would’ve saved everyone a lot of time.
4 Bobby Lashley
I honestly don’t remember whether Lashley deserved to be pushed as a next big thing type guy, as WWE set about marketing him in the mid-’00s. But suffice to say, handing Lashley a coveted title he had no business holding, at the expense of several talents ECW’s niche fans would’ve much, much rather seen at the helm of this new era of extreme, wasn’t the most well thought out plan they could’ve used to garner him credibility. The ECW faithful were supposed to lose their minds with rage when Vince McMahon became ECW champion, but when Lashley had the belt, was there really much of a difference?
3 Speaking of Lashley, He Once Beat Sandman, Dreamer, and Balls Mahoney, All At The Same Time. For Real. That happened.
There’s a shoot interview floating around somewhere on YouTube where Sabu explains that while the money he made in WWE’s ECW was great, had he known they brought him in mainly to lose to WWE talent, he wouldn’t have bothered. Such was WWE’s attitude toward the other original ECW competitors as well. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than that time Bobby Lashley defeated Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and Balls Mahoney all at the same time, in a hardcore match, no less, as if he was Goldberg fighting Barry Horowitz, Virgil, and The Brooklyn Brawler.
2 Nostalgia Only Works In Small Doses
Some people will tell you the ‘90s was a golden age for rock music. This is not so. Those people look back fondly on Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins, as they should, but the ‘90s only seem great overall if we ignore Blues Traveler and Hootie and the Blowfish.
At its best, the original ECW encapsulated the ‘90s zeitgeist (which it couldn’t do anymore once the ‘90s ended) and delivered some of the best wrestling ever. And then there were times like when Justin Credible retained the ECW title by pouring a bottle of urine on Tommy Dreamer. And then there was Raven sleepwalking through his second ECW run, knowing he was only sticking around until he could go to WWE without getting sued by WCW. And then there was basically everything that happened on TNN. Bringing back a beloved franchise like ECW is good idea, so long as you don’t give the audience enough time to realize it wasn't as cool as they remember.
1 Attempted It At All
Rebooting ECW was like WWE’s answer to making a Spider-Man origin story movie not even 10 years after Sam Raimi had been successful doing the same. By pulling the corpse of ECW out of its grave, dusting it off, and parading it around like the guy from Weekend and Bernie’s, WWE succeeded in capturing the attention of old ECW fans for about a week, alienating and infuriating them almost immediately, and adding nothing of note or interest to their already existing product. The first two One Night Stand Pay Per Views were fine and good, but in the long-run, WWE would’ve been better off hyping up the return of Sunday Night Heat.