Like most kids, I was exposed to pro wrestling on TV. I had the opportunity to watch the World Wrestling Federation, the National Wrestling Alliance, and World Class Championship Wrestling. In most cases, I liked the smaller, more athletic, high-flyers than the bigger, slower, punch and kick-type wrestlers. In the 80s, my favorites were Ricky Steamboat, the Blue Blazer, Ric Flair, the British Bulldogs, the Killer Bees, the Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, and of course, Hulk Hogan. I was scared of the Road Warriors and off-the-wall personalities like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Seeing them wrestle and hearing them talk, I thought these guys legitimately wanted to hurt their opponents.
In high school, I started going to WWF events at the Boston Garden. Those were the days when newspapers would print pro wrestling results in their sports sections. After seeing the live action, I started to “smarten up” to the business. I clearly remember telling my buddy to watch closely as, inside of the steel cage, the Big Bossman protected Hulk Hugan as he delivered a piledriver. Then we’d go home and pay closer attention to television wrestling and we’d notice that the wrestlers would quietly and quickly talk to each other at certain points during their matches. When Vince McMahon categorized his WWF as “sports entertainment” so he wouldn’t have to pay entertainment taxes associated with athletic contests, my eyes were fully opened. Knowing that the performers were working together didn’t change the fact that their high-flying moves were exciting and athletic. Gimmick matches like the NWA’s War Games were legitimately brutal, with real blood flowing. The last series of matches that held my interest was the feud between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, who in 1989, had just returned to WCW from the WWF. Their matches were long and technically sound, with well-placed high-flying spots.
After I went to college, I cooled out on wrestling and barely watched it. WWF became more goofy with chartoon characters like Doink the Clown, Repo Man, and IRS. I completely missed the fact that in 1993, WWF began to air Monday Night RAW in prime time in 1993.
It wasn’t until a late night in 1996 when I was flipping through TV channels that I discovered something that would shock and amaze me, and ultimately pull me back into wrestling. At the time, I was living with my parents and we didn’t have cable, or at least it wasn’t hooked up in my bedroom. At 1 AM on a Friday night, while I was channel surfing, I got a taste of Extreme Championship Wrestling. It was broadcast on the local Univision affiliate, and it was obviously paid for. The channel ran a disclaimer before the show. ECW was gritty, hard-hitting, and shocking. Not only did they have fast-paced, technically sound, high-flying wrestling that I loved, they had a small but enthusiastic crowd who were loud and into the action. They’d chant the funniest, on-the-fly catchphrases. And if those chants were profane, I heard them. ECW’s audience reminded me of Morton Downey Jr’s audience. The only swearing that was bleeped out was when a wrestler was speaking directly on the mic. As I watched ECW more and more (rarely failing to record an episode) I learned that their roster had something for everyone. I loved the fast-paced, high flyers. They also had brawlers, great mat technicians, and hot women. The women rarely wrestled in actual wrestling matches. They were used more creatively. ECW-style wrestling was known as hardcore, and their entire TV show reflected that attitude, from the actual wrestling styles to the music to the artwork to the young broadcast announcer.
I climbed aboard the ECW bandwagon just in time to hear announcer Joey Styles scream, “We’re coming to Boston! We’re coming to Boston!” I was at ECW’s first New England show. It was October 12, 1996 in Burlington, MA. About every six weeks, ECW would return for a weekend in Massachusetts. It was normally one date in the suburbs and one date in Revere. From October 1996 through the end of 2000, I’d always go to one of them. If I had know that ECW would fold in early 2001, I would have gone to both. Owner Paul Heyman and his roster which included Sabu, Shane Douglas, Tommy Dreamer, Taz, the Pitbulls, Rob Van Dam, Francine, Beulah McGillicutty, and many others, influenced the entire pro-wrestling world, causing WWF and WCW to step up their game and produce more compelling TV shows that targeted the young adult male demographic.
Suddenly, WWF’s RAW show was battling with WCW’s Nitro in a television ratings war, and pro wrestling became cool again.
In early 2001, ECW declared bankruptcy, and I was left with a huge void. I continued to record the other wrestling shows and at least skim through them, but there wasn’t much to like. WWF changed it’s name to WWE and bought the rights to the ECW name, logo, video tape library, etc. In 2006, WWE finally brought back a watered down version of the old ECW show, this time on the Sci Fi channel. It failed miserably with the old ECW fans, but continues to run with just a few of the ECW originals. I even went to see the new ECW on tour, but it was nothing like the original. I had to let go of the idea of the real spirit of ECW ever returning.
On the internet, I had read about a large independent wrestling company called Ring of Honor. They were highly praised for presenting the best wrestling in the U.S., and they sometimes used former ECW and current TNA wrestlers along with a core group of the youngest and hottest talent on the indie scene. They didn’t have any television, and as far as I saw, didn’t tour in my area. Then I saw that in September 2006, they were coming to Connecticut. I bought tickets and brought my girlfriend to the event, which due to overbooking, was held in the rain, under a tent, outside. The fans were mostly young adult males. They were passionate and knowledgeable. They knew everything about the wrestlers, even the Japanese stars who were brought in for the weekend. The crowd, the music, the lights, and the wrestling created an atmosphere that reminded me of the spirit I felt at ECW shows. After that night, I knew I had discovered something that would become important to me. I did further research and learned that ROH’s booker was very involved in the original ECW. Since then, I have attended every one of ROH’s New England shows. They generally come to the Hartford, CT and Boston, MA areas every couple of months, a little less frequently than ECW used to tour the area, but since I’m regularly buying premium tickets and sitting as close as possible, it works out. ROH has learned from ECW’s mistakes, and they’re cautiously growing. They still don’t have U.S. TV, but in 2007, they began producing Pay Per Views.