Bear with me here...I think you might come around.
I've often referred to December of 1999 as the greatest month of my life. Beginning on campus in Chicago's suburbs as we departed for 12/2/99
and culminating at the CN Tower
in Toronto as the fireworks exloded through the Canadian night, your Ace Cowboy traveled nearly 5,000 miles by land and air over the final 30 days of the millenium. All told, I road-tripped through 11 states, one province and the District of Columbia, took two in-class finals, wrote two papers, saw six crazy Phish shows, hung out with eight different groups of friends and huffed what seemed like 1,000 nitrous balloons.
But perhaps my favorite experience of that time in my life happened shortly before then, on November 18, 1999. That's the night Extreme Championship Wrestling hit the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. If you want to talk about an electric show, I mean a noticeable buzz in the room from the second you walk through the doors 'til the second you get to your car, ECW was the tops. The absolute tops. Nobody puts on a show like Vincent K. McMahon
, but no organization made you say "Holy Fucking Shitballs" quite Paul Heyman's
E-C-Dub. These guys were so cool you didn't even know they were cool (we'll get into why in just a second).
Like Ted Turner's old World Championship Wrestling, the ECW has since folded into McMahon's billion-dollar corporation and ceased to operated as its own entity. Some of its wrestlers have been retained and assimilated, and the federation's style has been incorporated into the WWE's, only its now horribly watered down. But for one night only this Sunday, Extreme Championship Wrestling is coming to my hometown: the Hammerstein Ballroom welcomes ECW: One Night Stand
to New York City on June 12th. The only snag is ticket price -- the cheapest ticket in the house for this Cream-like reunion is $100. Anyone feel like being my patron?
ECW differed from the two mainstream federations in a couple of major ways. First, the rings were smaller in size, which made for much faster action and more creative yet realistic wrestling maneuvers. It made high fliers more exciting and big men more mobile. Also, ECW didn't get bogged down in rules and regulations -- steel chairs, wooden tables, baseball bats, barbed wire ring ropes
and other assorted foreign objects and blunt instruments were perfectly legal. There were no real countouts and manager and tag team partner interference didn't exist.
The crowd was another major selling point. Shows back then only held maybe 1,000-2,000 people a night, so the audience was completely comprised of people obsessed with the product. We knew exactly when to cheer, what was normal and what was extraordinary, how to make a cool sign that says "Ted Turner Bites Pillows" or "I Can Do a Split-Legged Moonsault," when to start a "Show Your Tits" chant to the hoochiw mama in Section 6. And maybe most importantly for the organization, ECW knew it was short on personality and long on kicking the shit out of each other, so it focused on producing the most exciting matches possible, not the out-of-ring soap opera storylines. It had plenty of those as well, but it never lost sight of the forest through the trees. Or some other cliche.
My favorite wrestler back then kicked off the fun at the Aragon that night in '99. Facing a scrub named CW Anderson, Mr. PPV Rob Van Dam
put his TV Title on the line not 15 feet from where I was standing. It's always been rumored that Van Dam could have made the move to the WWF years before they merged, only with a nickname like RVD-420, he would never have passed his drug test. Gotta love a ridiculous athlete that loves the doje. Still, I will never waver from the belief that RVD is the best wrestler I've ever seen.
So RVD, with his manager Bill Alfonso at ringside, began an assault of awesomely titled moves. Right away he pulled out the cartwheel backflip
. But after CW got the upper hand following a swinging neckbreaker
and a body slam, he stepped through the ropes to climb the top step. At that time, my buddies and I can clearly
be seen on the TNN telecast giving him the finger (I just watched the tape, it's fantastic). CW flips back the bird, but his attention is diverted.
Ringside announcer Joey Stiles
on what happens next: "CW Anderson trash talking with the fans...and it COST HIM. He takes a ROUNDHOUSE to the back of the neck
." Man, I love Joey Styles.
RVD then drives CW's head into the ring apron and down to the cold, unforgiving floor of the Aragon. Then, looking baked as shit, he sets CW up on the metal barricade separating the fans from the ring, takes a running start from inside the ring, jumps out and delivers a corkscrew guillotine legdrop
. Chants of "E-C-Dub" and "Holy Shit" echo across the room. RVD followed that with a whip-legged hurdle legdrop
, and after another couple of minutes it was time to finish him off. Bill Alfonso threw a chair at CW, who caught it, only to have RVD kick it straight into CW's face -- that's called the Van Daminator,
and it's one of the coolest moves ever. I used to break out that move on people in college after 10 games of Beirut. Up to the top rope and it's all over after a ridiculously executed Five-Star Frog Splash
. 1, 2, 3.
But what's this? RVD's friend and former tag-team partner Sabu
came out right after the pin and challenged RVD for the title right then and there. An impromptu match between two of the league's most charismatic high fliers! A quick note about Sabu and how ridiculous this federation was at its peak: After an INSANE match against Terry Funk, Sabu sustained a serious gash. He refused medical treatment for the open wound, though, and simply used Krazy Glue to seal it. That's right, can you say infectious?
To illustrate just how cool this federation was, over the course of the match, the two buddies perfomed the following well-named moves: Arabian Press
off the middle rope by Sabu; a springboard sidekick
to Sabu's face by RVD using the middle rope; a Tumbling Senton Bomb > Corkscrew Legdrop
by RVD; a Hurricanrana
off the top ropes by Sabu after catching RVD on the turnbuckle; Sabu then threw a chair into RVD's face from close range, set up the chair and pulled off a "Triple-Jump Moonsault
, knees across the forehead," according to Styles; then Sabu sets RVD up on a table and jumps off the top rope, driving RVD through it to the floor.
After the rookie monster Rhyno
and Chris Candido
came out to fuck up both men, RVD hit Rhyno with the Van Daminator and delivered a glorious somersault plancha
to the rookie and Candido as they collected themselves outside the ring. The match continued, though, and finally RVD shredded Sabu's knee so badly that Bill Alfonso -- manager of both grapplers -- threw in the towel. Two title defenses in a half hour...a nice way for me to see my favorite dude for the first time ever.
After some other awesome matches featuring guys like Little Guido
of the Full Blooded Italians facing insane luchador Super Crazy
-- unlike the WWE and old WCW, there is no buffer filler in this league, every match is nuts -- we headed to the main event. The Impact Players
, Justin Credible and Lance Storm, along with the rookie monster Rhyno (and the lovely and slutty Dawn Marie) taking on the unlikely tag team champs of Tommy Dreamer
(and Francine) and Raven
, along with Raven's old foe The Sandman
If you think Stone Cold Steve Austin had a cool character, then you'd have LOVED the Sandman. Stone Cold stole his whole bit from the Sandman, the whole thing. The match had been going on for three or four minutes before the Sandman even made his way out, all five wrestlers going at it with no legal man in the ring. Then it hits -- ENTER SANDMAN. Out steps this guy who could be 35 or 65, sometimes you never can tell. He's got a cigarette in his mouth, beer in his hand, two more in his pants pockets, and a bamboo cane for kicking ass in his other hand. He slowly makes his way to ringside while chugging beers, and enters the fracas.
Six men beating the shit out of each other, and the two women even get into a bit of a catfight, much to the excitement of Joey Styles at ringside. The match ended after the Sandman caned his own partner Raven, as the old feud was obviously more important than this TNN match. The Impact Players won again, even though they are the least charismatic heels the federation had ever seen.
What a night! And I left out about two hours worth of hardcore action, including a match that featured New Jack
, a guy who has seriously been arrested (for real) countless times for flat-out assault in the ring -- most recently, last October, New Jack was taken in after “stabbing his opponent 14 times with a prop,” according to the police report. New Jack's defense (again, for real): "Once again, I got fucked up and tried to kill a niggah."
And New Jack wasn't alone. Often wrestlers would staple each other's foreheads, smash each other with real objects, drive each other through tables and tables that have been set on fire, use ladders as weapons, whatever it took to entertain the crowd. And while it was very much real, it was also very much fake, so the crowd never had anything to really worry about from a "getting hurt" standpoint. Guys like Balls Mahoney and Axl Rotten, the Dudley Boys, Tazz, Al Snow, Tajiri, these guys left it all out there every night. There was nothing quite like ECW.
So again, anyone want to be my patron on Sunday? Buy me a ticket and I promise you nonstop action
, pints of blood, endless chair shots and at least five pairs of flashed breasts. Let's do it.