Hardcore History by Scott Williams

(also posted at HitTheRopes.com)

You could say pro wrestling in the mid 1990s resembled presidential politics-dominated by two large out-of-step entities that everyone basically had to settle for. But within this structure, there is always an unwelcome outsider who relishes the role of party crasher. While the effort is ultimately doomed, this challenge to the status quo inspires a rabid, near cult-like devotion, providing one hell of a ride while it lasts. Think Ron Paul’s candidacy during this election cycle, Ralph Nader in 2000, or Ross Perot in the ’90s.

The party crasher in 1990s professional wrestling was Extreme Championship Wrestling.

ECW is the subject of Scott Williams’ book Hardcore History: The Extremely Unauthorized History of ECW, first published in 2006, with the paperback released this past November. The WWE has an ECW book of their own, but with insights from certain ECW alumn not included in the WWE book (such as Shane Douglas and Raven), this one feels a bit more authentic.

Williams traces the history of ECW back to 1991, with the start of independent promotion Tri-State Wrestling Alliance. Based out of Philadelphia, Tri-State earned a small but dedicated fan base. Tri-State quickly faded from the scene, but ring announcer Tod Gordon (who had been supporting Tri-State financially) did not want to see his wrestling dreams die, so he formed Eastern Championship Wrestling. It was the fateful decision to bring in Paul Heyman (initially as a talent) that changed the course of wrestling in the ’90s. Eventually becoming head booker and majority owner, Heyman produced a product much more in tune with the pop culture of the time. The result-a promotion that was more violent, more reality-based, and more reflective of the era’s cynicism compared to what was offered by the WWF and WCW.

While cutting edge and influential (Dave Meltzer is quoted as saying ECW “changed the landscape of professional wrestling”), ECW had financial hardships from Day 1. It becomes almost laughable that Heyman kept telling others that ECW’s long-term salvation was just one deal away, whether that deal was getting on pay-per-view or getting a national TV deal with TNN. That ECW survived as long as it did (according to the book, Heyman dumped $3.75 million of family money into what gets referred to as a “vanity project”), and that the talent continued working without pay for as long as they did was remarkable. The chapter on ECW’s bankruptcy is truly something to read.

The book does a good job touching upon most of ECW’s major angles and matches, including the Raven-Dreamer feud, Taz-Sabu, Pillman’s shoot promo, Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA championship, and the Raven-Sandman crucifixion angle (including a still photo). There are some interesting backstage tidbits as well, including how Shane Douglas returned to ECW after his failed WWF run, the politics of the WWF-ECW working relationship, and Tod Gordon’s attempted defection to WCW with other ECW talent. ECW’s darkest episode, the Mass Transit incident, is given its own chapter.

The book also gets into the 2005 reunion shows and the first months of the WWE’s relaunch of ECW. Despite the recent reprint, the timeline cuts off shortly after the embarassing “December to Dismember” PPV; therefore it does not discuss Vince McMahon as ECW champion, the brand’s unspectacular end, or the TNA-promoted ECW reunion.

Williams does make some factual mistakes. His description of the Eliminators-Dudley Boys match from Barely Legal 1997 was actually their match from Wrestlepalooza 1997 (my personal favorite ECW show). He also talks about the ropes breaking during Sabu-RVD stretcher match from Heat Wave 1996. Except that their stretcher match actually took place at The Doctor Is In 1996, and the ropes malfunctioned during their “death match” at Hardcore Heaven 1996. Williams also claims Raven showed up on Monday Nitro two days after Wrestlepalooza 1997, when it was actually 3 weeks later.

Despite these inaccuracies, I did enjoy the fun little trip down memory lane this book provides. A definite recommendation for any ECW “smaaaart maaaark!!!”

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