In the latest Favourite Five I’m looking at ECW moments. I am limiting myself to the original ECW (largely because outside the One Night Stand pay-per-views the WWE version was terrible) and I’m looking at moments rather than matches – though as you will see there are matches that are involved here in some context. I’ve also avoided two great ECW moments that occurred in the WWF, namely their Mind Games 1996 mini “invasion” and the 1997 invasion of Monday Night Raw. As great as those two moments were, I’m sticking to things that purely happened under the ECW banner.
I’m also avoiding anything involving Beulah McGillicutty looking hot. How could I narrow that down to just five moments?
TERRY FUNK WINS THE TITLE AT BARELY LEGAL
Terry Funk is one of my all time favourites and as far as I am concerned is legitimately up there if I was compiling a list of the greatest ever. The sheer span of his career is impressive enough but when you consider just how many places he was a superstar in and the fact that even as late as 2006, more than 40 years after his debut, he was a relevant part of WWE’s One Night Stand event, Funk’s legendary status is well deserved. Now the two matches Funk had at ECW’s first ever pay –per-view Barely Legal were far from the best of Terry Funk.
The three way with Stevie Richards and The Sandman to decide who would face Raven perhaps personifies the term “clash of styles” and the action in his subsequent match with Raven was fairly basic. And yet the emotion was unbelievable. It may not have been historically as important as his NWA World Title win, but for the thousand people in attendance it meant everything. It was arguably a strange end to the “renegade” promotion’s first pay-per-view as a man who had been wrestling for thirty years ended the show as the Champion but it was well deserved and if it is seen as “thank you” for Funk’s effort to help ECW survive and thrive and for his dedication to the business at large, who could argue with that?
THE DEBUT OF BRIAN F’N PILLMAN
The nuances of the Brian Pillman “Loose Cannon” storyline in WCW somewhat escaped me at the time. But the thing is, they escaped almost everyone else as well. It would be almost impossible today to imagine any wrestler being able to “fool” the fans to the extent Pillman did. Even with CM Punk’s famous “Pipe-Bomb” the audience knew he’d essentially been given permission to air his genuine grievances on air. It didn’t make the impact of his statements any less but deep down we knew that whilst he might be speaking the truth, it was also pure storyline. There was no such “fall back” with Pillman’s antics.
Fans were as much in the dark as his fellow wrestlers as he seemed to be genuinely going off the rails and when Eric Bischoff and Kevin Sullivan went as far as to instruct WCW’s legal team to draw up Pillman’s termination papers it seemed like Pillman really was uncontrollable. His debut appearance in the ECW Arena only served to heighten that feeling. A babyface reaction as Pillman stated he’d just been fired by Eric Bischoff soon turned 180 degrees as Pillman denigrated the ECW arena and the people in it (saying Bischoff represented each and every one of the “smart marks” in the audience) before threatening to whip out his Johnson and “p**s in this hell hole”.
He then attacked a ringside fan before Shane Douglas turned up and Pillman was escorted out of the building, via the front door by security. One segment in front of a thousand fans turned Pillman into the most talked about act in Wrestling and one who became the subject of a bidding war between the WWF and ECW. Sadly Pillman’s devotion to the act would ultimately prove to be his undoing, but sadness at that cannot lessen the visceral power of this angle.
JERRY LAWLER APPEARS AT THE ECW ARENA
In a way it is sad that many younger fans will only ever know Jerry Lawler as either the “Burger King” or an aging commentator with a liking for “puppies” but without anything relevant to say about the product itself. An article on the success of Jerry Lawler in the 1970’s and 80’s would be an epic tome in itself.
Similarly you could analyse Lawler’s feud with ECW until the cows come home. Did Lawler genuinely hate ECW? Well he’s admitted in interviews since that he wouldn’t have worked there if there had been genuine personal hatred for the company and those in it, but there was enough truth in his barbed comments to make you believe AND fool the self-proclaimed smartest fans in the business into absolutely hating him. His debut at the arena, helping Rob Van Dam and Sabu, was one of the most heated angles I have EVER seen.
The genuine hatred for Lawler seemed more than just fans suspending their disbelief; they absolutely wanted his guts. Some decry Lawler’s “Extremely Crappy Wrestling” shtick as purely cheap heat. Maybe it was, but I doubt anyone else whose last name wasn’t Bischoff or McMahon could have drawn out such intense heat as Lawler was able to. (With the possible exception of Jim Cornette, who ECW fans will know did indeed join Lawler at the Arena at a later date for another incendiary angle).
SANDMAN IS BLINDED
Wrestler is accidentally blinded by a rival, wrestler is forced to retire and comes back to the arena for a farewell only to reveal that it was a ruse all along…pretty standard wrestling fare really. I mean the WWF even did a blinding angle in the early 1990’s between Jake Roberts and Rick Martel (with a different storyline, admittedly, but it proves the idea wasn’t new). But ECW managed to take it to a whole new level.
When The Sandman was blinded by his own stray cigarette during match with Tommy Dreamer people might have thought it was just another wrestling angle, even back then, but the look of concern on his opponents face and those of the backstage crew as the camera followed him backstage made you believe that this could be the real deal. You wouldn’t be fooled now but the sheer fact that the camera’s followed the stretcher backstage where heels and faces alike were stood together with what looked like genuine horror and terror at what was unfolding.
The Sandman famously sat in his house for months to make it seem more real, not even answering the door for the postman. I tend to think the suggesting that this fooled everyone at the time is overplayed somewhat but in today’s Internet times you certainly couldn’t come close to doing this with the believability that this had. And that tantalising glimpse through the curtain was something special at the time.
STEVE-A-MANIA /MONDAY NYQUIL
This is not a choice made with rose-tinted glasses. Steve Austin’s Hollywood Blondes partnership with Brian Pillman was a favourite of mine when they were running riot in WCW. Thanks to the slightly illegal world of tape-trading I was able to grab hold of some WCW action and they were one of the highlights of the tapes.
I was convinced that Austin would become the 1990’s answer to Ric Flair. He would ride atop WCW for years and cement his legacy as one of the greatest ever. Then WCW cut him off after on poor Clash of The Champions rating and when Hulk Hogan turned up a year later, Austin was jobbed out to Jim Duggan and unceremoniously fired. Of course little were we to know that it would all turn out for the best. Still, when Austin showed up in ECW few could have expected him to make quite the splash he did.
Pissed off, his anger at Eric Bischoff and WCW was channeled into a series of biting promos that showed a hitherto unseen side of Austin and in a small way paved the way for Stone Cold Steve Austin (allowing for the fact that Austin was brought into the WWF purely as a “strong hand” for the mid-card and Vince McMahon never saw these promo’s before he signed Austin). Even today they have a compelling aura about them.
– By Matthew Roberts