On April 4th, 2001 one of the most influential wrestling promotions of all time closed its doors for the last time.
ECW was a revolutionary product that broke away from the cartoonish worlds of WCW and WWE, bringing its faithful fans a bevy of brutality, mixed in with plenty of technical and high-flying masterpieces. It was decades ahead of its time and the aftereffects of Heyman’s house of hardcore can still be felt nearly twenty years after its demise.
When most wrestling fans think of ECW they are likely to first think of the violent hardcore matches that defined the promotion. Whilst these are not what should be remembered most fondly, they are still influential beyond measure and modern products borrow liberally from them to this day. As a recent example, take the Lights Out Match between Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega. It tried to be exactly the kind of arena spanning insanity that one would have expected to see from the likes of New Jack and Balls Mahoney. Matches such as this can be seen on every Extreme Rules card too and were fairly commonplace in the now defunct Lucha Underground.
Whilst ECW did not invent the hardcore match, nor were they the first to host such madness on American soil, they did still bring it to a wider audience and force the mainstream to adopt the medium.
Linked to this edgier approach is the fact that ECW wrestlers were brasher, more in your face than their counterparts in the larger companies at the time. This resonated with the crowd in a major way and, in no small part, led to the WWE moving towards the Attitude Era to capitalise on the rabid fanbase that demanded these kinds of characters. Without ECW there would have been no Stone Cold Steve Austin and WCW may well have won the war as, despite a change in their product being inevitable, the WWE would not have had such a ready-made blueprint to map out their re-emergence as the dominant force in wrestling. So, in a sense, fans have ECW to thank for everything that has come since. Especially since Paul Heyman is now the driving force behind Raw creative.
AEW is now building its identity, at least in part, off many of the tenets of ECW. They are championing a more adult, sports orientated environment which is exactly what Heyman and co. brought to the table way back in the 90’s. Of course, there are other larger influences on Cody and The Elite, but it cannot be denied that the land of the extreme has lent some real estate to AEW. They are not the only company to have done this though, as the previously mentioned Lucha Underground joined the ranks of NXT, ROH, and Evolve to act as almost spiritual successors to the long-dead company.
Those last two promotions may not be known for the brutal displays of ECW, although ROH have had their fair share, they have taken the cue from another underrated aspect of ECW. That being the technical and high-risk showcases that brought many a New Yorker to their feet in the Ballroom.
ECW had a reputation for bringing highly touted talents over from foreign promotions and giving them a larger platform to work on in front of a western audience. The likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio got the chance to show what they could do thanks to this and it led to all three men having unbelievably successful careers. It also led to the Cruiserweight boom that occurred in WCW in the late 90’s as the company took notice of the electric reactions to these talents. That boom continued to this day as smaller, more athletic wrestlers have taken over the sport and become the stars that their larger, less mobile counterparts used to be. In many ways people have ECW to thank for that eventual change as they set it in motion and, along with other notable companies, spearheaded a revolution in the way that wrestlers of a smaller stature were perceived.
One of the bigger effects that ECW has had on the modern wrestling world is not one that can be seen in the ring. Instead it is a financial change brought on by the cautionary tale of Paul Heyman’s financial mismanagement which ultimately doomed ECW. Time and again small companies crop up and fail to heed this warning from history – take Defiant Wrestling, for example – and they fall by the wayside all too quickly. Then there are those who have learnt not to run before they can walk, are smarter about contracts with media outlets, and ensure that their wrestlers are paid on time and in full. These are the companies that become successes and it is because they foster a sense of trust whilst also managing to be profitable, or at the very least falling within acceptable loss parameters. It may seem odd to say that such an influential company’s biggest contribution to wrestling is showing future management what not to do but, in many ways, it is the truth.
ECW brought to the forefront game changing talents such as Taz, Rob Van Dam, and The Dudley Boyz. They changed the preeminent style of wrestling in the west to a more eastern influenced mix of puroresu and lucha libre. They even forced the mighty WWE to change its product and become the best version of itself to have ever existed. More than that though, they fostered an intensity in their fans that lives on to this day and can be heard as they chant for the promotion loud and proud whenever the chance arises.
Paul Heyman and his loyal team were a force in the wrestling world despite the short life of the promotion. Their fingerprints can be found all over today’s product and the wrestling world is infinitely better for having been graced by Extreme Championship Wrestling.
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