Friday, August 24, 2018

Why Shane Douglas Will Always Be ECW's Franchise

(Are YOU going to tell him he's not?)

Welp, I knocked off a little early today, hooked up with my buddy Steve, hooked up with BatBong, and now we're watching ECW's first-ever PPV, Barely Legal on WWE Network. I don't know how many times I've seen it & it's still great. I loved that ECW got nationwide exposure with TNN (Yeah, I know...) & were able to sell out bigger venues, but the feel of the PPVs were much different on the road than they were in ECW country. Road fans gave it their best, but nothing was better than the quickness & spontaneity of the (pun probably intended) hardcore ECW fans.

Real quick, if you don't watch wrestling stoned, I really have to shake my head, bro. You really don't know what you're missing. Taz v. Sabu is on right now & the first "ECW!" chant went up & when I'm high, it takes on such a weird vibe. It's like deja vu mixed with Saturday morning cartoons. I dunno. I'm high.

Anyway, just finished watching Shane Douglas take on Pitbull Anthony (Rassle In Peace) after breaking Pitbull Gary's neck, and there was a swerve with Rick Rude & Brian Lee & Douglas got his comeuppance. It was a solid match. Not his best, but far from his worst. Everything's unfolding & the crowd is rooting against Douglas passionately, as they have subliminally been instructed to, and I'm thinking of what "The Franchise" really means.

Any promo Douglas ever cut as an ECW wrestler was fucking brilliant. I'm not saying that as a kiss-ass mark (well, a little, I guess), I'm saying that as someone who has a lot of public speaking experience & has worked as a broadcaster/journalist for 30 years & understands people and the psychology of crowds. Douglas reached into these people & pulled something out, something substantial. The night he threw down the NWA belt (something even I heard about while living in Spain & not having watched wrestling in three years; it was a big fucking deal), he cut a promo that still gives me chills, especially now having heard him provide the backstory about his dad.

The crowd lapped it up like dehydrated puppies.

"Face Shane" has always been over for the same reason ECW still has rabid fans: because first & foremost, he respected the fans & didn't treat them like idiots. He didn't talk down to the fans like they were six & still sleeping with their Hulk Hogan pillows; he talked to them the way they talked to others. Bluntly. Directly. Honestly.

And that's why "Heel Shane" is even more over. He built that equity on the fact the fans knew he was a real shooter. So when Douglas went rogue, his promos fucking KILLED. Every time. And no matter if he left for Monday nights, he was still given the respect he had earned as the first ECW champion.

Because he's The Franchise.

(And behind every Franchise is a Head Cheerleader. Oof. #IHaveToTakeCareOfSomething)

Paul E. was the brains, and Tommy Dreamer was the soul, and that's a fact. Those two went down with the ship and are the two most recognized figures. In my opinion. And what do I know, I'm just a fan. And a stoned one at that. Watching a 21-year-old PPV with my stuffed bear, Steve. My opinion is suspect. But my point is that with Sandman being the spirit of ECW; the Dudleys as its sense of extreme violence; and Raven, its dark side; Shane is The Franchise and that means something.

Shane was the ECW wrestler with the mainstream look. The fact WWF & WCW couldn't do anything with him shows how ridiculous they were (and based on what they're trying to do with Becky Lynch, still are). Fuck, if Shane had been in WWF instead of Austin & they let Shane be Shane the way they let Austin be Austin? Fucking PLEASE. He'd be a goddamned legend. I mean, MORE of a goddamned legend. You know what I mean.

It was that mainstream look that gave his words weight. This guy had been around. He'd been tabbed for NWA gold. He'd been a WWF champ. But he was a shooter, and the newly-evolving internet message boards proved that out.

(I'm sorry, we're doing the intros for the Barely Legal Three-Way Dance to see who will fight Raven & I always get a little wet-eyed when Terry Funk comes to the ring. Sorry again.)

More importantly, he went toe-to-toe with the best & usually whipped their asses. He could go hardcore, he could bleed, he could be athletic, he could & fucking DID carry that company on his back during those first couple years, the years that laid the foundation for the most influential wrestling company since WWF put the belt on Hogan. That's still a factual statement. You show me a wrestling federation out there right now that isn't basing their foundation on what ECW did. I'll wait.

So when Douglas is dismissed as a guy who, yes, was a key figure in ECW's history & success, but other wrestlers deserve more recognition, I ask who? Taz? I think we all knew Taz would leave, and that's no disrespect to him. People have families. I get it. Not Tommy either. Tommy had a different role to play within the company.

Douglas is like Batman in The Dark Knight. Maybe Shane Douglas wasn't the wrestler fans felt they deserved. But he was the one they needed.

Because he's The fucking Franchise.

(Yeah, even this one. He's the fucking Franchise, too, by God.)

Monday, July 30, 2018

New Jack, Sabu Say Hardcore Things; Hardcore Fans Pissed

(SPOILER Alert: These two men said something mean about a dead person. I know, right?)

Sunday, July 29, 2018, was a shitty day to be a wrestling fan. For a lot of reasons. Most of us woke to the news we lost WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff, legit badass Brickhouse Brown, and the former Grandmaster Sexay and son of WWE HOFer & Announcer Jerry "The King" Lawler, Brian Christopher. In addition to styles & eras, the three deaths ran the gamut as well from natural causes to cancer to, in Christopher's case, suicide in a jail cell.

While I know Brown by name & rep, I've not seen a ton of his work, but I don't think I ever heard a bad thing about him. And Volkoff was as much a part of my childhood as Santa Claus. He & the Iron Sheik (who wrote some incredibly-touching tweets about his former tag-team partner) were two of the best heels in the history of professional wrestling. He had the best gimmick of the 80s because no matter how goofy it sounded, when he was in the ring singing the Russian Anthem, you were PISSED.

Christopher is a different deal. A WWF Attitude mainstay with Scotty 2 Hotty as Grandmaster Sexay forming the team Too Cool. It was kinda goofy, a shot at the club kids and whatnot, but he was a strong in-ring performer. Oddly, the angle got even better with the addition of Rikishi. Not gonna lie; I would give a little pop watching RAW at home when they finished a match with their dance. Christopher was also given a solid push for the new WWF Cruiserweight Division (or whatever they called it), losing in 1997 to Taka in the Cruiserweight tournament finals. I literally just watched that match last week on WWE Network & found it hysterical watching JR bust Lawler's chops about "your boy."

I had read he had been arrested for DUI July 7 & didn't think anything about it. I figured he posted bail & went home. So reading the drama from Sunday was gut-wrenching. I don't care if you didn't like Lawler as a wrestler or don't like him as an announcer, I can't imagine getting that phone call. I pray nightly to a God I'm not sure I believe in anymore that I don't get that call.

(Sabu, however, feels differently...)

Now, I say all this as a fan. Period. I've worked in media my entire life but I haven't covered wrestling on anything even resembling a regular basis. I worked as a producer for a sports-talk radio station in St. Louis and as such, pre-interviewed some wrestlers coming on our shows (as a newspaper reporter, I also did a story on Christian during his TNA run in 2006 when they did a PPV in St. Louis. He & Christy Hemme were incredibly nice). One of those wrestlers I talked to was Jerry Lawler. He was promoting RAW coming to St. Louis & our host loves sports history, so the Lawler vs. Kaufman story was told to much hilarity. My brief conversation with Lawler was pleasant. He asked if I was a fan & I said yes & he said "Good, I won't have to dumb this down for you!"

That was a single phone call. The guy could be the biggest dickhead in the world & I wouldn't know it. Now, apparently, Sabu had some pretty memorable run-ins with young Lawler back in their USWA days. It doesn't take much research to find that BC struggled with relationships with colleagues at times. But that's Sabu. No one else is going to disrespect a dead wrestler like that, right?

(...aaaaaand we have a new leader in the clubhouse.)

Sabu's rants were, for whatever reason, kept pretty low key. There wasn't a lot being said about it. When New Jack jumped online, that shit changed with a quickness. Whereas Sabu was making hit & run comments & responding to individual fans re: BC, New Jack just flat out said what he was thinking, no ambiguity at all.

Their reasoning is this: Sabu didn't like how BC treated him in the old days. New Jack said BC was an unrepentant racist. On any given day, these two saying these things wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Saying them the day BC was found hanging from a jail cell...just a touch different.

Also, using New Jack's racism rant, another Twitter follower posited the question: Why is Hogan getting a pass for definitively saying incredibly racist shit while New Jack is getting heat for pointing out that both BC and The King have said/done racist things? The obvious answer is, well, one of them is dead & can't defend themselves.

Here's the bigger theme behind this whole story, though: Why the fuck are we shocked that Sabu & New Jack, two of the most legit extreme athletes in the history of pro wrestling, said shocking things online? This pair, more than probably anyone, took ECW to the extreme more times than fucking ANYone (Google "Mass Transit ECW"...I'll wait). They were held up as wrestlers who were hardcore, both in & out of the ring, in both word & deed.

Let me say I absolutely don't agree with what they said. At all. It's incredibly disrespectful, regardless of your personal issues with them. But here's the problem, kids. Sometimes, when "extreme" people do "extreme" things, we don't always agree with them because we don't have a real gist of what REAL extreme really is. When you idolize someone for being hardcore, and then bail on them when they actually do something hardcore kinda makes you a hypocrite. Or fucking stupid.

When it comes to your heroes, be careful what you ask for. Sometimes, you get it.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

How I Met Al Snow At The Most Improbable NASCAR Win Ever

(Stoner viewings for a cool & rainy Saturday afternoon.)

I'm watching the delightful ECW pay-per-view WrestlePalooza '98 this afternoon with my good friend, Steve. The main event is The Franchise Shane Douglas defending against the one, the only Al Snow, with Head.

By the way, it was a great match, but I felt like we all knew going in, the final result. Has anyone ever done a positive swerve? Like, what if Shane Douglas, telling no one (except maybe Paul E.) that he was going to let Snow pin him? Wouldn't that be incredible? I felt like Snow, given the popularity of Head & the fact he was a solid wrestler who could adapt to all the ECW styles, could have a legit run as champion. You could take it off him in a couple weeks, but that would be some great stuff just for the reaction from the surprised winner.

Anywhoodle, it made me think of the time I met Al Snow at a NASCAR race in Kentucky. It was June 17, 2006, and I was at Kentucky Speedway covering the NASCAR Busch Series race there. I was working with Mark Garrow from the Performance Racing Network, the radio organization covering NASCAR events at tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., such as Bristol, Charlotte, Sonoma, etc. (and now, ironically, Kentucky). I was there for my racing radio show out of St. Louis & Mark was actually there as a pit reporter for Fox, covering the race for television.

(Real quick, now I'm watching the 2005 One Night Stand. I'll do a blog about that someday. What a great show that was. My 32nd berfmas! Man, I love the WWE Network. Yeah, I'm a mark. Fight me.)

(This has nothing to do with the story; it just made me giggle as I scrolled past it on Google.)

So Mark asked me if I'd like to expand my professional horizons and work with him as a runner that night. I said sure. My job was to find out who he need information from and get it. On pit road, reporters are assigned certain drivers. Most of those drivers have a PR rep in the pits with the team. As a reporter or a runner, you talk to that rep to find out if they're making any changes during a pit stop, finding out what a driver is saying after an incident, etc. It's fun & goes from slow to HOLY SHIT! really quick & I love that.

This ended up being a memorable night because the winning driver was a young man named David Gilliland. He was a California driver not many people had heard of, driving for a team no one had heard of, and ended up winning the fucking thing. He went from having a real job to being a millionaire before the sun came up.

I've covered NASCAR and motorsports for almost 20 years and one of the neat things about races are the track and the sanction (NASCAR, NHRA, etc.) bring in celebrities to entice fans & flaunt them in front of the media. I've done it as track staff & have become really good friends with some really cool people. One of those people at Kentucky Speedway that night (other than Bootsy Collins, who I met that night as well) was Al Snow.

I'm running down pit road, there was just an accident on the track, and I'm trying to get to the driver's PR rep to see how the driver's doing, what he's saying, if he's going to punch the other guy, etc. As I run, I fly past a guy that looks just like Al Snow. Then it hits me: THAT REALLY FUCKING WAS AL SNOW!

In my mind, I skidded to a halt Scooby Doo-style, did a quick turn around, ran back to Al, and said "Hey, you're Al Snow!"

He looked a bit surprised, but took it in stride and said, "Yes, I am!"

"You're awesome!"

"Thank you!"

And then I took off running again, off to found out if the driver was OK. He was.

I'd like to think Al Snow was OK, too. And you know what?

I think he was...

I think he was.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How ECW Created Its Slavishly Loyal Fanbase

Like I said I would, I'm gloriously baked, I'm watching ECW on the WWE Network, and I'm writing about it. Today's viewing is Hardcore Heaven 1995. This particular bit of internet literature is my shout out to both the ECW for creating a fanbase that was an active participant in every event and to the fans themselves for understanding they were part of a bigger whole.

I'm watching Shane Douglas do the whole "will he, won't he" thing about heading to WWE and the audience is giving him the business. Shane is baiting them and they respond with "Get Ric Flair!" It's kind of effective. Flair has been a foil for Douglas since he returned from the WCW. Standard fare for a wrestling show.

Then, as Shane starts to talk again, we hear, "Shut The Fuck Up!" And it wasn't done in the sing-songy way of "Shut the fuck up!" (Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap), it was just the crowd yelling at him in unison. It's not the vulgarity, it's not the fact the crowd is all ganging up on him, and it's not his response.

It's their timing.

The audience had impeccable timing, almost always. Now, let me restate, I'm no insider by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not even an active wrestling fan anymore. Every couple years, I dig my ECW DVDs out of storage & binge watch them for a couple weeks. YouTube's OK, but there aren't many full shows out there because WWE, strangely, doesn't want all their content floating out there for free. 

My point being, I'm a pretty green mark. I don't read any of the gossip sites, haven't in a very long time, and don't keep up with the wrestlers, other than Twitter. I don't know who the audience where. I know some of them did documentaries and have been interviewed and whatnot and I know they could be pains in the ass because they thought (knew) they were a huge part of the show. I also know this because I've done event public relations before and as a rule, the audience tends to suck. I know, you pay the bills and that's an absolute fact and in general, huge crowds actually tend to be awesome, but it's the nine or ten shitheads that ruin it because they feel entitled to get free shit. "Hey, man, you give me a hat, I'll wear that hat around town, and, I mean, that's free advertising for you!"

You'd be stunned how often I've heard that as a legit excuse to get free shit.

(Hey, guys, you can't just rush in and--you know what? Fuck it. #NotMyTable)

Anyway, got off track there (Bubba Kush is what we're doing today & I have to tell you, it's fucking incredible. I can't feel my teeth). I'm sure there was a ring general of some kind, giving instructions on what to chant. There had to be. Because the chants never started slow & ragged; they always started loud. There are times, obviously, when you get the spontaneous "ECW" chants (Or "What?!" with Stone Cold, one that I love to this day & it's a promised divorce if I do it to the wife again), but the others were pretty specific and I find it hard to believe that many people were thinking the same thing at the same time. So if you have any insight on that, head over to my Twitter account @MyECWMemories. I'd love to hear about the real stories.

By the way, the Taipei Death Match is on. Holy shit, I love this. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the blood, but I respect the hell out of the wrestlers who do it. 

Like I said before, the ECW audience was a real entity that interacted with the wrestlers. If Paul E. was ECW's brain, Joey was the voice, Tommy was the heart, and Sandman was the spirit, the audience was its conscience. That was a damned savvy crowd and it's because Paul & Joey & the wrestlers treated them like intelligent consumers instead of a bunch of 80s-era Hogan-worshiping marks (I love calling people "marks," I do it all the time even/especially if they're not wrestling fans). Paul knew the fans were on the internet. He knew they read the gossip sites and knew what was going on, so he talked to them like equals. As a result, he had a guaranteed audience of people who were going to make his shows pop like Wrestlemania every time.


Man, good stuff.

Oh. I've never been to an ECW show. Ever. I've had a couple chances & either sometime came up or I just didn't feel like leaving the house. I'm weird like that. Just a huge fan. I'm literally that 45-year-old stoner mark blogging about wrestling that doesn't exist anymore. Holy God. Strangely, I think the 15-year-old me would be cool with it.

PS Just did a massive hot bong rip. I can smell colors. Tommy Dreamer just literally threw Raven and Stevey through a wall. They're beating the shit out of Luna.

"You can't super bomb a woman!"

Oh, yes you can, Joey Styles.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The My ECW Memories Blog: The Whys & Wherefores

(EC-Fuckin'-W. In case you were wondering.)

I very vaguely remember watching pro wrestling for the first time in the late '70s. I was about five, which would've put the year at 1978 and my mom, my stepdad, and I were living with his parents (and daughter, who was three years older than me & fit the role of evil older sister & a son who had just gotten married, and his wife) until our trailer was ready. So yeah, I am basically the rasslin' stereotype: raised poor in an old trailer & grew up on wrestling, metal, and Marlboro Lights. Or Magnas when I was feeling cheap.


My aunt kept talking about Andre the Giant and how he was wrestling that night. At the time, the local syndicated station that would go on to play Comedy Classics and Saturday Night Shockers over the years was currently airing World Class Championship Wrestling (the Von Erich promotion) with the occasional report from overseas, usually Japan. It was one of those five-on-one matches Andre was famous for & it was impressive. But then, the Von Erichs came on.

Holy shit, that was incredible. It was Kerry & David (Rassle In Peace, boys) tagging. No idea who, but it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. They were the good guys, super heroes, and I loved super heroes and comic books & here those things were in live action. I would later be introduced to Ric Flair, the Freebirds, the Great Muta, Gentleman Chris Adams, Gary Hart, the Road Warriors, Bulldog Bob Brown, Dick the Bruiser, Gene Kiniski, King Kong Brody, Harley Race, Terry Funk, and all those incredible performers who were killing it before Vincent K. McMahon, Jr. changed the world.

I was sucked in by Hulk Hogan and the WWF like millions of others. I'm from a small town in Missouri of around 3,000 people. The nearest decent-sized town is Hannibal (the town of my birth...and that of Sam Clemons), and that's more than 30 minutes away. We were rural af, folks. WWF was the main event, but I still kept up on other federations, like WCW's Saturday night show on SuperStation WTBS (5:05 p.m. CT, every Saturday). I remember thinking how big the shows were then. Watching them now on YouTube? Pretty sure all of them could have fit in my living room. But to be fair, I do have a large living room.

I graduated high school in '91 & went directly to the Navy. By this time, WWF was starting to get really gimmicky & after the whole Papa Shango making people ooze that weird shit out of their scalps, I was done. WCW was in worse shape. So I gave up on wrestling. I was stationed at the base TV & radio station in Rota, Spain. One of the guys I was there with (who had the most amazing radio voice, but had no idea how to use it), was hardcore addicted to WWF. I was never one of the really REALLY solid followers. Like I said, when it got dumb, I stopped watching.

Moved on to the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and then USS John F. Kennedy where I still hadn't been following wrestling at all. Then, Monday, June 10, 1996, I was honorably discharged from the US Navy. I jumped in my Thunderbird & headed north from Florida to my parents' house in Missouri. I spent my first night of freedom in a reasonable hotel in Atlanta. I turned the TV on and decided, 'You know what? I'm going to watch some rasslin'!'

I turned on RAW. I saw Goldust. Nope. Looked like the same nonsense I stopped watching in '92. Later, I would realize the Goldust/Dustin Runnels deal was pretty deep and pretty interesting. That night, though, I wasn't having it.

(It's not you, man; it's me.)

So I flipped over to TNT just in time for Scott Hall to introduce "The Big Man" as The Wolfpac was formed, later to become the New World Order (nWo), one of the greatest wrestling cliques in the industry's history. And I had just witnessed the beginning.

I eventually discovered WWF as their Attitude Era was forming and of course fell in love with it. Stone Cold, Degeneration X (with a still awesome Shawn Michaels bringing it), the Nation of Domination, all of it. I was watching live when Mick Foley took the dive off the Hell in the Cell. I was supposed to be at Badd Blood in St. Louis where Brian Pillman failed to make the bell due to a case of being deceased, Shawn Michaels took the first big bump off the cell, and my fellow Bowling Green High School alum, Glenn Jacobs, made his WWF debut as Kane. (True story: he was really good friends with a couple of my cousins and played football & basketball with them. Awesome dude.)

(I'm 6'2", two & a half bills. That's a large man.)

So around this time, I met, fell in love with, got engaged to, and married a pretty awesome woman who has put up with a tremendous amount of shenanigans over our 20+ years of wedded bliss. I moved in with her & we got satellite. Coming from small-town cable, real live satellite in 1998 was fucking incredible.

And that's how I found ECW.

I was scrolling through the channels around late fall, 1998. I was waiting for the Sunday night NFL game and was looking through all those weird sports channels no one ever watches and found an episode of ECW Hardcore TV. It was unreal. I was hooked immediately. It was an amazing time for the promotion as they were cranking out PPVs, doing work that is still being copied, and making it look fun. It was about a year before the TNN deal and it was just as I was getting familiar with the internet. It was an exciting time.

Over the years, I've loved ECW more and more. I've bought the DVDs and binged. Usually, once every couple years, I have a hardcore (Get it? Hardcore? Because ECW is--nevermind) urge to watch ECW. The first One Night Stand (June 12, 2005) was, to me, one of the top 3 wrestling PPVs of all time. It was the capper of a great day that happened to be my birthday. Went to a St. Louis Cardinals game with my wife & parents & watched them beat the Yankees, my friend Carl Edwards won the NASCAR Cup Series race in Pocono, and THEN I went home to watch the revival of the best wrestling fed ever with a list of some of the greatest performances in said fed's short but influential history.

I didn't watch the WWE version of ECW because it wasn't ECW. I get they share arenas and do a lot of the shows on the same day and whatnot, but how hard would it have been to rent out the local bingo hall to provide the real feel? Again, I'm sure insurance was a bitch and there were a lot of other factors, too. But still.

Haven't watched the TNA versions of the ECW comeback, either. Around 2010, I stopped watching wrestling again. RAW was turning into something dumb (those celebrity guest hosts did me in) and TNA got rid of the six-sided ring and became just another wrestling group. Although, I have been to a TNA PPV where I got to interview Christian (I'm a reporter/journalist/media type), who seemed a lot cooler than I expected. So I was a man without a federation. I just had DVDs and memories.

So I was fucking knocked on my heels when I found out the WWE Network had the entire ECW catalog, including all the PPVs, all the old Hardcore TVs, and all the TNN shows. That's all I've been doing for the last week; sitting on my couch, smoking a shit ton of weed with my friend Steve, and watching all these spectacular matches and promos. My wife is ready to crack me in the skull with a chair for reelz, but I can't stop watching. I had seen most of the PPVs or at least the main matches, but seeing them all in one place, in chronological order is insane.

(The WWE Network: Where every day is your birthday. Jackass.)

One of my favorite things is to get high & watch sports. Any sports. It seems to take the competitiveness and drama to a whole new level. Seeing old NFL games and wrestling matches on YouTube is awesome. But having the WWE Network (and I'm not being compensated in any way by WWE, ECW, or anyone else, but I'm more than willing to sell out; just DM me through my Twitter @MyECWMemories. Seriously, check that out) means DAYS of watching ECW and getting high. While doing this, I get all these great ideas and deep thoughts about ECW and what it did and what it represented to wrestling both at that time and now.

Hence, this blog. 

This is my space to write about all the epitomes I have about Tommy Dreamer, all the compliments I have for Mike Awesome, my undying love for Joey Styles, and my drooling fanboy-like obsession with Beulah McGillicutty. So welcome. Thank you for stopping by. I'm always down to talk wrestling, so hit me up here or on Twitter. 


(Didn't mean that kind of hit. Whatever. ECW! ECW! ECW! Photo credit: Wrestling Observer)