On Monday — July 10, 2017, if you’re reading this in the future — WWE Network added over 140 episodes of the WWE version of ECW. To celebrate, I’m going to recap the very first one, which might objectively be one of the worst pure hours of WWE programming ever. If you’d like to watch it and follow along, click here.
What You Need To Know: In the 1990s, nothing exemplified the violent, reckless spirit of independent pro wrestling like Philadelphia’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. Run mostly out of a bingo hall by former WCW manager Paul E. Dangerously, the former Eastern Championship Wrestling seceded from the National Wrestling Alliance in 1994, turned up the violence and sexuality to 11, turned its crew of unknowns and has-beens into stars and ended up changing the entire landscape of North American wrestling. Like every wrestling story from the ’90s, this one ends with WWE helping them out, then stealing all their shit, watching them go out of business, buying them and re-purposing them as a half-assed WWE “brand.” See also: WCW.
In 2005, WWE put on “One Night Stand,” an ECW reunion pay-per-view. For better or worse, it was as close to a “real” Extreme Championship Wrestling show as WWE could manage. A year later, they decided to do it again, only this time with less of a focus on ECW and more of a focus on … you know, WWE. That led to a weekly ECW show on SciFi — yes, the science fiction channel — that put even MORE of an emphasis on WWE and was basically an episode of Main Event with ECW stickers on it.
Eventually the show would turn into something more closely resembling the glory days of NXT, wherein the new, young stars of WWE could get in work and hone their craft before ending up on the main shows. Future WWE stars like CM Punk, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger and Sheamus all got their WWE TV starts on the show, while veterans like Matt Hardy and Mark Henry had new life breathed into them. It wasn’t ECW — not even close — but it was something. Eventually WWE was like, “ECW is still too ECW” and replaced it with history’s worst pro wrestling game show. Eventually, as you know, NXT became a new version of WWE ECW without all the hangups of having to be “extreme.”
So here’s a look at the show’s first episode, which is definitely not about how much better than ECW WWE is.
Worst: WWE Is So Much Better Than ECW, Everyone
Two days before this episode, Rob Van Dam cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase at One Night Stand 2006 and defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship. He did it the cool babyface way, too, by actually cashing it in in advance and getting his type of match (extreme rules) on his home turf (an ECW crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom). So the first episode of the new ECW television show starts with Paul Heyman and Rob Van Dam celebrating the win, and Heyman attempting to replace the corny WWE spinner belt with a brand new ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
And in perhaps the most telling move of this entire endeavor, right out of the gate in segment 1, Van Dam is like, “actually Paul, I’ll take the ECW title but I want to keep the WWE one, too.” Because there’s nothing more important about this ECW show than WWE.
To make this explicitly clear, Edge shows up, tricks Van Dam into thinking he respects him, then spears him and leaves him lying. Then he escapes out into the crowd, where [trumpet fanfare] John Cena is waiting to save the day for ECW. Please pay no attention to these WWE main-eventers brawling over the WWE Championship in the first segment of your ECW show!
Also, unrelated, but shout-out to Lita’s THE ENTIRE FRONT OF MY TORSO cleavage. I forgot about that until she walked out. She must have kept the double-sided tape industry in business.
Backstage, Paul Heyman reacts to the insult by saying if WWE wants to GET EXTREME, they’ll GET EXTREME. Note: he says this a lot, don’t worry about it. The plan is to invade next Monday’s Raw and TAKE THEM to THE EXTREME. Want to know how sadistic and violent Raw gets? Heyman brings a bunch of ECW guys to sit in the crowd, then negotiates with Jonathan Coachman to get Balls Mahoney a Raw match against Cena, which Balls loses almost immediately. The post-match is Heyman on his knees begging Cena not to hurt him. This is extreme!
The best part of that is that Sabu eventually does put Cena through a table, at least, in probably the best-ever Sabu moment on WWE soil.
Worst: ECW Dark Universe
It’s pretty weird that an Extreme Championship Wrestling show was on the Science Fiction channel, right? Put it on The Nashville Network, sure, that makes sense. But sci-fi?
One of the strange compromises to getting the show on a science fiction channel was, apparently, adding “science fiction” elements to ECW. The old ECW had some science fiction of its own — “Shane Douglas was the best wrestler,” for example — but WWE ECW is straight-up like, FILL IT WITH MONSTERS.
One of these is Unnamed Vampire Loiterer, who we eventually come to know as Kevin Thorn. Here, we find him making SCARY VAMPIRE FACES at an ECW marquee while Joey Styles and Tazz are like, “is that, no is that, is that, could it be, what the, who the, what the, OH MY MEDICATION!” You can tell he’s a monster because he cut his sideburns like that and cut his beard into a Nike swoosh.
More on him in future episodes, when he gets managed by an extremely tan lady who is also a vampire somehow.
No “what the hell are you doing to ECW” conversation is complete without an appearance from The Zombie, episode one’s worst idea. Worse than Jar Jar Binks.
Just watch the clip. A zombie shows up with CastleVania music. Watch the people in the crowd as he passes them. That’s the only reaction you could have. It’s just incredulous faces and shrugging. Then dude gets into the ring and cuts a promo which is just loud groaning. But I’ll be honest, if you look at him and listen to him, all you’d need to do is add a proper noun in there somewhere and you’d have the Ultimate Warrior.
So the Zombie debuts, and the Sandman shows up and beats him up. That was the Sandman’s job for a while. He was barely a wrestler sometimes, he’d just show up to hit people he thought we didn’t like with a stick. A few days earlier he beat up a mentally handicapped guy for enthusiastically not understanding what’s happening. A special needs man pleading for his life while a drunk man smokes cigarettes and flogs him is low key the darkest shit WWE’s done. It’s like Steinbeck by way of Palahniuk.
Join us next week when Chris Chetti fights a Chupacabra.
Worst: ECW Champions Are Not Good At Wrestling
Up next is former ECW Heavyweight Champion Justin Credible losing to Kurt Angle like a stupid baby in about 90 seconds so Angle can challenge Randy Orton to a match at Vengeance. It’s Justin Credible, sure, but it’s also a bummer to see these guys 100% treated like jobber afterthoughts who are, at best, mild obstacles in the middle of WWE stories.
Ironic Best: Kelly Kelly Is An Exhibitionist, That Means She Likes To Take Off Her Clothes!
One of the key aspects of classic ECW was its brazen sexuality. You had threesome angles, men proposing to their female valets by putting condoms on their fingers, The Night That Kimona Wanalaya Danced Atop The ECW Arena®, the name “Kimona Wanalaya,” and so on. WWE ECW attempted to recreate that, but instead of being run by a 29-year old wrestling fan Paul Heyman it’s being run by a 60-year old billionaire whose idea of sexuality is LAUGH ABOUT MEN’S BUTTS AND SCREAM AT WOMEN UNTIL THEY DO WHAT I SAY.
So meet Kelly. She’s an “exhibitionist.” That means she likes to take off her clothes! She’s going to tell you this every time you see her. Also, not what exhibitionist means.
I wanted to write a bunch of jokes about these segments, but I can’t write anything funnier than what actually happens. Watch in wonder as:
- Kelly has no idea the camera is on for the first 5 seconds of her debut promo
- Kelly’s only understanding of sexuality being, “I have boobs and a butt … maybe?”
- Kelly finally doing a strip tease but not being able to unhook her bra, and having to scoot it up on her chest instead of taking it off
- Kelly’s entire gimmick being “exhibitionist” and then not actually exhibiting
Also, I watched Kelly Kelly for six years and saw her actually eyeballs like, twice. She’s like Misty from Pokémon had a baby with Brock from Pokémon.
Worst: In Case You Forgot, WWE Is Much Better Than ECW
Here’s a picture of the main event battle royal. Notice all the ECW stars:
The best part is that it’s for a shot at WWE’s John Cena at the WWE pay-per-view Vengeance.
The entire story of the match is that Big Show can dominate your entire local wrestling promotion. He destroys everyone in the battle royal, and only loses when Sabu and wrestling’s Sloth Big Guido team up and use a bunch of weapons to eliminate him. Hence the Sabu table spot on Cena on the next Raw. I’ll try not to remind you too many times that the payoff to that is Cena tapping out Sabu.
Things get better, and then they get much worse. But hey, at least we’re done with the zombie infestation. Baby steps.
EXTREME BABY STEPS.