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This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Mitchell becoming a Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter columnist. No single person has influenced the editorial tone and direction of the Torch brand over the years than Bruce, who brought a hard-hitting, supremely well-informed, speak-truth-to-power approach to his writing. He went after sacred cows out of the gate, such as the beloved among “smart fans” (today’s “Internet fans” or “IWC,” I suppose) Eddie Gilbert and Jim Cornette. He also went hard after people in positions of authority and power who were abusing or misusing that power, or just not delivering a worthy product. He has also applauded and paid tribute to the greatest moments and movements in pro wrestling over the last 25 years, with a style of writing that has yet to be matched anywhere, I contend (despite Bill Simmons’s arrogant and uninformed contention last year that no one wrote at a high level about pro wrestling until his “Masked Man” columnist came along).
To celebrate and highlight Bruce’s stellar 25 years of influential and eloquent truth-telling about this fascinating industry, we’ll be featuring a single column from each of the last 25 years each of the first 25 days this month. His long-form columns were a pioneer approach to pro wrestling journalism, and the next 25 years you’ll experience a slice of what it is that has earned Bruce Mitchell widespread recognition within the industry over the years as being “Pro Wrestling’s Most Respected Columnist.” We began on Oct. 1st with his very first column, from Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #89 (cover dated Oct. 5, 1990).
Today we feature his column from the July 8, 1995 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter (#342) where Bruce wrote about his first trip to ECW Arena in Philadelphia to see the buzz-generating upstart ECW promotion.
NOTE: VIP members can access hundreds of Mitchell columns instantly in the BRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY here, part of the massive unmatched online archives of insider wrestling coverage from over the past 28 years.
“Everybody Sucks But Us”
Originally published July 8, 1995
Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly newsletter #342
“Welcome to EC F—ing’ W!”
– Noel Coward.
It’s a loud, smokin’, profane, hip hop shout out, chair banging, table breaking, blood bleeding, gross and glorious mess.
It’s Extreme Championship Wrestling.
And who knows if this funky, held together by barbed wire and bandages promotion is propped up by some shaky shell game or is financed by some heretofore unidentified big money operator?
What is known is that this promotion has the most rabidly loyal fans of any in the country. Witness the packed ECW Arena where fans continually chanted, cheered, and then actually exploded into the ring in a final orgasm of testosterone during Saturday’s show.
Many of these fans, who travelled to this show from as far as Melbourne, Australia, wear their hatred of the so-called Big Two as a badge of honor. It was these fans who loudly chanted “ECW” during the many slow parts of the WWF’s recent pay-per-view show in Philadelphia. One actually bragged about how his group’s car got in front of the McMahon entourage’s limousine and he took the opportunity to comment on the King of the Ring by showing his bare white ass to Vince and his family. Perhaps that mode of criticism was a little overboard.
In the same vein the words “sucks” and “Mabel” seemed to be paired together constantly during fan conversations this weekend.
ECW constantly taps into the resentment that these fans feel towards two companies that have cheated, scorned, and rejected them repeatedly. If there is a consistent theme of every ECW show it’s not “Politically Incorrect – And Proud of It” or “ECW – It’s Not For Everyone.” It is “Us (Hardcores) versus Them (Titan and TBS).”
ECW makes it plain that it wants hardcore fans happy and satisfied. The key to their fans’ satisfaction is their intense need to feel a part of the wrestling business. Paul Heyman and company have done a masterful job of leading their fans to believe that they the fans, not Tod Gordon, or HHG Inc., or Rupert Murdoch, or whoever the hell it is, actually own the thing.
Everything they do is pointed toward this goal – from the constant putdowns of the “Big Two” to the positioning of WCW/WWF alumni as subtle heels, like the way Too Cold Scorpio is now being used, to the hilarious claims by Tommy Dreamer that if WCW called he would hang up, to the slightly incoherent angle with Shane Douglas and his on air dance with Titan Sports, to the hilarious Bill Alfonso referee angle which has garnered more real old time heat than any other in ECW history.
Even the extreme violence, flowing blood, great workers extolled in these pages, in-crowd brawling, and constant swearing on the house mic are set in the context of their differences from Titan and TBS.
And the Internet Convention, like SMW’s Fan Week, is another way for these fans to bond with the product. The difference between the two is that ECW, unlike Jim Cornette, doesn’t constantly plead with those fans to “kayfabe” the locals.
The 100 or so fans at the Internet conference so appreciated the wrestlers’ and management’s attention to them and their constant bashing of the Big Two that grown men acted like adolescent boys in love and somehow neglected to ask the single biggest question about ECW’s future:
Who is funding this thing now?
These fans have so bonded to ECW due to Heyman’s symbolism that either they were fooled by the subterfuge of the claim that Tod Gordon still signs the checks or they just didn’t want to think of the implications of the answer.
The greatest example of this symbolic bashing and bonding is 911, ECW’s mascot, who inevitably chokeslams, with the exception of the respected Terry Funk, virtually every “Big Two” wrestler that has come through the promotion.
The big problem with this “us against them” approach is that there simply are not enough fans who are so disgusted by WCW and the WWF that they totally loath them but still love pro wrestling. Most fans who hate the Big Two just stop watching wrestling all together and new fans can be totally befuddled by all of the references and symbolism. It does not help that Heyman’s booking weakness is lack of attention to the pace of his stories, which causes more confusion. But the ECW Arena fans who buy the direction provide the most consistently loyal and exciting backdrop for wrestling matches in this country.
Paul Heyman has used all of this symbolism to establish real heels in his promotion. In addition to the Too Cold Scorpio, Shane Douglas type, Paul is beginning to develop guys who don’t seem to fit the ECW mold of a violent, kickass wrestler and who the fans react to with scorn. This is Heyman’s new breed of heel wrestler.
A small, subtle, but hilarious example of this came early Saturday night when Chad Austin joined three other unimpressive looking scrubs for a tag team match. Austin started deliberately, but not obviously, blowing spots.
In other words, these four had a bad match on purpose. The fans bought it and started chanting, “You all suck!” which of course led to the arrival of Paul E. and 911 and a whole bunch of chokeslams.
But the best example of this is a wrestler who came into his own last weekend as a true talent and a new star – Steve Richards.
Richards plays his character like Shawn Michaels – if Shawn Michaels were a dork. He plays a geek so fearlessly and completely that the fans want to kill him and legitimately can’t see past the work.
I watched him shooting promos for future television programs after the ECW Arena event Saturday night and his out of rhythm celebrating of the tag title win and Vinnie Barbarino-like seventies Kung Fu display made me want to slap his face.
He is so ballsy playing this ballsless jerk that he is willing to push the limits of the degradation that any wrestling character has faced. From his Daisy Duke shorts to Raven’s humiliating slaps to 911’s repeated chokeslams to Public Enemy’s repeated simulated in-ring sodomy (which has to be a first, of a sort) to his work with a woman who has no compunction about grabbing him by the nuts for several seconds and squeezing hard as Richards has shown every willingness to take his character to the extreme.
Richards is much more than some sort of hardcore Jamison. He is a very good in-ring worker who does high spots and transitions with equal aplomb. Still his character so transcends his work that I listened to a newsletter reading ECW fan bemoan the fact that Richards is half of the tag team champions because “he doesn’t deserve the belt.”
It’s the other half of that championship tag team that is a revelation in wrestling characters. Scotty Levy’s Raven is the best gimmick to come along in years, an authentic recreation of a Gen X Grunge attitude that in fact started out too hip for the room. Raven works because of Levy’s patience, dramatic ability to know when not to do something as well as when to do it, his attention to slacker detail, and his contrast to that goof Richards.
But his character would not be as effective in another promotion for one simple reason.
ECW’s unsung star is the soundman. ECW’s music is clear, loud, and dead on.
Off Spring, Ice T. White Zombie. The Hot Stepper. Metallica.
ECW consistently stays ahead of the MTV curve and features great wrestling videos. How Paul Heyman was able to make a deal to legally use this music while the “Big Two” have to resort to that generic sludge is one of the great mysteries of the age.
The music is an important part of the overall context of aggressive, profane violence. The Gangstas who were the subject of Jim Cornette’s racist wet dream in Smoky Mountain, fit in this context as an authentic street team. New Jack’s truth-telling interviews will seem very different in a promotion that features more than Lilly White Boys. The Gangstas responded to their change in scenery by teaming with the Public Enemy to put on simply the best brawl-style match I have ever seen.
Another part of that violent atmosphere is the blatant misogyny that permeates the promotion. Heyman has trotted out a procession of women, Beulah McGillicutty only the latest, whose purpose has been to get piledriven so the fans can see her panties as she is suspended upside down. It’s as if he thinks ECW fans resent beautiful women for one reason or another.
And he seems right since the fans pop big for this crap every time. But an antidote to this He-Man Women Hater’s club has come from an unlikely, hallucinatory source.
The decision to put Luna Vachon in the ring as the Extreme Queen who meets and beats the hell out of men on their turf and her terms has altered the promotion’s anti-women direction. Luna’s wild persona makes this role work. It’s hard to think of anyone else on these shores who could pull it off. And wait ’til you hear her little girl voice in the new TV promos. Yikes!
Not that ECW’s violent, profane context doesn’t present its own serious problems. One of ECW’s most hardcore wrestlers said that he had reservations about the constant swearing on the house mic and how it causes unnecessary problems with television stations. There’s also the numbing effect of constantly suing the twelve letter magic word, you know, the “mother” one. Hard to find something shocking to say when you really need it if you’ve used up the impact of that little chestnut.
And the Rottens’ blood show is just garbage. It’s hard to figure why someone would base their entire career on something that will soon be banned worldwide because of the extreme danger of blood transmitted diseases.
The constant gay bashing is irritating at best and cruel at worst. You wonder when guys will catch on that only true closet cases do this.
ECW’s development of the Eddy Guerrero, TC Scorpio, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko side of its talent roster, and its attempted development of Taz in a similar role should help alleviate the problem. The other wrestlers’ hard work to make up for the absence of three of them on Saturday’s event was impressive.
And their angle revolving around Shane Douglas and Bill Alfonso raised an interesting hidden agenda question about the future of the company. The Douglas-Cactus Jack debate in Jim Thorpe was the height of self-indulgent incoherence. I think it’s still going on.
But it was Saturday Night that raised the real questions. Why is Tod Gordon, who has publicly stated that he is in negotiations to leave ECW, once again a major part of the storyline?
Whatever the business future of this promotion, and it obviously has to answer the question of how to make money – and quickly – ECW has the best television show and the most exciting wrestling of any promotion regularly running in this country.
It’s f—ing great.
CHECK OUT PREVIOUS YEARS’ SELECTIONS OF BRUCE MITCHELL COLUMNS OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS: CLICK HERE