SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Tonight on Vice, the latest “Dark Side of the Ring” episode airs with a documentary detailing the New Jack-Erich Kulas incident. The following is Wade Keller’s cover story written for Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #421 (cover dated Dec. 28. 2020). We will be posting more coverage here at PWTorch.com today.
We recommend you start with the initial cover story of the PWTorch Newsletter published three weeks before this column. Access that article first here: New Jack-Erick Kulas Incident – Our Original Coverage (Pt. 1): Initial PWTorch Newsletter cover story by Wade Keller from Dec. 7, 1996 issue: “An embarrassing, scary incident – is ECW too reckless, too violent, too extreme – too bush league to go national?”
TORCH #421 COVER STORY
ECW is too extreme, say PPV distributors
Content of their programs and the long list of controversial incidents add up to a no-go on PPV
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
ECW management and wrestlers were gearing up for their debut on pay-per-view in late March or early April. Those plans were derailed last week when Request TV, one of the country’s two major pay-per-view distributors, said ECW was “too extreme” for their tastes. Viewers Choice, the other national pay-per-view distributor, had already turned down ECW several weeks earlier due to problems with program content.
On Thursday, Dec. 19, when asked if a date had been finalized yet for ECW’s pay-per-view, Michael Kline, vice president of programming for Viewer’s Choice, told the TORCH that they had informed ECW “weeks earlier” they would not be going into partnership with them.
“In looking at the demo tape they sent us, there was a scene of a kid receiving gifts from his father and the boyfriend snatching them away from him,” he said. “This young boy was also shown in the wrestling ring about to be hit with a weapon by a grown man. We are not into censoring, but there is a guideline for what we will put on our channels. Portrayals of kids about to be beaten are not the kind of images we want to be in partnership with. So we passed on the show.”
When asked if the tape of the incident ECW sent them of 17-year-old Erich Kulas being cut badly in the ring had any influence on their decision, Kline said he never heard of the incident and they never received a tape, but that their decision was probably made even before the said incident took place.
The same day, when asked if ECW’s pay-per-view date had been finalized, Request TV president Hugh Panero told the TORCH he wasn’t sure that they had finalized a date yet and there were still some issues to work out. When asked if the delay in finalizing the date had anything to do with the content of the original demo tape ECW sent them or the tape ECW recently sent them of the Revere incident, he said he didn’t know, but he would find out by the next day.
The next day Panero said he checked into the status of the ECW situation and said they were not carrying the event and that the decision had been finalized that day. He said as they were evaluating ECW for the past several weeks there was a series of controversial incidents that concerned them. He said there were two incidents they couldn’t look past, one of a wrestler setting another wrestler and (inadvertently) a fan on fire and the other of a 17-year old “getting injured with a fork.” Conflicting what Paul Heyman told the TORCH two weeks earlier, Panero said no one at Request knew of the Revere incident before Thursday and no one there had seen a tape, but when Request called ECW on Friday, “they came clean” and described the incident to them in detail.
“We were in the process of evaluating their event,” Panero explained. “I don’t know how objects like forks and fire get involved in their rings, but we have standards and those don’t fit. Just like the UFC (Ultimate Fight Championship) had to fit various standards to be on pay-per-view, so does this group (ECW).
“This is wrestling, it’s a weird duck. This (ECW) is a little more real than not, it seems, so it fell into a weird black hole. If they want to be on pay-per-view, we are going to treat them like a combat sport and ask them to tell us how they are going to prevent such incidents from happening. They have to show they will have doctors at ringside and age requirements. We realize they are realistic and not purely theatrics, so they should hold themselves to the same or higher standards as the combat sports (i.e. UFC). It’s either real combat or bad theatrics. But the WWF and WCW, these guys are great athletes. That’s how they can do things safely that look dangerous. In the case of ECW, I don’t want to carry an event that doesn’t know what it is, and I don’t want to see underage kids with gashes on their foreheads.”
Panero pointed to boxing having to clean up its act after a brawl broke out in the ring at the recent Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota fight. “They issued too many all-purpose ringside passes. On their next event, they had better security and it didn’t happen again.” Panero did say he doesn’t necessarily have a problem with bleeding on the events. “Blood is not a problem” he said. “We carry boxing events where boxers bleed.”
ECW was told the news by phone Friday and an official letter was then sent. When asked Monday if the status had changed or if a reconciliation was possible, Panero said, “They’ve been told it’s pretty much final.”
According to Paul Heyman, ECW officials and Request TV engaged in a conference call the following Thursday and planned to have a follow up conversation on Friday (the day after this issue’s deadline) about working out a deal to keep the plans for a pay-per-view on the table. Apr. 13 is apparently still the target date, although all signs over the last week were that it would take too much time to alleviate Request’s concerns to get a deal done soon enough for an Apr. 13 pay-per-view debut. If ECW were to meet a list of conditions, some industry sources indicated this week that a pay-per-view deal could eventually be reestablished for later in the year.
Heyman says this controversy has been blown out of proportion all week on wrestling hotlines, on the internet, and among his wrestlers. “This is not the first time we have dealt with (a concern from) Request,” he said. “But it is the most severe and the most public.”
Wrestlers were not told of the glitch in the pay-per-view plans at the Friday or Saturday night ECW shows, but as word spread early this week, there was concern, outrage, finger pointing, and soul-searching. “At spot shows all the boys used to always talk about and look forward to the next ECW Arena show,” said one ECW wrestler. “Now all anybody was talking about was the pay-per-view.”
Another wrestler said: “Now that ECW might not get on pay-per-view, the first thing a lot of wrestlers are going to do is call (an executive at the WWF or WCW) and wish them a Merry Christmas.”
The controversial Revere incident was, ironically, apparently not a big topic of conversation among wrestlers recently. Most of them hadn’t seen the video which graphically showed close-ups of the blood spurting out of Kulas’s head. Instead, the wrestlers based their opinion on the locker room scene after the match, which saw Kulas being stretchered to an ambulance with his head bandaged, apparently asking about whether he “did okay” and would be welcome back to ECW. (Kulas denies saying that.)
New Jack, who cut Kulas, has been one target of criticism. He told the TORCH Sunday that Heyman has advised him not to comment on the situation for legal purposes, but that no one yet knows the entirety of the situation.
Heyman did say he is not holding out high hopes of resolving the pay-per-view controversy any time soon and is already working on plan B, which presumably means scheduling a live TV special on Network One on Apr. 13 instead.
RECOMMENDED NEXT: New Jack-Erick Kulas Incident – Our Original Coverage (Pt. 2): Bruce Mitchell’s hard-hitting column from Dec. 28, 1996 issue: “The horrific incident in Revere, Mass. has become the defining moment for ECW.”
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