On Sunday August 8, TNA Wrestling will present a new pay-per-view, Hardcore Justice. This event is a take-off on their annual Hard Justice event and it is being dubbed as “a one-night-only celebration of hardcore wrestling featuring a never before seen reunion of legendary wrestling superstars.” That’s right on this night wrestlers from the beloved Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion will get their final chance to be in the spotlight and honor the hardcore tradition of one of the most exciting and influential wrestling promotions in the last 20 years.
And I sincerely, with all my heart, hope that will be the final ECW tribute show ever.
Extreme Championship Wrestling has a special place in my heart. It is my all-time favorite wrestling promotion. From the moment I saw my first ECW match, Super Crazy vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri, I was absolutely hooked. I watched these two wrestlers compete in one of the most dazzling displays of acrobatics, athleticism and lucha libre — it was poetry in hardcore motion. From that moment on, I enveloped myself in all things ECW — I religiously taped all their syndicated shows on the MSG Network (which usually aired on Saturday at 1am), read every wrestling magazine article on them, dialed into the Internet and read every scrap of info on them, followed every show result, went to every wrestler’s website. I, like thousands of others, became a diehard ECW fan. And for those unfamiliar with ECW fans, let me tell you, we were some of the most dedicated, vocal and passionate wrestling fans ever.
Why? Because ECW was special to us. It wasn’t for the masses, it wasn’t for that girl you knew in high school who watched Monday Night RAW because she thought The Rock was cute or that jock who wore the Austin 3:16 shirt because it was trendy. No, ECW was ours and they marketed themselves that way, “ECW: It’s Not For Everyone!” Nope, for us, we lived and died with every closed fist, table dive, crowd brawl and suicide dive. And the promotion knew it. It was a symbiotic relationship, we the fans, were just as important to the show as the wrestlers. We created the vibe, the energy, the atmosphere. Attending an ECW live show was like going to the Superbowl or Wrestlemania. The energy in the building, particularly the ECW Arena (aka a Bingo Hall in South Philadelphia) was intoxicating as it was insane. You literally have to had to experience the off the charts energy that exuded from an ECW crowd. The chants were as vulgar as they were deafening — it was like a mosh pit, met a bar room brawl inside of a beer drenched tornado. Simply put, it was amazing.
And we loved it because ECW was so different. First off, the wrestlers weren’t the jacked up, chiseled model-types like you see on TV today. No these were everyday guys, most excellent atheltes, but for some reason, whether it be build, attitude, style or what you, they weren’t accepted by the mainstream promotions (WWF and WCW). And if you’ve ever seen or been to an ECW show, we fans were not exactly the most “mainstream” types of people. I mean only in ECW could you have a bulbous near albino wrestler with blue hair and daisy dukes named The Blue Meanie or a 400lb. guy named Balls Mahoney be popular. Basically the wrestlers were guys who weren’t unlike us, we could relate to them…maybe minus the blue hair and daisy dukes…maybe.
But it wasn’t just their everyman or renegade appeal as characters, it was the in-ring sacrifices and athleticism that hooked the fans. Whether it be classic chain wrestling, high-energy lucha libre or “hardcore” violent matches that were punctuated with literally buckets of blood, it was the in-ring work that had the fans at “hello.” The death-defying leaps from balconies, being entangled in yards of barbed wire, continuous shots to the skull with chairs…these guys put it all on the line every night.
However in 2001, Extreme Championship Wrestling ceased to exist. Their last show was an untelevised event in that bastion of pop culture — Pine Bluff, Arkansas. With ECW being a northeast based promotion, it was a major letdown for the fans that our promotion ended in a far off land. Imagine Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi giving their final concert at a small concert venue in Wisconsin. Yeah, major bummer.
Luckily there have been some ECW reunion shows produced by WWE and independently. WWE even brought ECW back as it’s own show under their corporate umbrella. But it just wasn’t the same. You couldn’t make the Sex Pistols corporate and you couldn’t do the same with ECW. The revival was a massive flop and the “promotion” ended up being used a developmental show for young WWE talent. The ECW brand was shutdown by WWE recently in the same fashion as the original promotion — with a whimper.
So it makes sense for there to be one last dance, one last hardcore ECW farewell — it deserves a proper send-off. However, like I said, I really, truly hope it’s the last one. We can’t keep going to the well to say goodbye. The old wounds keep getting re-opened (whether from barbed wire or emotion). The luster will finally be gone. Enough will be enough. The wrestlers, who are still active and alive (sadly many ECW alumni have passed on) are getting up there in years; they cannot keep performing at the hyperactive clip they once did. ECW’s style was brutal and to maintain the brutality and quality of vintage ECW at an older age is very difficult. Just how long can they keep doing this?
So that’s why Hardcore Justice needs to be the final ECW show. Wrestlers and fans alike need to finish the final chapter of the saga that is Extreme Championship Wrestling. We want a happy ending filled with blood, barbed wire and tables and this Sunday, I hope that is what we get.