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Monday, July 10, 2006

McNEILL: What's The Matter With ECW

Crazy Vince's writers lifted the whole ECW attitude of the mid 90's for their renaissance in the Monday Night Wars, but it's obvious that Mr. McMahon never understand why wrestling fans of the era were so attached to the product. Here's a brief list of reasons why the new ECW is already behind the 8-ball with its target audience.
The music. In the original years of ECW, from 1994 to, say, 1997, WWE and WCW were using generic cartoony music for its wrestlers, while ECW was using recognizable tunes by well-known bands. WWE solved its music problem during the Attitude Era. Now ECW has a problem of its own. For example, The Sandman can't use his old theme song, 'Enter Sandman' by Metallica, due to the exorbitant rights fee. That's unfortunate. What's more unfortunate is that WWE hasn't taken any measures to fix the problem. Despite the fact that WWE has had several weeks notice of the situation, the company hasn't sent music guru Jim Johnston into the studio to put together a new theme song for the former Extreme champion. Nor has WWE bought the rights to any other well-known tune in order to fill the gap.
The vibe. The allure of ECW was that it wasn't part of a big corporation, like WWE or WCW. It's difficult to sell ECW as a distinct entity when its television show is taped after Smackdown, but that affects the live crowds, not the folks watching on the tube.
To give an example of what's wrong with the ECW vibe, take a look at the quickie vignettes promoting the upcoming ECW debut of Test. "Test" is one of the dumbest gimmick names in WWE history, coming from the Russo era where the promotion was handing out loser monikers like "Meat", "Mosh" and "Mideon". For a moment, let's leave aside the fact WWE doesn't see any problem with the "Test" name. Part of the genius of ECW, back in the day, was the repackaging of former WWE and WCW talent to fit the promotion. When Scott Levy left WWE and started in ECW, he and Heyman switched his identity from "Johnny Polo" to "Raven". It would be one thing if Andrew Martin were a huge success in WWE, but he wasn't. He should be given an entirely new wrestling name and gimmick before he ever gets back on your television screens.
The hype. ECW is supposed to be "a new breed unleashed", right? I mean, the slogan is used at least a dozen times per episode when the program airs on Sci-Fi Network. So, where's the "new breed". All I see are a group of ex-WWE performers and guys who couldn't cut it on the couldn't cut it on the national wrestling scene. (The readers can sort out of themselves who falls into which category.) Theonly new faces I've seen on ECW television so far are Mike Knox, Kelly the Tease, Shelly the tarot-card reader, Mordecai with the Fake Teeth and The Zombie. Can't wait to rush out to your local house show and check those hot acts out, can you? New breed, my ass.
The Characters. Speaking of Kelly the Tease, she's an excellent example of the differences between the character development of the HHG version of Extreme Championship Wrestling and the WWE version. ECW was built around making fun of the sports entertainment characters of the day. WWE gets that part, which is why they've had Sandman attack the Stupid Gimmick of the Week every Tuesday night. But WWE's gimmick ideas aren't any better. Barbie "Kelly" Blank is supposed to be an exhibitionist, but an actual exhibitionist would walk out to the ring naked, not perform a half-assed striptease. Vince Russo was an awful wrestling booker, but even he watched enough Jerry Springer to know what an exhibitionist is. WWE divas show more skin every Monday night than their Extreme counterparts. Unless Kelly gets a revamp, that gimmick is dead in the water.
The wrestling. Outside of Sabu, there's no difference, none at all, between the ECW style of in-ring work and the WWE style that you'll see on Raw or Smackdown every week. If WWE is comfortable with their match style, that's perfectly okay. But the ECW clips that are airing in commercials for the Sci-Fi program aren't from recent episodes, or even from ECW One Night Stand. Those clips are from the salad days of ECW, from 1994 through 1999. Vince McMahon wants the crowd reactions that come from that style, but isn't willing to turn the "extremists" loose.
***
Pat McNeill of Fairfax, Virginia has been a Torch columnist since February 2001. He's hoping for more good starts from Ervin Santana in 2006. VIP members can enjoy his "Real Deal with Pat McNeill" audio updates every Wednesday night.
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