BANK STATEMENT #3 - ECW Cyberslam 2000: Resetting the Company
Hi everyone! Simple, but effective, and I’m sticking with it.
Welcome to the 3rd installment of the Bank Statement on Hardway HQ! So far, so good, I think. I’m getting back in the groove of writing this thing, but I’m having fun.
As a lifelong fan of pro wrestling, it’s definitely great to write about some current topics, especially since my likings lean old school. This is forcing me to watch more of what’s current and fresh. Like I said in my return, NXT is my favorite weekly watch, but even with that, there is something missing from the product creatively that I can’t put my finger on.
Maybe, it’s because I truthfully can’t stop thinking about Extreme Championship Wrestling.
To this day, ECW holds a special spot in my heart. Being a 90s kid, ECW was the first promotion to seem hip and “with it”. I always compare ECW to an alternative rock show, with the angst, energy, and fire that the mid to late 1990s had. The creativity of ECW was second to none. Compelling characters, intriguing storylines, and realistic in-ring action made ECW a product that you just couldn’t miss.
I will never forget the first time I ever watched the promotion. My father used to tape ECW off the MSG Network or CTN in New Jersey. In 1998, I took one of the tapes labeled “ECW'' on it and went upstairs. Once I pressed play, up came an in-ring promo with Taz in the ECW Arena. In hindsight, I believe this was the first TV taping after Taz introduced the FTW Championship in Queens.
Taz went off on an all-time rant about building ECW, being there from Day 1, discussing the importance of the FTW championship, and then calling out Bam Bam Bigelow. He even called out one fan heckling him, ending the heckle with a “By the way, nice hat dickhead!”, which made me laugh out loud. To this day, I believe this might be one of Taz’s most underrated promos. Regardless, it hooked me into this world of “extreme”.
I started binging on everything ECW that I could. Watching all of my dad’s VHS cassettes, staying up to 1 in the morning every Saturday night to watch it live, reading Pro Wrestling Illustrated, even watching, or more like listening to Joey Styles commentary through a scrambled cable screen, pay-per-views every time they came on. At 14 years old, ECW had me hooked.
I always appreciated the big stars, like Raven, the Public Enemy, Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Sabu, and the Triple Threat. But I, for some reason, appreciated the cult favorites more. My number one was always the Blue Meanie. He was the lackey of a lackey, linked to Stevie Richards and Raven’s Flock. He had blue hair, facepaint of “sunglasses” around his eyes, a cut-off belly shirt, cut-off shoes, a big belly, and a goofy personality. He danced around, he kept his in-ring style simple, but he could do a bad-ass “Meaniesault”. He was a complete paradox, but he personified ECW: he was HIMSELF.
And that’s the thing about ECW that people loved: it felt REAL. ECW Owner and Executive Producer Paul Heyman was a creative visionary. He always found a way to weave threads through storylines and connect them in a way with performers that not many creative entities can do nowadays. As he said during “The Rise and Fall of ECW” documentary released in 2004, he always “accentuated the positives and hid the negatives”. Heyman would highlight a performer’s strengths and really downplay a weakness that, once you got used to the character on-screen, would never be noticed through the naked, casual viewer eye. It was ingenious.
It always made me mad that people always linked “garbage wrestling” with the company. It never was about the chairs, tables, barbed wire, fire, and “gimmicks”. It was about the individuality and emotion that each wrestler was allowed to portray.
Through the syndicated “Hardcore TV”, Heyman and his director Ron Buffone were able to cut and splice a tremendous television product together. Mixing edgy, alternative music cutting edge, state-of-the-art promos, and gritty wrestling while using a filming aesthetic that made it feel like an alternative rock show, ECW became a wrestling program you could not miss. Unlike the cartoony World Wrestling Federation and southern influenced World Championship Wrestling, ECW was, in the 1990s, current and hip.
So when ECW finally hit the national stage in the summer of 1999 on The Nashville Network, I was psyched. However, there was one major issue I neglected, especially as a young fan, to realize:
The other companies caught up.
Thanks to the Crash TV style of writing Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera brought with the Attitude Era, and the rise of the New World Order in WCW, the hipness that ECW once possessed was now elsewhere. It wasn’t that it wasn’t still cool; the other promotions took bits and pieces of what made ECW cool, combined with the vibe of the current times and boatloads more money, and turned the ship around. A new casual audience would see ECW and potentially, and some did, see them as second-rate and as ripoffs, which is incredibly ironic, considering ECW were the trendsetters that set the foundation for the wrestling boom of the late 1990s.
Promising a 2 rating for their program, ECW struggled to get half that, reaching its highest rating of a 1.31 on March 3, 2000. Many critics and people within ECW, Heyman included, have stated that due to a lack of promotion from TNN, combined with expectations and changes that the network wanted on its program, it was damn near impossible to reach that number. Add in the loss of Taz and the Dudley Boys in the fall of 1999, instant star power had been depleted. ECW on TNN was struggling and needed a shot in the arm.
But by April 22, 2000, the promotion took a drastic change: a reset of creative direction. A new era of ECW was instituted and the foundation of the promotion started to shift in a new directive.
Was it impulsive? Maybe. Was it out of necessity? Definitely. Was it impressive? Absolutely.
Was it EXTREME? In fact, it was JUST INCREDIBLE.
By the end of Guilty As Charged on January 9, 2000, the original building blocks for the creative were in place. The Impact Players of Justin Credible and Lance Storm were set to dominate the tag team division as ECW Tag Team Champions. Cyrus was infiltrating ECW programming with the Network’s influence, as he was a representative of TNN. Steve Corino was involved with “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes in a battle over old school philosophy. Rhino was becoming ECW’s unstoppable monster. Tommy Dreamer and Raven were looking to do battle, as Francine became the reverse version of Beulah McGillicutty, leaving Dreamer for Raven. And most importantly, the battle of the champions was poised to happen, as ECW World Heavyweight champion Mike Awesome was preparing to do battle with the greatest champion in the world, ECW World Television champion Rob Van Dam.
By the time April 2000 came around, ECW was in creative shambles. During a live event at the end of January, RVD broke his ankle in a match with Rhino, causing the “champion vs champion” build to be cancelled, and Van Dam to be stripped of his title. Sabu, “the Homicidal, Suicidal, Genocidal” ECW Day 1 competitor, left the company in early March due to conflicts with Heyman over issues both professional and personal. Also, over March and April, both the ECW Tag Team Championships and ECW Television Championships were hot-shotted around, in an effort to boost ratings on TNN.
But all of them might be minute compared to the Mike Awesome incident.
Throughout the early part of the year, ECW was running into major financial issues. The small budget afforded to them by TNN for production meant a lot more funding was coming out of HHG, Inc’s pockets, which was tough on the wallet. Also, to keep main event talent in the company, Heyman was forced to sign performers to six-figure contracts, which was crucial short term, but in hindsight, was a major downside long term. Although ECW got themselves a video game deal with Acclaim with Hardcore Revolution, action figures with the San Francisco Toymakers, DVD national distribution, and an ECW Magazine, the royalties were coming in slow. ECW was bleeding money at a fast rate, and talents were not being paid on time, or at all.
Seeing late money owed as a breach and a breaking of a legally binding contract, the ECW World Heavyweight Champion decided to start looking elsewhere for work. Coincidentally at the same time, Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo were both coming back into power in World Championship Wrestling. On April 10, WCW was going to be reset in a new creative direction of their own, and they needed an impact to get eyes on the product. Awesome contacted WCW’s executives, and came to a deal where Awesome had to leave ECW under no notice and bring the championship with him. If rumors were true, WCW was looking to replicate Madusa/Alundra Blayze in 1995 and throw the ECW World Heavyweight Championship in the garbage.
Awesome no-showed the April 6 and 7 live events in Cleveland and Warren, OH respectively, and Heyman’s ears were buzzing, while his mind was racing. Just before the Monday Nitro episode went to air on the 10th, ECW received a legal injunction to bar Awesome from bringing the ECW championship onto television, thus risking serious legal implications to Time Warner, who was in a long legal battle themselves, trying to merge with America Online to become AOL Time Warner.
After working out an agreement, WCW sent Awesome, along with WCW Head of Security Doug Dillenger, to Indianapolis, IN for an ECW live event on the 13th. He would come through the crowd, issuing a challenge to anyone to fight him for the ECW Title. Out from the locker room came...TAZ? For the first time, and to be fair, ONLY time, in the modern wrestling era, a WWF contracted wrestler beat a WCW contracted wrestler on an ECW show to become ECW World Heavyweight Champion, as Taz beat Mike Awesome!
Then, Taz, as ECW World Heavyweight Champion, actually appeared with the championship on that week’s WWF television, including a Champion vs Champion match IN PHILADELPHIA on SmackDown on April 20. After a losing effort to WWF Champion Triple H, thanks to a misplaced chair shot by an interfering Tommy Dreamer through the crowd, Taz decided to stay behind in Philly for two extra days and make a title defense at the ECW Arena.
The date: April 22, 2000. The event: Cyberslam 2000.
Forget about the mood. The direction of Extreme was about to change.
The seeds were planted on the change of direction earlier in the day during the Cyberslam convention Q&A session. Cyberslam, named by Paul Heyman in 1996, was an innovative concept that brought fans and wrestlers together to strengthen the ECW brand, mixing the budding growth of the internet and the ever growing hardcore, “smart mark”, insider wrestling fan base.
Heyman, in the middle of one of the various Q&A’s, was asked about a possible talent exchange further with the WWF, especially after how Taz came in as a surprise to help out the promotion after the Mike Awesome incident. His response was surprisingly candid, as only “the Mad Scientist of Extreme” could say and do:
“Are we gonna do more? I doubt it, simply because after tonight’s show’s over, we’re taking this WHOLE place into a different direction. And I think the direction we’re going in is going to A) alienate some people, which I don’t really give a $#!+ about, because we’ve been alienating people for the past six and a half years, and what I think we’re gonna do tonight is hot enough that I’d rather stand on our own because if we draw the buyrates, or if we bring up the houses...I’d rather play on our own merits than someone saying ‘Yeah they had a great house but they had Taz on the show, or they had Benoit on the show, or they had this guy on the show’. I’m confident enough that if we pull off tonight as half as good as I think we’re gonna, we’ll be able to stand on our own.”
With that level of confidence, mixed with a slight level of intrigue, the stage was set for inside the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia later that night.
The first major inkling of a change was during a mixed tag team match with Lance Storm & Dawn Marie against Nova & Jazz. Near the end of the battle, Nova went to deliver a Kryptonite Krunch. While Storm was in a precarious position, Storm’s tag team championship partner, Justin Credible, ran in the ring and superkicked Nova, taking Nova down to the mat, while simultaneously driving Storm to the ground, high and tight on his neck. Once the match ended, Storm was stretchered out of the building and taken to the hospital with an apparent neck injury.
Then, Steve Corino became a “made man” in the eyes of the ECW fan base against the legend Dusty Rhodes. After “invading” a Limp Bizkit concert in November of 1999, which even made MTV News, “the King of Old School'' needed one major victory to solidify him as a major player in the company. In the middle of the ring, thanks to a little assistance to his right-hand-man Jack Victory (HIGH SPOT!), Corino delivered a bull rope assisted Bionic Elbow to the “American Dream”, picking up the three count and shocking the world.
Minutes later, Cyrus hit the ring, joining a bloodied Corino and Victory, accompanied by Rhino and ECW Television champion Yoshihiro Tajiri. A few weeks before, Tajiri won the ECW World Television championship from Super Crazy, who had won a tournament at Living Dangerously 2000 to become the holder of the vacant title. The TNN representative DEMANDED that Tajiri hand over the title, or he would be deported back to Japan. Tajiri told the Network to go F themselves, and draped the championship across from the crew in a horizontal line, begging Rhino to cross it. He did, and after a hard-fought war, where Tajiri kicked out of a Gore and a Piledriver, Rhino decimated him one more time, adding an extra Piledriver for emphasis, getting the three count and “control” of ECW television. The Network had their hand-picked champion; “the Big F’N Deal”, Rhino.
To follow that up, Rob Van Dam, still not medically cleared to compete, hit the ring, wanting to fight Rhino at Hardcore Heaven 2000. Cyrus, extending his power, stated that it would not happen. Instead, RVD would face Jerry Lynn, who was also returning from injury. This started a new creative direction for “The New F’N Show”, as Lynn felt 100% slighted by ECW’s love of Van Dam. Lynn refused a handshake, gave “The Whole F’N Show” a middle finger, and the stage was set. One year removed from the greatest ECW Television Title match ever, the two combatants would return to the ring together at the event where they made history: Hardcore Heaven.
Finally, the moment we thought we would never see in ECW finally happened. Tommy Dreamer, the Innovator of Violence, the man who was the heart of Extreme Championship Wrestling, lived out his destiny and pinned Taz to become ECW World Heavyweight Champion. It was an incredibly emotional affair, as Taz showed his respect and handed over the title belt to the man that beat him in the middle for it. The ECW Locker Room came out to celebrate with him. Even Raven, his lifelong enemy, FINALLY buried the hatchet with Dreamer, embracing one another in the ring, with Francine looking on. Tommy Dreamer was on top of the mountain.
And then Justin Credible spoiled it for everyone.
Credible ran in, and with one swoop, leveled both Raven and Dreamer with the Singapore Cane. After taking out Raven with That’s Incredible, his spinning tombstone piledriver, he grabbed the microphone and went off at everyone. He picked up the ECW Tag Team Championship belts, and in Shane Douglas 1994 fashion, THREW THEM DOWN. In one moment, Justin Credible vacated, and took a figurative leak on the tag team division, while dissolving the Impact Players. The wild part: Lance Storm was at the hospital, so there was nothing he could have done to stop it.
Credible then went on a tirade on Dreamer, insulting his manhood and demanding a shot at the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. Dreamer, seeing what had just happened to the ECW Tag Team Championships, went on pure emotional instinct and accepted. The match began and Credible was on the onslaught. However, Dreamer survived That’s Incredible, and just as he gained the upper hand and was about to end it with a Spicolli Driver, Francine, who was still at ringside, LOW BLOWED “the Innovator of Violence”. Credible scooped up Dreamer for one more That’s Incredible and scored the victory.
Justin Credible, in a ten-minute span, took out Raven, threw down the ECW Tag Titles, ended the Impact Players, stole Francine away, pinned Tommy Dreamer, and became the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Dreamer never even had a chance to wear the ECW Championship belt around his waist. What an impact.
More importantly, the creative direction of ECW was reset...to the EXTREME.
Looking back, I completely admire the guts Paul Heyman to make this type of change. With limitations of money and star power, ECW took their creativity in a completely different direction.
Because of this night, they were able to tell a multitude of stories. Justin Credible had ready-made battles with Lance Storm and Tommy Dreamer. Steve Corino had begun his slow turn to becoming a top-level babyface, being a gutsy, old school brawler, with the scar tissue to prove it. The long-term rivalry of Rhino and RVD began to take shape. The Network had solidified themselves as the top heels in the promotion. The Sandman and Dreamer stayed around to help build the next generation of stars. Jerry Lynn became a tweener in many senses, using his chip on his shoulder to propel him to a win streak over RVD in several matches. And finally, this allowed ECW to build a whole mess of tag teams, building them all towards the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan and the ECW World Tag Team Championship Tournament on August 25, 2000.
In mainstream wrestling, especially today, you never see promotions completely resetting directions on a dime. From my fan perspective, the creative vision in wrestling is so short-sighted. There aren’t too many swerves thrown nowadays that make fans pop. The characters don’t have as much edge and bite as they used to. The interweaving of stories through a single show do not exist as much. Understood, fans want to see more action, but for a television show, fans want the total package.
On this night in 2000, ECW did all of these variables. It clicked, and for the rest of the year, it kept ECW afloat. Save the money issues and drama behind the scenes, ECW 2000 does not get as much love as it should. Cyberslam 2000 was a major risk to take, and the reward was plentiful. The next generation was being built in front of our eyes, and it left a lasting imprint on me. This night will be remembered fondly forever, as it was the beginning of a new era in ECW, the beginning of the end in the promotion, and a last gasp of a third party being a part of the national wrestling scene.
ECW Cyberslam 2000: A reset that was just...incredible.
BANK ON IT.