BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #31 - NWA World Title in the ECW Arena: FULL CIRCLE
As you’ve come to read from me here in my articles, I love finding out obscure history across the professional wrestling realm.
So when I decided to research the National Wrestling Alliance, I knew that there would be a load of historical artifacts and topics to go upon, especially as it came to the crown jewel of the NWA: the World's Heavyweight championship
However, I didn’t expect to pull up a full circle moment within the research that linked up the belt with the ECW Arena. It’s a wild and crazy tale from desecration to respect.
As we all know, the ECW Arena on Swanson and Ritner in South Philadelphia, PA has hosted some of the most legendary wrestling events in the history of professional wrestling. However, the event that put the building on the map was on August 27, 1994.
On that date, the National Wrestling Alliance held a eight-man NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship Tournament at the ECW Arena. At the time, ECW was apart of the NWA as NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, and were working together with Jim Crockett, who recently rejoined the NWA after his non-compete with World Championship Wrestling ended in early 1994.
In September 1993, ECW Owner Tod Gordon hired Paul Heyman to become booker, after “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert was let go from the position a few weeks prior. Over the next ten months, Heyman and Gordon put together some real innovative concepts, including the first ever Three Way Dance between Terry Funk, Sabu, and Shane Douglas, cutting edge music videos and editing, and modernizing and creating relatable, yet over-the-top characters that had the die-hard Philadelphia fan base mesmerized.
With the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship being vacant since September 1993, due to the NWA officially splitting away from WCW, it was crucial to the once powerful wrestling entity to get the ball back rolling with a champion in play.
By the end of the tournament, in front of a packed house at the ECW Arena, it came down to “the Franchise” Shane Douglas and 2 Cold Scorpio. Scorpio pinned Chris Benoit and beat 911 by countout to arrive in the finals, while Douglas pinned both the Tazmaniac and Dean Malenko to get there.
The match itself was solid. At the end of the battle, the high-flying Scorpio went for a moonsault, but the Franchise moved out of the way. One belly-to-belly suplex later, and Shane Douglas won the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship.
However, this was where the story began.
After 2 Cold stated to Douglas that he wanted an opportunity to face him for the championship, Douglas took the microphone and gave one of the most dramatic speeches ever heard in wrestling.
In the tradition of Lou Thesz, in the tradition of Jack Brisco of the Brisco Brothers, of Dory Funk, Jr., of Terry Funk: the man who will never die. As the real "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, upstairs tonight. From the Harley Races, to the Barry Windhams, to the...Ric Flairs, I accept this heavyweight title.
Wait a second, wait a second. Of Kerry Von Erich. Of the fat man himself, Dusty Rhodes. This is it tonight, dad. God, that's beautiful. And Rick Steamboat...and they can all kiss my ass!
Douglas took the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship, which was in his hands, and tossed it straight on the canvas!
Because I am not the man who accepts a torch to be handed down to me from an organization that died - RIP - seven years ago. The Franchise, Shane Douglas, is the man who ignites the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling.
Douglas then walked over to the timekeeper’s table, and grabbed the Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight championship belt, and then walked back to the center of the ring.
Tonight, before God and my father as witness, I declare myself, the Franchise, as the new ECW Heavyweight Champion of the world.
We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So tonight, let the new era begin: the era of the sport of professional wrestling; the era of the Franchise; the era of the ECW.
“The Franchise” raised the ECW World championship in the air, and the fans chanted “ECW”.
With the belt thrown down, and NWA President Dennis Corraluzzo unaware this was going to take place, the ultimate wrestling double-cross transpired. The following day, NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling folded, and Tod Gordon announced on Hardcore TV that in its place would be EXTREME Championship Wrestling.
The revolution had begun, and it was at the feet of the National Wrestling Alliance.
Regardless of the stories that have been told back and forth about what led to the belt being thrown down, the NWA ultimately lost a bit of its legacy that day. For the next fourteen years, the NWA would sputter through multiple unions and associations. From its short stint associated with Smoky Mountain Wrestling, to being on WWF television in 1998, to linking up with the fledgling Total Nonstop Action promotion for five years in the 2000s, the NWA was trying to rediscover its identity. Meanwhile, throughout all this time, the NWA championship avoided the ECW Arena. The belt never made an appearance in the building after being thrown down by Douglas in ‘94.
Until September 20, 2008.
Gabe Sapolsky is the biggest link in the chain for these moments.
Sapolsky was the apprentice of Paul Heyman and the jack-of-all-trades for ECW, beginning in 1993. On the night of August 27, 1994, Sapolsky was at the Eagles Nest inside the ECW Arena, near the hard camera, watching the event. According to his Myspace blog from 2009, he stated that during a phone call a few days prior to the event, Heyman asked him to predict the tournament and how he thought it would go. After giving his predictions, Heyman responded with “You picked it 100% right.”
However, he did not expect the aftermath. “Douglas throwing down the title is still one of the greatest, most logical swerves I’ve ever seen. The vibe in the building when Douglas gave his speech and tossed the NWA Title to the ground was pure shock and awe. You really don’t get to experience that kind of atmosphere too often,” stated Sapolsky in his blog.
More than fourteen years later, Sapolsky was the head booker of Ring of Honor, a promotion that was, in many ways, the spiritual successor to ECW. When ROH announced that there were going to run the ECW Arena for the first time since March 2006 with “Glory By Honor VII”, there was an opportunity to right the wrong.
A few months prior, ROH did a storyline where “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce, as a part of Sweet and Sour Incorporated, led by Larry Sweeney, brought in the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship as a power play to make the agency more money through ROH.
Pearce, who won the championship on September 1, 2007 in Puerto Rico after the NWA and TNA split their affiliation, had an eleven month reign as champion, until he lost the championship to Brent Albright at “Death Before Dishonor VI” on August 2, 2008 in the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan, which was also the first time that the NWA Title changed hands in New York City.
With “Glory By Honor VII” coming up on September 20, 2008 at the ECW Arena in South Philly, Sapolsky and the NWA worked out a deal where Albright would defend against Pearce in a rematch.
I was there live for this battle, and I also own it on DVD. In both viewings, the match was awesome. Albright came into the match with an injured arm, and Pearce went right to work.
In the midst of the great back-and-forth, Lenny Leonard announced on commentary that the NWA World’s Heavyweight champion was in the ECW Arena for the first time since 1994. It was a perfect touch.
Albright had the match won multiple times, but thanks to the shenanigans of Pearce and his manservant Shane Hagadorn, “Scrap Iron” wore down Albright’s bad arm and tapped him out with his own finisher, the Crowbar, otherwise known as the Fujiwara Armbar. Adam Pearce had won the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship for a second time.
Most importantly, the NWA World’s Heavyweight title and the ECW Arena finally had its closure.
For a wrestling history buff like me, I love full circle moments within the industry. I honestly look at the situation and get a twinge of melancholy.
If Shane Douglas does not throw down the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship, who knows how ECW ends up. Even more so, where does the wrestling industry end up? With the moment happening, the era of EXTREME takes over the business, which in turn forces both WCW and the WWF to up their game creatively. The moment is a landmark shift in business philosophy.
Meanwhile, if ECW doesn’t die in 2001, Ring of Honor doesn’t get started in 2002 and subsequently becomes the benchmark in the Philadelphia independent scene. Furthermore, we don’t get to live that moment in the ECW Arena where the belt finally gets treated with respect and with a hell of a match to boot.
Kids, always remember your history.
Pro Wrestling is such a beautiful artform. #BANKONIT