The Rise & Fall of ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling (WWE)

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9781416510581: The Rise & Fall of ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling (WWE)

ECW burst onto the sports entertainment scene in the early 1990s, and redefined the industry with a reckless, brutal, death-defying, and often bloody style that became known as 'hardcore'. In the process, it attracted a rabid, cult-like following that is still going strong today. The ECW 'hardcore' style changed the wrestling business forever; and more than any other single factor, it was the adoption of this 'new breed of wrestling' from the young upstart company by the WWE that was largely responsible for the subsequent WWE domination of the industry. Through extensive interviews with former ECW talent and management, fans will have an inside look at what made the company great - and what led to its ultimate demise.

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About the Author:

Thom Loverro has been a professional journalist since 1977. He has worked for a number of newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun, where he spent eight years as a news editor and reporter covering government, politics, and crime. Loverro moved into sports reporting when he joined The Washington Times in 1992, and he has gained a reputation as one of the best sports columnists in the the Washington metropolitan area. He has won eighteen national, regional, and local journalism awards over his career, including a first place in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. He is also a two-time sports columnist winner in the Virginia Press Association competition. Loverro is the author of seven books; this is his first on the world of professional wrestling.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Two: Laying the Foundation

Paul Heyman always had a lot of the mad scientist in him -- the type that was willing to experiment with different ingredients in the hope of creating something new and exciting. He had ideas about how to do this, but never had the sort of laboratory that Tod Gordon was offering him in Philadelphia. There weren't a lot of options for Gordon after his fallout with Eddie Gilbert, a talented but troubled booker. So when he turned to Heyman to salvage this small wrestling promotion, he had to live with the idea that it was not going to be business as usual.

The formula Gordon had used to date in Eastern Championship Wrestling -- nondescript local talent with a washed-up name veteran to lure people in -- was history. Heyman had a plan for the promotion to create its own stars. And he started right off the bat with the first match of the first night he was in charge, creating a new tag team. It turned out he hit a home run with his first experiment -- The Public Enemy, which would turn out to be one of the most popular tag teams the business has ever seen. And it started with two small-time independent wrestlers who had bounced around the business -- the least likely candidates to be wrestling superstars.

Ted Petty was a 6-foot-2, 250-pound, 39-year-old veteran of the Northeast independent circuit who had flirted with the big time, with tryouts in WCW and a handful of matches for Vince McMahon. But Petty was never able to make the leap, so he wrestled for small promotions in small towns and supplemented his income by renting out a ring that he owned. Like most wrestlers, Petty -- born in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and a graduate of Rutgers University -- had been through a variety of personas and gimmicks over his fifteen-year career, at one time wearing a mask and calling himself The Leopard Mask and later The Cheetah Kid.

Petty, who died of a heart attack in 2002, often traveled with his own opponent: Mike Durham, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound kid out of Compton, California. He used the name Johnny Rotten, and while he was not a particularly good wrestler, he put on a good show as a punk rocker. Heyman had seen the two periodically on TV shows, and also once in a match in Singapore, and thought the two would make a perfect fit for an idea he had flying back from Singapore in the summer of 1993. He had been reading a Newsweek article about the cultural changes taking place in America, and about the problems for young men in places like South Central in Los Angeles and Washington Heights in New York. "I read a line in that story that said today we live in an environment that for the first time ever, there are teenagers who are more afraid of living than dying," Heyman recalls. "That line blew me away. I thought we should get these two white guys to do a hip-hop routine where they come out dressed as hoodies, with the baseball uniforms and the hot look in 1993. Their catch phase would be 'Can't scare us because we're the first generation of American children more afraid of living than dying.' Even though one guy was 39 years old, he didn't look it. I called them not Public Enemy, which was the name of the rap group, but 'The Public Enemy,' which was the name of the James Cagney movie where he shoves the grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face."

Heyman saw something in both of these unknowns beyond what they did in the ring, and what he did with Ted Petty and Mike Durham was the blueprint for what he would eventually do with ECW. He made them stars in interviews. "These were two of the funniest guys you would ever want to meet," Heyman said. "But Teddy never showed you that side because, number one, he was never on television enough, and number two, he wore a mask. So I took the mask off him and gave him the name Flyboy Rocco Rock, like Snoop Doggy Dog, and Durham, instead of Johnny Rotten, I called him Johnny Grunge. They became Flyboy Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge, The Public Enemy. They would do interviews that were just over-the-top ridiculous. They were funny as hell, and then they would go out to the ring and brawl their asses off. They would go over the rails, which at the time was a huge taboo. They used weapons, they used frying pans, baseball bats. This was the act that caught everyone's attention because it was so over the top. In the ring, it was like a riot. And the reason we did it was, they really couldn't wrestle. Teddy could wrestle a little bit. He could put together a nice ten-minute simple match -- armbar, headlock, takedown, whip into the ropes, and he could do some nice flying moves. But he wasn't going to put on a five-star match. It wasn't going to happen. Johnny couldn't wrestle. He could just fight." The Public Enemy was born, and their main gimmick was tables, using them to hit people with and throw people through.

"The theory was that you accentuate the positives and hide the negatives, and I said to Tod, 'We are going to open the show with The Public Enemy.'"

Heyman continued to go through his memory bank and Rolodex to build his new stable of stars. He remembered another independent wrestler who had impressed him when they had crossed paths; he was going by the name of Tazmaniac.

Peter Senerca, who would later be known as Tazz to ECW fans, was a Brooklyn-born tough guy, a compact powerhouse at 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds who had worked as a bouncer and security guard. He grew up playing football and competing in judo, reaching a second-degree black belt. He was going to C.W. Post College on Long Island when, anxious to make some money, he quit because he saw wrestling as an easy way to cash in on his physical skills. "I was going to college as a physical education major," Tazz explains. "My dream was to be a high school phys ed teacher and coach football. Then, as I was going to school, I realized gym teachers didn't make a lot of money and I started thinking I could do wrestling. One thing led to another, and I started doing it."

So in 1990, Tazz signed up for a wrestling school run by veteran wrestler Johnny Rodz, who would train many of the wrestlers who would become ECW stars. They started at an old boxing gym in Brooklyn, then moved over to Gleason's, the world famous boxing gym. The same day that Tazz started, he met another first-day student -- a very big man, at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, named Alex Rizzo. He was going by the name Alexander the Great. ECW fans would get to know him as Big Dick Dudley, one of the many members of the Dudley family. (Big Dick Dudley passed away in 2002 due to kidney failure.)

"I thought I was going to conquer the world of wrestling," Tazz said. "I was immature, and thought I could just walk into the business and kick the shit out of everyone and just make it. It didn't work out that way, it took a lot longer than I thought."

Tazz started wrestling in shows in Puerto Rico, where Rodz had some connections. And, like most wrestlers who are trying to break into the business, Tazz wrestled on the independent circuit in the northeastern United States. Life in the indies can be pretty chaotic, as Tazz learned in his experience with one of the legendary old-school wrestling families, the Savoldis.

"I was getting booked for this company called IWCCW in 1990," remembers Tazz, who was working on building up his character at the time, The Tazmaniac. "The owner was a guy named Mario Savoldi, and it was based in Parsipanny, New Jersey. They called me on the phone and asked me to go to Westchester, where they were doing TV tapings. I didn't want to just go and get beat by some old guy and hurt my future in the business. I said, 'Yes, I will go there, no problem.' But they had a reputation for guys coming in there to do jobs [lose], so I said I would come in, but I would wear a mask, because I didn't want to just do a job. They said, 'No, you don't have to wear a mask. We don't want you to do a job. We want to promote and push you.'" (A push is when a booker helps a wrestler become more popular with fans, usually through winning matches.)

"I brought the mask with me anyway, so I could wrestle then under an anonymous name. I get up there, and there are a shitload of guys in the locker room. I look at the list, and they were doing three hours of TV, three weeks of shows, one hour, one hour, one hour. I was scheduled to wrestle against guys that I knew I was not supposed to win against.

"So Tazz confronted one of the Savoldis there, Tom, and said, 'What is the deal, you got me doing a job here? I got no problem, I will wear a mask, but I can't wrestle under the name Tazmaniac. That is not going to happen. I am trying to get this gimmick over.' They said, 'No, no, no, sorry, there was a miscommunication. You have to come do the job like that.' They were trying to fuck with me."

Tazz refused to go out there without the mask. "They got pissed off and started yelling, 'Who the hell do you think you are?' and all that stuff. At the time I was a real hothead. I had a chip on my shoulder, and I didn't give a shit about anybody. I said, 'Go fuck yourself.' All the Savoldis were there, and I am ready to throw hands. I said, 'Fine, I'm leaving.' They said, 'Go ahead and leave, you'll never work in the state of New York again. We're hooked up with the athletic commission and all that.' I told them I would do it under one condition, and they lied to me. So I leave."

A few months later, Tazz got a message that Paul Heyman wanted to talk to him. Tazz thought it was some of his friends playing a joke. But after several missed phone calls back and forth, sure enough, Tazz got Heyman on the phone, and Heyman said he had been looking to book Tazz for quite some time, and he wanted to get him in on a promotion he was booking for in New Jersey -- for that same legendary wrestling family, the Savoldis. Tazz said it was very unlikely that the Savoldis would want him anywhere near their promotion, and he explained why. But Heyman told him it wouldn't be a problem.

Tazz remembers Heyman telling him, " 'I know what happened. I know they don't like you. I'm in with these people. Don't worry about it. You're taken care of. If you have to walk, I'm walkin...

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