It’s been over eight years since the death of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling, and I recently decided to take another look at the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD. Following along once again with the sad tale of the indy fed hitting amazing heights only to quickly slide into destruction reminded me in an indirect way of the promotion that was born from the ashes of ECW known as Ring of Honor.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Similarities between the original ECW and today’s ROH.
Many comparisons have been drawn between ECW and ROH over the years. Like ECW before them, ROH is a Philadelphia-based promotion that offers niche programming (Ring of Honor features realistic wrestling rather than ECW’s hardcore style, but it still appeals to a select fanbase). A decade ago, ECW survived for years on the support of rabidly dedicated fans who were loyal enough to travel all over to attend live events and scoop up DVDs as soon as they were pressed, spending their hard-earned money keeping a small-but-beloved promotion afloat, and that’s exactly how ROH has existed for nearly eight years. In both companies, those committed fans created such a buzz that ECW and ROH each became forces to be reckoned with in the world of professional wrestling, driving them first to pay-per-view and eventually to cable television.
Today, ROH is forced to compete for a slice of the market against two huge, established promotions, World Wrestling Entertainment and Total Nonstop Action, as the original ECW once fought from beneath against the ultra-popular WWF and WCW during the height of the Monday Night War. Unfortunately, both WWE and TNA air on big television networks, employ famous talent, enjoy some mainstream notoriety and have resources well beyond anything Ring of Honor has at their disposal, which was the case ten years ago between ECW and the “big two” of that time.
When ECW finally made it to television, their deal with TNN (which ironically evolved into Spike TV, TNA’s current home network) was far less than they hoped it would have been. TNN didn’t funnel any new money into the company; in fact, it cost ECW dearly to produce the show, at a time when Paul Heyman could hardly afford new expenses. TNN didn’t advertise the ECW program or support the fed’s growth, and they kept Heyman locked into his contract, preventing him from negotiating for a new deal with a different network even while TNN publicly bargained to bring WWE’s flagship Monday Night RAW program over from the USA Network.
In the case of Ring of Honor and cable TV, owner Cary Silken felt it necessary to release his top creative mind, Gabe Sapolsky, and dramatically alter the product in order to secure a slot on Mark Cuban’s fledgling HDNet. Without Gabe at the helm, ROH suddenly started producing shorter matches with fewer exciting high spots and more unsatisfying finishes. They elected to switch to a format with more disqualifications, count-outs, run-ins and interference, essentially changing the very fiber of what Ring of Honor was, drastically reducing ROH’s appeal to it’s rabid fanbase in the first place. They dumped Lenny Leonard in favor of the horrible Mike Hogewood, and reduced Dave Prazak from a focused, knowledgeable play-by-play man to a heel sidekick, an annoying apologist who loves everything the bad guys do regardless of how blatantly unethical. Unfortunately, none of the entertaining qualities of Prazak’s “DP Associates” heel character found in Full Impact Pro show through in his HDNet gimmick. So just like Heyman experienced years earlier, cable television wasn’t the saving grace Cary Silken thought it would be for his promotion either.
At the end of ECW’s run when they were in their steepest decline, the most decorated and important soldiers in Heyman’s army started going A.W.O.L. in the heat of battle. Just when he needed them most, Taz, the Dudley Boyz, Mike Awesome (who jumped to WCW while still carrying the ECW world title) and other key players abandoned ship. ROH isn’t in the same sort of jeopardy that ECW was in at that point in their history, but the similarity in wrestlers leaving is striking. Two of Ring of Honor’s biggest stars and former world champions, American Dragon Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness have recently signed with WWE, and in not-too-distant ROH history two other top stars and former champs, CM Punk and Samoa Joe jumped up to the “big two” and became important players for WWE and TNA respectively. Before that, Homicide, Alex Shelley, AJ Styles and Jimmy Rave all left ROH for TNA, while Colt Cabana and Matt Sydal both recently jumped to WWE from Ring of Honor (although Boom-Boom has thankfully returned after being “future-endeavored” by Vince and pals).
Hopefully Ring of Honor won’t meet the same fate as Paul Heyman’s baby, but with two of their biggest guns heading to McMahonland, their greatest creative mind now running another promotion, a television show that doesn’t truly reflect on the core nature of the company, their pay-per-view deal lost, and their fanbase no longer regularly thrilled by their efforts, ROH isn’t riding as high as they were just two years ago. However they’ve still got every opportunity to turn it around and continue as the leading indy fed in the U.S., but with Dragon Gate USA breathing down their necks and things obviously different than when ROH was the hungry, young kid on the block, Silken and company will have to rediscover the fire that once burned within them.
Thankfully they’ve got an unbelievable all-around performer at the helm in the first ever two-time ROH world heavyweight champion Austin Aries, and some great young lions like Tyler Black, Kenny King, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks, along with established veteran stars like Roderick Strong, the Briscoes, Delirious, Chris Hero, Erick Stevens, and Brent Albright. With talent like that, they have the guns to keep fighting to recover their once lofty status. I wish them well and will continue to support them as they strive to recover an aura that was built by years of hard work by dedicated, talented performers and based on the love of loyal fans who backed them for well over seven years. Good luck, Ring of Honor; your fans still love you.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.” – Walter Cronkite
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
Speaking of ROH, here are Pulse Wrestling’s official Ring of Honor rankings for 2 Oct 09.
Caged rage is comin’ atcha! Check out our staffers’ picks for WWE’s Hell in a Cell event in the Rasslin’ Roundtable along with PK’s live coverage of the latest “themed” event to emanate from McMahonland. Plus, you can listen to an exclusive 30-minute audio recap of the show known as the Mango PPV Rewind featuring GRUT, PK, Daniels, and widro. Hell, even Scott Keith dusted off his keyboard for a Smark Q’n’D Rant of the ppv.
Hack Johnson takes a look at the independent wrestling scene in another edition of This Week in Indies.
Check out Brian Eison’s SmackDown! Recap for 10/02/09.
Finally this week, Chris Morgado wakes up and smells the coffee in this week’s Column With No Name. Good for you, Mr. Morgado. I’ve been off mainstream stuff for two years, and I’ve loved every minute of being an indy junkie.