I’m gonna talk wrestling, so for those of you not named defcon_1, this is where you’ll probably want to get off.
I finally got to see my first episode of the new ECW this week. From what I’ve read to date, it sounded like the re-launch was a solid “meh”, leaning down. Having now seen an episode, I can see why.
First off, it’s not ECW. Calling it such is stupid, although I can certainly see why they’re doing it. Creating some new brand from scratch wouldn’t have drawn jack from a ratings standpoint. So even though they’ve clearly bastardized the name and alienated a lot of the original mutant fanbase, their reasoning was shrewd. But it’s not ECW. It’s simply not.
The biggest thing that strikes me is the presentation. It’s WAAAAAY too clean. Let’s face it; the original ECW was never about good wrestling. Even at its peak the actual matches were almost exclusively garbage, with tons of missed moves, large amounts of mindless brawling, and more stalling than would be tolerated by the average WWF viewer (which is saying something). But it all worked in the context it was being presented, in part because the energy level of the wrestlers and the crowd was through the roof. They may not have been the best technical wrestlers (as a whole), but they made up for it with a willingness to do anything. Meanwhile, the arenas were small, the ring was loose and loud with ropes that sagged a little and a mat that was forever stained. No matter where they were, the arena floor looked like it was covered in beer and blood. Everything about the arena, the ring area, and the performers (right down to refs and ring announcers), was sweaty and dirty. You bought into the whole “counter culture revolution” in part because it just looked like someplace that ordinary people wouldn’t go. It *looked* underground, almost literally.
This new ECW? Not even close. First off, its mostly been taped in big clean arenas. Yeah, they turn the house lights down to make it more “intimate”, but it’s still big and clean no matter how it’s lit. The old ECW Arena was lit up all around, proudly showing off it’s dirty charm. Second, the ring is the bigger WWE version. The ropes are nice and snug (hell, they even match), the mat’s all clean and pretty; it’s basically a Raw ring with an ECW logo on it. Absolutely *nothing* about the way the show looks is connected to the original ECW.
Then we have the announcers. Okay, yes, Joey Styles was “the voice of ECW”, and he’s back for round two. But he’s clearly the neutered WWE version (despite his “shoot” rant on Raw back a few months). And while I happen to think Tazz has become one of the best color commentators in the biz, neither he nor Joey sound good trying to pimp something they don’t believe. Listening to them put over Mike Knox & Test was PAINFUL, as they clearly can’t stand either guy but are being forced to talk them up, something the old Joey would never do. Plus, having them at ringside is again, not ECW. It was another one of those things ECW did (keeping Joey as a voice in the ether) that set it apart. What’s worse, putting them opposite the hard camera is distracting. I’ll give props for originality there, but it’s proof as to why it’s never been done before.
How about format? My biggest complaint about McMahon and the way he runs his “brands” (God, I hate that term) is that he runs them all the same. I remember when they did the original Raw/Smackdown split, I was one of many who thought they’d take the opportunity to make them completely different from one another in style. And while they’ve done that to some small degree (different ref gear, Smackdown’s silver ringposts), they never really embraced it. I guess Smackdown’s morphed into a more old-school WWF-as-a-cartoon feel in the last year or so, but overall it still feels like a WWE show. Same with ECW now. It’s match, backstage bit, commercial, backstage bit, match … rinse and repeat. The original ECW used to use a lot of off-site promos and matches cobbled together from different tapings, all linked together in a kind of haphazard way. It wasn’t meant to flow from segment to segment like a live event. It’s what made you want to GO to the live events, because the TV show was a teaser. Now we get the same “why is the camera there and why don’t the wrestlers notice it?” backstage segments that we get on the other two shows. I don’t get it. I mean, you’ve already got two brands that do things that way. Why *wouldn’t* you try and make your third brand, the one that claims to be “different”, to be just that — different? You’re trying to build an audience from those that you are admitting aren’t into your other main shows, so how is aping their style going to draw anybody new? People can say what they want about TNA and its ratings versus the WWE, but they are clearly a different product. I’d be willing to bet if WWE bought TNA outright and just started airing Impact in Smackdown’s place, it would get Smackdown’s ratings without morphing it into a WWE styled show. So again, why go the same route with ECW that you’re already traveling elsewhere?
As for the wrestlers, eh, I know there are people who are pissed the old ECW guys are getting buried and that it’s turning into a dumping ground for Raw and Smackdown cast-offs, but I got news for ya, that’s all the original ECW was. It was the home of the lesser talented workers. The moment somebody showed promise, like Benoit or Jericho, they got swallowed up. Their time in ECW was short. The acts that ECW cultivated from thin air, (Taz, Raven, Mike Awesome) were never CLOSE to being what they were in ECW when they got to the supposed “big time”. The lone exception were the Dudley Boyz. I don’t think the problem with the new ECW is really the talent themselves. It’s simply the way they’re being presented.
All of which worries me about CM Punk. As a hardcore ROH fan, I’ve followed Punk since ’03 when I attended the first Punk-Raven match here in Boston. I know how freakin’ good the kid is, and I firmly believe that — in the right situation — he’ll be a huge star. Unfortunately, WWE seems to be thinking the same thing, and that scares the piss out of me. Listening to Tazz verbally felate Punk on last night’s show was nauseating, because it stank of the whole John Cena “you’re gonna like this guy because we tell you to” syndrome. They’d be much better off just letting him come out and do his thing without any “hype”. ECW crowds, old or new, are gonna choose who they want to support, and they’re 100% more likely to vomit back up someone they feel is being force-fed to them than the regular WWE crowd. This has the potential to wind up going bad for Punk if he’s not careful.
Everybody else? Again, it’s not about skill in ECW. It never was. If it had been, Hack Myers would never have been a crowd favorite. I mean, truly, he was an AWFUL wrestler with a TERRIBLE look. He looked like the One Man Gang’s bastard brother for crying out loud. Yet he was over. People love Balls Mahoney, but it’s not like he’s a tornado of talent. He takes a beating as well as anybody, but I don’t ever recall him cutting a promo that gave me chills or had a match that made mark out (aside from the vicious chairshots that is). As lame as he has been in the ring so far, is there anything terribly different from Mike Knox than say … Skull Von Krush? Vito was never any great shakes in the ring, but like nearly everybody else in the old ECW, he was presented in a way to get him over without jamming him down our throats. I bet you if Knox had shown up in the old ECW when Heyman was still Lord and Master, he would have been much more tolerable than he is now.
It’s just not ECW. The name is there, some of the faces are the same, but that’s about it. The look, the feel, the attitude, the things that MADE ECW what it was are completely gone. And while now, after having watched an episode, I can see plenty of things I like (Thorn and Ariel have a great look and gimmick) and can see plenty of reasons why this “new” ECW will succeed, the fact remains that it is not going to be the old ECW. Not now, not ever.