I’ve been wanting to do this one for a little while now. I was starting to grow tired of wrestling during the early 90s. WWF gimmicks were trainwrecks, WCW was scattered all over the place, trying to replicate what WWF was doing (badly), and in the Northeast where I lived, there wasn’t really the option to watch anything else. I would still pick up an Apter mag every once in a while, and there seemed to be buzz about ECW out of Philadelphia. I heard that it was being shown on SportsChannel and MSG Network – you just had to find it. One Saturday night (Sunday morning, really), I saw it – ECW wrestling, 2AM, MSG Network. I set up my VCR, but I didn’t trust it – I’d record and stay up to watch it. I was excited. I asked a friend (who had a big ol’ satellite down in Oklahoma) if he had seen it.

“Oh, it’s crazy, man. it’s got a little bit of everything. You’re going to love it.”

What followed was pretty much one of the most bizarre hours of wrestling I had ever watched on television, and I did love it. I cover it this week because this episode, perhaps more than any, exemplified what it was like to watch ECW wrestling before the product got a little more defined and polished. It was a perfect ECW “sampler”.

We open with something that’s a little lost on the Network – the Public Enemy’s entrance. If you watch this episode on the Network now (this is the link, if you’re interested), you’ll hear a generic hip hop beat, because ECW at the time used actual songs for themes (in Public Enemy’s case, it was Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes The Hotstepper”) and didn’t pay royalties. If WWE were to play them now, they’d have to pay royalties on the music, so they redub them with generic themes. It really does take a lot away from early ECW, who did a great job of matching music to their wrestlers. Anyway, we get a crowd shot of the ECW Arena hand-waving to the Public Enemy’s music, with the PE finally coming out to dance in the ring. Then, we cut to intro, because sure, why not.

[Note: to those watching on the network, the ECW intro too is overdubbed with generic music, as WWE won’t pay for the rights to White Zombie’s “Thunderkiss ’65”. See and here that proper intro (albeit with some different clips) here.]

WE ARE RECORDING FROM THE ECW ARENA AND BINGO HALL where Joey Styles welcomes us and tells us that it’s his unfortunate duty to introduce “The Sexiest Man On Earth”, Jason. Jason comes out to his generic music (“Whatta Man” by Salt-n-Pepa before the redub), then lets Joey know that he now manages The Pitbulls, which gives us the Pitbulls coming out to snarl and do things with their chains. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Jason has a question for the crowd – how do you like… HIS NEW SUIT? A “Kmart Suit” chant starts, to the enjoyment of Styles, which pisses off Pitbull #2 (they were easy to tell apart because they looked nothing alike) who starts whipping a ringpost with his chain. Jason uses the suit thing as a segue (no really), to introduce his newest protege, Jason [the Terrible]. Jason comes out and we get a video package about the Pitbulls, and how they caused the Bad Breed to break up, before cutting into a match. We have a match!

Match 1: THE PITBULLS AND JASON [THE TERRIBLE] (w/Jason [the sexiest man on Earth]) vs HACK MYERS AND THE YOUNG DRAGONS

Nobody knows who the hell the Young Dragons are, but we know for sure that they’re going to die tonight. This would be Jason The Terrible’s only ECW appearance, as he almost exclusively wrestled in Japan in hardcore matches around this time. The Pitbulls teamsed with him as well for the W*ING promotion over in Japan, so this was probably a share deal. The Dragons put up zero offense and one loses his mask so Joey plugs it as another tag team being destroyed by the Pitbulls. Sure. Finally, Hack Myers gets tagged in and starts showing some offense. Myers is a jobber to the stars (JTTS) who has really bad hair and a gimmick – when he delivers a punch, the crowd yells “SHAH!”, which made since because he was “The Shah of ECW”, whatever that means. When someone would punch him, the crowd would yell “SHIT!”, so yeah – family fun. Myers goes back and forth with both Pitbulls, but is outnumbered 3-1 because the Dragons are useless, and once Jason tags in, it’s all over. Jason headbutts Myers with his hockey mask, and Myers is busted open. More unstoppable offense from the Jason/Pitbulls team, and Jason eventually gets the pinfall on Myers.

Post-match, Jason (the sexy one) decides to cut another promo (since the first one went so well) and as he rambles, we can see Hack destroying the Dragons in the background. Hack eventually comes after Jason and crew swinging a chair. The Pitbulls head back to the dressing room, but Myers catches sexy Jason and destroys him, which brings out “the virgin princess” Angel, who comes out in a wedding dress and Doc Martens. OK. Angel checks on sexy Jason, then comes in the ring to confront Myers. Angel slaps Myers a few times, enraging Myers, who then takes down Angel with a closed fist punch to the delight of the crowd. Myers then grabs Angel and spanks her in the middle of the ring, which in turn turns her on, so she smiles and kisses Myers. Myers reacts like any red blooded male would by kicking her in the stomach and delivering a piledriver. This is viewed as apparently a normal thing that happens.

What the hell is this?

Match 2: [NAME REDACTED] vs PERFECTLY SANE AL SNOW

At this time, Chris Benoit is well known in ECW as a very dangerous competitor, and it’s a little weird to see him with long hair and not dead inside. Snow was one of those guys barely known to hardcore smarks as being a hell of a worker, but just being a guy, ya know? He’s got no facial hair at this point, an unassuming build, and looks like a jobber, but Joey Styles in commentary builds him up, telling about how Snow trained Dan Severn, who recently gone 17 minutes in that new-fangled “UFC” with Royce Gracie. (Side note – I think that match alone killed UFC for me. It was the most boring thing ever.)

The two start off with wristlocks and exchange counters, which gets a quick crowd pop. The two again start exchanging counters into a couple of near falls, wrestling a junior heavyweight style, until Benoit taunts Snow, and the two get into a shoving match which leads to Benoit going to kicks to get the advantage. Benoit works the ropes, then tosses Snow against them, which Snow counters with a cartwheel into a superkick. It’s interesting to see both these guys, who would later put on weight and wrestle as heavyweights, wrestle a cruiserweight style. All the while, it needs to be stressed how well Joey Styles is doing to build these two up. When I originally watched this back in ’95, I vaguely knew who Benoit was and had no idea who Snow was. Styles builds up Benoit as a vicious destroyer of wrestlers, but at the same time, builds up Snow as someone who has the ability to beat him, without making Benoit look any weaker. It’s so important in building this match, and it’s something that’s lost nowadays where commentary has just turned into background banter. Another point I feel the need to bring up – Benoit gets Snow in the corner and delivers two knife-edge chops that echo through the arena because… Benoit. Snow moderately sells them, but referee John Finnegan sells them with these cringes that we’re all feeling. ECW had good refs that sold, even when their workers didn’t.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of this match, but it’s a very good match, especially at a time when both WCW and WWF workrate was in the toilet. Meltzer gave it four stars, and Benoit gets the victory by pulling a dragon suplex seemingly out of nowhere to get the pin as Snow was making his comeback. As Snow sold the suplex pinfall, Benoit grabbed Snow and powerbombed him to have Snow do a stretcher job and keep the “crippler” gimmick going. It’d be Snow’s last match in ECW for a few years, as he’d start working regularly for Smoky Mountain Wrestling right after this, and by the end of the year end up in WWF for a variety of gimmicks. That said, the match as a whole was a complete 180 from the earlier stuff, and just when you thought you were watching a crap indy promotion with goofy gimmicks and sloppy work, in comes a match of the year candidate that blows away anything you had seen from the “big 2” that year.

Match 3 (kinda): HERE COME THE HOTSTEPPA (champions) vs POINT TO THE SKY & TAZ(MANIAC) (w/Ponytail Baseballcap and nineoneone)

This is a “Double Tables” match, where in order to win, you have to put both of your opponents through a table. This type of match would end up being pretty common in ECW (and later WWF), but I believe this was the first time this was being done, as this whole card was literally called “Double Tables” – at least that’s the name of the VHS tape you’d have to order if you wanted to see this match in its entirety.

Oh, did I not mention that? This was a common ECW practice. You got a few matches off of the big cards on TV, but ECW sold tapes of their cards on the TV shows, along with various other merch. This is what you did back then to make money, and I can remember there being a pretty big market for those tapes. But to sell the match on TV, they’d play some Joey Styles audio from the match and show a slideshow of stills from the match. It was honestly a great way to sell the match, as you got to hear Styles sell the match (which, as mentioned before, he did great), and see some stills that gave you an idea that the match was worth seeing, without giving away the match.

As for the match, it’s still shots of a hardcore match with various plunder, blood, and fragments of tables. Both Johnny Grunge and Taz go through a table halfway in, so it’s Rocco Rock and Sabu fighting for the last table. Rock ends up putting Sabu through the table but the ref doesn’t see it (in fairness, there’s a lot of broken tables around, so I guess it’s easy to get confused), which leads to more tomfoolery and Rock getting put on a table outside the ring, and Sabu putting Rock through *that* table, which the ref *did* see, so we’ve got new champs and I guess this is over.

Oh wait.

We go from the slideshow back to video footage, as 911 has Rock on another table (oy, with the tables already) as Sabu has a table balanced on the corner as a makeshift platform. Sabu’s got a chair up there too, and climbs on the table for who knows what, only to have Chris Benoit come out and start hammering away at Sabu on the table on the turnbuckle. Benoit then climbs on the table himself and grabs Sabu, knocking the chair off the table platform, and proceeds to POWERBOMB SABU OFF THE TABLE PLATFORM THROUGH ROCCO ROCK THROUGH THE TABLE. (In fairness, Rock’s table was too close to the turnbuckle, so Sabu mostly misses Rock on the way down, but the table still breaks.) Rock is dead. Sabu is dead. Benoit pulls off his shirt, stomping around like a Texas Rattlesnake about a year and a half before that was a thing, and then decides to go after Dangerously, who hides behind 911, and Benoit backs off because Benoit has to pretend that 911 isn’t a waste of carbon.

But we’ve got two minutes left, and that means we get a Chris Benoit promo. Benoit cuts a decent promo on Sabu, then announces plans to go after the tag team championship with Dean Malenko, all the while trying to scare us by using the old campfire “flashlight-under-your-chin-in-the-dark” effect, superimposed with an image of Benoit rubbing his hands together. We don’t have much of a budget here, folks – you take what you can get.

And with that, that’s our hour of programming. It was a perfect capture of ECW at the time:

  • Weird & bad gimmicks
  • Incredible workrate match
  • Giant spot of death
  • Filler promo at the end of the show

What you won’t see on the Network is the self-promoting commercials that ECW put into its programming, selling videos, t-shirts, and upcoming shows. For example, here’s the commercial that would play that advertised the video of this very show:

ECW would later jump on the idea of organizing a charter bus from Queens, NY to Philadelphia, and offering a bus ticket and reserved seating to an ECW Arena show and advertising that on their weekly show as well. As someone who regularly rode that charter bus, I can tell you that was a hell of an experience, and kind of cutting edge at the time. But the show in general was new and innovative in that era for wrestling, and it got me hooked. Worth checking out on the Network, if only to check out Benoit vs. Snow.