I had another column in mind for this week but part of it made me start thinking and here we are as a result. When I was a kid, my best friend was a massive wrestling fan, just like I was. He was a bit older than I was and when I was about ten years old, he started telling me about this wrestling company for older people that he had started watching. It was called ECW, and he couldn’t wait to tell me about all the cool wrestlers and insane things that they were doing. You didn’t hear about this kind of stuff in the WWF or WCW.
While it wasn’t around very long (ECW as it was best known began in late 1993 and they were out of business less than eight years later, with only about fourteen months featuring national weekly television), ECW has one of the longest lasting impacts that you will ever see in wrestling. There is no denying that it was incredibly influential and one of the most important wrestling promotions of the last few decades, but that influence is actually in a place that a lot of fans tend to miss.
To say that ECW was a big deal when it was around is an understatement. They might not have been anywhere near the level of WWF or WCW (even their most hardcore fans would be hard pressed to argue otherwise) but there is no denying that they had a niche audience who were desperate to see what they were offering. Those ECW chants have been around for since the company went out of business and they aren’t going away anytime soon.
If you want all the proof of their influence that you can find, look at their revival in 2006. Yes it was a disaster and no it was nothing compared to the original, but the ECW name was there. WWE owned the rights to all kinds of promotions (including WCW) and they picked ECW to bring back. They knew that there was value in that name because of those fans and that is quite the tribute to the promotion. It wasn’t World Class, it wasn’t World Championship Wrestling, it wasn’t something new. It was ECW, and that brought a lot of influence and leverage with it, which is there because ECW meant something.
While they might not be on the same level elsewhere, there are several wrestlers who were bonafide ECW legends. A lot of them went on to wrestle elsewhere and that ECW status went with them. Consider the ECW faction in the Alliance, all of whom seemed at least a bit bigger when they banded together under the ECW name. You had stars like the Dudley Boyz, Rhino and of course Rob Van Dam who went on to some great success under the WWE banner, along with others who had very nice careers both in WWE and elsewhere. A lot of them came from ECW and it played a huge role in their careers.
But then we get to the problem with that stigma. ECW went out of business about nineteen years ago and a lot of those wrestlers are still running around the independents, doing the same things they did in ECW and having most of their characters boiling down to “they were in ECW!” That’s not much to go on, and it looks even worse for the promotions themselves, which is where the problem comes in.
Now let me make this clear: there is NOTHING wrong with a former ECW wrestler getting a paycheck because someone wants to pay them for a nostalgia moment. Good for them, as it pays the bills and they’ve earned that status thanks to the efforts they put in back in the day in ECW. What gets annoying though is having these promotions bringing these people in and trying to make it seem like ECW is still a major deal today. In the last year, Major League Wrestling, Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor and even AEW have brought in ECW wrestlers to try and get that reaction.
It’s worse in some promotions than others, but all I see when I see these wrestlers (save for Rob Van Dam and maybe Rhino) is a bunch of old guys who are living off something they did back in the 90s. For some reason these people are treated as the legacy of ECW, and that’s where we’re going today. The truth is that the real legacy of ECW has nothing to do with these people, or even hardcore wrestling.
The legacy of ECW is really about taking wrestlers without much of a track record, mixing in some legends and up and comers and turning it into something on almost no budget. ECW started off as a tiny territory and became a national presence. No it didn’t last long, but it got WAY further than other companies ever hoped to and that is still felt today.
How many companies today seem to follow ECW’s footsteps? How many promotions have you seen that start off small, build up a reputation on work rate/action/something else (much like ECW with hardcore and violence) and begin to grow based on their home video releases stretching out? Ring of Honor certainly did, plus countless other companies that haven’t gotten as far. There is one company that really feels like the descendant of ECW though, and while they might not be at the same level, they have followed a VERY similar path: Major League Wrestling (MLW).
While MLW has not had the same amount of impact that ECW had, they have carved a rather nice little niche for themselves. Their Fusion television show has aired nationally on beIN sports for over 100 episodes now, they have had pay per views and their shows have turned into a rather nice weekly watch. There’s a little more to it than that though and it’s where you can see the similarities.
Watching MLW, you can see that they don’t have a lot of money. Their shows look fine, but they are held in small venues in big cities. They have a nice mixture of veterans, journeymen and newcomers, all of whom offer a nice mixture of just about everything. That’s where we get into the real idea of following (not copying) ECW, and the whole thing is in the name of the show: Fusion.
One of the things that you got from ECW was a mixture of everything. You would get great technical wrestling, high flying, brawling, promos, storytelling and just about everything else. That’s the same idea with MLW. On any given week, you might get a hardcore brawl, a lucha match, a technical mat based match or anything else in between. There’s a little something in there for everyone and it makes for a much more interesting show.
That’s what made ECW work in the first place and it’s why so many companies try to follow it, only to miss the point. So many people get caught up on the extreme part that they miss the bigger picture: ECW had a lot going on and became a starting point for all kinds of careers. How many wrestlers started in ECW and went on to major careers? How many of them have done the same in MLW (Maxwell Jacob Friedman, Darby Allin, Sami Callihan, Shane Strickland, Jimmy Havoc, Lucha Bros are all alumni)?
The point is simple: ECW wasn’t about the Dudley Boyz and Taz and Rob Van Dam. It was about showing wrestling companies a way to start with almost nothing and become something. It’s fine that the original ECW wrestlers are still around (again, nothing wrong with getting paid), but to say that they are the legacy of ECW is missing the point. ECW might have been about a lot of things and violence was one of them, but they were also about something else on a budget: wrestling.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books. Get the latest and greatest in professional wrestling news by signing up for our daily email newsletter. Just look below for “GET EXCLUSIVE UPDATES” to sign up. Thank you for reading!