Some Unhealthy Competition (Redux)
In 1988, a billionaire named Ted Turner bought World Championship Wrestling, a fairly successful regional company. Turner decided to invest alot of money in his new business venture after seeing how much success the WWF was having, and this caused the wrestling boom of the 90's.
The Monday Night Wars
Keep in mind that I will be writing a short version of the 'monday night wars' story. There is a much more comprehensive recount on wikipedia. My version is here to gain some perspective on what it is like to be a wrestling fan in those years.
In the early 90's, WWF decided that a perfect way to capitalize on the success of the last few years was to create a weekly television show, complete with storylines, cliffhangers and lots of bad acting. It was called 'Raw Is War' and it aired every monday night, bringing in steady viewership to the already thriving organization. So in true business style, Ted Turner's WCW started it's own two hour show in the same time-slot, naming it 'Monday Nitro'. What was once a company run by people that had lived and breathed wrestling had now become a company run by businessmen. WCW, with it's financially endowed owner, lured many of the top stars of the WWF with multi-million dollar paychecks and the promise of less hours on the road. The viewers started tuning in by the millions and by the 1996, WCW was crushing the WWF in the ratings, but the quality of matches was at an all time low, with only a handful of wrestlers having the ability to go ten minutes without needing a break or running out of ideas. And this small handful of great wrestlers were on the lower card, which didn't mean much to the people running WCW, since the ratings boom was due to one storyline in which all the biggest, most expensive wrestlers turned bad and created their own 'company'. So even though there was millions of people tuning in, there was a fair chunk tuning out, wondering when it will be possible to find good wrestling on TV again. By 1995 american wrestling, which was once a thrilling, fun and athletic artform, was now becoming a bloated monopolized industry, represented to the public by two power hungry steroid banks only interested in the next nielson rating. But something was brewing, because when you alienate an audience, the audience becomes a subculture, left to their own devices to get the entertainment they want.
And one man was listening.
ECW!! ECW!! ECW!!
In 1996, a young promoter with a vision bought a little wrestling company called Eastern Championship Wrestling and renamed it Extreme Championship Wrestling. The young man was Paul Heyman, a native of New York with a background in managing wrestlers and a complete and utter passion for the art. Heyman was sick and tired of seeing these two giant companies try to sell wrestling to an audience that it wasn't intended for. He understood that, since wrestling was a violent art by nature, there was people out there wanting more and better. More violence, better skill. And that's what ECW stood for, great matches from passionate storytellers.
Heyman banded together a group of the most talented guys in the country and was putting on shows at the Philadelphia Arena, shows that were like nothing ever seen, including the previous century of wrestling in that country. With no television deal, ECW held it's first pay-per-view broadcast, including, for the first time, japanese wrestlers. It was a stunning spectacle, without the need for pyrotechnics.
It was good wrestling, finally, and it was everything you couldn't find with WCW or WWF. People had caught on and by the end of 1997, ECW had a cult following of rabid fans. It was the exact same reason that punk happened in the 1970's, as a response and natural reaction to the bloated and run of the mill sounds of late 70's rock. The ECW fans didn't want anything to do with the 'Big Two' and they were loyal to the end. Finally there was a place to find good wrestling, the best America had ever seen. But it wouldn't last for long.
3RD AND FINAL PART NEXT WEEK