While many will write about how revolutionary ECW was to the wrestling world, and indeed it was, what I believe made ECW special and unique was the loyalty that the ECW locker room showed to the fans and the loyalty the fans showed in return to ECW.
The locker room of ECW was incredibly accessible to the fans, whether it would be an autograph signing, a Cyberslam Q&A, chatting at the local bar, answering e-mails, chats, providing interviews, etc.. This is certainly something that you didn’t see anywhere else, especially a few years ago. If you stayed around after the end of the show and talked with someone in ECW almost everyone you talked to would thank you for coming to the show. The fan was the one being entertained and yet they were the ones being thanked. It was this accessibility and loyalty to the fans that created a strong sense of loyalty back from the ECW fans.
A good example of this personally was when I went to Heatwave ’99 in Dayton, Ohio. The next day I had a flight out of town on the same flight as many of the ECW crew. As we were lining up to get on the plane I happened to be behind Tommy Dreamer in line. At this time Tommy hadn’t wrestled since injuring his back at Hardcore Heaven about 4 months earlier so I asked him how he was doing. The first thing he asked me was if I went to the show the night before and if I liked it (which I thought was a silly question because what other reason would I have to be in Dayton, Ohio?). He then went on to tell me all about his back problems, which disks were herniated, his rehabilitation, why surgery wasn’t an option for him, etc.. I was amazed at the amount of detail he gave me. At most I expected him to tell me “it’s been better” or some other simple answer, yet he took the time to go into great detail about his condition to some fan, when he was probably tired of everyone asking him the same question for months.
But the loyalty didn’t just extend to outside of the ring, it was very evident in the ring as well. I don’t know if anyone could ever say they went to an ECW show where the effort given was poor. It’s possible to have seen a bad show but it’s nearly impossible to have seen a poor effort.
The best story that I can think of that shows the work ethic in the ring is from a house show match back in the winter of 1997 in Waltham, Mass, in the infamous IBEW Hall. Sabu and RVD were in a tag team match against Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman. It was a match that was pretty typical of what you would expect out of these 4 back then; that being a great match that went all over the building. The match was progressing pretty well and it was about the time in the match when the tables were being brought into the ring. Fonzie slid a table into the ring and it was sitting in the ring upside down with the legs open.
Sabu set a chair up in the ring preparing for his the triple jump moonsault onto the Sandman. He hopped onto the chair, then onto the top rope and then flipped back. I was seated on the side that Sabu was coming back towards. As he flipped over you could see that his jump was slightly off and that he was headed for the table. It was almost like he was moving in slow motion. As he came down his jaw hit square on one of the table legs. It was one of the most sickening things I have ever seen. After hitting the table leg he promptly slid to the outside of the ring and onto the floor where he clutched his jaw. He stayed on the floor as the match continued.
I don't remember what happened next as my attention was focused on Sabu. After a few minutes someone was placed on a table in the middle of the ring, Dreamer I believe. Van Dam went to the top turnbuckle in one corner and somehow Sabu picked himself up, climbed onto the apron, and then to the top turnbuckle opposite of RVD. They then did their legdrop/frogsplash combo to finish the match off. Sabu quickly left the ring and ran into the locker room holding his jaw. I was amazed. This man was seriously injured with what I believe ended up being fractured jaw and a few chipped teeth, and he continued the match. And this was a house show!!! A stupid house show!!! The only camera there was the Fan Cam and if he just went to the back after hitting the table and the match was finished without him no one would have thought twice about it. There was no reason for him to continue the match and yet he did. I'm still amazed when I think about it now.
The third and final loyalty story stems from the first TNN taping at the Madhouse in Queens, in August of 1999. At this time it was well known that the Dudley Boyz were on their way to the WWF. A couple weeks earlier Balls and Spike Dudley had captured the Tag Team Titles (ironically at Heatwave ’99 again). The Dudley’s came out and were able to generate great heel heat and then challenged Spike and Balls to one last match, as they had been going back and forth for a few months. Much to the surprise of nearly everyone in the crowd the soon to be departing Dudley’s won the belts for the 8th time. Following the match the Dudley’s were huge faces to the crowd. But once again they were able to turn the crowd against them later in the show as they degraded ECW and challenged anyone to defend ECW’s honor. Out came an injured Tommy Dreamer who was no match in that 2 on 1 situation. But to Dreamer’s rescue was his greatest nemesis, the returning Raven, who promptly helped out Dreamer to “defend ECW’s honor” and send the evil Dudley’s away.
Following the show, the heels returned to the ring and broke character (which the Dudley’s NEVER did) and talked for about a half hour, maybe longer, about their time in ECW and thanking the fans, thanking Paul E, thanking everyone else in the locker room, nearly all of whom had joined them in the ring. These heels who everyone had hated for so long were so moving talking in the ring that they had a good portion of the crowd and most of the wrestlers in tears. You can say all you want about wrestling being fake or scripted but the emotion that the fans and ECW locker room had after that show was very real and something that I doubt I will ever see again in wrestling.
ECW has left us far too soon but their memory will not soon be forgotten.