Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Raw is 15, Ren Remembers

As WWE Raw (is War) celebrated its 15th Anniversary Show (sadly I didn't watch), I think it is time to come clean. As you may have noticed, several of our posts are infused with wrestling-oriented references. Fat Willard and I are rehabbed wrestling fans.

Speaking for myself, I first became enthralled with these spandex clad behemoths in the second grade, when a fella we called "Parrot" due to his beak-like nose used to bring olf WWF magazines into the school yard (parking lot) of the Catholic school I attended growing up. This was very much on the DL, as the nuns who ran the joint didn't appreciate the circus-like, glorified violence of professional wrestling. When Parrot let me know that I could catch these shows on Sundays at noon, I'd hurry my mother and sister home from church in hopes of at least catching the last 1/2 hour.

I soon discovered that in addition to the Sunday WWF show, I could catch a more violent and realistic show on TBS in what was then the Jim Crockett-run NWA (soon to become WCW), as well as what was known as World Class Championship Wrestling on ESPN in the afternoon, which was occasionally peppered with an AWA show here and there (always fun because they had the midget wrestlers).

While I remained a fan of the WWF mostly because of its appeal to children, I remember watching an NWA-run Clash of the Champions show in '88 in which a young, charismatic, and damn cool up-and-comer Sting took the Nature Boy Ric Flair to the limit, only to lose in a split decision (there were 3 judges for the match in case it went to a draw, and Jason Hervey - yep, Wayne Arnold - couldn't possibly choose a winner). Wooooooo!

World Class also really caught my attention. For some odd reason I loved "Iceman" King Parsons, and hated Eric Embry and Gen. Skandor Akbar.

(Photo: Sollie.org)

For the next couple of years, I watched and taped as much as I possibly could. Once I hit high school, I simply became more enthralled in sports and started to turn away from wrestling. Its latest incarnation in which the NWA/WCW, in an effort to keep up with the WWF's popularity, just went too far over the top in trying to match the WWF's popularity by coming up with equally ridiculous and over the top gimmicks, which just didn't seem to work for the style the league had branded over the years. For most of my high school career I simply didn't watch. Until one day a football teammate of mine insisted I check out a tape he recorded of a broadcast of an upstart, "hardcore" local outfit out of Philly called ECW.

Just like Parrot flashing those glossy mags in front of my face 10 years earlier, that tape once again had me hooked and looking for more. Turns out ECW would syndicate a show on obscure local channels at obscure times. But if you could actually find a broadcast, you realized these guys are on to something.

Taking local no-bodies and pairing them with discarded has-beens and international high-flying imports, there was something for everyone.

The turning point of the Fed is noted when Shane "The Franchise" Douglas, a one time skateboarding joke of a grappler in WCW, threw down the NWA belt and declared the league dead.

As described in his Wiki profile:

Douglas was instrumental in the development of "extreme" wrestling when he won a tournament to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion on August 27, 1994. In an angle which only he, Tod Gordon, and Paul Heyman knew about, Douglas threw down the NWA belt stating that he did not want to be champion of a "dead promotion." He then raised the Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Title and declared it to be a World Heavyweight Championship -- calling it the only real World Title. According to the Forever Hardcore DVD, Douglas only agreed to throw down the NWA belt after NWA president Dennis Coraluzzo buried Douglas on Mike Tenay’s radio show. Shortly afterward, Eastern Championship Wrestling changed its name to Extreme Championship Wrestling. Capitalizing on the controversy that surrounded his literally "throwing down" the NWA belt and the promo following it, Douglas was encouraged to express his true feelings in interviews by the ECW bookers and began calling himself The Franchise. This helped raise ECW prominence in the eyes of wrestling fans and journalists and allowed it to become an alternative to WCW and the WWF.
To this day, my long running fantasy football team is known simply as "The Franchise." With the Franchise's charisma and Paul ("E. Dangerously") Heyman's creative genius, the promotion went on to sign, develop and subsequently lose to the $ of the big two, some of the biggest and most influential names in the "sport."

Promo After Winning the NWA World Title
(via franchisefansite.com)

As I was graduating high school, and ECW was being pilfered of its talents, we entered an era of pro wrestling named the "Monday Night Wars," when WCW's Monday Nitro gave Raw a run for its money, even surpassing them in the ratings war, thanks to a stable of heels (bad guys) lead by a now black-clad and bearded "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, and former WCW wrestlers once buried by the promotion only to achieve super stardom in the WWF, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.

ECW, in the meantime, scraped and clawed to do what it could to become a major player. Wiki: In August 1999, ECW began to broadcast nationally on TNN (for what was initially a three year contract). Despite no advertising and a low budget, ECW became TNN's highest rated show.

All the while, a couple of South Jersey college buddies and I would split campus on weekends to head to then-called Viking Hall/ECW Arena in South Philly. We'd get plastered in the parking lot and go berserk in the bingo hall-turned-wrestling "arena." It was gory, violent, sexual while also downright funny at times.

Once through with college, ECW eventually was forced to fold, the WWF(E)/WCW wars began to fizzle, the 3 feds essentially became one when Vince McMahon monopolized the "sport" by buying out the WCW and eventually all ECW residuals.

Today, I couldn't tell you who is the WWE champion. I long for the nostalgia of my childhood and adolescence, which I occasionally satisfied by watching Madison Square Garden Network's WWE Classics, but my overall interest is just about gone.

One recommendation I have is to pick up a couple of DVDs. While I don't have many wrestling DVDs two I do have are Beyond the Mat and The Rise and Fall of ECW, which both play like a wrestling themed Behind the Music.

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