Extreme Championship Wrestling has often been called “revolutionary” something that is oft repeated in “Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of ECW” so much so that it begins to beat the proverbial dead horse and in all honesty it is disingenuous. To revolutionize means to change fundamentally or completely and had that been the case, regardless of whether the WWE or WCW then ECW would still be in business.
ECW was innovative in that they catered to a niche audience who thrived on the violence and that violence set a dangerous precedent. From the beginning ECW was destined to fail more so because of what they presented rather than their money woes. There is a limited scope for hardcore wrestling and the bar that is set has to be raised each time out which ultimately becomes impossible since there is a finite limit to what can be done. Short of someone dying in the ring (which by accounts in the documentary Paul Heyman allegedly wanted Tommy Dreamer to “get shot, just a superficial wound”) there are only so many sick chair shots, cane hits, cheese grater and pizza pans and buckets of blood that can be managed.
This documentary seems to explore more of the opinions of the dirt sheet writers namely Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch and Dave Scherer of the then Wrestling Lariat. Keller and his opinions as well as those of Jason Powell (who is very negative about ECW and everything it was and became) are very negative though Keller tries to opine that he was just a reporter doing a job and not let personal feelings get in the way. Scherer on the other hand was a major factor in ECW getting early press and was very involved in the promotion. There is no secret that Keller and Scherer do not get along nor have much respect for one another and it shows in this film.
There are interviews with a number of those who were part of ECW and there are cutaways to the initial Extreme Reunion set up by Cody Michaels and Shane Douglas including an uncomfortable few minutes when the call comes in about Sabu being found unresponsive in his hotel room and being taken away by ambulance. Douglas says on his way to the hotel “if this is anything other than a medical condition he is fired. If this is drugs he is fired.”
The “Mass Transit” incident is covered but more in the way of that incident was one of the reasons that ECW had a difficult time getting on PPV and the blame rested squarely on the shoulders of Eric Kulas with New Jack saying he felt like he had been set-up because the kid wanted to get some offense in so he had to slice him up. New Jack is certainly a unique character both in and out of the ring and how he has been able to avoid a lengthy prison sentence is mind boggling.
A number of the “experts” interviewed for this documentary all lamented that ECW was too long in getting on PPV and that was the beginning of the end for the company. Paul Heyman was remiss in paying the bills and the boys and a number of the core of the company left after better paying offers came in from WCW and Eric Bischoff who, as is noted in the piece, wanted to “bury ECW and piss on their grave.”
“Barbed Wire City: The Unauthorized Story of ECW” does give a different perspective on the company than some of the other DVDs that cover the same subject. There are moments of sadness in this movie when you see interviews with some of the stars from when they were in their prime to what they are now. Axl Rotten is shown at the Extreme Reunion show suffering from Bells Palsy and struggling to speak clearly. Balls Mahoney then and now shows a drastic change as well as some of the others who embraced the hardcore style more than others.
I was a fan of ECW even in its infancy, I bought the VHS tapes from RF Video, I followed the company online and in the sheets and I remember thinking that the initial PPV “Barely Legal” lived up to the hype and was one of the few PPVs that was worth the money I had invested.
ECW revolutionized professional wrestling only in that it changed the way people thought about the business, it did not change the business. A true revolution continues to progress, to evolve and to establish greater reaction. A revolution persists and thrives…
Follow me on Twitter @jlwiseman13