Another Monday, another important moment for wrestling here at PCU. After last week’s look at CM Punk and his famous Pipe Bomb, this week we’ll be exploring another genre shaking moment. With this moment, the old guard was more or less dead, bringing about a new age that came to many mediums in the mid to late 90s. The wrestling landscape was on a sharp, edgier path. A more extreme path. And this promo and the fallout were a driving force in that.
On August 27th, 1994; the National Wrestling Alliance, the preeminent body in professional wrestling for much of the 20th century, set out to crown a new World Champion in a tournament in Philadelphia, after the title had to be vacated due to WCW and Ric Flair. This was the home territory of ECW (Eastern Championship Wrestling), one of the NWA bodies, and it was decided by Tod Gordon (and possibly Jim Crockett, a prominent figure in NWA), that Shane Douglas would win the tournament. However, this was against the wishes of NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo, who disliked Douglas, and feared that Gordon and Crockett were attempting to monopolize the title from other territories. That might not make a lot of sense, so I’ll give an extremely brief overview of NWA.
The National Wrestling Alliance was more or less a large group of promoters from different regions of the country that shared a title and talent. In it’s heyday, NWA ran everything from San Francisco and Calgary all the way down to Florida. In the 60s, the World Wide Wrestling Federation, a northeast promotion run by Vince McMahon Sr. (this is now WWE), left the NWA. One of the major reasons was a dispute over Champion appearances (which is a common issue, see AWA as well). While this was a blow to the NWA, it wasn’t a death sentence. Sure, Vince Jr., who we affectionately know as the CEO of WWE, was a maverick and would eventually go head on with NWA, but it’s possible they survive. However, in the early 80s, Jim Crockett Promotions (would be WCW) tried to go National, and failed. Being the main promotion for NWA, this was blow for the Alliance. The real kicker, though, came when WCW was purchased by Ted Turner, and Crockett fell into a non compete. That, and a series of other failed National bids, led to this event in 1994.
I want to note, that is an incredibly brief overview. There’s a lot to dig into with NWA, but we don’t have the space to deal with that here. Onto the event itself. With Douglas decided to win the title; another decision was made by Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman, the latter being the booker for ECW, that they would use this tournament as a platform to publicly split from ECW. The result was a promo for the ages from Shane Douglas, and the propulsion of a style of wrestling the made the genre more popular than ever.
This promo (seen here), has Shane Douglas famously tossing the NWA Championship aside, telling all these past champions to “kiss my ass”. In tossing away the NWA title, refusing to be the champion of a company that “died 7 years ago” and publically take up the title of ECW Champion; Douglas, Gordon, and Heyman were out of NWA. However, Coralluzzo thought different, famously saying that Douglas was the NWA Champ and would defend it whether he wanted to or not. The whole scene is unlike almost anything you see in wrestling. In a genre where everything has at least some semblance of a plan, this was totally unknown to everyone that wasn’t the three previously mentioned.
After Coralluzzo’s comments, Tod Gordon went out the following night, and publically announced the formation of ECW, Extreme Championship Wrestling. What followed was a roller coaster decade or so of the most 90’s product you can image. Weapons, over sexualization, some genuine innovation with Lucha Libre Cruiserweights and Japanese talent. But, famously, the company couldn’t maintain a foothold of financial stability. The amount of that resting on the eventual sole figurehead in Paul Heyman is unclear and up for debate. One thing cannot be denied, however, Heyman is a wrestling genius, and ECW now lives in legend, especially in my hometown of Philadelphia.
If this seems at all interesting, I urge you to check out The Rise and Fall of ECW on the Network. Probably the best doc that WWE has ever produced. I would also recommend the Forever Hardcore doc, which came out around the same time, to get insight from non WWE guys like Shane Douglas. It’s easy to point out Austin or the NWO when talking about the Attitude Era, but this moment came first and forced a lot of hands at the big two of the time (WWE and WCW). As the old guard was forced out, we got to see a new style of professional wrestling, and we really haven’t looked back since.