Source: The Sun Online
By THE LILSBOYS
OPINIONS are certainly split on the new look ECW – but one thing almost everyone agrees on is that the hardcore federation isn’t as good as it used to be.
Critics, who have at times included us, argue that the federation has lost the extreme edge that revolutionised the wrestling business in the 1990s and is now just another version of what we already see on WWE Raw and Smackdown.
So who better than ECW founder and current booker Paul Heyman to tell us why he thinks his group will thrive in 2006 and plead with disgruntled fans to air their grievances from arena seats not their couches.
Paul also talked about his relationship with WWE boss Vince McMahon, future ECW events and Rob Van Dam’s suspension.
First off, can you tell how ECW went from being an annual hardcore reunion to a fully fledged wrestling brand again?
It was all thanks to the fans.
The Rise And Fall Of ECW DVD is constantly flipping with WrestleMania 20 as the No1 selling DVD in wrestling history.
Take those sales and add the phenomenal buy rate for ECW One Night Stand last year and the fact that in this tiny little Hammerstein Ballroom – which only holds 2,800 people – they took almost $500,000 and everything we were touching was going through the roof. There was obviously this huge audience clamouring for this product.
And the decision was made that if the audience was demanding it then we were compelled to make this thing go full time again.
Internally, what originally happened was Rob Van Dam said to Vince McMahon: “This thing can sustain.”
Vince took it under advisement but then as the public was clamouring for it, it became a corporate tidal wave.
ECW wasn’t meant to be as big as it is right now. This was going to come back as an Internet-only show.
It was going to be this tiny little spin-off, almost like a boutique promotion to satisfy the niche.
Then as we started going down that path, the enormous response to the rumours that ECW was coming back opened the floodgates.
All of a sudden we heard there was network television interest and worldwide syndicated television interest in this. People in Japan, Italy, Germany, Australia, South Africa and the UK were saying they wanted it on their TVs.
We realised it was a lot bigger than we thought and instead of this Internet-only show, ECW was going to be a prime time cable network television programme.
Can that interest be counter-productive though, because the bigger something becomes the more other people in a company will want a part of it?
Yes and no.
In this company the buck stops with Vince McMahon. You could have one person pitching to Vince or 100 people pitching to Vince… it all stops with him.
So it’s not how many people are pitching – it all depends on what is the best pitch.
I don’t mind if I’m putting my ideas up against 50 other people, because I understand the audience better than anybody else so my pitches should be better than all of theirs.
And if they’re not then we’ll go in that other direction.
The way things work with ECW is that I have a staff, but I am the person responsible for presenting the ideas – whether they’re mine or not – in a concise form to Vince McMahon.
Then we discuss the show and take it from there.
Both One Night Stand PPV shows got amazing reviews, but the first ECW TV episode was panned. Were you personally disappointed with it?
We were all disappointed with how the first TV show went. But that was to be expected going in.
We were taking a concept that revolutionised the entire industry in the 1990s and had achieved the status of urban myth.
Now you’re bringing ECW fast-forward into 2006, with only two shows since its collapse at the beginning of 2001 and the rebirth in June 2006.
So that’s five and a half years with only two shows and not enough time for anyone to adjust to the new concepts and direction of ECW.
This is beyond the old expressions of “growing pains” or “a work in progress”, this was a dramatically different concept.
Of course coming out of the gate we were going to stumble on that first night, because even those with a clear vision of it had so much baggage attached it makes things very difficult.
Any other television show would take a year just to put a pilot on the air.
And we went from being an Internet concept to a big television show in under two months.
So we lacked that time to adjust.
How would you summarise that new vision of ECW for our readers?
I think the new vision of ECW is culturally the same as it used to be.
We want to be ahead of the curve. We want to have the most compelling and realistic characters.
By way of example, CM Punk is someone whose debut is so highly anticipated, based on the fact that the interviews we’ve aired are so real, articulate and intelligent.
They’re not over the top, 1980s, “I’m going to kick your ass, brother” kind of promos.
Shannon Moore and even The Vampire also represent huge audiences out there that are into those concepts and lifestyles.
Another thing is we don’t deny the influence of Mixed Martial Arts, which is huge on a worldwide basis but is different to anything on Raw or Smackdown right now.
The cruiserweights on Smackdown have been tempered – but in ECW we’re going to go all out with them.
So the difference in ECW to the 1990s is simply recognising where that cultural shift is and playing to it.
But last week’s ECW TV main event was Big Show v Undertaker with a Great Khali run-in – which is much more 1980s WWE than 1990s ECW! Was that frustrating for you?
Not at all.
If you look at the history of the original ECW and all the people who came in to challenge for the ECW world title, it’s a very impressive list. It includes people like Steve Austin and Rey Mysterio.
And now you have guys like Ric Flair and The Undertaker vying to be the ECW world champion – and coming up short.
When was the last time The Undertaker got laid out by a champion, came back for a match and didn’t win the title? When was the last time Ric Flair got his punk card pulled by a champion and then came up short chasing the belt.
That puts enormous credibility on Big Show as our champion and the title itself.
Because you’ve not only got superstars like CM Punk, Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, Sabu, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer and Shannon Moore trying to become the ECW champion – but also legends with multiple world title reigns behind them.
Yes, Big Show v Undertaker could have been a match on Raw or Smackdown – but again this is a different concept.
A lot of people forget some of the main events we had in ECW. One of our most popular matches was Terry Funk & Arn Anderson against Sabu & Bobby Eaton.
Arn and Bobby were wrestling in WCW and you could say the same thing about Terry Funk as you could about The Undertaker or Ric Flair, he had wrestled all over the world. The only newcomer in that match was Sabu.
Big Show won that ECW title when Rob Van Dam had to be suspended for marijuana possession. How much of a blow was that to ECW and will he return to a top spot?
Rob Van Dam is a long term investment for ECW and I don’t think 30 days is much of a sidetrack for where we’re headed with him.
I think Rob Van Dam under the ECW umbrella is going to be truly able to display his talents and be a much bigger star than he would ever have been on Raw or Smackdown.
And he’ll be an even bigger star with the fans when he comes back.
Are you happy with your roster and where else are you looking for stars?
I don’t think we have enough cruiserweights in ECW and I have been having discussions with cruiserweights around the world about bringing them in.
They include some of the best wrestlers people have ever, or never, seen before. We are picking our spot to debut them at the right time and in the right place.
I am a huge fan of Dragon Gate in Japan, but I am not limited to just their tapes. I am looking at guys from all over the place.
I can’t give you any names because I know Raw and Smackdown will steal them away – it’s a corporate culture of sharks in that writers’ room!
What are the plans for ECW beyond the TV show? Will you have your own PPVs as well as One Night Stand?
The four big interpromotional PPVs each year – Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series – will include ECW matches and we are scheduling ECW-standalone PPVs as we speak.
Finally, what would you say to the hardcore ECW fans who are critical of the new direction?
The bottom line is ECW is going to move forward with this audience or without, with Paul Heyman or without and with Rob Van Dam or without.
If the audience likes certain things it’s in their best interest to let everybody know.
And if the audience don’t like something they should also be very vocal about it.
But being vocal sitting on your couch doesn’t help!
You have to be there and say: “Hey, I don’t like this direction. It sucks. I want it to change.”
You have to be in the game to win the game.
And if the audience wants ECW to go in a certain direction you can’t just sit at home and bitch about it. You’ve got to step up and let your feelings be known.
Because it’s going to move forward with us or without us.