While Raw concerns itself with legacies and billionaire owners and Smackdown with sought-after briefcases and attempts to de-mask, Tuesday nights are where a mixture of wily veterans and talented starlets do battle for supremacy inside the ring.
ECW’s current incarnation may be a far cry from the thrill-seeking, death-defying promotion of the 90s but WWE’s third brand has risen from the ashes to become one of the most gripping hours of televised wrestling on the planet.
That wasn’t always the case, though. When the show was revived as a WWE product in 2006, the roster was littered with outdated members of ECW old like Sabu and Sandman, established yet unloved WWE superstars such as Hardcore Holly and Big Show and peculiar new finds in the shape of Kevin Thorn and The Zombie. It may have interested some but certainly not most. December to Dismember, an ECW only pay-per view, secured the lowest buyrate in WWE history. The show was being neglected – it was apparent that for the brand to work something had to change.
And slowly the tide has turned. The originals, bar Tommy Dreamer, have been dispersed with and ECW has become what WWE needs. A place for efficient old hands to enjoy their time in the spotlight and for promising newbies to learn their trade in front of large audiences and – simple as it sounds – for a wrestling show to be about wrestling.
Dreamer, the current ECW champion, is the one element of the programme that reminds us of the past, which is definitely a good thing. ECW did a lot to popularise wrestling and that should not be forgotten and while Tommy is by no means in his prime, the fact he is top dog in the place he loves his fitting. But while the history is seen through the ‘Innovator of Violence,’ the future is also represented in Dreamer’s home by a host of talented performers.
The brand acts as a developmental territory, a purgatory between Florida Championship Wrestling and the supposed ‘Big Leagues’ of Raw and Smackdown, but that should not be frowned upon because thanks to ECW, WWE’s future should be in safe hands. While fresh imports that debut on Raw or Smackdown often flounder, the ECW arrivals are regularly given the chance to shine. The old adage is you can’t keep talent down but would Jack Swagger and Evan Bourne – likely to be WWE mainstays – have encountered the same path to stardom if they were showcased on Monday’s or Friday’s?
In fact without ECW, perhaps the most interesting character in the whole of WWE right now may never have reached the apex. CM Punk, Smackdown’s centrepiece with the World Heavyweight Title in his clutches, honed his already impressive persona, learnt the WWE style of wrestling – whilst also keeping his original traits – and grabbed the attention of the company’s movers and shakers as he became the nucleus of ECW. If the show had not been brought back, the man from Illinois may never have been pushed forward.
John Morrison, The Miz and Kofi Kingston, three of the most stimulating parts of WWE present, also have ECW to thank for their growth as performers. In many ways, WWE is indebted to the show it once competed against. And while it may be a little premature – and probably a little stupid – to say David Hart Smith and Tyson Kidd from the intriguing Hart Dynasty or Zack ‘Woo Woo Woo’ Ryder will follow Punk’s path – or even the trail of Swagger and Bourne – they have a far better chance of doing so on ECW than on either of WWE’s premier brands.
It is not just young hopefuls that have prospered in the ‘Land of Extreme’ though, time-honoured WWE figures have also been given a new lease of life. Matt Hardy and Kane enjoyed periods with the ECW strap and were able to reprove their worth to management, Mark Henry, another former champion, and Finlay have benefited after getting lost in the shuffle in their previous homes, Shelton Benjamin re-found himself, Dreamer has soared again and Christian has become the focal point he has always deserved to be.
Put simply, ECW is an exceptional 60 minutes of entertainment. The wrestling is always solid and usually exciting, promos are kept short but effective and storylines make logistical sense – superstars either want their shot at the ECW title or to overcome those they do not like. And to cap it off you have the pleasure of listening to Matt Striker – a man who mixes phenomenal wrestling knowledge with excellent articulation and wit.
Like all wrestling shows, the action is not always perfect but more often than not, you are left fulfilled and eager to view the following week’s dose of Christian, Swagger and Co. ECW may not be extreme anymore but it is extremely good.