It wasn’t a very well-kept secret, and that was even before the WWE started signing guys like Sabu, Balls Mahoney and Axl Rotten. It was rumored long before Joey Styles “walked off” his job last Monday on Raw. Hardcore fans rejoice — ECW is coming back.
Giving credit where credit is due, the WWE is saying and doing all the right things to make ECW 2.0 a success. Bringing in former stars of the federation is a no-brainer, as there aren’t enough alumni on the current roster to run a separate brand. And even if there were, you wouldn’t want to gut your core product to do it.
Word is that Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer will run the show, and the product will be permitted to be more violent than current televised fare. That’s another smart move, as watered down won’t cut it for ECW. A primetime special has already been announced, but reports say that the show will go internet-only if a regular time slot isn’t available right away. All the pieces seem to be in place.
There’s little question that if done right, ECW can help the WWE. People like Styles and Heyman have talents that weren’t being utilized to their fullest by trying to shoehorn them into the standard company way of doing business; now they’ll have a chance to do what they do best. The fan base has remained loyal despite the federation’s initial demise, and there’s a segment of the audience that will always prefer the Extreme product to what we get each week on Raw and Smackdown. But making this move at this time raises an interesting question: what took the WWE so long to realize ECW had value as its own brand?
ECW, as you may recall, went bankrupt way back in 2001. That was a chaotic time for the wrestling industry as a whole, with the WWF buying up the remains of both ECW and WCW, the XFL fiasco mercifully coming to and end and the World Wildlife Fund winning its court battle to force the WWF into becoming the WWE. With all of those things happening in the span of a few short months — plus no real chance to get a TV spot after the “failure” of ECW’s show on TNN — it’s not hard to imagine why Vince McMahon and his team wouldn’t have thought much of ECW’s chances to stand on its own five years ago.
As more time passed and the industry settled, the WWE literally could have brought back ECW at any time. With ratings down from the late-’90s highs and a clearer picture of what wrestling’s core audience really looked like, it would have been an obvious move to resurrect Heyman’s creation. The continuing “E-C-W” chants in arenas all over North America and the success of ECW DVDs and the like should have made it obvious that the hunger for the product was there. Still, it appears that it took the popularity of last year’s One Night Stand pay-per-view (even though it fell short of the full ECW experience) to convince the Titan brass that they should pull the trigger.
One has to wonder if the relative success of TNA is playing a part in the timing. Even though the Jarretts’ promotion is in no position at this point to pose a threat to the WWE, why allow the competition to take away any viewers with a product you can produce yourself? Before I get besieged by angry e-mails, I am in no way calling TNA the ECW of 2006. But the parallels are there. Small but fervent fan base, young performers with different styles than you’d see in a WWE ring, more emphasis on in-ring action than vignettes and long promos. All of those qualities could apply to TNA today just as easily as they could to ECW circa 1999. It’s an alternative product any way you slice it, and the WWE is smart to offer it up themselves instead of leaving it out there for someone else to sell, even if it took them this long to come to that conclusion.
Staying on the theme of “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” last week’s staredown between Triple H and Shawn Michaels and the sudden increase in the number of crotch chops offers up the best evidence yet that the rumored DX reunion may actually happen. TJ Madigan’s most recent column for the Calgary Sun even presented the proof — a Vengeance preview on the Viewers Choice Canada site (now pulled down) that actually said as much. You only need to go back a few years to the second coming of the nWo to see why a DX comeback is no slam dunk, but in this case it was a good idea to leave it alone until the right time presented itself.
The last incarnation of D-Generation X was tired when it ran its course. No longer the rebels they were when Helmsley and Michaels first formed an alliance, the group grew increasingly stale as they continued on. Triple H was breaking out as a solo star, and the gimmick simply ran its course. The WWE was also in a phase where they were actively looking to avoid racier storylines and that was pretty much it for DX.
Fast forward to today and you can see how the climate has changed. WWE shows have been awash in retro themes for the over a year, and Vince McMahon’s recent “God” bits seem to be blatant attempts to stir up controversy. Triple H has subtly shifted from straight bad-ass heel to more of a wisecracker, and the Heartbreak Kid seems to be feeling a bit more mischievous. You can add mine to the chorus of voices wondering how Michaels would be able to reconcile his faith with what a return to DX might bring, but rebellious doesn’t necessarily equate to raunchy.
Like the resurrection of ECW, a new version of DX has potential to make money for the WWE — in merchandising if nothing else — but it must be done correctly. New faces, preferably ones who can contribute on the mic as well as in the ring, have to be added to make sure it’s not just Hunter and Shawn, because we’ve seen that before. Triple H has to commit to playing a face, or at least a “cool heel,” and he hasn’t done either in quite a while. And please, on a personal level, no Chyna.
Truly new ideas would always be preferable to the “everything old is new” factor we see so often in professional wrestling, but if rehashes and sequels are inevitable, at least we can hope for good ones. The WWE seems to have two promising ones in store. Let’s just hope they’ve picked the right opening dates.