Gutteridge's Blog: NXT before NXT was NXT – A loving tribute to WWE's version of ECW
By Darren Gutteridge
I find myself constantly "owning up" to things that don’t exactly sit well with the general populace of the Internet Wrestling Community. I have a soft spot for Santino Marella comedy. I have praised Triple H when all others have called for his head. And now I open up a new avenue for abuse – I loved WWE’s iteration of ECW.
Put it down to a love of all things "black sheep." Not that I’m anti mainstream - I’ve just always found the supporting characters much more interesting than the stars, if you catch my drift. I support a lesser football team. I picked Bulbasaur when all around me picked Charmander. Hell, wrestling itself is a black sheep sport. And WWECW fit that niche perfectly. Everybody watched Raw, and Smackdown actually had (and still has) a bigger following over here with the casual fans, as it aired at better times (read: not 1am on a Tuesday morning). And then there sat ECW, a one hour a week show usually free of all the overbearing storylines of it’s big brothers, featuring new stars and good quality wrestling that only a select few watched. Sound familiar?
Yes, on the week of NXT’s 200th episode, I want to look back at what, in many ways, acted as a crude prototype for the current iteration of NXT. The two shows have a startling amount of similarities – new, raw talents finding their feet on WWE style programming; former stars being repackaged or rejuvenated; little gems of moments that many won’t ever get to see; and, of course, a lot of failed ideas that people would like to forget.
Firstly, let’s look at the guys first brought to TV on the good ship ECW. And this list can’t start in any other way than with CM Punk. Was Punk "made" by his ECW run? Hell no. He was a star forged in gym halls and small arenas around the world. But as anyone who has seen his DVD will tell you, Punk certain made a big step up on the show. Seemingly shackled to the notion that he was an "Indie guy", as well as a "Paul Heyman guy", Punk broke a lot of those chains whilst being positioned as the show’s star attraction, and the hard work paid off (at least initially) when he won his first Money in the Bank briefcase. Would this opportunity have come had he been suffocated on the bloated Raw or SD rosters? We’ll never know, but it’s an interesting notion to entertain.
Just like Punk, Sheamus too was first introduced to the world at large on the show. While is tenure was brief, Sheamus tore through ECW for months, building up a head of steam so big they quickly put him on Raw, and then made him WWE Champion not long after. Other main roster stalwarts Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger and The Miz all started on WWECW, given ample time to sort out a character and a moveset before they had a harsher spotlight shone on them on the other two shows, just as NXT allows guys to do these days. That’s not to mention the role the show played in the resurgence of Mark Henry and Christian. Both are now taken seriously as World Title contenders, but both had to wait late into their careers until they won their first World Title, the under appreciated big silver ECW belt.
Another similarity to NXT was the repackaging of stars. Do you remember Johnny Nitro, who (in the words of Derek Zoolander), was basically "a model, idiot"? No, your main image of the wrestler John Hennigan will be of his John Morrison persona, given to him during his tenure on the show. This is akin to the repackaging NXT offered to Husky Harris, allowing him to throw off a poor, flimsy gimmick and get upgraded to something infinitely better. Not all rebrandings were successful. A guy called Kevin Fertig swapped Mordecai, the Albino Undertaker, for Kevin Thorn – Chubby Vampire. Viscera, trying to throw off years of confusion from being one half demon, one half love machine, became Big Daddy V, but just left everyone mesmerized by the to-scale tattoos of the sun and the moon on his
And while I admit to these mistakes, I’ll take the show to task for some of it’s other missteps (of which there were a lot). For every CM Punk, there was a Bobby Lashley, pushed to the moon on the show before plummeting just as rapidly as he had ascended. For every successful revamping like Christian, there were failed pushes for Test and Chavo Guerrero. There was the idiotic storyline relationship between Kelly Kelly and Balls Mahoney. The show spawned the most infamously bad PPV since the demise of WCW – the December to Dismember. And, of course, there was Mike Knox. Man do I hate Mike Knox.
Thats not to mention the blasphemy of using the ECW name while retaining nothing that made the original company famous. No hardcore rules, no Paul Heyman after a while, and none of it’s original stars, who all either left or got shoved out of the door following their appearance at Wrestlemania 23. WWE can be forgiven for only holding on to the very best (RVD, Sabu, Dreamer) or recognizable (Sandman) guys from the original company (something TNA and countless independent groups should have been wise enough to do since the show went off the air), but to strip ECW of all that made it stand out was a little low.
They couldn’t expect to have retained the original fans that had been duped by the name past the first few weeks, so the name carried no meaning or purpose. The company should have either had it stand as their once a week "present" to those clamoring for the Attitude Era, with hardcore rules and more mature storylines, or named it something else entirely. I don’t know, maybe something invoking the show as the place to see the "NeXT" stars. I’m stumped for a name, but you can think of one in your own time.
In conclusion, I want this article to encourage you all to look back on WWECW with more favorability. It was far from the best wrestling show every produced, but it’s not nearly as terrible as a lot let on, at least in my opinion. I still have fond memories of the Punk/Morrison feud, the ECW Originals vs. the New Breed feud in the lead up to Mania 23, and Kelly Kelly’s, errrr, emergence in her Expose bits. I was a teenager at the time, forgive me that last one. One of my most vivid wrestling memories is leaving a New Year’s Eve party at 12.05am (I hate the holiday, so wouldn’t have stopped much longer anyway) to run three streets back to my house to watch Tommy Dreamer’s "retirement" match against Zack Ryder.
As NXT rolls past it’s 200th episode, I hope it leaves an impression on the company, and me as a wrestling fan, the way WWECW has. In fact, I hope it far exceeds the show’s legacy, and is looked back on far more fondly by the vast majority than it's predecessor. Shouldn't be too hard, they just have to find four future World Champions, guys who have won every title there is to win, turn around wrestlers approaching the twilight of their careers, and leave memories that will last for a long time.
Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts on the article, add me on Twitter - @DazatheG
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