The average pro wrestling fan fondly looks back on the time when WWE was going toe-to-toe with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) each Monday night as one program had The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker while the other show had New World Order, Hulk Hogan, Goldberg and Sting.
One upstart promotion added a new wrinkle to the Monday Night Wars and pushed the pro wrestling industry to adopt a more extreme style to further captivate their audiences.
Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was the name that changed the game.
When most fans look back on ECW, the most recognizable names that come up are the likes of Paul Heyman, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, The Sandman, Cactus Jack, Tommy Dreamer, The Dudley Boyz and a few others. But it is Tod Gordon who was one of the main players of ECW and helped make the promotion extremely prominent all the while WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), was going head-to-head with WCW.
Gordon’s new book, “Tod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Created Extreme Championship Wrestling” is set to hit bookstands on Tuesday. The book was co-written by Sean Oliver and includes a foreword by pro wrestling legend Terry Funk.
The book chronicles how Gordon first created the promotion, which was initially called Eastern Championship Wrestling when it was a territory under the National Wrestling Alliance, and how it broke away from the old regime and take on the pro wrestling world alone.
Gordon told Fox News Digital in a recent interview the first idea was to use the NWA initials to give the company “a little more credibility.” Once ECW got its footing and had a standalone champion who wasn’t going to be touring around the territories, Gordon said he knew he had something one night after Shane Douglas, Sabu and Funk were involved in a three-way match at the ECW Arena.
“After the show was over, we had all the wrestlers back in the Hilton hotel, not far from the airport, and Paul [Heyman] and I drove over. We get out of the car to go the bar and tap the guys on the back, great job, pat on the back, and spilling out into the parking lot were fans, and they all started yelling, ‘E-C-W! E-C-W!,’ as we were walking out of our car and into the building. And it was, ‘Thank you, Tod, thank you, Paul.’ We were sitting, looking at each other, wondering what the heck was going on.
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“Paul said, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this for a while in a lot of territories; I’ve never seen a fan reaction like this.’ We realized we had something here. Maybe lightning in a bottle, but whatever it was, we had it. And the fans were a part of the whole thing. They were a major driving force for making the shows better and bigger. And the fans became a major part of the show, like the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ They would bring in weapons to hand out to the wrestlers. They had their own chants they made up for each different guy. It really was like a family atmosphere. They and us were working symbiotically together.”
Part of the book is also about Gordon’s relationship with Heyman. Gordon said he met Heyman through Eddie Gilbert, who he brought onto the company as his booker. Heyman would appear on some of the bigger shows as Gilbert’s onscreen managers and work with some of the younger talent.
Gordon described his relationship with Heyman as “great” and as “best friends” for the first few years. Gordon said his whole idea was to put on shows that he would like to see. He said he couldn’t stand the programming that WCW and WWE (then-WWF) were putting on at the time, describing the latter as “cartoonish.”
“We ended up becoming what I say, the Howard Stern of wrestling – really R-rated wrestling,” Gordon told Fox News Digital. “Nobody had ever done that before.”
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Gordon said the original plan was for Heyman to only work temporarily for him. He said Heyman was planning to launch a pro wrestling channel with Jim Crockett. He said that as the two got closer, Heyman said he was going to spurn Crockett and the plans of building the separate network. But Gordon had already found out that Crockett abandoned the plans anyway.
Gordon said he offered Heyman 49% of the company after Heyman left what he was doing with Crockett. Gordon said Heyman wanted to go 50/50, but Gordon maintained that “someone had to have the last word, otherwise you’ll burn the building down, or it’ll seem that way.”
As the company began to get more popular, money began to become an issue. Gordon said he was spending thousands of dollars a week for television spots in places they didn’t run shows in. As Heyman’s star rose, funds began to dwindle.
“It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t honest, and it’s been told completely differently for almost 30 years now,” Gordon said of the story of ECW. “That’s the reason I needed to write a book. I needed to set the record straight.”
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“We ended up becoming what I say, the Howard Stern of wrestling – really R-rated wrestling.”
Gordon praised Heyman for having a knack for the pro wrestling business and marveled how Heyman is still going strong in WWE. He said he and Heyman were friends until about six or seven years ago until he did a documentary for the WWE. Gordon said Oliver then convinced him to do the book.
Gordon, now the owner of the Philadelphia-based jewelry and pawn institution Carver W. Reed & Co., revealed what he hopes fans will take away from the book.
“I think, for one, not to believe everything that they’ve seen or told. Two, all the debauchery that was the reputation of ECW was real. I tell story after story involving the drugs, the sex, the rock and roll and the whole bit. And who was involved, who wasn’t involved. What we did was pretty inclusive, and some of the stories you will fall down laughing, and some you’d say, ‘Wow, that’s kind of sad.’”
Gordon sold his share of the company to Heyman in 1995 and left the company in 1997.
Vince McMahon bought ECW in 2003 and at one point revived the company as a brand under the WWE to compete against the likes of RAW and SmackDown.
ECW’s hardcore legacy lives on to this day as the company is credited with inventing the three-way dance match type, tables match and countless others.
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