On Friday night, 14 May 1993, ECW (then Eastern Championship Wrestling) held the first professional wrestling event ever in Viking Hall, soon to be dubbed The ECW Arena. Since that time, the building has been home to hundreds upon hundreds of wrestling events, from ECW themselves, to Philly-centric indies like Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, CHIKARA, and many others. Even WWE (through their ECW brand) and TNA have each held non-televised events in the venue.
This list, however, will focus the building's truest claimants, the namesake promotion that from 1993 through the end of 2000, reached millions of fans through their unbridled exploits within those walls. Extreme Championship Wrestling may be gone, but its memory remains, particularly the memories that were created between the walls of The ECW Arena.
10. It's Raining Chairs (13 August 1994)
For about two years or so after this incident, the footage was part of the opening montage of every weekly TV show, soundtracked by the acidic rawness of White Zombie's "Thunderkiss '65". Terry Funk and Cactus Jack were in the midst of a slugfest in the main event of Hardcore Heaven, when the two ornery brawlers were attacked by Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge, ECW Tag Team Champions The Public Enemy.
Funk and Cactus turned their hostilities toward the intruders and had laid both Rock and Grunge out in mid-ring. That's when Funk made the honest mistake of asking the fans for a chair. He was obliged with dozens upon dozens of metal seats that were chucked into the ring like a torrential downpour of steel. Rock and Grunge could only cover their heads while they were buried beneath the chairs. Funk and Cactus managed to duck away and escape while a voice from off-camera pleads with the fans to stop throwing their chairs (the fans heeded the request after the fifth plea). Truly, a surreal visual if there ever was one.
9. Barbed-Wired To Self-Destruct (9 August 1997)
To hear some exaggerations, you'd think every ECW match in its nine-year history included barbed wire (such jagged strands do appear in the company's logo, after all). While the employment of such dangerous fencing was not as prominent as some believe, it's had its moments in ECW lore. Just ask Sabu and Terry Funk.
The event was entitled "Born to be Wired", and saw 53-year-old Funk defend the ECW Championship against muted wildman Sabu, in a match where barbed wire replaced the ring ropes. Both men were horribly cut, with Sabu sustaining a lengthy gash down one arm on a corner attack gone wrong. By the end of the bout, the two maulers were hopelessly tangled up in the wires, to the point where a Sabu pinfall victory was anticlimactic, but necessary given the predicament.
8. The Greatest Chokeslam Ever (16 September 1995)
In the early days of ECW, Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman) was seconded by a tall, burly bouncer type named 911 whose sole requirement was to make fans happy by arriving, snatching whichever hated fiend was irritating the crowd and then planting them with a thunderous chokeslam. It was simple, but effective.
Throughout the summer of 1995, evil referee Bill Alfonso had been angering fans with his strict rulings, and general abuse of power, and fans had wanted 911 to give him his just desserts for months. In the midst of a chaotic Tag Team title match pitting Raven and Stevie Richards against The Pitbulls, Alfonso insinuated himself to his usual maddening degree and the fans would get their wish. Never before had a stout one-move wrestler abusing a referee drawn such a mighty cheer, but 911 Chokeslamming Alfonso damn near blew the roof off of the ECW Arena.
7. The Standoff (16 November 1996)
At the 1995 November to Remember, Taz memorably turned heel by aligning himself with Bill Alfonso. The same night, Sabu made his surprise return after leaving earlier in the year. Occasionally, Taz would knock Sabu in promos, getting over his bitterly-angry demeanour in the midst of destroying everybody else in his "Path of Rage". The two ECW icons were kept apart the entire time.
Then came the 1996 November to Remember, in which Taz and Sabu finally ended up in the same ring at the same time. Taz had just assaulted company heads Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman when the lights went black. When they came back on, Sabu was on one side of the ring, doing his trademark "point at the ceiling" pose, while Taz stood on the other side, arms stoically folded. The fans went ballistic at the sight, but wouldn't get their wish that evening. The lights went out a second time, and both men were gone from the ring when they came back on. That's what they call a tease.
6. Re-Enter The Sandman (23 October 1999)
Nearly 14 months earlier, The Sandman had left ECW for the greener pastures of WCW where he was redubbed 'Hardcore Hak'. The departure of such a beloved character had left a void in the company's roster. By the same time a year later, with ECW finally making it to national television, ECW had regained Raven, but had lost Taz and The Dudley Boyz to WWE.
Shortly after Vince Russo jumped to WCW, there was an incredible house-cleaning of talents that were under contract but never used. Sandman found himself among that wave, shortly before this particular ECW Arena show. At the end of the night, just as Lance Storm and Justin Credible were about to finish off Tag Team Champions Raven and Tommy Dreamer, the lights suddenly went out. After a few moments of darkness, a spotlight shone to one of the walls, where Sandman was standing on a catwalk, Singapore cane in hand. Fans loudly welcomed him back with an absolutely chill-inducing reaction, singing along with "Enter Sandman" as if nothing ever changed.
5. Pillman Unfiltered (17 February 1996)
Wrestlers over the last decade have tried to co-opt the manic energy that Heath Ledger put in his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. None of those individuals have proven capable of matching a performer whose caustic unpredictability predated Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Pillman concocted a plan to secure his WCW release as part of a "worked shoot" that saw him walk out of WCW SuperBrawl VI. Six nights later, Pillman popped up in Philly, before an excited ECW crowd.
At first, Pillman captivated his new audience by running down Eric Bischoff as a glorified errand boy. Then he turned on the crowd in a complete 180, and began insulting their collective "smart mark" badge through his demented grin. Then he threatened to urinate in the ring, which prompted Heyman, Shane Douglas, and others to intercede. Finally, the entire act of complex performance art ended with Pillman dragging a "fan" into the ring (in reality, indy wrestler Chris Krueger) and "stabbing" him with a fork. Words can't do the entire bizarre scene justice.
4. "Is That All You Got?" (13 August 1994)
Tommy Dreamer in 1994 was the ECW equivalent of Roman Reigns today, in a few respects - a pushed wrestler that fans just had zero interest in rooting for. At the time, Dreamer was a pretty boy with a neatened pompadour, and his friendly, nice-guy demeanour was a turn-off to the ECW crowd. Leave it for the brains behind the promotion to figure out how to make Dreamer into a star - all it required was some sacrifice.
Dreamer lost a match to the then-heel Sandman, in which the loser would have to submit themselves to 10 lashes with the Singapore cane. Some fans delighted in the idea of Dreamer being beaten bloody, but something happened: in one of the most disquieting scenes in wrestling's history, Dreamer took his beating like a man, refusing offers from Nancy "Woman" Sullivan (Sandman's valet) to escape the beating by kissing her feet in gratitude. He refused, took all 10 skin-ripping blows with the stick, then defiantly asked an unnerved Sandman at the end, "Is that all you got?" Soon after, against all prior notions, Tommy Dreamer became the avatar of the ECW crowd.
3. Royal Invasion (7 June 1997)
For nine months, ECW had been engaging in occasional crossovers with WWE, an angle that saw Jerry Lawler play chief agitator on the Stamford side. Recent developments had seen Rob Van Dam, in the role of money-hungry mercenary, show up on WWE programming as Lawler's protege, being equally dismissive of what was apparently his former employer in ECW.
At ECW's Wrestlepalooza, moments after Tommy Dreamer finally scored a win over arch-nemesis Raven in what was a loser-leaves-ECW match, his cathartic moment was spoiled first by Van Dam, then by Sabu, and finally Lawler himself. The trio held off every ECW avenger that hit the ring while Lawler cackled his way through his taunts of the crowd, the promotion, and its inhabitants. Wrestlers who were there that night recall the heat was off the charts, with some actually thinking a riot was imminent. Ultimately, Taz stormed the ring to drive Lawler away, and future chapters of the ECW-WWE saga would have to be written on later days.
2. "And They...Can *All*...KISS...MY...ASS!" (27 August 1994)
From their April 1992 inception until this show at the end of August 1994, as noted before, ECW was known as Eastern Championship Wrestling. They were also for a number of months affiliated with the ailing National Wrestling Alliance, and it was at the ECW Arena that a tournament would be held to crown the organization's new World Champion. ECW Owner Tod Gordon had grown weary of NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo's meddling and planned to secede from the NWA, in very tumultuous fashion.
Then-ECW Champion Shane Douglas would be the tournament's winner, defeating 2 Cold Scorpio in the finals. His victory speech began graciously enough, talking about both his deceased father and the tradition that the NWA World Title stood for. After listing off some prior champions, Douglas' mood turned, and he threw down the belt (whilst saying the words in this item's title) in an act of intentional disrespect. He declared the NWA dead and proclaimed that being ECW Champion, carrying that torch, made him a real World Champion. This was the birth of *Extreme* Championship Wrestling.
1. "THIS. IS. THE DANCE." (13 April 1997)
Some said it couldn't be done. ECW was just an uncouth outlaw promotion filled with has-beens, never-weres, and glorified carnival geeks that bled in lieu of actually wrestling. Their fans were of the same degenerate ilk that they were. These were criticisms levied by dissenters. ECW was small time garbage, in their eyes. And they were most certainly not fit to ever run a pay per view.
Until they did. The bingo hall/freight warehouse that had only begun hosting wrestling events four years earlier was the site of ECW's first pay-per-view, Barely Legal. It was an arrival moment that the faithful audience rewarded with more than 100,000 pay-per-view buys. From the Sabu-Taz showdown, to Van Dam's "free to work Mondays" speech, to Terry Funk winning one more World Championship in an emotional conclusion, Barely Legal was just the sort of first pay-per-view that encapsulated what ECW was. The documentary Beyond the Mat captured the night's best highlight, which was Heyman's "pre-game speech" to his troops, putting the monumental moment in proper perspective.