House Of Hardcore At The ECW Arena Rediscovered My Inner Fan

Justin was at the fabled arena on Saturday night...

"Some people take this stuff way too seriously." I find myself mentally saying some variation of that phrase whenever I read the diatribes of irate wrestling fans on places like Twitter and Reddit, angry because the wrestling programme that they unctuously watch has displeased them once more. "The Outrage Generation" extends beyond politics and civics - it infiltrates a form of entertainment that is lowbrow at its worst and thrilling-by-design at its best. Professional wrestling is meant to be an undemanding medium, yet there are a good number of fans who seem to do nothing *except* demand.

"Some people take this stuff way too seriously."

The thought crossed my mind Saturday evening when I made the trip to Philadelphia's famed ECW Arena to attend House of Hardcore's latest offering. For those of you who aren't familiar with House of Hardcore, it's a wrestling promotion founded in 2012 by ECW elder statesman Tommy Dreamer. The promotion captures some of the core tenets of its Extreme forebear, one of which is the capacity for skin-splitting hardcore wrestling, to go along with showcase matches pitting some of the best unsigned talents out there.

On this night, I was technically "on assignment" for Fighting Spirit Magazine, as a month ago I had offered to do a piece on the ECW Arena's 25th anniversary as a wrestling venue (ECW ran there for the first time in May of 1993). This meant seeking out willing performers at the venue to gather quotes from them, while also taking notes on the evening's events. While some of my fellow patrons were double-fisting beers on the way back to their seats, I'm mentally assembling an outline for the article I want to write for the magazine.

It's a weird feeling. Accomplished wrestlers such as Eddie Edwards, Willie Mack, Joey Mercury, Sami Callihan, Eli Drake, Chelsea Green (Laurel Van Ness), Moose, and others were on hand at the event, with awestruck fans getting their photos taken with the stars they watch on television. Meanwhile, I'm standing idly by, waiting for an opportune time to introduce myself, and state my professional intentions.

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Now, I love writing for Fighting Spirit Magazine. Over the previous four years, I've had some amazing opportunities at the magazine, whether it was getting to interview Sting, or spend an hour talking with Mauro Ranallo about his life's mission to raise mental health awareness, as an extension of his own valiant struggle. I've had the chance to do some on-the-road gonzo-ish journalism, like relating first-hand the in-person experience of Atsushi Onita's much-hyped match in the United States last year, or covering Jimmy Havoc's appearance in CZW's 2017 Tournament of Death (an occasion in which Havoc put a scare into me by making me think I'd offended him with a question, only to reveal that he was kidding - after caustically screaming obscenities at me for 30 seconds. That wacky Jimmy.)

As a writer who does his best to perfect his craft, I sometimes end up missing the forest for the trees. It's hard for me to just sit there and enjoy a show through a fan's eyes when I have to keep a certain sense of objective alertness. There's also the occasional second-guessing, like, "Have I done all the interviews I need to do?" and "Is the framework I have in mind for the feature doable?"

Sometimes I forget to be a fan.

I have to take my work seriously, but sometimes I myself take it *too* seriously.

I mean, here I am at the world-famous ECW Arena, a building I had first seen on TV when I was nine years old. I was an ECW mark before some of the wrestlers on Saturday's show had even begun grade school (and in the case of young wrestler Ace Austin in the third match, perhaps before he was even born). I'd begun to realize I'd be wasting a chance to just enjoy myself as a fan - a fan that's patronizing a wrestling venue that I'd grown especially fond of in my adolescence.


So that's what I did - I watched the show as a fan. With most of the quote-gathering accomplished before bell-time, I decided that I didn't need to sit there scribbling notes like some overeager college-prep student. I could just keep my eyes on the action, chant absurdities and pleasantries along with a few hundred complete strangers, and just lose myself in a Saturday night activity in which I get to do something other than think too hard.

I could watch Willie Mack and Sami Callihan beat the pulsing piss out of each other, Brian Cage throw around the rotund Ace Romero, and LAX take to the skies against Kenny and Mikey of the Spirit Squad, without mentally assigning star ratings, or comparing their work to their prior matches. I can watch Tommy Dreamer in his natural bingo hall habitat, harmonizing along with "Man in the Box" like it's 1996, without attempting to add perspective to the moment.

It was one of the best times I've had in a long while.

House of Hardcore will be running Philly once again, most certainly. When I make the trip to the ECW Arena that next time, it's a safe bet that I'll be leaving the voice-recorder and the notepad at home. I've sometimes forgotten that I can go to a wrestling event for reasons other than "work purposes", and I needed a night like this to remind me of that.

On the grander scale, I think we as wrestling fans do forget the entertainment portion of the business, that we lose a little bit of that magic when we trade in our spectator's eyes for a speculator's eyes. At least I have a professional reason for looking through the lens of objectivity and over-scrutinizing - what's in it for a fan to do so otherwise?

I know too well that the temptation to criticize and speculate and bitch and complain can be immense (I've done all those things). But sometimes, you have to resist that temptation and remind yourself of why you became a fan to start with.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.