|Tammy Sytch leads Terry Funk to the ring at Hardcore Homecoming
Deep in the heart of an industrial area in South Philadelphia at the corner of Swanson and Ritner, surrounded by parking lots and warehouse outlets stands a fairly nondescript building. Its painted white bricks are stained by years of weather and pollution.
A simple sign on the front reading "New Alhambra Sports & Entertainment Center" is the only clue as to what this place may be. For most people, that is. For others, those of us who have found and converted to the religion that is hardcore wrestling, this place is holy ground. For this structure isn't just any bingo hall. No, this is the place where Extreme Championship Wrestling was born, raised, and nurtured. And on Friday, June 10, 2005, hardcore came back home.
"Hardcore Homecoming", a show that saw many of the stars from the now-defunct ECW come back to the Alhambra (also known as Viking Hall, or simply ECW Arena to fans), will no doubt be talked about for years by the 700 faithful fans that bought every available ticket. It was a night where ECW's past was celebrated, its fans were thanked for their years of loyalty to the company, and its wrestlers were given the opportunity to perform in the hall that made them famous.
The crowd was totally amped as they packed into the tiny hall. Though the venue isn't all that big -- seating was limited to 7 rows of ringside chairs, a set of raised bleachers at either end, and some seating in the balcony -- the intensity of the fans assembled was off the charts. Everybody was itching to take a nostalgic trip back in time, when ECW wrestling was a mainstay on the building's marquee. And that itch was scratched from the time the doors opened until the very last person had left.
Before the show, the familiar chants of "E-C-Dub!" echoed to the rafters. Certain fans themselves were recognized and celebrated by the rest -- including "Hat Guy", who was ever-present in his ringside seat when ECW ran there regularly, along with his companions "Hawaiian Shirt Guy" and the bearded guy who always wore sunglasses (often called "the Joey Ramone-looking guy" by fans, even though the resemblance isn't that great). A testament to the disciples of the extreme.
But the real ovations were reserved for every wrestler that came back to ECW Arena for the event, many of whom had retired from the business, or otherwise moved on in their life after the company folded. And every clap or chant translating into a "thank you", a warm exchange between old friends -- an exchange shared by every wrestler and fan who was in the building.
And even if this kind of event never comes back to Philadelphia -- or anywhere, for that matter -- I'll bet that years from now, if you go back to that corner in South Philadelphia, and put your ear to the wall, somewhere in the distance, you'll hear the crashing of bodies on the mat, the smashing of tables and chairs, and the familiar chant of "E-C-Dub! E-C-Dub!"
Joey Styles and Don "Cyrus" Callis came to the ring, and a vintage "Oh my God!" from Styles kicked off the event followed by an extended dirty poem from Gertner. Callis resurrected his heelish ways and insulted Gertner, leading to a brawl between the two for old time's sake. Tod Gordon, founder of ECW also received the crowd's accolades.
Match One: Simon Diamond & CW Anderson vs. Mikey Whipwreck & Chris Chetti
Even some minor ring rust couldn't dampen the fans' enthusiasm for the first match of the night. Any of these four would be well-suited for WWE television, except perhaps for Mikey -- and that's not a criticism, I just don't want to see the guy wrestle in pain. CW got the first huge move in with a beautiful superkick on Mikey followed by the Anderson Backslam. Simon followed that by ending a "Three Amigos" suplex chain on Chetti by dumping him face-first onto the mat. Mikey was able to come back, though, and hit a Whippersnapper on Simon for the pinfall victory.
Match Two: Tracy Smothers w/ J.T. Smith vs. the Blue Meanie
Smothers' encouraging of the crowd to mock him with the infamous "Where's my pizza?" chant really demonstrated how much the wrestlers wanted to recapture some of the old ECW magic. A good comedy match here that saw some bad dancing from Smothers in an attempt to avoid fighting Da Blue Guy. Meanie looked like he was going to put the original FBI member away with a Meanie-sault, but Smith proved to be the equalizer, nailing Meanie with a brass knuckle shot, which Smith capitalized upon for the pin.
Pitbull Gary Wolfe and Public Enemy's Johnny Grunge came to the ring accompanied by Tammy Sytch to pay tribute to the ECW stars who had passed away recently, the most recent of which being Tammy's true love, Chris Candido. A solemn moment that paid tribute to the fallen heroes.
Danny Doring and Amish Roadkill came to the ring afterwards, and cut a promo against the still-living members of the Pitbulls and PE, and the four men got into a brawl. As Doring and the Angry Amish Warrior got the upper hand, Tammy ran to the back to call 911 for help. And help he did. The returning giant, one of ECW's most powerful men from the past, came in and cleared house like he did a decade ago. After each of the heels got a chokeslam from the big man, Grunge splashed Roadkill through a table for good measure. The villains vanquished, the four heroes knelt down in the centre of the ring for one last prayer for their lost comrades.
Match Three: Kid Kash vs. 2 Cold Scorpio
A lot of this match took place on the floor, which kind of cooled down the crowd (not literally -- the temperature in the building was about 300 degrees by this point!) since the layout doesn't necessarily lend itself to great sightlines -- the bleacher seats aren't elevated high enough to see over the tops of the heads of the people on the floor when they stand up. But once it got back in the ring, things got exciting in a hurry. The end of the match saw a series of top-rope moves and counter-moves, including a moonsault and a huracarana by Kash. But two 450-splashes by Scorpio put the Notorious K.I.D. away once and for all.
Match Four: Kronus & New Jack vs. Ian & Axl Rotten
Ian and Axl, collectively known as the Bad Breed, had originally reunited to take on the Eliminators, but sadly Kronus' partner Perry Saturn wasn't able to attend due to a broken neck suffered earlier this month. Replacing him was the original gangsta, New Jack. As is customary, New Jack came to the ring with various weapons, including what appeared to be a big hunting knife, and used them on his opponents unmercifully. All four men bled like stuck pigs in this brutally violent affair. New Jack went to his usual bag of tricks, and pulled out a huge high spot -- splashing Ian from a 20-foot scaffold through a table -- to win the match. After the match, New Jack cut a promo that I suspect Vince McMahon's lawyers would want the transcript of at some point.
Match Five: Justin Credible w/ Jason vs. Jerry Lynn
This was Lynn's first match since his recent rotator cuff injury, and fortunately he hasn't missed a step. A great match, harkening back to the feud they had over the ECW Heavyweight Championship, back when ECW had their TNN show. Really great stuff. Fresh from her WWE exile, Jazz came out to help Lynn after Credible's bodyguard Jason interfered. Lynn got the win after a cradle tombstone piledriver.
Match Six: Raven w/ the Blue Meanie and the Musketeer vs. the Sandman
Glad to see the Musketeer back, as he, along with Joel Gertner, were two of my favourite characters in the company. The hometown crowd was absolutely electric for the Sandman's entrance, with 700 singing along to "Enter Sandman" so loudly and enthusiastically, it felt like 7,000 people. The match was a wild chaotic brawl that predictably saw more caneshots than headlocks, and more ladders, tables, and chairs than an IKEA store. Raven and his henchmen, including Don E. Allen who ran in at some point, gang-assaulted Sandman until Mikey Whipwreck came in and cleared house. But before Sandman could share a beer with his saviour, Mikey turned on him, delivering a wicked Whippersnapper. Raven's cover was elementary by that point, and the Sandman was counted down for three.
Before the main event, the legendary Terry Funk requested the crowd's indulgence for them to make an unannounced change in the main event. Instead of the promised rematch of the 3-way dance between he, Shane Douglas and Sabu -- they were going to change this to a 3-way dance in a barbed-wire ring! The crowd roared with anticipation as the ring crew took down the ring ropes and replaced with the deadly strands.
Match Seven: Terry Funk w/ Tammy Sytch vs. Shane Douglas w/ Francine vs. Sabu w/ Bill Alfonso -- Barbed-wire 3-way dance
Two words: deliciously brutal. All three men gave it their all, going above and beyond the call of duty to entertain the crowd with this orgy of violence. If for nothing else, this is the match that you should buy the DVD for when it is eventually released. Taking extreme to new heights, all three men were bloody messes by the end of it. Funk worked like a man half his 60-years, and Sabu, who less than 6 months ago could barely move, put on a vintage match. Douglas was nothing to sneeze at either, proving that he can still give as good as anyone on any company's roster. The barbed wire was used extensively along with numerous tables and chairs, and all three were completely tangled up in it at some point -- scary stuff, as their bodies were carved by the deadly shards, mere inches away from their necks and wrists and eyes.
Douglas eventually got the advantage, and it looked like he was going to eliminate Funk, when the lights suddenly went out and the arena darkened. When they came back on, Mick Foley had returned to ECW Arena! He helped Funk vanquish Douglas with the use of Socko, whom he had wrapped with barbed wire for the occasion. Funk and Sabu fought to the bitter end, and it was a malfunctioning weapon that eventually did Terry in. The leg of a ladder he was climbing broke, and he, instead of Sabu, fell through a table as a result. Sabu hit a jumping Arabian Facebuster on the veteran and got the pin to end the match. Awesome.
After the event, fans were treated to an autograph session with the stars, and an open Q&A session with the participants. Douglas was frank as usual in condemning WWE for their planned participation of non-former-ECW talent at their show "ECW: One Night Stand", and openly challenged Vince McMahon and his company to out-do Hardcore Homecoming, though he doubted they could. Other highlights of this session, which hopefully will also be included on the DVD to give people some more insight into what ECW meant to these performers, included Francine (just because she's Francine), Terry Funk's sentimental comments on ECW fans, and Tammy Lynn Sytch's genuine appreciation for the well wishes she has received from fans in lights of Candido's tragic death. She even rewarded a lucky fan with a look at the puppies after he won a bid to buy the original ECW Arena sign that adorned the wall of the Alhambra Centre in an impromptu auction to raise funds for Candido's memorial scholarship fund. The gratitude of the wrestlers to the fans who welcomed them back home was evident, and many times the crowd was openly thanked. Other news of note that came about was that Douglas is in preliminary dialogue to host another such event at some point in the future. And though any such future events may be hard-pressed to top this one, it's clear that everyone associated with Hardcore Homecoming would welcome the opportunity.
"Bloodthirsty" Bob Kapur ate two too many Philly cheese-steaks while on his overnight trip to catch Hardcore Homecoming. But other than that, wouldn't trade this weekend's experience for anything.