ECW's debut gets passing grade
By BOB KAPUR -- SLAM!
Extreme Championship Wrestling hit the mainstream tonight with its debut show on TNN. My overall impression is that it was generally good with much room for improvement.
The show was clearly geared to wrestling fans who are familiar with the WWF and WCW products but have never seen ECW before. Throughout the night, the promotion took pseudo-knocks against the competition, while offering itself as the Hardcore alternative to wrestling fans.
As far as in-ring action goes, the show spotlighted two of the best workers in the business today, Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn, who put on a fantastic match for the TV title.
That match notwithstanding, the show did suffer occasionally from sub-par production values and a few throwaway moments.
The showcase of the night was the aforementioned match between Van Dam and Lynn. The previous meetings between these two have been nothing short of brilliant, and tonight's match was no exception. Filled with high-flying aerial moves, and big impact spots, this match could easily have been a 4-star match on a Pay-Per-View telecast and, in my opinion, was a better wrestling match than anything I've seen on a few of the Big Two's flagship shows.
The big problem with this match was in the production's sloppy delivery. In-ring action was often cut away from to show highlights of past matches featuring the competitors, giving a disjointed, erratic pace to the match. Just when you were caught up in the flow of the action, it would be yanked away from the screen unceremoniously.
Likewise when they broke away to replays during the match. Instead of a split-screen display where one half of the screen continues with the live action (think Raw's Double-Feature), the ECW telecast broke away from the action to show the clip, while cheesy rap music played in the background. I found this especially frustrating, especially considering the calibre of the match being interrupted.
Commerical cutaways were handled in the same abrupt manner. No warning from commentator Joey Styles prior to the break; instead, the screen went from the ring immediately to a promo for the upcoming ECW Anarchy Rulz PPV or a plug for the Hotline number.
The other negative aspect of the telecast was the sometimes muffled sound. While the commentary was clear, the ring announcer could not always be heard clearly during the wrestler introductions. While this may seem to be a relatively minor point, it is a flaw that serves to illustrate the fact that ECW is still behind the other companies in terms of packaging its goods - as much as they knock the other federations, they still have some lessons to learn.
The pseudo-knocks I referred to took place during the promos for the TV and World Title-holders (Van Dam and Taz, respectively). In each case, WWF and WCW wrestlers who once had competed for these belts were named, with the implication that they were not good enough to hold these belts, despite their successes in the other companies. This was glaringly obvious during Taz's monologue which ended the show. During this boring segment, he listed many major WWF and WCW stars that he had beaten over the years, complete with video clips of his victories.
Other promos for the "Impact Players" and Sabu were well done and served as good introductions to new fans. In fact, I think that more of these should have been done for the other stars not featured on tonight's show. Instead, this was handled via a series of video clips shown to a Kid Rock song. While this provided a look at the players, it didn't allow the viewers to learn anything about the characters' personalities or current storylines.
Hopefully future episodes will feature spotlights on individual stars, in order for the fans to get the essence of who they are and what angles they are involved in.
This was handled capably in the case of Spike Dudley, as his squash match with Sal E. Graziano introduced him and his "Giant Killer" gimmick to the fans in under 3 minutes.
Overall, I would give the show a B-minus grade - far from perfect, but not half bad.
When more wrestlers are featured and future storylines evolve, coupled with improvements to the production and presentation, the show has the potential to be a strong flagship for the company, and elevate ECW to a new level.