ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 6 years ago, the WWE suffered its WORST drawing Pay Per View in their history with the December 3rd, 2006 edition of ECW's December to Dismember. Sure, the WWE's Pay Per View revenues sagged during 2010-2011 and some of the show's buyrates were embarrassing. But on 12/3/2006, the WWE's third brand failed to deliver and the record holds to this day.
That's right, a third brand was created in 2006 and it was an attempt to reboot the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) brand that ran as a legitimate independent promotion from 1992 through 2001. When you watch WWE today, you might be enjoying Paul Heyman as Brock Lesnar and CM Punk's manager and CM Punk proudly admits that he's a Paul Heyman guy. For much of ECW's life, Paul Heyman was in charge. He joined the promotion then known as "Eastern" Championship Wrestling in 1993 until it was eventually renamed to to Extreme Championship Wrestling after kicking the old National Wrestling Alliance in the nuts (denouncing its World Championship in honor of the ECW Title) and beginning to push a more adult themed form of wrestling.
Through the mid-1990's, pro wrestling still ran under the old business model. Both the wrestling up North (WWF) and South (WCW) had their own unique styles of wrestling but they were very kid-friendly. Occasionally, blood was utilized in matches, but mostly on the big events to not even dare challenge television standards. Television censors used to scramble blood and blur things that was deemed inappropriate. I distinctly recall when WWF syndicated shows blurred out Randy "Macho Man" Savage getting his arm chewed off by a King Cobra (Fun Fact about this angle: I heard a "shoot" interview with Savage's brother, "Leaping" Lanny Poffo, and he said that despite the venom being removed from the King Cobra, Randy Savage still had a 103 degree fever from the bite!). WCW pushed a more athletic brand of wrestling whereas the WWF sold "larger than life" characters that could be put on any type of merchandising.
Where pro wrestling was during the mid 1990's reminds me of the Video Game market during the mid-1990's. For the most part, games were kid-friendly. Sure, you had SNES/Sega Genesis making Mortal Kombat games (SNES censored the first one!), but for the most part, their games were safe. Then, the Sony Playstation came out and the games were much more geared towards adult gamers. Meanwhile, Nintendo had the N64 which had mostly safe games for all audiences to play (except for games made by RARE). The Sony Playstation matured the gaming industry just as, quite possibly, ECW helped to influence the pro wrestling industry to cater more towards adult fans. The World Wrestling Federation, notably new writer Vince Russo, has noted that ECW pushing of boundaries was a big influence on the Attitude Era's adult themed storylines.
ECW packed smaller arenas in the Northeast region and didn't hold back with their new assortment of characters. You had the cane swinging, beer drinking, and cigarette smoking Sandman. You had female characters that wore next-to-nothing and drove conflicts between wrestlers by, well, trading partners... Then, you had a guy who didn't quite make it as "Scotty Flamingo" in WCW and "Johnny Polo" in the WWF, but played a super aggressive and violent character named Raven. He beat the living pulp out of poor Tommy Dreamer, while also being quite cruel to his flunkies like Stevie Richards. Shane Douglas was "the Franchise" and was quite legendary for his heated feud with the Pitbulls. Sabu was unique with his homicidal, suicidal moves... Taz was the human suplex machine who proudly choked people out. Insane tag team wrestling with the Eliminators, Gangstas, and the Dudleys. Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and Terry Funk got their violent fix in ECW, too.
In addition to their colorful and violent characters, ECW introduced the world to new wrestling talent that was big on the international scene but no so much elsewhere. ECW gave the likes of Chris Benoit, Dean Maleko, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Jericho chances while bringing in various Luchador wrestlers. However, through 1996, WCW raided ECW hard for all of those wrestlers and stacked their midcard as an incredible complement to the New World Order main event scene. ECW would retain much of their core favorites among fans and had plans to showcase them at their first ever Pay Per View called ECW Barely Legal 1997. ECW was attempting to push their company from a Northeast favorite to a national company and joining the Pay Per View ranks was important to accomplishing this goal. Little did ECW know that WCW was about to raid their company again... In my opinion, the 1997 raid of Raven, Perry Saturn, and Stevie Richards dealt the company a significant blow but it did force ECW to elevate other stars.
The 1997 WCW raid cleared the way for a few wrestlers to step up. Taz began to win and fight for championships. Rob Van Dam and his unique offense dominated the TV Title and gave us incredible matches with Jerry Lynn. Even Bam Bam Bigelow found a resurgence in his career and had several bigtime match-ups in ECW. Al Snow struggled in the WWF but thanks to Paul Heyman's repackaging, became famous for carrying around a mannequin head like a maniac. Who could forget the Full Blooded Italians (FBI) and Tracy Smothers being from the Nashville section of Italy? By late 1999, however, the WWF decided to beef up their roster... The Dudleys and Taz joined the WWF. With Shane Douglas opting to join WCW, the ECW roster seemed to be replenished when Mike Awesome joined ECW and was its dominant champion... And then he bolted to WCW in 2000 in a move that probably cost the AOL/Time Warner owned wrestling promotion 6-figures when Awesome's ECW contract appeared iron-clad.
ECW kept attempting Pay Per View shows and tried to get a nationally televised show, eventually settling on a lower deal with TNN. Meanwhile, they tried to expand into new geographical regions for live shows. Meanwhile, for the talent that remained on their roster, Paul Heyman was forced to pay higher rates to discourage further WCW and WWF jumps. Attempting to take the ECW promotion national while having high employee expenses, ECW was in severe debt by early 2001. The biggest sign of trouble was the cancellation of the Living Dangerously 2001 Pay Per View during March 2001 and it was quite evident that ECW was dead by the time Paul Heyman showed up on WWF television as the replacement for quitting Jerry "the King" Lawler on color commentary. In the years to come, the WWE would buy the ECW brand and video library.
The ECW brand was involved with the Invasion Angle of 2001 when it teamed up with WCW to form the "Alliance" in attempt to overtake the WWF. At the very least, the ECW brand's involvement with that 2001 Invasion disaster put Rob Van Dam on the WWE roster and he was instantly over and remained a fan favorite throughout the years. Possibly induced by several video releases or just a natural nostalgia kick, there was newfound interest in the ECW brand and legacy through 2005. The WWE gave it a try with a one night only Pay Per View called ECW: One Night Stand 2005 Pay Per View and it drew well. In the year that followed, the WWE collective heads got together and wondered if the ECW brand could returned and become the WWE Corporation's 3rd brand of professional wrestling.
WWE went BIG for ECW: One Night Stand 2006. Rob Van Dam won the Money in the Bank match at Wrestlemania 22 and opted to cash in his briefcase weeks in advance to challenge John Cena at this ECW event. This presented a rare opportunity to RVD and that was a legitimate home court advantage with rabid ECW fans at the ECW regular Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. John Cena, the next coming of the bigtime WWE babyface, was HATED by ECW fans and even chanted "you can't wrestle" at Cena (I heard from a few backstage that this pissed off Vince McMahon, as Vince is quite protective of his top babyfaces). Rob Van Dam would win the WWE Title in a huge moment for ECW fans longing for the brand. The rest of the show had some great bouts, with Rey Mysterio vs. Sabu being quite the violent match-up.
This show appeared to be in place to drum up interest in the ECW brand, but behind the scenes, the WWE was getting quite serious about establishing ECW as a third brand in spite of the Pay Per View. In fact, before the ECW: One Night Stand 2006 show, the WWE announced the ECW brand extension show to begin on the Sci-Fi Channel after the show. On June 7th, 2006, the first ECW show occurred on Sci-Fi... And boy was it a dandy:
Things were not quite as ECW fans remember it... For one, ECW mainstays were there and then eventually gone without contributing much to the rebooted promotion. Didn't help much when Rob Van Dam and Sabu were pulled over soon after the ECW reboot started for various type drugs found in their car one July 2006 evening... Paul Heyman clashed regularly with WWE management over creative and talent differences. Vince McMahon seemed to want to use ECW as another developmental territory, like Smackdown had become, to get talent over on another brand before elevation to RAW. Vince seemed to really want to push Bobby Lashley on this brand as a new star and did so quite hard. The look of ECW was quite cheap, as the show was taped before the Smackdown show was taped on Tuesdays. The show felt like a second rate WWE show instead of anything what the ECW promotion used to be.
And that was the feeling heading into ECW: December to Dismember 2006. ECW fans were long gone after the Sci-Fi show underwhelmed them. The show being on Sci-Fi made the brand hard to promote, as the Sci-Fi Channel was on expanded cable packages instead of basic cable packages. Worse yet, the 3 WWE brands were flooding the Pay Per View market. Forcing fans to choose between the ECW show (December to Dismember, 12/3/06), Smackdown show (Armageddon, 12/17/06), and then the RAW show (New Year's Revolution, 1/7/07), just weeks apart was rough... Plus, you had Survivor Series 2006 in November 2006 and Royal Rumble 2007 in January 2007. Why buy the ECW Pay Per View?
The ECW: December to Dismember 2006 show had embarrassing statistics. With under 5,000 in live attendance, the Pay Per View only did 90,000 buys across the world to become the lowest bought Pay Per View on record for the WWE. If you read the WWE Corporation's "Key Business Drivers" report for 2005 to 2007, they'll tell you that December to Dismember was a "new event in 2006". The show's lack of success quite possibly ended the Vince McMahon/Paul Heyman relationship of the time, as Heyman exited the company after the December to Dismember show (scapegoat) and the show underwent creative changes for 2007 and beyond. Heyman wouldn't return to the WWE until managing Brock Lesnar and now CM Punk here in 2012. The great thing about the Punk/Heyman relationship was that Paul Heyman promoted Punk to the ECW roster and attempted to push him hard. Heyman helped Punk get into the WWE door and that's why Punk proudly admits "I'm a Paul Heyman Guy".
The ECW show would actually remain until February 2010 when WWE NXT would replace it. From 2007 to 2010, the show would feel like your typical WWE show and was used as a placeholder for wrestlers in need of something to do or developmental wrestlers needing a shot. Just never felt like it ever recaptured the ECW magic, but 5 years after the company died in 2001, the pro wrestling industry and who actually owned ECW changed. Instead of a promotion who catered to rabid adult wrestling fans in the Northeast at small venues, it was the WWE Corporation applying its marketing and branding to mold ECW into something it wasn't.
On this day in wrestling... The WWE learned the hardway that over-saturating the Pay Per View market and pushing an old brand on the Sci-Fi Channel does not mix well. Chances are that the December to Dismember 2006 Pay Per View record low will hold as long as the WWE remains on a monthly schedule. Several shows in 2010 and 2011 have breached the top 10 record lows, but ECW: December to Dismember's record low still holds.