Before we get to this story, a disclaimer is in order. So, for the roughly two of you wrestling fans left out there who think this is all an actual real “sport”, you may want to stop reading now.
Have the “marks” left the room? Good.
Professional Wrestling is not the “real” competition portrayed on television by the likes of companies like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The matches you see on Cable TV shows like WWE’s Monday Night Raw and Pay Per View telecast’s like Wrestlemania are not actual contests between two (and occasionally more) men for championship belts and titles. Rather, they are athletic exhibitions between real athletes, trained in their disciplines, that happen to have pre-determined outcomes designed to fit the storylines of the shows.
That having been said, professional wrestling is also not a “fake sport,” as many of it’s detractors are so quick to claim. The manueuvers performed are quite real, and the participants often get legitimately injured. It’s a show in the truest sense of the word and it always has been. But it is a “show” where real athletes perform real athletic feats that can often prove to be dangerous.
They also work a far more gruelling schedule than your average NFL or NBA star, where they are often expected to perform as many as 300 plus nights a year. And that is at least part of what this story is all about.
This past weekend, two pro-wrestling stars that were expected to be a major part of of WWE’s relaunch of the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) brand were busted for marijuana posession after being pulled over following an ECW “house show” in Huntington, WV.
You can read all about it here
The wrestlers in question were Robert Szatkowski (who wrestles as Rob Van Dam) and Terry Brunk (who wrestles as “the homicidal, genocidal Sabu”). The ECW brand, just re-launched this past month with the “One Night Stand” Pay Per View and a weekly cable show on the Sci-Fi Channel, was expected to be built around Van Dam, and to a lesser extent, Sabu.
As evidenced by it’s shows this week, those plans have now apparently gone up in smoke.
Van Dam, who won both the WWE and ECW championships last month at “One Night Stand”, dropped both titles this week on back to back broadcasts of WWE’s Monday Night Raw and the Sci-Fi Channels Tuesday ECW show. Meanwhile, in the real world, he has been given a 30 day suspension by WWE management.
Now I have no idea where future ECW storylines were going to take Van Dam. What I do know is that these plans were all changed pretty much on the fly this week. The WWE title changed on Monday, which found despised heel (thats wrestling lingo for “bad guy”) Edge cheating his way to the WWE title. I really didn’t have a problem with that, and actually half expected that was the direction they were going to go this weekend on an NBC Saturday Nights Main Event broadcast anyway.
The ECW title change, which found Van Dam dropping that belt to the 500 pound giant Big Show I find a bit more problematic. As ECW fans are already voicing rather loudly, the re-launch of this much loved brand has had it’s share of problems barely a month into it.
If ECW is to succeed as it’s own unique entity, it must establish it’s own stars. A month into the re-launch, there has already been far too much crossover with the WWE brand. ECW’s stars traditionally are young athletic guys (epitomized by Rob Van Dam), where WWE has traditionally pushed the big roided freaks.
Tuesday night’s ECW show on Sci-Fi was a mixed bag. They solved some of the problems, most notably taping the show in a smaller Philadelphia arena before a rabid pro-ECW crowd, capturing much of the energy that made the old ECW so special (the Hawaiian shirt guys were even there). Meanwhile the original ECW guys, were all made to look like jobbers (thats wrestling lingo for the guys who lose), right up to Rob van Dam.
New guy Mike Knox beat ECW mainstay Little Guido. Former ECW icon The Sandman did the same two minute caning of some freak (last week it was a male stripper who showed far too much male ass–another problem. This week it was some religious nut), that he’s done for the past four weeks. Former (and failed) WWE bigman Test beat the hell out of ECW favorite Al Snow.
Nice way to establish your ECW stars.
Worst of all, a noticeably out of shape and totally winded Big Show beat Van Dam when ECW’s “evil genius” Paul Heyman made a classic “heel turn”, aiding Show in his tainted victory. That part was actually kind of cool. It was classic wrestling storytelling. But man did Big Show look bad in a match where Van Dam, two days removed from his pot bust, dominated everything as far as the athletic moves went.
This sort of title change, with a classic WWE monster winning the prize before a rabid hometown ECW crowd, does not bode well for the future of this storied franchise. That said, I understand the reasoning. At least, sort of.
With a new “wellness policy” in place, WWE had to address the problem of the weekend pot bust. But that “wellness policy,” at least as I understand it, was designed to prevent the premature deaths that have plagued wrestling in recent years. Changing what I assume were long laid plans to launch the ECW brand around Van Dam simply do not fit what was at the end of the day a bust for marijuana. At least outside of making appearances or examples.
The WWE “wellness policy” was put in place to prevent the use of the sort of performance enhancing drugs that wrestlers take either to adapt to the gruelling road schedules WWE demands or the enhanced physiques Vince McMahon seems to like to push. The “wellness policy” is supposed to be designed to prevent premature deaths like those of Brian Pillman, and most recently, that of Eddie Guerrero.
Rob Van Dam is an incredibly talented performer whose time it appeared had finally come. His fondness for “the herb” was also hardly a secret. And certainly not something to change gears over. Something which could affect the already somewhat shaky relaunch of the ECW brand.
That is not to say that WWE didn’t need to do something. Of course they did. The whole no tolerance policy toward substance abuse would have been viewed as a sham otherwise.
But to change the whole direction of what was starting to look like a promising ECW re-launch? I guess at this point I’ll just wish them luck.
As for the other guy who was in the car this weekend with Rob Van Dam? Well, they did do a promotional spot on Sabu on Tuesday’s ECW show.