The average wrestling fan fondly remembers the time when WWE went head-to-head with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) every Monday night, as one show featured The Rock, «Stone Cold» Steve Austin, and The Undertaker, while the other show featured the New World Order, Hulk Hogan, Goldberg, and Sting.
An upstart promotion added a new facet to Monday Night Wars and prompted the professional wrestling industry to embrace a more extreme style to further captivate its audience.
Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was the name that changed the game.
When most fans look back on ECW, the most recognizable names that emerge are Paul Heyman, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, The Sandman, Cactus Jack, Tommy Dreamer, The Dudley Boyz, and a few others. But it is Tod Gordon who was one of the main players in ECW and helped make the promotion extremely prominent as WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), went toe to toe with WCW.
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Gordon’s new book, «Tod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Create Extreme Championship Wrestling» hits newsstands Tuesday. The book was co-written by Sean Oliver and includes a foreword by professional wrestling legend Terry Funk.
The book chronicles how Gordon first created the promotion, which was initially called Eastern Championship Wrestling when it was a territory under the National Wrestling Alliance, and how he broke away from the old regime and took on the world of professional wrestling alone.
Gordon told Fox News Digital in a recent interview that the first idea was to use the NWA initials to give the company «a little more credibility.» Once ECW was established and had an independent champion who wasn’t going to be touring the territories, Gordon said he knew he had something one night after Shane Douglas, Sabu and Funk engaged in a three-way match at ECW Arena.
«After the show was over, we had all the fighters at the Hilton hotel, not far from the airport, and Paul [Heyman] and I drove. We got out of the car to go to the bar and tap the guys on the back, great job, back pats, and the fans spilled out into the parking lot, and everyone started yelling, ‘ECW! ECW!’ as we got out of our car and entered the building. And it was, ‘Thank you, Tod, thank you, Paul.’ We were sitting there, looking at each other, wondering what the hell was going on.
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“Paul said, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this for a while in a lot of territories; I’ve never seen a fan reaction like this.’ We realized we had something here. Maybe lightning in a bottle, but whatever it was, we had it. And the fans were a part of it all. They were a major driving force in making the shows bigger and better. And the fans became a big part of the show, like the «Rocky Horror Picture Show.» They brought weapons to give to the fighters. They had their own chants that they made up for each different type. It really was like a family atmosphere. They and we worked together in symbiosis.»
Part of the book is also about Gordon’s relationship with Heyman. Gordon said he met Heyman through Eddie Gilbert, whom he brought into the company as his booking agent. Heyman was appearing on some of the biggest shows as Gilbert’s on-screen managers and working with some of the younger talent.
Gordon described his relationship with Heyman as «great» and as «best friends» for the first few years. Gordon said that his whole idea was to put on shows that he would like to see. He said that he couldn’t stand the programming that WCW and WWE (then WWF) were doing at the time, describing the latter as «cartoonish».
«We ended up becoming what I say, the Howard Stern of wrestling, really R-rated wrestling,» Gordon told Fox News Digital. «No one had ever done that before.»
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Gordon said the original plan was for Heyman to only temporarily work for him. He said that Heyman planned to launch a professional wrestling channel with Jim Crockett. He said that as the two grew closer, Heyman said that he would reject Crockett’s plans to build a separate network. But Gordon had already found out that Crockett abandoned the plans anyway.
Gordon said he offered Heyman 49% of the company after Heyman left what he was doing with Crockett. Gordon said that Heyman wanted to go 50/50, but Gordon maintained that «somebody had to have the last word, otherwise it’s going to burn the building down or it’s going to look like that.»
As the company became more popular, money became an issue. Gordon said that he was spending thousands of dollars a week on television commercials in places where they did not appear. As Heyman’s star rose, the funds began to dwindle.
«It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t honest, and it’s been told completely differently for almost 30 years,» Gordon said of ECW’s history. «That’s why I needed to write a book. I needed to set the record straight.»
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«We ended up becoming what I say, the Howard Stern of wrestling, really R-rated wrestling.»
Gordon praised Heyman for having a knack for the professional wrestling business and marveled at how Heyman is still going strong in WWE. He said that he and Heyman were friends until about six or seven years ago until he did a documentary for WWE. Gordon said that Oliver later convinced him to do the book.
Gordon, now the owner of Philadelphia-based jewelry and pawn shop Carver W. Reed & Co., revealed what he hopes fans take away from the book.
«I think, for one, you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve seen or told. Two, all the debauchery that was ECW’s reputation was real. I tell story after story about drugs, sex, rock and roll and all that. And who was involved, who wasn’t involved. What we did was pretty inclusive, and some of the stories will make you laugh and some of the stories will make you go, ‘Wow, that’s kind of sad.'»
Gordon sold his share of the company to Heyman in 1995 and left the company in 1997.
Vince McMahon bought ECW in 2003 and at one point revived the company as a brand under WWE to compete against RAW and SmackDown.
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ECW’s hardcore legacy lives on to this day, as the company is credited with inventing the three-way type of dance match, the table match, and many others.