Eastern Championship Wrestling was founded as a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). At the time, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert was the lead booker of Eastern Championship Wrestling. Gilbert, after a falling out with Tod Gordon, was replaced in September 1993 by Paul Heyman. Heyman, known on television as Paul E. Dangerously, had just left World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and was looking for a new challenge
In 1994, Jim Crockett's non-compete agreement with Ted Turner, who purchased World Championship Wrestling (WCW) from Crockett in November 1988, was up and he decided to start promoting with the NWA again. Crockett went to Tod Gordon and asked him to hold a tournament for the NWA's top prize, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, in ECW's home area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 27, 1994. NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo alleged that Crockett and Gordon were going to try to monopolize the title (akin to Crockett's actions in the 1980s) and stated Crockett did not have the NWA board's approval, which resulted in Coralluzzo personally overseeing the tournament. Gordon took offense at Coralluzzo for his power plays and began contemplating a plan to secede ECW from the NWA through a controversial and public manner that would attract attention to ECW and insult the NWA organization. Gordon planned to have Shane Douglas, who was scheduled to face 2 Cold Scorpio in the tournament finals, throw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship upon winning as an act of defiance.
The idea of throwing down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was originally planned by Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman. Heyman persuaded Douglas by noting that the negative would only be that NWA traditionalists would just see them as traitors to tradition. Adding to Douglas' decision was the animosity between Douglas and NWA President Dennis Coralluzzo, who at the time publicly criticized Douglas and told NWA affiliated bookers not to book Douglas for shows. Coralluzzo believed that Douglas was a "bad risk" and had the tendency to no-show events. Douglas ultimately decided to go through with Gordon and Heyman's plan, inspired by his father's motto of "doing right by the people that do right by you." After looking up and saying, "This is it tonight, Dad," Douglas threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship stating that he did not want to be champion of a "dead promotion" that "died seven years ago." He then raised the Eastern Championship Wrestling title and declared it to be a World Heavyweight Championship— calling it the only real world title left in professional wrestling. When recalling this event years later, Paul Heyman stated the following in a 1998 chat:
"The National Wrestling Alliance was old-school when old-school wasn't hip anymore. We wanted to set our mark, we wanted to breakaway from the pack, we wanted to let the world know that we weren't just some independent promotion."
Coralluzzo was interviewed after the event and declared that Douglas would be the world champion of the NWA "whether he likes it or not", calling Douglas' actions a "disgrace" and said he would move to have Douglas stripped of both the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and the Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Championship, calling him "undeserving" of both titles.
After hearing what Carolluzzo had said, Gordon made the following announcement on the next and final edition of NWA-ECW programming after the incident: "I listened with great interest as the representative of the NWA board of directors took it upon himself to inform you that they have the power to force NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling not to recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as a world heavyweight champion. Well, as of noon today, I have folded NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling. In its place will be ECW- Extreme Championship Wrestling- and we recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as our World Heavyweight Champion. And we encourage any wrestler in the world today to come to the ECW to challenge for that belt. This is the ECW, Extreme Championship Wrestling, changing the face of professional wrestling."
After the secession, the promotion showcased many different styles of professional wrestling, including hardcore wrestling matches as well as lucha libre and Japanese wrestling styles.
The bulk of ECW's shows remained at the ECW Arena, a former warehouse secluded under a section of Interstate 95. Seating comprised simple folding chairs and four sets of portable bleachers, and the whole sort of unconventional set up reflected the gritty style of the wrestling itself. Shows were actually broadcast on a Philadelphia local cable sports station (SportsChannel America's local affiliate, SportsChannel Philadelphia) on Tuesday evenings. After Sports Channel Philadelphia went off the air in 1997, the show moved to WPPX-TV 61. It later moved to a former independent broadcast station (WGTW 48) in Philadelphia on either Friday or Saturday night at 1 or 2 a.m. Shows were also aired on the MSG Network in NYC on Friday nights (Early Saturday morning) at 2 a.m. Due to the obscurity of the stations and ECW itself, as well as the lack of FCC oversight at that late hour, many times expletives and violence were not edited out of these showings, along with extensive use of copyrighted music and music videos.
In 1995, Tod Gordon sold ECW to his head booker, Paul Heyman. Afterward, Gordon remained in ECW as a figurehead commissioner. Years after being the ECW "Commissioner", Gordon left ECW. His absence was explained on-air that he retired from wrestling due to family. Rumors circulate, however, that Gordon was fired by Heyman after he was suspected as a "locker room mole" for a rival wrestling promotion, helping to lure talent to World Championship Wrestling. Many years later, in an interview, Gordon claims that the "WCW mole" situation was nothing more than a work.
Storyline-wise, Vince McMahon first became "aware" of ECW while at the 1995 King of the Ring event in ECW's home base of Philadelphia. During the match between Mabel and Savio Vega, the crowd suddenly started to angrily chant, "ECW ECW ECW!". On September 22, 1996, at the In Your House: Mind Games event in Philadelphia, ECW stars The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Paul Heyman, and Taz were in the front row with Sandman even interfering in one match (when he threw beer on Savio Vega during his strap match with Bradshaw). McMahon acknowledged ECW's status as a local, up and coming promotion on the air. On February 24, 1997, ECW "invaded" Raw from the Manhattan Center. They advanced a storyline, plugged their first ever pay-per-view and worked three matches in front of the WWF audience while McMahon called the action with both Jerry "The King" Lawler and Paul Heyman. The Manhattan Center in New York was peppered with a large number of ECW fans, who gave the WWF wrestlers "Boring!" chants when they felt it was warranted. Likewise, when the ECW performers arrived, they popped and introduced the WWF Monday night audience to some trademark ECW group chants. This invasion sparked an inter-promotional feud between ECW and Lawler's United States Wrestling Association. Lawler disparaged ECW on-camera and convinced wrestlers such as Rob Van Dam and Sabu to join him in an anti-ECW crusade. Throughout 1997, ECW wrestlers appeared on USWA television programs, and vice versa. As part of the working relationship between ECW and the WWF, a number of WWF-contracted wrestlers were sent to ECW for seasoning in 1997, including Droz and Brakkus
On April 13, 1997 ECW broadcast their first pay-per-view (PPV) wrestling card Barely Legal, highlighted by Terry Funk defeating Raven to win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. In June 1997, the company's Wrestlepalooza 1997 event featured Raven's final ECW match before leaving for WCW. In this match, Tommy Dreamer finally beat Raven, his longtime nemesis. Dreamer's celebration was short-lived, though, as Jerry Lawler, along with Sabu and Rob Van Dam showed up to attack Dreamer. This set up a match between Dreamer and Lawler at the pay-per-view, Hardcore Heaven 1997, on August 17, which was won by Dreamer. ECW continued through 1998 and early 1999 with a string of successful pay-per-views.
In April 2000, Mike Awesome made a surprise appearance on WCW Monday Nitro – making his debut by attacking Kevin Nash – while still reigning as ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Awesome's friend Lance Storm has said that Awesome refused to sign a new contract with ECW until Paul Heyman paid him overdue wages. There were rumors that WCW Executive Vice-President Eric Bischoff wanted Awesome to drop the ECW World Championship belt in the trash can on television, as had been done previously with the WWF Women's Championship by Madusa when she jumped from the WWF to WCW. After Paul Heyman filed an injunction, WCW refrained from having Awesome appear on Nitro with the belt, but did acknowledge him as the champion. Eventually, a compromise was reached. Awesome (a WCW employee and the reigning ECW World Heavyweight champion) appeared at an April 13, 2000 ECW event in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he lost the title to Tazz (who was working for the World Wrestling Federation).
In 2000, ECW made its West Coast debut, holding its annual summer pay-per-view ECW Heat Wave in Los Angeles. At the time Los Angeles was home to Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW), and its owner Rob Black purchased six front row tickets for the show. The tickets were given to a cadre of XPW talent, and their mission was to make it clear that ECW was on enemy turf. This was not a storyline. At the beginning of the main event, the XPW contingent donned shirts emblazoned with the XPW logo, gaining the attention of security and ECW wrestler Tommy Dreamer. Security ejected the XPW group from the building and later, a brawl broke out in the parking lot between members of the XPW ring crew and the ECW locker room. The XPW wrestlers were not involved in the fracas, during which the ECW wrestlers brutalized the XPW ring crew with several of the ring crew members left in pools of their own blood. Initial reports claimed that XPW valet Kristi Myst had somehow touched ECW valet Francine Fournier and that this is what prompted the incident, but Fournier herself has since gone on record as saying that she was never grabbed or in any other way touched by any of the XPW crew, and other eyewitnesses support the story that Fournier never had a hand laid on her. XPW was not acknowledged by ECW announcer Joey Styles during the pay-per-view telecast, however at the November to Remember pay-per-view a few months later, color-commentator Don Callis made a subtle reference to the incident, describing a wild brawl as "looking like a Los Angeles parking lot". The XPW contingent at ringside consisted of wrestlers The Messiah, Kid Kaos, Supreme, Kristi Myst, Homeless Jimmy, and XPW announcer Kris Kloss.
In August 1999, ECW began to broadcast nationally on TNN (for what was initially a three-year contract). Despite no advertising and a low budget, ECW became TNN's highest rated show. ECW on TNN was canceled in October 2000 (with the final episode airing on October 6, 2000) in favor of WWF Raw moving to the network. Paul Heyman stated he believed that the inability to land another national television deal was the cause of ECW's demise.
ECW struggled for months after the cancellation, trying to secure a new national TV deal. Many believe the influence of WWE (WWF at the time) and Vince McMahon on networks prevented them from landing a new deal. On December 30, 2000, ECW Hardcore TV aired for the last time and Guilty as Charged in 2001 was the last PPV aired on January 7, 2001. Living Dangerously was scheduled to air on March 11, 2001, but because of financial trouble it was canceled in February. Heyman could not get out of financial trouble and closed on April 4, 2001. Heyman supposedly had never told his wrestlers that the company was on its dying legs and was unable to pay them for a while.
The company was listed as having assets totaling $1,385,500. Included in that number was $860,000 in accounts receivable owed the company by In Demand Network (PPV), Acclaim (video games), and Original San Francisco Toy Company (action figures). The balance of the assets were the video tape library ($500,000), a 1998 Ford Truck ($19,500) and the remaining inventory of merchandise ($4). The liabilities of the company totaled $8,881,435.17. Wrestlers and talent were listed, with amounts owed ranging from $2 for Sabu and Steve Corino to hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars. The highest amounts owed to talents were Rob Van Dam ($150,000),Tommy Dreamer ($100,000) Joey Styles ($50,480), Rhino ($50,000), Shane Douglas ($48,000), and Francine Fournier ($47,275).These assets were eventually purchased by the World Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE.
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