The End of the Road: Attending ECW’s Final Live Show

 

The End of the Road: Attending ECW’s Final Live Show

Event Date: January 13, 2001

Event Location: Pine Bluff Convention Center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Available on demand via Highspots Wrestling Network

by Tiffany R. Merryhill 


“It was twenty years ago today…”


Believe it or not, I brought Extreme Championship Wrestling to Arkansas.


You’d think one would boast about this endlessly as a wrestling fan, but I don’t bring it up often at all. Maybe it’s because I’ve done and seen so many crazy and memorable things over my lifetime in the name of wrestling - from spending a Saturday five years ago in New Jersey and Queens riding around with Bret Hart and his agent over a 24 hour period or sneaking backstage at a RAW at the FedEx Forum in Memphis in 2006 and getting spotted by Shane McMahon himself (and escorted out by the biggest security guard I’ve ever seen) to dancing and chatting with Chris Benoit and his beautiful girlfriend Nancy Sullivan on a lovely June night in Orlando back in 1998 at Downtown Disney, all parties involved with the after-party and oblivious of any disaster far on the horizon. So many random and chance stories that deserve their own telling in time. Yes, I’ve experienced a lot as a fan, but the ECW in Pine Bluff show might be the biggest coup I’ve been involved with...and I just never talk about it much.


Until now, that is, because it’s been twenty damn years and it’s time.


You see, by 1997 I was your standard 18 year old WWF/WCW fan, but I was absolutely obsessed with ECW. It didn’t even make any sense why at the time, because Heyman's crew was based out of Philadelphia and there I was, stuck down south and constantly looking for the next new cool thing that definitely would not be found in Arkansas. Where WWF would get too cheesy and WCW would come across as too corny, those Philly boys had just the right amount of spice. ECW was it for me. If you questioned me on my favorite guy? Without hesitation I’d answer Spike Dudley.


Spike, Spike, Spike. The acid drop gimmick appealed to me, but the art of planned recklessness that he made a craft out of also made me a believer. During my freshman and sophomore years of college I was surrounded by free-spirited types who I thought would understand when I showed them the tapes I got from the boys up north, wrestling shows with blood and men going through tables on fire and being thrown into a riotous crowd and passed around person to person. Sad to say they didn’t get it. I did, though, and I used my knowledge of the then-newfangled internet wrestling scene to get to know these indie rockstars. 


A lot of the original ECW guys established a solid online presence in those last years of the promotion, and a lot of them grew their fanbases virtually through websites much like how indie wrestlers promote themselves on social media today. My guy Spike was among these net-savvy OGs, and communicating with him and other ECW fans through his site was one of the most satisfying experiences I’d had as a wrestling fan. By 1999 my confidence grew, and finally I asked myself if I could speak so freely with these ECW guys then why can’t I ask them to have a show down south? The worst they could say was no, right?


You’ll recall it was around that same time that ECW was well beyond its peak and much of the steam was lost. A year later, around spring of 2000, the promotion was visibly struggling and the very young internet wrestling community was already cutting its teeth on its now-legendary lame jokes by firing shots off on Heyman’s bounced paychecks. I was willfully stubborn, though, and I refused to give up on having ECW in Arkansas. I wrote letters to their then-office guy Gabe Sapolsky (on tie-dye stationery, no less) asking for a show. I was willing to be a one-person street team.


I was a one-person street team. One day in late fall 2000 Spike Dudley himself posted on his forum that there would be a show in Arkansas. “You did it, Tiff.” His words. I still remember getting in my car and driving to class that afternoon and getting pulled over because I was speeding from being so damn giddy. Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’ was turned up really loud on the radio. I remember this because the cop let me off with a warning after I turned my radio down. A rare time I got a warning instead of a ticket; that was a damn good omen for all of the driving I’d have to do from that day until January 13, 2001.


The ECW street team was a real thing back in the day, and fans were quick to sign up to help promote the show in their area on the East Coast. Easy enough if you have five to ten people on hand, but when Gabe sent me the promotional materials I realized I’d have to be the one to materialize the help and hang posters. So what? It was for ECW. I had a ‘99 Ford Escort at the time and never drove it anywhere but to work and class. I was up for the challenge and for 3 weeks prior to the show with the help of two friends we covered every bar and club and pizza place and dorm bulletin board we came across between Little Rock to Pine Bluff with ECW posters and placards.


Thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine and some pretty prescient archiving skills I had two decades ago when I gave a damn about things, I was able to unearth a time capsule. From this point I’ll provide my immediate thoughts on that final ECW show, since I was able to archive the forum posts from Spike Dudley’s site so many years ago and I’d posted a write-up there on the day after the show. Keep in mind two things as you read my words from twenty years ago -


  1. I was 22 years old when I wrote this. Match by match reviews were for Meltzer then.

  2. I had no idea this was ECW’s last show when this was posted.


“That One Guy was there last night. I mean during EVERY

match…’GET THE TABLES! WHERE ARE THE TABLES!’ At first it was

funny, we were all turning around and like...damn, dude is loud,

then he just kept on calling for TAAAAAAAAABLLLLLLLLLLLLES during

every match, and when Tajiri fought Super Crazy, That One Guy

started hollering for tables and Super Crazy turned around and

said the first line of the evening...


‘Que?’


Hahahahaha.”


I guarantee that one guy is still somewhere out there to this day calling for tables. He may be at your show next. The Tajiri/Super Crazy match itself was exceptional, in my opinion. Maybe it was just the thrill of seeing the match live, but I think those two may have seen the writing on the wall and went out accordingly in the best way possible. This was not the ECW Arena nor Hammerstein Ballroom, but those two made that match feel like we were someplace special.


“All of the matches went really damn well, in my opinion...chants

were a little hard to start, as I'd suspected they'd be, but

there were a few of us who knew what was going on and we carried

it through and towards the end everyone had the chants down. 

I tried to start an "ECW" chant at the beginning but it didn't

take.


You know something?


Spike Dudley is over as hell in Arkansas.


When he first came out during the run-in on the CW Anderson vs Jack

Victory match, I swear to God when that music hit, everyone

started yelling "Spike Dudley!!" and just rushed the guardrail.

Man I was the first one up there, ready and waiting.  Spike

hit the acid drop and we all went nuts.”


To this day I’m still amazed at how that Pine Bluff audience warmed up to these out-of-towners. Of course by then ECW was on TNN and the cable-watching people there recognized the more colorful characters like Spike and Rhino and Tommy Dreamer and Sandman, but it was a real 0 to 60 moment when the same people who were too shy to chant with me at the beginning were rushing to the ring the minute someone’s music hit. That’s the magic of a live indie show though.


“Needless to say, when Rhino came out I booed him vociferously

(yes, I just used that word). When he came up to our side I

hollered ‘FUCK YOU RHINO!’ really loud and then I realized there

were kidlings around so I apologized.


One of these kids I caught later on chanting ‘fuck him up

Sandman, fuck him up’...


But I stayed up all through that match, I was running around,

getting pictures, showing off my glasses to everyone around...it

kicked ass. :)  Spike put on a great show, he even got color and

took a table bump (the first of the night) and needless to say it

got the biggest pop as well. There were guys after the show who

were actually FIGHTING over who would get to take home the half

of the table ‘that Spike went through.’”


Never in my life have I ever apologized for swearing around children after that night. Many times since then have I used the word ‘vociferously’. Out of the two tag matches on that show, the FBI vs. Tommy Dreamer/Danny Doring was by far my favorite. I was pretty hyped up after the Spike vs. Rhino match and you're likely to hear me loud and clear in the crowd cheering that one on. I'd been energetic at shows before, but this one was different. This was ECW, and it was something I'd helped bring to town. I had to show up and show out.

 

As happy as I was to see Spike Dudley's popularity with the crowd, nothing matched the reaction Pine Bluff had for Sandman. Even the people who just showed up for Saturday night 'rasslin knew who Sandman was by the end of his entrance. He was there to take on Justin Credible, who to his credit never lost his edginess up to the very last minute of the final live ECW show. That was a satisfying main event, too. If this was to be the last ECW live match, then I think they did us a solid.

 

That Sandman entrance, though. It was my first time seeing him live, and surprisingly it was the little kids who went the wildest for the guy drenching them in beer. Say what you will about Sandman in the ring but the charisma in that entrance is undeniable. You can't help but get caught up in it. It honestly blows my mind that we were all there to experience such an iconic entrance in such a middle-of-nowhere location.

 

As you can see on the footage of the show, the in-ring celebration after the main event comes across as a happy and even somewhat poignant and somber moment. I can recall seeing sad faces among those drinking beer in the ring. I didn't know what it all meant at the time. Spike Dudley looked at me from the ring and I cheered at him loud as I could. I didn't know he was looking at me for the last time in an ECW ring. The next time I'd see him was a year later at a WWF SmackDown taping in Little Rock. It was a lot harder to gain access to him then, but he still knew me. That night after the SmackDown taping in February 2002 I called his name, he called my name, and I gave him the biggest hug. We spoke for a moment and then I left him to go on his way and do memorable WWF things. I haven't seen Spike since, but I'm damn sure happy of the mark he left on the business and that I was able to at least get the ECW show to Arkansas like I'd been planning that whole time.

 

Going back and reading this write-up makes me laugh at how worked up I got over the behavior of the people in the audience. To this day I’m not sure what I really expected from them. If you go back and watch the very end of this show, now famous for the last gathering of the crew and talent in the ring, you’ll see bottles flying towards and in the ring while they were celebrating. 


“I could just leave it on that note and keep everyone happy but I 

have to bitch about Pine Bluff now. I'm not very proud of the 

people that attended that show, and if we never get ECW again 

it'll be the fault of the idiots that started throwing shit 

during the main event.


And they had no call to do so, either! They just started throwing 

water bottles into the ring towards the end. It really made no 

sense and what's worse is some idiot on the other side of the 

arena from where I was sitting started some crap and then 

security went after him. 


I hope those shit-for-brains people were ashamed of themselves 

when we all saw the locker room empty and come out with trash 

bags. Never in my life have I been more embarrassed to be among 

such a crowd.”


I probably wouldn’t have been able to stand this insufferable bitch if she went to any show I went to today, but I’m damn glad she orchestrated this one.


“If we never get ECW again”...oh, that hit differently reading it decades later. There was ECW again, yes, but I never ‘got’ ECW again. Not with the WWE branded reboot, not with Shane Douglas and the well-meaning but poorly executed Extreme Reunion and Extreme Rising, not with any of the money grab revivals that came in between. I didn’t need it, anyway. I finally got what I wanted at that show in January twenty years ago today.




The 1/13/01 Fancam of ECW’s Pine Bluff show is available on Highspots Wrestling Network!

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