As I See It: ECW Arena Memories, Part 2

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It started out as a warehouse at the corner Swanson and Ritner Streets in South Philadelphia. Over 18 years it became most of the well-known wrestling venues on the planet.

For the short term at best, there will not be wrestling (or anything else) at the ECW Arena as of February 2012. The venue will be closed as of February 2 for "extensive renovations". Promoters including CZW's DJ Hyde have met with new leaseholder Joanna Pang this week. Pang has stated that she is not opposed to pro wrestling in the venue, but intends to close it for an unstated period of time to perform extensive renovations. The backstage area as it exists now to be removed for a permanent stage for a new permanent stage and backstage dressing rooms area. The Eagle's Nest side of the building (next to Forman Mills), will be knocked down and the venue size expanded. In short, the structure of the venue as it stands now will no longer exist after February 2, 2012.

CZW, CHIKARA, and Dragon Gate will need to find new Philadelphia venues for at least the short term. No word as of yet on where that stands. CHIKARA still lists an event for February 26, 2012 in Philadelphia on its website; but no location.

There seems to be two sad ironies this past week about the timing of the announcement, as last Friday was the 11th anniversary of the last ECW show ever run at the ECW Arena; which had a packed house (because many had heard the rumors of the company folding) which included ECW Tag Champs Danny DoringRoadkill defeating Tony DeVito, Jerry Lynn pinned Spike Dudley, EZ Money/Julio Dinero/Chris Hamrick defeating Tommy Dreamer/Christian York/Joey Matthews, Mikey Whipwreck/Tajiri beat The Full Blooded Italians in a best of three falls match, and ECW Champ Steve Corino defeating Justin Credible and Sandman in a "three way dance" in the final ECW match at the ECW Arena.

The other irony was watching Bryan Danielson and CM Punk as WWE World Champions in the ring at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, with both having made their reputations in the Philadelphia independent scene...a scene which is about to get a very major change.

This building has had so much wrestling history, that no matter what changes are made to the physical building; the sounds and the memories will always remain in the "world's Most Famous Bingo Hall" regardless the deeds of center city Philadelphia lawyers and concert promoters. Those sounds and memories will never be taken taken away from those of us who spent time within its walls.

So given that, let's take a look at part two of the building's history, the post-ECW era. During those years, CZW was the primary promotion that ran shows at the ECW Arena. Here is a sample of that history:

2001

Combat Zone Wrestling had been operating in New Jersey since 1999.

Due to their upcoming annual Cage Of Death 3 show at the end of 2001, the company needed a bigger venue and made their debut in the ECW Arena. The venue was the first sellout in the Arena since the era of ECW. Hundreds were turned away from the biggest show in the promotion's history, far surpassing promotion expectations. The main event in the Cage of Death saw Justice Pain defeating Wifebeater.

The show ended with the Arena lights going out. When they came back on, fans saw former ECW owner Todd Gordon, Blue Meanie, Pitbull #1, Rockin' Rebel, Rocco Rock were in the ring, heeling on CZW and the fans, followed by jumping Justice Pain and Wifebeater. The CZW locker room came out for the save, the lights went out yet again to The Sandman was standing in the ring. Sandman then turned on the ECW contingent, and ended the evening drinking a beer with Zandig.

2002

Best of The Best 2 started a series of several years of incredible lineups for the springtime tournaments, with 2002 including Trent Acid, M-Dogg 20, Super Dragon, B-Boy, Ruckus, Tony Mamaluke, Jodie Fleisch, Jonny Storm, and Johnny Kashmere.

September 2002 saw Justice Pain defending C.M. Punk to retain his CZW Title, and a demented match with "Sick" Nick Mondo/Wifebeater defeated Mr. Insanity/Necro Butcher. October 2002 saw Wifebeater announce his retirement.

Late in 2002, XPW, which had been based in California and funded by pornography magnate and owner of Extreme Associates Rob Black offered around $60,000 for an exclusive lease to the ECW Arena. On December 12, 2002, Ring of Honor, CZW, and 3PW ran what were to be the last events before the exclusive lease began. During CZW's event, CZW owner Zandig stated that they had offered $32,000 to stay in the Arena, but had been turned down. Zandig stated that with the $10,000 a month XPW would need to pay for the building "the lease would not last long", which proved to be true. Various deceptive practicesby the promotion including numerous examples of false advertising, as well as a suggestion of Rob Black saying he'd feed a live puppy to a snake, and the fact that they would not permit other promotions to run the Arena, caused a swift end to XPW's time there.

Cage of Death 4 featured Zandig vs. Lobo "Cage of Death" match for ownership and control of CZW, Justice Pain vs. Messiah "Iron Man rules" for the heavyweight title, Ruckus vs. M-Dogg 20 vs. Sonjay Dutt to determine number one contender to the CZW Junior Heavyweight title, Backseat Boys vs. Nick Mondo/Ric Blade TLC match, and Nick Berk vs. Josh Prohibition submission match

A sample of the talent in CZW during 2002 included Wifebeater, Justice Brian XL, Devine Storm, Softcore Connection, Sick Nick Mondo, Johnny Kashmere, Ian Knoxx, GQ, Chris Ca$h, Zandig, Glen Osbourne, VD, Nick Gage, Nate Hatred, MDogg 20, and Josh Prohibition.

2003

Accompanied by the aforementioned incidents, XPW folded in 2003. CZW then returned to the ECW Arena on May 10, 2003, promoting a show that served as a tribute to the Arena's history: "Then & Now: A Decade of Defiance." In June, Ian Rotten, Corporal Robinson, and J.C. Bailey of IWA Mid-South did an interpromotional invasion angle of CZW. The feud led into CZW's Tournament of Death 2 with 5 IWA and 3 CZW wrestlers in TOD, remembered most Zandig "Mother F'N bombing Nick Mondo" off a 40 foot rooftop. Matches included Homicide submitting Trent Acid, Sick Nick Mondo defeated Johnny Kashmere, Ruckus defeating Chris Ca$h, B-Boy defeats Tony Mamaluke, Ric Blade defeating Sonjay Dutt, and Messiah defeating Nate Hatred.

April saw Best of The Best 3, the first of several years of tournaments featuring some of the greatest independent talent of the time, with 2003's including AJ Styles, Ruckus, Sonjay Dutt, Chri$ Ca$h, Ric Blade, Trent Acid, Tony Mamaluke, B-Boy, Lil Cholo, Deranged, Jimmy Rave, Jay Briscoe, and Mark Briscoe.

In a controversial incident in September 2003, Zandig's feud with heel stable Hi-5 featured an angle where Zandig was suspended in the middle of the ring by meat hooks from the roof of the Arena. This led to the main event for Cage of Death 5. Cage of Death 5 featured what many believe to be the most unbelievable structure the promotion ever constructed which involved two rings one of which ssawscaffolding across the top of the cage and tables surrounding the ring. Add to that a suspended cage/scaffold, a super scaffold from the stage to the Cage of Death, and the second ring... filled with "1,000,000 thumb tacks". The Cage of Death match featured Team Ultraviolence (John Zandig, Lobo, Wifebeater, Ian Knoxx, Nick Gage, and a surprise addition of New Jack) vs. Team HI-V (The Messiah, Nate Hatred, Trent Acid, Adam Flash, Johnny Kashmere, and B-Boy), with Team Ultraviolence going over.

If that wasn't enough for COD 5, Jimmy Rave defeated Trent Acid, Alex Shelley defeating B-Boy and Chris Hero in a #1 contender for the CZW Iron Man Title; and a match still talked about years later...a ladder match The Joker defeated Chris Cash.

2004

March saw a scary Taipei Boards with Nails Death Match with The Messiah defeating Zandig to win the CZW title after Teddy Hart did a run-in and hit Zandig with a moonsault to give The Messiah the pinfall and the CZW World title. Following the match, Zandig gave Teddy Hart a Mother F'N Bomb onto the board of nails which turned Hart into a bloody mess.

April featured Trent Acid brawling with Teddy Hart through the Arena and into the streets of South Philadelphia.

June's Trifecta Challenge saw Messiah defeat Wifebeater to retain in an Ultraviolent Unlucky 13/Panes of Glass Match.

July saw Best of The Best 2004 with Homicide, Jack Evans, Chri$ Ca$h, B-Boy, Roderick Strong, Jimmy Rave, Alex Shelley,Bobby Quance, Ruckus, Petey Williams, Sonjay Dutt, and Nate Webb

In December, Cage of Death 6 had two Cage of Death matches, with the first as a two ring/War Games Style, with a scaffold going accross the middle featuring Team Cash (Chri$ Ca$h/JC Bailey/Nate Webb/Sexxy Eddy) defeated Team Blackout (Ruckus, Sabian, Kingston, and Jack Evans). The second match saw Wifebeater and Justice Pain defeating Nate Hatred/Nick Gage in a Fans Bring Weapons match with an array of twisted weapons coming into play during the match'

2005

During 2005, CZW established a connection with CHIKARA Pro Wrestling Chikara, which established into a joint training school known as 'The Wrestle Factory' at The Arena, with Chris Hero and Mike Quackenbush as trainers. This relationship lasted until 2007, when there was a major falling out between the promotions CZW again formed its own school.

February saw a protest against the illegal actions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, which allowed a barbed wire match on WWE's "No Way Out" PPV , but refused to allow it on independent shows; a ruling later reversed after wrestling started contacting the Commission, and the Pennsylvania Governor's office. The match was "backstage" with a barbed wire cage light tubes scaffold match "after the show was 0over" with J.C. Bailey defeated Necro Butcher.

Tragedy struck the promotion in 2005 as wrestler Christopher "Chri$ Ca$h" Bauman Jr. was killed as the result of a motorcycle accident near his home.

Best of the Best led off with a tribute to Chris Candido, then saw a tournament with Mike Quackenbush, winning a best of The Best, that also included Super Dragon, Chris Bosh, El Generico, Excalibur, Chris Hero, Brandon Thomaselli, Kevin Steen, Kenny the Bastard, Arik Cannon, Claudio Castagnoli, Derek Frazier, B-Boy, Sabian

Cage of Death saw The H8 Club/Zandig defeating Necro Butcher/Toby Klein/Joker in a octagon-like Cage of Death was a big octagon constructed around the ring with a barbed wire spiderneta spidernet of barbed wire, thumbtack turnbuckles, barbed wire bats., scaffolds and four tables.

A major change in the promotion came when Mike Burns left as booker, when Zandig was upset at Burns setting up a deal with Ring of Honor.

2006

Upset as he might have been with what he thought Burns did, Zandig embraced the ROH-CZW program, and in one of the rare cases in indy wrestling (let alone Philadelphia's indy wars of the day) did the right thing for business during shows at the ECW Arena, namely put over ROH talent in key matches (Gabe Sapolsky returned the favor at ROH shows).

The program started at the January 2006 show with American Dragon and Nigel McGuinness showing up at the ECW Arena, with ROH heeling it up at the Arena. Bryan Danielson heeled it up and said "CZW fans didn't deserve to see an ROH-caliber match". Hero joined in on the fun, followed by Nigel McGuiness and Roderick Strong, then the CZW locker room then emptying.

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