As I See It: ECW Memories Leading To Barely Legal In 1997
ECW Barely Legal took place, the one and only PPV ever held from the ECW Arena in Philadelphia on April 13, 1997. Here are some of the moments that led to that day.
Let's start on May 14, 1993. I was ready to go to that first ECW show at this new arena, the Saturday that Eddie Gilbert and Tod Gordon scheduled their first show of Eastern Championship Wrestling in a nondescript looking bingo hall, located in a section of Philadelphia that former Strictly ECW head Tony Lewis then described as "West Hell".
Even that requires some prelude.
What was then called Eastern Championship Wrestling started after Tod Gordon picked up the remains of Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance in February 1992. The Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, best known for its classic series of Cactus Jack-Eddie Gilbert matches that permanently put hardcore wrestling on the map in Philadelphia, blew apart on the eve of Winter Challenge III, a show that would have been the promotion's largest.
The show was scheduled on January 25, 1992; and would have featured matches including "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers vs. "Nature Boy" Buddy Landel, Steve Williams/Terry Gordy vs. Dan Kroffat/Doug Furnas, Chris Benoit vs. Shiro Koshinaka, and Eddie Gilbert vs. Kevin Sullivan. Goodhart cancelled the show and ended his involvement in wrestling as a whole live on his WIP 610 radio show only days before the Winter Challenge III show would have taken place.
Gordon ran shows as Eastern Championship Wrestling promoter with the local talent from the former Tri-State roster, including The Sandman (who was then doing a surfer gimmick), JT Smith, Tony Stetson, Sal Bellomo, Larry Winters, Glenn Osbourne, and The Super Destroyers, along with names Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco.
The fledging ECW ran its earliest shows at the Philadelphia's Original Sports Bar (now the basement of a Ross Dress for Less), the Chestnut Cabaret (now a club called the Blockley Pourhouse), the Tabor Rams Youth Association, and finally Cabrini College. A handful of Chestnut Cabaret shows were taped for airing on a local low-power TV station, but EC! W was at that point just another independent. Most notable was the fact that the TV announcer for WWF Philadelphia Spectrum house shows (aired on local cable sports/movie station PRISM) Dick Graham did commentary.
Cabrini College, a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia, was the site of the promotion's first TV taping on March 1993 for a small part-time sports station called SportsChannel Philadelphia. 60 people gathered there at Cabrini College on the eve of a massive super-snowstorm that left as much as three and a half feet of snow all over the East Coast. Then Cabrini College kicked out ECW after two shows because the college decided they didn't want wrestling. Mind you, not "extreme" wrestling...ECW was nothing remotely near that yet. But at that point, Cabrini College decided that they just plain didn't want wrestling.
Back to May 14th, 1993...
I was told by friend and ECW employee Kathy Fitzpatrick that this new building was at Swanson and Ritner Streets. In those pre-internet days, I looked up the intersection o! a SEPTA map in my office. According to that and another map I looked at, the intersection didn't exist. But she insisted that was the place.
I found out years later that the members of the Viking Club Mummers group had paved over freight train tracks and created an unofficial extension of a street. Thus, the intersection did exist...sort of.