Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com recently spoke with former WWE / ECW / TNA Superstar Stevie Richards about this Saturday's Extreme Rising iPPV from the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, PA on Saturday, December 29th. You can purchase tickets for the event or get more information at ExtremeRising.com.

Fans worldwide can watch the event -- which features a fully loaded card, title tournament finals, a title match to crown the first ever champion, as well as a cage match -- by ordering the iPPV VOD now at HighSpots.com by clicking here.

In the first part of our interview below, Richards talks about his time with ECW and WWE, his favorite moment in WWE, if WWE's ECW could have worked, his WWE departure and more. Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Richards discusses calling TNA an indy promotion with TV, scripted promos, Extreme Rising and more.

WrestlingINC: When you wrestled on the first Eastern Championship Wrestling show, did you have any idea of how big that promotion would blow up?

Richards: I had no idea of anything being the first match when it was Eastern Championship Wrestling. [Laughs.] I was just looking to get experience and learn how to be a wrestler.

WrestlingINC: When you saw it starting to evolve, did you have a feeling you were a part of something?

Richards: Not really. In terms of history, when you're actually involved in it at that time, you don't know that you're creating something that even today is so popular. I have a particular outlook still. Like, the upcoming Extreme Uprising show, I just take it one show at a time, one workout at a time and take my life one day at a time. I don't try to really look beyond that.

WrestlingINC: When you retired in 1997 with the neck injury, did you think that was it with your wrestling career or did you kind of have a feeling you'd be back one day?

Richards: At the time, I thought I was 100% retired from wrestling. I had no idea if I could do it at the level I really wanted to. I didn't know or have the maturity to realize that I could discipline myself to work at that high level again.

WrestlingINC: When you did recovery, why did you end up signing with WCW?

Richards: Just immaturity and listening to other people rather than listening to myself and knowing what was best for me.

WrestlingINC: If it was completely up to you, you think you would have done something differently?

Richards: I'm not sure, that's a 'what if?' I think that it really did help with my maturity, it was a crash course with maturity not only in wrestling but in life. I realized that sometimes with that kind of decision, without thinking it through or relying on other people's opinions besides than your own instincts, there's consequences. It was probably was one of the best things to happen to me, to make those kinds of mistakes in my wrestling career.

WrestlingINC: What were your thoughts when you signed with WWE in 1999 during a real hot peak for that company?

Richards: I was just thankful to have that support. I never knew that I'd make it to WWF at the time -- now WWE -- I never knew that I'd make it there. Especially with all the things you just brought up, the ECW to WCW, back to ECW thing and with the surgery. I was more mature then and I just wanted to make the most of any opportunity given to me.

WrestlingINC: What were your thoughts when ECW folded in 2001?

Richards: I really had none except people were out of work and I was hoping that they'd get work after that.

WrestlingINC: You were with WWE for over 8 years. What would you say were some of your favorite highlights during that span?

Richards: Actually, I was there for over nine. [Laughs.] Still, it's a long time either way and I was very fortunate to be there. Personally for me, the most fun that I ever had, the most memorable stuff I ever did, that I enjoyed and was mature enough and knew enough about the way the company worked to be comfortable with my spot was Stevie Night Heat. Which shocks a lot of people.

They figure Right To Censor or ECW One Night Stand. But no, Stevie Night Heat was just something that every week was fun and cool and just enjoying it. It was a reason to be on the show rather than just feel like you were punished and relegated to that show. So, I really enjoyed being creative and being a part of that.

WrestlingINC: While you were there, that's when they did the first ECW reunion show. What was your reaction that they were going to be doing that?

Richards: Just hoped for more work and money. Opportunity equals work, which equals money. That's what I always strive for when I worked there.

WrestlingINC: Were you surprised when they brought back ECW?

Richards: A little bit. But, they bought the tape library. Just like WCW and everything else, Vince will monetize it and market it the way that he sees fit. The One Night Stand concept was really a great nostalgia thing and from what I understand, that and the Rise And Fall of ECW DVD -- even the current ones they have out now -- are very profitable for WWE.

WrestlingINC: Do you think it could have worked out if they had taken a different direction than they did?

Richards: Absolutely. But I think people found out very quick that that was not the agenda that they had. What their agenda was? I'm not sure. If it was just to get Punk over, then they did a great job. But if it was actually to make a viable third brand and an alternative -- I don't thin that that was what they wanted to do.

WrestlingINC: What lead to your eventual release from the company in 2008?

Richards: A combination they always give: creative has nothing for you and it's a budget thing. [Laughs.] Yeah, you can take that for what it's worth. But, well over nine years in WWE and not being a top name like Triple H, Undertaker, Steve Austin, I think I had quite a run there. Never got in trouble, never failed a drug Test and I never will. I can guarantee you that of either one of those things. I was really a model employee.

Listen, I owe nothing to them and they owe nothing to me. We had a work-for-hire contract. They gave me everything they promised, I gave them everything I promised them and then it came to an end.

WrestlingINC: You're wrestling Luke Hawx at Extreme Rising [this Saturday]. I know you guys wrestled this past summer. What can fans expect this time around?

Richards: You can both of us to be ready to go, be in top shape and really have a hard-hitting match. It's funny. Luke, I've seen some video of Luke training, doing some striking with probably one of the toughest guys I've ever seen named JJ who is a professional stunt man as well and an MMA fighter.

I'm going the other way. I usually do a lot of body resistance training, I usually do a lot of stuff to stay lean. But, I'm trying to put on a bit more size and trying to make it more of a submission-style match. Which is different for me, usually I like to have different types of matches. So, we'll have something a little bit different.

But, no matter what, we're going to both do our best and hopefully have the best match on the show. Probably have the best match on the show if I don't sound to cocky saying that.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview, where Richards discusses calling TNA an indy promotion with TV, scripted promos, Extreme Rising and more. You can follow Richards on Twitter at @MichaelManna. You can also visit Richards' tech website, T4Show.com by clicking here.

To get more information or to purchase tickets for Extreme Rising from the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, PA this Saturday, December 29th, visit ExtremeRising.com. You can order the iPPV VOD now at HighSpots.com by clicking here.

Follow Raj Giri on Twitter at @RajGiri_303. Got a news tip or correction? Send it to us by clicking here.