By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Love him or hate him (and lately, those two options seem to be your only ones because almost all conversations about the guy have drifted so far away from nuance that nuance is sitting on some long-lost island with the AEW rankings system), Chris Jericho is in the middle of being everywhere again. This time, he’s flanked by a jacked Inner Circle called the Jericho Appreciation Society and he has no problem showing up anywhere at any time to prove that he both cares about the kids and is still plugged into the hipper end of the pro wrestling scene.
Enter Sunday night, when the superstar popped up at PWG’s Battle of LA, the company’s de facto most celebrated event in the calendar year that always seems to feel like a family reunion of sorts for some wrestlers who made it out of the indies and onto a bigger stage, as well as those who seem to be only a few good breaks away from doing the same thing … as well as those who may be in either position five years from now. Jericho brought his million-man faction, wrestled a little bit and by all accounts made everyone happy by the time the night was over.
It was a neat, little addition to the current AEW west coast run that culminates Wednesday with Dynamite at the Forum in LA, until …
“This really is the modern day ECW. The same passion. The same fanbase. The same lack of guardrails in the f— front row. But most importantly, the same atmosphere, to give these wrestlers a chance, to work in front of great crowds, to work on their skills and become the next generation of main event wrestlers, wrestlers that will be at the Forum on Wednesday, it all starts in places like PWG.”
… Well, until he said that.
It’s pro wrestling 101: You always want to say the best things about everything around you because if everything around you is the best, that means you’re the best, too. It’s the proverbial rub about which we hear so many people talk. Jericho anointed PWG the new ECW, which means two things. One, it must be true because Chris Jericho said it, and two, Chris Jericho loves to associate himself with the coolest things around. PWG is a very cool thing. ECW was once, perhaps, the coolest thing in American pro wrestling. Jericho also worked in ECW so he has authority to say such things. Jericho looks cooler today than he did yesterday for appearing at BOLA; PWG looks cooler than it did yesterday because all of a sudden, it’s one of the coolest things of the last 30 years incarnate.
The problem, though, is that it’s not. And sure, I was one of those angsty kids in the ’90s with a bunch of ECW VHS tapes I had to constantly overpay for via some weird mail order circumstance, which means yeah, ECW at least once did mean a lot to me. I won’t say I’m an apologist, but I’ll concede that I liked watching it long ago. I’m inclined to stick up for it as an idea, but by no means do I continue to hold that company in that rose-colored precious way that I know some other people might (and if you or anyone you know still does, that’s fine, too).
But PWG is not the new ECW. PWG is celebrating 20 years in 2023. ECW, as the Classic ECW (after the Eastern Championship Wrestling days and before WWECW) lasted about seven years, from 1994-2001 (and even that’s giving The Glory Days more longevity than they deserve). In a normal year, historically, PWG runs anywhere from nine to 11 shows. In 1996 alone, ECW ran 67 shows. ECW championed anarchy, blood, violence and passion. PWG champions athleticism, work rate, high spots and, of course, passion. But, as it goes, sharing “passion” as an attribute in the wrestling world doesn’t mean two entities are entirely comparable – if comparable at all.
Which, of course, leads us to the obvious thought here: If there’s any company that actually feels like a modern-day ECW, it’d have to be GCW. Those men and women would bleed to death for that company and that doesn’t not sound like something that would come out of the ECW locker room at one point in time. Both ECW and GCW are and were run by interesting characters in Paul Heyman and Brett Lauderdale. Both companies had/have cult status and you’ve gotta know by now that both ECW and GCW have mastered the art of creating clips and/or moments that reach a certain level of lore within the most passionate corners of the pro wrestling underworld.
It’s not that PWG hasn’t had its fair share of those things, too; it’s just that you’re more likely to see wrestlers pull off a 980-quadrouple-rotation-
Still, all GCW/PWG comparisons aside, there’s one underlying issue I have with The Wizard’s comments and that’s the mere idea that we need to be bringing up ECW as much as we do these days. As far as quasi-recent pro wrestling nostalgic discourse goes, ECW has a seat at the table with the Montreal Screwjob. We get it. Vince couldn’t pay Hart. Heyman couldn’t pay his wrestlers. Bret didn’t want to leave WWF. The talent didn’t want ECW to end. There were memories. A bunch of tension. The “True” or “Real” or “1,000 percent honest-to-goodness, not a lie and everything in this documentary or podcast or television series is absolutely accurate” variations of the regurgitation of all that happened surrounding both entities has been run into the ground a billion times over.
We get it. It’s done. Let’s move on.
Sorry, but I just want ECW to stand on its own as ECW. Just like AEW should stand on its own as AEW. Ditto for GCW. PWG. WWE. But as long as there is a passionate fanbase that runs message boards and trades video clips and pounds on a ring apron during a match, it seems like we, as consumers, like to find whatever comparison comes to mind and reduce whatever we’re watching down to that comparison. It’s great that ECW accomplished what it did and has since led to so many corners of the wrestling world waxing poetic over it decades after it went under. But it’s not like ECW set out to become the next WCW or JCP or AWA; above all else, ECW just wanted to be successful. And it was. In its own unique way.
Such is why it’s probably best for the PWGs or GCWs of the world today to not necessarily focus on whatever happened in the past and rather look toward building a successful future. That’s not to say that’s not exactly what any of these smaller companies are doing today; it’s just to say that when someone with a stature as big as Jericho makes such a comment on such a stage in such a crowded wrestling landscape in 2023, A) I don’t see the need for it and B) it kind of serves as a reductive measure toward uniting a pro wrestling fanbase that is already fractured by the hashtag-tribalism that gets in the way of people … you know … liking what they like simply because they like it?
And Jericho knows better. It’s not like he isn’t a full-time workplace colleague with GCW’s most recent former world champion, and it’s not like he didn’t take a pizza cutter to the head when GCW’s current world champion popped up on AEW TV on behalf of MJF. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me that wonders if he said what he said only to get idiots like myself talking about his comments in this way less than a day after he said them. And perhaps it’s the cynic in me that wonders if he wanted to spark the GCW/PWG debate because he’d like to somehow be in the middle of the friendly fire because he knew there would be some who would take exception to the ECW comparison.
But that’s not necessarily my gripe here. He was right when he said that PWG has super-passionate fans – but so did ECW and so does GCW. He was also right when he said PWG gives young wrestlers a platform to develop – even if that platform only runs about a dozen times a year while others of the same size might triple that number in about six months. He wasn’t entirely wrong by championing PWG and he wasn’t entirely wrong when he listed the many great attributes that company brings to the pro wrestling world.
It’s just … come on with this ECW nonsense. Let it live a peaceful death. The fact of the matter is that there will only ever be one ECW, just like there will only ever be one PWG, one GCW, one WCW, one AEW … the list goes on and on. In order to allow things like ECW to grow into ECW, it’s best to just lay off what it does and appreciate what we have when we have it. Making a proclamation like Jericho’s puts unneeded pressure on a promotion and it also inherently, if not subliminally, adds yet another dividing line between various sects of the pro wrestling world. If we’re going to be discussing anything with levity, it should be health care for wrestlers or workers rights within the business; not which independent wrestling company in 2023 is most like The Popular One was in the late 1990s. The whole thing feels cheap.
Then again, sometimes cheap heat is the most lasting, and if nothing else, we know by now that Chris Jericho is quite the master at generating that. There’s something to be said for it, too, considering how specific that talent is and how rare it is to find it with consistency these days, if only because wrestling fans know far more about all this stuff than any other generation of fans in wrestling history. So, kudos to him for threading that needle.
Maybe next time, however, he can keep whatever battle he decides to attend strictly in the city it resides. Because the more it extends to places it doesn’t need to go, the less likely any good will come out of it.
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