Roots Bloody Roots: The Tri States Wrestling Alliance
Ok, before we take a look at our first couple of shows, lets spend a little bit of time talking about the roots of the ECW. Lets talk about the Tri States Wrestling Alliance.
Joel Goodhart started TSWA in Philadelphia in 1990 in an attempt to take advantage of a group of wrestling fans that the WWF and WCW kind of neglected in the late 80's and early 90's. The type of wrestling fans that were a little more passionate and demanding because they had grown up with the artform, and knew all of the inside information about what really went on behind the scenes. "Smart Marks". Philadelphia was a smart mark town. The fans in Philly would react much differently to wrestling shows than other crowds around the country.
Pennsylvania, Deleware, and New Jersey were the three states that "Tri States" stood for, and they developed a small, rabbid following because it was nothing at all like what else was going on at the time in pro wrestling. Joel Goodhart was very similar to Paul Heyman. He was a huge wrestling fan that perhaps even to the detriment of his promotion. He would overspend his budget to put together dream cards(for Indy fans) for his fans with big money talent at the time such as Jerry Lawler, Terry Funk, Cactus Jack, Eddie "Hotstuff" Gilbert, Ivan Koloff, The Shiek, Bam Bam Bigelow, Buddy Landel, Abdullah the Butcher, Missy Hyatt, Kevin Sullivan, and Manny Fernandez. Goodhart would spend more than he made to put on shows he knew would make the Philly fans happy. Goodhart was the TSWA's biggest fan, and he let his love of wrestling get in the way of running a profitable promotion. Many wrestlers would inflate their asking prices just because they knew Goodhart would pay whatever it took to put together a certain card.
The Philly wrestling fans developed a relationship with TSWA very similar to the one they would with the ECW later on. A TSWA show in the fall of 1991 drew almost 3 times more than a WCW house show around that same time in the city. Goodhart's TSWA shows put an emphasis on violence. TSWA shows were bloody, raunchy, and extreme. One perticular show in the fall of 1991 featured a "Last Blood" Battle Royal where the only way to be eliminated from the match was to bleed. Within all of the blood and violence, there was the occasional technical gem. One such gem was a highly technical showcase match between a young Owen Hart vs Takayuki Iizuka from New Japan.
Hardcore legends like Sabu, and the Sandman made their debut's in TSWA in the fall of 1991, and many of the regulars from the ECW were a part of the shows(Bob Artese, several referees, and even the "Straw Hat Guy" John Bailey could be found in the front row in attendance). Even though the TSWA was drawing decent crowds, the high pricetag of the performers kept the company from making any money from it. Joel Goodhart had apparently been a successful bussinesman in the insurance industry, but had blown through all of his life savings on the TSWA(and a wrestling radio show he paid to have on air). By January of 1992 Goodhart was flat broke, and had burned the fans by selling several tickets to an event that he never put on. A dream match between the "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers vs Buddy Landel. Joel Goodhart folded the TSWA, and dissapeared from the wrestling industry.
It all started with Joel. I always like him, thought he was a good kid. He must have had some kind of initiative to get started. He ran a good show.
- Kevin Sullivan
Sadly, Goodhart never taped any of his TSWA shows, and the promotion has been widely forgotten about. I don't believe the promotion was even mentioned in the WWE's Rise and Fall of ECW Documentary.
Todd Gordon had worked in the TSWA as an assistant ring announcer along with Bob Artese. Gordon baught half of the company sometime in 1991. Days after Joel Goodhart folded the TSWA, Gordon assembled Bob Artese, Larry Winters(as his booker), and TSWA soundman Steve Truitt to form Eastern Championship Wrestling in his Philadelphia office.
Gordon's ECW started out with a much more humble approach to the bussiness than TSWA. Gordon only ran in small venues(Mike Schmidt's Sports Bar on 8th & Market), and only worked cheap local talent in a much more traditional wrestling setting.
So where we are now is in this early Tod Gordon era of the Eastern Championship Wrestling promotion. Very humble beginings that were never mentioned by the company later on. The time is 1992, and pro wrestling is going through a transition due to the WWF steriod scandal. Crowds were dwindling down in America, but over in Japan a new craze was taking the industry by storm. Japanese star Atsushi Onita befriended Terry Funk, who got him work in the Memphis region during the 80's. Onita and Masa Fuchi competed in a wild bloody brawl against Ricky Morton and Eddie Gilbert in Tupelo Mississipi that went all around the arena whith both teams using anything they could get their hands on, and destroying the concession stand. Onita noticed the southern crowd's hotter than usual reaction to the violent match, and it sparked a revolution. Onita would go back to Japan and start Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling(FMW) in 1990, and created a style that would draw the same hot reactions that his match in Tupelo recieved. Onita's matches in Japan would feature barbed wire, fire, and explosives to draw crowds of over 30-40,000 people in 1992. One of the FMW's young stars would go on to become an ECW legend, Sabu.
Larry Winters was the head booker for the ECW through most of 1992 until Tod Gordon started to get caught up in the job of owning a wrestling promotion, and started to take more control over the show. Gordon started involving himself in the show more and more until he eventually took over booking altogether. After he realized he didn't know what he was doing, Gordon brought in Eddie Gilbert in 1993.