Author’s note: In the interest of full transparency this program and article were completed prior to the announced deal sending the WWE Network to Peacock. As a result, fans in the United States, including myself, can not access this edition of ECW Hardcore TV on Peacock at this time. For fans outside of the U.S. you may still access this edition of Hardcore TV as usual on the standard WWE Network. At the time this article was written edits were not an issue, but given the recent spree of edits to the WWE library that may not be true today. I apologize in advance for any inconsistencies or inconveniences this may create for readers and/or viewers.
This week Throwback Thursday revisits the debut edition of Eastern Championship Wrestling’s Hardcore TV, as seen on the WWE Network, that aired 28 years ago this week!
The story of Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) begins with Joel Goodhart and Carmella Panfil’s “Rasslin’ Radio”, a wrestling talk show that aired Saturday afternoons on Philadelphia’s 610 WIP. One of the many fans of the program was Tod Gordon, the owner of the long running Carver W. Reed. By 1989, thanks to connections made through “Rasslin’ Radio”, Joel Goodhart began promoting his own cards under the “Tri-State Wrestling Alliance” (TWA) banner, eager to provide the kind of wrestling show neither of the “Big Two”, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW), were willing or capable of producing. In 1991, TWA ran over 20 events, many with the financial backing and help of Tod Gordon. Though TWA gave a much needed boost for young talent and a place for older talent to work, the wheels began coming off in the fall of 1991. Two days before what was to be Winter Challenge III in Philadelphia, on January 23, 1992, Joel Goodhart confirmed the folding of TWA on “Rasslin’ Radio”, announcing that he was out of money and leaving the business. Goodhart’s inability to pay the talent and refusal to refund ticket sales left all involved feeling cheated.
Just weeks after the TWA era came to an end, in early February 1992, Tod Gordon was approached by former TWA associates Bob Artese, Stevie Wonderful, and Larry Winters about continuing the bar shows that TWA had been running. In need of a promoters license, but lacking the collateral for the $1,000 bond, the trio (who already had the talent and equipment needed, including rings) turned to Tod Gordon, who agreed to stake them. Interested in running a regional promotion only, with no designs on “going national”, Tod Gordon settled on the “Eastern Championship Wrestling” (ECW) name. While the driving force behind the ECW cards was to produce a more believable product for the Philadelphia fans, ECW quickly built a positive reputation of its own. Over the next ten months ECW expanded from the Original Sports Bar to the Chestnut Cabaret and the Aztec Club, with the Chestnut becoming the main location for the bulk of 1992. ECW also debuted a number of future ECW stars, including the Sandman, Tommy Cairo, the future Little Guido, and the Pitbulls. On November 28, 1992, ECW filmed the pilot edition of what would become Hardcore TV at the Kessington Sports Arena for the new Sports Channel Philadelphia (SCP). At this point Tod Gordon hired Eddie Gilbert to help format and produce the new weekly television. SCP eventually picked up ECW’s series and the promotion went dark following the January 23, 1993 joint ECW-World Wrestling Association Battle of the Belts event at the Radisson in Philadelphia to work on upcoming TV tapings. This debut edition of Hardcore TV was taped during Cabrini College’s spring break, meaning the young, hot crowd many expected to show up didn’t. Thanks to a massive snow storm Gordon and others were forced to pull anyone they could off the street just to fill out the crowd. Though room was made for sponsorships to air, as required by law by the FCC, ECW had none, opting instead to run their own merchandise ads in those spaces, a tradition that continued on ECW TV to the very end of the promotion. Elsewhere in America, Snow had the number one single with “Informer” while Depeche Mode owned the top album with Songs of Faith and Devotion. ABC’s Home Improvement was the top show on television and Burt Reynold’s Cop & ½ was the number one film in the country.
With all of that out of the way, let’s fire up the WWE Network, hit play, and see just how well this inaugural edition of ECW’s Hardcore TV holds up in 2021!
Edits aren’t a major issue with this debut edition of HCTV in the WWE Network. Aside from merchandise promos, some music, and local promotional spots (including for Carver W. Reed), the bulk of this show is untouched. All of ECW’s early TV was taped on VHS tapes, hence the look of the footage. Considering this is the debut edition of ECW TV context doesn’t matter. For completists (you know who you are) the actual pilot for HCTV, taped in November of 1992, is available in the “Hidden Gems” archives of the WWE Network for you to enjoy right now!
ECW Hardcore TV #1 (WATCH)
Date: April 6, 1993 (TAPED: March 12, 1993) – Location: Cabrini College Fieldhouse, Cabrini College, Radnor, Pennsylvania
Attendance: >250 – TV Ratings: N/A
Commentators: Jay Sulli, Stevie Wonderful, & Terry Funk – Interviews: Terry Funk & Jay Sulli
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
ECW Heavyweight Champion: The Sandman (November 16, 1992, Chestnut Cabaret, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from Don Muraco)
ECW Tag Team Champion: The Super Destroyers (Super Destroyer #1 (A.J. Petrucci) & Super Destroyer #2 (Doug Stahl)) (June 23, 1992, Original Sports Bar, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, defeated Max Thrasher & Glen Osbourne in finals of inaugural Tag Team Championship tournament)
ECW Television Champion: VACANT (Inaugural tournament ongoing)
After the Eastern Championship Wrestling opening highlight reel we head inside Cabrini College where Jay Sulli and Stevie Wonderful welcome us to the show. Before giving us a rundown of the card to come Jay Sulli introduces ECW President Tod Gordon.
Tod Gordon joins Sulli & Wonderful at ringside, new ECW Television Championship in hand. Gordon announces that starting tonight a tournament will begin to crown the very first ECW Television Champion. After Stevie Wonderful gushes about the talent in the tournament Tod Gordon announces that a third man will join Sulli & Wonderful on commentary. Gordon tries to announce the “living legend” when “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert arrives and tries to take over the job. Gordon is having none if it, though, and announces the real third man, none other than Terry Funk!
Terry Funk walks to ringside wearing a smile as Eddie Gilbert loses his mind. Gilbert says that when he thinks of a “legend” he thinks of “old men”. Funk tells Gilbert that to run with Funk’s “old gang” one had better be tough. If Gilbert wants to “get tough” he can get in the ring with Funk, but how would it look if “this old man” kicked Gilbert’s butt, Funk wonders. Gilbert looks as if he’s ready to fight but quickly backs down and heads to the back. Funk then talks about how much of a pleasure it is to be on the show and tells the fans of the area that they have a special place in his heart because the fans are “H.C.”, meaning “hardcore”. After a round of applause Funk says that Tod Gordon has assembled a great roster that, whether fans have heard of the wrestlers before or not, will give the fans of their heart and soul. Gordon puts Funk over before Funk enthusiastically sends us to our first break.
—“Non-Title Tag Team Match” (WATCH – 5:08)
The Hell Riders (EZ Rider & HD Rider) vs. ECW Tag Team Champions The Super Destroyers (Super Destroyer #1 (A.J. Petrucci) & Super Destroyer #2 (Doug Stahl)) w/Hunter Q. Robbinson III
Typical tag team squash match of the era. Only Stevie Wonderful seems to know what’s going on with the Super Destoryers but even he’s being coy about who is who. The Hell Riders manage to put up a decent fight in the opening moments but that’s about it. Super D #1 & #2 have their way with both EZ Rider and HD Rider before Super D #2 levels EZ Rider with a powerbomb before Super D #1 lands a running senton for the 1-2-3 at 2:58.
WINNERS are ECW Tag Team Champions The Super Destroyers (Super Destroyer #1 (A.J. Petrucci) & Super Destroyer #2 (Doug Stahl)) w/Hunter Q. Robbinson III (Pin, 2:58)
After the match Terry Funk interviews Hunter Q. Robbins III at ringside. Robinson says he is the “representative” of the ECW Tag Team Champions and that tells Terry Funk that Funk is now in the presence of greatness. Robinson then demands that Funk refer to him as “Mister” Hunter Q. Robinson III. Funk smirks and announces “Mister” Hunter Q. Robinson the turd. Funk then tosses to a vignette for ECW Heavyweight Champion The Sandman as Robinson freaks out.
Next up we see the Sandman vignette. The original music, Billy Joel’s “Big Shot”, has been replaced with generic rubbish but the vignette is otherwise left untouched. The vignette is of the original “surfer” Sandman gimmick that Sandman was doing in both ECW and the United States Wrestling Association (USWA). For those who haven’t seen early Sandman this is a sight to see.
Prior to the next match getting underway Terry Funk interviews an excited Tommy Cairo from ringside. Cairo calls the ECW/Sports Channel Philadelphia pairing a “winning tag team” before shouting about everybody “going down” when Cairo comes to town.
—First Round Match of the Inaugural ECW Television Championship Tournament (WATCH – 12:42)
(6) “Wildman” Salvatore Bellomo w/The Cosmic Commander vs. (4) “Ironman” Tommy Cairo
This one takes some time to get going. Tommy Cairo was undefeated at this point in ECW but he’s got his hands full with Bellomo. Cairo tries to make the comeback time and again but can’t get any momentum going. Soon enough, though, Cairo makes a decent comeback when Cosmic Commander steps on the apron to distract the referee. From out of nowhere Johnny Hotbody arrives, looking to crush Cairo with a shot off the top rope but Hotbody wipes out Bellomo instead, knocking Bellomo to the floor. Hotbody rushes to Bellomo’s side as the referee, finally done with Commander, starts the count, eventually counting Bellomo out at 5:31 to send Cairo to the semi-finals of the TV title tournament.
WINNER is “Ironman” Tommy Cairo (Count-out, 5:31)
After the match Johnny Hotbody goes after Tommy Cairo but flees for higher ground after missing an elbow drop from the top rope. The referee holds Cairo back to prevent any further mayhem as we head to break, seeing a graphic of the ongoing ECW Television Championship tournament.
—“Challenge Match” (WATCH – 20:52)
Tony “Hitman” Stetson vs. Rockin’ Rebel
This match is what it is. Stetson is one half of the number one contenders to the ECW Tag Team titles with Larry Winters. The late Rockin’ Rebel was, at this time, the number one contender to the Sandman’s ECW Heavyweight title. Despite Rebel’s best efforts Rebel’s size and speed aren’t enough to keep Stetson grounded and Stetson, once the match starts and the clowning stops, quickly take control of the action. Rebel manages to turn the match around and looks to have the match won when Stetson fires up, nearly pinning Rebel with a guillotine legdrop from the top. Moments later Rebel pulls Stetson’s legs out from under him and, with the help of the second rope, scores the flash 1-2-3 at 4:38.
WINNER is Rockin’ Rebel (Pin, 4:38)
Following the match Jay Sulli stops Rebel at ringside for an interview. Rebel points at Sulli and tells Sulli he should feel “privileged” to be with the Rebel. Rebel then swipes the microphone and calls out Sandman, saying he’s not only going to take the ECW Heavyweight title from Sandman but end Sandman’s career.
Following a break Jay Sulli interviews Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka at ringside. Snuka talks about how much of a pleasure it is to wrestle in front of the fans before announcing that he’s signed a contract with Eastern Championship Wrestling. Snuka then introduces “Hotstuff” Eddie Gilbert as his new advisor. Gilbert says he’s no manager and explains that “Hotstuff International” is alive and well with Snuka being the stable’s first signing. Gilbert then all but guarantees that Snuka will be the first ECW TV Champion.
—First Round Match of the Inaugural ECW Television Championship Tournament (WATCH – 27:29)
(8) Larry Winters vs. (1) Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka w/Eddie Gilbert
Larry Winters is, with Tony Stetson, the number one contender for the Tag Team gold. This match is largely a squash, with Snuka (and sometime Gilbert) having his way with Winters. Winters manages to make a comeback at one point and has Snuka reeling when Gilbert trips Winters. Snuka pounces, landing a backbreaker before finishing Winters off with the Superfly Splash for the pinfall at 4:31.
WINNER is Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka w/Eddie Gilbert (Pin, 4:31)
Gilbert celebrates the win before Snuka tosses Winters from the ring to the concrete floor.
Coming out of the break Terry Funk and Jay Sulli stand at ringside, looking as if they’re ready to wrap the show. Funk talks about giving ECW time to grow, saying the fans and the wrestlers will get better, when Salvatore Bellomo and Cosmic Commander rush to the ring, telling Funk & Sulli that he wants to wrestle one more time.
—“Impromptu Singles Match” (WATCH – 34:20)
Ernesto Benefico vs. “Wildman” Salvatore Bellomo w/The Cosmic Commander
Bellomo is all over Benefico, landing a bodyslam for the pinfall at just :20-seconds.
WINNER is “Wildman” Salvatore Bellomo w/The Cosmic Commander (Pin, 0:20)
After the match Bellomo celebrates in the ring before we cut to Tod Gordon joining Terry Funk at ringside. Funk hypes next week’s card, which includes the last quarter-final round matches of the TV title tournament, before Gordon announces that Sandman will be on next week’s show.
Terry Funk & Tod Gordon sign off and we cut to an “ECW Special Announcement”, which is Stevie Wonderful thanking the fans and encouraging the fans to write in to ECW with any comments or requests. Wonderful then hypes the quarter-final TV title tournament matches set for next week and an appearance by ECW Heavyweight Champion The Sandman, as well as the return of Terry Funk on commentary, before we abruptly cut to the closing credits. (Originally the show ended with footage from the short-lived 1985 ABC western series Wildside, in which Terry Funk played “Prometheus Jones”, the town’s veterinarian. The final local promotional ads just prior to the closing credits, including for Carver W. Reed, are also nixed.)
This is an amazing debut edition of Eastern Championship Wrestling! Considering the goofy shenanigans on both the WWF and WCW programs this debut edition of ECW was a breath of fresh air. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it is a perfect introduction to the promotion. If you’ve never seen this debut edition of ECW HCTV, or it’s been a while, it’s well worth your time to seek this out. Who knows, you might actually like it. And that can’t be all bad.
Already subscribed to the WWE Network? Then you can relive this classic premier edition of ECW’s Hardcore TV or experience it for the very first time! As always, let us know what you think in the comments section below!
For pre-WNN editions of TBT, click here!
Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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