Memories flood back in my mind when I think about Extreme Championship Wresting, more commonly known as ECW (that’s “double-u” spelled out, not “dub”). A good chunk of my high school and college years were spent watching ECW on local MSG affiliates at ungoldy hours of the day, or traveling to high school gymnasiums and dilapidated convention halls to watch pro-wrestlers destroy their bodies for the pleasure of us bloodthirsty fans. ECW was wrestling for punks during the heart of the punk rock resurrection and the tristate was ground zero. This was OUR wrestling federation and you couldn’t confuse it for sports entertainment.

A ton of ink has been spilled on the history of ECW and what it meant in the context of the Monday Night Wars and the creation of the Attitude era, so I won’t bore you with my take on that. I want to talk about legacy. Right now, a wrestling federation is gaining traction on the East Coast, fronted by the soul of ECW, Tommy Dreamer. Baptized House of Hardcore and featuring a nice mixture of ECW originals and top free agents from across the world, Dreamer is trying to fill a gap that WWE, Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling probably don’t even realize exists — underground wrestling.

To be fair, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla does a great job filling that void on the West Coast with monthly VFW shows that curate the best indie wrestlers today. But not everyone can travel to Reseda, fight for tickets and wait in line for hours to get into a venue that is often described as an inferno. Unlike PWG, House of Hardcore balances the line between nostalgia and modern indie wrestling. It uses the term hardcore liberally by including a healthy chunk of competitive and Lucha-style wrestling, along with the occasional table and kendo stick spots. It’s not the barbed wire blood fest that comes to mind when you think of the old ECW.

The long, hard road to Philly

On Saturday, April 22, Hambone and I packed up my Mini Cooper and headed down to the old ECW Arena in Philadelphia (now known as 2300 Arena) to check out House of Hardcore 25. Our primary purpose was to see the final indie performance of Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero Jeff Hardy who had recently returned to WWE at Wrestlemania 33. Our expectations were low. The show the night before in Jersey featured a bait and switch, where Matt Hardy took a powder after being told by the Spirit Squad that he couldn’t wrestle in a non-WWE sanction matched. I watched the program on FloSlam and was turned off by the lame Metuchen crowd and sour main event. But this was Tommy Dreamer and this was the old “bingo hall.” There was no way he would let us down.

Right from the get-go I knew this was a different event. The 2300 is nothing like the old “Bingo Hall” ECW called home. Real lights hovered over the ring and a fancy entranceway lit with LED screens gave the show a big-fight feel. After we secured our seats, we headed back to the foyer where a wrestling convention was wrapping up. We spent the $60 to get our pictures taken with the Hardy Boyz and gawked at the wrestlers (legends and newcomers) that hawked their shirts and signed autographs for fans.

Exit light. Enter night.

The show started about five minutes after eight and the crowd was significantly more amped than the night before. Chants of ECW and House of Hardcore permeated the air as the first match was announced. Lucha Underground commentator Matt Striker faced off against Chuckles in a competitive, albeit odd match featuring the former WWE superstar fighting a deranged clown. Things picked up when Alex Reynolds took on ECW Original Little Guido in an excellent showing that ended with a run-in from Ricky The Dragon Steamboat. Steamboat looked fantastic and even knocked Reynolds around to the excitement of the crowd. The next big ECW throwback moment came when “Enter Sandman” hit and the kendo assassin himself came in through the crowd. Fans chanted the lyrics louder than the PA as Sandman slowly mounted the ring and cleared house. He has looked better, but this was a short and sweet nostalgia spot that generated all the feels.

Finally, the Juice has come back … to Philadelphia

The next really big surprise came when CW Anderson hit the ring. I was never a huge fan of CW when he was in ECW, but I was psyched to see how good he looked. Seconds later, unfamiliar music hit and a masked luchador ran through the curtain. The Juice has come back to Philadelphia! Juventud Guerrera was in the house and he appeared to be in equally great shape and stoked to be in front of a live crowd. I was a huge Juice fan during his WCW run and loved his comedic act in WWE as part of the Mexicools. Guerrera got the win in a solid match that proved that both guys have what it takes to be major league players in today’s wrestling industry.

Brian Cage took on Ben Ortiz and Rhett Titus in a tight and vicious match. I was excited to see Cage in person, as I have been following his work in Lucha Underground for the past few years and am always impressed with his performance, especially for a guy the size of Lex Luger in his prime. Cage did not disappoint and neither did his two opponents. Ortiz, in particular, pulled off an spectacular running suicide dive to the floor that got the crowd chanting “holy shit” before being eliminated by Cage. The Machine proceeded to wipe the floor with Titus as everyone in attendance tried to clap out the Terminator theme before realizing that it was a lot harder to clap than stomp on a wooden floor.

There’s not much that can be said about the MVP vs. Bull James match other than that the two tried hard but never gelled. MVP seemed like a shell of his old self and Bull James couldn’t carry the match to anything beyond average.

Fulfilling a broken promise

After a long (and much needed) intermission, Tommy Dreamer came out and cut a brilliant promo about how he let politics get in the way of his promotion and that it would never happen again. I started worrying that this was going to be a set up for a bait and switch like the night before, but at least Dreamer was being brutally honest with the fans. On queue, the Spirit Squad made their way to the ring and said that the Hardys had left the building and that the card was subject to change. It was a great quip that got the crowd riled like you can’t imagine. Luckily, the Hardys music hit and out came Broken Matt Hardy and Brother Nero to save the show. The energy and excitement was like nothing I’ve ever felt and heard. I couldn’t help but hold out hope that the match would happen. “We came here to wrestle,” Broken Matt declared. “We’ll deal with MeekMahan on Monday.” With that, a few hundred rabid fans in Philadelphia got to see the final indie appearance of Broken Matt and Brother Nero and neither them nor Tommy dreamer and Bully Ray phoned it in. The four had a blow out match around the arena that ended with the Hardys victorious and the Spirit Squad being put through tables.

In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “but that’s not all.” Dreamer held back a main event that tore the roof off the place. Sami Callihan, calling himself Death Machine, took on Pentagon Jr. in a violent battle punctuated by dueling package power bombs onto the apron and a level of sadistic hardcore wrestling that had been missing from the evening. This was the only way anyone could follow up the Hardy Boyz match and both wrestlers delivered. In the end, Pentagon went home victorious after “breaking” Callihan’s arm. Now I can scratch Brian Cage, the Broken Hardy Boys and Pentagon Jr. from my bucket list and I also became a huge Sami Callihan fan.

Tommy Dreamer, thank you.

An obsolete epilogue

After some consideration, this probably should have been the end of the Broken Hardys saga. It was the perfect book end to an amazing pro-wrestling story. Only time will tell whether the brothers can pull off something equally as exhilarating and exciting in WWE, but to me, this was a perfect final chapter.

Also, rumor has it that the Hardy Boyz were supposed to be replaced by the Young Bucks at the Philly show, but had to pull out due to illness. That makes no sense at all, as the Bucks were scheduled to appear at PWG that night in California. Perhaps signals were crossed, but I’m glad we go the match we were promised and it was better than anyone could imagine. Now to scratch the Young Bucks off that list…