Saturday, December 02, 2006

ECW December to Dismember 2006

Yes, that's right, it's the second WWE pay-per-view in as many weeks. And this one's got the stupidest title of the year! It gets worse - in a fortnight, there's a Smackdown show. So that's three shows in four weeks. They're testing the audience to destruction here. Oh, and there's another show in the first week of January, too.

ECW, you'll recall, used to be the number three promotion in America after the WWF and WCW. Granted, it was a huge step down from number two, but ECW was also clearly a level above the rest of the indie feds. They had TV. They had PPVs. And they were hugely influential, as the 1990s wrestling equivalent of a major league indie band.

ECW and WCW are both long since dead, and the renamed WWE picked up the rights to both names on the cheap. Earlier this year they attempted a full-scale relaunch of ECW, which has been a bit of a bizarre affair. The show airs for one hour a week (compared to two hours for the other two brands), and for no discernible reason, it's on the Sci-Fi Channel. Well, that's not entirely fair. There is a discernible reason. Nobody else wanted the show.

ECW gets much lower ratings than Raw and Smackdown, and it's unquestionably seen as the C-show. Fans of the original are also faintly appalled by it, since frankly, it's a travesty of what ECW used to be - basically, a third-rate WWE show with some half-remembered, Chinese-whispers-filtered ideas about ECW half-heartedly slapped on top. The cast consists of a handful of surviving wrestlers from the original ECW (almost all long past their prime, obviously); a bunch of cast-offs who were buried in the midcard of other WWE shows (Matt Striker, the wrestling teacher?!?); and the occasional fortunate newbie who got called up from the feeder leagues. They've also parachuted in a couple of more credible people from the other brands, but basically, it's a strange Frankenstein show that doesn't know quite what it wants to be. And nominally running the show - but in fact with a very tenuous degree of influence - there's Paul Heyman, who owned the original ECW and can't exactly be thrilled with what's now being done under the name.

December to Dismember - presumably named in honour of the original ECW's show November to Remember, which was still a pretty bad name but at least wasn't actively ridiculous - is the first ECW solo pay-per-view since the brand was relaunched. It goes without saying that the schedule, only a week after Survivor Series, is deeply unhelpful. But let's see what matches they've announced...

1. ECW World Title, Extreme Elimination Chamber Match: The Big Show v. Bobby Lashley v. Rob Van Dam v. CM Punk v. Sabu v. Test. The Elimination Chamber is a Raw gimmick match, but somebody obviously thought ECW could use the help. Basically, it's a cage match with six competitors. The cage contains the ring and four little cells. Two guys start in the ring, and the other four start in the cells. Every five minutes one of the cells opens and the guy inside joins the match. Elimination occurs by pinfall or submission. Last man standing is the winner.

Since this is ECW and they have a vague, half-formed notion that it ought to be different, this is an Extreme Elimination Chamber. This turns out to mean nothing more than "Oh yeah, and there are some weapons in the cage too." I am amused by the implication that all previous Elimination Chamber matches have merely featured a Moderate Elimination Chamber.

In theory, it's actually not a bad gimmick. These "guys enter every few minutes" matches are ridiculously unfair, but then when you're building a wrestling match, that's a positive advantage. In practice, though, the handful of Elimination Chamber matches to date have been fairly underwhelming. That probably reflects more on the participants than the gimmick - after all, the last time they did this match, it featured people like Chris Masters.

The Big Show has been the dominant heel champion virtually since the launch of the brand. By all accounts, the guy has terrible back problems and is looking to either call it a day or at least take a long, long time off, so it's almost guaranteed that he's losing. In the circumstances, he's likely to put his heart into it, and when he's motivated, he's generally good in his role as a destructive giant.

Bobby Lashley has been parachuted in from Smackdown out of nowhere, and it seems pretty likely that he's the chosen successor. He's probably the least ECW wrestler imaginable, being a big bodybuilder type, but he's not bad. Storylines would more logically point to Rob Van Dam, but most rumours suggest that the WWE still hasn't forgotten about the last time they made him world champion, and he promptly got arrested by the cops for smoking hash while driving. Mind you, it's only the ECW title, so it's possible they might let it slide.

The wildly inconsistent veteran Sabu, and the rather banal thug Test, are really just midcarders who've been thrown in to make up the numbers. On the other hand, the rising star CM Punk is still undefeated as yet, so they're going to have to be careful in how they deal with him. Unusually for an ECW wrestler, he actually seems to be catching on with the audience. I can only assume he gets beaten in some totally unfair way by Test, since he's obviously got to feud with whoever breaks his winning streak. And there's no point in that being a fellow babyface, or the absent Big Show. Which leaves Test. (So badly written is this show that, even though the story theoretically involves manager Paul Heyman bending over backwards to protect his champion, the heels are outnumbered 4 to 2. Don't ask me.)

The match is likely to be a total trainwreck. RVD and Sabu are spot monkeys, and you can't rely on them to hold it together. Test is a dreary midcarder. Big Show is on his way out, and he was always more of an effective roadblock than a compelling wrestler in his own right. Lashley is promising but inexperienced. And CM Punk, talented though he is, is more of a "one-on-one technical wrestling match leading to a respectful forty-five minute time limit draw" kind of guy - this match really doesn't play to his strengths at all. Prediction: Lashley wins, and it won't be pretty.

2. The Hardy Boys v. MNM. Continuing their reunion from Survivor Series, Matt and Jeff Hardy have issued an open challenge for this show, which has inexplicably been accepted by the reunited team of MNM. MNM were the Smackdown tag champs for a good few months before being split up when Joey Mercury was despatched to rehab, leaving Johnny Nitro to pursue a happy and productive solo career on Raw. There's no real storyline to this, and given that neither team has any connection whatsoever with ECW, either in reality or in storyline, I have no clue why it's on this show.

But it's two good teams, and they'll probably have a good match. It doesn't really matter who wins, since it's a short term reunion either way, but conventional wisdom says that when it doesn't matter, you let the good guys win and send the audience home happy.

3. Er...

4. That's it.

Yes, believe it or not, the WWE have announced a grand total of two matches for this show, which starts in just over 24 hours time. (Supposedly, Sandman v Bob Holly is also on the show, but if so, nobody's told the WWE website.) The original ECW used to do this sort of thing all the time - but then, the original ECW was a unique product with a cult audience, and people really would tune in just to see an ECW show without knowing what was on it. This is a very different ECW, and it can't get away with that. Besides, it's not like it worked out so well for the original ECW, in the long run. They did go bust, after all.

Reports are that the ticket sales for this show are, shall we say, sluggish - as in, 75% of the tickets are unsold. I can't say I'm surprised.

Worth buying? You must be joking. It's going to be a total disaster. Luckily for me, it's not a PPV in the UK - it's airing on Sky Sports 1. And that means I get to enjoy it in full FiascoVision without shelling out any more money. Believe me, it's the only reason I'm going anywhere near it. But in a perverse kind of way, I'm looking forward to seeing how horrible it can be.