Igniting the New Flame: 25 Years Ago, ECW Was Born

It was 25 years ago on August 27, 1994, that Shane Douglas won a tournament to become the 47th NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship, to fill a vacancy left by WCW withdrawing from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) that previous September. By defeating 2 Cold Scorpio in the finals, Shane Douglas had finally climbed a mountain previously peaked by the likes of Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. But instead of revel at the moment, he turned that moment into one of the most infamous shoot promos of all time. He denounced the World’s title, denounced the NWA, and announced that the NWA promotion he was working for – Eastern Championship Wrestling – was withdrawing from the NWA banner. In those moments, ECW as we knew it – Extreme Championship Wrestling – was born.

ECW originally began as Joel Goodhart‘s Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, which opened its doors in 1989. By 1992, Goodhart wanted out and sold the company to one of his partners, Tod Gordon, who rebranded the company as Eastern Championship Wrestling, bringing in “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert as his booker. That June, ECW crowned their first Heavyweight champion in former WWF Superstar Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and over the first few years, a succession of former legends would wear the gold, including Don Muraco, Tito Santana, and Terry Funk. But they also invested in new young stars who were starting to push the envelope, with The Sandman, Sabu, and Shane Douglas as early champions.

Eddie Gilbert’s reign as booker only lasted a year, before he and Gordon had a falling out. Enter Paul E. Dangerously, the infamous mouthpiece from WCW, who suddenly found himself out of a job in Atlanta. He soon replaced Gilbert as booker in 1993, laying the groundwork for what would become. In 1994, when Jim Crockett‘s non-compete clause with Ted Turner had expired following the WCW-NWA separation agreement, ECW was chosen as the host promotion to run a tournament to crown a new NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion. Crockett had no idea what Dangerously – better known now by his real name, Paul Heyman – had up his sleeve. And Douglas was the right man to do the job.

After throwing down the NWA World’s Heavyweight title, Shane Douglas – who was in his second reign as ECW Heavyweight Champion – declared that his ECW Heavyweight title was now a World title and he was ECW’s first World Heavyweight Champion. ECW made a quick shift away from promoting past legends, handing over the reins to the new breed like Douglas, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, and Raven. And thus, the world of professional wrestling got a little more extreme. The NWA, taking another blow to its brand following WCW’s dismissal of them, would crown a new champion later that year in Chris Candido (who would also soon leave for ECW), but wouldn’t recover for nearly a decade when they aligned with TNA/IMPACT Wrestling.

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