Welcome to the Second Article in this running series! Today, we look back at a moment where Vince McMahon's idea of a wrestler ruled over anything as trivial as 'common sense'.
When looking back on Vince McMahon's tenure as Chairman of the WWE, one cannot help but feel that he has had heavy preferences for one thing in his superstars- that they have to look right.
While sometimes this image preference has allowed Vince to steal a march on what the crowd thinks- look at someone like Brock Lesnar- at other times it has only reiterated the notion amongst some wrestling fans that his ideas about what makes a good wrestler are out of date.
ECW was re-founded as a WWE brand full time in 2006 with Paul Heyman acting as head writer. It was always going to be a bizarre mix of the mainstream and the counter-cultural, with the idea of the most anti-establishment brand coming to the most pro-establishment wrestling show was always going to be seen by many as a selling out of the ECW name.
Still, it would be safe to say that after a shaky start, the ECW brand has some up and comers that were beginning to make a name for themselves. Some of the ECW originals, such as the Sandman and Rob van Dam were having interesting matches and there was new blood coming that the crowd was beginning to get behind.
One of these guys was a young wrestler by the name of CM Punk.
Punk screamed everything that Heyman thought the new ECW could stand for. He was not one of the old "vitamins, prayers and training" wrestlers who was going out of his way to try and appeal to the vanilla wrestling fan. Instead Punk was a wrestler who lived his Straight Edged creed. His move set was based partly on MMA strikes and kicks, thereby showing a more gritty style that felt right at home in ECW. Finally, he was guy who even in 2006 was a wizard both in the ring and on the microphone- something that Heyman knew would be vital to build a brand around.
This was confirmed (at least in the eyes of Heyman) by the Survivor series PPV, which was held in Philidephia- the FREAKIN' HOME OF ECW where CM Punk was so over that D Generation X actually let him to the "Are you ready?" question to the audience. It seemed a slam dunk that at the December to Dismember Elimination Chamber Match would have Punk have a great showing, if not walking away with the title.
I have always wondered about the conversation that Vince and Paul had about who was going to walk out of there the champ.
Paul: Vince, we gotta get the belt on the new guy- he's so over and the crowd love him.
Vince:: You're right Paul- Bobby Lashley should walk away with the ECW championship!
Paul: What? But Vince, Lashley has only been in our brand for 5 minutes- our crowd don't give a crap about him yet. We don't even know if he can talk!
Vince: That won't matter- the crowd will be mesmerised so much by his muscular structure that they'll just blank it out!
Paul: But what about CM Punk? He is the one that our crowd is really connecting with. He could be a franchise player.
Vince: Oh come on Paul- CM Punk? Just because he knows how to wrestle, is incredibly charismatic, can hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and is possibly tailor made to the counter-cultural tone that ECW stands for, you think he should be the champion?
Vince: But I can see his neck Paul! It would never work!
The Big Show was the champion at the time of December to Dismember and he was willing to job to Punk- even willing to tap out to the Anaconda Vise. That's how cool he thought the idea was. But McMahon nixed it in the bud and Punk was first man to go- pinned by RVD. About quarter of an hour later Lashley pinned the Big Show and we had our new ECW champion.
Except the crowd were not happy.
Lashley had come over less than a month before and the whole thing smacked of the Batista victory at the Royal Rumble earlier this year. The ECW had a champion, but it wasn't their champion- instead the WWE were trying to tell them what to think and who to cheer. They had a big bodybuilding type as champion on both 'mainstream' brands and so for the rebellious third brand McMahon decided to give it to...a big bodybuilding type.
The immediate aftermath is well known- Heyman was forced to leave ECW as McMahon blamed him for the crummy buyrate and reaction. Vince's handpicked champion, on the other hand, would go on to be one of the big matches at Wrestlemania 23 against the Intercontinental Champion Umaga with Donald Trump's and McMahon's hair on the line (the more cynical may wonder if McMahon had this match in his hand at the time of the ECW PPV and it was actually one of the reasons he wasn't willing to go with Punk).
ECW would limp on and Punk would indeed become champion in September but by that time the horse had bolted. With the championship being held by Lashley then Vince McMahon, the ECW fanbase saw that their title was just a storyline prop compared to the feuds of HBK/Cena and Taker/Batista that the other two titles were enjoying. McMahon's prediction that Lashley would become a massive star would also fly back in his face, as less than a year later he would wrestle his final WWE match.
The December to Dismember episode showed that Vince McMahon did not quite know what to do with the ECW brand to legitimise it- a fact that would be bore out in the future months. Instead of backing young talent who was affiliated with the ECW brand first and foremost, the WWE sent various Raw and Smackdown stars there to occupy the top spots- like Christian, Mark Henry, Kane, John Morrison and Matt Hardy.
December to Dismember was a fork in the road in the WWE version of ECW. Vince McMahon's choice not only scotched the brand of any credibility from their base, but also put a huge roadblock in the road of future wrestlers like CM Punk that would take several years to break down- something which arguably the IWC has never forgiven him for.
Well, that's it for article 2 of this series gang! Tomorrow we examine those most dangerous of body parts- fingers. Hope to see you then!