It is 6AM and I just woke up because it finally hit me….the building that started it all for RF VIDEO 19 years ago…YES 19 FREAKING years ago is being shut down today. The ECW arena will hosts its final two wrestling events today with Evolve and CZW. Today is a sad day to be a wrestling fan that is for sure.
As I sit here thinking about everything about that place, the one thing that sticks out the most is what that venue meant to me personally. As you all know I started out as one of the biggest marks out there. I collected wrestling video tapes starting all the way back to 1984. I had one of the biggest wrestling video tape collections of all time by far in the late 80's. That is how I met Tod Gordon for the first time. I was at a convention in Philly airport and he came up to me and wanted to get a Ric Flair video from me and invited me to his first ever ECW TV tapings at Cabrini college.
I will never forget that day because me and my best friend Doug Gentry were so happy that we were going to get to see Terry Funk, Don Muraco, Jimmy Snuka and one of my favorite managers of all time, Paul E Dangerously live right here in Philly. I loved Paul because at the time, Roddy Piper was off TV but Paul Heyman was the second best thing to Roddy Piper by far. I remember going to the TV tapings and sitting in the crowd the entire time with Doug just as fans.
After that show was over Tod announced a few weeks later that ECW would be returning to Philly but this time they would be taping shows at a new venue in South Philly at Swanson and Rittner. We were told it was a bingo hall. Doug and myself again went to the very first ECW show ever at the arena. I remember it like yesterday because in a true story, Doug had his fingers outside my car window and as we were pulling up to the venue I put his window up crushing his fingers, as I could still here him in my head yelling, "my fingers, my fingers are stuck."
I also remember Doug bringing a sign that night to the arena and you can actually see it if you watch some of that show as Doug and myself were facing the hard camera. Doug's sign read, "Doug Gilbert USWA jobber." Doug loved all of the heels and I think you can 100% see us in the crowd at Ultra Clash as well.
After the first few shows at the arena I was lucky enough to ask Tod if we could set up at the venue and sell our videos and to my surprise he said yes. Our spot and everyone will remember this was right next to the bathroom. We were there from day one all the way until the end. We were there on the Sundays when there were only 60 fans in there and they used string as barricades to keep fans separated from the ring. I was also there at the Night the Line was Crossed with my own Mother and Father. This was the only time I think my parents came to a ECW together to watch the action from my table. I Know my dad was there the night that 911 chokeslammed me because he drove me home because I got a concussion that night.
It was in this venue that everything happened for my company. Not only did I get to rub elbows with every major superstar that ever stepped thru the venue, but this is where I learned my craft. Doug would often play our videos on a TV that I always would bring to shows and it would attract all the wrestlers to our tables before the doors open. I could still hear in my head the FMW announcers going crazy as we would run videos of all the death match matches on our TV. I remember Tommy Dreamer for the first time ever coming up to our table in his Football jacket with leather sleeves and introducing himself to Doug and myself. I remember the Headhunters going thru the wall at the arena and Butch the landlord flipping out. I remember Victor Quinnones the IWA/WIng promoter coming up to my table for the first time and flipping out on me that I was bootlegging his videos back in the day.
After that happened Victor and Doug and myself became friends and he took us to Japan and Puerto RIco as we did major business with IWA in Puerto Rico and FMW. It was thru that arena that all of my wrestling connections were made. I met Eddie GIlbert at the arena, not for the first time but Eddie started to call me to get videos from me, as he wanted fire matches because he was going to Puerto Rico to work for WWC. It was in this arena where I started my business relationship with ECW and Paul Heyman.
It was in this building where RF VIDEO would debut so many new video tapes each month. At times we had a line of 3 people deep around our video table. I think it is safe to say that our company was born out of the arena. You knew if you came to that venue for RF VIDEO back in the 90's you could get wrestling tapes from every major promotion around the world.
It was at this venue that I first met Gabe Sapolsky. We both went to Temple University and I still remember the first time I met Gabe at Temple as he bought The Best of the Moondogs video from us from Memphis wrestling. I think I charged him $20 too..sucker!!!!! This is the venue where John Clark got his start in journalism creating the wrestling Flyer Newsletter. John is now the lead sportsman on NBC 10 right here in Philly. This is the venue that gave so many people in the business a start.
This is the venue that created wrestling careers for guys like Tazz, Sabu, Dreamer, Eliminators, Dudleys, Raven, Stevie Richards, Malenko, Benoit, Guerrero and the list goes on and on!!! Anyone who was anyone came thru those doors. This was the venue that also re-created stars and gave them new life, like Cactus Jack, Steve Austin, Steve Williams, Shane Douglas, Terry Funk and countless other legends.
This was the venue that saw guys shed so much blood. for the love of our sport. JT Smith throwing himself off the balcony. Tommy Dreamer being tossed from every corner of the historic venue thru tables by Brian Lee, New Jack jumping off every place he could climb too. Ian and Axl killing themselves with glass and bats. God dam, was wrestling amazing in this place!!!!
This was the venue where fans would be lined up around the block at 4PM when you would pull up to the place. This was the building where fans became stars like hat guy, the Original sign guy, dreds, Ray as the priest and even Mike Johnson from PWI Insider would be in the crows with his NY clique.
I can still remember driving on 95 so freaking excited about going to the ECW arena every time they were in town. It was just such a rock star atmosphere in that place. You never knew who you were going to see there. I would LOVE and I mean LOVE to hang out backstage and just sit back and watch everything. Besides the NWA this was the first backstage area that I was allowed in, and trust me I learned SOOOOOO much by hanging out backstage.
I would get to the venue at 4PM and I would often eat the cupcakes that ring announcer Bob Artise would bring for the guys. I would then walk to my table and make sure that Doug was all set up and doing ok. Then I would walk back to back to see who got there. Usually it was the NY clique first. Paul would set up his desk which was just a table in the center of the locker room. Taz and Dreamer would be there by this time. Then one by one all the legends would walk thru those two bid doors in the back. By 6PM the backstage area looked like a freak show in a way. So many different characters would be back there.
This is the venue where for the first time ever, I saw a TV monitor set up where EVERY wrestler would sit around and we would have chairs like a movie theater where EVERY wrestler would watch everyone elses matches and as soon as they walked thru that curtain they would get a applause by each other. I can't tell you how many shows I watched backstage in front of that monitor with the guys. As a huge mark back then it was incredible to be sitting there with Terry Funk, hoping I would get to say "good luck" out there and as time went on my little comments to the guys would eventually bond me with them as long time friends like Tommy Dreamer.
When ECW grew I will never forget the long car rides to Flagstaff PA with Doug and then we started to drive with Gabe because he was filming shows for us at that point. We hated the drive to Flagstaff because at the time it was like 90 minutes away and it seemed like the longest drive ever and we just wanted to be able to drive 20 minutes to the arena. When ECW took off and ran everywhere those Flagstaff days were a piece of cake, compared to driving to Buffalo NY, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Florida and other places we never flew too.
It was at this venue where I made so many wrestling friends. I shared so many great wrestling moments with 1000's of fans over the years. I saw some of the best angles of all time take place at the arena like Funk in the box, Lawler invade ECW, Eaton and Arn hit the ring, Sabu debut where he went thru the crowd on a Sunday afternoon in front of 150 fans and 400 empty chairs as he destroyed the seats and scared the shit out of every fan in there. Who can forget Paul Heyman standing on the stage, and "selling" for every match, but in reality he was not selling he was marking out for the art of Pro Wrestling that he helped create in that venue that bled over to WCW and WWF back at that time. Many of the legends that were born at that arena were hand plucked from ECW to go on to bigger pastures.
It was in that venue where girls like Francine showed the world that there is a major place for women, managers like Bill Alfonso were brought back, Valets like Beulah McGillicutty made a impact on the sport of Pro Wrestling. It was in that venue where wrestling was wrestling and you would see no bullshit.
I can still remember the first time I met New Jack in that venue. I heard he was nuts and to keep away from him. He had a really bad rep in the locker room even before he came in. I was told he never liked white people because of his so called past and to avoid him at all costs. I loved his promos in SMW and could not wait to see him. The first night he was in ECW I kept my distance from him but not for long. Then there was a show at the arena where it was 3AM and Paul was having guys do late night promos which were another perk that I got to watch after arena shows. I just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time and I walked in this area where New Jack and Mustafa were sitting going over their promo. I think they were waiting for Paul as he was filming with someone else. It was super awkward because it was just me and New Jack. He looked right at me and I had to say hello. I went up to him, like I was taught and shook his hand and told him, "hey man I just love your promos" and he thanked me and after that point I talked to him at every show and realized that if Jack likes you than your set. If Jack hates you, than your fucked. I seen Jack get into many locker room fights and the most famous was with Brain Pillman backstage at the ECW FN Arena!!!
The locker room at the arena during a show was like a war zone. There would be nurses working on bloody wrestlers all over the place. It would be like man down, man down right after a match. Everyone was always concerned for each other and it was that venue that brought everyone together in ECW as a family. I can honestly say that the best time of my life ever was during the ECW heyday from 1993 to 2000 that all started for me at that arena.
It was from that venue that I got to travel to Japan, Hawaii, England, Mexico, Puerto Rico and all over the United States. It was because of that venue I got to do all of this. It was because of that venue, RFVIDEO is where it is at today. I grew my business because of that historic venue. I can't tell you how many people I met down there that helped my company grow from wrestlers to the fans.
I owe my company to the ECW arena…How about the times during the summer when it felt like 120 degrees in there. At midnight when a show was over during the summer you would walk out and just stand in front of the venue to cool off and it was 90 degrees at night and you would just be all sweaty from being inside and worn out but you would be thinking about that insane brawl you just saw with Public Enemy and the Bruise Brothers. You might be standing outside and watching The Pitbulls drive by the arena after a show blasting their own theme music in their car. You could see the fans still hanging around trying to get autographs on chairs or broken pieces of table that Sabu broke earlier in the night.
These are the days that I think about the most. When wrestling was fun and meant something. That venue made wrestling fun for me. That venue bonded Doug Gentry, Eric Gargiullo and Gabe Sapolsky together. We all worked together and to this day still do. Eric helps me out all the time with shoots, Gabe and me have a major history from driving all over the country to starting ROH with myself. All of that started because of the ECW arena. If there was no arena, ECW and RF VIDEO would never have been the same. I really do not know where ECW would have been without the arena. It put ECW on the map and made it famous.
When fans would say don't go to the Spectrum , you have to go to the Arena you knew there was something special there. You can tell anyone about ECW from back in the day and most will say, didn't they run in South Philly at some bingo hall and I would correct them and say, "no that was the ECW arena."
Well tonight in just a few hours I will be driving down to my final show at this historic place. Walking in for the final time and setting up once again for maybe the last time ever at the ECW arena some 19 years. What a ride it has been. I know that Doug Gentry will be there tonight in spirit with a sign that probably will say "thank you." I am legit getting teary eyed just thinking about all the memories that I had in that place. I would give anything to be able to go back in that time period once again and to have live thru it all again.
Long live the ECW arena and for everyone that was along for the ride, come tonight and pay tribute to the birth place of ECW and the venue that changed the sport of pro wrestling forever!!!! EC DUB EC DUB EC DUB!!!!!