If you've ever been a fan of Extreme Championship Wrestling, chances are you've got some great memories of the influential promotion. ECW was one of the true standouts of the wrestling industry, burning brightly for a few short years before eventually collapsing under its own weight. It began in February 1994, as the former Eastern Championship Wrestling---based in my home state of Pennsylvania---took a sharp turn "to the extreme", changing its name and attitude under the direction of Paul Heyman. It enjoyed a cult-like following during the early years, building a formidable reputation through local word-of-mouth and the fledgling Internet crowd (back when 28.8K modems were all the rage). I'd heard of it by 1995 and was lucky enough to catch it at some God-awful hour on a local access network every week.
After ECW's demise just a few short years ago, the company managed to live on through its loyal disciples and their T-shirts, signs, and chants during non-ECW shows. To the delight of some fans and the dismay of others, "sports entertainment" juggernaut WWE---who, by then, had bought out rival company WCW---acquired the ECW library from Paul Heyman, eventually resurrecting the company under the WWE banner. It obviously couldn't offer the same experience, but many fans were hopeful nonetheless. These same fans (including yours truly) were pleasantly surprised with One Night Stand, ECW's "comeback" pay-per-view extravaganza held on June 12th, 2005, in New York City. The crowd was electric, there were plenty of memorable moments---heck, even the matches were pretty good, with a few reservations.
Unfortunately, the novelty may have worn off since then. Paul Heyman lost most of his creative control over the company during the last few months, and the recent ECW live shows have been a disappointment to most fans. Several WWE superstars have made their way over to ECW, making it feel more like a cross-promotion than a genuine reincarnation of its former self. This unfortunate trend has continued into the second installment of One Night Stand, which apparently will be a yearly event for as long as the WWE will support it (and just for the record, I'll give it another year at most). Despite my initial doubts---somewhat lessened, since it would be held at the same venue with the same rabid fans---could this year's event hold its own weight? I got two words for ya: sort of.
ECW's "One Night Stand" – June 11th, 2006 – NYC
Opening segment: Paul Heyman addresses the crowd
As mentioned earlier, it's easy to see that the roster is a bit…well, particular. Whatever business Jerry Lawler, Randy Orton, Edge, Lita and John Cena have as part of an ECW show is beyond me (NOTE: Angle and Mysterio can stay if they want to), since upper management probably could've scored a few more former ECW superstars to fill the card. On principle alone, this factor almost kills the show right out of the gate---but truth be told, there are a few great matches to be seen, including both championship bouts and the first tag match. The number one complaint with most of these contests, like last year, is how rushed some of them feel; after all, ECW was home to several spectacular matches that ran from 30-45 minutes and beyond. Why not slow things down a bit?
By and large, though, this 2006 installment of One Night Stand can't help but pale in comparison to last year's event. The venue was still terrific, the crowd was still energetic and there were still plenty of entertaining moments---but it just didn't feel like ECW, a fact made all the worse when we realize that it's probably the closest we'll get anymore. I can understand WWE president Vince McMahon's diligence in keeping his own brand recognizable, but his new "vision" of ECW is becoming watered down in the same way as the WCW takeover. We should feel lucky that relatively new independents like TNA Wrestling offer a refreshing alternative---because for now, ECW just ain't the same.
Luckily for us, WWE has given ECW fans a taste of the glory days with this 2-disc collection of One Night Stand---you'll have to read on for more, but let's just say that a memorable ECW pay-per-view is included in its entirety. Even with its shortcomings, the main feature is worth watching more than once...but it's the bonus features that ultimately make One Night Stand a worthy addition to your DVD library. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
WWE usually does a good job in the technical department, but One Night Stand isn't one of their best efforts. Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the transfer exhibits accurate colors and looks very clean---but here's the bad news: several digital problems were easily spotted, including digital combing, jagged edges and compression artifacts. This is sadly becoming the standard for most WWE DVDs; in all honesty, their rumored anouncement to make the switch to high-definition video couldn't come soon enough. While ECW fans won't be disappointed---after all, the company stressed product over production value---this is still an uninspired video presentation.
Thankfully, the sound quality is much better, preserving the electric live experience quite well. The English Dolby Surround presentation offers a strong atmosphere, including clear dialogue and strong music from start to finish. Just for the record: this footage can't be rated on the same scale as your typical Hollywood blockbuster, but it's very good by typical sports-related standards. No subtitles or Closed Captioning options are available during the main feature or any of the extras, though an alternate play-by-play commentary is offered in Spanish.
One Night Stand is fairly standard for WWE releases, offering animated 1.33:1 menu designs (seen above) and smooth, simple navigation. Each match and/or major segment has been given its own chapter---there's 11 in all during the main feature---and no layer change was detected during playback. This two-disc release is housed in a single-width keepcase and includes two chapter inserts (one for One Night Stand and another for the bonus disc).
There may not be much initially, but the second disc included with this release really puts it over the top! First up on Disc 1 is a bonus match: the WWE vs. ECW Battle Royal from the June 7th, 2006 edition of Raw (14:46). It's a mostly straightforward match by WWE standards, with most of the bigger-name stars getting all the attention (although there's a nice little bait-and-switch near the end). Also here is a segment featuring some rather enthusiastic post-show Fan Comments (1:12, below left); if nothing else, it's worth a laugh or two. Finishing out the first disc is the Opening Segment of ECW's Premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel (11:35); it's pretty much all talk and a recap of the PPV, but it's interesting for history's sake. Don't ask me how ECW got a place on Sci-Fi, but it did.
The second disc is next, and we only get one extra (but it's a good one!): the complete ECW "Barely Legal" Pay-Per-View from April 13th, 1997 (20 chapters, 159:57 total, below right). This first-ever PPV from ECW was a landmark event for the company---not to mention independent wresting in general---and since it's been out-of-print for some time now, you won't have to donate plasma to finally own a copy. A complete match listing (with spoilers) and more information on the PPV can be found here, but those who've never seen it before are in for a great show! This is a fantastic extra to have, so here's hoping for more classic ECW on DVD in the near future.
As a stand-alone show, ECW: One Night Stand can't help but fall short of last year's installment, but that's not to say that it isn't worth watching. While WWE's technical presentation could use a bit of improvement---especially in the video department---most die-hard fans of ECW shouldn't mind the less-than-impressive visuals. Where this 2-disc set really shines is the second disc, as the Barely Legal PPV manages to outshine the main feature with energy to spare. Any way you slice it, One Night Stand is a solid package that ECW fans will enjoy. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a chair-swingin' office monkey hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.