He was never afraid to push buttons to drive wrestling fans into a craze. Outside of the ring, he was never afraid to share his real thoughts on his peers and the wrestling business, either.
Douglas spent seven years with ECW during which he was a four-time world champion and a key character as it built a devoted following from diehard wrestling fans who wanted an alternative from the WWF and WCW at the time.
Recently, FanHouse spoke with "The Franchise" to get his thoughts on Vince McMahon's decision to end the ECW brand and much more about those three letters.
Brian Fritz: Were you surprised last week when Vince McMahon made the announcement that he is ditching ECW?
Shane Douglas: No, not surprised at all. In fact, I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. My personal opinion -- and I think the opinion of a lot of fans -- is that Vince McMahon simply wanted to stop fans from chanting "ECW" when they saw someone they either didn't like or they did like and one of the most difficult things to sanitize on tape is crowd sound. So if you see the crowd chanting "ECW" and their fist is pounding three times, and they try to sanitize that with crowd cheers, it's very obvious. So, from a production standpoint, I think Vince McMahon thought he had an agenda that he had to adhere to.
Are you even surprised that he decided to go with ECW in the first place after the original incarnation which you were a part of? He had the rights to it for several years before he decided to start his own version of ECW.
No. I think what I said before is what his philosophy was, to stop those chants and there was no better way to do it than the way he did it. It was effective. It stopped the chants but it, no pun intended, disenfranchised millions of fans that were ECW fans. I'm sure those were fans that he would love to have back right now and I doubt he'll get back.
Were you as frustrated watching or hearing about what was going on with this new version of ECW that Vince McMahon was doing or were you able to put it behind you and not think about it?
Well, sort of 50-50. My affinity for ECW will always be there, because that's where I cut my teeth, so to speak, and became the main event talent that I would later become. So from that standpoint I was extremely frustrated with what they were doing because, again, I think they could have pushed it as a viable product. It's like the old Jim Crockett thing where he bought the UWF [United Wrestling Federation] just to close it down. If the bank account at the end of the trail is mine, I could care less if it's called Timbuktu Wrestling. If it's drawing money into my account, I'm going to push it. Jim Crockett made the mistake of doing the same thing with UWF and he literally lost his tail on it and I think it started his downward spiral and he finally had to sell to Turner and be out of business. And Vince did the same thing with ECW. He bought it to dismantle it or put it on the air to dismantle it.
From my affinity of ECW, I was extremely frustrated but the veteran in me said that it's pretty much what I expected and if you go back and look at interviews at the time I said as much. I knew that Vince was short-sided. If there was one thing I could be positive of was that he'd screw that up. And sure enough he did, sadly he did. I don't know what the general consensus is but my feeling on it is that it done nothing to damage the real legacy of ECW. If anything, it made it stronger. I would think that if anyone would have the wherewithal to bring the original ECW back -- I'm not sure if it could be done today with the parameters and restrictions on TV but if someone could do it -- then it would be interesting to take a second go-around at it. It's funny to me where wrestling is back to exactly where it was in 1992, '93 that gave rise to ECW in the first place. We're right back there again, so who knows. Stranger things have happened, but I think there's a pretty strong possibility that somebody is going to try to do something with wrestling to bring it back away from what it's become and where it's gone.
It's clear TNA's [Total Nonstop Action Wrestling] foray into wrestling has been vastly underachieving and WWE's has been amazingly dwindling. It's a shame. I think [TNA President] Dixie Carter and her dad [Bob Carter] have made an amazing monetary investment in the company that has produced nothing. And the WWE, on the other hand, is trying to figure out how, as a company, to stop hemorrhaging fans. I think in this month's Harvard Business Review there's something about reinvention and back to the future, and I think that's exactly what wrestling has to do if it's going to just survive. It has to go back to some semblance of ... I don't know, if ECW is the answer. I think it's part of the answer, but I think fans want to see something more realistic with the storylines, force them to think a little bit, and get to something that's a lot more old school. That's one portion of the formula that Vince has steadfastly refused to try and Dixie Carter has been unwilling to try. They've tried everything else. They've tried every flip-flopping move, every kind of iron cage they can build, every tower they can build, every kind of storyline and vignette that can do off of "sports entertainment" and we're down 10, 15 million fans over the last 10 years. My belief is that old school is where it has to go to bring some of those fans back and create new fans.
When ECW originally went out of business, if Vince McMahon and WWE had decided to do something with the brand right then and let it continue in the same genre it was but put it more on a national scale, do you think that could have worked?
Absolutely. Absolutely, because I think Vince could have put his business acumen into it, which is the only place that ECW was built on sand. I mean, our foundation was built on sand. Paul [Heyman] was a horrible businessman and none of us knew it. Had we known it, we certainly would have tried to make some sort of an interjection to stop it. But it you had taken Vince's business acumen -- which there is no argument there, he is a great businessman -- and put that to ECW, and done the one thing Vince has never been good at, and keep his nose out of it and not try to make it what he wants it to be. Allow it be what it was. Those are two gigantic ifs but I think if those were done, then ECW would have been very successful and continued to thrive and gotten much bigger than it ever did.
In your opinion, what made the original ECW so special?
First and foremost, you have to put it in context of the time frame. Wrestling at that time had become extraordinarily cartoonish, incredibly mundane, incredibly silly in the storylines and the characters. Guys like us on a Friday night, we had two or three choices: We could go to wrestling when it came to town or we could go down to the bar of the strip club or go dancing or something. Most of the guys in 1992 our age were heading to the bar or down to the strip club. There was no one going, 'Well, let's try wrestling and go there,' because wrestling had chiseled those fans away, turned them away in droves. ECW catered right to them. I remember it being said that way. What do we need to do to bring those guys back? What does the 18-34 male want and what are they getting? The first thing we came up with was realism. I think ECW brought that at the timeframe in bucketfuls. The characters were all believable. The characters were all strongly defined. The storylines were all incredibly well written, mature in thought. When I say mature, I don't mean X-rated but adult, certainly not for kids. It was violent at a time when wrestling had become so hokey and cartoonish. There was suddenly a human train wreck on the television that was pretty damn cool to watch.
The last thing was -- and I haven't seen this again anywhere in wrestling -- we catered to our fans. We shoved nothing down their throat. If there was something they didn't like, we quickly jettisoned it and went to the next thing. Initially, when we came out, there were heels and babyfaces. And when the fans started getting used to the heels and babyfaces, we became tweeners, and then when they got used to us being tweeners, we all became clearly defined babyfaces and heels again. So we were always juking when the fans thought we were jiving. When they thought we were going right, we were going left. We tried to. We didn't always succeed at it but I think that's the reason it was very entertaining to the fans was because they could never figure us out completely.
When you walk into a movie and you spend $10 and $8.95 for a popcorn and $5.95 for a drink and you sit down and in the first three-to-five minutes, you figure out whodunit, it's not entertaining. At the end of the movie, you walk out dejected. I don't think it was very often the fans figured out what ECW was doing. They would try. But the fans also played the sixth man on the bench. They would bring the weapons in, they knew the chants, they would interact with the boys in the ring. I always think back to the night that we threw Gary Wolfe down with a broken neck. Those 1,100 fans in that building were about as smart as any fan in the world. They had seen everything, they had witnessed everything; every kind of storyline, every kind of violence and physicality. Yet, when I threw Gary Wolfe down that night, 1,100 fans rioted, and I think the reason for that was that they thought maybe Troy Martin (Douglas' real name) got a little bit too much into his character -- or maybe Paul was a little overzealous in his writing or somebody screwed something up someplace.
But the bottom line was 1,100 fans that night gasped and then began to pour over the railing to beat me and Francine (Douglas' valet) because they thought we had stepped way over the line. You will never see that in wrestling again until some of those things I spoke about earlier are brought back. When you present it as a cartoon and tell them up front what you are about to watch is b.s., there is no reason for them to have an emotional investment. Until we see some of that come back, I don't think you'll see anything changing in wrestling -- and we'll continue to see a downslide, and the fans dribble away, until it becomes either the next roller derby or somebody does begin to bring it back.