Barbed Wire City review

Craig Wilson

(pic courtesy of

(pic courtesy of

On 4 April 2001, Extreme Championship Wrestling closed its doors for the final time. Paul Heyman’s troupe of performers had finally run out of both time and money.

Although remembered as a hardcore organisation, there was much more to the promotion than that. After all, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Christ Jericho all got their breaks there and they also showcased lucha libre stars long before WCW saw it as a good way to fill the time on a Nitro broadcast.

Success came at a cost with ECW being the first real victim of the Monday Night Wars with both WWF and WCW raiding them of their better talkers and workings leaving a rump of less talented workers that relied largely on blading, hardcore wrestling and weapons to incite a reaction from the crowd. By that point, though, it was merely a matter of time for the organisation that started out as Eastern Championship Wrestling.

Jamie, whom I co-write this blog with, and I went to school together and traded wrestling vidoes back in the day and we both owned an ECW video or two. As impressionable, at the time, 14 year olds the mix of lager swilling stars, hardcore wreslting and wild action appealed to us – and it was little surprise that the WWF incorporated that into their programming during the attitude era.

That said, I wouldn’t regard myself as a fan as such of ECW. However, I wouldn’t rush to rule out the significant part that they have played in wrestling history. Some overstate it and others chose to dismiss them as having no importance and being a slight step up from backyard wrestling. However, one gripe I have with the documentary is that it focuses largely on the violence and ignores some of the things that made ECW stood out from the others: namely the use of music and the skilled promos. I mean, would The Sandman’s entrance have been as memorable had it not been set to Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’?

As a fan of wrestling, I was of course intrigued by ‘Barbed Wire City’ and eagerly anticipated its release in order to see its take on the many successes, and many feelings, from the 9 years that Extreme Championship Wrestling operated and fought against the corporate image of both Vince McMahon’s WWF and Ted Turner’s WCW.

Originally meant to come out in 2001 but shelved until a Kickstarter campaign led to its release, this documentary has benefited greatly from this delay. It has allowed the directors to take in various ‘Extreme Reunion’ and ‘Extreme Rising’ events as well as revisit superstars a decade on from the original interviews.

This documentary is like other wresting documentaries in that the talking heads add a great deal. Smashing Pumpkins singer, and wrestling fan, Billy Corgan recalls being asked to invest $1m late in the day for the promotion in exchange for 10% but rejecting the notion due to the organisation not being worth $10m. We also get various wrestling journalists including Pro’s Jason Powell, Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell from the excellent and Dave Meltzer as well as celebrity ECW fans such as ‘Straw Hat Guy’ and Tony Lewis – who spearheaded the campaign to get ECW on PPV.

It is no surprising that there is a great deal of focus on the fans of the promotion. After all, they embodied the spirit of ECW and lapped up Heyman’s pitch of a world that was ‘ECW against them’. The rabid, cult like following helped the promotion no end with fans being a pivotal part in their initial success as well as maintaining that through their years of existence.

Tragically for this documentary, it is the promotion’s at times relentless violence that garners much of the airtime on this. A real pity and renders this DVD no different from any of the other stories, told countless times to date, about ECW. It was the use of violence and blood, certainly in the latter days, that was meant to overcome other deficiencies that resulted from talent joining either WWF or WCW.

One former superstar that features prominently is Brian ‘Axl Rotten’ Knighton and tracing his story from ECW’s high points to their folding to being interviewed in recent months is tragic. From a prominent, albeit a less talented, member of the roster during the glory days to a guy that seems unwilling to accept that its over and suffering from ill health as a result of bells palsy – although unwilling to call it quits on hardcore wrestling.

The impact of the violence, particularly the Mass Transit incident in the video above, made it difficult for the organisation to secure PPV coverage but secure a PPV they did…just. The most interesting aspect here is of course the spin from Paul Heyman that all was rosey on that front with industry insiders knowing different. Yet, the ECW wrestlers waited patiently knowing that their best chance stood with being firmly behind Heyman and his aspirations.

Whilst ‘Barbed Wire City’ is undoubtedly an enjoyable romp through ECW’s brief, but significant, part in wrestling history I struggle to think of anything new that came from the DVD. Sure, the footage of Shane Douglas attempting to organise reunion shows is new but it added little to the documentary other than showcasing how many were, and are, quite unwilling to admit that it is over.

However, it is over and I only wish that the desire of wrestling fans to continue to retell the ECW story comes to an end soon too.

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