The violent, bloody and extreme wrestling matches that appealed to Philadelphia sports fans and defined a new "attitude" in professional wrestling during the 1990s is experiencing a resurrection.
In the same South Philadelphia bingo hall where Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) established its non-traditional brand of brawling, a new generation of hardcore chair-swingers is returning to take up the mantle.
Extreme Rising, a local professional wrestling company, will film its debut event, "Unfinished Business," on Dec. 28. The event will hit television sets on WACP Channel 4 in Philadelphia on New Year's Day.
Moving forward, one-hour episodes will air on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. They will feature pre-recorded matches and interviews, both in and out of character, with top competitors such as Matt Hardy, Sabu and Shane Douglas.
Steve O’Neill, of Morrell Park, handles the day-to-day operations of the resurrected promotion.
O’Neill can’t believe he’s in charge of the steel chairs and piledrivers, he said, because as a kid in the 80s, he wasn’t allowed to watch pro wrestling.
“My dad didn’t like the kind of people who came out to the events,” O’Neill said. “He never grasped the concept of suspended reality. I would sneak it in my kitchen on the black-and-white TV.”
He said it was the gritty and realism of the National Wrestling Alliance and Universal Wrestling Federation that attracted him, not the cartoonish spectacle that was the WWE.
“I stumbled upon a two-out-of-three falls match between Rey Mysterio and Psicosis on TV," O'Neill said. "That hooked me into watching the Tommy Dreamer and Raven feud. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is real.’”
Extreme Rising will hold its event at ECW’s old home, the Asylum Arena on West Ritner Street.
“That building is going to be ridiculous,” O’Neill said. “The volume, the chants, the energy and intensity are going to be surreal. We have some surprises planned that could really jump start the company back on the map.”
Titled “Unfinished Business,” the lineup includes Rhino vs. Devon Storm, Hardy vs. Luke Hawx, Super Crazy and his nephew Pesadilla vs. Damien 666 and his son Bestia 666, and more matches to be announced.
Philly native Stevie Richards is scheduled to defend the Extreme Rising Championship against a mystery opponent.
A 1988 Archbishop Ryan graduate, O’Neill called the promotion an old-school, politically-incorrect, realistic edge to sports-entertainment.
“We’re going back to tell the story we started to tell,” O’Neill said. “There are so many wrestling fans who have no idea we even ran a show. It’s a testament to what ECW did that its spirit still lives on today.”