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Joey Styles Can't Play it
Both Ways
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By Paul Herzog

I've got the utmost respect for what Joey Styles has accomplished during his tenure with Extreme Championship Wrestling. He's been the voice of the promotion during 90 percent of its life, often times while holding down a full-time job on the side. He's done all the voice-overs and play-by-play, and most of the interviews and his own color commentary. He's relied on videotape and other experts to learn all the nuances of the various styles of ECW's wrestlers, from Taz's judo throws and submissions to the Lucha Libre guys to not stumbling over the names of various Japanese wrestlers and their backgrounds. Styles is one of the major reasons that ECW fans can hold their heads up high and look at "their" promotion as superior to the WWF and WCW.

It's for those reasons that I've been disappointed with his recent comments at times. Selling the product as a higher-quality alternative to other professional wrestling groups has always been a marketing angle for ECW, and that's fine. It's the "us vs. them" mentality that has worked for ECW during its lean times, its growth periods, and most of the time in between. But in his zealousness to keep that mentality alive, and his enthusiasm for the product, Styles has often been glaringly forgetful. Some samples that come to mind over the past year or two:

Several times, both on TV and PPV, Styles has referred to a move created by an ECW wrestler as something "you'll be seeing soon on Monday night, repackaged under a different name." The comment is almost always tossed out tongue-in-cheek, insinuating that other wrestlers are watching ECW tapes. And maybe they are. But at the same time, the Dudley Boys and little half-brother Spike are using variations of Diamond Dallas Page's finisher. When Buh Buh Ray was a babyface, it was called a "Buh Buh Cutter." Now, those finishes have their own names. And when Mikey Whipwreck was using a Stone Cold Stunner as his finish, it wasn't called a Stunner...it was a Whippersnapper. Those were things that we saw on Monday night first, and ended up in the ECW Arena. And I won't even mention the Blue World Order, which started out as a goof, and ended up being one of their primary angles, which Joey reported in all-possible seriousness.

On several TV broadcasts last March, Styles pointed out that Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair weren't going to sacrifice themselves in barbed wire, that nobody but ECW was going to take it to the limit as Terry Funk and Sabu did. Ah, but that's not true, not even close. Puerto Rico has been the home of barbed wire for many years. Texas promotions have used it since the 50s. The Sheepherders and Jack Victory had a brutal barbed wire cage match with the Fantastics and Terry Taylor in 1986, and a different incarnation of the Fantastics repeated the gimmick in 1993 against the Heavenly Bodies in SMW. And there have been several Japanese promotions that have taken barbed wire beyond ECW, and indeed, beyond sanity, since 1990. ECW was still Eastern, featuring Jimmy Snuka and Ivan Koloff, when Terry Funk stepped into an exploding barbed wire cage with Atsushi Onita in front of 40,000 at Kawasaki Stadium six years ago last week. ECW's wrestlers may be more willing to lay their bodies on the line than the top guys in WCW. But that isn't the first time someone has been scarred by the barbed wire.

The aforementioned barbed wire being used in WCW, especially when wrapped around the torso of Hardcore Hak, the former ECW champion Sandman, has rubber tips on it. Styles pointed this out on numerous occasions, almost to the point of overkill. My response to that is, "So f'n what?!" Part of WCW's operation is to avoid regular and excessive blood shed. Now, you may question that, judging by the amount of tables and chairs and "hardcore" matches that we've seen there in the past few months. But facts are facts, and in facing that, it's easy to see that they can't risk having another Sabu tear his arm open for the world to see on Nitro. The barbed wire is gimmicked. So are theatrical props, haunted houses, and movie weaponry.

Extreme Championship Wrestling has been a great company with regard to providing the product that their fans want, and rewarding their fans with ticket deals, Internet conventions, and often times, brutal honesty. It's a pleasure when the employees, from Paul Heyman on down, treat fans such as myself with the respect that we earn with ticket, video and T-shirt purchases. They've given us the benefit of the doubt, assuming that we have the intelligence level to handle the "truth." At the times when that my intelligence is insulted, then, I feel cheated. I can expect that from the WWF and WCW. I don't expect it from Joey Styles and ECW. They hold themselves above their competition, and sometimes it comes back to bite them.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@aol.com.

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