Keys to the Library: Historical Perspectives and Pro Wrestling

In short, I’m a fan of professional wrestling. I grew up watching it, and continued to watch past the youthfully “respectable” age to do so. In my early adult years my tastes in pro wrestling became heavily diversified, discovering international and independent styles and promotions. The internet also helped me to learn about wrestling’s past and keep an eye on the industry’s present and future. But as immersed as I’ve been in the “sport” I’ve never quite felt confident enough to call myself a true connoisseur, or historian. Other fans – or superfans rather – always seem far more knowledgeable. More to the point, they seem to have watched far more content than I have.

A big key to this was a significant gap in my own viewing. Between 1995 and 2000 I could not watch pro wrestling (long story). This was actually a pretty massive period for wrestling: the Monday Night Wars between mainstream giants WWF/E and WCW, and the independent explosion of ECW. I basically missed out on one of the biggest and most historically vital eras of pro wrestling.

Since then I’ve only seen bits and pieces of matches and segments from that period, hearing/reading/watching secondhand accounts and summaries. More and more these days does the internet serve to help a person view these old TV episodes and pay-per-view specials, both legally and illegally. But it’s spotty at best, often high quality yet selective, or low quality and spotty.

I’ve long fantasized about engaging in a series of proper historical retrospective experiences with pro wrestling. The notion of watching most, or even complete, archival packages of a given era or promotion is highly enticing. To be able to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling’s golden eras, or ECW’s full TV and PPV history in full chronological order, or even just revisit classic episodes of Monday Night Raw… the mind salivates.

My dream came true last week. For a few years now, WWE has offered up an increasingly massive online archive of pro wrestling video through their WWE Network. Earlier this year I decided to give the Network a try, mainly to watch newer programming. It took awhile but I finally connected with the online “vault” content. And it is, to quote NXT’s Booby Roode, glorious! I can now access the massive video annals of several promotions (WWE owns the library rights to other companies). I wasn’t even sure where to begin.

The answer became simple: ECW. The promotion itself did not last long, not even ten years, between 1992 and 2001. Compared to the far bigger and older WWF and WCW, the video archive of ECW’s programming is far more reasonable to watch in its entirety. And so I have begun, with the first (?) five or six episodes of their weekly TV show already complete. It’s been both an engrossing and awkward experience so far – some of the matches and color commentary has been kind of cringy (what TV show isn’t in its first year or two?), but other aspects have been utterly fascinating.

And that’s what I want – the full historical perspective, warts and all. And I have it now, a fully chronological experience with refurbished quality and only a few things omitted. I had only ever seen bits and pieces of ECW’s history, largely from around ’94-’95 and their last year or so, with random matches and general peppered in. But now I can see it all. I can understand it all. It’s going to take a while, but it’s going to be worth it.

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