South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A historic Bingo Hall, bear witness to some of the most influential moments in wrestling history. I pace back and forth as I listen to a restless crowd heckle and yell, it is dark and cold. My neck rotates and I begin to throw knees and shadowbox in a ritualistic pre-match fashion. Agents, writers and personnel from ‘HDnet’ scatter through the small hallway in which I await, I step over thick electrical cords and cables connected to the extravagant lighting and entrance system stage. I look to my left, as I pour water from my one-gallon jug over my head, a set of stairs lead up to a balcony that overlooks the arena. The same set of stairs Paul Heyman delivered his famous speech prior to the very first ECW pay per view.
“Tonight we have a chance to say, yeah you’re right. We’re too extreme, we’re too wild, we’re too out of control, and we’re too full of our own shit. Or we have a chance to say hey, fuck you you’re wrong, fuck you we’re right, because you have all made it to the dance, ‘cause believe me, this is the dance!”
A generic music begins playing and the voice of Adam Pearce brings me back to reality of where I am and what I’m about to do. “O’reilly, you’re up!” No more time to be nervous, I bend over and punch each of my shins, and stand up slapping myself in the face. It’s go time. Pushing the black curtain aside I step up onto the platform and enter the infamous ECW arena towards rabid, bloodthirsty fans, towards my destiny. I’ve never felt so far from Bridgeview Hall, Surrey BC, in my life.
It’s brisk outside of the car as the highway engulfed by a wintering forest captures my imagination. Driving in my car, Tony, Davey and myself are nearing Philadelphia. I am tired and a lingering anticipation rumbles in my stomach. I have no idea what to expect and what is awaiting me. As we near closer, the skyscrapers overtake the view, and is by far what looks to be the largest city I’ve encountered so far on my quest. Although Chicago is technically the larger city, something about Philly seems so intimidating and vast. Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States, it’s where the declaration of independence was created and signed. I think a lot to myself about history and the way things have come to be, about the culture and vibe a certain area or city gives off, always excites me. Here I am in the ‘city of brotherly love.’ Something I’ve never literally known, I suddenly have a longing for home, I text my sister, that I miss and love her, and where I am. She tells me she’s proud. Sisterly love seems more wholesome.
We exit off the highway into the downtown south side of Philadelphia, the sides of the streets are littered with cars and apartments crammed together. Cars are parked literally in the middle of the street and newspapers flutter through the wind resembling man’s imitation for leaves and the natural occurrence of fall. The city is old, and weathered, beaten down, begging for sympathy. Passing through four way stop intersections, people show little disregard for others, as well as their own safety. All driving etiquette is thrown out the window and cars honk and speed through stop signs to deliver people to their apparent important destinations; everyone is late for something I reckon. We join the club and almost run over Spike Lee, or at least a chapie with a similar appearance to the famed director. I am on edge as I basically expect gunshots to start blazing; Philadelphia is home to the largest percentage of gunshot murders in the US. I now full heartedly understand why Will Smith’s momma made him move with his aunty and uncle in Belair. “When a couple of guys who were up to no good, started makin’ trouble in my neighborhood”.
Crossing some train tracks and turning the corner we pass the front doors of the ECW arena, a small white building on the corner of Swanson and Ritner, underneath interstate 95. A barbed wire fence is the behind the building and we drive past a gate into the parking area. A giant semi production truck labeled HDnet is parked back end towards the back entrance. Let the excitement begin. As I exit the backseat of my own car, I bash my kneecap on the seat extender so hard I think I’m about to explode with profanity. Biting my lip I encourage my composure and walk it off, it’s extremely cold outside and I realize now how significant my geographical location is. North east coast of the US, the Atlantic breeze rolls over the town as my breath turns to a visible fog. I grab my bags and walk towards the door, time to go to work.
Philadelphia truly is a fascinating city. Full of diners I noticed, as well as liquor and gun stores. We must have eaten at the ‘Oregon diner’ at least 8 times over the course of two days spent in Philly. Extremely convenient as it is a mere 4 blocks away from the venue. Breakfast food is so my favorite thing ever, however the service in Philly is not. Maybe it’s the way people are raised out here or just the low morality of constant lack of civility, but every waitress I encountered here was rude and crude, with the exception of one dear lady, who on the first evening there, kept calling me ‘babe’ and ‘sugar.’ Old enough to be my mother, she resembles my couch. A weathered, messy face with wrinkles and a full-hearted smile. She brings more coffee every 30 seconds. I suddenly realize that possibly the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies lost the world series to the New York Yankees the night before may be in connection to the conspiracy of the local rude awakening? Will investigate further.
The air outside is cold and stabs at my exposed neck and ears. A smell of pungent garbage mixed with exhaust fumes interrogate my senses, as I bear witness to a homeless man pushing his shopping cart full of treasure. I suddenly realize how insignificant I am as a sole human being, in this large city full of millions of people. People with different priorities, different goals and problems. I’ve made what I perceive as a sacrifice to move to another country, work an under the table job, drive 16 hours for a single chance at glory. How petty is this in comparison to others who are struggling to breathe or get out of bed in the morning? Robin very wisely told me that there is larger complete mass of ants on this planet than there is of humans. So even as a whole the human race is insignificant to natures will, which through millions of years has outlasted and out produced the entire existence of man. In the past 100 years alone, humans have done more unchangeable damage to the planet than good. Wars against our own species cause more death and cost more money every year in an endless malicious cycle that warrants no distinct positive outcome. When I was walking into my apartment the other day an orange peel was being demolished by a colony of ants, working united and together, serving a purpose to provide sustenance to their population. Once the peel has been used and the ants have enough ‘product’ to dispense amongst the colony, labor and production will cease for the time being. A simple, natural mentality, yet a possible dictatorship of hierarchy. I guess the political system of ants is somewhat of a socialist belief system. Basically what this all comes down to is that regardless of where I am or who I am, I feel as small as an ant and the world is made of fire.
Another thing I’ve come to appreciate through my travels is architecture. Sometimes buildings and structures that are created constantly boggle my mind. The effort and forethought put into designing is very admirable, weather it is a hundred year old cathedral beautifully engraved with statues and artwork, or a modern skyscraper that depicts nature is some fashion. I’ve never been one to get excited about people, such as famous wrestlers or promotions. I enjoy seeing buildings and places of historical significance. Hence my excitement over the ECW arena. ECW was a small wrestling company that had big dreams. Over the years they created their own unique style and foundation for what would later become a global phenomenon. Out of this small, damp, dark and dusty bingo hall, ECW was born and they would run regular shows here to the most blood thirsty and hellacious fans ever witnessed. The first ECW pay per view was filmed here. As I look around the building I see various landmarks. There is the balcony that Tommy Dreamer got choke slammed off through 4 tables. Over there is the ledge that Rey Mysterio jumped off onto psychosis with a Frankensteiner on a chair. I remember first getting into ECW as an early teenager and ordering bootlegged tapes off the internet. The first ECW tape I ever owned was ‘House party ‘98’. The main event featured The Sandman vs. Sabu in a ‘stairway to hell match’. They bled all over the place through barbed wire, ladders and tables and chairs, it was brutal and gory and I pooped a solid gold egg in excitement. I had never seen anything so cutthroat and revolutionary. The massive wave of fans seemed to go on forever as the rowdiness never ceased as they constantly chanted “E C DUB, E C DUB, E C DUB”. I can honestly say I never thought I would have the privilege of performing the sport I love inside that famed arena. It was a cool feeling knowing that I was about too, however very anti-climatic. It just wasn’t the same place as on all those old tapes, it looked smaller, darker and it didn’t smell as bad as I thought and hoped it would. Needless to say I am proud of the fact that I wrestled there anyways.
I hop onto the ring apron and wipe me feet, scanning the sea of faces surrounding the squared circle, the ROH wrestling ring. I leap over the ropes with an effortless spring and look across the ring from myself. In the opposite corner my opponent, Chris Hero, 6’5” 225lbs. A significantly larger human being that myself, known as “that young knockout kid” Chris has been elbowing people in the face until knockout to gain victory. I’m intense and viciously prepared to fight nonstop, I will not be knocked out I tell myself as I crack my iron jaw with the heel of my right palm. We shake hands and begin, as I dart towards him to use my speed and explosiveness to overcome his strength. We wrestle and he tosses me down with ease, I return the favor by arm dragging him down to the mat. He throws a quick elbow at my face, which I dug and throw my own roundhouse kick to his chest. “THWAK!” the sound echoes as the crowd “Ooooo’s”. I immediately launch another full speed roundhouse to his head as he ducks and exits the ring to catch his breath. I quickly follow and chase him back into the ring, as I begin to enter myself, his lackey grabs my foot from behind causing a quick distraction, Hero runs full speed with his boot at my face knocking me off the ring back first strait onto the concrete floor. The wind has instantly been taken from my sails and I’m struggling to inhale. He begins a relentless beat down complete with elbows to my jaw and sentons to my torso. He goes to finish me by hitting the ropes full speed, I counter his attack by kicking him in the quads like a lumberjack hacks at a large tree before “timbeerrrrrr”. I clinch his neck and begin throwing Muay Thai knees at his face connecting with 4 of them before opening up and simultaneously hitting a rock solid chest kick right into a leg sweep which knocks the big guy down. The crowd approves my efforts and the momentum begins. I nail my leaping enziguiri head kick to his face, a running elbow smash, a leaping yakuza kick to his jaw and a running up the ropes tornado DDT. 1…2… big kickout! I can’t believe he isn’t finished! I signal for the end as I lock in a hooking suplex, he spins out quickly, but I counter his counter by spinning behind him and going for an O’Connor roll, he hangs onto the ropes as I back roll onto my feet and white. All I see is white. I am limp and lifeless. I don’t remember anymore. I am backstage now with an icepack on my head. I was knocked the fuck out and I have no idea where it came from, yet there is a bruise the shape of Chris Hero’s elbow on my jaw and on the back of my head.
Okay maybe that was a little exaggerated. Chris and I worked a solid 7 minute match and he put me away with his finishing rolling elbow strike which I sold like a champ, and then a follow up elbow to the back of my head. However I really did see white, he’s not called “that young knockout kid” for nothing. All in all a solid weekend, well worth the trip. 16 hours coming home I reflect on things, thinking about why I’m here and what I’m doing. When I say back to the drawing board that simply means I need to push myself harder, I’m not giving up on anything yet. Keep your jaw tucked in, I remind myself. K
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