Yes, you're remembering correctly. Extreme Championship Wrestling published its own glossy newsstand magazine for about 15 seconds in the late-1990's. It was at the peak of professional wrestling's popularity and roughly a year before ECW's demise - what results is extremely amazing.
Published by H&S Media - the driving force behind the criminally-underappreciated WOW Magazine - this December 1999 issue of ECW Magazine was especially poignant for a few reasons.
First, check out the cover art above. The company proudly advertised that it was debuting Friday nights on TNN, which was simultanously the best and worst thing that could possibly happen to ECW at the time. I remember watching their shows through various videotapes and pirated PPV feeds (there was no YouTube back then, kids) and thinking that their landing on a national network might just be the thing that puts them over the top. And it did -- if you consider bankruptcy as the top they were struggling to get over.
But beyond that - do you notice the inset photo that proclaims "RAVEN IS BACK"? This was massive news in the industry at the time as Raven, fresh from being cut by WCW, was just about the hottest free agent in the business. But the funny thing is, his signing must have been done approximately eight minutes before the magazine went to print because that's literally the only mention Raven gets in the entire publication.
But how does that old expression go? "You may be gaining a Raven, but you're losing a Taz"? Forgive me if that's not the exact verbiage, but it worked for a cool segue here. By the time Raven returned to the Bingo Hall, Taz was enjoying a first class ticket to Titan Town (a/k/a the WWF).
Why the hell does it say he's re-signed with ECW, then? Apparently he signed some sort of letter of intent with Paul Heyman (and it was even reported in Variety Magazine at the time), but I guess the deal collapsed. Whoops.
Speaking of things that were supposed to happen but didn't.... take a look at the article that highlights the very first set of ECW on TNN tapings!
The matches taped in the article to the right never made it to The Nashville Network. Rumor has it (and Joey Styles pretty much confirmed this in the excellent documentary Forever Hardcore) that Heyman didn't like how the first set up tapings went, and instead opted to show a "Best of" program the first time ECW was on national television.
I actually remember taping their first show (because I was out somewhere when it was scheduled to air) and excitedly rewound my VHS cassette that same evening to find out how the debut went. And I do remember the highlights from older matches and random superstar interviews instead of, you know, an actual wrestling show.
Still, it's neat to know that wrestlers including Rob Van Dam, Justin Credible, The Dudley Boyz and others were (technically) part of wrestling history by competing in the lost TV tapings.
Oh, and The Dudleyz were gone from E-C-Dub shortly after the TNN show debuted, but at least they were written off television.
Speaking of Joey Styles, it's quite interesting to read his commentary as ECW prepared to debut the ill-fated TNN program. Heyman hasn't shown us his best stuff yet, Styles told fans. And he was right - he just didn't realize that Heyman's best stuff would come more than a decade later and in a WWE ring.
And hey, there are a few things he was right about. Some former ECW names did come back after being marketed terribly elsewhere (most notably Raven, Sabu and The Sandman), if only for a year or so until the company went into bankruptcy. And he was bang on about the promotion not filing an IPO any time soon.....
I feel as though I'm being a little too hard on this publication so far.
After all, the actual articles are top notch, written by journalists such as Dave Scherer, who definitely knew the product inside and out.
Profiles on wrestlers such as Balls Mahoney, Rob Van Dam and Yoshihiro Tajiri are great, not subscribing to the usual tow-the-company-line policy, and were actually quite honest about how HOLY SHIT IS THAT AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR ANABOLIC STEROIDS?!?!?
Yes, it is! A quarter page ad for roids that you can get without a prescription! "Anything stronger would be illegal!" the ad boasts. I guess it's a good thing that the Wellness Policy wasn't in effect quite yet.
I..... can't believe this. I definitely didn't notice this at the time, but it may well be one of the most intriguing advertisements I've ever seen in any type of wrestling magazine. Just.... wow!
Speaking of controversial stuff..... ECW Magazine also presented a feature on The Queen of Extreme, in which we got to see Francine Fournier hanging around a local mall and wearing extremely tight dresses. Not that I'm complaining, you understand.... but just trying to explain what was going on there.
And by the way, not that I'n suggesting that the good folks at H&S Media wanted to give the readers anything but a unique look at one of the promotion's most well-known managers..... but I'm going to say it's probably a good thing for most fans that the pages were glossy. If ya smell what The Dog is cookin'.
Of course, ECW Magazine wasn't the only place where this type of thing took place to guarantee additional sales from pre-teen stupid mark wrestling fanboys. WWF Raw Magazine was known for its cheesecake factor (see also Sunny and Sable), as was WOW Magazine, for that matter. So you can no longer claim you read wrestling magazines for the articles....
Speaking of merchandise (well, not really, but work with me, people; I'm trying to work in a pattern of segues over here).... you also have an ad for this "Free Merchandise Catalog" that apparently was designed by a six year-old.
Of note: Remember how ECW survived by having some of its performers moonlighting with front-office jobs? I half-wonder if 20 Constance Court was actually, like, Tommy Dreamer's home address.
In terms of other merch that you don't have to mail away for, there are a few RF Video-type ads for random video collections (such as The Best Of Lance Storm Vol. 3), a full-pager for Joey Styles's Hardcore Hotline, and another full page ad for Taz's FTW line of clothing. Wonder if he still got royalties from that when he was on his way to the WWF?
There are also ads for the WOW family of magazines and a two-pager for WrestleSite featuring a Hacksaw Jim Duggan knock-off, in case you were wondering.
Alas, I never sent away for that particular catalog, and it may be the single biggest regret of my life. That and the double homicide.
Speaking of full-page posters of Judge Jeff Jones..... um, what the hell?!?
If you don't remember who Judge Jeff Jones was, you're definitely not alone. He managed ECW Champion Mike Awesome for a short time, and if memory serves, was briefly in the corner of Sid Vicious during his stint in Barbed Wire City. I'm shocked that WWE never tried to rip-off the character of being a twenty-something judge. MONEY!
Anyways, enough about Triple J. I'm still wondering why he was given a full-page poster. Were they that short on talent, or did they think the 18-25 male demographic really wanted to hang a photo of this dude on their wall?
To complete the circle, ECW also supplied full-page posters for Dawn Marie, Vito "The Skull" LoGrasso, Taz (whoops!), Danny Doring, Lance Storm (Wrestler of the Month!), Chris Chetti, Super Crazy, Simon Diamond, Jason, New Jack, Jerry Lynn, and Tommy Dreamer & Francine.
Oh, and I just realized there's a pull-out centrefold of both Dawn Marie and Angelica (a/k/a Lita).
We close things off with a full-page ad on the back of the magazine for ECW on TNN (and they claim that the show was never advertised sufficiently!). Perhaps if they had come up with a better marketing scheme than Justin Credible surrounded by a put of fire (with Tommy Dreamer giving an armbar to someone in the inset photo), they would still be on television today. Or not.
Much like the promotion it represented, ECW Magazine had a certain charm because it didn't necessarily follow all the rules. Do I wish it had been around longer (I believe this was the fourth issue)? Absolutely. Anyone else have any copies of other issues out there?