Marvez: Heffron laments passing of ECW Arena days

Jan 27 2012 - 10:33pm

Before its 2010 demolition, the Spectrum was home to five-figure crowds for World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling events for more than 30 years.

Yet it wasn't the most iconic building in Philadelphia for grappling shows.

Such a distinction belonged to ECW Arena, a converted 10,000-square-foot warehouse best known for hosting Friday-night bingo until the mid-1990s. That's when the venue became a pro-wrestling mecca, thanks to cards run by Extreme Championship Wrestling. The company's innovative hard-core product drew such a strong cult following that it gained mainstream acclaim.

That incarnation of ECW ended almost 11 years ago when WWE purchased the promotion. Another ECW chapter closed earlier this month when the arena closed for massive renovations designed to make it more appealing for concerts. Most of the independent grappling groups that followed in ECW's footsteps by running shows there are unlikely to return when the facility reopens.

While there are other places locally where pro wrestling can be held, none has the same allure as ECW Arena.

"It was a dump. But hey, it was our dump," said ECW veteran Brian "Blue Meanie" Heffron, who lives a 10-minute walk from the venue in gritty South Philadelphia. "It didn't have air conditioning or heat, but it had a mystique to it.

"Before ECW came around, pro wrestling started getting slick. Everything on TV had high production values and was heavily edited and polished. Here we were in the middle of this pit presenting old-school wrestling. It was a flashback to the days where there was just one single light over the ring and the arena was filled with smoke. The guys who went out there were passionate and not cartoony like WWE had in that generation. All the fans were so on top of each other. If one person reacted, it started a chain reaction around the building."

Heffron caused some of those wild crowd responses himself. At the peak of the New World Order's popularity in WCW, Heffron, Stevie Richards and Mike "Nova" Bucci formed a hilarious knockoff called the Blue World Order. The Meanie spoofed NWO member Scott Hall's trademark mannerisms and interview style as "Da Blue Guy."

Dressed in a cutoff T-shirt and ill-fitting jean shorts that exposed his ample midsection, Heffron once led a sold-out crowd of 1,500 "very rough-and-tumble guys" through a rendition of the "YMCA" song and dance following an upset victory over Jason Knight. Heffron's favorite ECW memory, though, was his 1995 debut when dragged from the crowd to become the lackey for Richards and Scott "Raven" Levy.

"For two years prior to that, I'd been going to every show as a fan," Heffron said last week in a telephone interview. "I went to train in Ohio to become a wrestler, but I would drive 13 hours (round trip) to come back and see the ECW shows. Being brought over the barricade and going from fan to an ECW talent was very symbolic and one of the proudest days of my life."

Heffron later landed a WWE contract and even promoted post-ECW shows in the arena under the 3PW banner from 2002 to 2005. Ring of Honor -- which developed current WWE world champions C.M. Punk and Daniel Bryan -- eventually replaced ECW as the building's main tenant, although seven other groups combined to run 40 shows there in 2010.

According to media reports, the venue plans to raise the rent for any wrestling companies that want to run shows. It also wants to shy away from booking those that present a blood-and-guts style of action.

"The Philadelphia independent scene is probably going to be a lot more scaled back," Heffron lamented.

Heffron, 38, now works for a Philadelphia multimedia outlet but continues to accept independent bookings on weekends. He jokes that his 16,000-plus followers on Twitter ( double the number of people who order Impact Wrestling's monthly pay-per-view shows.

"I'm very fortunate that anyone still remembers who I am all these years after the original ECW shut its doors," Heffron said. "I'm grateful to (ECW matchmaker) Paul Heyman and Raven and Stevie and Al Snow for making me who I am.

"It's all very surreal. I'm very blessed that a fat, asthmatic kid was able to live out a dream."


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