When I look back at my three years being around Extreme Championship Wrestling, mainly when they came through New England, I'm amazed that I survived.  It was an exciting time, both from a journalist's perspective, and personally, from the friendships made. But, I'm also ashamed of what I saw after the matches, in the motels and in cars riding to the towns with some of the in-ring performers.

First off, not one forced me to attend ECW shows. I saw opportunities to make a few dollars, taking pictures backstage and at ringside, to go along with stories for the newsstand magazines that I was contributing to. I had been around the inner circles of pro wrestling since the mid-1970s. I knew the majority of people I kept company with were not choir boys. Same with most of the women tailgating with the promotion.

I was treated with respect for the most part when the ECW traveling road show came to the Boston area. Many of the wrestlers knew me, and wanted publicity. I wanted their company. In fact, when the ECW Magazine went national in June 1999, I was proud to see my work appear in it.

ECW's Paul Heyman owned the promotion, and ran it on a shoe-string budget from his family's home in Westchester County, New York. I was friendly with Paul, he always showed respect to me, gave me full run of the arena at his shows, and one specific time went out of his way to "take care of me".

When ECW presented its first-ever pay-per-view event from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April of 1997 - Barely Legal - just before the show was to start, the locker room was cleared out of all non-company personal not on the show.  All but me. As Paul had his crew come together for a last-minute pep talk, he made it clear for all to hear -"Not Donny Laible";  that I was the exception to stay put, and be part of the "family."

Don Laible (L) and the late ECW performer New Jack in 1999. Photo Courtesy: Don Laible for TSM
Don Laible (L) and the late ECW performer New Jack in 1999. Photo Courtesy: Don Laible for TSM

ECW represented the new "attitude" era of the wrestling business; more violent style matches, more blood spewing from wrestlers' foreheads, and leaps, through tables and off of arena balconies.

I laugh now looking back at the Barley Legal show.  As less than 2,000 fans packed the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia waiting for the show to start, across the street in a strip club, an hour prior to the first match, there must have been one dozen wrestlers and others employees having lap dances. I know. I was there. I was old school. I thought before showtime, the boys would be talking over finishes, and getting themselves psyched for what should have been their biggest matches of their careers.

Then there was the time I was riding to a show booked in Worcester, Massachusetts with the two local promoters, the then ECW Television champion, and a manager.  The five of us left the base hotel in nearby Revere (MA), and headed down the Mass Turnpike.  There was weed being smoked. The inside of the car reminded me of scenes from any Cheech and Chong film. Plus, there was a black bag containing a brick of weed, which was to be delivered to someone at the show. I didn't know who and didn't want to know. I was, however, scared that if our car was stopped by law enforcement, I would have a whole of explaining to do.

When ECW came through New England, from 1996 - 2000 when I was the photographer for the promoters who today I remain eternally grateful for their friendship, the company was booted out of several motels and hotels because of the wild parties after the shows.  One show, hours before heading to the matches, one wrestler passed out in the motel lobby, and had to be assisted back to his room.  He had ingested an abnormal amount of the pain medication Soma.

Soma was the drug of choice for several of ECW's top performers that I remember. After shows, in party rooms, some of the guys took so much Soma that they appeared mummified. One top star sitting on a bed, booze everywhere, joints in full blaze, sat still as another wrestler's baby pit bull was having a field day chewing on one of his ears.  It didn't appear that any pain was felt by the wrestler. Another amazing ECW moment.

Then there was Jerome Young who performed as New Jack billed from South Central Los Angeles.  Yes, he was the real deal; a gangsta, but from North Carolina. I got acquainted  with New Jack fast. Most visits through New England, the guy didn't have money for a room. My benevolent promoter friends would invite New Jack to bunk in our room. New Jack gets a bed, one promoter gets a bed, the other sleeps on the floor, and yours truly would be designated to the bathtub.

“The Franchise “ Shane Douglas (L) and ECW Co-Founder Todd Gordon (R) were instrumental in making the company enormously popular.  Photo Courtesy: John Arezzi for TSM
“The Franchise “ Shane Douglas (L) and ECW Co-Founder Todd Gordon (R) were instrumental in making the company enormously popular.  Photo Courtesy: John Arezzi for TSM

Yep, I would have a couple towels to substitute as pillows, curl up in the tub, shower curtain pulled, and bathroom door shut.  And part of the thanks I received from New Jack was the tag he gave me whenever our paths crossed - a very racist name. That was New Jack in all his glory.

You know that scene in "GoodFellas", when mob boss Paulie takes control of a restaurant, and has his crew take merchandise from the front door, and immediately has it removed out the back door?  This is what I experienced at ECW shows in the Boston area.

A top star would drive his van to the show filled with all the merchandise to be sold at the shows - t-shirts, hats, video tapes, and the like. Well, as he would walk away from the van, I would see two people enter through the passenger side taking a dozen or more shirts and as many hats, then take the goods to the trunk of their car. Amazing. They were never detected that I know. The merchandise, I don't think, was taken for resale but used as a thank you to those who cooperated with the promotion of the shows.

One more ECW tale.  There was a wrestler at the Malden motel who had no money. Couldn't pay his bill so he did the next best thing - fake a burglary. This wrestler tossed his mattress, had his personal belongings spread throughout his room, and claimed his wallet had been taken. All I saw was the late Rick Rood standing at the room's window, presumably as the lookout, while a crime scene was being created.

Stories - I have a million. But, the craziest times were when I survived being around ECW.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

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