Looking Back on… My Rant on XPW (Wrestling, 2/18/03)

My rant on XPW, or, why you can’t sell the same thing over again. (I’m italicizing my modern comments since this is already bolded. Anyway, fucking XPW man. Originally a terrible, fifth-rate ECW knock-off with some of the worst “talent” in the business and a bunch of ECW castoffs, run by porn producer Rob Black, they SOMEHOW decided to just BECOME ECW, caused a shitload of problems in the Philly wrestling area, then died off when Black was run through the wringer because of “obscenity charges.” This means porn with peeing and I HOPE IMPLIED murder scenes, so, yeah. Anyway, the whole sordid mess is here on Wikipedia, if you’re bored, and apparently Black wants to bring it back AGAIN so God knows, we may be back here in a few years.)

(A note in advance: first, to those of you who know nothing about XPW, though I loathe plugging those I ridicule, visit xpwrestling.com to give yourself a better idea of those I write about here, if you’re curious. Second, if one Mr. Black is to read this: Consider this publicity. If you want to pull a Jay Bower on me, please do, but remember to link me, god knows I could use the traffic.) (Jay Bower was some dude who wrote for Smarks.com, for reference; we’ll get to him in a little bit.)

For those of you not up on the Indy scene (Indy meaning independent wrestling promotions), (Which is distinguished from the indie scene, which means independent music. Though really, they’re not so different conceptually: everyone hates you for being interested in this thing and thinks you’re a snob, you have to deal with the REAL snobs be they smarts or hipsters, and you end up wearing clothes 90% of the public thinks are weird.) there’s this guy by the name of Rob Black. He runs this promotion called XPW, or Xtreme Pro Wrestling, ha ha. (It’s funny because he can’t spell.) He recently moved his business into the east coast tri-state area, and has purchased an exclusive lease on the Viking Hall bingo hall to run his shows from. (This was honestly a BIG FUCKING DEAL at the time because Viking Hall was the site of the old ECW Arena, and basically everyone who ran wrestling shows in the area used it regularly until Black showed up. Needless to say, all of the local feds got SUPER pissed at him, which I never really understood, since Viking Hall is, as someone who’s been there, a shitbox in a bad neighborhood that’s almost literally under an overpass, and if I never go there again it’ll be too soon.) He televises on public access TV, markets tapes, hires as many well-known wrestlers as money will allow, and has managed to achieve a cult following, both on the east coast, and back home on the west coast where XPW started. (When running Eastern shows, it was because he actually hired a lot of really talented workers and put on decent shows. When running Western shows, it was because he almost killed Vic Grimes and set a man on fire. Make of that what you will.)

Now, good old Rob apparently decided that he wants to take XPW to that big “next step”, that being recognition on a US scale… so, by recruiting name brand wrestlers, buying out his own hall, moving to the east coast, where wrestling is viewed as “worthwhile” more so than, say, California, where the promotion started, and cleaning up the promotion’s act overall, (By which I mean not only less “killing wrestlers,” but also minimizing the usage of his contract porn starlets as valets, which at least gave the shows a payoff to the weird sexually bizarre shit companies like ECW used to do. Not that I condone it, but rather making the point that at least it was something different, bad or good.) one would almost suspect that he’s looking to eventually get a network deal, and try to run as the #2 promotion in the US, and is looking to butt heads with the WWE. As a quote from a representative of the company states, “We are trying to offer the best possible alternative product to the WWE, and we are trying to produce the ‘Greatest Wrestling Show on Earth.” (I will never in my life understand why people feel like they have to compare themselves to the WWE when they’re working with a tenth of the budget. ROH was the only company that had that shit figured out for a while, until they were invested in by Sinclair Media and basically became another “ME TOO WWE” brand, but everyone else wants to be WWE Jr. I know we’re all mad at Eric Bischoff and all, but he turned WCW into a success by NOT being WWE Jr, guys.)

So, as a public service announcement, I felt I ought to write an open letter of sorts to Mr. Black, seeing as how the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) have more or less written him off as a crackhead. (Figuratively, but one never knows.) I feel it’s my duty to say something that he desperately NEEDS to know, both for himself, and for the future of his company.

News flash: IT’S NOT GONNA HAPPEN, IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, GIVE IT UP. (It didn’t happen, and he still hasn’t given up. Sigh.)

See, what Mr. Black fails to understand is that his promotion, regardless of the talent it houses, the locations it owns, or the shows it puts on, will ALWAYS be a second rate, bush league, rip-off of ECW, a company that went out of business even AFTER it went national. (To be fair, ECW went under because of a series of bad decisions that kept pushing their ABILITY to go national further and further back, combined with Paul having absolutely zero business sense to speak of. If Paul had a better head for business and Mass Transit hadn’t happened, they might have been okay, maybe.) Viking Hall is ECW’s old arena, half of his talent are ECW rejects that couldn’t make the WWE cut, and he has successfully made himself a laughing stock in the IWC due to actions ENTIRELY of his own making. (Also to be fair, Rob was trying to dig up actual talent during his run on the East Coast, and a few people I’ve talked to who worked the indys around this time confirmed he approached them, mostly people from NJPW and CZW. Not that it would’ve helped, but he was trying something else.)

For those not informed of his exploits, here’s a short-form XPW history lesson, as only I can tell it: factually inaccurate, utterly un-researched, but full of enough CORRECT information to bring attention to the failing points of the company. (Here, also, is my modern revision, as only I can provide it: researched, mildly dismissive of me from twelve years ago, and slightly more insulting.)

See, back in the late 90’s, wrestling was at the mid point of its apex, with the then WWF having come to the head of it’s Austin-McMahon feud, WCW languishing in a dead second place with nowhere to go but down, and ECW drawing 1.0 Neilson ratings every time it aired on cable TV. (This is mostly correct; 1999 was the specific year, and while WWE ended up having a few more years of huge ratings in the tank due to finally figuring out how to make HHH the MAIN GUY and pitting him against The Rock, WCW hired Vince Russo this year and essentially signed their own death warrant, and while ECW’s rating of 1.0 was actually rather good, TNN wanted WWE at all costs and basically broke contract with ECW to make it happen.) Enter Black, a small time porn producer (as in, the kind of porn most men don’t watch… yeah, that kind) (Well, most people in general wouldn’t watch what he made, men or women. They mostly focused on sexual humiliation, simulated rape, and all of the really specific fetishes that get you added to a list somewhere.) with an itch to do something more financially marketable, while at the same time keep with what he knew. Black, having seen ECW rocket to the top, decided he would put together a federation of his own, using the money garnered from the production of porn, and market them as a West Coast alternative to ECW, while at the same time trying to rip them off in every way imaginable. (That’s a lot of speculation, but essentially accurate.)

Now, I will be the first to admit that Black ALMOST had a good idea here. I mean, hell, porn makes money, by the TON in some cases. (Eh, the internet has kind of made that less of a money-making proposition than it used to be, though with the insane prices it’s still a winning investment.) Plus, you’ve got porn starlets ready to sub as valets. It’s a good idea in theory, but Mr. Black neglected to think over four key things that might have made the idea a better one:

1. If one is to emulate a corporation, one might not wish to emulate a corporation that’s GOING BANKRUPT. (Which is basically the issue everyone who emulates ECW runs into, even WWE when they reinvented it.)
2. If you’re going to start a wrestling promotion, you might want to get GOOD wrestlers to fill in the talent roster. Sure, Shane Douglas, Devon Storm, and other Indy greats dominate the fed NOW, but when he started up, it was White Trash Johnny Webb and Homeless Jimmy, neither of whom were what I’d call “okay” in the talent department, though Webb’s gimmick was pretty funny. (Webb ended up actually being decent enough by the end of his time as a wrestler, and really seemed like one of the few people who understood how to make a comedy gimmick that people could believe in not named Colt Cabana, but he fucked up his knee and now works as a porn producer, because of course. Supreme was a much better choice here, as he was their big babyface despite being fucking terrible, because he’d take disgusting bumps and could withstand hellish hardcore matches.)
3. Paul Heyman, for all of the accounting ability he SORELY lacks, had two things going for him that few promoters can claim: he could book fantastic angles seemingly at will (mainly by letting the wrestlers do what they wanted, and only laying groundwork), (Which several wrestlers have stated is true, though some liked it better than others.) and he could get over damn near ANYBODY he wanted, even those wrestlers no one else could do dick with. (The notable exception here being Justin Credible, who probably would’ve been fine if Paul hadn’t pushed him into the World Title, which was as much a thing that killed ECW as anything else.) Reference: Who, exactly, is the XPW champ? Oh, right, SHANE DOUGLAS. Black, it should be noted, does not possess that ability, and probably never will. (This was a BIG problem with Black, honestly; he had two guys he made “in home” in Supreme and Messiah, but Supreme was the shits and we’ll… talk about Messiah later. Needless to say, he had zero homegrown talent otherwise, and that was a big problem since it meant he had to deal with the fact that all his talent was made by other companies, because it made his company look bush league, and that’s saying something.)
4. Black makes porn for a living. If you’re going to try to build a fed into anything, for god’s sake, don’t draw attention to the shining examples of WHY no one should give you a TV deal. Death to Smoochy said it best; TV networks want to make sure their employees are “Squeaky Fucking Clean.” (I hated that movie so much but it had so much shit that makes perfect sense in it.) Make yourself a silent partner or something for god’s sake.

So, sometime after their debut, XPW (Black and whoever else he’s working with on this, not the fed as a sentient organism) (I have no idea why I felt the need to point out that XPW was not a sentient organism here. Probably because of all the implied semen and diseases.) more or less came to the realization that, shockingly, they weren’t getting anywhere with the IWC. (Which, amusingly, doesn’t matter for WWE, but matters for literally every other wrestling company in the United States, because they’re the only fans who watch.) So they collectively, over the past four years, basically did everything they could to draw attention to themselves, whether intentionally or not. Now, as a wrestling fan, I can understand that you have to promote yourself any way possible to make it in the business. It’s how the world works; step on the backs of those less fortunate. (Wow, that was kind of dark, if slightly accurate.) But, as you read the list following, keep in mind three things: First, this ALL happened. Second, those in charge of XPW want to take themselves mainstream. Third, ECW blew their first chance at going national because of an incident that BY ITSELF is less abhorrent than any ONE of the following incidents. (The aforementioned “Mass Transit” incident, which I should probably explain, so here’s the tl;dr version: dude with little wrestling experience in a bus driver uniform shows up at an ECW show, calls himself Mass Transit. Paul puts him in the ring with the Gangstas, the worst possible choice here. New Jack asks if Transit has ever bladed. Transit says no. Jack proceeds to fucking open this kid up super bad with an exacto knife, which may or may not have been an accident, prompting his father to beg Jack to stop because he was underage. Lawsuits were filed, and ECW was more or less driven out of the PPV market for six months because of it. I say “Mass Transit” was less horrifying because, despite Paul Heyman taking a kid’s word he was a trained wrestler and New Jack almost killing him while blading, Paul did only take his word because another wrestler vouched for him, and Eric Kulas not only lied his ass off to get into the show, but also kept playing to the crowd post-match. He wasn’t so much a victim as an overeager kid who made a bad choice, and pretty much all of the following is a lot worse.)

-XPW wrestlers show up at an ECW show, buy front row tickets, and attack talent member Francine over the guardrail, to promote themselves on someone else’s PPV. (Which is pretty illegal if nothing else.)
-Wrestler Supreme is set on fire by an untrained valet as part of an angle, suffers third degree burns, and nearly dies. Surprisingly, no EMTs are present at the arena prior to this taking place. (This was a big point of contention against XPW for a while, honestly, because basically zero fire safety controls were in place here; they just went in knowing Supreme was going to be set on fire, and then set him on fire. Considering ECW and WWE have both done fire aspects of matches before without almost killing anyone, and Japan has been doing that shit for literal decades, you’d think you’d have at least some kind of framework for looking into this thing.)
-Rob Black sends out an “invitation” to the entire IWC stating that if they had the balls to pay for transportation to California (which, unless you live there, can get expensive), sleeping arrangements (see above), and amenities (food, etc), he would provide them with a FREE TICKET to the show that was being hosted at the time. For the record, spending a grand for a free $20 ticket doesn’t seem like a good idea to me, either. (At the time, most of the IWC wasn’t on the West Coast, so that was about accurate to the situation on the whole. Considering that most of the IWC had seen the commercially available videos of XPW, though, this was basically asking them to spend $1,000 to replicate an experience you could replicate for $20 at the local Wal-Mart. Also, this probably isn’t as bad as “Mass Transit,” but it is really fucking stupid.)
-At previously mentioned card, wrestlers New Jack and Vic Grimes wrestle in what is supposedly Jack’s last match, (HAHAHAHA fuck no, dude still keeps showing up after retiring like six times.) in a match that features both men wrestling on top of tables stacked four levels high. The end of the match sees a bump, taken by Grimes, which broke several ribs, punctured a lung, put him in traction, AND caused massive internal bleeding. Again, surprisingly, no EMTs were present in the arena. (That’s actually not accurate; they were on top of a forty foot high scaffold, and were supposed to finish with Jack throwing Grimes off the scaffold through a pile of tables stacked four high. Instead of falling flush through a table pile, Jack tossed Grimes in a way where he had forward momentum such that he hit the side of a table, then with virtually no loss of momentum, hit the top rope, which is basically steel cabling, before bouncing back into the ring and landing on his ass. He also broke an ankle. New Jack claims he did this intentionally, because of an incident where Grimes chickened out on a bump and landed on Jack’s head on the concrete, causing him blindness in one eye and brain damage, which Grimes then supposedly bragged about. Of course, New Jack is the closest thing to a wrestler who never stops kayfabing in the modern era, and he did suffer brain damage so who knows if that’s true, because people have since evaluated the video and found it might all be bullshit. If you’re wondering, “Why would a man put two people who hate each other over a dangerous spot going wrong into a match that involved an even more dangerous spot knowing at least one of them has threatened to kill people in the past?” well, that’s Rob Black.)
-Black, in an attempt to generate interest in his porn website, promises to feed a puppy to his starved pet snake via webcast. This is where I draw the “Jay Bower” comment from, as Bower, who was instrumental in bringing the long arm of the law into this incident, received a personalized message from Black himself on the XPW website, stating that Bower is a douchebag, his mother sucks cunt, and his father takes it in the ass from black men. Please note, for those offended by my words, I apologize, but I’m just quoting. (I have literally nothing to add to that story.)
-A wrestler by the ring name of Messiah, (Told you.) who was a former worker for Black, was involved in an organized attack that robbed him of a thumb. Yes, someone CUT OFF HIS THUMB. America’s Most Wanted notes that Black is a prime suspect, mainly because Messiah was sleeping with Black’s wife. Guilty or no, the writing’s on the wall. (There were other circumstances, as Black’s wife, Lizzy Borden, was a pornographic actress and Black might not have cared as much as was implied. However, Messiah also stopped working for XPW altogether around this time, whether because of this incident or other reasons, and those reasons all together might mean a lot. Either way, yes, Rob Black is a suspect in a fucking mob style hit.

Also, as a random aside, can I just point out here that, for as much as indy fans sometimes appreciate feds like CZW and XPW for what they do and how they do it, just from research, I discovered that around half of the wrestlers who were active in both federations at the time are retired, except for possible Nick Gauge, who admitted publicly he had been addicted to painkillers for a decade and went to jail for armed robbery, might be paroled this year, and already has a fucking match lined up. Say what you will, but guys like Solomon Crowe and Dean Ambrose learned to actually wrestle instead of beat people with light tubes and spider-webbed barbed wire exclusively, and that makes a world of difference.)

So, after everything listed above, Black moves into PA, signs an EXCLUSIVE lease with Viking Hall (the former ECW arena), buys up a bunch of local talent to appear at their shows, and is suddenly gunning to provide an alternative to the WWE.

Think about that for a minute. (I did, and it made me laugh, cry and vomit. At the same time. Like, larymit. It hurt.)

We’re talking about a man that has no idea how wrestling, as a corporate whole, TRULY works, because he never grew up around it. Paul Heyman, Jim Cornette, Vince McMahon, all of them GREW UP working in the business. Black pulls some money from his ass and starts a promo, and wants to be #2 in the US. (To be fair, I’ve never really agreed with the mentality that the best writers/bookers/promoters are the ones who actually spent time in the business per say, because Vince Russo did do some good stuff, and Cornette as a booker was never anything amazing, sadly. On the other hand, you will find that the best bookers are still the ones with an actual head for the business; that is, people who understand how wrestling works, not people who cater to shock value to make a buck.)

We’re talking about a man with a track record a mile long of HORRIBLE things that have all been publicly notated, not to MENTION his porn empire, who wants to bring his entire corporation into the public eye, as a network television based product. (Which ended up failing because of his porn empire, hilariously enough.)

We’re talking about a man who thinks gimmicks like Pogo the Clown (based of serial killer John Wayne Gasey), (No. Really. His finisher was named “Buried in the Basement.” Because that’s where Gacy buried his victims. And he still wrestled under this gimmick until AT LEAST 2007. He also apparently stiffed Violent J of ICP so hard with a clothesline that J had to go to the hospital, if that’s a thing you care about.) Homeless Jimmy, (I never explained this one because it’s literally what it sounds like: a homeless guy.) and Angel the Hardcore Homo (Oh God. Okay, real quick explanation: there was this team of guys, Kraq, a black militant type, and Angel, his unabashedly homosexual team mate, with the joke being that the fans could chant at Angel, “You suck dick for Kraq,” because XPW catered to a very specifically lazy group of fans. Angel eventually just becomes as the name is above, and wrestles hardcore matches. It was so stupid.) are marketable wrestling personas, attempting to create a storyline, characters, and rivalries for a federation.

And we’re talking about a man who has spent the past four years producing nothing but hardcore, garbage wrestling and catfights suddenly trying to pull four star matches off on every card. (To be fair it worked for CZW.)

For those of you that think I’m wrong, or that I’m biased, or even that I’m not looking at all of the facts, blow me. Regardless of whatever he’s done within the past year, no self respecting network will put a hand ANYWHERE NEAR XPW, if for no reason other than not wanting to have to deal with the half ton of scandal the corporation carries with it as it’s proverbial emotional baggage. And I’m not even touching accusations that XPW used Ring of Honor owner Rob Feinstein’s PA address as a means of getting a license to promote shows in, duh, PA, which is shades of catty business, regardless of WHICH side of that is lying. (I’d assume Black, though considering Feinstein was kind-of sort-of a closet pedophile, he’s not in great shape either.)

Look, I can deal with Black having an exclusive lease on Viking Hall. I can deal with him throwing down the gauntlet to the local PA feds. I can deal with him plying talent negotiations on wrestlers, offering them money to skip shows of other feds. I can deal with ALL of this because it’s how business is done. WWF and WCW proved that in the big time, so this is nothing new to me on the Indy front.

What I cannot deal with is Black pretending he’s going to make something out of this two-bit T&A sideshow production. Face facts Rob: You’re never going to go mainstream. You’re never going to face off against the WWE. You will never be anything more than a speck of annoyance to the Connecticut giant, and you will never draw 6.0 Neilson ratings. Your federation doesn’t even offer a respectable alternative to the other LOCAL feds, for God’s sake, so for you to think you can take on Vince is ludicrous. (Well, I mean Shane Douglas tried that with Extreme Rising, so clearly no one has learned that lesson.)

Rob, at best, is a carnival manager whose best asset is the freak show, not the three ring circus. Wrestling, as a mainstream phenomenon, is dead for the time being. (Possibly forever at this rate.) We’ve already proven that ECW couldn’t make it in the big leagues of Cable Television, so why Rob thinks that his brainchild, which is essentially ECW ver. 0.4, can be a viable player in the Monday Night Wars is beyond my comprehension. Rob might know how to play ball, he might have a talented staff supporting him, and hell, he sure as hell knows how to fuck people on the business end of things. (Because porn. Also he’s a gigantic asshole.)

But at the end of the day, he’s a second rate porn mogul with delusions of grandeur, a wrestling federation composed of mostly has-been and never-was talents, a laundry list of atrocities a mile long acting like a monkey on his back, and a bingo hall in the bad part of PA. (ONE of the bad parts of PA.) He’s nothing more than a man reaching for the stars who’s too weighed down to leave the ground.

And that’s the bottom line, because… aw, fuck it, you know how it goes.

Xtreme Pro Wrestling needs an enema. And not on live TV. (I wouldn’t have blamed Rob for making that a match stipulation though.)

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