Arts & Entertainment

Corrigan: Finding a new champ festivities

Stevie Richards returns for local Extreme Rising on March 1.

johncorriganI hated Stevie Richards when I was a kid.

As the leader of party-pooping super group “Right to Censor,” Richards’ appearances consisted of lecturing fans about the unnecessary violence, explicit language and barely-clothed Divas of the Attitude Era.

Essentially, everything I loved about pro wrestling.

The worst part about Irwin R. Schyster’s long-lost brother was that he was the only WWE Superstar to hail from my hometown of Philadelphia.

How could this dorky buzzkill have grown up in a city known for the Wing Bowl?

Well, it’s been about 14 years since I ripped out Richard’s column on the last page of every WWE Magazine. And now I would like to use this space, in my column, to praise the ring veteran for entertaining audiences for more than two decades.

Whether sacrificing himself as Raven’s lackey, impersonating “Big Daddy Cool” in the Blue World Order, losing his mind as Victoria’s henchman, treating Abyss as the monster’s abusive therapist, or yes, converting wrasslin’s favorite pimp The Godfather to the good side, Richards has adapted to every character like a super-kicking Johnny Depp.

From curtain-jerker to mouthpiece to main-eventer, “Stevie Night Heat’s” only G.M. has evolved through stints in ECW, WCW, WWE and TNA.

These days he’s the champion of Extreme Rising, and he’ll be defending the gold against Sabu on March 1 at the promotion’s return to South Philly.

“Springtime Beatdown,” held at the ECW Arena on the corner of Swanson and Ritner, will also be a homecoming for Richards.

“The ECW Arena is basically 15 minutes from where I grew up,” Richards said. “My mom and dad still live in the area. It’s cool, but I don’t look at it too much because I’m not a nostalgic person. I just look at it as another show where I’ll work just as hard.”

Graduating from Frankford High School in 1989, Richards pursued his grappling passion by learning the ropes in the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance. That’s where he also gained his interest in fitness, which has led Richards to becoming a certified instructor of DDP Yoga – the popular dynamic resistance yoga program created by former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.

“I don’t consider myself ever to be physically fit,” Richards said. “That’s part of the motivation to keep going to the gym. I’m always trying to look better especially in the world of pro wrestling where looks are a big part of it. Teaching DDP Yoga actually helps me train while training other people through a safe and effective workout.”

When he isn’t in the ring or in the gym, Richards can be found in the studio filming technology reviews under his real name Michael Manna for his website T4Show.com.

“The creative outlet in WWE was non-existent,” Richards said. “If you have 70-second matches like I had with Sabu on Saturday Night’s Main Event, you don’t have time to show your talents or play a character. So I started the T4Show in 2007 under my real name because I didn’t want to use wrestling as a crutch. Most people who I work with don’t even know I used to wrestle or that I still wrestle.”

As a proud techie and longtime wrestling fan, Richards said he believes the WWE Network “changes the entire landscape of new media.”

“À la carte consumption is the future,” Richards said. “People who were going to buy WrestleMania are always going to buy it. People who weren’t going to buy it are now going to because they’ll pay $120 a year for the entire library and then also get WrestleMania, which is like $65 these days. I might even get it just because of all the classic stuff I watch on YouTube will be more readily available and have better video quality.”

With the WWE Network featuring every ECW pay-per-view ever, it’s fun to relive Richards’ journey through the squared circle ranks as he prepares to battle fellow ECW legend Sabu.

“Winning the title is not a form of appreciation – it’s a challenge,” Richards said. “The original thought was probably that we have all these guys who look like a shell of themselves, showing up drunk or high, so by default maybe we should think about Stevie. The matches I was having especially with the younger guys like Luke Hawx, who is the absolute best un-signed talent in the world, showed how I transcend both generations. I can still hang with the young guys, but I have the knowledge and reputation of the veterans.”

Even though the changes were out of his control, everything Richards condemned about WWE all those years ago has mostly been eradicated.

The violence has become a “controlled frenzy,” the language has PG restrictions and Big E shows more skin than the Divas.

But if you want to turn back the clock and inject a dose of attitude in your wrasslin’, check out Extreme Rising where Stevie Richards is no longer a critic.

He’s the champion.

John Corrigan can be reached at john.corrigan@temple.edu.

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