The boom period of the late 90s for the wrestling business was a very unique and memorable time, both for fans that were thrilled by it and the performers that became household names from it. Record-setting TV ratings, substantial pay-per-view buy rates, and mainstream popularity were common during this time. While Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation went head-to-head with the Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, it was the renegade promotion based in South Philadelphia that provided the blue print for a presentation that eventually revolutionized the industry in the United States.
A mixture of over-the-top violence, fast-paced athleticism, and intriguing stories made Extreme Championship Wrestling reach mythical levels as fans still reminisce about the wild group more than 15 years after it folded. With Paul Heyman, the cutting-edge mind behind the hardcore vision, as its inspirational leader, ECW ran the majority of its events from dingy buildings on a shoestring budget, but the product was so influential that the multi-million dollar titans of the sport had to take notice. It wasn’t long before McMahon and Turner began to showcase their own type of hardcore action.
However, there was a very serious downside to the dangerous stunts that got ECW noticed. A combination of personal choices or injuries left some originals damaged individuals after the spotlight faded. The genre has more than its share of cautionary tales, but there are also several success stories as well.
Long before “Dastardly” Danny Doring posed with a scantily clad valet on pay-per-view, Daniel Morrison lived a very normal childhood. As a youth of the 80s and a native of the north-east, Morrison discovered professional wrestling the way most did, finding the large-than-life personas beamed through his television screen.
“My great-aunt used to watch it with me on Saturday mornings, it was her favorite. Seeing Savage the first time hooked me for good,” he explained.
With the WWF as the primary territory where he lived, the future “Dastardly one” followed all the stars of the “Rock N’ Wrestling” era, and eagerly read magazine publications to see other stars as well. Similar to how he discovered the sport, Morrison found Extreme Championship Wrestling in a very common way. By the mid-90s, the spectacle of the 80s was replaced with a series of cartoonish characters and tacky stories. Mantaur, one of the most infamous gimmicks, clumsily wore a giant bull-type mask to the ring on WWF TV. Around the same time, a huge mummy named, “Yeti” debuted on Turner television after he smashed through a block of ice.
Morrison, like many others, skimmed through the channels late at night when he found the Hardcore TV show that looked completely different from anything else in pro wrestling in 1996. He dreamed of stepping into the ring ropes one day and was always athletic in sports so when he saw an ad for the House of Hardcore training academy, he jumped at the chance to learn the craft of the stars he idolized.
The New York-based training center was very similar to ECW itself, a no glamour, physically demanding experience. Many naive hopefuls stepped into the academy ran by Taz and Perry Saturn, but only a dedicated few completed the course. Daniel Morrison was among those that made it through the House of Hardcore.
“Training was intense and hard. I’d dare say that type of training is extinct and no longer ‘accepted.’ The biggest take away for me was our trainers never lied. Never said it would be easy, forewarned of sacrifices, but never urged us to quit or give up.”
In mid-1997, Morrison debuted at a small house show against his trainer, Taz, and soon became a regular competitor on the road for ECW, often working preliminary matches as he polished his skills through the experience of working in front of a live audience. In early 1998, now known as Danny Doring, he found his niche as a character with a sleaze-type persona. Along with brightly colored attire and a series of innuendos as nicknames for his move set, Doring also had another addition to his career. Road Kill, the Amish-inspired grappler, was another graduate of the House of Hardcore, and he was paired with Doring to form unique team. In contrast to Doring’s smooth style, Road Kill sported a lengthy beard and plain clothes to the ring. Still, the entertaining duo became cult favorites among the diehard ECW audience.
“We were classmates so we had that bond, we were also polar opposites in character and out, which made on-screen chemistry authentic and entertaining,” Doring said.
The tag team worked the under card for about a year until they began to compete on pay-per-view regularly in 1999, the same year that saw the promotion attempt to expand. Heyman, who talked his way into Madison Square Garden as a photographer at the age of 14, ran events traditionally in the north-east, but began to expand to other markets as the company gained more exposure. A national TV deal with TNN was seen as the next step for the organization, especially after the pressure to compete with the multi-million dollar competition of the industry. A national deal allowed Extreme Championship Wrestling to secure the contracts for action figures and video games, two traditional revenue streams of the professional wrestling business. Still, rumors swirled at the time about the stability of the ECW brand, and there were questions about if it could keep pace with the competition. But, most of the roster stayed focused on the opportunity to make a name for themselves in front of an expanded national audience.
“We worked ‘extremely’ hard to get to that point, but in reality the uncertainty of the company wasn’t really acknowledged as we had heard that for years but the company always found a way,” he said.
Eventually, Extreme Championship Wrestling filed for bankruptcy in April of 2001, which closed the promotion after several years of a product that influenced an entire genre. Post-ECW, Doring continued to wrestle a semi-regular schedule, working the independent scene, and even signed a WWE contract for a brief stint for the short-lived ECW on Sci-Fi project. While many fans hoped for a better conclusion to the original ECW than its abrupt shut down, Doring still appreciates his time to be able to entertain the diehard fan base, considering it a highlight of his career.
“Easily, winning the titles in NYC being we had most of anyone we cared about in that building and the amount of work we put in to get there. You always have things you would’ve changed, but at the end of the day ECW was the greatest time of my young life and I did things people couldn’t do in five life times and met friends I consider family to this very day,” he explained.
Today, Daniel Morrison lives a very regular life with his wife and their three children. As one half of the last ECW tag team champions, he has an array of memories from his time traveling the road. From the grueling training sessions under the direction of Taz to driving a ring truck during late-night travels to winning the championships on pay-per-view, he experienced many different aspects of the industry. More than a decade and a half after ECW closed, he has fond memories, but also recognizes the nice family life he enjoys now. However, he still finds time for his passion, working as an announcer for Tommy Dreamer’s stellar House of Hardcore promotion.
“I don’t even compare the two.The guy in ECW is such a stretch from who I am now they feel like different entities and complete strangers. I absolutely love my role in HOH and am truly blessed to still have a platform to be in this great business and thank Tommy Dreamer for that.”
In many respects, the story of Daniel Morrison is very refreshing because he played a part in one of the most wild and controversial eras of professional wrestling, but didn’t fall victims to some of the pitfalls that some others sadly struggled with from that same era. Daniel Morrison certainly has much to reflect on with the accomplishments as Danny Doring. More than anything, it’s a success story of someone who chased the dream of professional wrestling stardom and emerged with a successful family life from his time in the industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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