ECW Original “Hitman” Tony Stetson was the featured guest on the most recent episode of the In the Room podcast on VOC Nation. Former WCW wrestler The Stro joined the show’s host, Pro Wrestling Illustrated contributor Brady Hicks, and his co-hosts in interviewing Stetson regarding his role in the formative years of ECW as well as his career since his release from that iconic promotion.
Trained by Larry Sharpe and the late Bam Bam Bigelow, Tony Stetson was instrumental in wrestling’s evolution from the slick, mainstream “Rock and Wrestling Connection” spectacle to the more gritty “extreme” style that dominated the mid-1990s. Asked by Brady Hicks about his work with fellow ECW Original Johnny Hotbody, Stetson bemoaned how the history of wrestling’s hardcore movement has been rewritten. Tony traced the origin of the hardcore style to his time in New Jersey’s Tri-State Wrestling Alliance. He joined the ECW roster in 1993. In critiquing the evolution of hardcore wrestling, his harshest words were reserved for Paul Heyman, who brought extreme wrestling to the forefront with the founding of ECW. Heyman is currently under contract with WWE as the advocate/manager for Brock Lesnar.
“If I saw Paul Heyman on the street, I’d probably knife him,” Tony Stetson said. “I know that’s not a nice thing to say. When this whole hardcore stuff – okay, naturally back in the day you had [Bruiser] Brody, you had Abdullah [the Butcher] they did their stuff – when me and Hotbody first started in the first TWA show we did, Joel [Goodhart] was going to fire [us] because he was such a nervous wreck. So we had just went out and did our stuff. And it was so overwhelming that … [Joel] got flooded with calls saying ‘We want Hotbody and Stetson again..’ That – I don’t care who says otherwise – started the whole hardcore stuff.”
In ECW, Stetson partnered with the likes of Johnny Hotbody and Larry Winters, taking on some of the promotion’s top talents. Indeed, Tony maintains that he was personally assured by Paul Heyman that he would always have a place in the company because his early work in TWA paved the way for ECW.
“I remember when Paul E. first came in and took over the book. He came up to me and Hotbody and said, ‘You two guys will always have a job here as long as you’re running because… what you two created … is why we’re doing this.’ And it just burns my ass that things went the way they did.”
Stetson noted that because he was so closely associated with Johnny Hotbody, his career momentum suffered when Johnny would periodically step away from ECW. The end of his own run with the promotion came by way of an unceremonious dismissal from Paul Heyman in 1996.
“And I’ll never forget the last night. I said, ‘What do you got for me, Paul E.?’ He said, ‘I’ve got nothing for you.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, you’ve got nothing for me? Wasn’t it you who said I’ll always have a job here?’ He said, ‘I know. We’re taking a different route.’ I’ll never forget it.”
Tony indicated that some of his fellow ECW Originals expressed support for him but added that people were reluctant to discuss the matter personally with Heyman. He said that Tommy Dreamer approached him at one point during his last night at ECW, praising Stetson as a “pioneer” and expressing gratitude for his contributions to the business. But Tony soon came to regard Dreamer’s words as little more than empty rhetoric.
“I said, ‘Tommy, you feel that way for real? … Then do something for me. He shrugged his shoulders and says, ‘What can I do?’ That’s when I knew… this is bullsh*t because if Tommy wanted to do something, he could have done something right then and there.”
Tony Stetson worked for a number of independent companies until his retirement in 2002. In recent years, he has made sporadic appearances for Delaware’s Eastern Championship Wrestling as well as NWA-affilated promotions. He discussed some of these appearances on In the Room, noting that the skills and work ethic by many new wrestlers today pale in comparison to that which he saw during his days as an ECW Original.
[Photo by WWE]