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But things started to go south in 1995. Douglas was still champion, but ECW were clearly more focused on other acts like Tommy Dreamer and Raven. Douglas, it turns out, was unhappy with a number of things within the promotion, and his relationship with booker Paul Heyman reportedly deteriorated. Douglas even felt Heyman lied to him with the title switch to the Sandman (assuming he’d get it back the following week). Douglas ended that night in April wearing a Monday Night Raw t-shirt and, while his departure didn’t happen until nearly three months later, he had all but checked out the door on his way to joining and subsequently being completed wasted by the Fed.
So where, pray tell, does Bill Alfonso come into all of this? Well, Douglas was the nearest thing to a heel ECW had going in 1994. Not that he didn’t have his fans – his anti Ric Flair stuff worked really well in Philadelphia – but the Franchise was an arrogant character, one who to a point represented the establishment that he was rallying against. But the 1995 Douglas character started to get a bit whiny, and the fans noticed. In his send-off promo, fans chanted “We Want Flair” and “Shane Is Dead”, a far cry from the days where Douglas could reasonably lead fans in “Flair Is Dead” chants.
Douglas did leave a parting gift, however. Around May time Douglas had got some “legal advice”, and bought in Bill Alfonso as a representative of the Philadelphia State Athletic Commission. Alfonso, an uninvited guest to everyone barring Douglas, was here to clean up ECW. Partly as a referee, partly as a trouble-shooter. Often both. At a time when there were legitimate concerns over the sustainability of the often times brutal ECW style, having an on air figure that could curb that would be a nice anti-dote.
The fascinating thing about Bill Alfonso was that most of the time, he wasn’t even a heel. In August 1995, when Sandman and Mikey Whipwreck had post match caning session so brutal* that Whipwreck was put on a stretcher after seven lashings… out comes Bill Alfonso to (quite rightly) remind viewers that the stipulation clearly said ten lashings would be required. Sandman had no issue in delivering the other three. Alfonso was right. (*the segment was also so violent that some stations refused to show it, and it caused ECW to lose coverage in certain markets).
When Axl and Ian Rotten decided they were going to put aside their differences and reform their tag team (and, let’s be honest, other than feuding with each other there was no demand for either man as singles acts), Bill Alfonso came out and reminded everyone in the area that the Rottens lost a tag match against the Pitbulls at the beginning of the year where the losing team must split and never team again. Alfonso was right. And in true ECW style – the Rotten brothers immediately started beating the living shit out of each other. If Ian and Axl couldn’t team up, they might as well fight.
But people who are right are often dicks, and this is where Alfonso got so much of his heat from. ECW was a place for outlaws and outcasts, but Alfonso being the voice that just about represented fairness and balance got lost in that mix. Looking for any excuse to end the Axl vs Ian glass taped fist match, Alfonso stopped the match after a small cut to Ian’s eye was causing blood to “impair his vision”.
Alfonso also had the one great trait that any non-wrestler always needed. However hard anyone tried, nobody could get their hands on him. Often it was because Alfonso simply said he’d have the place shut down if anyone did anything that went against his word. But there was a match in July where he turned up to finally confront 911 (who, along with manager Paul E Dangerously) had been on an absolute crusade against him ever since he arrived). 911 wanted to fight Alfonso, and for once Alfonso wanted to grant a fight, with his cousin, who was (yes) called “The Terrorist”. 911 duly won, and earned a session with Alfonso in the ring. He got as far as getting a fistful of Alfonso’s shirt, but Alfonso got away largely unharmed.
And that was the story of how it all began. Alfonso was great at bursting the crowd’s bubble when it came to violent and extreme matches. Tod Gordon once green lit at a death match between the Rotten’s purely on the basis “well, he’s left the building”. Alfonso, in front of that crowd, was likely the only kind of villain that would truly be able to draw any heat. Whether ECW were capable of turning that heat into cash would be another story.
Alfonso had barely been in the company a month, but there’s a great segment from June 1995 that illustrates how quickly he got over. He wasn’t in it, the match in question was actually between 911 and “Jungle Jim Steele”. Steele the latest in a long line of Ultimate Warrior knockout characters that seem to have all of Warrior’s negative attributes yet none of the positive ones (I’m looking at you, Renegade).
Steele came to ECW to write off his gimmick, and who better than 911 to do it. Having finished him off with a chokeslam the crowd demanded another. 911 obliged. Then another, 911 obliged. Then another – by this point Heyman as 911’s manager came into his own. Heyman didn’t want to give in, but would only agree if the fans allowed him to dedicate the chokeslams to the person of his choice.
First up was Sabu, who had been “fired” by ECW a couple of months earlier. The crowd popped, and up and down Steele went. Heyman was really keen to get going this time, but relented. Only if the crowd would allow him to dedicate this one final chokeslam to “BILL MOTHER FUCKING ALFONSO”. The place exploded. In less than two months, in a promotion without heels, an act that didn’t even wrestle was the most hated guy in the promotion.