A Tribute to “Flyboy” Rocco Rock
Public Enemy were not teaming up tonight. Paul E. wanted to test them out in singles matches and see if the magic was still there. After all, the night before in Kennet Square, PA, Public Enemy had tag teamed with the entire crowd, which they had invited into the ring for a post-show dancing frenzy that had lawyers salivating at the thought of potential injury claim cases.
But tonight, after Johnny Grunge defeated Stevie Richards, Flyboy Rocco Rock Ted Petty had the task of taking on the dynamic 2 Cold Scorpio in a battle of major risk-takers. To show you the depth of star power in ECW in 1995, tonight’s card featured Rey Misterio Jr, Psicosis, La Parka, Konnan, Cactus Jack, Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Mikey Whipwreck (who won the ECW title that night), and Terry Funk (who caught on fire that night).
Heyman’s experiment, however, wasn’t a smashing success. The heat generated by each half of Public Enemy couldn’t compare to the sum of their parts, even at the peak of their popularity.
If you had any respect for the ECW Arena fans, then please skip this paragraph. Those fans may not have been in the mood to see Rocco wrestle Scorpio, but they were in the mood to have a good time. From the moment the match started, they proceeded to harass Scorpio by chanting the name of every Black gimmicked wrestler they could think of: JYD, Virgil, Mabel, Kimala, Saba Simba, Zeus, and all the way down to SD Jones. They were too Northern to mention Thunderbolt Patterson, and too smart to mention Johnny B. Badd.
The few fans in attendance showing political correctness spoke up and chanted back at them, “Racists suck, racists suck!” I had never seen a wrestler break down and laugh like Rocco did that night. It got so bad that he went outside, grabbed the mic, broke character and said, “Man, you guys are the greatest!”
Rocco Rock will never go down as the greatest technical wrestler of the 1990s. I have seen his matches in Japan as the Cheetah Kid and was entertained by them, but they won’t be what I remember when I hear the name Ted Petty. Petty’s greatest contribution to this business was being a hard-working, heavily instrumental cog in the wheel that got ECW off the ground, which ended up changing the way WCW and WWF did business in the Monday night wars forever.
Ted Petty and partner Johnny Grunge would also be the #1 biggest accomplishment listed on Paul Heyman’s resume. Terry Funk was an established star for decades, with years of **** matches and a record Clash of the Champions rating under his belt. Shane Douglas had a 4-year run of TV exposure to go on, and loads of potential that he was able to tap with Heyman’s help. Sabu was relatively unknown, but got over on his own merits and willingness to destroy his body, not entirely because of Heyman.
But Public Enemy, that was Paul’s baby. He took a veteran international journeyman past 40, and an overweight indie guy with good scar tissue, and marketed them as white bad-boy rapper street thugs who loved to brawl and bleed.
Every single promoter would’ve passed on the team, especially at that time, when their hardcore style was hardly seen on the Big Two’s shows. But not Paul. Unlike most bookers, Paul knows how to play to strengths and hide weaknesses. It seems like a simple concept, but no one else seems to understand it (when was the last time you saw Arn Anderson or Michael Hayes do promo’s in WWE? Instead we see Ric Flair wrestle once a week when it should be once a season for maximum effect).
Rocco and Grunge had no physique, so Paul threw jerseys on them, and no one noticed. They couldn’t wrestle all that well, so they brawled. Rocco was past 40, but how many of you would guess that if someone hadn’t told you? They could talk tough, so Paul E. threw them in a Philadelphia back alley full of graffiti and made them give rhyming, funny, gangster-driven promo’s about the Pit Bulls, Gangstas, Sabu, and Foley. To dramatize their brawls, they’d bleed in almost every match. Blade or hardway? It didn’t matter to them. That core of 1,100 ECW Philly fans paid their bills, and in return they gave them what they wanted to see.
And boy, did they want it. From the opening notes of, “Na na na na na,” they had the most visually exciting ring entrance an indie show could possibly provide. You had every, and I mean every, hand up in the air waving back and forth in unison. Why? Because Public Enemy were their own. They weren’t a legendary name making monthly appearances in Philadelphia. They were born, bred, and bled in South Philly, and they always would be. Even if they left for the majors one day, they’d always be known as an ECW act that ECW and Paul Heyman created.
It worked so well that WCW bought in to the sham. They thought they could bring in Public Enemy to work with their established teams like Harlem Heat, the Steiners, and the Nasty Boys.
But the WCW bookers failed to study what made Public Enemy work and get over. They failed to realize that behind the Heyman facade, they were limited workers who didn’t easily adapt to a new environment. They didn’t let them do promos, blade, or use their familiar entrance music. It’s like buying the best pizza in town, and then taking away the cheese, sauce, and toppings. If you take the winning elements out of a successful recipe that works, you’re not left with much.
The good news is that it provided a much better living and easier style for Rocco and Grunge, who hopefully saved every penny they earned. WWF also bought into the hype, but they didn’t learn from WCW’s mistakes (a broken record), and didn’t use the team any better. There, they became glorified stuntmen who banged up their bodies and were forgotten by the next commercial break.
For now, Petty’s most entertaining moments are hidden in the ECW library, which Vince McMahon lets collect dust instead of generating millions of dollars in revenue like it could and should. But I, along with the thousands of longtime fans who were lucky enough to have seen them at their popularity prime at the ECW Arena in the mid 90s, will dust off our video collection this week and remind ourselves why we used to mark out for relatively mediocre workers who just happened to entertain the Hell out of us.
Even if we all had the mental creativity of Paul Heyman, I don’t think of any one of us could ever imagine in our minds what early ECW would be like without Rocco Rock or Public Enemy. They put the “E” in ECW before and after “Eastern” became “Extreme.” So long, Petty. Thanks for the memories, and thanks for making it worth every single penny I gladly spent, and every single mile I gladly drove to see you perform.