Onto TV land, and to Paul Heyman’s blood-soaked baby. ECW basically prided itself on being down and dirty when it comes to production values, so before I hit play on this I’m expecting to be confused very quickly. And I was not to be disappointed!
It’s the 20th May 1997 (internet says this aired on the 17th though), and we are in a crammed-looking Flickinger Centre in Buffalo, New York, for one of ECW’s occasional forays outside of Philly.
Because this is ECW and it’s the wild west of wrestling, we open with no fanfare and a match – a title match no-less – in progress. Joey Styles and…is that Rick Rude on commentary?
Shane Douglas (c) vs Chris Chetti (ECW Television Championship)
Chetti is a guy I remember as being a bit of an ECW mainstay for a good period only to never make the transition to the big leagues. Chetti on top, hitting a superplex, and a swinging neckbreaker for two near-falls. Misses a cool looking double-springboard moonsault, Douglas hit’s a belly-to-belly suplex for the 1, 2, 3 in who knows how many minutes. Joey Styles is upset.
Winner (and stiillllll Television Champion): Shane Douglas and people who like in media res openings.
Verdict: I dunno, Chris Chetti was made to look good I guess.
The actual show opening titles follow with all of the jumpy footage, blood drip effects and, with hindsight, horrifying unprotected chair shots you could want.
It is indeed Ravishing Rick Rude that is with Joey Styles, making a very obscure comment about Kathy Lee Gifford that I do not get. I had forgotten that his return to wrestling started out with a colour commentator gig with ECW, he’d be back in WWF within a few months helping found DX before being completely written out of history. They briefly set-up tonight’s main event, a “dream” tag match where long-standing rivals Tommy Dreamer and Raven will face each other with mystery tag-team partners. Rude plays this up with all of the emotion of the Terminator. Styles and Rude also mention “Mr Monday Night” Rob Van Dam, currently working heel. Don’t worry, there will be a lot on him later. Then they set-up our next contest, featuring a pissed-off “Suplex Machine” and the smallest Dudley
Taz vs Spike Dudley
Big reaction for Taz, back when he was still a feared monster. Spike already in the ring, looking markedly different, and much creepier, than his later iterations. “Taz is going to kill you” chants. Rude’s interjections are devoid of any emotion whatsoever: “I think Taz’s weight advantage will be too much” he says, like he’s Michael Cole recording lines alone for a video game. Some nice back and forth to start, with the first big spot a top-rope plancha to the outside from Spike.
An Alabama Slam from Taz gets “E-C-Dub” chants. Is Bob Holly watching? Taz all over Spike, starting to hit suplexes. Spike hits a low-blow, and because this is “EXTREME” and the ref’s are just window dressing it means nothing. The littlest Dudley hits a Dudley Dogg for a two-count, tries for another and gets tossed around the ring, before another suplex. Very fast-paced now, lots of running and counters, before Taz gets in the Tazmission. Spike taps out in around five minutes.
Winner: Taz, and those looking for reminders that amid the terrible production values ECW could have awesome short matches.
Verdict: Great fast-paced stuff, that made Taz look like Goldberg and Spike like a scrappy underdog you shouldn’t underestimate.
After the break, Styles and Rude talk about Shane Douglas’ valet Francine that Rude has apparently been kissing recently. Robot Rude reads off a cue card that Francine just needed some “mouth-to-blouse resuscitation”, which I swear is not a slip, but makes no sense to me. “If that weren’t extreme enough” Styles responds, and I’m more confused as we jump to a highlight package of matches from “The Buffalo Invasion” (that I think this show’s matches were also from).
It’s quick bootleg style highlights, including: The Pitbulls in a brawl with the FBI (“Farm Breed Idiots” declares Rude), Balls Mahoney vs Bill Wiles, a Mr Sandman entrance, Dreamer taking a tumble down the arena steps and a mental looking triple threat tag team match. They all get a bit of time, the kind of standard blood-and-guts stuff you would expect, delivered without a shred of context to the TV audience.
But enough about that, let’s talk about RVD, currently in some kind of arrogant cocky heel mode, calling himself Mr Monday Night (Mr “Not Appearing Tonight” is more like), implying he’s off to the Fed, to the annoyance of all decent faces everywhere. This was part of a brief “invasion” angle done on Raw that month, with Jerry Lawlor turning up on ECW in response. Lawlor is even name-dropped here tonight, just as he was running down (read: promoting) ECW on Raw’s commentary desk.
Rude has a bit of a wonky rhyme for RVD: “What’s the poop, RVD’s flying the coop, heading to the WW from the ECW” before suggesting Van Dam should bring some KY jelly with him. Styles looks confused. A bunch of ECW wrestlers, including Raven, the Sandman, the Dudley’s, Douglas, Dreamer and ECW champ Terry Funk, talk shit backstage about RVD seemingly moving “to New York”. It’s a lengthy segment, perhaps featuring the entire roster, all about running down WWE, Vince McMahon and choosing to give up your “freedom”.
You gotta hand it to Paul Heyman and his talent, they knew their audience and how to rile them up with stuff like this, portraying themselves as the edgy alternative, where the biggest heels are the “sell-outs”, when just about everyone featured in this segment would end up “selling out” (but not really). And it goes on and on and on and on, over ten minutes of how Van Dam is the most hated guy ever. It ends with Commissioner Tod Gordon suspending Van Dam indefinitely. You would assume this kind of segment would have some input from Van Dam himself, but nothing doing, so it lacks a little something.
Raven and ??? vs Tommy Dreamer and ???
Raven out with his flock, Dreamer with just a blonde woman I don’t recognise (is it Beulah?). Dreamer’s mystery partner is…ECW Champion Terry Funk! Oh boy. This was around the time that Funk was featured in Beyond The Mat: he’s 53 years old here, and had no business being in a ring, soon to embark on the first of many retirements (the most recent one was three years ago). His profile did help ECW at the time though, with him headlining, and winning the title at, ECW’s first PPV the previous month. But if Barely Legal was the highlight, these kinds of shows will not be quite as glamorous. Raven’s mystery partner is…Stevie Richards! That’s an strange bedfellows combination, or so the commentators play it up, and Richards looks confused at his selection as he comes out.
After a break the match is in progress, with Dreamer and Stevie in the ring. Raven gets on the mike to give Richards some helpful hints, earning a shove from the Blue World Order stalwart. Chop exchanges to a very enthusiastic crowd. In comes Funk, whose offence consists of a shoulder block, a wrist-lock, and a chop. Dreamer drags Richards over to the opposite corner, wanting Raven to tag in, but Raven takes a powder. Dreamer and Raven had a lengthy feud in ECW that has become semi-legendary, and this is a neat extension of that.
Raven back on the mike again, cussing Richards out, and is unwillingly tagged in, but tags right back out again. Funk has enough, and the Funker and Raven exchange blows on the outside. Funk set-up on a table, and Raven with a corkscrew dive from the ring to send Funk through it. Off into the arena for some crowd-brawling, always a good way to cover up a lack of ability, closely followed by Dreamer and Stevie. Very chaotic as we go to break.
Back, and Richards and Funk are in the ring, with Stevie hitting a piledriver. There’s a random plastic chair in the ring no-one is doing anything about. Punches and sleeper-holds to Funk, when Dreamer comes in the ref sends him back, because low-blows are OK but tag rules are sacred. Richards gives Funk a nasty chair shot to the knee. Raven whips Funk into a weird table stack a few times for an ECDub chant. Dreamer in hot, but double-teamed into oblivion. When Stevie puts Funk in a leglock, Raven back on the mike to run down Richards, demanding to be tagged in. Raven locks in his own toe-hold, but is knocked to the outside by Dreamer for more brawling. Very sad to see Funk spending so much of the match on his back.
Richards and Raven arguing over who gets to put Funk in another leg-lock, and Raven eventually hits Stevie with a DDT. Dreamer with a roll-up on Raven for a near-fall, then hits his own DDT. There was a ref-bump at some point, so no count. Louis Spiccolli out suddenly to take Dreamer down, and this is really chaotic now. Funk smashes Raven in the back with a chair, shots to Spiccolli. Spiccolli sets Funk up for the Death Valley Driver, Richards nails Spiccolli with the super-kick instead, and Funk lands with a crash. Stevie with the cover on Funk because being legal suddenly means nothing, 1, 2, 3 in around 12 minutes I think? What a weird ending.
Winners: Raven, Stevie Richards, and all fans of ultra Crash TV-style booking.
Verdict: A mess of a main event. Your tolerance for this will say a lot about you as a wrestling fan, and between Funk’s limited ability to go, the crowd brawling, the selectively enforced rules and chaotic finish, I wouldn’t say I’m a fan.
Best Match: There was only two, but I suppose Taz/Spike Dudley was good fun.
Worst Match: The main event, which encapsulated the ethos of ECW, with all of its flaws, very well.
Best Wrestler: Actually will give this one to Spike Dudley, whose is successfully able to play himself off as a chumpish runt and imminently dangerous at the same time.
Worst Wrestler: Funk was in bad shape at this time, and he wasn’t getting any younger.
Verdict: If you like car crash wrestling where any semblance of rules, story or structure is out the window, then this episode of Hardcore TV is for you. But if, like me, that isn’t your forte, then this 43 minutes and change will just leave you mildly confused. It’s a pass. To the extreme!
Bonus Content: Quick Thoughts On Money In The Bank 2020
Jeff Hardy/Cesaro – Surprisingly long for a Kickoff match, but the number of rest-holds bodes poorly for Hardy’s latest run. Skippable.
Tag Team Fatal-Four Way – To be expected fast-paced, manic action that’s difficult not to enjoy. Not sure the New Day should have retained though. Watch.
R-Truth/Lashley – Nobody comes out of this pointless squash looking good. Miss.
Bayley/Tamina – What you’d expect. Tamina shouldn’t really be in this spot. How much longer are they gonna tease out the Banks turn? Skippable.
Strowman/Wyatt – Good fun, but thought that the ending was a bit of a bore. More to come though. Check it out.
McIntyre/Rollins – Really good, McIntyre’s best match in a bit, but could do without the kick-outs at 1. Give it a watch.
Money In The Bank – Incredible, glorious insanity. WWE with these pre-recorded highly-produced “matches” are three for three in my book. Good choices for winners too. A must see.
Overall: You can skip the middle hour, but the rest of the show is pretty good.
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