I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of ECW, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never given it a chance. For instance, dated episodes of ECW Hardcore made it onto Bravo in the UK in the late nineties during the wrestling boom, so I checked it out there. I thought I’d give an episode from that era a look with an open mind, and establish what I liked and I didn’t like as I went along.
For historical significance, this was recorded around the time of the Sandman crucifixion, which never made it to TV. We’ll see why in the episode.
In the pre-episode teaser, Tommy Dreamer knocks Brian Lee off the top of a ridiculous scaffold, which isn’t helped by having towers of tables underneath. This never gets referred to again in the episode.
The intro is set to a Man in the Box knockoff, although I believe the actual opening at the time was Thunder Kiss ’65.
Joey welcomes us to the show in the ring at the ECW Arena, already doing his silly voice. Wanting to speak out of both sides of their mouth, by getting a knock in at the WWF and WCW, he brings out Kurt Angle as an example of an amateur that was contrary to everything that was supposedly extreme. At the arena he came out to the Olympic Fanfare by John Williams (as used by Ken Patera in the WWF), but here it’s a generic song dubbed over. Kurt’s chewing a piece of gum and looks fantastic compared to now, almost full head of hair, slim, no bloat, looking healthy. Little Guido is brought out to put him over and get a rub from him, talking like Luca Brasi.
Taz is then brought out with something that sounds like War Machine if you forgot to play half of it. Team Taz look like a bunch of orange Smurfs and slightly less tough than Ralphus. Chris Chetti appears to be the one behind Taz most of the way. Taz puts over Angle a bit and himself more while Kurt laughs at him. Taz sends Angle and Styles off to commentate on his match, which might be a rarity of them actually doing commentary live. Styles runs off to talk with Angle like he’s getting ready to taste his dick.
Little Guido vs. Taz (“Shoot Fight” – submissions or knockouts only)
Weird bit of editing where Bill Alfonso steals the mic out of the ring announcer’s hand, but says nothing, and when they cut away the latter still introduces Taz. Angle is seriously lacking charisma here and tries to call everything as an amateur match with no knowledge of pro rules or conventions. Guido’s rocking the mullet even in ’96. Style has me laughing as he claims Taz is 5’10” and 248 lbs. He might weigh that now, but not then, and he’d need platform boots to be that height. Taz dominates Little Guido while mocking Sabu. Kurt continues with insightful comments like “This is a judo move… I don’t know what it’s called…”, so Joey says something that sounds like bullshit but he at least has confidence in it. Kurt is down there with Art Donovan as far as commentary goes. T-bone Tazplex and Tazmission finish for Taz at 4:17. Match was alright, commentary was atrocious.
Taz calls out Kurt Angle after the match, as he really wanted him to come in and put him over, then tells everyone to shut the fuck up and wonders why Sabu won’t respond to him, claiming ECW are protecting him. That goes nowhere.
To complete a point, this appearance from Kurt Angle was an attempt to woo him, but he took offence to the crucifixion angle and threatened to sue if his appearance was connected to it. So the angle didn’t make TV, and Angle didn’t come back.
Cut to Joey after the fact, continuing the Kurt Angle blow job session, thanking him for coming. Imperfect Familiars kicks in as Shane Douglas comes out with Francine to face Cody Michaels (his best friend from his training school days), who is wearing a t-shirt fives sizes too big for him. Joel Gertner joins Styles in the studio until he’s brushed off. Shane kicks in with his “Listen up, you smart marks!” routine, bragging about breaking the neck of Pitbull Gary Wolfe.
Cody Michaels vs. Shane Douglas
Cody looks like every generic, unexceptional WWF or WCW jobber you’ve ever seen. Pitbull Anthony Durante tries to come out and attack Douglas before the match and is held back by a parade of jobber including the FBI and a guy who looks like Carrot Top as they take a break. Back to the match, Michaels gets an inverted atomic drop and flying forearm as Styles is already squealing move names. Missile dropkick for two, followed by a flying cross bodyblock that Shane jumps into, which almost sends him rolling off. Franchise gets dumped to the outside and hit with a baseball slide. Michaels props him up in a chair and gives him a cross bodyblock off the apron in a cool move. As plain as he looks, with trunks that look like a nappy, he’s got good fire.
Douglas turns it around for himself with a divorce court. Follows with a tombstone, while looking like he’s humping his face. The ref wants to end the match but Francine blocks it. Shane picks him up, dead weight, and finishes with the belly-to-belly. Good match, shame it didn’t go longer.
Francine decides Cody deserves more punishment as Joey goes off on a contrived riff about her being spoilt rotten and smelling. Shane hits the ref and then applies the Ken Patera swinging neckbreaker. Durante comes back out to some awful music that doesn’t sound like anything Rob Zombie would object to as being derivative. The gang of jobbers follows, including “Dangerous” Devon Storm with his ginger mullet, some loser in all black but with pink boots. Pitbull 2 chases after Shane, and, in a funny moment, Shane brushes past Francine and knocks her over without looking. Durante wants to rip her to shreds but the jobbers stop her. Shane gets some chair and belt shots in during this that Durante is too pilled up to feel.
With almost everything quelled, Joel Gertner comes out, sans shirt and in his trainers (the match was so quick he didn’t have time to put his dress shoes on). He tries to push off the Pitbull for blocking his camera shot, then proceeds to announce the winner with Durante breathing in his face and sweat dripping on him until he realises he’s fucked up, then gets SOS slammed onto the job squad outside over the top rope in a good bit.
Chris Candido vs. Spike Dudley
After a year and a half in the WWF of being Skip, Candido returns to ECW with no gimmicks, just as himself. He came out to Back in Black at the show, but they’ve dubbed Ricky Steamboat’s 1989 WCW theme over it for some reason. For the best, as he’s mostly in gold and purple except for his boots and kneepads. I liked this version of Spike Dudley MUCH more than any later goofy version of him, mainly just because he did look like someone who was fucked up here. To undo any good work they did by giving Candido a good ovation, the fans chant “WE WANT SUNNY!”. Quick elbow to Spike to start. “SKIP IS DEAD!” is the next chant, and wisely Chris ignores it. He’s applauded here, but is smart to wrestle like a heel. German suplex folds up Spike. Regular suplex snapped off. Typical shitty legdrop from Chris, where Joey tries to call it like a Great Muta elbow. Chris props up Spike on the top turnbuckle, facing the crowd, then powerbombs him off the top and does the push-up pin to win at 3:25. Fair play, Spike’s the kind of guy you can just do a move like that to, as opposed to him and Marty Jannetty doing it to each other all year to diminishing returns. “WELCOME BACK!” chant as Chris feigns crying, then plugs Sunny being on the awful Live Wire and is careful not to burn his bridge with the WWF, then puts over his history of ECW and then properly turns heel on it by calling it a shit-hole. Pretty wise decision there, I’d say, Chris Candido as a babyface gets no buys.
2 Cold Scorpio vs. The Sandman (ECW World Heavyweight Championship match)
Towards the end for 2 Cold, ready to jump to the WWF as Flash Funk, presumably getting his costume made from old off-cuts from Skip’s gear. Promoted as friend against friend, Exit Hydro-Man brings out Sandman. Straight wrestling match to start, Scorpio working the leg to start. With no real build, they go to punching and brawling. Chair in from Scorpio, kendo stick in from Sandman, but they make peace, then Scorpio turns on him and whips him into the chair with Sandman tripping over himself to hit it. Superkick. Sandman crawls for the kendo stick, but gets caught and hit with it himself. Sandman takes the density of a sandbag to be picked up for a side suplex, then Scorpio hits a legdrop off the top for two. Moonsault (which I’m surprised didn’t break Sandman’s ribs with how he was rolling) for two. Up top for the third time, but Sandman catches him with the stick and the shitty Heinekenrana for two. Scorpio comes back with a powerslam, but misses the tumbleweed and gets pinned, which looked like a fast count to end it quick. Bad match, mainly down to Sandman, who as good a character as he was was an awful wrestler.
To finish, his estranged son Tyler Fullington comes out in full Sandman garb to reunite with him. Raven slip in from behind, returning from rehab in real life, and hits him with a kendo stick and the DDT to go to black.
Conclusion: Putting the main event aside, which was the biggest example of the ECW garbage wrestling style on show, the matches were pretty much fine, the booking was fine, the presentation was fine, the angles and superfluous stuff was inoffensive. Pretty much as you’d expect, the worst thing about it was the commentary. Joey Styles is terrible anyway, but Kurt Angle managed to find a way to be even worse, so don’t check this show out if you want an early example of his work.