Back with another classic ECW review, as I’ve been meaning to watch this one again for a while and now seemed like as good a time as any.
1996 was a hot year for ECW from a creative perspective, with Taz’s “Path of Rage” and Raven’s feud with The Sandman being notable highlights. Most of the year was spent trying to finally get the company on to pay per view, with things like the Mass Transit incident delaying it until 1997. The product had a good mix of brawls, character work and wrestling still though, and when I first became aware of the company in 1999 I had a lot of fun going back to hoover up some of the better shows from the companies 96 prime.
Going into this show, Raven was the ECW World Champ and was still embroiled in multiple issues with the likes of Tommy Dreamer and Shane Douglas. Dreamer had recently stolen Raven’s girlfriend Beulah away from him, so Raven had in-turn shacked up with Kimona Wanalaya, although he made it clear more than once that he was still in love with Beulah and didn’t have much time for Kimona outside of a purely physical relationship. As a result that relationship fizzled and Kimona actually ended up with Douglas, as this was before Douglas had taken on Francine as his valet.
Douglas had been kind of a tweener since coming back to ECW following a failed stint in the WWF, in that he was still as disgusting and despicable human being, but he also was feuding with guys like Raven and occasionally even helping out Dreamer from time to time, even though it was mostly for selfish reasons. It was very much “shades of grey, bro”, but in 96 that concept hadn’t been beaten into the ground yet, and because Raven was such a clear villain and Dreamer was a clear face, it worked having Douglas in the middle pulling the strings.
Elsewhere, Taz had gone heel at the end of 1995 due to the fans welcoming Sabu back to the promotion, and he was tearing through everyone in a vicious manner on route to an eventual collision with his former tag team partner. Sabu was a bit busy feuding with Rob Van Dam at the time though, so his eventual blow off with Taz would have to wait.
Going into Hostile City Showdown, the two main matches were scheduled to be Rob Van Dam facing off with Sabu and Raven defending his World Title against Douglas, with Tommy Dreamer taking on Raven’s hired thug “Bulldozer” Brian Lee in the under card. It was a pretty stacked show and there was good interest for it as a result, especially as Douglas had been teasing that he would reveal the identity of a supposed secret lover of Beulah.
Will the big matches deliver? Let’s watch on and find out!
The event is emanating from The Arena in Philly
Calling the action is Joey Styles
Joey opens the show in the ring, as he welcomes two men “straight from the hood” (that’s literally what he said) in the form of New Jack and Mustafa, who come down to the ring for some promo time. They get a big pop from the crowd, with New Jack in particular getting a lot of chants. Da Gangsta’s were feuding with The Eliminators at the time, and the feud would rage on into the autumn. New Jack cuts a very good promo about how his woman accused him of getting soft due to The Eliminators taking him out, so now he and Mustafa are here to rectify that. The Eliminators are happy to oblige and the brawl is on. This was good classic wild ECW action, with a hot promo leading into an insane arena wide brawl whilst the bloodthirsty ECW Arena crowd had the time of their lives. The locker room eventually empties to hold both teams back, but this situation is not even remotely close to being resolved.
El Puerto Ricano Vs Supernova
El Puerto Ricano would be better known as Pablo Marquez and would eventually end up getting a role in the WWF as Tiger Ali Singh’s manservant Babu. Supernova did jobs for the WWF under his real name of Mike Bucci before coming into ECW with the Nova gimmick. After ECW folded he eventually made it on to the main WWE roster as evil fitness instructor Simon Dean.
Supernova is pretty much doing The Hurricane “goofy superhero” gimmick here, with the fans chanting that he looks like a Power Ranger as a result. This one is all action, with plenty of dives and high spots. There’s good energy to it but it’s also really sloppy and the fans give them a bit of a hard time. Eventually The Eliminators run in and destroy both men.
Normally I hated it when ECW did a non-finish because the lawless nature of the company meant you at least got a pin most of the time, but having an opening match end when someone like 911 ran in to kill everyone was a well-established part of the company by this stage so I’ll let it slide
The Eliminators demand Da Gangsta’s come back out so that we can pick up where we left off in the opening segment, and Da Gangsta’s happily accept such a generous request, meaning that the brawl is back on! I’m not sure we really needed to see it again so soon, but having a brawl just start up again when you think that segment is done was the sort of anarchic nonsense that gave ECW its charm back in the day. Natural Born Killers gets to play all the way through and eventually the locker room empties once again to break the fight up. Joey thinks we need to have this match officially signed and be done with it. Full Blooded Italian JT Smith tries to calm things down with some Sinatra, but D-Von Dudley chases him off with a chair, and eventually everyone who was there to break up the fight all start fighting with one another as well. Ah, ECW, you wacky company you!
Buh-Buh Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley w/ Sign Guy Dudley and Dances With Dudley Vs The Pitbulls w/ Francine
Buh-Buh tries to flirt with Francine prior to the match, but his stutter makes that difficult and he ends up insulting her instead. D-Von was the mean heel Dudley at this stage, whilst Buh-Buh was the more fun loving one. They were doing a story where D-Von was battling for control of The Dudley Clan with Big Dick Dudley, who was currently out with an injury. This is yet another wild brawl in a series of them tonight, as both teams fight in to the crowd right from the opening bell.
It’s actually not a bad brawl, but our brawl quotient is getting a little high here and it might be worth throwing in a different styled match as a bit of a palate cleanser. DW Dudley is out at ringside in a wheelchair and he ends up getting clattered too, with even Francine laying a whupping on him for good measure. I totally get how something this nuts and crazy would have appeal in 1996 when neither the WWF or WCW had really gone full swing into the Monday Night War yet.
Buh-Buh ends up taking the Super Bomb from The Pitbulls, which leads to D-Von destroying everyone with a chair, including the ref. Some of the chair shots Pitbull #2 took in particular there were absolutely disgusting. D-Von stalks Francine following that, whilst The Pitbulls Super Bomb the ref, for no other reason than to just be jerks I guess. The match cuts before we see what happens to Francine, but I’m guessing she got away in one piece for the time being.
The lack of a proper finish drags it down, but it was a fun wacky brawl prior to that
Taz and Bill Alfonso join us. Fonzie had been very effective in the role of a heel ref who actually *gasp* enforced the rules (you can see why that would have agitated the ECW crowds onions) but now he’s a manager for Taz and has a supremely annoying gimmick of constantly blowing a whistle. Devon Storm shows up from WCW though, and it would appear that he’ll be Taz’s opponent tonight. Fonzie makes sure to draw some cheap heat prior to the bout, but mentioning how the Philly Flyers lost to Tampa Bay, who are his hometown team. It works too, as the crowd are offended and actually chant for The Flyers!
Taz w/ Bill Alfonso Vs Devon Storm
Taz was doing the shoot fighter gimmick here, although the way MMA has evolved probably makes it look quite an antiquated interpretation. For example, I don’t think Jon Jones throws many T-Bone Suplexes in a fight most of the time. Taz dominates in the early going, but Storm replies with some high flying moves, with the idea being that he’s trying to emulate Sabu, who Taz was feuding with at the time.
The crowd gets restless when Storm gets some prolonged offence though and Taz quickly fights back, whilst Aflonso’s whistle gets more and MORE annoying. Bloody hell, this guy would have Rita Repulsa complaining about a headache! Taz tries suplexing Storm over the top rope through a table, but the table is too far away and Storm clips it before colliding with the concrete floor in a brutal botch that should be sent Maffew’s way if he hasn’t included it in a video before. The ref decides Storm is done from that and stops the match.
WINNER BY REFEREE STOPPAGE: TAZ
Not an especially good showcase for either man
Taz chokes Storm out following that and then talks some smack on the mic.
Little Guido w/ JT Smith Vs Axl Rotten
Guido and Smith’s gimmick is that they are Italian “cousins”, when Guido is clearly the only one of them who is actually Italian. To be honest, the Rocky music almost works better for The FBI as an act than the N-Trance song did. Rotten had been in a tag team with his “brother” Ian, but they had ended up splitting and feuding in some brutal hardcore matches. Ian has now left though, so Axl is on his own as a singles babyface and is doing a heavy metal punk gimmick.
Smith being announced as “the accompanying Pizon at ringside” is pretty funny actually, as you sense that Paul Heyman probably got a kick out of this gimmick and was just happy to let them do as much silly stuff as possible to amuse him. Rotten almost kills Guido with a back body drop right from the opening bell, as this match would strike me as the definitive styles clash due to Guido doing the Billy Robinson shoot style and Rotten being more of a wild brawler. Still, they say styles make fights I guess.
The table refuses to cooperate once again, with Rotten this time trying to fling Guido through it and Guido just bouncing off it. Amuse yourself with your own MEME’s, I think I went a bit too reference heavy in that Bash at the Beach 99 review so I’m trying to tone it down a bit lest I come across as some kind of crazed super-fan. Rotten clocks Guido with an actual pie outside the ring, but Guido is somehow able to survive that and takes over back inside. Guido’s stuff has looked pretty low impact here actually, which is unusual for him because his work is usually tight and polished.
Guido tries working some holds and Rotten really has no clue how to sell them, and his attempts at countering them are sloppy to say the least. These two just have zero chemistry together as opponents, so much so that if you had them wrestling one another on TEW then the game would chastise you for booking them together and suggest you don’t do it anymore. Rotten eventually makes a bit of a comeback and gets a Dominator for the three count.
WINNER: AXL ROTTEN
Ugh, this wasn’t good. Just two guys who did not mesh together at all having a sloppy mess of a match
Smith tries to make nice with Rotten following the match, but Guido still wants to fight in a Scrappy Doo manner. Rotten eventually leaves and Smith butchers some more Sinatra whilst Joey begs for mercy on commentary.
The Sandman and Too Cold Scorpio w/ Missy Hyatt Vs The Bruise Brothers
The Bruise Brothers would be better known as The Harris Boys from WCW and The D.O.A from the WWF. Sandman and Scorpio weren’t really proper babyfaces yet at this stage, but they were rebellious characters that the fans could get behind when they were in there with wrestlers the fans didn’t especially like. Sandman hadn’t yet had his family stolen by Raven, so he didn’t have the sympathy of the crowd yet and they saw him more as a cool beer drinking bloke who liked to fight. Missy had essentially replaced Woman as Sandman’s manager, which is kind of like replacing a nice aged artisan piece of Brie with a can of Cheese Whiz.
Missy suggestively dances with both of her clients to Scorpio’s “Whomp There It Is” entrance music and it was off the wall stuff like this that made ECW such an underground sensation compared to the more sanitised products of the “Big Two” at the time. Scorpio was the ECW TV Champion at the time, and I think he’d start feuding with Pitbull #2 over it not too soon after this show, when they decided to push #2 as a singles guy for a bit.
Joey outright jokes about them even trying to set this up as a standard tag match, because you just know that it’s going to breakdown into a wild brawl eventually. It is kind of odd that they had a genuinely well rounded technician-high flyer like Scorp on the books and yet they tagged him up with the wild brawler. Scorp tries his best to wrestle with the Harris’ in the early going, but that isn’t really their forte and it’s pretty awkward stuff as a result. The Harris’ were decent enough as a big brawling tag team having slugfests, but they weren’t known for their technical wrestling acumen.
The Bruise Brothers fling Scorp out of the ring and start whipping Sandman, with Missy getting a kick out of seeing her client get battered. Yeah, they had a…unusual relationship most of the time during this run. Sandman recovers and makes out with Missy before heading out for the advertised wild brawl. They’ve at least kept the previous two matches mostly in the ring and within the rails when it did spill outside, so the crowd brawling here doesn’t feel quite as overplayed as it did in The Pitbull’s match. We head back in briefly, where Scorp gets a moonsault press on one of The Harris’ for the flash three count.
WINNERS: SANDMAN & SCORPIO
It was just starting to get interesting, and then they abruptly took it home
We see footage of Brian Lee saying he will give his life for Raven.
Bulldozer Brian Lee Vs Tommy Dreamer
Lee was a hired gun brought in to take Dreamer out for Raven. Dreamer is struggling to move with any speed at all here, which is probably due to him destroying his body in this feud with Raven. It would sadly get even worse for him as his ECW run continued. We of course head into the crowd again for this one, as I think we can officially say that they’ve overused that particular trope on this show. It’s your standard walk around brawl, where both men take a tour of The Arena and hit each other with anything not nailed down.
Dreamer actually gets a pretty wild dive off the commentary stage onto Lee at one point, but sadly its effectiveness is negated by Lee getting right back up so he can fling Dreamer onto the bleachers. I don’t want to shock you at all, but Dreamer ends up going crotch first into the guardrail at some stage. I know, I’ll give you a few moments to process such an unforeseen development. The ref ends up getting taken out, in a pretty good spot actually as it looks kind of ugly and sloppy, but that kind of makes it better.
The Bruise Brothers join us now that the ref is down and lay a whupping on Dreamer, who looked to have the match won with a DDT on Lee. Dreamer ends up taking a double team big boot, but kicks out in a good near fall. I haven’t watched this show in a while and forgot who won, so I totally bought that and Dreamer timed his kick out perfectly. Lee chair shots a cinderblock into Dreamer’s unmentionables though, and that’s finally enough for three.
WINNER: BRIAN LEE
Decent enough brawl that would have had more impact if they hadn’t already done 3 or 4 of them already
Dreamer sells his Bread and Butter following that.
No Time Limit
Rob Van Dam Vs Sabu
I tell you what, these next two matches need to be great in order to save this show or it’s going to become a genuine contender for the “Stinker” pile. Thankfully I do remember this match being good, so hopefully it’s stood the test of time. RVD was still pretty new to ECW at this stage and didn’t really have much of a personality or gimmick outside of “flippy guy who can also do martial arts”. Sabu had returned to ECW in the autumn of 95 after skipping town to work in Japan and WCW. He was quickly forgiven though and they used that as fuel for his feud with former tag team partner Taz.
This one is all-action from the opening bell, as they go straight to counter sequences and flashy looking offence, with the crowd digging it. It’s mostly well executed too, which wasn’t always the case with these two and sometimes things could get a bit sloppy. Sabu targets RVD’s legs with some attacks, including dropkicks and a single leg crab, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. I appreciate the thought, but psychology and working a body part don’t really come into it when you’re doing a spot fest.
It’s not long before we’re getting dives to the floor and even more brawling in the crowd, which is frantic fun, if a little played out by this stage. In a bubble though, it’s very entertaining, especially when Sabu leaps from inside the ring out to RVD in the front row at one stage, giving us the expected “EC-DUB” chant from the crowd. Some of the spots are pretty inventive actually, with RVD using a chair as a boost up onto the apron before coming off said apron with a flying kick, but the way it’s all done in one fluid motion makes it seem very flashy and adds a lot to it.
Things get a bit rougher in the ring at one stage, especially when they try working some more holds, which not only feels kind of out of place in a match like this but doesn’t really play into eithers skillset. Sabu spiking RVD with a DDT at one point certainly does though, and RVD takes his usual impressive bump from it. In one of those “only in ECW” moments, RVD flings a chair at Sabu but Sabu dodges and it goes flying into the crowd. However, rather than get upset, the crowd find the chair for RVD and then throw it back to him! Can you imagine if that happened today? It would be Lawsuit City!
The big bumps keep coming, as Sabu becomes the first man to successfully go through a table tonight (Apparently it is HE who is the table) although it’s minimised somewhat by him mostly popping up from it to continue the fight. The tables get their revenge though, as it takes Sabu two tries to put RVD through one with a dive, although he finally gets it on the second attempt. This has been absolute carnage, but it’s also been pretty engrossing stuff too. Ultimately, if you’re going to do a wild spot fest then commit to it and, provided most of the execution is on point, the match should be entertaining in a car crash way at the very least.
We of course get some near falls, with RVD getting an especially nice bridging German Suplex at one stage, and doing a good job at selling frustration that he can’t put Sabu away. Joey does a good job on commentary pushing that narrative actually, with the match having a feeling of the upstart newbie RVD trying to put the established ECW guy Sabu away, but just not being capable of getting it over the line. Sabu eventually manages to spike RVD with yet another DDT and then follows up with a Triple Jump Moonsault that got shown in clips for years afterwards, which is enough for the three count.
This was a high-tempo crazy bout, full of wild high spots and exciting action. There was a bit of a lack of selling as well, which tends to go hand in hand with these kinds of matches, but most of the execution was on point and if you’re comfortable switching off your brain and just enjoying the frantic high octane spots, then this will likely be right up your alley
Sabu wants a handshake following that, but RVD isn’t interested and refuses to give it, thus beginning his path to being the cocky “Whole Dam Show” gimmick.
ECW World Title
Champ: Raven w/ Stevie Richards and Blue Meanie Vs Shane Douglas w/ Kimona Wanalaya
Before this one starts we get a pretty memorable angle that got ECW in some considerable hot water at the time, as Shane Douglas announces that Beulah has been cheating on both Raven and Tommy Dreamer. All of the relevant parties join us in the ring, where Dreamer demands to know who the man whose been sticking it to his woman is, but that’s when Douglas reveals the big SWERVE.
You see, the person who Beulah has been having it off with just happens to be Kimona. Yes, it’s everyone’s favourite tasteless cheap angle, Lesbian Pollen! Dreamer becomes a big babyface with the ECW crowd however by being cool with all of this and stating he’ll accept Beulah’s bi-sexuality by engaging in a ménage à trois, because he’s so gosh darn hardcore. So yeah, ECW got a lot of heat for this, because woman on woman love was a big no-no back then, and even if it hadn’t been this was a pretty trashy and exploitative way of doing it.
With Dreamer off to claim The Threeway Belt (I’m sure the whole experience was Legend…wait for it…DARY) that leaves us with Raven and Douglas fighting over the belt that actually matters in a bizarre Heel Vs Sleazy Tweener dynamic that surprisingly still kind of works. I will say that the joy Douglas’ character had at revealing the whole Beulah/Kimona thing was pretty great. He just loved being the arch troublemaker. Dreamer also trying to grab Douglas by the collar but then realising he doesn’t have a shirt on, and thus can’t, is an underappreciated classic botch too.
The story they tell here in the early going is that Raven is off his game due to Douglas’ mind games, which is usually a tactic that Raven himself employs and plays into Douglas’ character of being the master tactician who can work out the best way to takedown his opponents. We actually get to see Raven do some wrestling, and he’s better at it than you’d think for a guy whose reputation is based around brawling and storytelling.
Douglas actually busts out a dive at one stage when he gets sick of Raven continuously bailing to the floor, and you can kind of see why he didn’t do that sort of move that much as he almost doesn’t make it and clatters onto the floor as a result, only grazing Raven for the most part. Raven takes some wild bumps in this one actually, going off the apron onto the railings at one stage and then taking a flat back bump on the concrete when he and Douglas tumble over the top rope from a sleeper position.
Douglas actually does ANOTHER dive, this time from the top rope into the front row, as both men seem determined to hurt themselves in this one. Douglas adds a cheese grater to the face out in the crowd, which leads to Raven doing the expected blade job, because you kind of HAVE to at that stage. It’s why cage matches in PG companies with no blood allowed just don’t work for me. I’m hardly a gore freak, but it’s kind of hard to suspend your disbelief when guys are having their faces grinded into a metal cage and come up without even a scratch on them.
Raven and Douglas actually brawl outside the building at one stage, but sadly they don’t send a camera out there with them, so we have to just look at a wide shot until they decide to come back in. This is one of those performances by Douglas in particular where you go “Yup, I can see why you consider yourself the franchise player of this company” because he’s been going all out here and the match has been really good as a result.
Brian Lee tries to attack Douglas, but Dreamer runs out to help him and fends Lee off, only for Douglas to turn on him because he’s still a jerk even though he happens to be feuding with Raven at this particular moment in time. Again, I normally hate this shades of grey stuff, but it works when done right, and they’re doing it right here. Raven rolls up a distracted Douglas, but that’s only two but you could completely buy it as a possible finish and they timed it great.
With all the distractions dealt with, Raven and Douglas can now see out the closing stretch themselves, with them doing some more good near falls off some roll ups and pinning holds. Douglas locks in the Figure Four at one stage, but this time Meanie gets involved. He misses a moonsault though, although that gives Stevie a chance to come in and hit Douglas with a Stevie Kick for another good near fall where the crowd totally bought that it was over.
Douglas keeps coming and catches Raven with his own DDT, as again you didn’t see this sort of stuff in the WWF and WCW at the time with all the run in’s and finisher theft spots. It was the sort of wild anarchic action that the WWF essentially stole for the Attitude Era and then rode to the top of the wrestling mountain. Raven had a special orthopaedic shoe on at the time due to legitimate issues with his foot in real life, so Douglas takes it off and applies the Figure Four once again, but this time a Bruise Brother distracts him and that allows Raven to clock him with the boot in question for the three count in a typical skin of the teeth Title defence for him at the time.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: RAVEN
This is one of those matches that I can see some really not liking, especially if Douglas in particular is not your cup of tea as a worker, but I really enjoyed it. Raven does the Dog & Pony Show better than anyone else with all the run in’s and twists, and this match was a good example of that. It was wild stuff and full of great dramatic near falls. Again, if you enjoy the typical WWF “Main Event Style” from 98-2001, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t love this too as the WWF borrowed a lot of that stuff from ECW in the first place (Who in-turn borrowed it from FMW, who had borrowed it themselves from Memphis)
Shane Douglas does a post-match promo with Joey in the ring, where he takes his usual cheap shot at Shawn Michaels before saying no other belt means more to him than the ECW Title and he’s angry at Raven robbing him of his moment. This brings Too Cold Scorpio down to the ring though, offended that Douglas doesn’t want the TV Title, and thus we have a new direction and feud for Douglas going forward. This all led to an excellent match between Scorp, Douglas, Pitbull #2 and Chris Jericho later in the year. Douglas eventually cheap shots Scorpio and lays him out, essentially turning himself heel and turning Scorp face in the process. Sandman runs down to help his partner, basically going face himself in the process, but he ends up getting caned as a result. That was one heck of a show closing angle!
This show was verging on being a disaster, but the final two matches and the big show closing angle bailed it out big time. It’s probably not worth going out of your way to get the entire show, but if you can hunt those two matches down as part of a comp tape or something then it’s definitely worth it.
If you’d like to get in touch to suggest shows to review, ask questions, share your love of those wonderful Royal Blue Toffees, or just generally chat the grapple game, then feel free to hit me up at [email protected]