Mike Reviews – “The Summer of 96” – Final Part – ECW Heatwave 1996 (13th July 1996)

Bonjourrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ya cheese eatin’ surrender monkeys!

Next week we’ve got a Stinker Review on the docket, but first we must close out our journey to the Summer of 1996 with a trip to our old friends from Philly. ECW was on a pretty decent hot streak at the time, although they couldn’t get on pay per view despite Paul Heyman’s many attempts. I used to have the Laserlight Digital cut of this show and I liked it so much I eventually shelled out for the RF Video version just so I could watch it with the real music left intact.

The big stories during this time period were Raven’s feud with The Sandman, which involved Raven quite literally stealing Sandman’s family from him in a super dark storyline that hit all kinds of nerves but never really had much in the way of a satisfying payoff due to Raven needing to divert course to feud with Terry Funk when 1997 came around.

Elsewhere, Taz was in the middle of his “Path of Rage”, where he’d destroy absolutely everyone on route to a big match with his nemesis Sabu. Shane Douglas was trying to connive his way to the ECW TV Title whilst also trying to avoid getting killed by the angry Pitbull’s. D-Von Dudley was trying to wrest control of The Dudley Family from his brother Big Dick.

And in the tag division Da Gangsta’s, The Eliminators, The Samoan Gangsta Party and The Bruise Brothers all hated one another and were feuding amongst themselves in various combinations, with it all building to a Four Way Dance on a future show for the tag belts themselves.

So yeah, lots going on and this show was sure to continue it. It also has genuinely one of the all-time greatest ECW matches on it, so let’s quit our jibber-jabber and watch some chuffing wrestling!

The show is emanating from The Arena in Philly on the 13th of July 1996

Calling the action is Joey Styles

Opening Match
Samoan Gangsta Party Vs Da Gangstas

Samoan Gangsta Party were made up of Samu and Rosey, and I believe the eventual plan was for them to show up in the WWF to feud with Makin’ A Difference Fatu, but that didn’t end up happening. This is your usual New Jack match, as he and Mustafa come down to the ring with weapons and hit people with them whilst “Natural Born Thrillaz” plays on the sound system. The crowd enjoys the violence and The Samoan’s don’t really get much in the way of offence. I’m kind of amazed that The Samoan’s allowed themselves to get battered so decisively here actually, especially as they were usually pretty protective over what they’d sell for people. We don’t really get a finish, as the ref just stops it due to The Samoan’s having suffered so much punishment. Samu, a bloody mess, even tries to run away but New Jack won’t let him.

WINNERS VIA REF STOPPAGE: DA GANGSTAS
RATING: SQUASH

That was a pretty darn decisive victory for Da Gangstas

New Jack cuts a promo post-match, where he lays down the challenge for the Four Way Dance that eventually happened at Doctor Is In.

Match Two
Paul Lauria w/ Damien Kane and Lady Alexandra Vs Mikey Whipwreck

Lauria and Whipwreck used to tag and feuded, but Kane has brought Lauria back. Lauria’s nickname is “The Giant”, even though he’s even smaller than Mikey, who is a Cruiserweight. I remember them having an indy-riffic battle on a 1995 episode of Hardcore TV, but Mikey has gotten a bit more experience since then and he puts Lauria away quickly with a Franken-Mikey.

WINNER: MIKEY WHIPWRECK
RATING: SQUASH

The Eliminators come out and attack both guys following the match and accept New Jack’s challenge for the Four Way. They keep beating on Mikey, and then lay down a challenge for Mikey and Sabu to come after the tag belts. Sabu comes down and seems up for that, so the match is on.

Match Three
ECW Tag Team Titles
Champs: The Eliminators Vs Mikey Whipwreck and Sabu

Mikey and Sabu had competed against each other in some good matches and developed respect for one another, which is why Sabu is happy to back his new buddy up here. And thus in classic anarchic ECW style we’ve got a Tag Title match OUTTA NOWHERE. Well, you can’t say these arena shows weren’t pacey can you?

This is our first proper match of the evening, in that it’s not just a quick squash and they actually get some time to tell a story and whatnot. Sabu gets worked over for a bit by The Elims and sells it pretty well actually. The Champs hit some good offence too, with Kronus in particular doing a lovely handspring elbow. Mikey and Sabu manage to get themselves back into it though, and there’s a few moments where they have the Champs on the ropes.

The crowd is into the action, and The Elims actually work like Heels too, getting cheap shots and blind tags to rile the crowd up. Mikey of course spends a spell getting worked over in the Heel corner and he sells that impeccably. The Elims are very much in the category of a Heel team that does MOVEZ, so I can understand how some wouldn’t like them, but they mix in enough traditional Heel tactics that it works for them IMO.

Sabu eventually gets the hot tag and runs wild with a chair, because Sabu, and the crowd likes that as you’d imagine. Sadly the match kind of falls apart at this stage with a few notable  botches , as Sabu in particular doesn’t seem to be on the same page with everyone else. The finish is clever at least as Sabu tries to put Saturn through a table but Saturn sees it coming and manages to cut him off, sending Sabu through the table instead. This leaves Mikey on his own and TOTAL ELIMINATION ends it soon after.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: THE ELIMINATORS
RATING: **1/2

It was on its way to being a good match but went off the boil a bit in the closing stages. It worked well as a battling win for the Champs at least though

Mikey checks on Sabu in the wreckage of the table following that whilst Joey puts over the effort of the challengers.

Before the next match, Little Guido demands that Bob Artese introduce “The Italian Karaoke Bistro”, which leads to JT Smith joining us with Sal Bellomo. For those of you that are new to ECW, the gimmick here is that JT Smith pretends to be Italian when he clearly isn’t, with Guido and Bellomo going along with it for whatever reason. They’d eventually go even further by adding Tommy Rich and Tracey Smothers to the group, who as Joey so often bemoaned “couldn’t even find Italy on a map”. I’ve always thought this segment dragged back in the day, as it’s kind of a chat show in the style of Piper’s Pit. This all leads to Guido introducing his “little brother” Big Guido, who ends up being a 6 foot 8 giant in a funny gag. JT is thrilled to have Big Guido as backup and can barely believe how big he is.

Match Four
The Full Blooded Italians Vs The Dudley Family

It’s never really clear which FBI and Dudleyz are actually in play here, but we have Big Dick, Buh-Buh Ray, Chubby, Dances With and Sign Guy Dudley all at ringside. D-Von Dudley is not to be seen due to Big Dick being in attendance tonight and Buh-Buh actually has a “F— You D-Von” headband on. From the ring announcements it seems like Smith and Guido are going to be taking on Buh-Buh and Big Dick, but we’ll see how long that lasts for.

Before the match can start, D-Von Dudley joins us from The Eagle’s Nest, where he cuts a promo on Big Dick and challenges him to a fight. Big Dick obviously isn’t afraid of D-Von and tries going into the crowd to get him, which seemingly leaves Buh-Buh and Dances With to take on The FBI. Things just become organised chaos following that, with everyone going at it and D-Von circling back down to the ring with a chair for some chair shots before seemingly leaving,

Buh-Buh makes his own comeback on Little Guido and Smith, but when he goes after Big Guido the numbers advantage for the Italians leads to him getting taken out. Big Dick finally returns to make the save, as the referee has lost all semblance of an idea as to who is actually in this match, whilst D-Von returns to take out all of his family with a chair whilst The FBI works over Big Dick. Buh-Buh doesn’t back down from D-Von and actually has a chance to hit him with a chair, but D-Von begs off and then hits him right in the Lamonica’s to bring his comeback to an end.

Hack Myers ends up coming down to take out D-Von, but Big Guido power bombs him, as this match has ceased to be a match and is just a messed up wild angle with a million things happening at once. Eventually Big Dick ends up hitting Big Guido with a chair for three whilst D-Von flees. Why debut Big Guido as this big monster just to have him job right away on his first night in?

WINNERS: THE DUDLEY FAMILY
RATING: DUD

This was one big mess, and not in a good way

The Dudley Family beats up The FBI a bit more after that, as I ponder why they couldn’t just have had Bellomo eat a pin there instead of the freshly debuted monster Heel?

Match Five
Axl Rotten Vs Tarzan Goto

Goto was an IWA Japan guy I believe, but he has FMW on his gear so who knows. Goto comes out to “You Only Live Twice” as entrance music, which doesn’t really suit him at all. I remember being pretty excited for this match back in the day as my only previous experience of a Goto match had been his collision with Dan Severn at King of the Deathmatch and I’d really enjoyed it, so I was hoping for more of the same.

Rotten clearly seems jazzed for the match, getting a spinning wheel kick in the early going, and we head outside for a chair duel, which doesn’t really go anywhere as neither guy seems to want to lose it. Goto does kind of give off the impression that he doesn’t really have much time for Rotten here, being that he never really lets him have any kind of prolonged period of offence, and what offence Rotten does get is often shrugged off rather easily.

We get our first proper instance of crowd brawling (The fact it took five matches before we saw that is an incredible display of restraint for ECW in this period I must say). Goto annihilates Rotten with a chair back inside following that, with the chair getting broken into pieces and the seat barely hanging on in an impressive display of brutality. Rotten gets to kick out of a Lariat following that and does some chair violence of his own, but Goto still isn’t really that interested in selling for him and kicks out of most of his pin attempts at 1.99 before getting a Brain Buster on the chair for three.

WINNER: TARZAN GOTO
RATING: **

This was okay but it would have been better had there been a bit more give and take, as Goto really didn’t give Rotten much and it’s not like he was coming back for a money match with someone like Raven or Sandman and needed to be kept strong for that. He could have done a more back and forth match here and actually sold a bit for Rotten, especially as he was going over in the end

We get the Hardcore TV opening segment, where Joey is in the ring and brings out Taz with Bill Alfonso for some promo time. “War Machine” is such a fantastic entrance theme and I even liked the ECW version they did down the line with Taz saying “I don’t need a weapon, my hands are my weapons” on it. Taz runs through the list of people he’s choked out, including Ultimate Fighter Paul Varlens, and says that he and Fonzie are now going to take over the entire promotion. Fonzie says he wants to fire Joey, to which Joey says Fonzie can’t fire him, until Taz steps in front of him to say he is fired and Joey immediately backs down in a funny bit. This leads to Fonzie declaring that Joel Gertner will be the announcer from now on, which gives Gertner a chance to be a proper smarmy Heel for the first time in his ECW stint. Prior to this Gertner had just been the ring announcer and timekeeper, but now he’s a proper character on the show and loves playing up to it. Joey doesn’t want to shake hands with Joel obviously, but Taz demands that he do it and Joey of course meekly agrees at that stage. I like how Taz is presented as such a dangerous bad ass that even the babyface announcer can’t give him trouble over it, because he could easily fly off the handle and destroy him regardless of consequences, so Joey isn’t dumb enough to risk it. Taz cuts a promo after all that, insulting both Sandman and Tommy Dreamer, which leads to Joey trying to bring the promo to an end. Taz goozles him, which leads to 911 returning to ECW to take on Taz, and he even manages to successfully choke slam him to a big pop. Taz pops up like a horror movie villain though and makes 911 just another victim, making himself even more of scary Heel threat in the process. If you were going to sacrifice 911 as a character then this was the altar on which to do it. The segment dragged a bit, but the payoff was worth it.

Match Six
ECW Television Title
Champ: Chris Jericho Vs Too Cold Scorpio Vs Shane Douglas Vs Pitbull #2 w/ Francine

This was the payoff to a series of matches where guys in the upper mid-card traded the belt, as it went from Scorpio to Douglas to Pitbull to Jericho, with this being the big blow-off where someone will essentially win the feud. We see that Douglas is talking with someone before his entrance, and he closes the conversation with “I’ll see you soon”. But who was he talking too?!?!

Douglas ambushes Pitbull during his entrance with a chair shot, which takes him out of proceedings in the early going. This is a four corners elimination match, with two guys going at it in the ring whilst the other two wait on the apron for a tag, which at least means we’ll get a clear winner because three guys will need to actually lose so that one can win.

Douglas, Jericho and Scorpio can all work and Pitbull #2 can be lead when in there with a good worker, so this is a good match as a result, and they get a decent chunk of time to work with too, with the match coming up to the 40 minute mark when all is said and done. The fact it’s elimination explains why people are willing to tag out as well, because it gives them a breather and it’s not like they’re actually going to lose the match in that time, whilst the man tagging in can have a chance to grab some glory by eliminating someone.

The work is really good and worked at a quick clip, and it’s made all the more impressive due to how warm it must be in the building. Jericho in particular works a lot of the early part of the match and is positively DRENCHED in sweat. This might be the only time Jericho and Douglas have worked together actually, but feel free to correct me if I’m out to lunch on that one. I certainly can’t think of another meeting between them off the top of my head.

Pitbull #2 is the lesser worker of the four, but he looks alright to be fair to him, and he’d worked with all three guys by this stage so they know what to do with him. He takes quite a few big bumps and is motoring too. The biggest compliment I can give him is that he doesn’t really look out of place here, and he’s working just as hard as the other three, which must have been difficult as he’s carrying around a considerable amount of bulk and muscle.

The central story of the match is that Pitbull #2 wants to get his hands on Douglas so he can clobber him for the chair shot from earlier, but every time it looks like he’s going to get a chance Douglas either tags out or outright runs away in his usual sleazy Heel manner. Meanwhile, there’s a side-story of Jericho and Scorpio not liking one another, but there rivalry is more about them wanting to better the wrestler rather than the old school hatred between Pitbull and Douglas.

Douglas really is great as the Heel in this one, completely committing to the role by stooging for the other guys and even trying to steal a pin at one stage when Jericho rana’s Scorpio off the top, even though he doesn’t need to in an elimination match. He does it just to get the glory for himself and be a jerk, and it humorously bites him in the bum as Scorpio kicks out and then gives Douglas an almighty clobbering for a bit.

We of course get the mandatory dive spots, as both Jericho and Scorpio take turns diving out onto everyone else, but they’ve built up to it over the course of the match so it feels earned. Indeed, the general structure of this match has been really good, and it’s been built really well. We’ve had our pure wrestling in the early stages, some storyline elements, high impact dives and now we’ve got some brawling for good measure. It’s like a microcosm of all the things that made ECW so great at the time.

Pitbull finally gets to batter Douglas for a bit, but Douglas’ scummy behaviour ends up helping him out somewhat, as everyone else in the match hates him so much by this stage that they’re now fighting over who gets to eliminate him, to the point that they even break up pins to ensure his elimination can still be theirs. That’s actually kind of awesome, and if you’re being generous you can even suggest that the Machiavellian “Franchise” probably accounted for such an outcome, which is why he’s been such a jerk to everyone. I love stuff like that.

Eventually we get our first elimination, as Douglas cheap shots Jericho and that allows Scorpio to get a Tombstone and then come off the top with The Tumbleweed for three, thus ensuring we’ll see a new Champion tonight. That looked like the right call as Jericho was clearly knackered and done for the night. Still, he was in there for something like 25 minutes working a quick clip in blistering heat, so he’s got nothing to be ashamed of.

First Elimination: Chris Jericho via Too Cold Scorpio (Tumbleweed)

This would lead to Jericho working Scorpio on the Doctor is In show, which ended up being Jericho’s last ECW event until One Night Stand 2005. Douglas of course now tries to make friends with Scorpio so they can both go after Pitbull, but Scorp ain’t buying it and attacks both Douglas and Pitbull. Everyone is starting to look completely bushed now, and there’s plenty of double down spots so that guys have a chance to catch their breath, but the action still remains good, if a tad sloppy due on occasion due to how tired everyone is getting.

Scorpio tries to Moonsault both men at once, but they manage to move, at which point Douglas actually manages to convince Pitbull #2 to Super Bomb Scorpio so that they can get him out of the way. Scorpio has been so hot in the match that Pitbull relents and momentarily accepts Douglas’ help, smashing Scorp with the Super Bomb to send him to the showers (probably at the motel he was staying at as I doubt the ECW Arena actually had a working warm water shower).

Second Elimination: Too Cold Scorpio via Pitbull #2 (Super Bomb)

So now we’re down to Douglas and Pitbull, which was the big feud going into the match anyway and probably the worst singles match on paper, but we’ve had a great four way match to build up to it first. Paul Heyman was genuinely a chuffing genius with this sort of stuff sometimes. Pitbull gives Douglas the requisite battering to please the crowd and brings out a table to seemingly finish off The Franchise once and for all.

However, Douglas’ masterplan now comes to fruition, as Francine turns Heel on The Pitbull’s to begin a near three year stint as Douglas’ “Head Cheerleader” and the ECW Arena is furious. This brings Pitbull #1 down to ringside to help out his partner, at which point we get Francine getting Super Bombed through a table to pop the misogynistic crowd big time. I’m kind of amazed they gave that away so early actually, as you could have built to that payoff for months.

That being said, you could just argue it as another example of Douglas being the intelligent Heel who has planned three to four steps ahead, as due to The Pitbull’s taking out Francine it leaves them distracted so that Douglas can DDT Pitbull #1 on the belt to break his neck and then destroy Pitbull #2 with an assortment of weaponry to win the Title. Francine was ultimately disposable but served her purpose by getting tablised so that Douglas could playout his masterplan.

Final Elimination: Pitbull #2 via Shane Douglas (Belly to Belly Suplex)

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SHANE DOUGLAS
RATING: ****1/2

They perhaps went 5 minutes too long in the grand scheme of things, but this remains one of ECW’s greatest ever matches. Great action, great storytelling and a monster angle at the end with the Francine Heel turn that led to lots of follow up business

Douglas carries Francine’s carcass to the back with him along with his belt following that.

Match Seven
Louie Spicolli Vs Pablo Marquez

This is pretty much just a squash for Spicolli, as he destroys Marquez with a Spicolli Driver and a big chair shot.

WINNER: LOUIE SPICOLLI
RATING: SQUASH

Sabu joins us in a neck brace. Apparently Sabu was supposed to be Spicolli’s opponent before the Tag Title match earlier, with Marquez being the replacement, but Sabu isn’t having that and we’re getting the match anyway.

Semi-Main Event
Louie Spicolli Vs Sabu

Spicolli smartly targets Sabu’s neck in the early going, whilst Joey pushes Sabu’s upcoming stretcher match with Rob Van Dam on commentary. They have a bit of an uphill climb following that previous match, but they have a decent effort all things considered, with Sabu getting a crazy spot in at one stage where he sits Spicolli on the guardrail and then crossbody’s him to the floor, which he then TOPS by launching himself into the crowd onto Spicolli whilst using a chair as a weapon.

Man, when Sabu could actually land these wild high spots they were absolutely spectacular most of the time. You can see why he got so over. Spicolli gives a decent account of himself too, countering a Triple Jump Moonsault by picking up the chair after Sabu starts springboarding and then flinging it at his opponent to block it. We get our second chair duel of the evening, but Spicolli is actually willing to lose and take the chair shot afterwards so it works much better than it did earlier.

Spicolli is bumping all over the place here, probably in an effort to win a job, and it certainly worked as he was in ECW pretty regularly after this until jumping to WCW. Sabu Moonsault’s him through a table on the floor at one stage, as this match is just getting progressively crazier the longer it goes on. Hey, if you’re going to do the wild spot fest then you might as well commit to it I guess!

Spicolli survives a few of Sabu’s bigger moves and gets some near falls of his own, as this match has done a good job of making him look like a genuine contender and someone you need to keep a look out for. Ultimately though Sabu is the regular roster member who has a big match upcoming with RVD, so he’s the one who needs to win and he does so with the Arabian Face Buster.

WINNER: SABU
RATING: ***

This was good wild high spot craziness and Spicolli didn’t look remotely out of place in an extreme environment, which is likely why they asked him back

Joey puts Spicolli over on commentary following that and Sabu gives Spicolli his props as well by offering a handshake, which Spicolli accepts.

Main Event
Rage of the Cage
ECW Champ Raven, Brian Lee and Stevie Richards Vs The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer and Terry Gordy w/ Missy Hyatt, Beulah and Kimona

So this one has some pretty complicated rules. Basically, Stevie and Gordy will start up on the stage area whilst Raven and Sandman go at it in the cage. Whoever manages to climb off the stage to the floor is then allowed into the cage to help their respective partner. Meanwhile, Lee and Tommy Dreamer will be fighting outside of the ring in a Falls Count Anywhere match. There’s also a twist that Stevie is actually defending Raven’s Title for him here, so if he gets pinned then Raven loses the belt. That seems needlessly convoluted when they could just do something like War Games.

Raven plays mind games to start, saying that if Sandman lets him be then he’ll give Sandman his son back, only for it to be a ruse so that he can attack the distracted Sandman. Sandman the hardcore brawling tough guy having the weakness of love for his son that a dastardly Heel like Raven could exploit was genuinely fantastic storytelling. Sandman sells big for Raven in the cage whilst Gordy has his way with Stevie on the stage area, busting him open with relative ease. Strangely he then brings Stevie down to ringside, when he could have just left him up on the stage and then come down into the cage to help Sandman.

Dreamer finally joins us and flings Lee into the crowd, and they leave his “Man in the Box” song playing, as this has apparently become a New Jack match now. Gordy and Richards both eventually make it into the cage, with Gordy getting a number of quick two counts on Stevie, with the idea being that the Title is in jeopardy every time he does. This match is kind of a mess with something going on everywhere, but I can’t deny that it isn’t exciting and very different from what you’d get in the two main American promotions of the time.

The music playing in the background just adds to the feel of ECW being some kind of wild music festival that just happened to have wrestling matches going on, and it’s when you see matches like this that it rams home just how different and counter-culture the whole endeavour was. You didn’t always get great matches, but you got something that was (ironically) genuinely raw and different from what WCW and the WWF were doing. It’s no surprise that the WWF took this mad house vibe and semi-sanitised it as “Attitude” in order to restart their business.

Sandman has basically done nothing over than lie around and sell in this one, which to be fair he can do reasonably well, but it’s weird and makes me think he was injured at the time or something. Dreamer tries to recreate “The Chairshot Heard Around The World” from Heatwave 95, but Sandman’s son Tyler climbs into the cage and stands in front of Raven so that he can’t. This leads to Sandman and Dreamer arguing, because hey, Tyler isn’t Dreamer’s kid and he just wants to destroy Raven. Whilst they argue it allows Nova to cut Raven free from the handcuffs and he gets a near fall on Sandman with a DDT.

In a funny moment, Raven flings Stevie into the cage and onto the apron so that he can’t be pinned, because all he cares about is keeping the Title so he’ll happily sacrifice his friend to do it. Scott Levy just “got” that character from day one. Meanwhile, Lee choke slams Dreamer off the cage through a bunch of tables, which led to a blow off match between them where Dreamer got his revenge by throwing Lee off a scaffold through some tables. And after all of that, Sandman pins Raven with a DDT, which means he wins the match, but not the Title.

WINNERS: TEAM SANDMAN
RATING: **1/2

This was kind of a mess, but an entertaining mess if that makes any sense?

The ringside area is full of human wreckage following that and the assorted feuds will no doubt continue.

In Conclusion

The TV Title match essentially makes the show a thumbs up all by itself, but the rest of the show had enough anarchic wild action to remain entertaining for three hours and the storytelling in general was really good during this period of ECW, so even if every match wasn’t great there was still enough interesting stuff going on story wise that it made up for it. Recommended show!