Mike Reviews – ECW Hardcore Heaven 1996

Happy Saturday Everyone!

These ECW reviews don’t normally do that well but I do enjoy watching the shows themselves most of the time, so I’ll just be indulgent for today and do something for me.

ECW had a pretty hot summer in 1996 (pun not intended), with this show, Heatwave and Doctor Is In all being highly watchable shows with good storyline advancement and the odd banger of a match thrown in for good measure. The latter category could potentially be filled by Chris Jericho taking on Anthony Durante and Rob Van Dam taking on Sabu.

We’ve also got Taz taking on Paul Varelens of the UFC in an effort to enhance his “shooter” image by taking out a real MMA guy, so there’s plenty of intrigue to go along with what will hopefully be some good wrestling.

The event is emanating from The Arena in Philly on the 22nd of June 1996

Calling the action is Joey Styles

The show opens with Sandman storming down to the ring in order to clean the clock of ring announcer Joel Gertner to a massive pop from the crowd. Gertner really takes his licks here, whilst the bloodthirsty crowd demands that Sandman keep dishing out the punishment. Sandman grabs the mic following that and cuts a promo demanding that Bob Artese return as the ring announcer, which the crowd is all in favour of. Missy Hyatt, Sandman’s manager, plants a big smacker on Bob for good measure. I think I might have preferred getting caned by The Sandman to be honest.

Opening Match
Shane Douglas Vs Mikey Whipwreck

Douglas had recently lost the ECW World Television Title to Pitbull #2, so he was looking to pick up an impressive win over Mikey here in order to get himself back in contention. Mikey had previously given Douglas a fright, leading to Douglas going after Mikey’s injured leg to win, so Mikey is looking for a measure of revenge here as well.

This is a decent opener for the most part, with Douglas being cocky and it leading to Mikey getting the better of him in the early exchanges with things like arm drags and dropkicks. The crowd really gives it out to Douglas in this one, seemingly questioning the size of his Pittsburgh Plunge if you catch my drift?

Douglas does eventually manage to take control of the bout by kicking Mikey right in his Buffalo Bills, leading to some Heel heat whilst Mikey sells. Mikey is an excellent seller and bump taker, whilst Douglas is a good insufferable bad guy, so this section works well and the crowd gets behind Mikey in the hope that he’ll make a comeback.

Mikey does eventually fight back, throwing Douglas into the front row and then following with a TOPE CON HILO into the crowd here in the opener, because ECW. The crowd loves that of course, although Mikey did that dive with perhaps a tad too much ease when you consider that his leg had been targeted throughout the bout by a ruthless opponent.

Mikey’s high-flying offence does look good here to be fair to him, as he gets a very nice Curt Hennig styled rolling neck snap, but he does it from the apron into the ring in order to give it a 90’s flavour. Douglas responds by catching Mikey in a Figure Four Leglock for a submission tease though, with Mikey again selling well until he can go to the eyes to break.

Douglas has given Mikey a lot of offence here and the crowd has gotten into the match as a result. Mikey actually unleashes a Figure Four of his own on Douglas, which Douglas of course sells big before making the ropes. Shane Douglas doing a Ric Flair impression here in this ECW opener was not what I was expecting. Mikey gets some near falls following the Figure Four, with Douglas continuing to make him look good before catching Mikey with the Belly to Belly Suplex OUTTA NOWHERE for the last gasp victory.

WINNER: SHANE DOUGLAS
RATING: **1/2

This was a fun opener, as Douglas gave Mikey a lot there and the crowd got into the match as a result. Both men sold well throughout (although Mikey could have perhaps done a slightly better job selling his leg at points) and the action was generally fine, although there was the odd sloppy moment. This was a good way to start the show!

Joey Styles is in the ring for the Hardcore TV opening. The Dutch angles on Joey’s in-ring introduction are pretty trippy and not something the other two companies were doing at the time, and indeed WCW lifted elements of this presentation for the nWo skits a month or so after this. Joey introduces Stevie Richards and Blue Meanie as Baron Von Stevie and Bluedust respectively. Meanie has a lady called Patricia with him his Marlena, who I don’t quite recognise but I think she appeared on a few occasions during this timeframe as Meanie’s love interest. Baron Von Stevie is one of the more basic parodies Stevie did, but Bluedust is pretty funny and he ended up doing the gimmick in the WWF for a bit as well during the Attitude Era. Joey is of course disgusted by what he sees before him, and Stevie actually manages to crack him up at one stage. Someone show this to Maffew so he can send for the man! The gist of the segment is that Stevie has found the dirtiest woman he could possibly find as a new valet for Raven. Stevie ends up trying to give Joey the Iron Claw, but Joey no-sells it in a funny bit. This was an entertaining segment.

Match Two
The Full Blooded Italians (JT Smith and Little Guido) Vs The Dudley Family (Buh-Buh Ray and Big Dick) w/ Sign Guy Dudley, Chubby Dudley and Dances With Dudley

The joke with The FBI is that Smith clearly isn’t Italian but he acts like he is, whilst Guido is surprisingly tolerant of it all. Smith and Guido both hog the camera during their entrance in a funny bit. This feud went on for a while in 1996, with new guys constantly getting added to it. Speaking of which, Smith re-debuts Salvatore Bellomo, a former WWF wrestler who had previously been a babyface in the early days of ECW as the kids favourite (yes, ECW in 1993 actually tried to play to the family crowd).

I sometimes think that wacky lower card feuds like this were just booked so that Paul Heyman could amuse himself most of the time. The FBI is genuinely quite funny with this silly gimmick but this feud seemingly went on forever and it wasn’t like the matches were great or anything like that. It kept everyone busy at least though I guess. The Dudleyz were babyfaces at this stage, with Buh-Buh being a smiling simpleton with a stutter. D-Von Dudley had been causing issues for the family, but Big Dick returning has caused D-Von to do a runner for the time being.

The pre-amble goes on for a while, with Buh-Buh finally being able to say his name without stuttering after months of trying, with it getting a healthy pop from the crowd. When the match finally starts, it’s mostly The FBI getting destroyed by The Dudleyz in a contest that more resembles a Tornado rules bout than a standard tag team outing. Guido takes some very nice bumps for Buh-Buh, as he was clearly the best wrestler of the four, whilst Smith and Big Dick keep it simple with choking and punches.

It’s not like it’s a terrible match or anything, it’s just kind of plodding and the crowd doesn’t really get that into it outside of a few big moves, such as Big Dick turning Smith inside out with a clothesline at one stage. It’s the sort of manic wildness that ECW was known for, and it’s in stark contrast to the more traditional opener. Buh-Buh actually steals Hat Guy’s hat at one stage, revealing a Hulk Hogan like hairdo. Well, now we at least know why he wore a hat all the time!

Big Dick ends up Choke Slamming both of The FBI before flinging Guido onto the timekeeper’s table at ringside, which finally leads to Bellomo deciding to help out his Italian brethren. Big Dick puts a stop to that though, after no selling a couple of chair shots, and drags Bellomo to the back, leaving Buh-Buh on his own with The FBI, leading to The FBI finally managing to get some sustained offence in. D-Von Dudley joins us at that point and takes out The FBI with chair shots for the non-finish.

WINNERS: THE FBI BY DQ (I THINK)
RATING: N/A

This was more an elongated angle than a match to be honest, and I hate it when ECW did stuff like DQ’s as its big appeal at the time was that you could at least get a finish no matter how screwy a match was

D-Von chastises Buh-Buh and hits him with a chair, seemingly in an effort to regain control of The Dudley Family. This would all eventually lead to Buh-Buh and D-Von teaming together as a regular unit in 1997. Big Dick eventually comes down to the ring again after fighting Bellomo, which leads to D-Von bailing again before Big Dick can get his hands on him.

Match Three
Shoot Fight
Paul Varelans Vs Taz w/ Bill Alfonso and Team Taz

The urban legend surrounding this match is that Varelans didn’t want to put Taz over here, so Missy Hyatt promised to hook up with him if he did, which finally led to Varelan’s relenting and agreeing to do the job. Perry Saturn, John Kronus, Shane Douglas and Rob Van Dam have also come down to the ring for this, possibly in case Varelans tries anything I guess. Varelan’s is significantly bigger than Taz and I wasn’t watching MMA when he was competing, so I can’t really tell you if this was a significant get for ECW or not. He had been a UFC finalist, but his record was something like 5-4 at this stage.

You win this by knock out, submission or 10 count. It’s shoot-style, in that they try and make it look like a real fight as much as possible such as in companies like UWFi or BattlArts. They protect Varelans by having Saturn come in with a dropkick at one stage leading to Taz locking in the REDRUM for the submission win. That might have been a concession to Varelans in order to get him to agree to do the job.

WINNER: TAZ
RATING: N/A

This was too short to rate, but it wasn’t actively bad or anything. It was fine for something that was a bit different and it worked with getting Taz over as a Heel to the crowd, as they were backing Varelans and wanted to see Taz get stretched

Taz mocks the crowd on the mic following the match, leading to the crowd insulting him back. The crowd chants for Sabu, but he doesn’t appear yet. He would eventually though.

Match Four
ECW World Title
Champ: Raven w/ Stevie Richards and Super Nova Vs Terry Gordy

Stevie reveals that he’s brought in The Sandman’s ex-wife Peaches to be Raven’s new valet. Sandman laughs this off though, as he already knew what Peaches was. He wouldn’t be laughing soon though, as this is the beginning of one of ECW’s most well-known storylines. Gordy is hugely over in The Arena, with them loving his classic Freebird entrance music. This was post Gordy’s serious health issues and it had caused his in-ring abilities to weaken, but he could still occasionally set the clock back in the right setting, so hopefully that happens here.

This one is a brawl from the off, with Raven soon bleeding as Gordy pummels him from one end of The Arena to the other. Raven’s selling is excellent here and Gordy does a good job as a wild brawler. Some of Gordy’s offence is lacking a little bit of snap to it, but in general he does okay here and Raven carries things well. Raven does eventually manage to catch Gordy right in his Miracle Violence Connection, but he still can’t get any momentum going, leading to Stevie and Nova trying to help out.

Tommy Dreamer deals with them, but then Brian Lee comes out to attack HIM. Gordy gives Lee a powerbomb and then wraps some barbed wire around Raven’s head. The crowd is going nuts for the action here. Stevie eventually manages to catch Gordy with a Stevie Kick though and that leads to Raven snapping off a DDT for the win.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: RAVEN
RATING: **

This was an okay wild brawl that the crowd loved, even though it was messy at points

Sandman rescues Dreamer and Gordy following the match, but then we get to see the big twist in the tale. For you see, Raven hasn’t just got Peaches to be his valet, but he’s also indoctrinated Sandman’s son Tyler to follow him as well, not unlike how Vince McMahon indoctrinated Ryan Satin to be a WWE shill. In an amazing bit of acting from Sandman, he actually tears up at seeing his son siding against him, giving him a believable chink in his armour that doesn’t make him look weak. Heyman said it best on the Rise and Fall of ECW DVD by stating “who can’t feel that?” when it comes to this storyline, and he was right. It’s one of the all-time despicable Heel moves on the part of Raven and Peaches.

Bluedust joins us following that segment to bring some levity to things, leading to Gordy, Kimona, Beulah and Tommy Dreamer leaving him lying to pop the crowd.

Match Five
ECW World Tag Team Titles
Gangstas’ Last Chance
Champs: The Eliminators (Perry Saturn and John Kronus) Vs Da Gangstas (New Jack and Mustafa)

If Da Gangstas don’t win tonight then they don’t get any more Title shots. However, they get jumped on the way to the ring by The Samoan Gangsta Party of Sammy Silk (Samu) and Mack Daddy Kane (Rosey). The Bruise Brothers of Ron and Don Harris join in with the attack, with the eventual result being that Da Gangstas get laid out and are unable to compete. This was all building to a Four Way Dance at Doctor Is In.

NO MATCH

With Da Gangstas taken out, The Eliminators demand that The Bruise Brothers come in and fight them instead, and they don’t need asking twice.

They probably could have done without having another brawl straight after another one here, but this is still an entertaining fight, with all four guys fighting all over the building and the crowd getting into it. We’ve got weapons shots, table bumps and big moves, and it’s all done well. Like I said, the only downside is that we’re following one brawl with another one straight away and that can get numbing sometimes. The crowd are still with it though, so that helps.

Da Gangstas eventually run back down with their bin full of weapons and that turns into a three way brawl, with everyone going at it.  Eventually Da Gangstas leave everyone laid out and that would appear to be the end of the segment. It was good anarchic fun whilst it lasted and it laid the table nicely for the eventual blow-off match between these three teams and The Samoan’s.

Speaking of The Samoan’s…

Match Six
The Samoan Gangsta Party (Sammy Silk and Mack Daddy) Vs Axl Rotten and Hack Myers

The fans seem to be chanting “Yokotuna” at Mack Daddy to start, which he doesn’t seem to appreciate. This one is mostly just punching a kicking, mainly to give the fans a chance to yell “Shah” when Myers attacks anyone and “S###” when anyone hits him back. That leads to The Samoan’s coming off the second rope with stereo head butts to Myers, which is the cue for Da Gangstas, Eliminators and The Bruise Brothers joining us for another brawl.

NO CONTEST
RATING: N/A

The match had barely got going before Da Gangstas ran out

Half the locker room runs down for a brawl whilst the crowd goes nuts. Annoying though it was for yet ANOTHER match not to have a finish, I can’t deny that this sort of anarchic action was entertaining and it certainly helped set ECW apart from what the “Big Two” were doing at the time, especially with elements like Natural Born Killaz playing in the background.

Match Seven
ECW World Television Title
Champ: Pitbull #2 w/ Francine Vs Chris Jericho

Francine is bordering on being naked with her skimpy outfit here. You can’t say ECW didn’t know how to market to its target audience I guess. She has proper Sasha Banks “jobbing face” here tonight though, as does Pitbull for that matter. This is a good Power Vs Speed matchup, with Pitbull trying to throw Jericho around and spike him with big move power moves whilst Jericho tries to be evasive and throw things like spin kicks in an effort to wear down Pitbull’s health metre.

It’s a bit sloppy in places, but that is offset somewhat by the energy shown by both men, which results in the match having good crowd heat. It’s also nice to get an actual match that isn’t a wild brawl segment after having something like three of them in a row. Jericho throws some stiff chops and slaps at points, but Pitbull mostly shrugs those off, as was his gimmick at the time. Seriously, if I ever get round to reviewing Doctor Is In we’ll see just how much of a no selling machine Pitbull #2 truly was.

Shane Douglas ends up coming down and planting a kiss on Francine, leading to her slapping him. Pitbull tries to come down and help her, but ends up taking her out in the process. This was all to build to a match between Douglas, Jericho, Pitbull and Scorpio at Heatwave, with Francine eventually going Heel in that bout. Pitbull #1 comes down to help Francine to the back whilst #2 counters a Jericho rana into a powerbomb back inside the ring for two.

Pitbull and Jericho end up botching a Tombstone Piledriver reversal spot, but keep going as Pitbull counters a Jericho cross body into a powerslam. Jericho responds by turning a powerbomb attempt off the top rope into a rana and that’s enough for the three count and the Title.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: CHRIS JERICHO
RATING: ***1/4

This was darn sloppy at points, but it was also consistently entertaining and had some great energy to it even if the execution wasn’t always crisp. Pitbull #2 appeared to be getting pretty tired in the closing stages and that didn’t help things. This was still a good match though

Pitbull #2 shows respect to Jericho following the bout whilst Shane Douglas throws a fit.

Semi-Main
Weapons Match
Prime Time Brian Lee Vs Tommy Dreamer w/ Beulah and Kimona

Underfaker had been brought in by Raven to keep Dreamer occupied and away from his ECW Title, leading to Lee and Dreamer having a number of wild brawls. Dreamer’s “Man In The Box” theme plays over the opening exchanges as both men clobber one another with assorted plunder both inside and outside the ring. The weapon’s filled brawling has been a bit overplayed on this show so this loses some of its effectiveness as a result, but in isolation it’s a good brawl that once again continues the general madhouse vibe that ECW was known for.

It’s not long before both men head out of the building to the car park, where we get to see some of the surrounding area of the ECW Arena, and boy does that place look like a dump. The highlight of the fight in the car park is when one fan clearly discovers that he’s on camera and yelps with a scared look on his face before backing out of shot. I had to go back and watch that a couple of times, it was hilarious!

It’s not long before Dreamer is a bloody mess, as Lee drags him back down to ringside in order to continue the beating. Getting battered and still bravely attempting to fight back from underneath is probably the aspect of wrestling that Tommy Dreamer is best at, so he’s very good here at selling the absolute clobbering he receives from Lee. Lee eventually brings in a cinderblock and a baseball bat, putting the cinderblock over Dreamer’s crotch. Beulah and Kimona run down for the save though, with Kimona flashing Lee to distract him so that Beulah can hit him with a frying pan and Dreamer can follow up with a DDT for the last gasp win.

WINNER: TOMMY DREAMER
RATING: ***

This was a lot of fun, even if it wasn’t a technical wrestling classic. Dreamer was great in his role as the put upon sad bloodhound of ECW that spent the majority of his time getting routinely tortured, whilst Lee was believable as a head clubbing bad ass

The Bruise Brothers run down to help Lee lay a whooping on Dreamer following the match (Hey, it’s DOA!). We cut to Lee giving Dreamer a Choke Slam off the stage area through three tables. So Dreamer wins the match but Lee escalates the feud and now Dreamer has a reason to come back for revenge. That’s good booking from Paul E.

Main Event
Rob Van Dam Vs Sabu

This was a respect feud built around RVD refusing to shake Sabu’s hand. RVD’s cocky “yup, that’s me” reaction to his ring announcement is pretty great. The ring was apparently broken prior to this match, causing an hour delay, and the ropes break once again mere minutes into the match. Seeing as both RVD and Sabu use the ropes a lot for their big moves, this hampers what they are able to do somewhat. Sabu still manages to deliver a Triple Jump Moonsault at one stage though, because he can defy physics apparently.

They smartly head outside for a bit seeing as the ring isn’t going to be of much use, which gives us yet MORE brawling, but in this instance I’ll let them off because I’m thinking the broken ring has played a role in this happening. It’s a decent brawl out there for the most part, and a good example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons. They do finally make it back into the ring and continue to use the limp ropes as best they can, although it’s slowing things down a bit because they have to make extra sure that their footing is steady before they leap.

Sabu appears to have broken a hand or finger during this, as he’s favouring his hand and tries to tape it up at one stage. As someone who has suffered a broken hand and is now down a knuckle on my right hand, I can sympathise with him. In some ways I really appreciate the effort from both men here, as having the ring break during your Main Event match is a real nightmare and they’ve mostly managed to cover for it and still work the match they wanted to.

RVD gets the, as of this moment still unnamed, Van Daminator on Sabu, although rather than throwing the chair at Sabu it was more a case of Sabu picking a chair up and RVD just reacting with the counter, which makes a lot more sense. Sabu follows up soon after with an incredible looking move where he springboards from the ring into a DDT on RVD whilst RVD is standing on a table. RVD had to wait around a little bit for the DDT, but aside from that minor aspect that spot was executed pretty much perfectly and the crowd LOVED it!

They do a clever spot actually, where Sabu botches another Triple Jump attempt and ends up crotching himself on the top rope, leading to RVD dropkicking him to the floor. That’s a smart subversion, and it was so well done that the crowd actually thought it was a real botch at first but it made far too much sense in the sequence they were doing for it to not be part of the match plan. RVD tries going after Sabu’s injured neck with a Fisherman Buster following that, but Sabu manages to kick out and then comes off the top with an Arabian Facebuster for three.

WINNER: SABU
RATING: ***3/4

From looking online it seems like I enjoyed this more than others’ did, and it’s not like I’m a gigantic fan of the RVD/Sabu series or anything. However, I thought they worked super hard here and managed to work around the issues with the ring in order to have a very exciting match. Yes, there was the odd moment of sloppiness and some of the spots took a little too long to deliver, but most of them landed and the crowd was invested in the match. I had fun with it and thought both men acquitted themselves well in a difficult situation

Both RVD and Sabu need to be helped out of the ring following that, leading to a Stretcher Match getting booked between them at the Doctor Is In event.

In Conclusion

This was a watchable show with some good matches and some strong storyline advancement. It was a little bit brawls heavy and it was probably the weakest overall show when put up against Heatwave and Doctor Is In, but it was still a decent effort from the ECW crew during a real creative hot period for the company.

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