With TNA's HardCORE Justice set to air on Sunday night I thought it would be in interesting to take a look at the glory years of the little promotion that could -- Extreme Championship Wrestling.Thanks to the wonders of the internet there are countless matches available for free.
The first installment of what will be a fairly regular feature showcases the beginning of one of the most impressive title reigns in recent pro wrestling history. On April 4, 1998 Rob Van Dam met Bam Bam Bigelow for the ECW World Television Title at a live event in Buffalo, New York. Van Dam's tag team partner Sabu was set to meet Bigelow for the Television Title at the Wrestlepalooza '98 Pay-Per-View so Van Dam was dispatched by manager Bill Alfonso to soften up Bigelow. The saying goes something like the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and that is exactly what happened in this instance.
Video of the full match and a breakdown after the jump.
Bam Bam Bigelow was one of the most dominant wrestlers for a time in ECW. Thanks to the national exposure he gained from his time in the WWF Bigelow was pushed to the top of the card. He was a member of the "new" Triple Threat with "The Franchise" Shane Douglas and "No Gimmicks Needed" Chris Candido. The group ran roughshod through the promotion for a time before Bigelow turned on Douglas, ultimately defeating him for the ECW World Heavyweight Title. "The Beast from the East" eventually turned on frenemy Taz to rejoin the Triple Threat and went on to defeat him for the Television Title on March 1, 1998 at Living Dangerously. That match is remembered mainly because of this "Oh My God!" moment:
Rob Van Dam's star was on the rise ever since Jerry "The King" Lawler dubbed him "Mr. Monday Night" on Monday Night Raw. The fans really started to rally behind Van Dam despite the fact that he was booked as a heel for most of his early run in ECW. Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Jerry Lawler and Co. spent the greater part of 1997 feuding with the likes of Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman and Taz. Once the "Team ECW vs. Team WWF" angle ran its course RVD and Sabu set their sights on the Triple Threat (at that time comprised of Shane Douglas, Chris Candido and unofficial member Lance Storm). Van Dam got the better of Bigelow at House Party '98 thanks to interference from Candido, Sunny/Tammy Lynn Sytch, Francine and Douglas. Bam Bam was brought into the feud once he rejoined the Triple Threat.
Looking at this match at face value may cause some to be skeptical as to how good it could be since Bigelow and Van Dam possessed vastly different skill sets. This match proved to be a perfect storm as the two possessed a natural chemistry with one another that allowed them to play to the others strengths. Bigelow was always extremely agile for a big man during his prime but, at this point, he was entering the twilight of his career. ECW's hardcore style and lax rules allowed him to simplify his style while his opponent could ultimately do the rest. That was certainly the case in this match as Bigelow worked the standard big man offense and simply reacted to what Van Dam threw at him. Bigelow's only big spot was the elbow drop through the time keeper's table at the 10:52 mark. All of the other heavy lifting was done by Van Dam and, to be honest, that is not a bad thing.
This match really brought out the best and worst in Rob Van Dam. Wrestling fans everywhere were drawn to hes is highly acrobatic and unorthodox style (Van Dam is a trained martial artist with "educated feet" as good ol' JR liked to say). The biggest knock on him, though, was his lack of ring psychology and questionable selling. While Van Dam will never be considered a spot monkey like his good friend, better enemy Sabu, he certainly liked to cram his fair share of high spots into a match (case and point: pay attention to the match around the 8:25 mark. Van Dam jumped from the top turnbuckle into the crowd with a flying body press and then followed that up by climbing back into the ring and hurling himself back into the crowd with a somersault plancha). His questionable selling became apparent after the table spot as he got to his feet first to resume his assault on Bigelow...mere seconds after being powerbombed onto a table and then driven through it by a 360 pound man.
Live crowds ate his act up, though, so Van Dam's meteoric rise to the top really was not surprising. Once Kilgore's "Walk" hit the speakers the fans knew they were in for a treat. The video demonstrates just how hot ECW fans were for Rob Van Dam at this point in his career. They routinely chanted his name throughout the match and popped hard for him after nearly every move. The reaction to his Sabu-assisted victory was priceless as the hard camera started to shake due to the fans jumping out of their seats. It was that connection with the fans that catapulted him to the top of every organization he has been associated with.
This victory kicked off a staggering 700 day title reign for Rob Van Dam. He went on to wrestle Sabu at Wrestlepalooza but the match ended in a draw. The two later went on to win the ECW World tag Team Titles twice -- first from Chris Candido and Lance Storm and then from The Dudley Boyz at an FMW show. Van Dam's reign ended due to a legitimate broken ankle in a match against Rhino. He came back to the promotion shortly before it died for the first time but was never able to recapture the Television Title or win the World Heavyweight Title that ECW fans so desperately wanted him to hold. Van Dam went on to enjoy great success during his tenure with the WWF/E; winning nearly every title in the promotion. He was de-pushed due to an arrest and Wellness Policy violation in 2006 and ultimately left the company to attend to his cancer-stricken wife in 2007. Van Dam is currently the TNA World Heavyweight Champion; the only man, in fact, to hold the ECW, WWE and TNA World Title belts.
Bigelow stayed on with the Triple Threat and continued his feud with Taz until jumping ship to World Championship Wrestling. He was entered into a high profile feud with Goldberg but, as was so often the case, was relegated down the card and spent the rest of his time there in throwaway hardcore matches against other ECW alums. When WCW was purchased by Vince McMahon he chose to sit out the remainder of his contract before hitting the independents once again. Sadly, Bigelow died January 19, 2007 at the age of 45 due to drug abuse and a heart problem.
Well, that is it for the first installment of That Was Extreme!. Please feel free to weigh in down in the comments section. There are some real gems floating around out there but I intend on making the subject of the next column fall more in line with the extreme, renegade nature of the promotion. Until next time!