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WWE Network Deep Cuts (July 9, 2014): The Dying Days of ECW

ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub! ECDub!

WWE Network

ECW, under the vision and leadership of Paul Heyman, became one of the most notorious and influential promotions of the 1990s, but by the turn of the century, the rebel band from Philadelphia was floundering, as they were victims of the escalating Monday Night War, losing talent to higher paychecks (that were actually paid, too!) and greater fame from the WWF and WCW.

In late 1999, ECW lost both Taz and The Dudley Boyz, Bubba Ray and D-Von, who were flagship stars for the company. Taz was the unbeatable world champion who was knocked out of a three-way dance quickly at Anarchy Rulz '99, where Mike Awesome became the new ECW champion, wrestling his last matches for ECW over the next couple of months. The Dudleys won and lost the ECW tag title a final time in August of '99, with Raven returning from WCW as part of the angle.

The real death blow to ECW came when the WWF moved from the USA Network to TNN with Monday Night RAW in the fall of 2000, ending ECW's tumultuous, 13-month run at TNN, effectively leaving the company without TV, which caused them to drastically scale back an already floundering product. Pay-per-views remained, but touring was cut, they only had their syndicated show Hardcore TV (which had lost networks over time, too), and the writing was on the wall by the late fall of 2000 that ECW was on its way out, which happened rather quietly following their final show in January 2001.

Usually, I only do five matches for Deep Cuts, but what the hell. Here's a match per show from ECW's final PPV run of 2000-01.

Rob Van Dam vs Sabu (ECW Guilty as Charged 2000)

Van Dam and Sabu had a long rivalry, which included years of tenuous partnership, and they had several one-on-one matches over their association. Both trained by Sabu's uncle, The Sheik, they had plenty of natural story. They also never really clicked together, but this match was probably their best, and it also included the story of manager Bill Alfonso being torn between his two clients.

This is the usual RVD ECW match where there winds up being a lot of the two guys lying about and whatnot, but compared to the usual from Van Dam, this was a very serious match that didn't include a lot of showboating and playing to the crowd. Sabu works a knee injury and even calls for athletic tape at one point, a nod to the time he taped his torn open bicep up in the middle of a match and kept going. Van Dam matches were always "disjointed," and sort of weird in their pacing. Van Dam exists on his own plane. He doesn't play by normal wrestling rules.

RVD had held the ECW TV title since 1998, the longest title reign in the major leagues, and the promise here was that Sabu would walk out of ECW if he couldn't end Van Dam's reign. He did not, as RVD retained with a five star frog splash. This indeed was Sabu's final match in ECW, as the company continued to lose its most recognizable names.

Steve Corino vs Dusty Rhodes (ECW Living Dangerously 2000)

In early 2000, ECW decided that Steve Corino had star quality. This was and remains debatable, but one thing for sure is that Corino was willing to bust ass and bleed for the cause, and in that manner, he indeed is a fine example of "old school." Prior to this match, there's an angle where Corino threatens to rape Sandman's "whore" wife after accosting her at ringside, and then Rhino gores her through a table after her husband objects to the whole sexual assault idea. Then once that gets cleared up, Dusty Rhodes comes out to have a match with Corino.

Dusty couldn't do much at all by 2000, since he was retired and 54 years old and fat and out of even his rotund wrestling shape, but there are a few things Dusty could still do. (1) Bleed, (2) Bionic elbows, (3) Get a reaction. He does all of that, as Rhodes and Corino juice in this bull rope showdown. One might need to be a big Dusty Rhodes fan to get much out of this, but if you are, it's a nice novelty match for the Dream, who seems about as enthused to be there as he did to be at that IWA Mid-South show I saw him at a few years after this (which is to say not very).

Masato Tanaka vs Balls Mahoney (ECW Hardcore Heaven 2000)

The opener and in my view, the show-stealer for Hardcore Heaven 2000, as Tanaka and Mahoney went all-out with their time allotted and had some kind of a damned modern WrestleMania match with finishers being kicked out of repeatedly and a ton of convincing near-falls, bringing the Milwaukee crowd into the show quickly. The explicit story of the match is that Mahoney can dish out tons of punishment, but can he give more than Tanaka can take?

Chairs! Tornado DDTs! Fighting spirit! One of Mahoney's best matches, and a fun showcase for Tanaka doing Tanaka stuff.

Justin Credible vs Tommy Dreamer (ECW Heat Wave 2000)

Tommy Dreamer was always best as a soldier, never as a general, and Dreamer being put into a world title program in the main event of a PPV said a whole lot about where ECW was in mid-2000, with no TV deal and losing stars left and right. Justin Credible as ECW champion was another sign.

Dreamer starts this whole thing by coming out and looking around twice, both times going, "Wow..." in his usual cornball Tommy Dreamer way. After ECW died, he would mix in crying with that routine.

Before this match can start, some scrubs from XPW make a ruckus at ringside, Dreamer notices and approaches, Credible lays back, and the locker room comes out to hold their ground. Francine is pissed because she got hands put on her. Credible plays it cool and tries to stay a wrestling character among the whole ordeal. Dreamer gets a mic so he can say "EC fuckin W" and the crowd is psyched up.

Once it gets going, Credible and Dreamer have one of those "wow! they're wrestling!" segments to start that always look lousy when they involve hardcore/death match guys, not because they can't wrestle, perhaps, but because they do that stuff so infrequently that they're simply out of practice.

This is a Stairway to Hell match, with barbed wire hanging above the ring. Justin has Francine, so Dreamer comes out with Jazz and then Randy Savage's ex-girlfriend Gorgeous George, who of course later turns on Dreamer, not that this plays a very pivotal role in the outcome or anything. It's an OK match thanks to a hot crowd, with Credible retaining after a pair of tombstone piledrivers onto the barbed wire, which is barely involved in the match otherwise, save for one convoluted crotch spot to Justin's jorts.

Steve Corino vs C.W. Anderson (ECW Anarchy Rulz 2000)

With ECW desperate for new main event guys, Steve Corino and C.W. Anderson were positioned for a No. 1 contender's match at Anarchy Rulz. Both were good, solid wrestlers who had gotten over and worked hard to move up the ladder, and a year prior to this, were nowhere near contention. Hell, six months before this they were really nowhere near contention.

This is a good match, though I have been into Corino lately, so I might like it more than you do. Corino and Anderson both bleed (Corino "duh," Anderson because it's an important match meant to elevate both guys), and Corino gets the duke. Probably the most hilarious thing here is watching Jack Victory fight off both Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger when they try to interfere. The sudden Corino/Victory babyface turn was weird.

Nova vs Chris Chetti (ECW November to Remember 2000)

After a good, long while teaming together in opening matches on pay-per-views and whatnot, Chris Chetti and Nova EXPLODED! with Chetti going heel and pairing up with manager Lou E. Dangerously. This match was a Loser Leaves Town battle. Everyone was so excited, particularly me, because it meant one of these nerds had to leave town. The stipulation came during the intros, with Chetti doing his best to sound like Ol' Cousin Taz.

I was going to do the Rhino-New Jack brawl from later in this show, but New Jack matches are unwatchable on WWE Network because they have to play lousy stock music over the entire match, since New Jack wrestled with "Natural Born Killaz" playing.

They do their best to make this an angry, hate-fueled brawl, but they have a lot of trouble getting the crowd into it until Nova snaps and starts throwing hands like a lunatic, sort of like Dean Ambrose does nowadays. Commentary is heavy-handed as usual from Styles and Cyrus in getting over that Nova is DIFFERENT and CHANGED and ANGRY. To me, this feels like nothing more than your average mid-tier ECW match between average, mid-tier ECW guys. That said, Nova's rolling piledrivers are kinda cool. Nova wins with the Kryptonite Krunch, and I still fail to see what it is that people liked so much about Nova; the handful of people who liked him so much, anyway.

Yoshihiro Tajiri & Mikey Whipwreck vs Super Crazy & Kid Kash (ECW Massacre on 34th Street 2000)

Tajiri and Mikey were involved in lots of tag matches that also included Crazy, The FBI, Jerry Lynn, and others. Kash was Crazy's choice for a partner here, not because it made a ton of sense, but it made a little, and it promised to be fun. Basically, these tag matches were a nice, entertaining excuse to keep Tajiri and Super Crazy wrestling each other all the time.

This match hasn't aged that well. I remember liking it quite a bit way back when, but now it's all sort of tired, and the style (fast-paced, spot-heavy mishmash tag wrestling) has been topped many times over. But it's good fun at worst. I rarely say this, but this match is too long for what they did with the time. They could have had, like, a good tag team match instead, but ECDub ECDub

Rob Van Dam vs Jerry Lynn (ECW Guilty as Charged 2001)

Here is how ECW went out. Not with a bang, but a whimper, on a show where they opened defiantly with a video package set to Rage Against the Machine's "Renegades of Funk." "No matter how hard you try, you can't stop us now," the song declares. Really, no one had to try that hard. ECW died on its own, as attempts to grow were mishandled, with foolish deals made in a rush, particularly with TNN, and by the end, they had no TV that mattered, no touring, and a roster that had been endlessly torn apart starting with Taz's defection to the WWF in 1999, followed by exits from Lance Storm, The Dudley Boyz, Sabu, Mike Awesome, and eventually, even stalwart Rob Van Dam bailed, not to sign with a bigger promotion, but just because he was owed money.

RVD did return for an impromptu main event against longtime rival Jerry Lynn at the company's last show ever, though, which was a nice way to cap it all. Rhino had claimed the world title just before, with Cyrus then challenging anyone on Rhino's behalf. Van Dam answered, but instead of facing the new champ, he got Lynn. The RVD-Lynn feud started at Living Dangerously '99, and by this point, that felt like ages ago. So much had changed in ECW in those 22 months that the company barely resembled what it had been. And then, poof, it was gone, reunited a few months later in the summer of 2001 as a chunk of a crappy stable in the WWF's godawful invasion angle, following their swallowing of the entire major wrestling industry in the United States.

This RVD-Lynn match is, you know, OK. Not great or anything by any means, and feels more like an exhibition than a match with any stakes, since with hindsight that's exactly what it was. Heyman went down giving the ECW fans at least one final Rob Van Dam match. He never made Van Dam the champion, but by all reasonable standards, he was the top star of ECW over the final few years, their most over guy with the audience, a homegrown product who connected with the fans and was "their guy" more than anyone else was. Van Dam and Lynn go through some nice stuff early in their usual parity style, then Van Dam gets to Superman it up a little bit in his return.


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