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1. Rob Van Dam & Sabu vs Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat
Aired on the September 24th 1996 Hardcore TV
Some of ECW's best matches of 1996, and some of their best matches full stop really are just barmy, unexplianable... wild brawls. This pair of teams had two matches, and the second probably deserves a place in this list (although I've not seen it in it's entirity), but the match that aired on Hardcore TV in September was absolutely barmy. Sabu and Van Dam, as a new team, seemed to bring the best out of both men as they egged each other on and did more and more death defying shit against arguably the best tag team in the world at the time in Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon (Kroffatt). The match went to a 30 minute time limit draw, as big ECW matches often do... but go out of your way to see this one.
2. Rey Mysterio Jr vs Juventud Guerrera
Aired on the March 19th Hardcore TV
The second match in this list that actually happened twice (and, from people who've seen both, I've seen it suggested the New York match was actually better). But across the two night "Big Ass Extreme Bash" show in March Mysterio and Juventud had a pair of two out of three falls matches that were both, in a word, ridiculous. Much like the tag match above, ECW didn't want to book a decisive winner (each won one of the matches 2-1), but this was like the best of the WCW Crusierweights in front of a much more captive audience and not being ruined by Dusty Rhodes' commentary. The match in question here, the one that aired in full on Hardcore TV, was the second one from Philadelphia, but highlights of the first aired on TV too – both were great.
3. Shane Douglas (w/ Francine) vs Pitbull 2
Aired on the October 15th Hardcore TV
This feud almost won best feud of 1996, but it was certainly the best feud ECW put together all year. After Douglas legit broke the neck of Pitbull 1 that elevated a feud between him and the Pitbulls to a new height. This culminated with this exceptional spectacle in October – which while not the best in-ring match all year in ECW had a ludicrious amount of heat and drama, finished off when Douglas grabbed Pitbull 1 by his neck halo and yanked him down to the mat. The reaction was electric as multiple fans jumped the guardrail trying to pick a fight with Douglas – who ended up getting swept away in a torrent of ECW wrestlers before high-tailing it out of the building. Phenomenal spectacle, and probably the best match for both in ECW to date.
4. Sabu vs Rob Van Dam – Hostile City Showdown (April)
Aired on the May 7th 1996 Hardcore TV
We rinsed this show on the podcast – a show full of arena wide walking brawls that frustrated far more than it entertained. Reports have it that these two actually had a better match in February, but as it never made it to air and we never reviewed the show it’s essentially dead to us. Still, this was a phenomenal match, with the right balance of “holy shit” without stretching it too far into the unbelievable. This is also the scene of a moment where a Van Dam threw a chair at Sabu which cannoned off the ring post and into the crowd. Sabu wins it with a springboard moonsault.
5. Sabu vs Too Cold Scorpio
Aired on the March 5th 1996 Hardcore TV
Like the first match in this list, (and, in fact, most Sabu matches), providing you're not too fussed about selling you can enjoy the hell out of some of his matches. This was a 30 minute war, my podcast notes for the match came in at nearly two pages long (easily the longest I'd taken) and were just a series of batshit crazy stuff involving weapons, dives and big moves. Sabu also busted out a new move, a triple jump moonsault, when he laid Scorpio on a table beyond the guardrial, got in the ring, ran up to a chair, vaulted from it to the top rope, then from that into the crowd. Only shame was Sabu had moved... still, the spot was great, so was the match. Another time limit draw – but after all of that I'm not sure I minded.
6. Chris Jericho vs Too Cold Scorpio vs Pitbull 2 vs Shane Douglas
Aired on the July 23rd Hardcore TV
This is a weird assembly in some ways; Douglas and Scorpio got into it after they needed a reason, any reason, to get Douglas out of the World title picture. Pitbull at this stage hasn't really started the feud with Douglas and Jericho, for once, is just there. This match goes 40 minutes, a marathon by most ECW standards, but features some really nice wrestling, as you'd expect, but the real kicker here was the angle that kick-started the Douglas/Pitbull feud – which was the Francine turn to align with Douglas – it was barmy ECW as you'd expect. Francine did get put through a table, but Douglas did leave with the TV title.
7. Sabu vs Rob Van Dam – A Matter Of Respect (May)
Don't believe this match ever made television in its entirity
Numbers 1 and 2 in this list very definitely had alternates that probably belonged in this list, but as we didn’t see them in their entirety I left them out, but Sabu and Van Dam returns for another crack in this list – and also what I believe is the site of the first “You fucked up” chant in ECW (for something relatively minor – Van Dam losing his footing on the guardrail). Your usual stuff by this stage, great spots, a triple jump moonsault and even a shock surprise as Van Dam picks up the surprise win. Sabu left in horrid shape, but they bundled him back out for a post match angle where Sabu offers out a handshake (as per the stip), Van Dam turns it down and calls him a piece of shit.
8. Raven vs Sandman vs Pitbull 2 for the ECW Title – A Matter Of Respect (May)
Aired on the May 21st 1996 Hardcore TV
I mean… Raven vs Sandman for the entirety of the rest of the year was an absolute shit-show, but the addition of a third man made this match, strangely, really fun to watch. Pitbull’s presence opened up a lot of set piece opportunities that just wouldn’t have worked without him, but this match earns its place in the list thanks to the closing moments. We eliminated Pitbull, then with the help of Stevie Richards the closing moments were a series of great near falls with Sandman getting so close to winning the title, the gasps from the crowd were great. This was, by an absolute mile, the only time Raven and Sandman would get good (in the ring, at least) all year.
9. Pitbull #2 vs Chris Jericho
Don't believe this match ever made television in its entirity
A terrific little bout here. Pitbull #2 was somewhat thrown into singles action after the injury to Pitbull #1, but he has really run with the ball. Being in the ring with somebody as willing and able as Jericho also helped no end here. There are some truly breathtaking moves in this one: Pitbull #2's press-slam-into-a-Tombstone has to be seen to be believed, and Jericho's warp-speed moonsault to the outside is absolutely picture-perfect. After errant interference by Shane Douglas, Jericho hits a super rana off the top rope to get the three-count and secure the TV Title.
10. Mikey Whipwreck vs Cactus Jack – Big Ass Extreme Bash
Aired on the March 26th Hardcore TV
Cactus had been a heel in ECW for the prior six months, but given that his WWF debut was so immanent he was only really a heel in name by this stage. His final choice of opponent was the increasingly irrelevant Mikey Whipwreck, but the pair had a fun brawl around the arena that Cactus wins with a piledriver onto the chair mid-ring. This was probably more well known for Cactus’ post match promo, a funny and heartfelt speech making peace with the ECW crowd. Catcus signs off by praising the pair of “creative geniuses without which ECW wouldn’t exist”. He is, of course, talking about Stevie Richards and the Blue Meanie.