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Hardcore Heaven 1996 was actually ECW's second full-length show in June 1996, coming three weeks after 'Fight The Power'. Notable occurrences on that show were Brian Pillman's return (as eventful as that would prove to be), Pitbull #2 taking the ECW TV Title from Shane Douglas and, perhaps most importantly, Taz laying down a challenge to UFC fighter Paul Varelans. As we saw through all editions of Hardcore TV leading up to 'Hardcore Heaven', Varelans accepted Taz's challenge and agreed to meet him in the ring. The contest was heavily and regularly hyped, including footage of a supposed press conference - in which all parties involved looked noticeably and indeed suspiciously unhappy.
Elsewhere Stevie Richards was on a mission to find Raven the most disgusting example of womankind he was able to locate. In doing so he recommended both Divine Brown (of Granting Hugh's wishes fame) and, er... Bluedust (The Blue Meanie doing a Golddust knockoff). Neither of these fit the bill for what Raven was looking for, however....
The months long Rob Van Dam/Sabu feud was also due to be settled in the main event, although circumstances would go on to dictate that that didn't happen in the way anybody planned it, more on that as we get to it. Anyway, it’s June 22nd 1996, we’re in the ECW Arena - this is 'Hardcore Heaven'.
Shane Douglas v Mikey Whipwreck
A spry and extremely enjoyable opener, made even better by the strength of Douglas' character work. He plays the 'total dick role' to perfection in this match, making him an excellent foil to Mikey's up-and-at-‘em babyface offence. It should also be noted that Mikey himself is superior in the ring than he was during his World title-holding spell last year. Mikey is unable to put Douglas away with everything he throws at him - including a sick-looking spike DDT - but then Douglas secures the win himself with the trusty belly-to-belly suplex. He really needs a more believable finisher than that.
Baron Von Stevie
During an in-ring interview with Joey Styles, we get told by Stevie Richards that he has found the example of womankind Raven seeks, and we will find out who it is later. The real story here though is Stevie's utterly hilarious take-off of Baron Von Raschke, right down to the skull cap and THE CLAW. Joey brushing off THE CLAW at the end of the interview is almost worth the price of admission alone. Richards' comic timing and flair are unmatched anywhere in North American wrestling at this point (admittedly the bar for that is pretty low, but even then he is light years above it). This segment is must-see.
The Dudleys v THE FBI
Little to speak of from bell-to-bell here (aside from a Buh Buh suicide dive to the outside!), with all the important events taking place before and after the match. JT Smith reintroduces us to Big Sal Bellomo as a surprise. Much more importantly though, Buh Buh Ray Dudley tells us his name for the first time! This is also something you have to check out if you get the chance, both for the moment himself and his 'kid in a sweet-shop' celebration. The contest ends by DQ when D’Von runs in and attacks pretty much everybody, including Buh Buh himself. He then scarpers whilst Big Dick Dudley comes after him. For me the money is in a BuhBuh v D'Von as opposed to Big Dick v D'Von feud, but the latter is where we seem to be heading.
Taz v Paul Varelans
The match which took up the bulk of the ECW Hype Machine in June is finally here. Both men come to the ring with somewhat glum expressions on their face, and it is also worth noting that The Eliminators, Shane Douglas and Rob Van Dam are on the outside. After two minutes of exchanging basic UFC moves of which Taz seems to get the better, Perry Saturn hits a top-rope dropkick on Varelans. Yes, a top-rope dropkick. This allows Taz to lock in the Tazmission and get the win. The crowd are NOT happy with this, interspersing their loud boos with chants of "UF-Shit!". Taz grabs the mic to try and grab some of the heat for himself, but the damage is already done.
There was huge debate backstage on to how this match was going to end - with everything discussed from Varelans falling victim to Total Elimination, to the match itself being a 100% bona fide shoot(!). In the end the compromise they settled on didn't please anybody - not least your correspondent. Paul Varelans would never again be mentioned on ECW Television, leaving their first major dabble in cross-promotion being a major mark in the company's debit column.
Editors Note: That’s not strictly true, you can read about ECW’s attempt at making a working relationship with WCW here in 1994.
ECW World Title: Raven(c) v Terry Gordy
Gordy is a surprise opponent here, and it must be said he is extremely over. Sadly the match cannot live up to the crowd's enthusiasm, being as it is ten minutes of workaday chair shorts and punches. (Oh, and a spot of barbed wire around Raven's head at one point) Raven retains the title after Richards interferes. The ECW Title is dangerously close to meaning near-nothing at this point, and having it defended against non-roster opponents in the mid-card of a show in standard-issue matches is not helping.
Again, it is after the match where things really happen. Beforehand, we learnt that Richards' search on Raven's behalf has led him to Peaches, who is The Sandman's estranged wife. The Sandman himself didn't seem to mind this and effectively told Raven that he was welcome to her. Now though Raven upped the ante considerably, telling The Sandman that not only does he now have his ex-wife, he now his son Tyler as well!! He even gets Tyler to say "Daddy, you're a drunk! I worship Raven!". Whoa.
It must be said though that I agree with Joey Styles when he says "you don't mess with a man's family!", this is far too close to home and personal for a wrestling angle. Even more so when you consider that Peaches and Tyler actually play themselves here. Despite this, The Sandman sells his betrayal and sadness very well. Unfortunately, the crowd missed this as they were still chanting for Terry Gordy at this point, making this an all-too-common example of ECW trying to cram too many things together at once (and that's before you get to Bluedust eventually taking a DDT from Beulah to end the segment).
ECW Tag Team Titles(well, sort of) madness
I haven't actually listed a match here, because the twenty minutes taken up by this are effectively long, long, long brawls between various combinations of The Gangstas, The Eliminators, The Bruise Brothers and The Samoan Gangsta Party. They all interfere in each other's supposed matches, and in the end the entire ECW locker room hit the ring to try to separate them. Whilst the suggestion that all of these teams want to win the belts is very welcome, this is story-advancement which would have better suited a go-home show rather than the event itself. For that to happen ECW would actually need to have a show to go-home to, of course, but that's another story.
ECW TV Title: Pitbull #2(c) v Chris Jericho
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. He has been an utter revelation since joining, having a multitude of superb and very different contests against a wide array of opponents. Even at this early stage of his ECW career he definitely deserves a title. Pitbull #2 presents him with the belt and shakes his hand afterwards. Aww. Despite perhaps being a tad on the short side, you definitely want to check this match out.
Weapons Match: Tommy Dreamer v Brian Lee
Yes, a weapons match in ECW. Who'd have thunk it? There are four bins in the ring filled to the brim with various pieces of plunder (including an honest-to-goodness mailbox!), but these are largely eschewed for a brawl into the crowd and out of the arena. Lee absolutely smashes Dreamer face-first into a metal garage door, which is particularly hard to watch. When we return to the ring, a Kimona striptease distracts Lee when he tries to both hit Dreamer with a cinder-block/baseball bat combination AND attack Beulah. Dreamer gets the victory with a Stop Sign shot and a DDT.
As is customary though, Dreamer isn't allowed to celebrate a win for long. The Bruise Brothers run in and attack him...then we jump-cut to Lee chokeslamming him through THREE TABLES from the crow's nest! The camera shot captured this moment perfectly, making it look as though Dreamer had all-but disappeared into oblivion. As scary as it appeared, Dreamer himself was able to walk away afterwards without injury.
Shortly before the main event was to begin, the ring broke. This led to a delay of an hour whilst it was fixed. Among those called upon to repair it was none other than Mikey Whipwreck - a busman's holiday for him considering his ECW stint began as a ring-crew member. Whilst this went on Kimona treated the audience to another strip-tease (the footage of this didn't make it onto my tape, said he apropos of nothing), and Douglas heeled on the crowd for a while. So it was about half past midnight when we finally got to...
Sabu v Rob Van Dam
... and then almost immediately, the top-rope snaps. This is desperately unfortunate and a real shame. This occurrence clearly and understandably threw both competitors for a loop, and there are notable times during the match where they pause to go through newly-planned sequences. I suspect that more of a storyline was originally planned for this contest - likely built around the rubber-match deal their previous encounters had led to - but given the problems with the ring and the lateness of the hour, they decided to deliver us twenty minutes of BIG SPOTS instead. And what spots they were: ranging from a monkey flip by RVD directly onto a chair, to a leaping springboard DDT from Sabu right THROUGH a table!! The ending - Sabu hitting an atomic Arabian Facebuster and securing the three on a delayed cover - seemed a little incongruous, making this the second month in a row where these guys have taken things home in a rather odd way. The numerous conceptual problems mean that this is far from being the 4+-star match they are capable of, but that should not take away from the supreme effort both men put in, especially when you consider the duress it took place under. The post-match standing ovation they receive from an otherwise understandably-tired crowd says it all.
Score Rating: 6.5/10
Go Back And Watch: The superb TV Title match is a must. The opener is a lot of fun. Despite all the issues detailed above, there is much to credit the main event. You also simply have to make time in your life for the brilliance of Stevie Richards. I wouldn't recommend Taz - Paul Varelans for anything other than morbid fascination however...