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It was an odd situation in a way. It's still hard to understand now, regardless of how he got there. Why couldn't Sabu have told Paul Heyman that he wasn't going to be at the event? Sabu was double booked, having taken a Japanese date subsequent to confirming the ECW show a few weeks before. Proving his craziness in the air wasn't limited to just his wrestling moves, Sabu had planned on try to do both shows – completing the show in Japan before jumping on a plane to Philadelphia and doing that show.
Despite the character he portrayed on-screen, Sabu actually had a thinking brain on him. Aged 30 and wanting to look after his mother, he had not-so-long-before turned down deals with both the WWF and WCW. New Japan were his pay-masters, they called the shots. ECW just gave him a few dates each month in the US when time allowed. Neither WWF nor WCW offered him an opportunity to work in Japan, so in ECW he stayed.
But when it came to a decision over an ECW date – a significant one at that – and a New Japan date, it wasn't a decision at all. Sabu was being paid by the week even for one match in Japan, and earning often four or five times more than what the ECW show would've paid him. I'm not sure anyone would begrudged him wanting the New Japan date, even though many wrestlers would say you always honour the first booking unless given permission to get out of it.
With Sabu thinking right up until the week of the event that he could still make both shows (a preposterous idea – he'd have arrived in Philadelphia about ten hours after the show concluded), there was nothing conclusive when Paul Heyman was putting together the final set of TV tapings. Heyman just needed an answer – if it was a no he needed to make some quick changes to the main event. But Sabu or no Sabu, he just didn't want to promise a main event he couldn't deliver.
Back in August of 1994 Terry Funk backed out a taping that he was set to be on (teaming with Cactus Jack to fight for the tag titles). But Funk didn’t show up at the event, citing travel issues. It’s said that once he heard what Shane Douglas wanted to do with the NWA World Title (the same one he held decades before) he didn’t travel. There was no outward animosity towards him, and Funk returned about six months later in one of the great “forgotten” ECW segments.
But Heyman couldn’t deliver Sabu. Despite “Sabu swearing to god” that he would make it, it was only when Tod Gordon called Sabu's phone and got an answering machine message indicating he was on a plane to Japan that Heyman knew the game was up. So Heyman just went out there, and told the truth.
History probably shows Heyman to be a magician for that move. He, Taz and 911 walked out to the ring, Taz was in his normal clothes and 911 made his first ever appearance in the ECW Arena that didn't involve chokeslamming everyone in sight. By the end of the promo Heyman had whipped the fans into a frenzy, us-against-the-world. He offered the crowd refunds, and basically said 'While he might have been the best guy we have, he's not here any more'.
But it was undoubtedly a risk – even if Heyman can say that Sabu was absolutely in the wrong. Sabu, almost unarguably, was the best act ECW had. Sure, they had Funk, Cactus Jack, Chris Benoit, Shane Douglas and others. But Sabu was like nothing else you could find in the States. Indeed, what Funk, Jack, Douglas and to a lesser extent Benoit had in common was that they were guys spat out by WCW.
While Heyman strengthened the relationship with those in attendance – and Chris Benoit's promo in the middle of the show whipped them up to fever pitch – it also created an environment where, at least in the short term, it would have been impossible for Sabu to return. Benoit called Sabu a “pussy” and the fans lead “Fuck Sabu” chants for the entire evening. Sabu might not have been pleased at how he handled the situation, but by the time word of the show made it across the Atlantic he was (to put it lightly) disappointed with how the situation was handled.
As it was? Heyman pulled a rabbit out of the hat getting Rick Steiner in on literally two days’ notice to replace Sabu. It ruined the main event, really. It became just another match, not the carefully intertwined six man tag match that it should have been. Sabu had been involved with rivalries with Benoit and Rocco Rock from the Public Enemy that started months prior. Steiner got a mega-pop, Sabu wrestled a forgettable New Japan match and wouldn't be seen back in ECW until the year was almost out. In the meantime he signed with WCW, but shockingly WCW had no idea what was on their hands and he had a completely forgettable run there.