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It’s been a few months since our last foray into a somewhat major ECW show. Since November to Remember we’ve had the Mass Transit incident, one of the flattest heavyweight title changes in the history of the promotion and a pay per view going from very likely, to quite unlikely, to a sure thing – with a date announced – Sunday April 13th 1997 – “Barely Legal”. With a number of wrestlers tied to short term contracts, for the first time in the better part of two and a half years it felt like ECW had some stability within their roster, which would be important as the company were headed towards the most important show they had ever had.
It also, really, for the first time had given ECW a fixed point of reference. One of ECW’s strengths was their willingness to let things flow; feuds bled into each other, sometimes matches did too. But while some guys like Sabu and Brian Lee were fighting on multiple fronts each of the main acts had their role to play headed into April. If anything, ECW’s biggest challenge at the time wasn’t themselves it was outside forces: not just the pay per view providers imposing a series of (in all honesty) quite reasonable restrictions like having proper background checks on everyone appearing, and all weaponry be approved ahead of it, but also from another source entirely. As the UFC were getting booted out of the state of New York, there were eyeballs on combat both real and simulated in the state, with warnings to ECW that when they toured they should dial back on some of the violent content that they were becoming famous for. As ECW would find out, sometimes the hard way, expanding would mean moving away from some of the things that made them famous.
On television though, it was largely business as usual. Terry Funk had formally returned, and for the first time in about 18 months someone other than Raven or the Sandman spoke of their desire to win the ECW World Heavyweight Title. Quite frankly, the nature and topics of Funk’s promos were presented in such a way that him not winning the title in April felt almost impossible, however much false jeopardy would be presented in the meantime.
The other major change on television was the introduction of Rick Rude. Well… the idea, as ridiculous as it sounds, was to debut Rude under a mask with the idea that nobody would find out it was him until the pay per view in April. ECW was often quite rightly praised for its creatively but sometimes the ideas were monumentally stupid. They had Rude walk out in a turtle neck jumper and jeans along with a wrestling mask. The ruse was basically blown before he got to the ring (as one fan leant in close and was able to see through the mask); but never-mind the fact that Rude has a quite distinct body-type, he’s got a very unique voice. So when the first three words came out of his mouth the crowd exploded and chanted “Rude, Rude, Rude”. Of course, it still took Shane Douglas about two weeks to work out who was who but the whole idea of keeping the identity secret was otherwise dropped.
The other two major notes were the ECW themed Raw that was happening two days following this event. With the WWF half on tour in Europe and Raw having just become two hours it made a lot of sense to get the ECW crew in to essentially fill the show; Shane Douglas was mercifully spared a trip back to Raw! The other was the underground success of the BWO, with the famous blue NWO rip-off shirts were selling (even by ECW standards) very well – with one Observer report in January saying they accounted for 40% of shirt sales. They were a constantly entertaining act, lead by the best superkicker in wrestling – Stevie Richards.
The Eliminators (Saturn and Kronus) vs Rob Van Dam and Sabu in a Tables and Ladders Match for the ECW Tag Team Titles
It took me a while to work it out, but ECW’s most important belt is their tag title belt. It’s constantly presented well, it’s often involved in the best match on the show and every team in the division wants it. This was the second part after an equally barmy match at the beginning of the month that ended up involving a ladder and multiple tables. As we’ve come to expect from any match involving Sabu and Van Dam, the pace is relentless, the selling often minimal but the action is usually rather excellent – this was no exception.
In some ways this is some of the really early spots that have become common place in ladder matches (particularly as it might be the first formal ladder match to feature more than two people). We had a spot where Van Dam and Saturn were tussling over the ladder on the apron and Sabu and Kronus ran at them with a double dropkick knocking them to the floor. Later we had Saturn laying on the ladder mid-ring only for Sabu and Van Dam to do a combined slingshot-legdrop/rolling senton onto him.
Otherwise, dare I say it, the usual fare you’ve come to expect from unarguably two of the best tag teams in the business at this point. Sabu did triple jump moonsaults, a triple jump dive into the crowd – and the match rarely slowed down despite some of the ridiculous stunts they were pulling off. In the end there’s a miscommunication between Sabu and Van Dam, the Eliminators fuck up the Total Elimination so hit a second one and they retain their titles. After the match (as had happened before) Sabu shook the hands of both of his opponents, but this time Van Dam didn’t.
Segment w/ Pitbulls & Shane Douglas
Joey Styles comes out for what presumably is the intro for the TV show and introduces the Pitbulls – who get a really nice reaction. Pitbull 1 says: “Stop being a ‘Shawn Michaels’ Franchise, and face me”. With that Douglas (complete with Francine and crutches) says he doesn’t give a fuck about Monday Night Raw or ECW, and basically eggs the Pitbulls up to his position. Of course, the whole thing is an inevitable ruse as they get up there and are ambushed by the other members of the triple threat as Pitbull 2 gets put through a table. A basic if effective angle that gets continues the build to the pay per view.
Little Guido (w/ Tommy Rich) vs Chris Chetti
Chetti is the first graduate of the ECW House of Hardcore school. Meanwhile, they’ve come up with a bullshit backstory about the Mafia to excuse putting together Rich and Guido… Rich’s promo was dreadful – he’s just not very good. What I don’t really like about Guido is that he’s a small guy trying to wrestle like a bigger guy. Not saying you have to be all high flying but his moveset doesn’t look tough. Anyway, Chetti takes the bulk of the punishment, but when Rich convinces Guido to go to the top rope for a move he obliges – misses – the Chetti roles him up for the shock win. Rich is awful, did I say that?
Balls Mahoney vs Big Stevie Cool (w/ Da Blue Guy, Hollywood Nova and 7-11)
I don’t want to inherently group them together because they’re both big guys who the fans like to chant when they’re on the attack, but Balls does seem to have just filled the role formerly played by Hack Myers. This is OK, Richards is still really good but I think he’s at his best when he’s got someone to work off, and Balls is a bit flat given that he’s new. Stevie hits a stunner then wins it with a superkick. Afterwards a woman jumps into the ring wearing a BWO shirt and attempts to pull Stevie’s jean shorts off – she gets escorted away.
Axl Rotten vs Spike Dudley
This is more of a front for the match that follows, but these two do manage to get their fair share of stuff in in the time they get. Spike gets in a rolling plancha from the apron and a dive off the top to the outside. After Spike hits his now trademark turnbuckle bulldog the now Dudley brothers team (Buh Buh and D’von joined forces at the previous show) – came out. Spike held them off but was put away by a powerbomb flapjack by Axl. After the match, Buh Buh and D’von (with a bit of help from an additional lift in Axl Rotten) did their new double team moved, Christened the “3-D - Dudley Death Drop” by Joey Styles on commentary.
The Dudley Brothers (Buh Buh Ray and D’von – sorta with Axl, who hung around) vs The Gangstas (New Jack and Mustafa)
So the Gangstas came out and started a brawl with the Dudleys. Buh Buh attemps to splash New Jack through a table in the corner, somehow with his sheer size when he does the splash he bounces off of the table, New Jack slips out then Buh Buh falls through the table as he comes back down. This match is memorable for one thing – they put D’von on a table deep in the crowd, New Jack then gets on the raised platform by the exit and does a big running dive attempting to splash D’von through the table… except he was about three feet short. New Jack, folks! Still, they get New Jack in the ring and he still kicks out, before coming off the turnbuckle straight into a Buh Buh cutter for the win. Unco-ordinated but crazy fun.
Taz (w/ Bill Alfonso) vs Tracy Smothers
A fairly simple squash save for the notoriety that Smothers would go onto gain. He got a fair amount of offense in too, but Taz reversed a waist lock, hit a german suplex, a t-bone suplex then the tazmission for the win.
Raven and Brian Lee vs Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer (w/ Beulah)
The stipulation on this match was that if Funk could pin Raven he would get a title shot at the pay per view, which of course meant that Raven got on the mic and offered to lay down for Dreamer to give him his first pin fall ever over Raven. That didn’t happen, and neither did this match either, we brawled in the crowd for a bit before Lee started whacking Funk over the head with a garbage can. Then things got a bit weird…
The basic story they tried to tell was that Funk had been knocked silly, which might have stuck except the fact that Funk was usually a guy who wrestled as if he’d been knocked silly anyway. Still, Dreamer protects Funk from further beating until a prolonged angle sees Funk stretchered out. OK… Stevie comes out and eats a Prmime Time Slam, then Sandman comes out with Tyler (I love how that whole story had no real conclusion) – and then Sandman pins Raven. Because… fuck logic, right?
Chris Candido vs Sabu
A puzzling choice of main event – it’s not particularly clear why they had Sabu pull double duty nor why, if they were going to, they didn’t put this on first and the tag in the main event. Still, fair play to Sabu for suffering 20 minutes of punishment earlier in the night and coming out for an equally as barmy match here. There’s a brief moment of calm mid match but otherwise this is your usual crazy Sabu match – complete with Sabu smacking his face on the guardrail after misjudging a suicide dive. This was still a really fun match even if it meant little, Sabu eventually picking up the win with a triple jump leg drop.
Score Rating: 7/10
Go Back And Watch: Sabu/Van Dam vs The Eliminators, the Pitbulls angle, The Dudleys/The Gangstas and the main event are all good or noteworthy.