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Wrestlepalooza ’97: ECW Shakes Things Up With Its Strongest Card of the Year - By Erick Landstrom
Midway between its first ever pay per view event, April’s lackluster Barely Legal, and its planned August show, Hardcore Heaven, ECW presents Wrestlepalooza ‘97 from the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia.
At the top of the card, Terry Funk will defend the ECW Championship against Chris Candido, subbing for the injured Stevie Richards. Raven and Tommy Dreamer meet for one last time before Raven departs for WCW. Taz takes on Sabu in a match originally set for Hardcore Heaven. Shane Douglas, the Dudley Boys, the Sandman and the Eliminators are also scheduled to fill out the card.
Wrestepalooza ’97 opens with Joey Styles in the center of the ring bombarded with “E-C-Dub” chants. Hot crowds make for entertaining shows, so we’re off to a great start. Rick Rude is here for color commentary. Is he wearing double denim or just a blue shirt?
Styles announces Funk will defend the world title against Candido. Rude offers shockingly straightforward thoughts on the title match. On Raven/Dreamer, Rude picks Dreamer and says Raven will “fly the coup.” Rude says Balls Mahoney and the Sandman are “my kind of guys,” (How?) but picks the Dudleys over Team Head Trauma. Rude is awfully reined in here. Rude calls Sabu the greatest aerial wrestler he’s ever seen and Taz the best mat wrestler in the world. “Buckle your seatbelts. This is going to be a hell of a match,” says Rude. Rude is pulling from the bag of clichés early.
Joey asks Rude about Francine. Rude is not the most magnanimous color man in the game, but, if there’s one thing he does know, it’s penis sizes. We’re right back on track as we go to the first match:
Shane Douglas (with Francine) versus Chris Chetti for the ECW World Television Championship
“She’s a whore” chants welcome Francine. (Keep it classy, Philly). Douglas baits the crowd by talking about the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff woes. Why are we still doing local sports team trash talk in 1997? Douglas reminds us why he’s a top heel in the game, though, by challenging Chetti to a “wrestling match.” (Not in ECW!) Chetti agrees, which means there is a 100 percent chance Douglas will not abide by the agreement.
The match opens with some impressive wrestling considering Chetti is still green as grass. Of course, Francine gets involved by saving Douglas from a superkick. When Chetti turns to Francine, Styles says, “Go ahead and slug her!” Cool, Joey.
To no surprise, the “wrestling” match devolves into a brawl complete with railing and chair spots. Chetti gets in an incredible amount of offense. This is a fun match! Chetti brings the heat but, as rookies are wont to do, he gets caught with a belly-to-belly. Douglas wins by pin fall in 6:52, aided by his devastating finishing maneuver.
This was a great opening match. Douglas won clean enough after taking some good-looking offense from Chetti. Everyone came out looking stronger than they did going in, which makes for a successful outing on all ends.
The Pitbulls versus The FBI (with the Big Don)
Dial 9-1 and wait for my signal for Guido. Per his request, Tommy Rich shall be referred by his new name, “The Big Don.” (Emphasis on “Big.” Jesus, Tommy. Ever heard of the Blow-Away Diet?). And we have Freddy Joe Floyd waiving an Italian flag. ECW is the best sometimes.
In the other corner, the Pitbulls look like they’re out on bond and have vengeance on the brain. This will not be a long match.
As predicted, Guido takes an absolute shellacking. The Pitbulls look fully fit for the first time in recent memory. Glad to have them to fill a sudden void in the tag division. (More on that later.)
Tommy Rich takes his shirt off, which allows the ECW crowd to confirm that he is fat. Meanwhile, the FBI is getting a decent amount of offense in for what was looking to be a squash match. The Pitbulls remember they should be winning and, in fact, do win after a superbomb on Guido after 7:34.
This was another fun match. I might be alone on this point, but I pop big for The Big Don and the FBI. And I do love a team of stiff-working monsters, so the Pitbulls’ return to full health is a welcome sight. Hopefully we get the Dudley Boys versus the Pitbulls at Hardcore Heaven in August. Local potato dealers agree.
The Dudley Boys (with the Dudley clan) versus The Sandman and Balls Mahoney
Joel Gertner talks more trash about hockey and the crowd continues to not care. Gertner, undeterred, says all the fans “should be shot at sunrise.” Wait...what?!? Holy shit, dude. The Dudleys then get protracted introductions. The introductions are so long, in fact, they have to omit Bubba’s weight due to time constraints. Sad.
Balls and the Sandman come out and they look like a proper tag team! Credit to ECW for an amazing visual as Sandman raises a cane and Balls raises a chair for the hard camera. This could work. It would be a neat t-shirt design at least. Balls is over with this crowd already. Teaming with the Sandman should only add to his rise.
The bell rings and we’re swiftly reminded that the Sandman sucks at wrestling or anything resembling wrestling. This match actually looks more like batting practice than anything Bret Hart’s ever done. Everyone one is taking unprotected head shots and bleeding.
D-Von and Balls brawl into the snack bar. (Hopefully The Big Don got out of there safely.) The ring is more of an obstacle than anything. Balls takes a three-second nap after a Dudley Death Drop, which might have been the only move performed in the ring. The Dudleys win a perfectly fine walking brawl in 7:24.
After the match, the Sandman gets his heat back. The crowd claps for Sandman and Balls in a nice moment for two guys this crowd absolutely loves. The Dudleys look strong in a decisive win against two credible opponents
Terry Funk versus Chris Candido for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship
Two former NWA World Heavyweight and WWF Tag Team champions square off. Candido has been so good since leaving the Fed. It’s really nice to see him in this spot no matter the circumstances.
Before the match, Stevie Richards gets on the stick, says he may never wrestle again, and tells Terry Funk he loves him. Stevie is crying. This is usually where the “injured” guy turns on his friend so, Stevie, what are you waiting for? But Stevie just leaves. That was really awkward and set an uncomfortable tone for this match. Stevie seems like he’s still searching for that top-level character. Being the “crying guy” won’t get it done with this crowd.
The bells rings and the former world champions grapple to the ground. The match then devolves into a brawl. Candido sets Funk for a piledriver on a ringside table. The table goes into business for itself, though, and explodes under the weight of both men. ECW! ECW!
The timing between Funk and Candido is off just enough to make this match a bit of a clunker at times, especially when Candido tries to leave his feet.
Candid goes rabid with an all-out assault on Funk’s neck, assisted by a large pile of chairs. Funk kicks out of no fewer than FOUR piledrivers. Candido continues beating the absolute piss out of Funk. Funk, out of nowhere, hooks Candido in botched roll-up for the three count in 12:57. That finish was poor.
The crowd was upset Funk pinned Candido. That’s not the issue with this match, though. There is no finish involving Candido winning the ECW Championship that makes sense. The thing that made this match and the finish weird was the fact Candido destroyed Funk for 90 percent of the match, hit him with endless piledrivers and neckbreakers, used chairs and tables, but Funk kicked out of everything. It made Candido look like a weakling. The match should have been more 50-50, stayed in the ring a bit more, maybe gone about 3 minutes less, and then Funk gets the roll-up win. Doing much less in this match would have made for a more satisfying result. That said, this was still an above-average match by ECW standards even if was probably the worst match of Wrestlepalooza ’97 card.
Tommy Dreamer (with Beulah) versus Raven (with his Nest) in a Loser Leaves Town match
I don’t know if I’ll ever have this forum again, so let’s get it out of the way. Beulah is ten on ten. Moving on...
This match was moved up from Hardcore Heaven due to Raven’s WCW commitments. The crowd, not understanding how free-market capitalism works, chants, “you sold out” to Raven. Yeah, screw that guy for getting a guaranteed contract.
And then it gets weird when Mr. Nest (Lupus?) mentions to Raven that Raven doesn’t have to wrestle this match. Raven should just leave and let Mr. Nest handle it. Why they didn’t think of this at any point before the bell rang is unclear. Anyhow, Raven leaves, Tommy chases, and we have ourselves a walking brawl to start.
Rude, who hasn’t called any of the prior matches, is dreadful on commentary here.
Raven tosses Dreamer off a 10-foot balcony. Raven falls and follows Dreamer. That looked sore for both guys. Rude praises ECW tables for not being gimmicked. Tommy immediately goes through a table that breaks like it was gimmicked. The irony goes unacknowledged by Styles and Rude.
They brawl around the packed ECW arena. Shane Douglas looks on from the eagle’s nest. Finally back in the ring, Tommy his a gorgeous float-over DDT. (That’s how it’s done, Rocky.) This is a solid back and forth match. The referee then gets clobbered by a street sign and, because it’s ECW, I don’t have to explain that any further.
Beulah gets involved and hits a DDT on Mr. Nest. Ms. Nest (Chastity?) and Beulah scrap to the outside. Louie Spicoli runs in and batters Tommy. Tommy fights Louie off. Tommy grabs Raven in the center of the ring, bellows “E-C-FUCKING-W,” and hits a DDT. Tommy finally beats Raven at 16:06.
This might have been the best match of the bunch for Raven and Dreamer (though I admit I have not seen every match. The feud was two years long for crying out loud). Big-picture, I think this match was a fine punctuation on the long program. For ECW, the feud provided a backstop or a failsafe anytime the promotion needed to heat up a crowd or a card. Both guys had interim feuds (anyone up for Raven versus the Sandman part 11,000?) that kept this storyline relatively fresh despite its age.
As there always will be, there was with this feud questionable decision-making along the way. From a micro level, this may not have been the best feud ever booked. But, from a macro level, ECW accomplished what few promotions have successfully done – booked a continuous feud between top guys for over two years AND got the payoff that was probably booked the whole time. On that point alone, the Dreamer/Raven feud was a success.
Looking ahead for Dreamer, he is now entrenched in ECW as Sting is in WCW and Shawn Michaels is for the WWF. No matter which guys are coming in or going out, Dreamer looks to be that top-shelf mainstay for ECW who can move around the card as needed. Early-1995 Dreamer was not that guy. Dreamer’s feud with Raven helped make Dreamer and ECW synonymous. Dreamer now looks poised for simultaneous programs with Jerry Lawler and Rob Van Dam, where he can further cement his place as the ECW guy.
For Raven, working with Dreamer allowed him to develop into a credible and consistent main event level gimmick. The former Johnny Polo goes to WCW with a fully developed character and two-years of headlining experience. He’s well positioned for a solid run in Atlanta.
Dreamer got over as the company guy. Raven got positioned and paid. There will be no more Raven/Sandman matches. This match was a fine ending to an impressive two-year program.
Post-Match Segment (Lawler)
The lights go out in the ECW Arena. Lights up and RVD and Sabu attack Dreamer. Lights out again and its Jerry Lawler with a live microphone! Lawler says there’s nothing but shit in the ECW Arena. An unwise fan runs in and gets his ass kicked. A bunch of jobbers run in and get fought off. Lawler calls Beulah a slut. What is happening? This is as crazy and as awesome as it sounds.
There is nobody better on the stick in wresting than Lawler (save for Scott Hall possibly). Giving Lawler a live mic without censors is brilliant. He worked the ECW fans into a frenzy in no time. Lawler in ECW is one of those wrestling things that sounds terrible at first impression. Lawler is so savvy though, and has worked crowds much more vitriolic than the ECW regulars (early-1980’s Memphis) that he’s a natural fit. WWF guys in ECW works so much better than ECW guys in WWF and Lawler’s a big reason why. More of this please.
Post-Match Segment (Taz)
After Lawler leaves the ring, the crowd explodes with “We want Taz” chants as Sabu and RVD destroy Dreamer. Taz answers the call and clears the ring. Taz cuts a promo with plenty of New York color on Fonzie and Lawler. Shane Douglas, from the eagle’s nest, interrupts Taz and tells him to chill out. Taz tells Shane to “go fuck that little rat,” so Taz is clearly not going to chill out.
Taz wants to fight Sabu now. Fonzie comes out and calls Taz “fat boy.” That was the wrong choice. Taz stretches Fonzie until Sabu comes out to make the save. This leads into...
Sabo (with Bill Alfonso) versus Taz
Sabu opens with quick offense, including a beautiful slingshot back kick. Taz then takes the mount and hammers Sabu. Sabu hits a low dropkick to Taz’s knee. Rude is much better here. He points out Sabu’s strategy of attacking Taz’s knee will affect Taz’s ability to effectively mat wrestle. Taz recovers and hits a beautiful T-bone suplex followed by a Northern Lights suplex with a perfect bridge. Taz is so good.
One of those non-gimmicked table enters the picture. Sabu puts himself and Taz through the table, which, strangely, breaks as if it was gimmicked. Taz catches the Tazmission. Sabu grabs the surprise three count, though, with a roll-up while still in the hold. A finish out of nowhere ends the match in 8:12. Post-match, Taz won’t break the Tazmission. After he lets Sabu free, Taz kills the referees and Fonzie.
This was Taz’s first loss in about two years. Sabu probably had to win this match to keep the feud going and get a rubber match at Hardcore Heaven. Beating Taz with a fluke roll-up was probably the correct call to keep Taz looking like a monster, then. The match was good but was too short to be anything memorable. They should get 15-20 minutes in August for a proper blow off.
Post-Match Segment (Shane Douglas)
Shane interrupts and tells Taz to get the fuck out of the ring. They exchange vulgarities. They agree to fight for the Television Championship. If Taz can’t beat Shane within five minutes, he’ll leave ECW for 30 days. After they agree, Taz, like an idiot, says he’ll leave for 60 days if he can’t beat Shane in three minutes. (That’s not how negotiating works, Taz.) Before either can seek the advice of legal counsel, the match starts.
Taz versus Shane Douglas (with Francine) for the ECW Television Championship
Taz taps Shane in less than three minutes to win the Television Championship. Both got a surprising amount of offense in for such a short contest.
The Eliminators versus the Dudley Boyz (with the Dudley clan) for the ECW World Tag Team Championship
We learn Perry Saturn destroyed his knee in a match just prior to Hardcore Heaven. Bubba is hysterical with happiness. Saturn comes out with Kronus, his entire leg in a soft cast pending reconstructive surgery. Still, the Eliminators refuse to surrender the tag belts. Since there’s no way Saturn can get involved whatsoever since a bomb went off in his knee, it’ll be Kronus versus the Dudleys.
The Dudleys destroy Kronus early on. This is a one-sided affair. Because its ECW, Saturn gets involved and hits – seriously – a top rope elbow drop and gets the three count! Holy shit. Saturn is writhing in pain as he’s stretchered out to close the show. The Eliminators retain in 7:31. Watching Saturn in obvious pain while hitting his spots was uncomfortable. Storyline-wise, this was brilliant, though.
Wrestlepalooza ‘97 was the best show ECW put together in the year 1997 so far. Every match told a story, featured interesting spots, and, generally, the booking made sense. The only real negative on the card was the layout of the Funk/Candido match, even if the match itself wasn’t so bad.
Douglas is clearly moving back up the card to fill the void left by Raven, so putting the TV Title on Taz is a wise move. Taz can mow through the upper-mid card until needed in the world title picture. The Shane/Taz contest was a “match” to advance storylines and stir the pot with enough time to build a unique card for Hardcore Heaven. Taz can finish with Sabu, Shane can feud with Funk (which should make for some awesome promos), and RVD, Lawler, and Dreamer appear to be on a collision course. Pitbulls/Dudleys is probably the tag title match for Hardcore Heaven, which will be a potato-fest of the highest order. Things are looking well for ECW at the top of the card. This is probably the strongest the company has ever been with its top three or four programs. 7/10 show.