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"Mr Sandman, give me a Dream..." er, that's not it, is it?
Bret and Owen Hart have arguably had two five star matches in 1994, the rivalry began at Survivor Series '93 and still had some life entering 1995. Bret had an eight month reign as champion and could well be the best technical wrestler the business has seen. Owen evolved from a happy-go-lucky babyface into a demented, cowardly heel and crowned it off as King of the Ring.
Worlds Collided (cheques made payable to Extreme Championship Wrestling Ltd) when the two faces of the eighties bashed at a beach in August 1994 as the biggest names in the business would meet for the first time on PPV and it caused one of them to retire due to the inconceivable possibility that either could be made to co-exist with the other.
READ MORE: The Untold Story of ECW and WCW Working Together in 1994
Whilst both rivalries were monumental in their respective companies, neither could come close to stealing the spotlight and headlines that a former surfer and a pretty boy in Philadelphia did in the second half of 1994.
Chances are, you might not have heard of NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling. It was one of the last fish who swam in an ever-drying sea of territories. Those who managed to survive the cull had to adapt or die. Sink or swim. Death or glory. An attitude that would shift this tide gave birth to a new name: Extreme Championship Wrestling.
The name itself plants ideas. What's new in 1994? What haven't we seen before? It's old, it's passè... No. It's Generation X. ECW don't have cartoons. They don't get shown on Saturday mornings. You don't sit down to watch it with tea and toast while your grandparents reminisce of the good, old days. This, is extreme.
Sandman was a poor athlete. He had limited wrestling abilities. His drinking and smoking served no purpose in an ordinary workplace for athletic competition. Tommy Dreamer was a relatively handsome young man with seemingly no edge. He didn't represent someone who fans with a hope for change can get behind. Neither would realistically merit a place on either national companies' rosters, let alone be given TV time, promo segments or... Headline shows? Seriously? Yes. Deadly serious.
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There was a reason for these two men's underground following. ECW's roster can most aptly be compared to a land for the Lost Boys. Everyone is different. No-one is traditional. They wouldn't fit in at your standard industry dinner table. But, when this is the case, what can they do to get noticed? In the sceptical world of 1994, when the prayers had been said and the vitamins had been taken, who could stand up for the lost generation? Who can make you believe that this is real again? Who could buck the trend and achieve almost cult-like status? When it's us against the world, whose side do you want to be on?
ECW Hardcore TV was a noisy little show hidden away in the realms of regionalised television where you have to either stumble across it or hear it in the whispers of the believers. Like that dark, reputational bar that's buried in the back alley of your worst nightmare. Sandman would likely be the owner. Did he buy it? Did he take it? Who knows. But, it's his house. His no-nonsense partner, Woman, would gain stares from the regulars and cause Sandman to have a list of barred customers longer than his stack of unpaid bills and bar tab. Tommy Dreamer is the former high-school football star who has grown tired of people judging him on his looks and comes in for a quiet drink. The same regulars who draw ire from Sandman would most probably look at Dreamer with violent eyes for being who they no longer are. But after a while, Tommy would prove that the former pretty boy could be a pretty tough man.
Sandman & Dreamer have a passion in life to be themselves, be the best and be the alpha male. They're the Hogan & Flair of street fighters. When they come to blows, there won't be entourages or pageantry. There will be violence. There will be blood. There will be a fire started that could well spark a generation into revolution for seeing what they knew existed; but hadn't seen for so long, they almost stopped believing.
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Philadelphia crowds were labelled as hostile. They were a smart audience who rarely agree with 'The System' and actively fought against it. On the August 30th edition of ECW Hardcore TV, this would never be more evident. But, it would also be a time where it would change. Sandman and Tommy Dreamer were to compete in a contes... A matc... A fight; where the loser would be given ten shots of a Singapore Cane. Tommy would have the upper-hand, but ultimately Woman would steal the win for her man. Despite the best attempts from commissioner Todd Gordon for fairness, Dreamer would stand up to Sandman and take his beating in an act of defiance. Stood against the ropes while Woman goaded him and Sandman relished the opportunity to blast him with the weapon of choice; Dreamer would take his forfeit to the glee of the crowd. 'One, two, three...' "This can all end, Dreamer - bow down and kiss my feet." 'Four, five, six...' The crowd's cheers start to wane as Sandman draws visible, swollen, welts on Tommy's back. 'Seven, eight...' The first gasps are heard and the first jaws collapse. This was something different. 'Nine...' "Please sir, may I have another!" Sandman takes a run-up for, 'Ten.'. Dreamer lies bloodied, battered and beaten on the canvas as Sandman and Woman stand over his crumpled body. Extreme, if not already by name, was born.
This wasn't a one-off. It wasn't the peak of an ideal. It was a beginning. Sandman and Dreamer would later be scheduled for an I Quit match which would, in theory, bring a conclusion to this all-out warfare. Both sides cut vengeful promos in the lead up to the match, but no-one could have expected what was to come. The climax of the match saw Tommy Dreamer inadvertently push Sandman's lit cigarette back into his face, seemingly burning his eye. The ring would fill with officials and the whole ECW locker room. When the cameras pan to backstage, gimmicks and personas are left at the curtain. Sandman lies on the floor, Woman at his side. Dreamer shows an emotional side rarely seen as the viewers attempt to comprehend just what they have witnessed.
After this incident, as now widely known, Sandman did not leave his house for weeks in order to build the drama of this storyline. This is the level of involvement, passion and belief ECW bestowed upon its performers. Where they lacked funding, they offered heart. Where they lacked production, they offered soul. It has rarely, if ever, been replicated. On TV, a remorseful, sorrowful Tommy Dreamer stated his love and admiration for the Sandman and vowed to dedicate the remainder of his career to Sandman's legacy. Fans were urged to leave well wishes on the ECW Hardcore Phoneline. Woman would apparently drop all connection to her former talent, further enhancing the fans' relationship to both performers.
A renewed, positively despicable Tommy Cairo - who was last seen in the original 'Singapore Cane' feud with Sandman - entered the fold to square off with Dreamer. Their match at November To Remember would eventually be stopped due to the beating bestowed on Cairo from Dreamer, but this is not why November would be remembered. After the match, Sandman's retirement ceremony would play out live before the Philadelphia crowd. He was visibly bandaged and wearing over-sized sunglasses. Woman came to the ring to announce her new contracted talent. Unable to tolerate any more, Dreamer came out to stand up for his former foe. However, in truly one of the most amazing reveals in all of wrestling, Sandman would remove his sunglasses & bandages behind Dreamer's back and annihalate the youngster to a raucous reception from the audience. Woman would be representing... The Sandman. He was back.
Sandman teamed with Tommy Cairo and Dreamer aligned himself with Cactus Jack in the weeks that followed. The two rivals showed no signs of letting up on this white-hot feud, and with the new additions to the fold, it could literally go anywhere in 1995. Whilst this rivalry may not have presented the match quality of Bret-Owen or the glory of Flair-Hogan; I challenge you to offer a greater offering of classic moments & must-see spectacles than Sandman and Tommy Dreamer have provided in the late months of 1994. They have sparked a movement in this generation. And, it truly could be the genesis of a revolution.