Welcome to yet another history edition of the Phat Daily Column. Today, we'll take a trip back to the days of ECW's 1st ever Pay Per View, Barely Legal. Barely Legal represented a possible growth for ECW at the time, which could have pushed them up the wrestling ladder. A few talent raids here, a couple money problems there, and ECW was pushed out of the wrestling industry by 2001.
Speaking of ECW, I'm getting quite a handful of requests for an overall history of ECW column. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, but the problem is that I don't know JACK or SHIT about the very early days of ECW. I've actually never really read into it, hence that's why I might not do it.
I've got a lot to discuss, so on to the PDC!
In 1996, it was truly the year of the Raven. If you current WWF fans want to see a REAL Raven wrestle or act, get some ECW tapes, because he was one of the most vicious heels ever! The stuff he always did against Tommy Dreamer was just legendary, but his feud with the Sandman was just insane. The Sandman's popularity boomed because he was fighting the most hated villain, in Raven. Raven's actions towards inducting Sandman's very own family into his 'Nest' were some of the most shocking storylines you could see back then.
Then, you had the booming tag division. Without Public Enemy dominating the scene, other tag teams would step up, like the Eliminators and the Gangstas. Especially the Eliminators, who were slowly being noticed as one of the best tag teams in the land. Perry "Air" Saturn and "Hurricane" John Kronus had an array of spectacular moves, whether it involved martial arts, high flying moves, or high risk maneuvers. Speaking of high risk, the Gangstas also blossomed, but not as much as the Eliminators. ECW also paired the returning Sabu and the growing Rob Van Dam together for some incredible matches against the Eliminators (and one truly excellent match against Doug Furnas/Philip Lafon). After that, ECW felt a void in the tag division, so they formed the lethal tag team of D'Von Dudley and Buh Buh Ray Dudley, if you've ever heard of those two.
Stevie Richards, now "Steven" Richards of the WWF's Right To Censor, was booming at the end of 1996. He was one of the most hated wrestlers as Raven's flunky, and under Raven, the fans gave him no respect for any wrestling ability he had. Then, he created the Blue World Order. Yeah, that's a big New World Order rip off, but it did a hell of a lot for Stevie Richards. It instantly made him a fan favorite, and it gave him some much deserved singles matches to actually show his talents. Richards became a tough competitor with the BWO, and would grow to challenge his former mentor, Raven.
ECW's popularity, off of all of the great new personalities developed, exploded on the East Coast in 1996. Their infomercial show, or Hardcore TV as they later called it, began to pick up more and more viewers. Then, ECW expanded their travel schedule and went to new buildings which sold out quickly! With the weakening WWF, ECW was slowly becoming a power up in the North East to contend with! The WWF would know this, as they would strike a deal with them later in 1997. So with all of this popularity, whispers began about a possible ECW Pay Per View.
Well, the first big feud to really fuel this Pay Per View was Taz vs. Sabu. Notices the "Taz" there, as Time Warner had no problems with ECW using the name. However, when he went to the WWF, he was forced to add another "Z" to his name. Anyway, Sabu abruptly left ECW for a cheap stint in WCW, which didn't work out as planned. The company was said to be built especially around Sabu, since he took risks that nobody took back then and also made great use of tables. Eventually, Sabu came back to ECW, but a changed wrestler had a very big problem with that. Taz went through a major makeover back then, as he used to have longer hair and wrestled at a slightly different style. He shaved his head, and gained a new style to which he'd wrestle at a low center of gravity and use a lot more suplexes. He became the Human Suplex Machine. Taz would also become more of a vocal wrestler, which would really fuel his feud with Sabu.
ECW did the angle where everyone was happy to see Sabu back, BUT his former tag team partner, Taz. He wasn't going to accept Sabu back into ECW, and with his submission hold, the Tazmission, really becoming forceful, Taz made claims that he could easily choke Sabu out if he wanted to. After several confrontations, ECW fans wanted to see Sabu vs. Tazz in a one on one classic! So with that, Paul Heyman went ahead with the idea that ECW will hold a Pay Per View with Tazz/Sabu headlining the event. The show was set on April 13th, 1997, and eventually named "Barely Legal" to somehow catch other wrestling fans to watch the show.
Another feud was heating up, as well. Shane Douglas was having plenty of problems with the Pitbulls, and it all started from the TV title match involving Pitbull #2, Shane Douglas, 2 Cold Scorpio, and the defending champ, Chris Jericho. This match is on ECW's Path of Destruction video, which is truly an excellent one. The 4 way dance eventually wound down to Shane Douglas and Pitbull #2. At the end, the Pitbulls' manager, Francine doublecrossed them, and Shane Douglas DDTed (odd spelling, I know) Pitbull #1 on the title belt, "injuring his neck". Shane would win the match, but Pitbull #1 was out selling the injury, and that fueled this feud.
However, a returning legend added a HUGE spark to this match. A masked man appeared after a Douglas match, and with a 'ravishing' voice, he said he wanted to "FUCK with the Franchise". This masked man, really the late Ravishing Rick Rude gave this feud the intrigue it needed, since many wrestling fans grew up watching Rick Rude. Rude was fully behind the Pitbulls, and he promised to take off the mask if Pitbull #2 lost at Barely Legal.
I want to set aside some time to discuss Rob Van Dam. ECW, in 1996, molded RVD into a wreslter who had NO respect for his opponents. He once refused to shake Sabu's hand in their wonderful respect match, somewhere in the middle of 1996 or the fall of 1996. To make matters even worse, strange rumors were surfacing that the WWF and WCW were heavily interested in acquiring Rob Van Dam, to which Paul Heyman had an idea. Why not play off that this man might be the next ECW wrestler to leave, since many left before him? Since many wrestlers publicly told the fans where they were going, everyone believed what RVD was saying, and they began to chant "You Sold Out, You Sold Out!" RVD lived off of that, and it would catipult him into the spotlight for 1997.
Next, we had the Dudleys vs. Eliminators, which is actually one of my favorite feuds of ALL time. The ECW tag division was looking bad, especially after Sabu was more focused on the Taz feud, rather than to tag with Rob Van Dam. So in reality, ECW needed a tag team, and fast! So they did an angle after a Buh Buh vs. Sandman match where the outcast Dudley, D'von, would run down for another silly attack, and I guess Spike Dudley was there to save his "brother" Buh Buh. All 3 Dudleys were standing in the ring, and Buh Buh and D'von were staring each other down. Suddenly, both of them shared smiles towards another, and they both looked directly at Spike, as if they were hungry for blood. They were, and Spike received a nasty beatdown that night. Sign Guy would turn heel, too, and they'd gain Joel Gertner as a special ring announcer.
They quickly boomed up the tag ladder, as if there was much to climb. They found themselves with a shot against the Eliminators, to which they pulled off the shocking upset! As an early ECW fan, I was SHOCKED at how this one finished. While Perry Saturn was alone in the ring, and distracted, Sign Guy Dudley jacked him with a glass window from behind!!!!! Using a glass window for an foreign object is unheard of, and to see someone just bash it on another person just made my jaw drop. Eventually, the Dudleys would win the World Titles that night, thanks to a nice pile of interference. The Gangstas would get involved with this feud, setting up the famous 3 Way Dances I keep requesting ECW to put on their videos! Somehow, the Eliminators would get the #1 contenders spot (probably since the Gangstas lost most of those 3 way dances), and the great tag rematch was set for Barely Legal.
Finally, the World Title feud. Raven, the then current World Champion, needed an opponent for the Pay Per View. Well, he had his choice... Sandman totally hated him, since Raven took away his intermediate family! Tommy Dreamer especially hated him, since Raven always weaseled out of their matches. Stevie Richards was tired of putting up with Raven's abuse, and was ready to beat his mentor. Richards and Sandman were eventually named #1 contenders, but what about the third one?
That's where Terry Funk comes into play. Raven paid out a hit on the Funker, as he sent Prime Time Brian Lee to really beat the shit out of him. If you thought the Royal Rumble 1999 beatdown of Mankind with chairshots from the Rock was sickening, you should watch how many trashcans Brian Lee beats Funk down with. Hell, they somehow made Funk's ears bleed, which was just a horrifying scene. It pissed off the Funker to the point where he was calling on Raven, and Raven wasn't willing to give him a shot. Tommy Dreamer, who I guess was trained by Funk, wanted to give Funk the shot. Raven set up a match where he'd tag with Stevie Richards, I believe, where they'd face Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer. The stipulation was that if either Dreamer or Funk would pin Raven, they got a shot at Barely Legal.
During the match, Raven taunted Dreamer to pin him, so that Funk wouldn't get the contenders spot. The Psychology here was just unbelieveable. Funk would somehow get the pin on Raven, and it placed him as a contender for the title. Uh oh, we now had 3 World Title contenders. Somehow, Raven got a big break, and a 3 way dance was set up between Sandman, Terry Funk, and Stevie Richards to see who would get a shot at Raven later. Raven would be a fresh man, taking on the winner of the contenders match, who wasn't.
Before Barely Legal, Heyman needed some more publicity for his show. Heyman got together with Vince McMahon, and together, they teamed up to aim for WCW. The plan was to do an ongoing ECW invasion, which you saw with Rob Van Dam a few nights, and Sabu one night. The RAW is ECW episode is one that sticks out in my mind, which WWF fans got a whole mouthful of ECW. It was a good show to me, an ECW mark of the time, but it confused a lot of current WWF fans. But the plans were to keep doing the invasion, as we'll discuss after the video review.
So that's how the Pay Per View was set up, and now, we'll review the show!
We'll go match by match on this one.............
Eliminators vs. the Dudley Boyz for the World Tag Titles: I believe this match was purposely set up to showcase the Eliminators for anyone who didn't watch ECW on a regular basis. The Eliminators just hit many spots on the Dudleys Boyz, without the Dudleys returning any offense. It's a total elimination, really. After the match, Joel Gertner makes a funny claim that the Dudleys still won on points, to which he gets a Total Elimination for his efforts. If I'm not mistaken, I believe this Total Elimination first gave him the neckbrace, which he'd wear 3 years later!
Lance Storm vs. Rob Van Dam: Chris Candido was supposed to fight Storm here, but injury stopped that. Instead, Rob Van Dam was shoved into the mix, and after this match, he used the fact that he was a substitute wrestler to fuel his Mr. Monday Night gimmick. The match, itself, it a pretty solid one, although Lance Storm was still developing. Storm has the mullet going, too, which he'd eliminate once he became a more serious wrestler. Storm, too, was still new to the hardcore style of wrestling, which is shown by the weak chairshots given to RVD. The crowd lets him have it for that. Decent match overall, with some brutal Rob Van Dam chair moves.
Michinoku Pro 6 Man Action: Oh my God, what a match here!!! These 6 wrestlers, I believe, tore the house down at a previous ECW televised show, and they were gladly asked to come back...... only to be on the 1st ECW Pay Per View ever!!! TAKA Michinoku's team even converted to the Blue World Order, to I guess get the crowd chanting for one side. This is, easily, one of the best 6 man matches you'll ever see in your lifetime. The Japanese wrestler in the green shirt just took so much punishment in this match, it was unbelieveable! TAKA wrestled much better in this match than he has EVER in the WWF. This tape is worth buying possibly on this match alone. Seriously.
Shane Douglas vs. Pitbull #2 for the TV title: Zzzzzzzzzzz.... BORING!!! This match is simply horrible, as both wrestlers just look sloppy on hitting every move. From what I've heard, there were some communication problems within this match up, which really ruined it I guess? But the real highlight is at the end, after Shane Douglas won the match. The masked man had to reveal himself. As the masked man made his way down, you could notice how much "bigger" he was than before. Douglas attacked him, and ripped the mask off only to find out that it was his own Triple Threat member, Brian Lee! Rick Rude, who was dressed as a Swat Team member to protect Francine, rushed into the ring to help out Lee in their attack against Shane. It was quite a swerve back then.
Sabu vs. Taz: Now if you want a technical warfare like match, this is it. I'm sure many hardcore Sabu fans don't like it, since he doesn't hit his usual blown spots during this match. Sabu sells some of the sickest suplexes, though. Taz would eventually choke Sabu out, like he originally said he would. After the match, Taz and Sabu embrace each other, but only for Rob Van Dam to attack Taz from behind. Sabu would eventually join him, as would Bill Alfonso, Taz's manager. This trio was set up for the WWF angle, and it clearly pushed Taz as a face from here on out.
Terry Funk vs. Sandman vs. Stevie Richards: This is a pretty brutal 3 way dance, with all 3 wrestlers taking some nice punishment. Terry Funk would fight his way through this match, and barely survive to win it. He still had another match to fight........
Terry Funk vs. Raven for the World Title: Raven is the fresh man, and he purposely attacks Funk to kill him, and not to pin him. Tommy Dreamer is a guest commentator for this match, and Raven keeps tempting him to save Funk. You see, this is the GREAT Raven, and not the shell of the guy you currently see on WWF television. Eventually, Raven provokes Dreamer into coming down, and Dreamer fends off Big Dick Dudley and other Nest flunkies on the way down. Dreamer helps the Funker win the ECW Title, to a big crowd roar because Raven is *that* over as a heel.
LAST WORD: Out of all the ECW Pay Per Views, this one is my favorite. Decent matches with even better storylines made this solid, unlike the more recent ECW shows, with sort of weaker storylines. I'll give this one an
The Perry Saturn jumping was pretty key, as the showcasing on Barely Legal made the Dudleys look bad, a little bit. Perry would injure his leg, and use that as a way to jump to WCW. Hence, the Eliminators, the best tag team at the time, were history. With Raven gone, ECW had to rely on RVD and Sabu to be the heels, and they rode on the WWF heat. The WWF angle, by the way, busted when the WWF wasn't too happy with RVD or Sabu's attitudes backstage (along with their performances, too). The WWF angle became the main focus in ECW, but it was a joke because the lesser name WWF stars were invading, like Jerry Lawler, Brakus, or Furnas/Lafon.
After Barely Legal, Heyman spent a nice chunk of change to improve ECW's production, including a new entrance set up. Also, Heyman was now forced to pay higher wages to wrestlers, which hurts when you only tour 3 days a week in arenas that hold 2,000 fans. The great debt that was reported really started around this time, and it would keep growing, and growing, and growing.............
With the WWF angle sort of becoming lame, and quickly, ECW turned Rick Rude heel, as he joined the Shane Douglas, the man he joined ECW to mess with. It sort of hurt the credibility of the storylines. ECW then began to push wrestlers that wouldn't get the shot otherwise, like Al Snow. However, as Al Snow peaked, the WWF took him back. Even worse, the WWF grabbed up Rick Rude to rip away that storyline, too.
So in reality, the great momentum leading up to Barely Legal was quickly shot down after the show. It's the type of momentum that Paul Heyman was always trying to build up again, only to eventually see disaster. To me, ECW was always chasing what they once had or could have been. It eventually killed them, and now we have great tapes coming out to remind us of a great wrestling era that once was.
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@That's all for today. I hope you've enjoyed the ECW History column of Barely Legal, and I really hope my memory isn't fading, for that's where the whole column came from. I'll be back tomorrow with an actual scheduled column, giving you my Backlash predictions. Enjoy your weekend!
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