Introduction - This is a review I've wanted to do for a long time, because this is the show that inspired me to do regular retro reviews, despite Big Red Machine already having done it. This is because my copy has the pre-show on it, and I don't think a lot of reviews take into context what this show must've been like as it was presented on that day in 1997. So let's get started.
Intro - Between Paul doing VO with the countdown clock, the fuzzy TV E-X-T-R-E-M-E intro, and the use of White Zombie for their intro, it just brings me so much joy
Joey Styles gives us a crash course on ECW - This is so expertly done it gets its own. All new wrestling feds should be required to watch this before their first show. He says they aren't WWF or WCW, nor do they need to be. But, if you're a wrestling fan, sports fan, or action junkie, this is the show for you. This is a mega-important distinction to make.
New feds today are very happy to trumpet that they aren't WWE, but because they just assume smart marks are the only people watching they do minimal expansion on that idea. Joey tells us that if we like sports and action, we will like ECW. This makes it a show for everyone (over a certain age of course)
Joey runs down the card, In addition to short clips for every match we also see full footage from the time Shane Douglas yanked around Pitbull 1's neck halo. This is an all time great segment that everyone should watch in full if they can
Joey hypes Dudleyz vs Eliminators, which leads to "Fed Up" by House of Pain music video - Amazing, considering the Eliminators cameo in the video itself, even though there is a special Eliminators version that's played here.
We get another Paul interlude at the 15 minute mark who's screaming at this point, and then we get....
Sandman clips - He gets hit in the head with a chair, and wacks a guy with his cane. If this isn't a sell on how ECW is different I don't know what will.
Stevie Richards video package - This was awesome, effectively tells the story of Stevie
Terry Funk visits Dory Funk Sr's grave - He talks about his dad and family while simultaneously plugging the matches he's involved in. This was an awesome promo, also of note is that the piano intro part of Desperado loops over and over, meaning Paul Heyman figured out Youtube copyright algorithms before Youtube existed.
Joey explains that the Taz vs Sabu feud is one of jealousy. This throws to...
Taz and Sabu's confrontation - This is apparently the first time they confronted each other, Sabu saves Paul Heyman from being choked out via magically appearing when the lights go out. This was meh.
Joey makes one final pitch for the PPV. He is an expert salesmen.
Paul Heyman screams to ECW footage set to rap music - This is complete overload, but it works somehow? Now we're on to...
**The Main show**
Joey Styles tries to run down the card but is interrupted by the Dudleyz - Great! It introduces you to how big of prick bullies the whole gang is with very little. D-Von cuts a classic Dudleyz heel promo and then we get.
Opening video package - This is the 1997 version of the "This is Extreme" video package. This was awesome. This leads directly into
Joel Gertner promo: He's miffed about being interrupted by the opening video. Gertner cuts a relatively tame opening promo which leads to
ECW Tag Team Championship
The Eliminators vs The Dudley Boyz (w/ Sign Guy Dudley and Joel Gertner) - 8/10
Sign Guy takes a Total Elimination. The Dudleyz work over The Eliminators. The Eliminators fight back, and from here it's basically an Eliminators showcase of their strikes and flips they can do. Bubba eventually takes Total Elimination for the win.
This is an inversion of a Road Warrior squash, but also an inverse on a Ring of Honor squash, where the guys you'd expect to do the squashing get minimum offense, with lots of Japanese Junior division stuff. I'm sure even if you were trading tapes at the time this would've knocked you on your ass. It's sad that if such a match happened today, there would be one group of nerds saying they weren't flipping enough, and one group of nerds saying they were flipping too much. But in reality this was AWESOME
Post match - Gertner tries to declare the Dudleyz the winners but takes a total elimination. Everything about this sequence of events, from the cold open to here is absolute perfection. Sets the tone of the formula of a wrestling pay-per-view being all switched around for maximum impact and finesse in ring.
Sandman promo - GREAT. Introduces us exactly to who he is, and cuts a short promo about his opponents
Chris Candido interrupts the show: bad. He was supposed to wrestle Lance Storm but is either. Candido cuts a heelish promo about how much he was he was a big star but not advertised and not in the main event. He cuts a whiny promo about all the big stars in ECW. This leads right into
Lance Storm vs Rob Van Dam - 7.5/10
They show us who the face and who the heel is by trading breaks in the corner, and RVD doesn't break cleanly. This is pretty good character work for both men, RVD getting over that he's the cocky high flyer while Lance is the white meat babyface. RVD chucks a chair into Storm's face, ouch. Sliding Van Terminator! More big moves for Lance to kick out of, more chairs. Lance finally fires back Eventually we get that chair shot that everyone lampoons this match for, but it's followed up on by a powerbomb onto the chair and more chair offense. More weak chair shots from Storm....but it plays nicely into a Van Terminator out of nowhere. A standing moonsault gets the win for RVD.
I think people give this match a lot of undue crap, but it actually was on par with the tag match from earlier. The only part I didn't like was them going for O'Connor rolls and such after the chair barrage. special mention to Joey for really going above and beyond to plausibly cover up some botches.
Post match - Excellent RVD says wins like these mean more money for him here, and more money for him elsewhere. I like that he explains his desire to jump ship while simultaneously providing a reason for wrestling his hardest in ECW.
Paul Heyman narrates a Terry Funk video package - This was great. Also I love the emphasis they put on the "televised locker room brawl" between Funk and Raven, because stuff like this didn't happen every show.
Six Man Tag
BWO Japan (Taka Michinoku, Terry Boy, and Dick Togo) vs Great Sasuke, Masato YakushijI and Gran Hamada - 6.75/10
Oh God. I've become a puro snob. Alexa, play "Hurt" by Johnny Cash!
Jokes aside, I thought this match was okay. I guess because I'm used to seeing everyone wrestle much more technical matches instead of stuff that's more lucha based, I came away with more negative feelings than positive. Hamada and Great Sauske shined because they're awesome, but Yakushiji was a generic lucha dude, and the heels played just that generic heels. We do get fun, wacky triple teams but by the time we get to it this match has run its course. Thankfully the match becomes much more exciting when it's just Sasuke and Taka in there.
Post-match - There's a scuffle. This was pointless as it ends almost as quickly as it began.
Stevie Richards promo - Terrible. He cuts a promo about how he hated himself when he was Raven's lacky but that will be corrected tonight. The visuals are somber and monochrome while the music is upbeat. Blue Meanie comes in and cuts a silly promo.
Shane Douglas promo - Generic Shane Douglas faff, that at least ties it around to the feud. There's also a guy stalking Douglas in a mask that's totally not Rick Rude. Douglas is accompanied by riot guards
ECW TV Title, if Pitbull #2 loses, then the masked man must unmask
Shane Douglas (c) (w/Francine) vs Pitbull #2 - 4.5/10
This match has two halves. The first is each guy trying to break the other's neck. When Gary Wolf inevitably interferes the match becomes a babyface unstoppable badass versus a crafty heel. And barring some sloppy guard rail action this is all pretty cool They do A LOT of false finishes, and by that I mean they seemed to cycle through all of the weapon and interference spots they could think of. Which would've been forgivable if the babyface had won. But no Douglas wins with his finish.
Post match - Dumb Vince Russo crap. A clearly pre-recorded Rick Rude promo states he'll unmask but Shane should forfeit Francine or get his ass kicked. The masked man comes out with a Rick Rude robe on. He kisses Francine but gets wacked with the TV Title belt. One of the riot guards unmasks to reveal he's Rick, and the masked guy is Triple Threat stablemate Brian Lee, who chokeslams Shane. The crowd loved it, as they just wanted to see Rick, but this whole thing reeks of a bad TNA swerve.
Raven promo - Good. Interesting to here a top heel acknowledge jaded fans of there's and how they want the heel to win.
Taz and Bill promo - GREAT. Full of hatred and heel scummery, with a hint of masochism
Sabu vs Taz (w/ Team Taz and Bill Alphonso) - 7/10
The story of the match at first was that they were trying to outdo each other, with a lot of stiff punches mixed in. It really got over how all around good a wrestler Taz is, so much so that Sabu's only advantage was high flying, and Taz was tactical enough to exploit this and tough enough to ward off the offense of a mad man. On the other hand, in the latter part of the match it got over how strong Sabu was, putting over how he could take several neckbreaking suplexes at once and continue to fight. This match would have been an 8 if not for the finish
Post match - Taz admits his respect for Sabu and they shake hands, Rob Van Dam runs down and attacks Taz. Sabu and RVD tease a fight but Sabu saves Rob from a Tazplex, and the two work together to put Taz through a table. Fonzie also turns because he bet money on Sabu, and managing Rob to the other promoters on Mondays would make him a lot of money. THIS is how you do a swerve.
Tommy Dreamer and Beulah join Joey on commentary for...
3 way dance, Winner faces Raven for the ECW Title
Stevie Richards (w/ the BWO) vs Terry Funk vs The Sandman - 8.5/10
This is one of the first triple threat matches in history so the match is handled as if three people were fighting simultaneously. The hardcore spots have the realism of Shawn Michaels vs Razor at WMX, but if they were both insane and one was drunk. Just wacky dangerous spots that only work for this moment in time. Stevie is eliminated after a long showing, barbed wire is introduced, and then he assists in Sandman's elimination, I didn't like this. But I loved this match.
This leads us to...
ECW World Championship
Raven (c) vs Terry Funk - No rating, amazing segment
Terry gets his ass kicked, then Raven threatens to break Terry through three tables off the crow's nest. Big Dick attacks Tommy, gets a chokeslam reversed and goes through the tables himself. Tommy then hits Raven with the DDT which allows Terry to pick up the pin. This wasn't a match per se but a segment that got all three characters over.
This is a must watch show from ECW. If you can find a version with the pre-show included, do it if for no other reason than to watch Joey Styles at his best. Beyond that, every storyline up and down the card is dripping with character and drama, and even the weaker matches entertain because of it,