John Cena vs. Rob Van Dam for the WWE Championship
For its entire run, ECW had its fair share of stars that may not have made it in either of the big two of WWE or WCW, but they were able to find their footing in ECW and become names. This theory was proven at least in some fans’ minds as those that left ECW for the other two like Sabu, Sandman, Shane Douglas, Tazz, etc., would either be booked poorly or given ridiculous characters. They would either underachieve in the big two and when they returned to ECW, the exact opposite happened as they would dominate the company. However, I think that many would say if anyone could buck this trend when he was picked up by one of the big two, it was Rob Van Dam. It was clear that when he first showed up in ECW in 1996 he had star potential, and he would become one of ECW’s biggest stars by winning the tag titles with Sabu and having the longest reigning TV Title reign in ECW history. He was also on the forefront of ECW’s invasion of WWE as it was here that he was officially dubbed “Mr. Monday Night.” He seemed on the fast track to become the franchise player of ECW, but an ankle injury slowed him down and when he was back in the fold, ECW went out of business.
When RVD signed with WWE and debuted as part of the ECW contingent during the Invasion in 2001, many saw him as the next major star for the company as he was the hottest guy in the whole angle. However, those same fans would believe that this would no longer happen as he went on to lose in his first main event at No Mercy, and as 2001 ended he was relegated to the midcard. He would build up a solid resume by winning the IC Title and Tag Titles on multiple occasions and remaining a focal point of RAW and SmackDown, but it was the thought of many fans that his window to be a main-eventer was closed for good. It had gotten to the point that he was being called by many the greatest wrestler to never win the World Title, and it was unclear if he ever would. He would suffer an injury at the end of 2004 which put him out for all of 2005, including missing the first ECW One Night Stand which ate at RVD. Since making his return in 2006, it was clear that he was being re-pushed as he would have a great run in the Rumble and made it to the finals of the Road to WrestleMania tournament. At WM, he would win the Money in the Bank briefcase and then he would win the IC Title once more at Backlash, though he would lose it a month later. However, the big question now was: would RVD finally grab the brass ring thanks to the briefcase or would the glass ceiling still be too thick? Another question a lot of people were asking was: would RVD become a long-term player or would this be more of a quick lifetime achievement award? With the announcement of ECW being added as a third brand, though, there were a lot of questions.
The build for this match began the night after WrestleMania when RVD said he would not wait as long as Edge did to cash in the briefcase and that when he would cash it in, he would do it somewhere “extreme.” On the 5/22 RAW, RVD teased cashing in on John Cena before telling him that he would cash in at One Night Stand, then hitting a Van Daminator on Cena. The next week, RVD was officially chosen as the first draft pick for ECW and Paul Heyman insinuated that if RVD won the WWE Title, it would be rechristened the ECW Title. On 6/5, the two men had the official contract signing with Cena being laid out by the ECW stars, and two nights later on the special WWE vs. ECW Head to Head show RVD would defeat Rey Mysterio and Cena would defeat Sabu.
This was an interesting position as these two men had to follow the wild six-person brawl, but it was clear that the crowd was not going to die anytime soon as they were completely crazy the whole night. Needless to say, RVD gets possibly one of the biggest pops from the crowd as he is brimming with confidence being in his environment, but then Cena makes his defiant entrance to the loudest heat anyone ever had. Cena deserves a lot of credit for thrusting himself in this as it was clear the crowd wanted his blood. I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the now infamous “If Cena Wins, We Riot” sign as I’m sure there were some fans at home that almost wanted to see Cena win just to see if they would go through with a riot. In another one of the most memorable moments of the match, Cena tries to toss his t-shirt into the crowd multiple times only for the fans to throw it back at him. Looking at him, I’m sure he was a little bit unsettled though I think deep down he was loving the fact that he could troll the crowd like this. The heat for this is just off the charts and I think by this point, the crowd was trumping themselves from the previous year’s show.
The crowd continues to get on Cena’s case as the two men lock up to start with Cena backing RVD into the corner and pounding on him; he whips RVD into the corner before hitting a fisherman’s suplex for a two count as the crowd chants “You Can’t Wrestle.” Cena starts getting amused by the fans as he and RVD lock up with Cena hooking a headlock, and he knocks RVD down and catches a kick attempt before ducking an enzurgiri only for RVD to hit a reverse kick. Cena rolls outside to regroup as RVD soaks up the crowd’s love; Cena returns to the ring and they get in each other’s faces before trading blows, with RVD knocking down Cena. I have to say that Styles and Tazz have been really good so far during the match as they are solidly behind RVD, but they do give Cena his props even as they question whether the crowd is getting to him. Cena reverses a whip and hits a big powerslam for a two count, and then he clotheslines RVD over the top to the floor as the crowd now chants “Same Old Shit” at Cena. Cena goes up top and nails an elbow to the back of RVD before ramming him into the apron, and he pounds on RVD before ramming him into the table. Cena holds the title belt up as a sign of defiance to the crowd only for RVD to block a ram into the steps, nail Cena, and the crowd chants “Overrated” at Cena as RVD hits a moonsault off the steps onto him. RVD goes for a chair only for Cena to nail him and whip RVD into the guardrail, which also wipes out a cameraman, but RVD catches Cena with a boot and leaps onto the guardrail only for Cena to shove him into the crowd. Cena goes into the crowd and grabs a “Funk You Cena” sign which he punches into RVD’s face in a funny spot, and tosses RVD back to ringside only for RVD to catch Cena with a shot and drape him across the guardrail. RVD leaps onto the apron and hits the corkscrew legdrop onto Cena, then rolls back into the ring and hits a baseball slide on Cena who tried to get back into the ring. RVD hits a slingshot guillotine legdrop onto Cena and brings a chair into the ring, and then hits the running Van Daminator on Cena in the corner for a two count.
RVD hits a spinning legdrop on Cena before putting the chair onto Cena’s body and he hits the Rolling Thunder for a two count. I like how they have done this slow build to the weapons much like a traditional ECW match in the 90s. RVD hits a front powerslam on Cena and puts the chair on his body again, but Cena gets his knees up on the split-legged moonsault and he drives the chair into RVD. Cena gets a kick in and spikes RVD with a stiff DDT onto the chair for a two count, and a note that I think got missed was that Cena used the ropes for leverage which was a cool touch. The crowd again chants “You Can’t Wrestle” at Cena as he grabs the chair and wedges it in the corner, and then he slingshots RVD into the chair in a nasty spot for a two count. I liked how they had RVD get the advantage early and that Cena withstood the onslaught, and now he gets to do the heat segment on RVD to build towards his comeback. The crowd continues to get on Cena’s case as he starts to get cocky and almost eggs them on, hitting the spinout powerbomb on RVD and laughing at the crowd. He taunts RVD and hits the Five-Knuckle Shuffle as the crowd chants “Asshole” at him, and he now starts embracing the hate of the crowd, and quite frankly it was pretty cool seeing Cena act like this. Cena looks for the F-U only for RVD to slide off of him and hit a spin kick, but Cena recovers first and pounds on RVD in the corner. He whips RVD into the corner only for RVD to catch him with a boot to the face; he leaps to the top rope, but Cena grabs him first and hits a big powerbomb for a two count. The crowd chants “You Still Suck” at Cena though you have to wonder if they just don’t want to admit that they are no longer getting under his skin like at the start of the match. Cena blocks a kick attempt only for RVD to duck a shot and hoist Cena up and attempt to put him on the top rope, only for Cena to fall to the floor. Cena gets on the apron as RVD pounds on him before hitting a dropkick that sends Cena into the guardrail.
RVD goes outside and grabs a table from under the ring which he puts into the ring, and he props the table up in the corner only for Cena to trip him up and lock in the STFU. Styles and Tazz beg RVD not to tap and the crowd chants “RVD” to try to motivate him, and RVD finally reaches the ropes to force a break which wouldn’t make sense if there are no rules. Cena hangs onto the hold until the ref pulls him off of RVD and the two exchange shoves before Cena hits a clothesline on the ref. RVD goes up top only for Cena to crotch him on the top rope. Cena goes up himself and hits a big superplex on RVD before rolling outside and bringing the steps into the ring, and he grabs the steps and nails RVD right in the face with the steps. He throws the steps out of the ring as a SmackDown referee comes out, but RVD kicks out before three and Cena goes for the F-U only for RVD to grab the ropes, and Cena dumps him over the top to the floor. Just then, a man in a motorcycle helmet and leather jacket jumps into the ring and hits a Spear on Cena that puts him through the table, knocks the ref out, and takes the helmet off to reveal himself as Edge, who was the Number One Contender for the title. The crowd chants “Thank You Edge” which is pretty hypocritical since they were begging for his blood two matches ago, but their tone on him changed since he may’ve just helped RVD win. He pulls Cena to the center of the ring and heads to the back as RVD goes up top and hits the 5-Star Frog Splash as Paul Heyman comes out to be the ref. RVD gets the three and we have a new champion as the crowd goes absolutely insane. The post-match celebration is pretty cool as RVD first celebrates with the fans and his wife, who’s in the crowd, then celebrates in the ring with the ECW stars and Heyman in a pretty memorable moment.
Overall, the match itself was very good as both men worked hard and put on a really fun match. As I mentioned, it played out very similar to an old school ECW match that started slow and built up to the big finish with the weapons, though there weren’t many used. Those that follow RVD know that he didn’t use many weapons aside from the occasional chair and table, though. RVD was still very good in the ring at this point, but a lot of credit as to go to Cena for going into the viper’s nest and holding his own. I think the crowd was getting to him a bit at first, but after a few minutes he looked past it and at times was pretty amused by the crowd, acting in a way that he hasn’t acted since getting the mega push. The ending was a bit weird as the Edge interference seemed a bit unusual since he was so anti-ECW, but I guess he did it just to screw Cena over as payback for earlier in the year. As I mentioned, it is pretty hypocritical of the crowd to chant for Edge after what happened two matches ago, but again that’s the beauty of this crowd. The real thing to ponder here as mentioned was whether this was simply a token title win for RVD instead of it being RVD’s break through the glass ceiling. It was a bit obvious that this was more to get over the new brand of ECW and that RVD was going to be the feature guy on that show. You also had to wonder how this win would’ve gone over somewhere else as the energy of the crowd helped carry this match up as well. RVD was still pretty over with the fans, but if this win happened in a different city on a different night the reaction may not have been the same. For now, RVD is the WWE Champion and it seemed like the sky was the limit for ECW, though time would tell if they could succeed.
Final Grade: ****