In case you didn’t know, Justin Rozzero has a rather large treasure trove of VHS, DVD and magazine goodness ranging across a variety of spectrums. In this regular piece, Justin will grab a random treasure from the chest and provide running commentary for our entertainment.
History of ECW: 2/25/96
WWE 24/7 Tape 89, February 2008
The History of ECW series is a staple of WWE Classics On Demand, around since the very beginning and still going on today. The shows always start with a host (or hosts) in a studio decked out like a back alley. Tazz was the original host, introducing and providing insight all by himself. After Joey Styles joined WWE in late 2005, he joined the fun. That is the duo in place here in February 2008. I always enjoy Tazz & Styles in these pieces as they have a natural chemistry, knowledge of ECW and lots of inside jokes and quick wit. They recap last week’s entry and preview what is to come here. With that, we head to the show.
The program kicks off with highlights from last week, when Raven confronted Tommy Dreamer about impregnating his girlfriend Beulah McGillicutty. It was a hot segment, with Raven threatening some intense punishment on Dreamer’s Little Tommy. Raven was really locked in at this point, delivering some of his greatest promos and psychology of his career. Dreamer was a perfect foil. During the segment, Tommy’s backup, the Bruise Brothers, turned their backs on him and wiped him out. You will also know the Brothers as the Harris Twins, or Skull & 8-Ball, or Jacob & Eli Blu, or Jared & Jason Grimm, or Pat & Gerald, or just Ron & Don. Tommy had brought them in to help protect him against Raven’s Flock, but it looks like Raven was able to brainwash them. Raven is ECW World Champion here. Up in the bird’s nest, Joey Styles recaps and sets up the show before we get the opening video. All of the matches on tonight’s show are from the Cyberslam 1996 card, which took place on February 17 in Philadelphia.
Next up, Raven is in a dressing room, sitting in a corner with the Harris Boys. He asks Tommy if he really thought that two men that had been railroaded by the Man would ever get Dreamer’s back. Of course, he is referencing the Harris Boys getting dumped from WWF once at this point, after a run as the Blus. Kimona Wanalaya comes in and takes her jacket off, showing Raven her goodies as he wraps up the promo. Only in ECW can we have a name like Kimona Wanalaya and have it seem completely normal.
We switch gears as Joey talks about the shocking debut of Brian Pillman last week, who showed up unannounced and cut a wild promo. We then get Fan Cam footage of Pillman showing up at a recent live event as well. Brian Pillman was still employed by WCW at this point, but was working his free agent loose cannon gimmick, where he acted like he quit WCW and was trying to get a job elsewhere. Of course, life would imitate art a month later, but for now Pillman was simply living the gimmick. He shows up here smoking a cigarette and taking pictures with a camera as Raven and Shane Douglas wrestled in the ring. Douglas goes out to confront him but security gets in between them to prevent anything physical. Pillman was one of the hottest stars in the business at this point in 1996, as he was part of the reborn Horsemen and his manic antics made for a ton of entertaining TV. He could also still go in the ring, as injuries hadn’t wrecked his body yet.
Time for our first match, as the “Italian Stallion” JT Smith makes his way out, waving a mini Italian flag. Joey takes great umbrage with Smith’s claims, considering they are in the hometown of Rocky Balboa. For those not up on their ECW history, Smith is African-American but was part of the Full Blooded Italians stable, made up of guys that clearly were not Italian. His opponent is Axl Rotten. Rotten was a well known masochistic brawler with little else in the way of talent. Smith meets him outside the ring, but before he can blink an eye, Rotten is bludgeoning him with various weapons. Axl often teamed, and many times also feuded, with his brother Ian. At this point, Rotten is just taking weapons from the fans and punishing Smith with them. Joey tells us this is a “Sicilian Grudge Match” but it has pretty much been a side of zucchini. Smith finally turns things around by slamming Rotten’s skull to the floor. We see former boxing champion Leon Spinks at ringside looking like a homeless guy. He had a hoodie on with the hood up and a green jacket on over it and was quite unkempt looking. Spinks was a gold medalist at the 1976 Olympiad in Montreal and finished his pro career at 26-17-3. The crowd sure is hot for Rotten as he retakes control. Of course, Spinks’ biggest win came on February 15, 1978 when he defeated the Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Smith grabs a chair and heads to the top rope but slips and falls to the mat. This was a regular occurrence for Smith, as he was known for botching spots and being clumsy. Once he finally embraced it, the fans bought into him. However here, there was some trickery involved as he faked the fall and as soon as Rotten turned his back, Smith popped up and drilled him with the chair to pick up the unlikely win. I didn’t see that coming at all, as it looked like a Rotten squash from the moment the bell rung. Smith beats on Rotten until Hack Myers comes out to make the save. Smith is getting cocky now, grabbing a mic and messing with Myers before pelting Hack in the face with it. I don’t think I have ever seen Smith get this much shine. Smith continues to hammer on Myers until The Shah comes back with his rally of punches. Myers was called The Shah because that was the noise he would make when he threw those punches and the crowd caught on. The three way brawl continues to the floor until we take a break.
After that we head to Joey, who sets up tonight’s main event between Shane Douglas and Cactus Jack. He talks about their history training together under Dominic DeNucci. Joey also notes that they flew in referee Brian Hildebrand to work the match. Hildebrand was also a DeNucci graduate and had been working in Smokey Mountain Wrestling before it closed up shop. By the end of the year, he would be working in WCW as referee Mark Curtis.
Main Event time now. Cactus is in the ring but has his back turned, allowing Douglas to jump him from behind. The two men took quite divergent paths out of DeNucci’s school, but they found each other here in Philadelphia in 1995. Cactus is wearing a suit, as he was in the midst of his “Anti-Hardcore” phase, denouncing the wild brand of wrestling he helped make famous and openly campaigning for a job with “Uncle Eric” and WCW. By this point, Jack had signed on with the WWF and had already debuted in televised vignettes as Mankind, with the first airing on the 1/29 Monday Night Raw. In a great piece of brilliance, Jack is wearing a t-shirt with Eric Bischoff airbrushed on the front and “Forgive Me, Uncle Eric” written on the back. The fans chant “Mankind Sucks”, which I think most smart fans felt at the time, upset that he wasn’t going into the WWF as Cactus Jack. Douglas had extra anger here due to his hatred of all things WWF. He had a run there in late 1995 as Dean Douglas, but thanks to some politics backstage, he was never given much of a push before being dumped at the turn of the year. He quickly returned home to Philly, where he had built himself into “The Franchise” after arriving there in 1993. It was a pretty radical change for Douglas, who went from pretty boy babyface to angry, gritty, vulgar veteran overnight.
Douglas is dominating this one, and at one point dove off the rope and onto Jack, who was past the barricade and among the fans. Douglas is targeting the knee, trapping Jack’s leg in it and splashing it from the middle rope. The fans try to get on Douglas’ case by chanting “Ahmed Johnson”, the name of the man Douglas was feuding with before he left the WWF. Johnson was pretty hot himself at this point, having taken the WWF by storm in November and quickly ascending up the ladder. Jack finally turns the table and starts stomping away at Douglas. Jack was in really good shape here as he had slimmed down a bit and got his cardio in order ahead of his run as Mankind. Jack starts destroying Shane’s knee, battering it to the point where Shane can’t even stand. I never understood why Hildebrand wore suspenders when he refereed. It was always an odd look, along with his mullet. When he was in WCW, he always stood out for his crazy mannerisms and energy and from all accounts was a super nice guy and a wrestling fanatic. It was a sad day when he passed away from cancer, and I bet he would have been a ton of fun in today’s interactive and social media based wrestling world.
And speaking of Hildebrand, he gets involved here, handing Douglas a pair of handcuffs, which Douglas uses to knock Jack cold before locking his hands together. Cactus tries to fight his way up, but Douglas just murders him in the head with a series of chair shots. This is just as uncomfortable to watch as the other times Foley would do it later in his career. Douglas has to be closing in on ten chair shots, but Jack won’t stay down. Douglas grabs a mic and taunts Jack and then tells Hildebrand to ask Jack if he quits. Jack refuses, so the chair shots continue. In between shots, Jack calls for help from his old friend and tag team partner, Mikey Whipwreck. Cactus still won’t quit, so Douglas just keeps unloading. This is nuts, as every shot is unprotected and to the skull. Shane finally drops the chair and hooks on a figure four. Mikey finally does show up but turns on Jack and smashes him across the face with another chair. Man, that was a brutal and gross beating all around. Joey notes that Douglas and Whipwreck both settled their grudges with Foley on the same night and also puts over Shane for being so calculated and dangerous even though he doesn’t always show it. Douglas celebrates as we cut back to the studio, where Styles & Tazz again go over the history between Foley & Douglas for us.
We then go back to 1996 Styles, who recaps the previous match. He sends us to the ring for our next match, featuring…Taz. Taz is wrestling a diminutive jobber named Joel Hartgood. Hartgood has some interesting tattoos and not much else going on. Taz is wrecking him right now as Joey reminds us that Taz ran 911 out of ECW. He is chucking clotheslines around like nothing and then murders him with a Tazplex. Hartgood is on dream street as Bill Alfonso blows his whistle right in his grill. Taz hooks in the Tazmission and gets the easy win. The crowd was buzzing throughout that one, adding to a pretty cool atmosphere. Taz had just returned to the ring in December after rehabbing from a major neck injury. It was then that he changed his look and name from the Tasmaniac gimmick. A few jobbers come out to stave of Taz, but he wipes them all out. Mikey comes out next and he is all over Taz, keeping him rocking but Taz catches him as he comes off the top rope and plants him with a suplex. Taz hooks the Tazmission on until Mikey is cooked.
That is followed by a promo from Shane Douglas. Shane has quite the gaudy Franchise jacket on. He has some Life Lessons for us, which is basically a spoof of the lessons he gave as Dean Douglas. He jokes about beating up Foley and then takes some shots at Pillman and claims that he himself is a Loose Cannon, and we see footage that backs that claim up. Douglas has the perfect example of what haircuts in 1996 looked like. He also talks about Tommy Dreamer and the lesson he learned the hard way recently. Douglas leaves the building and we transition over to Dreamer, who is slumped in a corner, talking about how he is a marked man. He talks about the deal he made with Douglas: if anything happens to Dreamer, Douglas is to get Beulah and his unborn child out of harms way. Chilling promo to close out the show, and it really puts over the gravity of the feud with Raven.
Tazz & Styles wrap us up and take us out from the studio. That is it for this episode of History of ECW.
That is also a wrap for JR’s Treasure Trove. Please come back again and join me as I continue digging through my closets full of nostalgia, exclusively here on Place to Be Nation!