The SmarK Retro Repost – Barely Legal

– I get a LOT of requests for this show, so I figured that since I was taping it for someone anyway, I’d do the long-awaited rant on it. For those not aware, this was ECW’s first ever and much anticipated PPV debut in April of 1997, with Sabu and Taz having built an issue for the previous year and a half to lead up to it.

– Live from the Bingo Hall.

– Your host is Joey Styles.

– Opening match: The Dudley Boyz v. The Eliminators. The DUDs interrupt Joey’s opening spiel and we’re underway. Sign Guy takes Total Elimination right off the bat and the DUDs jump the Elims and get a two count on Kronus with a Rockerplex. They go for 3D early and miss, and the Eliminators get a chance to showcase their flashy double-team stuff, which in retrospect was 100% Saturn and Kronus carefully following his lead. In retrospect, I have to say that all those people buying into Paul Heyman’s “Greatest tag team in the world” hype about Saturn & Kronus are looking pretty silly given how useless John Kronus turned out to be. Long stall period, then Saturn & Kronus each moonsault onto the Dudleys on the floor. Back in and more spot showcasing from the challengers, with the Dudleys getting no offense. It’s basically a squash disguised as a tag title match, which I’m betting Paul is regretting looking back on it, because Saturn bolted for WCW very soon after this, while the Dudleys stuck with him for another two years. Total Elimination unceremoniously finishes Buh Buh at 6:30. Just a bunch of spots, which earns my standard rating for that type of match: *1/2 Joel takes Total Elimination, thus injuring his neck, an injury which he still has today. Man, what a trooper.

– Chris Candido comes out and whines about being injured, thus taking him off the PPV. Instead of Storm v. Candido, we get

– Lance Storm v. Rob Van Dam. Headlock sequence to start goes nowhere. RVD pulls out a nice tope con hilo as the first highspot. Rob was not what you’d call over yet. As a sidenote, I managed to create a pretty damn good RVD in Wrestlemania 2000 yesterday, using Test’s outfit and Ken Shamrock’s boots. The main problem was finding a taunt where he pointed at himself. Anyway, flying legdrop gets two. Lance retaliates with a springboard elbow, but misses a pescado. They fight on the floor for a bit and Rob finds a chair. A chair tossed at Storm gets a pop. He dropkicks Storm in the face with the chair in the corner for good measure. Frog splash (which was only around **1/2 at that time instead of *****) gets two. Storm hits a neat inverted powerslam on the chair to come back. Handspring splash in the corner and bodypress gets two. Storm tries a Boston crab, but it’s Philadelphia so RVD escapes. Storm then annoys the hell out of the crowd by hitting a chairshot that’s on par with Erik Watts’ dropkick. The crowd soundly boos that one. A tiger bomb on the chair gets two. RVD blows a springboard elbow for two. Storm hits another pair of pussed-out chairshots (who does he think he is, Hulk Hogan?) but RVD catches him on the third try with the VanDaminator, and a superfluous backflip splash gets the pin at 10:07. Another bunch of spots in lieu of a match. *3/4

– Rob does his standard “no respect” speech from that time period and bitches about playing second fiddle to Candido. At that time, Rob was doing shots on Monday Night RAW, squashing Jeff Hardy in one match. Oddly, Hardy is now a bigger star than Rob, who despite being “Mr. Monday Night” hasn’t worked a Monday night show since 1997. Irony can be so darned ironic sometimes.

– Gran Hamada, The Great Sasuke & Masato Yakushiji v. Men’s Teioh, Dick Togo & TAKA Michinoku. The Power Ranger is subbing for Gran Naniwa here. Hamada kills Taka to start and the faces triple-team him. Sadly, Joey didn’t yet grasp the proper pronunciation of “Sasuke”. KDX does its series of triple-teams and posing. Togo gets a FAT-ASSED SENTON~! for two on Yakushiji and they work him over for a while. Hamada comes in and things REALLY pick up. Sasuke and Teioh do one of those “sound and fury signifying nothing” tumbling sequences that ECW fans seem to always pop for. Nice spot next as Taka escapes a half crab from Sasuke and wiggles into an enzuigiri in one motion. Sasuke plays face-in-peril as KDX does the Togo muscle pose. Teioh nails a killer spinning DDT, then Yakushiji comes in and gets MURDERED. Triple-team powerbomb gets two on him. They try the same thing on Sasuke and blow it, the only bad spot of the match. Sasuke moonsaults onto both Togo & Teioh and gets two. The ending sequence begins with everyone pairing off two-by-two. Teioh pulls out an inverted atomic drop on Hamada from the top rope! Yakushiji then takes a DDT and one of my favorite moves ever, the MIRACLE ECSTASY BOMB! Gotta love those Japanese move names. Togo and Hamada go next. Gran hits a DDT for two, Togo gets a powerbomb for two. He tries the senton bomb to finish, but Sasuke breaks it up. Yakushiji hits a flying rana and a tope suicida, and now it’s Taka and Sasuke. Michinoku Driver #2 gets two. Sasuke catches him coming off the top and moonsaults him for two. Powerbomb and tiger suplex finishes it for the faces at 16:55. This match, ladies and germs, is why I watch wrestling. ****3/4 Trust me, if you watched and enjoyed this match, get everything you can from Michinoku Pro around that time period, because IT’S ALL GOOD.

– ECW World TV title: Shane Douglas v. Pitbull #2. The story: Shane is a jerk who broke Pitbull #1’s neck and then tormented him during the healing process, and his partner wants revenge. Plus Shane was being stalked by a, ahem, mysterious masked man even though his identity was the worst-kept secret in wrestling. But on the off-chance you don’t know who it is, I won’t spoil it yet. The stip here is that if Pitbull doesn’t win the title, the masked man has to unmask. Riot cops are at ringside to protect Shane, in a bit that Vince Russo has now stolen twice, once in the WWF and once in WCW. Finally, in case you haven’t heard the story behind the actual match itself, Pitbull #2 is the DDP type, in that he likes to have the match scripted out beforehand, while Shane always insists on calling the match himself. The result was such a car wreck that I used it in the FAQ as the best example of mismatched styles. The match has almost no heat as they plod along best they can. The psychology is there on Shane’s part as he works on the neck, but Pitbull suddenly shrugs it off and comes back, and it’s never brought up again. Pitbull #1 is sitting at ringside and he jumps Douglas, but the riot squad drags him off. Meanwhile, back in the ring a piece of rail gets involved and they blow the spot. Pitbull makes the superman comeback but Shane uses a chair, knuckle dusters, the ringbell, and a hunk of table to subdue him long enough to go for the chain. Yeah, because lord knows if a chair, knuckle dusters, the ringbell and a table didn’t put him down, certainly a CHAIN would stand a better chance. Chris Candido runs interference and Shane hits that most devastating of finishers, the BELLY-TO-BELLY OF DEATH, for the pin at 20:38. Yes, you read that right, Paul E actually gave this mess TWENTY MINUTES. He has since apologized to everyone for doing so. ½*

– The masked man (looking pretty fat) comes out to be unmasked as Shane’s flunky Brian Lee. One of the riot squad reveals himself to be Rick Rude, and Lee and Rude beat Shane down. Both Lee and Rude would jump to the WWF shortly after this.

– Notable Raven promo in that he uses the phrase “Powers To Be” at one point, thus showing exactly whose fault that one is

– Taz v. Sabu. This was actually supposed to happen six months prior, but Torch reporter Bruce Mitchell sent PPV companies a tape of the crucifixion angle and the PPV ended up getting delayed until 1997 because of it. Slugfest to start here and they do a wrestling sequence. Taz gets an anklelock. He goes into a crossface and busts Sabu open very quickly into the match. They head into the crowd and Sabu hits a plancha. Back in the ring and Taz control on the mat. Sabu makes his chair-assisted comeback. Taz puts a stop to that. Back to the floor, and Sabu goes through a table. Back in and Sabu hits a rana for two and a top rope legdrop. It’s all for naught as Taz drops him on his head with a Tazplex or two and hooks the Katahajime for the submission at 17;45. Incredibly disappointing given the Sting/Hogan-like buildup. Match had no heat, either, oddly enough. **1/4

– A great angle follows the match, however, as Taz offers the handshake to Sabu and they have a male bonding moment. Rob Van Dam attacks, however, and Sabu suddenly decides to join in, and we have a double-turn. They start to go after Fonzie after destroying Taz, but Fonzie pulls off his Taz shirt to reveal a Sabu shirt. It turns out that he bet money on the match, but on SABU, not his own man. Van Dam gives the “PPV Superstar” speech, another big moment for him.

– Sandman v. Stevie Richards v. Terry Funk. Lots of chops to start, and Stevie gets two off a rollup on Funk. Sandman helps Stevie by suplexing him onto Funk, then double-crosses him by suplexing him, period. He disappears to the back and brings a ladder back with him. Funk takes it in the head for two. Terry climbs the moonsault and does an alleged moonsault off it onto Stevie, missing by a foot. Stevie sells it anyway. Stevie superkicks Sandman for two, then Sandman takes his patented upside-down bump to the ladder. Sandman & Stevie fight up the ladder and Funk knocks both off. He puts the ladder on his shoulders and swings wildly, knocking everyone out. Funk and Sandman slug it out, and Stevie comes off the top and nails both. Steviekick on Sandman gets two, prompting a big “bullshit” chant from the partisan crowd. Guess Paul underestimated how over the bWo was? They all fight to the floor and Sandman disappears again, returning with a trash can. Stevie gets suplexed on it for two. Sandman legdrops him under the ladder for two. They screw up another spot with the ladder, then Funk & Sandman hit a double-team powerbomb on Stevie and pin him. That just deflates the crowd even more. Sandman tosses some barbed wire into the ring, and gets whipped with it by Funk. Sandman wraps himself in it, and legdrops Funk off the top for two. Stevie tries to interfere, allowing Funk to put the trash can on Sandman’s head. A Steviekick and Funk moonsault finishes it at 19:07. ** Raven attacks right away.

– ECW World title match: Raven v. Terry Funk. Raven destroys Funk, who is bleeding buckets. They fight out of the ring, and Raven puts him through a table. Raven’s Nest attacks and puts Funk out. Tommy Dreamer stands up from the announce position to yell at Raven, and Big Dick Dudley attacks from behind. He tries to chokeslam Tommy through three conveniently stacked tables but Tommy reverses and puts Dick through them in a bit of irony not unlike Shakespearean plays of yore. Tommy heads down to ringside and DDTs Raven, and Funk covers for two. A quick small package gets three and the title, however. Really, really awful match to end the show. DUD

The Bottom Line: This show got huge praise at the time, and while it features the second-best match ECW has ever produced (I actually did give ***** to one, and one only, ECW match from 1995, and it’s probably completely not what you’d expect) there’s not much else wrestling-wise. Still, a near ***** match is always good enough for a thumbs up from me, and given I’ve seen this show almost 30 times now thanks to the huge amount of people who wanted a copy in 97 and I can still watch it, that at least shows it has staying power. I still completely disagree with the decision to put Terry Funk over Raven here, however. I was always on the side of giving Tommy Dreamer his first win over Raven at this show, and I think it would have worked out better for all involved had that happened. Anyway, no matter my feelings on this show, many many people hold this one dear to their hearts, and no matter how badly Heyman botched almost every PPV after this one, he still managed a good first impression and that counted for a lot considering the crap that was to follow this.

Recommended show.