Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #66 – Tazz

66. TAZZ

Real NamePeter Senerchia
HometownRed Hook, Brooklyn
Titles HeldECW Championship; WWE World Tag Team
Other Accomplishmentsblack belt in judo; does colour
commentary and hosting duties for WWE
; was a trainer for Tough

When it comes to transitions from a decorated active in-ring wrestling career to a successful gig behind the desk as a commentator, Tazz is right up there with Jerry Lawler as far as guys who pulled it off. Unlike Lawler, however, Tazz had to completely reinvent himself in order to get where he is today. If you only started watching wrestling around 2000 or never had access to ECW during its prime, you probably know Tazz the color commentator, but you might not know Taz, easily one of the Top 100 Greatest Wrestlers of the Modern Era.

Peter Senerchia, the man who would be Taz(z), first broke into the wrestling business in 1987, wrestling in Puerto Rico under the name Kid Krush after training under future WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz. Senerchia would spend the next five years as a journeyman abroad and on the U.S. independent circuit, settling into the gimmick of Tasmaniac, a wild brawler with a caveman look.

In 1993, the slightly-rechristened Tazmaniac landed in the Philadelphia-based Eastern Championship Wrestling, forming a team with veteran Kevin Sullivan. Once ECW made the shift to Extreme Championship Wrestling a few months later, Tazmaniac made the promotion is home base and he and Sullivan would win the World Tag Team title twice over the next year and he would also hold the Television championship for one night.

Sullivan left ECW in 1994 and his partner was left floundering in the mid-card, bouncing from one makeshift tag team to another. It wasn’t until 1995 that ECW booker Paul Heyman decided he saw enough in Tazmaniac to team him with one of the promotions biggest stars: Sabu. With a similar “wildman” gimmick and suicidal aerial assault to contrast Tazmaniac’s grounded brawling, Sabu made a perfect partner and the duo captured the Tag Team gold in February of 1995, though they’d hold it only a month before dropping the straps to Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko.

As the duo of Tazmaniac and Sabu geared up for a highly-anticipated three-way showdown for the titles with Benoit & Malenko and Public Enemy, Sabu made a decision that would alter both their careers forever: faced with a higher payday in Japan the same day as the three-way, Sabu walked out on ECW and was publicly fired in the ring by Heyman. Rick Steiner took Sabu’s place in the match, which was won by Public Enemy, but the real story was the on-screen and off-screen fury of Tazmaniac, who was genuinely furious at Sabu for screwing over him and ECW.

Heyman encouraged Senerchia, who shortened his ring name to simply “Taz,” to utilize this anger and frustration as part of his character, who went from a semi-goofy beast to ultra-intense and pissed off wrestling machine. In the midst of this transformation, Taz suffered a significant setback when he broke his neck in a tag team match pitting himself and Eddie Guerrero against Malenko & 2 Cold Scorpio, but he ended up using the injury as further motivation to cut more dynamite promos about how miserable and ticked off at the world he was.

Upon returning from his neck injury—which, by the way, after suffering he walked to the hospital under his own volition, not realizing the severity of the injury—Taz altered his image, shaving his head down to a buzz cut and adopting various black and orange amateur-style wrestling singlets as his in-ring attire. He changed up his offense as well, abandoning brawling tactics for crisp suplexes and submission holds that showcased his legitimate background in judo. It seemed that literally overnight the boorish Tazmaniac went from one of the most impressive hard-hitting technical wrestlers in the business and ECW fans took notice, throwing their support behind Taz.

And no sooner did Taz become one of ECW’s most popular wrestlers then he spit in the fans’ collective face, allying himself with hated former referee Bill Alfonso and cursing out the crowd for not supporting him during his injury. Taz’ change of attitude towards the fans coincided perfectly with the November return of Sabu, who was immediately pardoned his past transgressions and hailed as the returning hero. Taz and Sabu were set on a perfect collision course that would not come to fruition for nearly a year and a half.

While Sabu loomed in the distance, Taz spent the rest of 1995 and 1996 dispatching every manner of opponent with relative ease, utilizing his new Tazmission finisher, in actuality a judo choke called the kata-hajime. Taz surrounded himself with a group of nameless protégés called “Team Taz,” stalking to the ring with a towel over his head like a shootfighter or boxer while Alfonso blew his ever-present whistle at ringside. The likes of Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, 2 Cold Scorpio and even shootfighter Paul Varelans fell before Taz’ “Path of Rage.”

At the beginning of 1997, ECW made the announcement that fans had been wait to hear for over two years: the promotion’s highly-anticipated first pay-per-view offering, Barely Legal, would feature the grudge match to end all grudge matches between Sabu and Taz. While it would be nearly impossible for the match to live up to its tremendous advance billing, the two wrestlers certainly gave it their all, putting on an intense battle that ended with Taz victorious via the Tazmission. The post-match shenanigans proved to be just as interesting as what had just happened as Sabu denied Taz a handshake and joined tag partner Van Dam as well as Alfonso—who had turned on his charge—in a beat down on the “Human Suplex Machine.” The crowd turned quickly, booing the newly formed alliance and once again showering Taz with support.

Taz changed virtually nothing about his appearance or attitude—though he did drop Team Taz—but as a result of his feud with Alfonso and his hated charges became ECW’s most popular attraction. Mirroring Steve Austin’s similar surge in popularity in the WWF, Taz, like Austin, portrayed the type of anti-hero who sided with neither good nor evil that fans were getting behind as professional wrestling hit its boom period of the late 90’s.

At Wrestlepalooza 1997 in June, Taz lost a rematch to Sabu, but immediately following the match challenged Television champion Shane Douglas to meet him in the ring and defeated “The Franchise” to claim the gold in under three minutes. While Sabu, Douglas, Terry Funk and Bam Bam Bigelow spent the summer and fall of 1997 trading the ECW World title like a hot potato, Taz established the Television belt as being on the same level in great matches with Chris Candido and others. Towards the end of the year, fans were calling loudly for Taz to receive a shot at the World title now held by Douglas.

However, in the winter of 1998 Taz ran into a massive roadblock in the form of Bigelow, Douglas’ ally in the Triple Threat. Taz and Bigelow had a classic matchup at March’s Living Dangerously punctuated by Bigelow falling backwards while hooked in the Tazmission and both men crashing through the ring mat. Bigelow emerged a moment later carrying Taz over his shoulder and pinned him for the TV title. Though Bigelow would quickly drop the belt to Van Dam, he and Taz met in a vicious rematch at Heatwave in the summer of 1998, and this time Taz put the big man through the stage before winning with the Tazmission as Douglas did play-by-play.

A few months prior to the Bigelow rematch, Taz openly aired his frustration at feeling that Douglas—who was out of action with a string of injuries—was ducking him and refusing to grant him a shot at the World title. In retaliation, Taz unveiled his own belt, the FTW (standing for “f–k the world,” of course) Heavyweight title, which he declared “the real World title.” Taz would defend the FTW title against all comers as he continued to campaign for a match with Douglas.

At the 1998 November to Remember, Taz teamed with unlikely allies Sabu and Van Dam, who had become wildly popular with ECW fans over the past year, to put down Douglas’ Triple Threat team of himself, Bigelow and Candido. However, Sabu scored the pinfall on Douglas, which had the secondary effect of igniting the Taz-Sabu rivalry anew as Sabu was declared the number one contender for the World title. In an impromptu match several weeks later, Taz maimed Sabu and then pulled him on top of him, “losing” the FTW title in order to focus on Douglas and a title shot that now belonged to him as Sabu would not make it to Guilty As Charged 1999 due to injury.

Despite interference from Sabu, Taz defeated Douglas for the World title at the pay-per-view in a moment ECW fans had waited over a year for. A week later at the ECW Arena, Taz beat Douglas in a hotly-contested re-match to cement himself as a dominant champion and a month later at Living Dangerously, once again scored the win over Sabu in a bloodbath to end their feud once and for all and unify the ECW and FTW titles.

Taz was now officially the face of ECW and without much question the most popular World champion the promotion had ever had, but he faced a challenge bigger than Sabu in leading an ECW that was trying to forge ahead into the national marketplace despite losing many of its top stars. Douglas, Bigelow, The Sandman and many more followed former key players like Raven to WCW, leaving ECW’s main event ranks depleted. Taz did his best to keep things strong on top, defending his belt against a variety of challengers from tag team specialist Bubba Ray Dudley to cruiserweight Yoshihiro Tajiri. Taz’ hard work paid off as ECW secured a national TV deal for the first time in its history on TNN in the fall of 1999. However, the good news of the TNN deal came with bad, nearly unthinkable news: Taz was leaving ECW for the WWF.

Vince McMahon came to Taz in mid-1999 with an impressive cash offer and, feeling he had accomplished all he could in ECW as well as having a burgeoning family to support, the ECW World champion could not overlook such a generous deal. Paul Heyman, who had a working relationship with McMahon and the WWF, gave his champion his blessing to move on.

Taz exited ECW a true professional, putting over the company and its rising stars on his way out. He dropped the World title at Anarchy Rulz in September to newcomer Mike Awesome in a Three Way Dance also involving Japanese star Masato Tanaka. At the onset of the match, he heard the chants of “You sold out!” from the crowd, but conducted himself like a champion, ignoring the jeers and doing his job, and following his exit from the match and endorsement of Awesome as ECW’s new standard-bearer, received a standing ovation from both the fans and the locker room as he embraced Heyman. Two months later at November to Remember, Taz lost to Van Dam in his final ECW match.

Two months later at the 2000 Royal Rumble, Tazz—with an extra “z” for luck—made a splash in his WWF debut, ending the undefeated streak of Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle in Madison Square Garden. Tazz got over quickly with the WWF fans and had several matches with Angle and even one shot at The Rock, but in a crowded main event scene that had just gained several new performers from WCW, he was soon relegated to the mid-card Hardcore title picture.

In April of 2000, Tazz found himself in the bizarre position of making a brief return to ECW to defeat the man he had lost the ECW World title to and reclaim the belt, as Awesome had jumped ship for WCW and Heyman selected his former champion as the man he wanted to beat the deserter. Tazz appeared on WWF television sporting ECW World title belt and lost a non-title match to WWF World champion Triple H before dropping the strap to Tommy Dreamer at the ECW Arena and ending his nostalgia trip.

Upon his return to full-time WWF competition in the spring, Tazz seemed poise for breakout success as he targeted the Intercontinental title, but got derailed when he suffered an arm injury in a match against Chris Benoit. When he returned in the summer, WWF made the odd decision to repackage the popular Tazz as a heel and change his traditional singlet look to a more thug-like attire. The “new” Tazz floundered in a feud with Rikishi and ended the summer losing matches to semi-retired announcer Jerry Lawler.

The feud with Lawler dragged into the fall as Tazz recruited fellow ECW alumni Raven into a tag team which experienced little success. However, the Lawler feud had an unexpected side effect that may have saved Tazz’ career, as injuries and difficulty adjusting to the WWF style—which forbade many of his flashier and more dangerous moves—had stalled him: he started doing some announcing. In an effort to prove himself Lawler’s equal, Tazz began commentating alongside Michael Cole on WWF’s Smackdown and Sunday Night Heat program with surprising success as his sense of humor and expert knowledge made him a great color analyst.

Ironically, Tazz, known so much more for his actions than his words in ECW, became a success in the WWF by talking. His announcing job provided new popularity and he began to taper his active wrestling schedule, but when he would step in the ring on rare occasions, such as teaming with the A.P.A. to defeat the dastardly Right to Censor at Wrestlemania XVII in 2001, he was cheered resoundingly.

Just as Tazz was building decent momentum as a commentator and part-time wrestler, he was once again yanked back over to being an active wrestler an a heel as a result of the Invasion angle dominating the WWF for the summer and fall of 2001 and ECW sympathizers needed to join that faction. Many decried the loss of credibility suffered by the one time dominant World champion during this period as he suffered multiple browbeatings from Alliance leader Steve Austin and generally looked ineffectual. An eleventh hour rebellion against former boss and heel Heyman got Tazz back some of his credibility, but the door seemed to have shut for good on his chances to be taken seriously as an active competitor.

Luckily, there was still room for Tazz behind the microphone, as after one last shot at glory briefly holding the WWF World Tag Team titles with Spike Dudley in early 2002, he again backed off in-ring work and returned to the Smackdown announce booth. Over the next three years, the odd couple of Tazz and Cole established themselves as a rough around the edges but fun alternative to their Raw counterparts and built up a devoted fan following.

In the summer of 2005, WWE elected to utilize the ECW trademarks they had acquired after the company went bankrupt as well as the numerous former ECW performers they had on the roster and could employ on a one shot basis to put on a reunion show called One Night Stand. During the build to the event, many WWE wrestlers banded together in protest of ECW’s revival, notably Kurt Angle, who attacked his old rival Tazz on Smackdown the week of the show. At the conclusion of One Night Stand, Steve Austin and the ECW contingent ran rampant over the WWE “crusaders” and Tazz emerged to his old music to the delight of the fiercely pro-ECW crowd to choke out Angle and for just a moment transport fans back to the late 90’s.

A year later, WWE announced that in addition to a second One Night Stand, ECW would be returning as a third brand with its own show on the Sci Fi Network. Tazz jumped ship from Smackdown to serve as the fledgling program’s color analyst alongside original ECW play-by-play commentator Joey Styles. At One Night Stand, Tazz soundly defeated the vocally anti-ECW Jerry Lawler, avenging his losses to “The King” several years earlier, and settled into his new chair where he remains to this day.

For the wrestler he was, the personality is, and for his awesome “Mets Rant” segment on New York’s 1050 ESPN radio, we induct Taz(z), a talented pro with a knack for reinvention, as one of our Top 100.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.