Mike Reviews – ECW Hardcore Heaven 1997 (17th August 1997)
By Michael Fitzgerald on 10th July 2021
We head back to the world of the Extreme today, with ECW’s second ever pay per view event in the form of Hardcore Heaven. ECW’s first pay per view event, Barely Legal, had been a good show for the most part, if a little bit underwhelming due to a couple of the major matches not delivering. Still though, the Main Event was good and there was an excellent Michinoku-Pro match on the undercard, which was more than enough for a thumbs up at the time and the show is still a mostly fun and breezy watch to this day.
For the second pay per view ECW decided to move out of its Philadelphia based home of the ECW Arena and branch out to another territory where they had been having some success in the form of Florida. Going in they decided to throw a cat amongst the pigeons by having Sabu win the ECW World Title at the ECW Arena, thus changing the Main Event to Sabu defending against both Shane Douglas and Terry Funk in a Three Way Dance.
The three men had originally competed with each other in a famous hour long draw back in 1994, which had been one of the earliest ECW matches to catch the attention of the hardcore fan base online. Repeating the match again but now on pay per view didn’t seem like the worst idea, although they could have done a better job hyping up and marketing it.
The main feud on the undercard was ECW Vs WWF/USWA, as Jerry Lawler had invaded ECW and began a rivalry with Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer had actually gone to the trouble of invading the USWA television show and beating a bunch of guys up, in an angle that probably did more to make ECW look cool than it did boost USWA’s falling fortunes.
Would everything come together for another good pay per view effort from the Extreme brigade? Let’s watch on and find out!
The event is emanating from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the 17th of August 1997
Calling the action is Joey Styles
Joey does the in-ring introduction, and we get our biggest issue of the show as the building just looks really pokey, whilst the lighting and sound are pretty awful. Considering they managed to clean up the Arena in Philly pretty well for the first pay per view, this AWA Super Clash calibre level of production represents a real step backwards. Rick Rude interrupts, and he had recently gone Heel by having the temerity to take a job with the WWF. Yeah, how dare he decide he wants a regular pay cheque, what a jerk! He brings out Chris Candido for the next match, but before any more promo action can take place, ECW commissioner Todd Gordon shows up and says that Rude has to leave. Rude tells Gordon off, but then leaves to avoid getting the match thrown out.
ECW TV Title
Champ: Taz Vs Chris Candido
Ironically they’d book this very match again two years later at Hardcore Heaven 99, although on that occasion it was for the ECW World Title and Taz choked Candido out with ease. In this instance though Candido is actually allowed to have a competitive match with the Champ, which means we should hopefully get a more entertaining showcase.
They tell a decent story here actually, with Candido going out of his way to try and anger Taz in order to take him off his game, including spitting in his face, but Taz calmly no sells it all and then boots Candido right in his Bodydonna Skip before adding a suplex. Candido shakes the low blow off far too quickly for my liking to be honest, which is a shame as that should potentially be a match ender. The action in general is good though, with Taz doing his judo throws and whatnot, as Candido sells it all well before firing off a powerbomb for the cut off.
Candido wisely targets Taz’s previously injured neck, with Joey doing a good job on commentary by noting that Candido had previously broken his own neck, so he knows better than most how to target that area of the body. Hey, psychology to go along with the decent wrestling, how about that! It kind of encapsulates ECW in a nutshell actually, as we get some decent stuff on the mat to start, followed by some storytelling and they even fight outside on the floor for a bit too, although they thankfully stay within the railings and don’t do the arena wide brawl so as to save it for later on.
Candido gets a fabulous rana off the top at one stage, followed by a diving head butt, but he takes his time making the cover due to being a cocky jerk, which gives Taz time to kick out whilst still protecting the move. Taz eventually makes the comeback, complete with some fun wacky submission holds, and we head into the near falls, which are done well. Ultimately Candido’s cockiness ends up being his downfall, as he taunts when he has Taz potentially defeated, which allows Taz to lock in the Taz-Mission for the submission victory.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: TAZ
Good opener, with some fun action and a good payoff to Candido’s constant cocky behaviour, as it ended up costing him the match because wrestling at its heart is the ultimate morality play where such villainous hubris can be punished by the good guy, which is something I think we’d all like to see more in real life sometimes
Joey hypes up the Main Event for later and we get some replays of the action from the opener.
Joey implores us to come and see ECW live, hyping up November to Remember 97 in Pittsburgh. He then sends to footage of the Insane Clown Posse hyping up Rob Van Dam prior to the show starting, only for RVD to beat them up. Sabu joins in for good measure. I’m not sure if this was supposed to make us feel sorry for ICP or to make us enjoy seeing them get clobbered.
Bam Bam Bigelow Vs Little Spike Dudley
Spike had defeated Bammer at the ECW Arena a week prior to this in a big upset, starting off his “Giant Killer” gimmick in the process, but now it’s time for him to return the favour, and boy does he! Bigelow destroys Spike here, with Spike selling it great and even bleeding for good measure. We also get Bammer flinging Spike right into the front row, where the fans attempt to catch him like it’s a rock concert. I must say though, seeing a bloody man bleeding onto people in the crowd is very much a “something you wouldn’t see today” moment, and rightfully so. Eventually Bigelow decides that Spike has suffered enough for this evening and pins him with a moonsault.
WINNER: BAM BAM BIGELOW
This was an entertaining bit of destruction that made Bigelow look like a monster, which was what it was designed to do. Spike still looked gutsy for not giving up as well
We see more footage from earlier in the show, as The Sandman runs down to rescue ICP, which leads to him getting battered as well. He’s taken out of the building in an ambulance, which leads to a really rubbish show long angle where he commandeers the ambo and tries to drive it back to the arena. However, because he doesn’t know Florida that well it takes him a while.
Rob Van Dam w/ Bill Alfonso Vs Al Snow
RVD had gone Heel by aligning himself with Alfonso and making overtures that he wanted to join the WWF, and this match will be contested under “Monday Night Wrestling Rules”, which doesn’t really come up throughout the match itself. Snow was doing the crazy gimmick by this stage in his career but he hadn’t started bringing a mannequin head out to the ring with him yet, so it wasn’t quite getting over like it eventually would.
The worst thing by far in this match is Alfonso’s whistle, as he blows INCESSANTLY and it becomes “go away heat” very bloody quickly. Seriously, I honestly considered sticking the match on mute after a certain point due to just how outrageously annoying it is. It’s worse than the BT Sport Premier League football commentary, and that’s saying something!
The actual wrestling is good at least, with Snow ostensibly working as the babyface due to RVD being a traitorous scoundrel whilst Snow has come to ECW in order to escape from the very WWF that Rob is trying to woo. We get the most outside brawling of the show thus far, with Snow running all the way down the entrance way with a big clothesline, which RVD bumps for perfectly. I love stuff like that as it’s simple and safe but adds some spice to what would normally be just a standard move or hold.
Snow gets a lot of offence in and controls most of the early going, but RVD eventually gets in some of his own, including a fantastic flip dive to the floor from inside the ring where he clears the top rope with absolute ease. Say what you want about this era of RVD when it came to his sometime lack of psychology and match structure, but goodness me could he hit some incredible looking high spots. You can see why he got so over, especially at a time when that sort of wrestling wasn’t as commonplace in the West.
It’s always weird to watch RVD at this stage in his career as the Five Star Frogsplash was one step above a transition move in his arsenal, with the Split-Legged Moonsault and Van Daminator being the moves he would normally finish a match with. Eventually Snow rallies, and even mocks RVD by stealing his standing moonsault before going to the Snow Plough for two. Snow ingratiates himself with the Extreme fans by working RVD over with a chair at one stage, but when he goes for another long running clothesline, RVD sees it coming this time and blasts him in the face with the same chair.
Snow has the chair kicked in his face outside the ring following that, but manages to kick out at two back inside, which succeeds in getting the crowd behind him. He’s won them over considerably here actually, and he’s worked pretty much the perfect match in as far as what you’d need to do in order to get the ECW crowd to care about you, with some cool offence and use of weaponry. It’s not to be his night though, as Van Daminator eventually ends it for RVD after he survives a Snow DDT.
WINNER: ROB VAN DAM
Another good match, as both men got a chance to shine and RVD benefitted from getting a battling win whilst Snow benefitted from giving RVD all he could handle
A helicopter is following the ambulance with Sandman in it. Lance Wright is handling the call and he’s positively awful at it. Joey does his best to save it, but there’s no saving this nonsense. He then over-hams it big time whilst introducing the next promo from Jerry Lawler.
Lawler cuts a promo backstage, where he namedrops a bunch of WWF guys by saying that they have asked him to defeat Dreamer with their respective finishing moves.
ECW Tag Team Titles
Champs: The Dudley Boyz w/ Joel Gertner, Big Dick, Sign Guy and Jenna Jameson Vs PG-13
Jameson is a porn star who appeared for a few times in ECW during its lifespan. I’m not sure if she was actually into wrestling or just thought it would be a good way to advance her career, because I can’t imagine she was getting paid a lot to be on these shows so she must have had a reason beyond just financial to want to be there. PG-13 used to rap The Nation of Domination down to ringside in the WWF, but now they are back in the USWA. Despite being from Memphis, they are presented as the babyfaces here.
The story here is that The Dudleyz stole the tag belts from Da Gangstas, but they are only officially declared the Champions tonight due to Da Gangsta’s not showing up for the scheduled Tag Title match. PG-13 enters to House of Pain, just to make sure that we really 90’s this up good and proper. PG-13 endears themselves to the crowd by insulting Momma Dudley and the rest of The Dudley clan, including Gertner. It seems to work as the crowd give them a pleasant enough reaction once the promo is over.
JC Ice looks so pale in the ring spotlight that you can almost see his heart beating underneath his skin like he’s a baby fish. This is your standard tag team match, as they work the formula with PG-13 getting a babyface shine with basic fare and The Dudleyz sell it all well. Wolfie D actually looks pretty good, moving well for a guy his size and doing some nice moves including a rana and a second rope cross body block. They even do the old spot of D-Von illegally wrenching Wolfie’s arm, until Wolfie switches the tables and puts Buh-Buh in there instead. I love stuff like that and The Dudleyz are perfectly happy to stooge for the babyfaces, so it works well.
Eventually Big Dick decides he cannot sanction this buffoonery anymore and sneaks in to attack the Faces whilst Buh-Buh and D-Von argue, which leads to the heat segment on JC Ice. Jameson even gets involved at one stage, tripping JC up when he tries to get some momentum going. JC sells the heat well actually, and The Dudleyz get a good mix between being Heels and still doing some interesting moves now and then, such as when D-Von comes off the second rope with a leg drop, so it never gets boring.
You know what, from a purely in-ring perspective I don’t really have any complaints thus far. All of my issues have been with the production and choice of angles, the matches have delivered for the most part. JC Ice eventually manages to catch D-Von with a DDT and it’s hot tag Wolfie, who runs wild on the Champs and looks good. I’m surprised the WWF couldn’t do more with these guys, as JC Ice could cut a promo and Wolfie D had size, so you’d think they could have worked well in the same role occupied by The New Age Outlaws considering they beat them to the punch so to speak?
Things break down a little but during the closing stretch, with some of the work getting a tad sloppy, but the energy is there and the crowd gets into it, so it never gets bad or anything. Wolfie dives out onto both Dudleyz, but back inside they manage to catch him with the Dudley Death Drop OUTTA NOWHERE for the three count.
WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: THE DUDLEY BOYZ
“Perfectly Cromulent” as The Keithster would say. The Dudleyz picked up the clean win but PG-13 got in plenty of offence and the finish was presented as The Dudleyz just being able to catch them at the right moment rather than beating them down and making them look weak, so everyone gained something from it in the end
Gertner makes sure that he gets to announce the victory instead of usual ring announcer Bob Artese, cutting him off before he can finish the announcement in a funny gag. JC Ice retorts that, even though The Dudleyz won, Momma Dudley is still a naughty word.
We get more “scintillating” footage from the chopper, as Sandman still can’t find the arena. Wright even implies that Sandman might be drinking and driving, although in his defence The Sandman might have just bought himself a can of Dandelion and Burdock, and Wright was just being needlessly vague.
Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler is in the ring, where he cuts a promo on the fans watching, inviting them to watch In Your House: Ground Zero in September. He then repeats the promo from earlier almost word for word, although this time it’s for the live crowds benefit I guess. If you knew Lawler was going to cut the same promo again then why didn’t you just cut out the pre-tape seeing as it wasn’t needed at that stage?
Jerry Lawler Vs Tommy Dreamer w/ Beulah
Jerry Lawler invaded the ECW Arena and caused an absolute ruckus, leading to this match with Dreamer as the payoff. Dreamer had actually needed to be hospitalised at one stage as Lawler had him right in the Loughlin’s with a cane and it had required him to have blood drained from his nether regions as a result.
This doesn’t even pretend to be a scientific wrestling match, as they brawl out to the floor from the very off, with Lawler bleeding about a minute in. Thankfully no one else has brawled into the crowd yet up to this point, so it hasn’t been ran into the ground yet and this match feels like wild anarchic action that is different from the other matches we’ve seen so far. The way they’ve structured the match lay out has been pretty clever actually, as we had the more technical style match to open, the second match was David Vs Goliath, Match Three was the spot-fest, the fourth match was mostly a traditional tag team outing and now we’ve got the wild story-drive arena wide brawl.
Having some variety to the matches has certainly helped the show flow better in that respect and it’s helped with not burning things out too much, which could tend to happen on these ECW pay per view events. Sadly all of the Sandman nonsense has been a bit of a momentum killer, but the matches have delivered thus far. This is one of those matches that not everyone is going to like, but I feel it works as a palette cleanser of sorts on a show like this and it has good heat if nothing else. If brawling, bleeding and Heeling it up aren’t your thing though then this likely won’t convert you.
Eventually both men wind up bleeding, as Lawler manages to work some heat, drawing boos and catcalls in the process. Lawler’s traditional Heel Memphis tactics work quite well in ECW actually, especially as it means the fans can get emotionally invested in a Good Vs Evil battle, which isn’t something they would always engage in. In fact throughout the show the fans have mostly booed the Heels and cheered the Faces, even when PG-13 were in there, so the Florida crowd feels more like a traditional wrestling crowd than the Philly audience would sometimes be.
Lawler is clearly loving getting to be a hated bad guy here, going as far as to wipe his bum with Dreamer’s ECW shirt at one stage, which leads to Dreamer making the comeback and showing good fire. Lawler tries firing up as well, but ends up collapsing instead in a funny moment. Lawler does manage to get back into things with about five low blows in succession, and the ref gets bumped soon after, at which point the match starts getting ludicrously overbooked with the lights going out and new people interfering every time.
I was reading the Wrestling Observer Newsletter from this time period recently, and apparently ECW was desperately trying to find people to fill these interference slots, to the point that they were actually even trying to get Jim Duggan’s phone number at one stage! Sadly we are denied the sight of Hacksaw showing up at an ECW event with his 2×4, and instead we get Rick Rude, Jake Roberts and Sunny interfering one after the other. Jake does at least attack Lawler as well though in acknowledgment of their previous rivalry in the WWF.
Dreamer of course manages to survive all of this though, with the crowd popping every time he manages to kick out of Lawler’s increasingly desperate pin-fall attempts. Sunny showing up of course means that we get our contractually mandated cat-fight between her and Beulah, which gets the expected reaction from the crowd. Lawler tries to piledrive Beulah, but she clocks him right in his royal privates and that allows Dreamer to pounce with the DDT for three.
WINNER: TOMMY DREAMER
This was a decent enough old school styled Memphis brawl, but then the overbooking crossed the line from being entertaining to just being silly and it dragged it down a bit for me if I’m honest. Not a terrible match but not an especially good one either
We get a video package to hype up the Main Event, with mention being given to their original Three Way Dance in February 1994. In a production snafu though, the video package cuts out and we get footage of Lawler selling in the ring whilst Paul Heyman’s voice over hypes up the match.
Lance Wright is still attempting to report on The Sandman’s ambulance journey, and it’s just as bad as it was previously. Sandman does appear to have finally found the venue at least though. We get grainy poorly lit footage of Sandman supposedly fending off the police with his Singapore Cane. I mean, come on, this is Florida, are you telling me that the police wouldn’t just gun the crazy cane wielding man down on sight? Help me to suspend my disbelief here ECW!
ECW World Title
Champ: Sabu w/ Bill Alfonso Vs Shane Douglas w/ Francine Vs Terry Funk
Oh Bloody Hell, Alfonso and his blasted whistle are back. Someone please eliminate Sabu ASAP so I don’t have to listen to it anymore! This is elimination rules, so Douglas and Sabu team up in the early going to work Funk over and don’t bother breaking up each other’s pin attempts in a nice touch because all they care about is getting Funk out of there, so whoever gets the pin doesn’t really matter. Funk sells this well and the offence from both men is decent, with most of Sabu’s wild attacks landing successfully.
Douglas of course eventually decides to turn on Sabu though, hitting him with a chair, but Joey explains it by saying that Douglas thinks Funk is ripe for the picking now so he might as well make some headway on weakening Sabu too. I can see that as an explanation, so I’ll go along with it. Of course angering Sabu ends up biting Douglas in the backside, as Sabu flings him into the front row and then follows with a big dive that seems to mostly miss Douglas, although he is nice enough to sell it anyway.
Sabu follows that wild an Asai moonsault out onto Funk, which makes better contact and looks good. Thankfully it seems like Sabu is going to have a mostly good day, which means about 80% of his wild dives and wacky high spots are probably going to go off without a hitch, which isn’t a bad return rate for him. Douglas and Funk do destroy the Champ with a double neck breaker through two chairs at one stage, which looked absolutely brutal and gets an “EC-Dub” chant from the crowd. Sabu is up pretty quickly from it though, which takes away from it somewhat.
We get the classic WWF Wrestle Fest pile on double pins at some stage, with both Douglas and Funk trying to keep Sabu down to no avail. I love that spot and it’s a real shame they took it out of RetroMania as it was always something I thought was really fun to do in the original arcade classic. There’s been a lot of good action in this match actually, with some guardrail getting brought into the ring at one stage and everyone falling afoul of it in some form, with one of the more brutal examples being Douglas getting flung onto it when it’s propped up in the corner.
We of course get the triple sleeper spot at one stage, which I think was something that was invented in the original match between these three in 1994, as they’ve done a good job here of making it constantly feel like three guys are all going at it rather than doing the classic Triple Threat trope of having two guys fight in the ring whilst another lies outside having a nap until it’s their turn to get back in and break up a pin. I much prefer this version, as it’s far less formula and has a more anarchic fun vibe to it as a result.
Alfonso tries to help out Sabu at one stage, which brings Todd Gordon back out to clobber him. This all leads to Sabu putting both Alfonso and Gordon through a table at one stage, which he doesn’t seem that bothered by in all honesty, giving more of a “aw shucks, I just took out my manager” reaction than anything else. We get a three way chop fest following that, which Meltzer seemed to think drew mocking woo’s from the crowd, but they seemed pretty genuine to me. We’re reaching a point now where the match might be starting to veer into going on for too long, and just as I type that the Sandman comes out to hit Sabu with a Swanton Bomb off the top, leading to Funk and Douglas eliminating him whilst Sandman fights with the cops.
Sabu dives out onto both Sandman and the cops following that, which leads to them both being dragged away with the locker room emptying to help out the cops as well. So we’re down to Douglas Vs Funk now, with the winner becoming the Champion. One good thing about these elimination matches is that you don’t get the belt changing hands without the Champion being involved in the decision. Sabu has been eliminated and now these two will fight it out to decide who the Champion will be, with the winner being truly deserving of taking the belt home with them.
Douglas’ finisher at the time was a Belly to Belly Suplex, and he hits Funk with a bunch of them only for Funk to keep kicking out. We see that the locker room have remained in the aisle way to watch the conclusion of the match in order to give it a special feel. Francine slaps Funk a few times, which leads to Dory Funk Jr coming out to help his brother by giving Douglas some uppercuts, getting a big pop from the crowd as a result. We get some more near falls, with Funk getting a couple of roll ups before finally succumbing to Douglas’ fifth or sixth Belly to Belly.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SHANE DOUGLAS
It perhaps went a bit too long at roughly 27 minutes total, but it was still a decent match where they actually made good use of the Three Way Dance stipulations instead of just having three separate singles matches all going on at the same time
Douglas does a beat down on Funk following that, which leads to Joel Gertner and The Dudley Clan coming down to the ring to ask him if he wants to join forces. He refuses their offer, which leads to a gigantic brawl to close us out, with New Jack eventually joining the fracas with his usual collection of assorted weaponry. The babyfaces stand tall to close us out, not unlike how they did at the ECW Arena show prior to this pay per view.
From a purely in-ring aspect this show is decent for the most part, with at least half of the card in the *** range by my count, and nothing actively bad. Where the show falls down is the production and the terrible Sandman storyline, with the first making ECW look bush league and the second being nonsensical dreck that most would have roasted the two main companies for doing. If you’re happy to just focus on the wrestling though then there’s enough good action to make it worth your time, but if you go in expecting anything better than Heroes of Wrestling level production then you’re only going to end up disappointed. Mildly recommended.
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