I grew up right outside of Philadelphia, but unfortunately, I didn’t start watching wrestling until 2002 and missed out on the ECW era in Philly. I still enjoyed countless other independent wrestling shows at the famed ECW Arena (RIP), and they featured a lot of the men who made ECW what it was. The sights and sounds of ECW will always be important to me, from the beauty(?) of the arena itself, to Joey Styles’ commentary, to ring announcer Bob Artese, to referees Finnigan and Molineaux, to everyone’s favorite ringside fan John “Hat Guy” Bailey, to even that Atlas Security guard who looks identical to Don West. I often frequented an independent company back in the early 2000’s called 3PW that featured a lot of those same people and many of the wrestlers who were involved in ECW. And the absolute greatest wrestling night of my life was sitting front row for the “Hardcore Homecoming” event that ran at the ECW Arena the night before One Night Stand. That all being said, even though I didn’t ever attend an actual ECW show, it still is an important promotion to me.
I know you didn’t come here expecting to read my life history, but I wanted to give some background to explain just where my expectations are any time an ECW compilation set is released. When I saw the match listing, my excitement went up even a little bit more. Fortunately, this DVD does not disappoint at all, and is filled with a lot of classic matches that shockingly have not yet been released on a WWE DVD set. Disc 1 runs about 2 hours, Disc 2 runs about 2 hours 15 minutes, and Disc 3 runs just short of 3 hours. The DVD is rated TV-14. Some foul language is edited out, and a lot of the original music has been replaced.
“The Land of Extreme”: The Format
This DVD is set up like any other match compilation released by WWE in the past. Joey Styles is, of course, the perfect person to serve as our host for this journey. Although he doesn’t show the same level of outlandish charisma Dusty showed on the Clash DVD, he still comes across as an expert on the subject who can talk about ECW because he lived through it himself. He explains the importance of each match pretty well for those who are coming in with no knowledge of ECW at all. The Tazz/Dreamer match on Disc 3 in particular required a lot of explanation, and Joey does a great job breaking down a fairly confusing situation in a short period of time. As I’ll say during pretty much any of these match compilations, I wish we could get individual introductions to each match to allow us to know the build-up to the match. On this set in particular, there aren’t any matches that feel like they were filler. Each match clearly had some build-up going into it, and I’ve familiarized myself with ECW enough at this point to piece everything together even without an introduction for every match. For a new fan, though, I think more introductions would be great.
The match breakdown works out pretty nicely for this set. The first disc features matches from 1993 to 1996, the second disc features matches from 1997 to 1998, and the third disc features matches from 1999 to 2001. This works out nicely to be the “early days” of ECW, the “glory days” of ECW, and what I’ll call the “production values era” of ECW. Unlike WCW, the quality of ECW’s product didn’t really go downhill in the dying days of the company. Although the 3rd disc of this particular set did have the weakest match quality, it’s not by much, and it’s mostly because that disc has a lot of shorter matches. Therefore, I think you see a lot of consistency across the discs from an in-ring standpoint. Where you most clearly see changes in the product, though, is the changes in production values. Most of the matches on Disc 1 take place at the ECW Arena, and as the company expands, the audiences get bigger, as is seen across Discs 2 and 3. I may be biased, but I’ve always felt that the bigger buildings took something away from ECW. It’s not a big change, though, and you remain consistently entertained across each disc.
“Oh My God!”: The Matches
NWA World Championship: Shane Douglas Vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (Hardcore TV, 8/27/94) – ** 1/2
This match represents one of the bigger moments in the history of professional wrestling, and it’s surprising it hasn’t been released on an ECW set until now. Unfortunately, the match itself isn’t fantastic. Fortunately, the entire post-match segment is included. Douglas nails the promo, and this serves as a great kick-start to the overall set.
Tommy Dreamer Vs. Raven (Hostile City Showdown, 4/15/95) – ***
This match represents the “garbage” matches we saw in the early days of ECW, and also is a good representative for one of ECW’s biggest feuds. We get a nice pre-match promo from Raven & Stevie Richards, and the match itself is a lot of fun. You don’t see a lot of wrestling holds, but the story they tell is entertaining. This match also helps show how vital the Philly crowd was to ECW’s early success.
Dean Malenko & 2 Cold Scorpio Vs. Eddy Guerrero & Taz (Heatwave, 7/15/95) – ****
A very strong tag team match between four great talents. These four were all very over with the crowd (especially Guerrero & Malenko), and their styles mesh together well. Unfortunately, you can’t really understand the pre-match “war of words” between Scorpio and Taz’s manager, Paul E. Dangerously, because the audio at the ECW Arena was so poor. You can’t blame the WWE for this one though, they worked with what they had.
ECW Television Championship: Eddy Guerrero Vs. Dean Malenko (Hardcore TV, 7/28/95) – *** 1/2
A solid match between these two, if not a bit short. Nowhere near the level of the 2-out-of-3 falls farewell match they had, but anytime they got in the ring, you knew you were going to get something good.
Shane Douglas Vs. Cactus Jack (Cyberslam, 2/17/96) – *** 1/2
Another great “brawl” style match that showcased two men vital to the rise of ECW in the mid-90’s. Foley played a great heel as Cactus Jack in ECW, and it shows in this match. This match also inspired the infamous Rock/Mankind “I Quit” match in its use of handcuffs and chair shots. I’m actually surprised this match was included on the set in the “concussion-conscious” world we now live in. The chair shots are really hard to watch.
Chris Jericho Vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (The Doctor is In, 8/3/96) – **** 1/4
A fantastic wrestling match between two great athletes. It’s good to see Scorpio get a strong showing on this DVD, between this match and the aforementioned tag team match. He’s an underrated worker from the early days of ECW. Jericho is his usual great self, and the two men have strong chemistry. Its a close contest, but this may be the best match on the DVD.
ECW Tag Team Championship Tables & Ladders Match: Rob Van Dam & Sabu Vs. The Eliminators (Cyberslam, 2/22/97) – *** 3/4
Speaking of underrated, The Eliminators of Perry Saturn & John Kronus were one of the top tag teams of their era. The table and ladder spots are well constructed, and once the action really starts to get going, the match becomes a lot of fun.
Sabu Vs. Taz (Barely Legal, 4/13/97) – **** 1/4
Knowing that this match was built up for a year leading to ECW’s first PPV, Barely Legal, you can really feel the “big match” atmosphere. The storytelling in this match is superb. It epitomizes what ECW was best at: combining great wrestling with the hardcore action they became famous for. The match is given plenty of time to grow, and the finish works nicely. The DVD also includes the entire post-match segment, which I won’t spoil, but is great.
ECW Championship Match: Bam Bam Bigelow Vs. Shane Douglas (November to Remember, 11/30/97) – *** 3/4
The only thing I can compare this match to is a more wrestling-based version of the Cena/Lesnar match from Extreme Rules a few months ago. Bigelow looks like a total monster in this match, and even as a heel, Douglas, in front of his hometown crowd, plays the good guy trying to take down this “immovable object”. It may sound like this can get boring over the course of a 20+ minute match, but it really doesn’t.
ECW Tag Team Championship Match: Rob Van Dam & Sabu Vs. Hayabusa & Jinsei Shinzaki (Heatwave, 8/15/98) – ****
When the matches for this set were first announced, nothing got me more excited than the fact that a Hayabusa match was going to be featured on a WWE DVD. I had seen a few of his matches on old VHS tapes back in the day, and he is very impressive. I wasn’t as familiar with Jinsei Shinzaki, but he also looked great in this match. By this point, RVD had really come into his own as well, and the four men put together a crazy, exciting match.
ECW Television Championship Match: Rob Van Dam Vs. Jerry Lynn (Hardcore TV, 8/15/98) – *** 1/2
Of course, the RVD/Lynn feud was a huge part of ECW, and although this match is not as good as their classic match from Living Dangerously, it still is very good, especially for a TV match. I had forgotten just how great RVD’s character was in ECW, and this match is a really good showcase for his cocky “Mr. Monday Night” character. The in-ring chemistry between RVD and Lynn is great as well, so both men come out looking great regardless of who wins.
ECW Championship Match: Shane Douglas Vs. Taz (Guilty as Charged, 1/10/99) – ***
Although this match is quite good when the two men are in the ring, I’ve never been a big fan of “brawl around the crowd” matches, and this match featured a lot of that. The finish of the match is a lot of fun, though, and shows that even if he wasn’t the greatest in the ring, Shane Douglas is an excellent storyteller. It’s impossible to not get invested in his matches.
Impact Players Vs. Rob Van Dam & Jerry Lynn (Heatwave, 7/18/99) – **** 1/4
It didn’t really come as a surprise that a match featuring RVD, Jerry Lynn, Justin Credible, and Lance Storm was as good as it was. There are a lot of different storylines going on throughout the match, and they balance each one well, while still finding time for the great athleticism these four are known for.
ECW Championship Match: Mike Awesome Vs. Masato Tanaka (November to Remember, 11/7/99) – **** 1/4
This is a unique match in that from the bell, the match is immediately running at full. The high spots come from the start of the match, and the two men never slow down. Like RVD & Lynn, Awesome & Tanaka had great chemistry in the ring, and they made each other look really good in the match. They are able to fit a nice story into a relatively short match, and some of the spots throughout the match are awesome (no pun intended) as well.
ECW Championship Match: Taz Vs. Tommy Dreamer (Cyberslam, 4/22/00) – **
Forget “Unreleased”, this match had never been seen by anyone but the live crowd there that night until now. At the time, Taz was working for the WWF, and he made a guest appearance to beat Mike Awesome (who had just signed with WCW) for the ECW Championship. He wanted to give his title match to Tommy Dreamer, and the match is seen here for the first time. The match itself is nothing special, but for historical significance and a great post-match segment, it’s a must watch.
ECW Championship Match: Tommy Dreamer Vs. Justin Credible (Cyberslam, 4/22/00) – ** 3/4
This match flows right out of the segment that followed the Taz/Dreamer match, and is a decent match between the two men. Credible was a great heel during the last couple of years of ECW, and it shows here. Again, even if the in-ring action isn’t anything special, the overall segment is great.
ECW Television Championship Match: Rhino Vs. The Sandman (Heatwave, 7/16/00) – ** 1/2
A good spotlight match for Rhino, who gets a pretty good match out of The Sandman. Even though he was a fan favorite, The Sandman wasn’t exactly a fantastic ring worker, but when booked well, he could still put together a good match. The run-ins at the end of the match work out well, and some of the weapons spots are good. My biggest gripe is that they left in the entire Sandman entrance, which goes on for like 5 minutes. Sure, it’s a TON of fun to be a part of that when you are in the crowd, but on TV, it’s really boring, especially without “Enter Sandman” playing.
ECW Television Championship Match: Rhino Vs. Spike Dudley (Massacre on 34th Street, 12/3/00) – ** 3/4
I wasn’t expecting too much from this match, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Spike Dudley had pretty much perfected his role in the “big vs. little” match by this point, and Rhino was super over as a heel, so they played off each other well. I also really liked the finish, even if it isn’t a total clean win.
Jerry Lynn Vs. Christian York (Hardcore TV, 12/30/00) – ***
I hadn’t realized that Jerry Lynn ever worked as a heel, and he plays the role surprisingly well here. Before the match, we get a great promo from Lynn’s manager Cyrus, who was probably the most hated man in ECW in 2000. I was glad to see him get some time on this set. Christian York was a strong technical wrestler, so he worked well with Jerry Lynn, and they put together an above-average television match.
Yoshihiro Tajiri & Mikey Whipwreck Vs. Kid Kash & Super Crazy Vs. The FBI (Guilty as Charged, 1/7/01) – *** 1/2
This match was the fun spot-fest you would expect with the six men involved. Each guy was given time to hit their spots, and the action comes consistently. Fun match.
“And they… can all… kiss… my… ass!”: Overall Thoughts
As you can tell from looking through my match thoughts, this DVD was very strong. Per my match ratings, I had six matches that rated at **** or **** 1/4, and a large majority of the matches were, at the very least, solid. Every match on the set served a purpose. The only two matches on the set that I didn’t really care for (Douglas/Scorpio and Taz/Dreamer) are still very important moments and have excellent post-match promos that make up for the match itself. Unlike past ECW sets, I think the WWE really went out of their way to show just how diverse the ECW product was. No two matches on the set really feel the same. You get everything from technical wrestling, to weapons matches, to high flying matches, to spotfests, to strong-style contests, and everything in between. Because of this, you don’t start to feel bored when you get halfway through the set. Although I watched it over three weeknights, I could easily see myself taking a “lazy Sunday” and sitting through the entire 7+ hours without any problems.
Because none were listed in the content listing, I wasn’t expecting any promos or segments on this set, but I was pleasantly surprised with just how many promos we end up getting throughout the set. If a match featured either a pre-match or post-match promo, they are included in their entirety. As I stated above, the Douglas promo when he throws down the NWA belt is, in my opinion, one of the greatest moments in the history of professional wrestling, and Tommy Dreamer’s ECW title win in 2000 is also a great moment in ECW history. Add in some other great promos from Taz, Shane Douglas, RVD, Cyrus and others throughout the set, and you get a nice bonus to an already impressive set of matches.
I was also happy to see that there wasn’t too much revisionist history going on here. Sure, Cactus Jack would go on to bigger success in the WWE, but he was a huge part of the early days of ECW, and I don’t think his match was included solely because he’s Mick Foley like his match on the “Clash of the Champions” set. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Shane Douglas nicely represented on this set. He was a really big name throughout ECW’s history. We also get a nice spotlight on guys like 2 Cold Scorpio and Rhino who often get looked over. SI was a bit disappointed the Dudley Boyz didn’t get a match on this set, but they weren’t really in ECW all that long, so it makes sense. The only name missing from this set that really is disappointing is Terry Funk. I know a lot of his matches have already been released, but I’m sure that the WWE could find another good match with him in it to include on this set.
Even though I did really enjoy this set, there are still a few minor quibbles I have with it. I wish that they would have followed what they did with Rise & Fall of ECW and given the set a TV-MA rating so that language didn’t have to be bleeped. This becomes particularly problematic during Taz’s post-match speech after losing to Tommy Dreamer, where it feels like every 5th word he says is bleeped out. Also, even though this set did have a really nice, eclectic mix of matches, I wish there would have been one of the barbed wire/flaming table/crazy weapons matches included. We get a taste of this with the Raven/Dreamer match, but there isn’t really a crazy, bloody match that came to represent ECW. Sure, chairs and tables find their way into a large majority of the matches on the set, but I still would have liked to see one of the really crazy weapons match since it’s the only type of match that feels absent from the set. Fortunately, these are very minor complaints that don’t really do much to detract from any otherwise great set.
I couldn’t recommend this set highly enough. You get a great collection of matches, some classic moments, and a clear sense of what made ECW so special. As I said at the start of this review, I have a bit of a hometown bias, but I also had very high expectations coming into this set. I can’t say I was surprised that it lived up to those expectations, but I’m certainly glad it did. If you aren’t familiar with ECW at all, I still would recommend you first watch the documentary on Rise & Fall of ECW, but this compilation serves as a nice second course. I would even put this set slightly above the BloodSport set, which is also very good and worth going out of your way to get. It’s hard to compare this set to the Edge DVD that came out a few months ago since that one also contained a documentary, but between these 2 sets, we’ve got 2 clear frontrunners for DVD’s of the year.
What did everyone else think? Did this set live up to your expectations, and the legacy of ECW? Were you happy with the selection of matches? I’ll be back in just 3 weeks as we continue to think extreme with Falls Count Anywhere!