Last week, the WWE Network’s Hidden Gems category offered up a pair of dark matches featuring ECW legends. Frankly, they were solid yet wholely unremarkable additions for the week, leaving many lukewarm at best. But with the WWE Network uploading a dozen ECW supershows last Monday, WWE had an opportunity at a second bite of the extreme cherry. Needless to say, they hit it out of the park this time! Let’s take a look:
Best of ECW 1992 Volume 1
Date: Various (07/14/1992 given by WWE)
Location: Original Sports Bar, Philadelphia, PA
“Ironman” Tommy Cairo vs. Damien Stone (07/14/1992)
“Wildman” Sal Bellomo vs. “The Anvil” Jim Neidhart (06/23/1992)
ECW Tag Team Championship Tournament Finals: The Super Destroyers vs. Nightbreed (Glen Osbourne and Max Thrasher) (06/23/1992)
ECW Heavyweight Championship: “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka vs. Johnny Hotbody (c) (07/14/1992)
Thoughts: According to what little information I can find (and there is very little out there on 1992 ECW), this pair of VHS releases are pretty high up there on the rarity scale and were among the first home video products that the fledgling Eastern Championship Wrestling ever produced. Of course, the fact that this tape has most likely been locked away in a vault (or warehouse) for the last 27 years means that the audio is just a little wobbly. The visual side of things holds up well enough (though it’s far from ‘good’) for something that wouldn’t have the faintest hope of being legitimately upscaled for better quality.
The Cairo/Stone match was a solid start to proceedings that kept up a fairly quick pace throughout. The highlight for me would have been Cairo slamming Stone on the floor outside (almost like the faintest hint of things to come) but due to there being only one camera, we only hear the impact and don’t see any of it. Still, Tommy finished with an interesting powerbomb variation in an announced 5:20, so it wasn’t all bad. Things kind of fall apart during a post-match brawl though as the cameraman does a terrible job of following the action and films more of the crowd instead. C- grade due to setting some solid groundwork for what we’ll see going forward and not majorly screwing anything up
The Bellomo/Neidhart bout is absolutely on here just to crow about star power and not much else. “The Anvil” was fresh off being fired from the WWF in February, with sources suggesting that this was his second of just 3 matches for the territory, taking place on June 23rd. It took place on the same night that the first ECW Tag Team Champions were crowned. More on that in a moment… Bellomo plays the heel, basically stalling and sneak attacking to pad out the run time. When the “Wildman” does finally get the advantage with a full nelson, his manager (Stevie Wonderful, if I heard the commentator correctly) screws up and hits his client with a punch. Neidhart goes straight into the pinfall for the win. Like I said, pretty much a nothing match that was almost certainly included just to be able to advertise a big name on the box. Speaking of big names, post-match shenanigans see Don Muraco initially help Neidhart corner Wonderful, only for “The Anvil” to get attacked by his supposed ally and former WWF Intercontinental Champion. In case you’re wondering, I can’t find evidence of this angle leading to a match. D+ grade due to a lack of substance and a post-match angle that seemingly went nowhere.
And as I promised, we have the tournament final to decide the first-ever ECW Tag Team Champions up next. A serious piece of history right here. Does that make it a classic? God, no. This “tournament final” is the very definition of an extended squash (11:47, according to the announcer) for the Super Destroyers as they effectively toy with Nightbreed for the entire match, Even a hot tag is shrugged off like it’s nothing. Still, the dominant performance was fitting considering the team held the new championships until April (or May if you count the TV airing as the official date) of 1993. By a weird quirk of history, this makes The Super Destroyers both the first and longest-reigning ECW Tag Team Champions. Despite being a rather pedestrian match designed to put over the monster heel champions like a million bucks, it’s great to see a major ECW milestone finally made available via the WWE Network. C+ grade for telling a competent story that leads into a sustained push. Too generous? Maybe, but my opinions on pro wrestling fluctuate daily anyway. I’m sticking by this for now.
And with almost half of this “tape” still left, we have our main event for this volume: Jimmy Snuka challenging Johnny Hotbody for the ECW Heavyweight Championship. Snuka is touted as the first-ever ECW Heavyweight Champion, winning it in a tournament on April 25th. While this is true, that first reign lasted just a single day, with Hotbody stealing it from the legend immediately. Hotbody would proceed to defend the belt for several months, until Snuka finally got his rematch featured here on July 14th. On the subject of “The Superfly”, Jimmy was less than 6 months removed from the end of his most recent WWF run by this point and in his late 40’s. Perhaps a bit late to be a headliner for any company, but there’s no denying that Snuka still had a bankable name here.
As for the match? Stalling, stalling and more stalling. Seriously. Counting from after the ring introductions. it takes at least 7 or 8 minutes for Hotbody and Snuka to touch. Then Jimmy just no-sells everything and Hotbody goes back to stalling. It’s pretty bad and the crowd makes sure to chant “boring” very loudly on multiple occasions. No wonder so much of the tape was left. I’m avoiding play-by-play due to the amount of content to review this week but even if I wasn’t, there’s so little substance to the match: Hotbody headlock, Snuka overcomes with a very quick flurry, Hotbody stalls again. When Hotbody finally gets control, everything just slows down to a crawl. Without breaking this down moment by moment, I think the best way to summarise my issues with this match is that it feels forced into half-speed to accommodate a declining “Superfly”. It just feels needlessly drawn out. Thankfully, things do improve in the homestretch when momentum swings back and forth with a few near falls sprinkled in. Eventually, Jimmy hits a back suplex and his legendary top rope splash for the win. Jimmy celebrates, posing for the crowd and we wrap up for this volume. C grade that was pulled down by an extremely sluggish start.
Overall Video Grade: C+ (After taking the historical significance of some of the footage into account)
Best of ECW 1992 Volume 2 (Subtitled as “ECW’s Bloodiest Matches”)
Date: Various (10/24/1992 given by WWE)
Location: Chestnut Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA
Tony “Hitman” Stetson vs. Johnny Hotbody (10/24/1992)
Kodiak Bear and Canadian Wolfman vs. Hellriders (EZ Rider and HD Rider) (10/24/1992)
Russian Chain Match (The Winner Must Touch All 4 Corners in Succession): Tommy Cairo vs. Ivan Koloff (10/24/1992)
Lumberjack Match: Tony “Hitman” Stetson vs. “Wildman” Sal Bellomo (08/12/1992)
With a “bloodiest matches” subtitle, this second volume better provide some chaos, even if it pales in comparison to the promotion’s extreme prime. Once again, the audio and video quality is ropey but understandable considering the rarity.
As we concluded the first volume with a Johnny Hotbody match, so we begin the second tape with one. Hotbody was injured not long after losing the ECW Heavyweight Championship and returned as a reluctant cornerman for his opponent here. Their issues spiraled from there. Of course, Johnny starts a collection of bloodiest matches by stalling again because why wouldn’t he? A shoving match then breaks out before both men lock up. Things break down quickly as Stetson gets sent to the outside and hit with a chair by Hotbody’s manager Don E. Allen. As Stetson is already bleeding, Johnny capitalizes with a running, diving ring bell shot from the ring to the outside. Honestly quite impressive for how vicious it looked. It gave me a slight vibe of Cactus Jack. The brawl continues into the crowd but unfortunately, a lack of camera coverage means that we can see next to nothing and neither can the commentary team. It looks like Hotbody jumped off of the bar (yes, the kind you order drinks from) at one point but poor video quality and viewpoint make the spot far less impactful than it could have been. Thankfully, we do get to see some glimpses of the literal “bar fight”, though nothing particularly amazing.
And this brawl just refuses to return to the ring as Hotbody hits a pair of running elbow drops (which elicit an overt Cactus Jack mention from the commentary team) and refuses to give Tony any breathing room. A suplex finally brings things back inside. Eventually, Stetson manages to mount a comeback but this has quite obviously stopped being about wins and losses as the action heads ringside once more. It’s Johnny’s turn to take a beating now (including multiple unprotected chair shots to the head) and this is getting chaotic. If only I could see more of it. At least the atmosphere is helping. Back in the ring (briefly) and the highlight of the match takes place with a top rope superplex from Hotbody to Stetson. That still isn’t the finish though as the brawl spills outside yet again. And THEN the referee decides he’s had enough and calls for the double count-out while both men ignore the bell and keep fighting. Well, that was a damp squib of an ending considering the superplex just moments prior. B- grade for an intense, fun brawl hampered by poor visibility and an anticlimactic ending.
In a fun bit of continuity, the Kodiak Bear/ Wolfman vs. Hellriders match barely gets underway when Hotbody and Stetson reappear to continue their officially thrown out brawl. As you may have already realized by the dates given above, these bouts did take place on the same card. For a minute or two, the camera just ignores the tag match and focuses on the chaos at ringside, involving plastic milk crates and steel chairs. October 1992 and those hardcore roots are already taking hold. Although there is an attempt to restore order, the tag match is just being ignored once again and the previous match technically continues on the outside (though we once again can’t see much). We do at least get to see Stetson throw soda in Hotbody’s face.
It’s finally time to focus on the action in the ring and we get a basic exchange. Unfortunately, this never really progresses beyond basic brawling and clotheslines, with all 4 men occasionally clashing in the ring to mix it up a little. There’s no real build to a finish either as Kodiak Bear just hits one of the Riders with a foreign object that we can’t even see and gets the pin. C- grade thanks to the continuation of Stetson vs. Hotbody, a little lower if I’m purely evaluating the tag match itself. This was only included as an epilogue to the previous match. The Hell Riders try to get some babyface revenge by cornering Kodiak and Wolfman’s manager “The Cosmic Commander” but it doesn’t come to anything.
Moving on to the Russian Chain Match, Ivan Koloff is another example of ECW bringing in fading older stars for their remaining name value. If I have my math right, Ivan was 50 years old when this match took place and in far worse shape than the jacked-up Snuka (who challenged for the ECW Heavyweight Championship on this same show against Don Muraco). So I’ll be interested to see what he has left in the tank.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell as the match is rather clumsily clipped. We skip from just after the opening bell to Cairo on the floor being whipped by the namesake chain. As you might expect, the vast majority of this bout is limited to slow brawling and choking with said chain. Cairo does at least hit a good looking belly-to-belly before trying to touch the turnbuckles for the first time. The real problem with this match though is that it already includes an aged athlete and then the rules themselves stall any momentum constantly too. It just bogs everything down.
It’s not all bad though as Cairo does at least show some fire once busted open (even biting Ivan on the forehead) and it doesn’t take long for both guys to be a bloody mess. And then in a sentence I never thought I’d write, 50-year-old Ivan Koloff dives off the top rope for a senton(with the help of a chain yank from his opponent)! Well, that was worth watching this video for. He lands on Cairo’s knees though so it doesn’t do much good. We head into the closing stretch as Tommy gets ever-closer to touching all 4 corners and Ivan does all he can to stop that from happening (including a bite of his own). The Russian is eventually worn down enough for Tommy Cairo to just barely touch that elusive 4th turnbuckle and get the win. C- grade. Even if Cairo technically forced Koloff into the move, I have to bump this match up slightly just because a 50-year-old effectively performed a top rope senton.
Okay, this lumberjack match “main event” is weird. First. the title card doesn’t even refer to the stipulation. Then we join-in-progress with Tony Stetson already busted open. And speaking of Stetson. he casually punches Bellomo with a roll of quarters like it’s a standard transition and the bout just carries on. If you’ll bear in mind that I think Stetson is supposed to be the babyface here (in truth, the commentary team has done a terrible job of making things like this clear throughout both volumes) and you’ll just what an incoherent mess this is.
Worse yet, the match slows down after the roll of quarters and just meanders on until The Sandman (with the prefix of “Mr.” at this point) interferes and causes the double DQ. So apparently the babyface can punch with a roll of quarters no problem. But if he gets attacked by someone from the outside, we’re done? Okay, whatever you say. Cairo comes to the aid of Stetson and then the lumberjacks pile in for the clusterduck. Bellomo goes for TLC 8 years early by throwing a table, a ladder, and some chairs into the ring. Then Stetson just clocks manager Stevie Wonderful in the head with a chair. That seemed unnecessary. This just degenerates into an unintelligible brawl in the crowd. One last chair shot to Sandman and we’re done. D grade. I was going to go lower but the post-match activities just about raised this to barely passable.
Overall Video Grade: C- (A comparatively strong opener and semi-decent chain match get pulled down by a rough main event and there are no historic moments to help this time)
Unaired SportsChannel ECW TV Pilot
Name: ECW TV Pilot
Location: Kensington Sports Arena, Kensington, PA
Tommy Cairo vs. King Kaluha
ECW Tag Team Championship: The Super Destroyers (c) vs. Jimmy Jannetty and Larry Winters
ECW Television Championship: Glenn Osbourne (c) vs. “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka
ECW Heavyweight Championship: Sandman (c) vs. Kodiak Bear
Oh boy, I’ve heard of this one and not in a good way. Jay Sulli and Stevie Wonderful introduce themselves as our commentary team for the next hour. They run down the card and we’re ready to go.
As we head into our first match, I’m relieved to see a multi-camera setup finally in play and marginally improved video quality. As far as this opening match goes, I found it to be fine. Basic but fine. Kaluha attacks before the bell, only for Cairo to fight back. Like all babyfaces though, he makes a mistake and gets ground down for a prolonged period. There are the typical swings in momentum to keep the crowd invested of course but Tommy getting to hit his flying body block, a huge back bodydrop and a huge Kaluha right hand are about the only moments that stand out. Well, there is also Kaluha randomly mugging for the camera:
Cairo eventually manages to reverse a sitdown pin into his own and gets the win in something like 8 minutes or so. D+ grade. As I said, a small handful of moments woke me up but this match mostly felt so devoid of energy. Not great for an opener. Post-match, Tommy cuts a promo ringside with Jay Sulli and challenges the winner of the ECW Heavyweight Championship match between Sandman and Kodiak Bear later tonight. Or at least I think he does. Sulli is trying to push the narrative in that direction but “The Ironman” insists on rambling generically.
There’s no slowing down, as we head straight into a Tag Team Championship bout. After seeing The Super Destroyers gain the belts earlier, they’re now well established as unstoppable monsters here. Unfortunately, this is another match with stalling as Jimmy Jannetty (no relation) does all he can to avoid the grip of The Super Destroyers. Not exactly riveting though. Jannetty eventually tries to build some momentum off the ropes and hit a body block but he just gets caught. His partner helps by hitting a dropkick and getting them a brief pinfall. Jannetty and Winters hold their own for a while but once The Destroyers get in control it doesn’t take them long to start playing with their opponents once again.
It doesn’t work quite so well here, as the challengers quickly regain the momentum and keep it. I’m sure that goes against tag team wrestling 101 of having the babyfaces build to a comeback but what do I know? Seriously though, Winters and Jannetty mostly stay in control until a brief double clothesline spot in the home stretch. Even then, the challengers look like they’ve gotten the pin when a 1o-minute draw is declared. D- grade. I just didn’t get this one. It was almost as if known tag team psychology was reversed and thus nothing was built to. Then the challengers manage to strike out with a time limit draw after being in control for about 8 of the 10 minutes. Baffling.
Before we get to our Television Championship match, Stevie Wonderful appears in pre-taped interviews with both Champion Glenn Osbourne and a recently-turned-heel Jimmy Snuka. I say with Snuka but in reality, Hunter Q. Robbins III does all of the talking while Snuka repeatedly chews up and spits out an apple, It’s unique, I’ll give him that.
Oddly, the pre-match interview specifically called this Osbourne’s first Television Championship defense but then the commentary team immediately contradict this by saying that he has defended the belt before just not against someone on the level of Snuka. So which is it?
Either way, after some stalling, Osbourne tries to take advantage with a quick rollup. It doesn’t work and we finally start the feeling out process. Unfortunately, the action that follows is extremely lethargic. “The Superfly” is even slower now that he’s heeling it up and Osbourne is reduced to basic holds and desperation pinfall attempts. As you might expect, just as the Champion is on a roll, the ref takes a bump, rendering any pinfall attempt moot. Osbourne tries to wake the ref, letting Snuka sneak in and roll him up. A wild second referee appears to count the 3. It looks like we have a new champion, only for the original referee to reverse the decision and disqualify the challenger for putting him in harm’s way originally. Good god, that was boring. D grade. Maybe it’s just me (and feel free to say in the comments if you think it is) but giving a slowed, aging Snuka license to be even slower was a recipe for disaster here. So little happened in an 8-minute match. And what did happen was deemed irrelevant anyway.
In what is now officially the earliest Sandman match on WWE Network, we’re set for our main event as Sandman defends the ECW Heavyweight Championship against Kodiak Bear. Sandman is still at full tilt with the “surfer” gimmick here and has none of the edginess that would later define him. Considering that even the guy’s biggest defenders admit to the guy being carried by a well-fitting persona and perfect theme music, I’m not looking forward to this.
As it turned out though, this wasn’t terrible. Sure, you can tell Sandman isn’t exactly cut out to be a goody-two-shoes, paintless derivative of Sting but he doesn’t particularly stink up the joint either. Admittedly, Kodiak Bear keeps things extremely simple as far as the “big man” game goes, never venturing beyond striking, choking and splashing. Of course, we get a “Kodiak Bear hug” too. My point is that Kodiak is so unremarkable with his offense that it makes Sandman stand out when he does some actual moves. Speaking of standing out, Rockin’ Rebel blindsides Sandman (then quickly runs away again) while he’s on the floor trying to deal with Grand Wizard ripoff “The Cosmic Commander”. This was an attempt to build up to Sandman’s next “major” defense, as he faced Rebel on December 19th. For all the obstacles put in the Champion’s way here though, he eventually starts fighting back and eventually triumphs with a clothesline, extremely sloppy “martial arts kick” from the apron into the ring and a top rope “missile” (I use that term very loosely) dropkick for the win. For Sandman, that was bordering on Super Junior territory. Post-match, we get an extremely brief backstage interview with the Champion which degenerates into a locker room brawl with Rockin’ Rebel. Jay and Stevie bookend the show to sign us off. D+ grade. It was an inoffensive match that I may rate a little if it was an opener but as your main event of the evening that’s supposed to entice a TV station to take a chance, it was extremely subpar. ECW was barely ready for TV in April 1993. It wasn’t in November 1992.
Overall Video Grade: D. This is a territory that feels like something stuck in the 80s when the world (and especially pro wrestling television) was getting ready to move on. I can’t exactly blame ECW for trying to emulate what worked as a TV product but the roster isn’t even close to having the talent needed to pull it off without the “hardcore” crutches.
Over 3800 words and more than 2 and a half hours of rough wrestling footage later and our journey into the embryonic days of Eastern Championship Wrestling is over!. Thank you for reading, don’t forget to give your opinion in the comments section and I’ll see you next week!
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