May 15, 2003
DVDs keep ECW's memories alive
By "HARDCORE" CHRIS GRAMLICH -- SLAM! Wrestling

Shhh, can you hear that? No, listen. There it is again. Distant, but growing louder. No, not "Rocky." There it is again. Shhhh, listen. Can you hear it? "ECW, ECW, ECW." No matter how dead the company may be, ECW's legacy still echoes in the annals of wrestling history, at least for those that remember that Vince didn't create pro wrestling. And, despite little fanfare, a number of ECW DVDs have seen the light of day to substantiate its greatness and remind the loyal that just because something is gone, doesn't mean you can't painfully obsess over its passing.

For many, myself included, ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) wasn't just another wrestling company; it was THE wrestling company. With Vince McMahon's revisionist history, it won't be long until all record of ECW, or the WCW for that matter, is erased, but from 1994, when they became "Extreme," to its tragic demise in 2001 (owner Paul Heyman is an undeniably genius as a booker, but an equal mess as a business man), ECW redefined wrestling. And even today, when two ex-ECW wrestlers square off in the WWE, or in NWA: TNA, the fans still chant, "ECW, ECW!!!" Or "easy-dub," as it most often sounds like.

Originally dubbed Eastern Championship Wrestling and born out of a Philadelphia bingo hall, it wasn't until ECW changed, or more specifically, refined, its name, attitude and style in the early/mid-'90s that their illustrious and influential run would begin. One that was notably marked when "The Franchise" Shane Douglas won the tournament for the NWA world heavyweight championship in 1994, declared that belt dead and stated that the ECW heavyweight belt was the new world title. An obscene use of tables, chairs, barbwire, scaffold matches, ultra-violence, overly personal angles, women going through tables and wrestling men, and other insanity were all apart of ECW's appeal and contributions to wrestling. Sure, they didn't invent any of it, taking influences from hardcore Japan companies and old-time brutal wrestling bloodbaths, but with ECW mastermind Paul Heyman behind the show (along the way buying out original owner Tod Gordon), they innovated with violence, actual wrestling and intelligent angles that took everything to the extreme, and the fans loved it.

Taz lived an "extreme" life in ECW.

In fact, the fans loved it so much that it wasn't long until WCW and the WWF started recruiting ECW wrestlers, with the WWF stealing outright their "Extreme" aesthetic with "Attitude" in the latter '90s and the WCW following suite with Vince Russo's reign. Wrestlers such as Chris Jericho, Taz, Rob Van Dam, the Dudley Boys, Cactus Jack, Terry Funk, Steve Austin, The Sandman, Rhino, Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, Raven, Justin Credible, Shane Douglas, Eddie Guerreo, Rey Misterio Jr., Tommy Dreamer, the Steiners, among countless others all served time in ECW.

However, despite ECW's unquestionably place in wrestling, when the Big Two and their money would call, most eventually left, as ECW, despite being recognised as one of the big three, never came close to matching what the WWF or WCW could offer, always dancing on the razor's edge of financial catastrophe. When ECW secured its international TV deal with TNN in 1999, instead of raising the company to a new level of popularity, the lack of promotion by TNN, coupled with ECW's attempts to rise to the next level (videogames, CDs, etc.), not to mention the saturation of its aesthetic and Heyman's tremendous lack of business acumen and foresight, sealed ECW's fate.

However, for those who may not have made the pilgrimage to Buffalo (for those located in the T-dot, anyway) to stock up on ECW shirts and videos, and the ever-reliable RF Video "Best of..." tapes, even if they were of the over-dubbed, sliding scale video-quality variety, before their demise ECW secured a deal with Pioneer Home Entertainment and to date 12 Pioneer ECW DVDs have been released in North America. Broken up as such, there are two "Best of..." collections -- The Best of the Dudley Boys and The Best of Cactus Jack -- six events/pay-per-views -- their first pay-per-view Barely Legal, Wrestlepalooza '97, Heatwave '98, Anarchy Rulz '99, Cyberslam '99, Guilty As Charged 2001 -- and four collections -- Extreme Evolution, Deep Impact, Hardcore History and Path of Destruction.

Like most things ECW, there are both realised opportunities and unfortunate misses with their DVDs -- they could all be longer, the collections could focus a little more on continuity, they all could have more interviews/angles and matches, they could have better extras, video feud recaps, etc. But they are all worth owning for the better than tape-trading video quality, the diversity and brutality of the matches and for Joey Styles' narration and match commentary -- with Styles being arguably the best commentator in modern wrestling. Plus, it's ECW, and at its worst is still better than most on a good day. While they can be hard to find, most retail chains will order them for you (HMV, for example), they can be pricey, in the 50-dollar range, but since it's the only ECW on DVD, it's worth the price for those who can still hear those fabled letters.


"BEST OF..." COLLECTIONS



The Best of the Dudley Boyz (169 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Three out of five chair shots

Opening with the Dudley Boyz (D-Von and Bubba Ray) giving the 3-D to Tommy Dreamer's valet, Beulah, as he watches helplessly, bloodied and handcuffed to the ring ropes, the tone is set early for ECW's most hated, successful, hardcore and, arguably, best tag-team ever. While not as comprehensive as RF Video's "Best of the Dudleys: From Hardcore Hell and Back", being substantially shorter and not has strong in its telling of the Dudley Boys' history, which extends back further than D-Von and Bubba Ray, or featuring enough full matches, although it hits most of the major developments, it does showcase the initial feud between D-Von and Bubba, their subsequent joining and years-long rampage. It also features a number of their excellent, although truncated, angles, interviews, matches, crowd-baiting/near-riot-inducing ring entrances and a few highlight packages. Undoubtedly the highlight is their farewell match on the way to the WWF (where they won the belts and then lost them to Tommy Dreamer and a returning from WCW Raven) and their subsequent kayfabe-breaking farewell speech.

Special Features: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Interactive Menus, D-Von's Debut, Dudley Boyz Farewell Speech From 12/00, Dudley Boyz vs. Masato Tanaka and Balls Mahoney (10/98).






The Best of Cactus Jack (210 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Four out of five chair shots

Summing up the hardcore career, even the ECW-only run, of the legend known as Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) in a little less than three-and-a-half hours is a near-impossibility, but The Best of Cactus Jack gives it the old college try. Although again not as complete as the RF Video "best of" collection for Cactus Jack in ECW, The Best of Cactus Jack is essential for any fan of Mick Foley, ECW or hardcore wrestling. Included is Jack's first ECW (when they were Eastern Championship Wrestling) hardcore match with Sabu, including having a bottle broken over his head, his teaming with Mikey Whipwreck, his feud with the Sandman and Terry Funk (including one angle where he was handcuffed and caned for about five minutes straight), and his feuds with Shane Douglas and Tommy Dreamer, among others. Also included are a number of Cactus's brilliant interviews, most notably the infamous number where he spits on the WCW tag-team Championship belt and throws it down (thus leading to his WCW dismissal), and his anti-hardcore speeches, which are beyond brilliant. This would have been a five with less truncated matches, more of them and a greater history.

Special Features: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Interactive Menus.






COMPILATIONS






Extreme Evolution (171 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Three out of five chair shots

Tommy Dreamer.

The first of ECW's DVDs is probably one of their weakest overall efforts, with the PPVs/events and Best ofs being better overall, but Extreme Evolution has more than a few highlights to satisfy fans and the curious. Highlights include the fabled Sandman/Raven barbwire match, which although brutal, is nowhere near Terry Funk/Sabu's Born To Be Wired barbwire match, although Raven getting whipped with barbwire is pretty sick, as is the botched table/pile-driver finish. The Jerry Lynn/RVD match is a clinic, both in scientific wrestling and in high-spots, also demonstrating how "hardcore" technical wrestling matches can be, with Lynn going face first to the floor, knocking himself nearly out and still finishing the match. And also worth the price of admission is a truly brutal match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka for the ECW heavyweight title, which has some of the stiffest chair shots ever. Also worth noting is the Sabu vs. Taz grudge match from Barely Legal and Spike Dudley getting power-bombed through two flaming tables.

Matches:

  • Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn (5.16.99)
  • Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka (11.7.99)
  • The Sandman vs. Raven (12.7.96)
  • The Dudley Boys vs. Balls Mahoney and Spike Dudley (8.14.99)
  • The Eliminators vs. Steve Williams and Terry Gordy (10.26.96)
  • Sabu vs. Taz (4.13.97)
  • Tommy Dreamer and Beulah vs. Shane Douglas and Francine (12.7.96)

Special Features: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Interactive Menus, Extreme Moments Montage, Match Access, Wrestler Biographies, Anarchy Rulz preview.






Path of Destruction (165 minutes)

Gramlich rating: three-and-a-half chair shots out of five

Axl Rotten.

While ECW built there reputation on hardcore violence, Path of Destruction features some of the best wrestling matches of any of the DVDs, as well as one of the most bloody and violent matches ever unleashed. The way the matches jump from year to year without angle continuity can be a problem for all of the "comps" but an excellent nostalgic match with Chris Jericho versus 2 Cold Scorpio versus Pitbull #2 versus Shane Douglas for the ECW World Television Championship is sweet, but the death-defying bloodbath between Sabu and Sandman in a "Stairway To Hell" match (tables, ladders, chairs, barbwire) is one of the bloodiest and sickest ECW matches ever. Another match that is brutal, but not as good, is the Taipei death match between Ian and Axl Rotten, where both wrestlers have glass glued to their knuckles; it's bloody and extreme, but also kind of plodding. However, the wrestling mat classics between Dean Malenko/Eddy Guererro, Jerry Lynn/Tajiri/Super Crazy and Psicosis /Rey Misterio Jr. elevates this DVD.

Matches:

  • Chris Jericho vs. 2 Cold Scorpio vs. Pitbull #2 vs. Shane Douglas (7.13.96)
  • Rob Van Dam vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (4.4.98)
  • Sabu vs. the Sandman (1.10.98)
  • Ian Rotten vs. Axl Rotten (7.1.95)
  • Jerry Lynn vs. Tajiri vs. Super Crazy (11.7.99)
  • Dean Malenko vs. Eddy Guererro (8.26.95)
  • Psicosis vs. Rey Misterio Jr. (9.16.95)

Special Features: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Interactive Menus, Match Access, Wrestler Interviews, Wrestler Biographies.






Deep Impact (148 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Four out of five chair shots

Sabu and his manager Bill Alphonso.

While Deep Impact is a good, not great, collection of ECW highlight matches, its increased score, and need to own, is dictated by its inclusion of one of the most disturbing, extreme and dangerous matches ever: the Terry Funk vs. Sabu barbwire match from Born To Be Wired. Truly one of the most "extreme" matches ever, with the sickest spot happening when Terry Funk, wrapped in barbwire, is leg-dropped through a table by Sabu, who's also wrapped in barbwire (psycho!). The resulting mess nearly led to Funk being strangled by barbwire during the pin, not to mention Sabu destroying his bicep early in the match by leaping into a barbwire strung ring corner. The Mikey Whipwreck/Sandman/Austin match is also incredibly cool to watch, as it actually includes the history of the feud; it's fascinating just to witness Austin's brief run in ECW, showcasing the beginning of his Stone Cold attitude. And let us not forget the amazingly stiff match between Taz and Bam Bam Bigelow, where they literally destroy the ring. As well, anytime you can watch Funk and Cactus fight, even in a tag match, things are good.

Matches:

  • Mikey Whipwreck vs. the Sandman vs. Steve Austin (12.9.95)
  • Terry Funk vs. Sabu (8.9.97)
  • Taz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (3.1.98)
  • Terry Funk and the Sandman vs. Cactus Jack and Shane Douglas (3.18.95)
  • Masato Tanaka and Jerry Lynn vs. Mike Awesome and Justin Credible (7.18.98)
  • Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Psicosis (8.19.00)
  • Francine vs. Beulah McGuillicuty (8.26.95)

Special Features: Wrestler Bios, Rare Promos, ECW Extreme Moment featuring Bill Alfonso vs. Beulah McGuillicuty, 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound.






Hardcore History (163 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Three-and-a-half chair shots out of five

Bubba Ray Dudley of the Dudley Boys.

True to its title, Hardcore History, all the matches included here are from 1995 and 1996, showcasing some of ECWs most hardcore feuds (Gangstas versus the Eliminators, Cactus versus Sandman, RVD versus Sabu) in its most formative and influential years. In another ECW match for the ages, one that has to be seen to be believed, Tommy "the innovator of violence" Dreamer takes on Brian "the Underfaker" Lee in a scaffold match with triple-stacked tables filling the ring, and the fall from the scaffold through the tables will have everyone chanting, "ECW, ECW!" Also featured is a truly violent two out of three falls hardcore tag match between Raven and Stevie Richards versus the Pitbulls, where Raven is nearly killed when instead of going through a table, his head and neck merely clips it. Also, Rey Misterio Jr. and Juventud Guererra put on another classic of Lucha, while the RVD/Sabu stretcher match nearly kills both men.

Matches:

  • Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko vs. Sabu and Taz (2.25.95)
  • The Gangstas vs. the Eliminators (8.24.96)
  • Raven and Stevie Richards vs. the Pitbulls (9.16.95)
  • Shane Douglas vs. Pitbull 2 (8.3.96)
  • Rey Misterio Jr. vs Juventud Guererra (3.9.96)
  • Tommy Dreamer vs. Prime Time Brian Lee (10.26.96)
  • Cactus Jack vs. the Sandman (7.1.95)
  • Rob Van Dam vs. Sabu (8.3.96)

Special Features: Wrestler Bios, Promos, Extreme Moments Montage.






PAY-PER-VIEW EVENTS






Barely Legal (146 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Five chair shots out of five

Rob Van Dam.

ECW's first and arguably best PPV is wrestling history that will never be forgotten. While ECW put on a few PPVs that were arguably better, Barely Legal still stands as one of its best and due to its magical first stature, is somewhat of a must own for any fan of ECW. The Eliminators (one of the best tag-teams ever) simply dismantle the Dudley Boyz in a clinical dissection to win the tag belts. Lance Storm and RVD have their first meeting, which while not as good as later battles, is still strong. But it's the Michinoku Pro six-man tag match, featuring Gran Naniwa, the Great Sasuke and Masato Yakushiji vs. Taka Michinoku, Terry Boy and Dick Togo, that nearly steals the night with its mix of Japanese and Lucha styles. Nearly, as Sabu and Taz's brutal and contrasting hardcore styles grudge match, and the legendary Terry Funk winning two emotional matches, and bleeding a lot, to win the belt from heavyweight champ Raven are all something special to behold, as is the PPV.

Matches:

  • The Eliminators vs. the Dudley Boyz
  • Lance Storm vs. Rob Van Dam
  • Michinoku Pro Six-man Tag
  • Shane Douglas vs. Pitbull 2
  • Sabu vs. Taz
  • Terry Funk vs. the Sandman vs. Big Stevie Cool
  • Raven vs. Terry Funk

Special Features: Match History, Interactive Menus, 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound.






Wrestlepalooza '97 (120 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Four out of five chairs shots

Despite featuring the grudge rematch of the century between Sabu and Taz from Barely Legal, Wrestlepalooza '97 is best-known for its monumental "final" bout between Raven and Tommy Dreamer and its resulting aftermath, as Jerry "The King" Lawler debuts with Sabu and RVD to taunt, challenge and destroy ECW, furthering the ECW/WWF crossover angle at the time. The match between Raven and Dreamer, Raven's last before leaving for WCW and Dreamer's last chance to score a pin fall over Raven and finish their years-long feud, is a classic, laden with false-finishes, hardcore violence and run-ins, while the resulting King/RVD/Sabu rampage, where they literally destroy the ECW locker-room, is one of ECW's many defining feuds and exceptional moments. Not to be overshadowed is the "grudge rematch" between Taz and Sabu, featuring a brutal clash between the high-flying, suicidal style of Sabu and Taz's stiff mat-wrestling and unlimited arsenal of suplexes, which segues into a Taz/Shane Douglas match and the start of the Taz/Triple Threat feud. Also of note is the appearance of the late, great "Ravishing" Rick Rude doing colour commentary and the Eliminators retaining their belts despite Saturn's legit injuries.

Matches:

  • Shane Douglas vs. Chris Chetti
  • The FBI vs. the Pitbulls
  • The Dudley Boyz vs. the Sandman and Balls Mahoney
  • Terry Funk vs. Chris Candido
  • Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer
  • Jerry "the King" Lawler, Sabu and Rob Van Dam challenge ECW
  • Taz vs. Sabu
  • Shane Douglas vs. Taz
  • The Eliminators vs. the Dudley Boyz

Special Features: Match Histories, Interactive Menus, Scene Access, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.






Heatwave '98 (139 minutes)

Gramlich rating: Five chair shots out of five

Jerry Lynn.

It was one of the best PPVs of the year, or arguably any, by whichever company, and it's still amazing to watch today. From top to bottom, Heatwave is a classic, with not a weak match on the card, starting off hot with an excellent but brutal technical match between Justin Credible and Jerry Lynn and flowing into the solid Candido/Storm match, Heatwave really hits its stride with the Mike "The Mullet" Awesome/Masato Tanaka match, an incredibly stiff, hard-hitting affair, demonstrating the agility, high-flying ability and strength of Awesome and the durability of Tanaka, not to mention some sick, sick chair shots. The Sabu/RVD vs. Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki confrontation was another match of the year candidate for 1998, laden with high-flying, death-defying insanity from all its combatants, with some incredibly fluid acrobatics and the requisite hardcore aesthetic, while the intense Taz/Bam Bam Bigelow rematch, where Taz nearly brains himself suplexing BBB into the audience, doesn't destroy the ring this time, but the ramp itself.

Matches:

  • Justin Credible vs. Jerry Lynn
  • Chris Candido vs. Lance Storm
  • Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka
  • Sabu and Rob Van Dam vs. Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki
  • Taz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
  • Tommy Dreamer, the Sandman and Little Spike Dudley vs. the Dudley Boyz

Special Features: Match Summaries, Interactive Menus, Scene Access, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.






Cyberslam '99 (120 minutes)

Gramlich rating: three out of five chair shots

Super Crazy.

Possibly ECW's weakest PPV/event offering of all their DVDs, Cyberslam '99 is still quality overall. Jerry Lynn and Tajiri (pre-beard) put on an excellent match, complete with lots of catch as catch can wrestling, reversals, stiff kicks and near-falls. An impromptu Storm interview where he ends up getting doused in his own urine by Dreamer (steroid angle, don't ask) is a little much, but funny, while the Nova/Price match is better than you'd think (with Nova being one of the most under-appreciated ECW wrestlers), eventually degenerating into a pseudo-tag match. And Crazy versus Mosco is a Lucha purist's acrobatic, high-risk dream. But while Michinoku vs. Chulo doesn't match the Crazy/Mosco insanity, RVD versus 2 Cold sees each man trying to outdo the other, matching each other move for move, but lacks intensity. However, the start of the Douglas/Credible feud (Douglas has always given good interview), the Taz/Candido fight (where Taz attacks an injured Candido), the hardcore Dudley Boyz/Mustafa vs. New Jack/Mahoney/Rotten Wargames-style cage match, complete with barbwire, thumbtacks and a cage dive by Newjack, and the Crazy/Mosco match are worth the price of admission.

Matches:

  • Jerry Lynn vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri
  • Nova and Chris Chetti vs. Rod Price and Skull Von Krush
  • Super Crazy vs. Mosco de la Merced
  • Taka Michinoku vs. Papi Chulo
  • Rob Van Dam vs. 2 Cold Scorpio
  • Taz vs. Chris Candido
  • Shane Douglas vs. Justin Credible
  • The Dudley Boyz and Mr. Mustafa vs. New Jack, Balls Mahoney and Axl Rotten

Special Features: Match histories, Interactive Menus, Scene Access, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.






Anarchy Rulz '99 (143 minutes)

Gramlich rating: three and a half chair shots out of five

Justin Credible, Dawn Marie and Lance Storm.

ECW's first Pay-per-view to be available to non-satellite dish owners in Canada, Anarchy Rulz is a strong effort that while not as exceptional as some of ECW's better fare, features some good matches and Taz's losing of the ECW heavyweight title on his way to the WWF. The opening match between Storm and Lynn is a near-five-star wrestling clinic between two superb wrestlers, and is so good it could have been placed anywhere on the card. Another tremendous wrestling match features Tajiri/Crazy and Guido in a three-way dance of technical Lucha/Japanese-style highlights, one where if you blink you may miss a number of highspots. The Taz/Tanaka/Awesome title match is a quick squash of Taz so Tanaka and Awesome can deliver their brand of brutal carnage to each other, but it is monumental, as Taz emotionally loses the belt, as he was already on his way to the WWF, and the ECW locker-room empties to witness it. While the Raven/Dreamer/Corino/Rhino tag match is mainly a Dreamer beat-down until Raven makes the run-in save, the RVD versus Balls match is superior in execution than it appears on paper.

Matches:

  • Lance Storm vs. Jerry Lynn
  • Simon Diamond and Devito vs. Chris Chetti and Nova
  • Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Super Crazy vs. Little Guido
  • Justin Credible vs. Sabu
  • Taz vs. Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome
  • Tommy Dreamer and Raven vs. Steve Corino and Rhino
  • Rob Van Dam vs. Balls Mahoney

Special Features: Match histories, Interactive Menus, Scene Access, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.






Guilty As Charged 2001 (129 minutes)

Gramlich rating: three out of five chair shots

Tommy Dreamer makes C.W. Anderson submit.

ECW's last PPV offering, as it finally succumbed to years of mounting debut and bad business decisions, doesn't send the company off with a bang but it's substantially louder than a whimper. A number of muddy angles and lacklustre matches, mainly the opening numbers, puts things on a downward spiral, but Mr. ECW, Tommy Dreamer, turns the tide in an above-average I Quit match with C.W. Anderson, while the Whipwreck/Tajiri vs. FBI vs. Crazy/Kash three-way tag match is non-stop action, laden with highspots and wrestling (always a novel idea). The Sandman/Credible/Corino ladder match is also good, with Sandman taking a number of heavy bumps, and Corino bucking his trend and not bleeding the entire match. Of course, Rhino running in and forcing Sandman to defend his newfound ECW belt by threatening Sandman's family is a little much, with Sandman quickly getting squashed. And RVD's return to ECW to face Lynn is not nearly as strong as past encounters between the two. However, as a document of ECW's last PPV offering, it is sadly necessary history.

Matches:

  • Cyrus and Jerry Lynn vs. Christian York and Joey Matthews
  • Danny Doring and Roadkill vs. Hot Commodity
  • Nova vs. Chris Hamrick
  • Tommy Dreamer vs. C.W. Anderson
  • Mikey Whipwreck and Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. the FBI vs. Super Crazy and Kid Kash
  • Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger vs. Balls Mahoney and Chilly Willy
  • The Sandman vs. Justin Credible vs. Steve Corino
  • Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn

Special Features: Match histories, Interactive Menus, Scene Access, Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.







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