Note: April 4, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of the “official” end of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling, as it was on April 4, 2001, that HHG Corporation, the parent company of ECW, filed for bankruptcy. Over the next several weeks, this column will look at the matches that “almost happened” or were intended to happen in ECW, but for various reasons, never took place.
One month is a relatively short period of time. However, in the case of this first ECW match that never happened, one month made all the difference.
ECW World Champion Mike Awesome vs. ECW World Television Champion Rob Van Dam
The seed was planted in the minds of many fans on September 19, 1999. At the Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view, Mike Awesome made a surprise return to the company, inserting himself into the scheduled match between ECW World Champion Taz and Masato Tanaka (Awesome’s long-time rival from the FMW promotion in Japan). Awesome won the World Championship, but his title victory didn’t close the show. Instead, ECW World Television Champion Rob Van Dam successfully defended his title against Balls Mahoney (subbing for Johnny Smith, who Mahoney had knocked unconscious before the bout).
Paul Heyman had said his goal was to make the ECW World Television Title seem like an equal to the World Title, and this booking not only gave the TV belt the “main event” slot on the PPV but immediately put the idea of Rob Van Dam vs. Mike Awesome out there as a potential champion vs. champion match. (Oh, and it also guaranteed a strong crowd reaction just in case the fans didn’t like Awesome “ruining” the World Title match). Van Dam had held onto the ECW World Television belt since April 4, 1998, and his long title reign, hitting 700 days when it ended, was an anomaly at a time when hot-shotting title changes were all the rage in WWF and WCW. Despite not being World Champion, many saw RVD as the company’s top star (especially with Taz soon departing for WWF).
Over the next several months, Awesome was built up as a dominant champion, defeating 19 different challengers to the title (for those curious, he beat Kid Kash, Rhino, Johnny Smith, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Rod Price, New Jack, Simon Diamond, Little Guido, PN News, Mikey Whipwreck, Taz, Masato Tanaka, Spike Dudley, Angel, Justin Credible, 2 Cold Scorpio, Tracy Smothers, Vic Grimes, and CW Anderson during his run as champ). During this time, his most notable rivalries were a “David vs. Goliath” storyline with Spike Dudley and a series with Tanaka, resulting in a one-week back-and-forth title change with him in December of 1999. Awesome had in quick fashion been cemented as a top star for the company… but not THE top star. That was unquestionably RVD.
This brings us to the January 15, 2000, ECW Arena show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and an angle that seems to have been forgotten by history. Awesome delivered a promo about his dominance and proclaimed that his championship was the only one that mattered in wrestling, punctuating it by declaring he was the “whole f***ing show.” With his catchphrase being stolen, Rob Van Dam headed to the ring, and it appeared we were on the verge of an impromptu double championship match. However, the lights went out and Van Dam’s frienemy Sabu appeared. At first teasing a three-way dance, or possibly a two-on-one against Awesome, Sabu then blasted Van Dam with a chairshot and took out manager Bill Alfonso. Despite Spike Dudley attempting a save, Awesome and Sabu destroyed RVD, putting him through a table.
The road was clear, Rob Van Dam would be looking to extract revenge on Sabu and we would officially be building towards Van Dam vs. Awesome. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the plans only two weeks later, when Van Dam suffered a broken leg during a match with Rhino in Orlando, Florida. Van Dam would be out of action for over three months, and while he would remain a presence in ECW programming, the storyline with Awesome was shelved (and Sabu’s departure from ECW the next month led to the above angle being pretty much erased).
Awesome would continue to successfully defend the ECW World Title against a variety of opponents in February and March, and even ended up with a one-week tag team championship run with Raven in a short program with Tommy Dreamer & Masato Tanaka along with the Impact Players of Lance Storm & Justin Credible. The RVD-Awesome match would obviously have to wait until RVD could come back. Unfortunately, by then, Mike Awesome was gone from ECW in one of the most talked-about controversies of not only ECW history but the Monday Night Wars between WWF and WCW as well.
Without going into all the backstage details (which have been covered extensively in numerous places), Mike Awesome showed up on WCW Nitro on April 10, 2000, attacking Kevin Nash. The resulting fallout saw probably the most unique title change I have ever witnessed take place three days later. In Indianapolis, Indiana, WWF’s Tazz returned to ECW and beat WCW’s Mike Awesome to win the ECW World Title with Tommy Dreamer’s help. Funny side note, I covered the match in person for ECWwrestling.com and was typing so frantically (yes, that is how we covered matches then, no streaming video or audio) that I actually misspelled DDT. Thankfully, Paul Heyman corrected me.
Anyway, I digress. Awesome was gone from the company. Rob Van Dam did return to ECW action one month later, losing to long-time rival Jerry Lynn at the Hardcore Heaven Pay-per-view. Had RVD been able to wrestle on April 10th, would Paul Heyman have had him face Awesome in Indianapolis? If he had, we would have gotten the match that was obviously on the drawing board for the company, but then we wouldn’t have had that surreal moment of Tazz beating Awesome that fans still talk about all these years later.
Despite both being in the WWF simultaneously in 2001, they never did wrestle each other. Awesome sadly passed away in 2007, and the dream match of ECW World Champion vs. ECW World Television Champion, Mike Awesome vs. Rob Van Dam, was left to the imagination of fans and video game simulators.