Note: April 4, 2021, marked 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.
The Public Enemy vs. Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley
Extreme Championship Wrestling played host to several incredible tag teams during the company’s history. The Pitbulls, The Headhunters, The Bad Breed, The Funks, The Gangstas, The Eliminators, Doug Furnas & Phil LaFon, The FBI (in several incarnations), Balls Mahoney & Axl Rotten, The Impact Players, Rob Van Dam & Sabu… you could easily fill an article just listing the teams. History has crowned Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley as the top ECW Tag Team of all time, and I certainly am not going to argue that belief here. However, in the early days, as the promotion became an underground sensation rapidly developing a cult following, it was The Public Enemy of Flyboy Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge that headlined shows during a time when some believed tag team wrestling was all but dead in North America.
For some reason, it seems that TPE doesn’t get their due in a lot of the numerous documentaries that have been made about the company. Make no mistake about it. In many ways, the Public Enemy was the first Paul Heyman ECW creation that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Terry Funk, Cactus Jack, and others who had started making their reputation before South Philadelphia became the hardcore wrestling center of the universe. Rocco, a veteran of the independent scene as the Cheetah Kid, had long been respected but overlooked. He actually had been wrestling regularly against Grunge, then using the ring name Johnny Rotten, when they were put together, given a hip hop gimmick, and opened the UltraClash show on September 18, 1993, defeating Jason Knight & Ian Rotten.
The team got mainstream attention facing Terry & Dory Funk Jr. and from there became favorites for their unique blend of humorous interviews and hardcore matches. Grunge was the brawler who, when he was once asked when he started wrestling, smirked and said, “I haven’t started yet.” On the other hand, Rocco could hold his own with any mat technician or high flyer in the business at the time. They were a unique team in a unique promotion. It was once remarked that while Sabu, Cactus, and Funk that got people to check out ECW, it was the Public Enemy that kept them coming back. As ECW’s top act, it wasn’t a shock when the bigger companies came calling, and after wrestling a dark match in November of 1995 in the WWF, the end of the Public Enemy’s era in ECW was coming near. They actually ended up signing with WCW at the start of 1996, after getting a farewell sendoff from the ECW fans that had supported them for the past two years.
Tag Team wrestling in ECW didn’t die with the Public Enemy’s departure, as the Gangstas, Eliminators, Bruise Brothers, and other duos stepped up to fill the void. However, a new team would form a few months later, and at the time, no one could have realized how impressive their legacy would be. Bubba Ray Dudley (at the time called Buh Buh Ray Dudley as part of a stuttering gimmick) was part of the Dudley Brothers’ troop that had started out as henchmen of Raven. He soon stood out due to his comedic promos and shockingly impressive dancing skills (side note, he even danced during a Public Enemy celebration). On April 13, 1996, D-Von Dudley debuted at the Massacre on Queens Blvd. event and immediately took an adversarial role toward his “brother” and his antics. The two teamed for a time, inevitably broke up, and feuded against each other.
However, at the “Crossing The Line Again” event on February 1, 1997, Bubba Ray shocked fans by joining D-Von in a post-match attack on the Sandman (who had beaten D-Von in a singles bout). The two then laid out Spike Dudley (who had been on Bubba’s side during the feud with D-Von) with the first-ever Dudley Death Drop, or 3D as we have come to call it. This began an incredible run as Bubba & D-Von, accompanied by manager Sign Guy Dudley, personal ring announcer Joel Gertner and the monstrous Big Dick Dudley (who had been part of the earlier incarnation of the group) became one of the staples of ECW events. Wild brawls with The Gangstas and Eliminators were preceded by in-ring promos where the Dudleys would incite almost riotous conditions on a regular basis. Two months after joining forces, Bubba Ray & D-Von became ECW World Tag Team Champions, and by the time January of 1999 had rolled around, the duo had racked up five of what would be an eventual eight ECW World Tag Team Title reigns.
Meanwhile, the former four-time ECW World Tag Team Champions, The Public Enemy, had come to the end of a three-year run in WCW that had seen them briefly hold the tag championship there once. After that, they were pretty much relegated to “B-Show” and undercard status, known more for bringing their own table to ringside and their merchandise commercials than for anything in the ring. With Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge becoming available, Paul Heyman put plans in place to bring The Public Enemy back “home” and set up an inevitable showdown with the Dudleys. Bubba Ray issued a challenge for Grunge and Rock to return to ECW during the Guilty As Charged Pay-per-view. This set up House Party ’99 at the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia on January 16th, which gave fans an amazing kickoff to the feud…. Unfortunately, the feud never happened.
After an entertaining promo segment that saw The Dudleys mock the Public Enemy before proclaiming that they hadn’t shown up because they were afraid of the beating they would get (and that the fans wouldn’t accept them back), the Public Enemy finally did return to a huge ovation. They started brawling with Bubba Ray & D-Von, Big Dick Dudley got involved, bringing out New Jack, who had a long history with both teams. The crowd ate it all up, and after the Dudleys had been run off, Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge celebrated with the fans, just like the old days. If you’ve never seen this segment, I would highly suggest checking it out. Everything worked perfectly, and it was arguably some of Bubba Ray Dudley’s best mic work ever.
With the stage set, the first official Public Enemy vs. Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley match was set for Queens, New York on February 12th. However, before getting to that match, the Dudleys would brawl with Public Enemy at a Detroit, Michigan event on January 23rd. The idea was that, after the Public Enemy had gotten the better of the Dudleys in Philadelphia, this would be Bubba & D-Von’s opportunity to create heat for the match with a beatdown of Public Enemy. After being laid out with 3D, the Dudleys left the ring, only for Johnny Grunge to get up from the move and get on the microphone while Bubba & D-Von were still walking back to the dressing room. This legitimately infuriated the Dudleys, as he essentially was no-selling the move that had laid out practically every opponent the Dudleys had faced. Bubba & D-Von returned to the ring, and by their own admission, delivered a much stiffer beating. However, Grunge again got up relatively quickly, and the sign of apparent disrespect did not sit well with the Dudleys, and the result was the beatdown taking place again.
Soon after, Public Enemy signed with the WWF, leaving the fans in Queens without the “dream match” on the lineup. To ECW’s credit, they brought Mustafa Saed back to the company that night, and the Gangstas were reunited to face the Dudleys, only for Mustafa to turn on New Jack and be revealed as the Dudleys’ benefactor, the man who had paid the Dudleys to not only destroy New Jack but run off the Public Enemy as well. The New Jack-Dudleys wars entered a new phase, and the idea of seeing the Public Enemy vs. The Dudleys faded away.
From there, the two teams went in different directions. After a rather uneventful WWF run, The Public Enemy worked independent shows until, sadly, Rocco Rock passed away in 2002 (Grunge would pass away in 2006). The Dudleys went on to become one of the most decorated tag teams in the history of the sport and are now mentioned alongside The Road Warriors as one of the greatest duos of all time. It would have been interesting if feuding with the Dudleys would have revitalized the Public Enemy magic from their classic run in the early days of ECW. Unfortunately, all we can do is look at the crowd reaction at House Party ’99 and speculate as to what could have been.
- The ECW Matches We Didn’t Get: Shane Douglas vs. Brian Pillman - May 8, 2021
- The ECW Matches We Didn’t Get: Public Enemy vs. Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley - April 14, 2021
- The ECW Matches We Didn’t Get: Mike Awesome vs. Rob Van Dam - April 4, 2021