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.
Amongst hardcore fans, the “Loose Cannon” run of Brian Pillman is one of the most analyzed and discussed periods in a single performers career ever. What he did, how he did it, who knew what (and when)… Pillman made himself the hottest commodity in professional wrestling, to the point that he signed a hefty guaranteed contract with the then-WWF even when he in-ring future as a wrestler was cloudy at best.
There are so many articles, interviews and podcasts devoted to Pillman, that it is fruitless for me to even try and expand on it here. However, there is no way you can do a series of columns on the top matches that should have happened in the original ECW, but didn’t, and not include Brian Pillman vs. Shane Douglas. It was to be the grand finale of Pillman’s brief ECW run, and supposedly Pillman was going to work the match for free. That is what we are going to focus on here.
However, before we get to that, let’s get a trivia note out of the way. The famed Cyberslam ’96 promo was NOT Pillman’s first appearance for ECW. He actually teamed, funny enough, with Shane Douglas (as a substitute for Steve Austin) in a loss to Ron Simmons & 2 Cold Scorpio on November 19, 1994 at the ECW Arena. Of course, Douglas and Pillman had a long history as rivals, as they faced off numerous times in WCW when Pillman & Austin, as the Hollywood Blondes, battled with Douglas & Ricky Steamboat over the World Tag Team Championship in a series that both Douglas and Austin have stated in interviews helped with their growth as wrestlers.
So, Douglas and Pillman had faced off before, but both wrestlers were very different when 1996 rolled around. Shane had built himself up as the “Franchise” in ECW, but then went to WWF for the infamous Dean Douglas gimmick. The first ECW event of 1996 (House Party ’96 – January 5, 1996) saw Douglas return to the company, and he was soon battling former friend Cactus Jack and forming an alliance with Tommy Dreamer against Raven.
A month and a half later, at Cyberslam ’96 (February 17, 1996), Pillman showed up and delivered his famed promo, only a week after Pillman had walked out on a Superbrawl match with Kevin Sullivan (calling Sullivan “Bookerman” on the mic, something not publicly known in WCW). Pillman, who was still under a WCW contract at that point, was allowed to appear on ECW shows to further his “Loose Cannon” character, bashing WCW head Eric Bischoff and the company on the mic. The idea was that he would build the character, leading to in theory, a bigger role in WCW at some point. It should be pointed out that during Pillman’s brief ECW run, he was brought back to WCW on occasion, showing that the company still wanted to capitalize on the buzz he was creating, even if it wasn’t what most would see as mainstream attention. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the promo, I have a feeling you won’t have a hard time finding a copy of it (well, not on Peacock, but that is another story….).
Pillman then showed up at an ECW house show on February 23, 1996, which was commercially released on video as “Just Another Night.” During Shane Douglas’ ECW World Title match with Raven, Pillman came out to ringside with a camera, presumably as a ringside photographer. Pillman was eventually removed from ringside by security, as Douglas was held back from attacking him.
Pillman would show up again to irritate Douglas, this time sitting in the front row of the first “Big Ass Extreme Bash” event on March 8th, 1996 in Queens, New York, presumably to watch the show with his cousin and her young child. Shane came to ringside, demanding that Pillman battle him, while the Loose Cannon chastised Shane from quitting WWF, quitting WCW and quitting the Dynamic Dudes (Shane’s infamous skater tag team with Johnny Ace). Pillman noted he didn’t quit, he got thrown out of places. Another pull apart occurred, and once again, Douglas did not get his hands on Pillman.
The next night, in Philadelphia, Pillman and his entourage, including NFL star Harry Boatswain, came to the ring and interrupted a tag match between The Bad Crew and the team of Damien Stone (later Little Guido) & El Puerto Ricano. Pillman demanded Joey Styles come to the ring to interview him, but during the promo Shane Douglas appeared on the top stage of the ECW Arena. Douglas would eventually rush the ring, with Pillman exiting, and Douglas would challenge Pillman, calling it “ECW vs. WCW” and stating that “Extreme” would win.
In addition to these live appearances, Pillman created a series of vignettes for ECW television, including him wrestling a giant pencil (a reference to dealing with bookers), a conversation with his lawyer regarding his WCW contract, and a bit where Pillman, as a chef, spit into the salad of the same WCW executives that were being portrayed as throwing him out of the company. One of the most haunting say a pleasant Pillman telling a fan in a restaurant that it was all an act, then looking into the camera, saying it was a “perception of reality”… while stabbing his arm with a fork. He also sold “Rogue Horsemen” shirts and plugged a 1-900 hotline that would supposedly give his side of the story.
The fact that Pillman made appearances on Nitro (from the crowd, continuing the angle that he was fired from the company) the same week he would appear on ECW television just added to the fascination diehard fans had with the character, while casual fans were scratching their heads over what was going on. Nothing seemed certain when it came to what Pillman would do next, however all signs pointed to an in-ring showdown with Shane Douglas. We now know that Pillman had agreed to work the match for ECW. There certainly was going to be a lot of interest for Pillman to actually wrestle a match again.
However, the bout never happened. As is well-known, on April 15th, Pillman was in a devastating auto accident while driving his Hummer in Kentucky, suffering a myriad of injuries. Pillman survived, but the injuries, particularly to his ankle, put his wrestling future in doubt.
Pillman, in a wheelchair, made one more appearance for ECW on June 1st, inserting himself in a Mikey Whipwreck vs. Rob Van Dam match, hitting Whipwreck with a crutch. After Van Dam won the bout, he stood by Pillman during a promo ripping on fans and the roster (and angering New Jack, but that is another story), and then accompanied him to the back. As for Shane Douglas, during Pillman’s time away from wrestling he had gone back to being a full-fledged heel, and lost the ECW World Television Title to Pitbull #2 that evening. Nine days later, Pillman (who had gotten a legitimate release from WCW) signed with the World Wrestling Federation and began the next chapter in his story.
Unlike some other matches, Shane Douglas vs. Brian Pillman did not have a long build behind it. In fact, Douglas was juggling another storyline where he, Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman had formed a tenuous alliance against ECW World Champion Raven. Pillman’s ECW appearances were focused as much on bashing WCW as it was anything else. After his WWF run, Shane Douglas quickly built up a lot of momentum for himself again in ECW. Pillman had created a whirlwind of interest around him. The match was going to be the payoff to it all, and the unanswered question is what would have happened had it actually taken place.
Like most things involving Brian Pillman at that time, a lot of people have thoughts on what would have happened, but we’ll never really know how it all would have played out.
- 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