The light of ECW burned short but bright. In early 2000, the two largest professional wrestling companies in America were the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. In its own corner, however, existed Extreme Championship Wrestling. Headed by current Brock Lesnar advocate Paul Heyman, ECW was counterculture, bringing in the “rejects” of the wrestling world and making stars out of them. The history of the company is well-documented, from books to DVD releases, but its legacy isn’t the focal point of this column.
On April 13, 2000, the ECW World Heavyweight Championship was contested. On one side of the equation was the challenger, Tazz, one of the most revered stars in the company’s history. Standing on the other side was Mike Awesome, the reigning ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Based solely on a surface level, this match doesn’t seem entirely far-fetched. However, new fans or those that are unfamiliar with ECW should know that, by this time, Tazz was signed to the WWF and Awesome had recently accepted a deal with WCW. The inner workings of this match are interesting, to say the least.
Mike Awesome saw much of his early success in Japan, having appeared for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling throughout most of the 1990s. However, it was in ECW where Awesome gained momentum on a more national level. He appeared for ECW on and off throughout the 90s, but on September 9th, 1999, he achieved his greatest accolade yet. The stage was set: the main event of ECW Anarchy Rulz saw Tazz defend the ECW World Heavyweight Championship against Awesome and Masato Tanaka in a three-way match. By the end of the night, Awesome stood tall and Tazz would eventually make his way to the WWF.
From there, Awesome became a force in ECW, even winning the promotion’s World Tag Team Championship alongside Raven in March of 2000. Much like the previous world champion, Awesome would not be long for ECW. On April 10th of that year, Awesome made a surprise appearance on WCW Monday Nitro, attacking Kevin Nash. According to Eric Bischoff, Awesome didn’t have an ECW contract and desired financial security for his family. It was believed Awesome was overdue on wages by Heyman. Furthermore, despite being far from its peak at the time, WCW was still considerably larger than ECW. Thus, Awesome signed with the former.
The average wrestling fan can see what the problem was. Obviously, Awesome couldn’t work for one promotion full-time while holding another promotion’s world title, especially when a working relationship between said promotions was nonexistent. Instead of serving Awesome a lawsuit, Heyman called in a favor from Vince McMahon of the WWF. Heyman requested that Tazz return for one night to face Awesome for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. McMahon made one call to Tazz, and shortly thereafter, the most surreal ECW World Heavyweight Championship match took place.
The Most Surreal ECW Championship Match
One of the most bizarre wrestling matches of all-time was about to take place. On this night, Awesome entered the match first as the hated ECW World Heavyweight Champion. The fans in the Flickinger Center in Buffalo, New York, made their feelings on the champion known by showering him with boos. With ECW attracting many hardcore fans, for lack of better terms, they knew that he was on his way to WCW. The question was, who would face the champion in what became his final ECW match for over five years?
Enter Tazz, who came out to what could best be described as a hero’s welcome. The crowd didn’t expect a WWF star, even one so steeped in ECW history as “The Human Suplex Machine,” to stand up to the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Even Joey Styles, who was on commentary, wondered if the company headed by McMahon knew of this. On that night, it truly felt like anything was possible in professional wrestling. Worlds collided and the match proper hadn’t even begun.
After an intense staredown, Tazz and Awesome began to trade blows. Tazz took control, getting the better of the slugfest that took place. Awesome soon whipped Tazz into the corner, inadvertently laying out the referee in the process. Soon enough, Tommy Dreamer would interfere, the ECW stalwart unwilling to see his promotion’s championship on a rival show. He planted Awesome with a DDT to an ovation from the crowd. Tazz would soon apply the Tazzmission, leading to a tap-out victory. Tazz, a WWF star, had just become the new ECW World Heavyweight Champion. The match itself lasted less than a minute and a half, but its impact on wrestling remains historic.
One of the reasons why this match remains historic is that it’s unlikely for something of this scale to happen again. This match required the cooperation of three promotions competing for space within the same industry. One or more sides could have simply declined to have any part, so perhaps the landscape of wrestling would be different today. Nonetheless, the match itself went as intended and remains a moment that, in simplest terms, must be seen to be believed.
Following his final ECW World Heavyweight Championship match, Mike Awesome worked for WCW from April of 2000 to March of 2001. Though Awesome entered the promotion with a bang, attacking Nash, the run that followed was underwhelming. He contested for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship multiple times, though nothing materialized. Characters such as “The Fat Chick Thrilla” and “That 70s Guy” were also a far cry from his more intense presentation in ECW. In a shoot interview, Awesome proposed that said gimmicks were a result of management that was unfavorable toward him. Following the buyout of WCW by the WWF, Awesome made his way to the latter promotion.
Awesome debuted in June of 2001 during the Invasion storyline, laying out then-Hardcore Champion Rhyno to win the prize; this made Awesome the first invading star to win a title in the WWF. From there, he toiled on the undercard before being released in September of 2002. Awesome was even less positive of WWF, critical of the company’s backstage politics. After working for such promotions as All Japan Pro Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling NOAH, Awesome returned for ECW One Night Stand on June 13th, 2005. He faced former ECW rival Tanaka in what many fans declared the match of the night. On February 17, 2007, Awesome tragically passed away at the age of 42.
Meanwhile, Tazz wouldn’t remain ECW World Heavyweight Champion, as a WWF star, for long. Only ten days after winning the title, Tazz dropped it to Tommy Dreamer. In the interim, Tazz donned the ECW World Heavyweight Championship on WWF programming. Case and point, he wore it for his match against then-WWF Champion Triple H on an episode of SmackDown. During his time as an active competitor in the promotion, Tazz became a three-time Hardcore Champion and one-time Tag Team Champion alongside Spike Dudley.
As Tazz’s in-ring career was winding down, he became active as a color commentator; this is a role he continues to fill to this day. Despite injuries sustained throughout his career, he continued to wrestle periodically up until 2006. At ECW One Night Stand, Tazz wrestled his final match against Jerry “The King” Lawler, who he feuded with in the WWF for a period. With an assist from Joey Styles, Tazz tapped out Lawler in seconds. Full-time, however, Tazz was a color commentator. From Michael Cole to Mike Tenay to Excalibur, the man who was famous for choking people out worked with many voices. His enthusiasm and knowledge of wrestling allowed him to build chemistry with a number of play-by-play announcers. It can be argued that he’s remembered just as much for his calls as his matches.
Professional wrestling is full of moments that fans will be next to impossible to replicate. This is true whether it’s a winning streak being broken, a multi-yearlong title reign coming to an end, or in this case, three rival companies working together at one of the hottest periods in the industry. WWF star Tazz challenging WCW star Mike Awesome for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship is a moment that deserves to be remembered. As bizarre as it was, and continues to be, it remains as evidence that little is off-limits in wrestling.