VHS Memoirs Volume 28:Hardcore Heaven 1997

Today marks 25 years since Hardcore Heaven 1997, ECW’s second pay-per-view that took place at the War Memorial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The show is notable for a few different things, as far as what it said about the company and what it represented about the status of the group at the time. It’s interesting to note that despite being based in Philadelphia, ECW had a stronghold in the sunshine state because the Sunshine Network aired Hardcore TV almost from the show’s inception.

On the surface, it makes sense that ECW held a pay-per-view in Florida, based on its previously success there of drawing in the same venue. The other side of the coin was that for whatever reason, the actual building was not equipped for pay-per-view in any form or fashion. The lighting is so bad during the broadcast that it makes for a less than impressive viewing experience. In truth, from strictly a visual presentation, this looks like a house show instead of a pay-per-view.

The broadcast opened with a Rick Rude segment in the ring with Todd Gordon and this is compelling because it was at a time when Rude eventually appeared for all three national promotions in the span of just a few months,something that just wouldn’t happen now with the standard no-compete clauses in most contracts. That’s one of the reasons the 90s were such a fun time for the industry, it was somewhat of the wild west in terms of who would show up where on any given week. Rick Rude, who was aligned with The Triple Threat stable until he revealed Bam Bam Bigelow as a title challenger for Shane Douglas a few months later to eventually set up for the next pay-per-view main event, introduced Chris Candido during a segment with Tod Gordon. Candido made his way to the ring and it was announced that he was the opponent for the ECW TV champion, Taz. This was a really solid opener, and Candido made Taz look great with the way he sold the various suplex spots. While this was a quality opener, these two would have a better PPV match a few years later. If I had to guess, I would say this was booked because it was an easy way to get a decent match to start the show. That being said, this was rather one-sided and almost a squash match that wouldn’t usually be on pay-per-view.

Speaking of squashes, there was no doubt that the previously mentioned Bam Bam was there to get over strong ahead of the world title angle shortly afterwards, and he destroyed Spike in just a few minutes. The premise was based on the upset win Spike got a week earlier at the Born to be Wired event at the ECW arena. Spike got a flash pin and then Bigelow quite literally threw him into the third row. I told you the 90s were the wild west. Basically, this rematch was booked as an excuse for Bam Bam to be able to throw Spike into the audience on live pay-per-view and that’s exactly what happened. Spike sailed into the second row, but wasn’t caught nearly as directly by the audience as the prior week and looked to land rough in the seats. I’m not sure if Spike bladed or if he clipped his head on a chair from the toss, but he was bleeding to the point that the actual medical staff attended to him right after the pin fall at the conclusion of the match.

Rob Van Dam, who just began to really establish himself as a featured star in the company, had a match against Al Snow, who was on loan from the WWF. This contest had its moment with the RVD signature high spots, but for whatever reason, things just didn’t gel in this bout. It was clunky and dragged at some points during the 15-minute match. Perhaps, it was because this was before Al Snow introduced the Head gimmick and propelled his career, but again this match just had no steam behind it. Rob Van Dam got the win, but similar to the look of the show, so far the line-up resembled a house show.

Later on the card, Jerry “The King” Lawler had a match against Tommy Dreamer, and I’m assuming that’s how the USWA tag team, PG-13 got a place on the event. It was rather odd because Wolfie D and Jamie Dundee were very much a regional act that only had a cup of coffee as a part of the Nation of Domination on WWF TV so they weren’t really a team that even many of the ECW crowd knew, which was apparent by the lack of any crowd reaction during this segment. I have to say, I think it was unwise to put a mostly unknown team against The Dudleys on the card because there wasn’t much of a reason to be invested in the results. It was just a basic tag match with a rather bland response, and again there wasn’t really anything about this that would make it PPV quality. Jenna Jameson was there and nothing of note happened other than she stood around the ring so take that for what its worth.

The previously mentioned Jerry Lawler vs. Tommy Dreamer contest was a very entertaining brawl and it proved that even in the 90s, the classic narrative still worked. Lawler was the ultimate heel to the ECW audience, and Dreamer was cast as the heart of the promotion so this was one of the few matches on the card that the audience was actually invested in the bout. The action itself was basic, but fun. Dreamer pummeled The King with beer, hamburgers, and just about anything that the crowd was willing to give him as they fought into the audience. The conclusion was the trademark overbooked ECW finish with several lights out spots when Rude re-appeared to assist Lawler then Jake “The Snake” Roberts was there for no particular reason, and Sunny also showed up to spray Dreamer in the eyes with hair spray. Finally, Beulah gave The King a swift kick in the Mahoneys, allowing Dreamer to hit a DDT for the win. The crowd went crazy and Joey Styles went bananas for one of the only segments on the show that had a major atmosphere to it.

Prior to the main event, the broadcast cut to the “Extreme Chopper” with a report about where The Sandman was after he commandeered an ambulance since he was attacked by RVD and Sabu earlier in the night. The tag team also attacked the Insane Clown Posse for an angle that didn’t have a follow-up, and ICP reportedly no-showed when they were scheduled for an ECW pay-per-view a few years later. The whole Extreme Chopper stuff throughout the night was just bizarre. The company could afford helicopter segments, but not decent lighting for the show? There was really no point or purpose to any of it other than it wasted PPV time. This also showed the lack of live production experience the company had, as there were random shots of the ring and an unprepared Styles during the helicopter segment.

I get that the main event was supposed to be based on “the night the line was crossed” three years earlier, which makes sense, but the timing was completely wrong for this rematch. Barely Legal just had a three way dance a few months earlier and this just seemed repetitive rather than an innovative concept. The bout itself was fine with some wild action between the three competitors, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Plus, the contest went 25 minutes and dragged at certain points, particularly when Funk kicked out of several belly-to-belly suplexes from Shane Douglas. Sabu had his moments in this match, but somewhat seemed like an afterthought by the conclusion, which makes the decision to have him win the belt the week earlier even more puzzling. Francine got involved, which prompted Dory Funk Jr. to do a run-in and he landed some upper cuts to Douglas. Eventually, Douglas landed another suplex and pinned Funk to claim the title. The locker room watched at ringside and a giant brawl ensued before New Jack did a run-in for his classic spot.

The show went off the air with the baby faces posing in the ring, but the quality of the show was more or less subpar. Two squash matches, the RVD/Snow bout that didn’t get into second gear, a flat tag match, and the weird Sandman segments tainted too much of the show for the fun Dreamer/Lawler brawl or the decent main event to save the show. Overall, this pay-per-view was a stark reminder that even at its peak that ECW was on shaky ground, and the argument could be made that they still weren’t ready for PPV in 1997 with the poor production of the broadcast. As memorable as the Funk title win was at Barely Legal, this show was more or less the conclusion of that storyline. Injuries detailed much of Douglas’ title reign in 1998 so it would’ve been interesting to see what Sabu could’ve done as champion for ECW at this time. Basically, Hardcore Heaven was a prime example of why ECW couldn’t keep pace with the other major companies of the era, which is ultimately why it shut down a few years later.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta