(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31537457?contextType=wwe-show&contextId=heatwave&contentId=69363704&watchlistAltButtonContext=series)
It’s time for the obligatory ECW entrance on the 100 Best…List! ECW may be renowned more for its extreme nature rather than the quality of its matches, but there must be more matches that warrant a place on the Best 100…List? Out of the WWE Network’s entire library, only six matches out of ECW were chosen. Is that a fair representation of a wrestling programme that changed the nature of wrestling in the mid to late 90s? Regardless, at least we have this snapshot of ECW wrestling in Mike Awesome vs Masato Tanaka. I never saw Mike Awesome wrestle until his awesome appearance at the inaugural One Night Stand (against Tanaka). That was a great match. This match from ECW Heatwave 1998, however, is possibly even better. It’s over-the-top, brutal, bone-crunching and breath-taking.
Awesome and Tanaka had a rivalry that spanned the globe in the late 90s. It began in Japan, in the hardcore Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), but found its way over to ECW. The rivalry was never about any antics outside of the ring; it was all about what happened inside the ring. They stole the show with pretty much every match they had. WWE’s first ever One Night Stand would have been mediocre from an in-ring point of view if Awesome and Tanaka hadn’t fought. This match is fairly similar to that one (or the other way round, actually). There’s liberal use of tables and chairs. In fact, there would be little to distinguish it from any other hardcore ECW match if it weren’t for the two wrestlers. Awesome spices things up with his aerial manoeuvres. Tanaka takes lots of punishment buts keeps on going in an heroic performance. They make every table, every chair shot and every strike count.
It’s a match that starts at the climax and keeps on going. Awesome flies onto Tanaka outside with a tope in the first few minutes of the match. We also see a devastating German Suplex. Tanaka doesn’t just hit Awesome on the head with a steel chair; he runs from the top of the ramp and jumps to hit Awesome on the head with a steel chair. A mid match highlight is Awesome Springboard Splash onto Tanaka, who is in the crowd! Soon enough, the tables come out and are quickly used. Awesome hits Tanaka with several brutal chair shots to the head, which in this era especially are hard to watch. It’s Awesome who is on the offensive for most of the match, but Tanaka’s sheer determination to carry on in the face of such brutality is the heart of the match’s story. How much can he take? How much can either man take?
The viewer will be exhausted (and experiencing sympathy pains!) after watching such a hard-hitting bout. Awesome and Tanaka take each other to the limit, Tanaka playing the underdog who won’t give up, Awesome playing the powerhouse who keeps hitting big moves. It’s the kind of match that uses chairs and tables to accentuate the match, rather than prop up a poor one. ECW was at its finest with these kind of matches. I’ve watched one ECW PPV in full, and quickly tired of the overuse of the hardcore element. Here, however, it’s used perfectly. Awesome and Tanaka need weapons to fight each other; it would be a stalemate without them. One of ECW’s finest hardcore matches!
VERDICT: 9/10. Awesome and Tanaka depict the height of hardcore wrestling in this bout. Everything is excessive, but for the very reason that these two wrestlers can take huge amounts of punishment.
Does this match belong in the WWE Network’s ‘ 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die’ List? Leave your thoughts/comments below!
Click here for my review of #42 Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE Title, WWE Wrestlemania XIX)