Remember that time during the Monday Night Wars that a WCW superstar fought a WWE superstar on ECW television? This latest piece will help jog your memory as we look at how Mike Awesome lost his ECW title.
Don’t let the smile fool you…behind it is a man who will have feelings of great anger, frustration, sadness and confusion. Winning a promotion’s top title that has both national and international followings should be enough to make any pro wrestler feel pride and accomplishment. Maybe that was the case for Mike Awesome when he initially won the ECW world title….but that smile certainly wouldn’t last too long.
Mike Awesome was a bonafide star in Japan where he competed as the Gladiator. Awesome was not only being billed as a great attraction…but was making money and winning titles as well.
While his career was blossoming in Japan….Awesome looked to make it in the States. Paul Heyman of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania made the call and gave him the opportunity. Awesome showed the hardcore, rabid fans of ECW…what Japanese fans already knew…he was one of the most talented big men in the industry. His battles with Masato Tanaka on American soil made him a true ECW star.
It only made sense for ECW to make him their top guy. Awesome would be a two time ECW world champion. While he had the prestige…Mike Awesome did not have the money. You see, Paul Heyman and ECW was a sinking ship financially and because of this…many of the company’s stars and employees weren’t getting paid on time if at all. With checks bouncing and Heyman’s excuses for not getting paid continuing…Awesome was growing increasingly antsy.
Mike Awesome had a family…he had a house with a mortgage…and with no revenue coming in…bills weren’t getting paid. Awesome began to question if leaving Japan was a good idea. At least there, he was a star and getting paid regularly. Awesome was one of ECW’s top guys…main eventing matches and not seeing the rewards of his hard work. Frustrated, he called his close friend and cousin Michael Bollea aka Horace Hogan to vent his frustrations. Bollea then got him in contact his uncle Hulk Hogan (No relation to Awesome)…who was with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) at the time.
Hulk Hogan hooked Mike Awesome up with Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo who showed interest in bringing Awesome into WCW. With an offer on the table from WCW for guaranteed money…it wasn’t too hard for him to make the decision to jump ship to the Time Warner owned company. Despite pleas, threats of a lawsuit and every conceivable way to keep Awesome and the world title in ECW….Awesome was set to make the move to a more secure situation for his family.
On April 10th, 2000…while still holding the ECW title…Mike Awesome made his debut of WCW’s Monday Nitro where he attacked Kevin Nash. The WCW announcers made it a point to call Awesome the current ECW world champion and while he never actually showed up to Nitro with the ECW belt…Bischoff and Russo allegedly wanted him to throw the title in a trash can a la Madusa when she threw the WWF ladies title in a trash can years earlier.
Awesome did not do the dreaded deed, although he was debating it all the way up to the time he was to leave his hotel room to go to the event. With Paul Heyman and his lawyers feverishly trying to get back the ECW title belt by threatening legal action…Bischoff knew that Time Warner..although stronger and more powerful would not look kindly on WCW for such an action.
A deal was struck between Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to have Mike Awesome “do the right thing” and lose the ECW title on TV. On April 13th, 2000, Mike Awesome was escorted by WCW security to the ECW event in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was denied access into the ECW locker room to change. According to Awesome in an interview in 2003, Awesome met up with Paul Heyman and was handed a sheet of exactly what to do and not under any circumstances deviate from the script.
Mike Awesome had hoped to wrestle his friend Rhyno in the match. For one, he thought Rhyno could give a great match and secondly, he was the only one on the ECW roster that he truly trusted not to shoot on him during the match. Unfortunately for Awesome, that was not Paul Heyman’s plan. Heyman, who by this time was on the WWE’s payroll, talked to Vince McMahon about bringing in former ECW champion and current WWE star Taz to be Awesome’s surprise opponent.
Vince apparently loved the idea of a WWE star beating a legitimate WCW star for the ECW title. Nobody knows exactly if money also exchanged hands between Heyman and McMahon…but Taz’s appearance was a huge surprise for all the fans in attendance. Taz stated that even though he thought what Mike Awesome did was in poor taste business wise….he understood why he left ECW for WCW. Taz had no intention to try and hurt Awesome during the match.
The match itself was short and sweet and after Taz choked out Awesome and won the ECW title…Awesome hightailed it through the crowd and out of the building. That…according to Awesome…was a Paul Heyman idea.
The aftermath saw Tommy Dreamer beat Taz a few days later to become ECW champion…who lost the belt to Justin Credible 20 minutes later. Taz returned to the WWE…but never quite had the success he had in his ECW days. As for Mike Awesome…he finally had financial security with WCW…but his career languished due to bad character development and several bad gimmick changes.
It seems that the series of events helped ECW come full circle. When ECW first exploded on the scene…Shane Douglas threw down the NWA title in defiance. By the end of ECW’s run….there was the fear and the distinct possibility that WCW was going to have Awesome do the very same thing to the ECW title. Also, April 13th is a very significant date in ECW history. Of course, it was for the match we just discussed…which in many ways was symbolically the end of ECW’s heyday. It was also the date in 1997…that ECW held it’s first pay per view Barely Legal…which was symbolically the rise of ECW to national prominence.
Regardless of the events…it does go in history as the only time..legitimately that a WCW wrestler and a WWE wrestler competed against each other in an ECW ring during the Monday Night Wars.