Am American promotion featuring a crucifixion angle, you say? Well, it could only have been one promotion back in the mid-90s. That’s right, Extreme Championship Wrestling. In this latest ‘Remember When’ piece, we look at when Raven crucified The Sandman.
Straight off the bat, it’s worth pointing out that Brian, my dear and valued colleague, on here has written about this incident before. However, I’m going to come at it from a different angle. I was never much of an ECW fan. Jamie, also on this blog, and I went to school together and we traded wrestling tapes. He loaned me a couple. I also occasionally, in 1999 or so, watched some Extreme TV on the UK Sky channel, Bravo. So, it’s fair to say I have a knowledge of the product but wasn’t an ardent fan of it.
Even in recent years, since getting the WWE Network, I’ve not watched much of it. That was, until recently, after listening to the Bruce Prichard podcast where they looked at the ECW one night stand shows. Afterwards, I went back and watched the first one and one of those compilation ’50 OMG ECW moments’ type shows.
And that’s where I first saw the angle that’s the focus of today’s piece.
Wow. Just wow.
So, today, let’s look back at it, assess the angle that led to it and take in comments from those present at the time.
Throughout 1996, Raven and The Sandman traded the ECW title during their feud. During this time, Raven aligned himself to Lori Fullington – Sandman’s ex-wife. The angle saw him brainwash both her and Sandman’s son, Tyler. The pair would join his flock and turn against the Sandman.
Now, this was edgy veering on creepy. But, I mean, in American wrestling at the time this was unheard of. The edgiest WWE got was mocking Jake Roberts’ alcohol issues while over in WCW it was all about nWo. Neither was doing anything like this. We were still a year or so away from the beer-swilling, middle finger giving, ass-kicking Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The idea that Raven had turned Sandman’s son against his own father and blamed him for his parents’ divorce, that was something else.
What with it being ECW, things got nasty pretty quickly and their matches were as bloody as many of the big moments in ECW. But things would take a turn…
On Oct. 26, 1996, The Sandman’s son interfered in a match between Raven and The Sandman and helped his father. Afterwards, the pair embraced but Raven came from behind with a kendo stick and attacked his nemesis. Stevie Richards and the Blue Meanie, Raven’s lackeys, came out to the ring, got a wooden cross out from under the ring, then tied The Sandman down to it, wrapped barbed wire around his head like it was a crown then lifted it up and “crucified” him, and carried him out of the building.
The incident left many fans in attendance speechless. You can say many things about ECW fans but that they are quiet isn’t one of them. It was a remarkable moment to see and, fearing a backlash, the company ordered Raven out to apologise. He duly went out, broke character and did so.
Joey Styles: “So I’m sitting there watching this match, and that’s when Raven and his minions crucify the Sandman, à la our lord and savior Jesus Christ, on a wooden cross that the Sandman built himself because he was a carpenter.
“Raven even put a barbed wire crown around Sandman’s head, like a crown of thorns. South Philly was a very Catholic community, and they were sitting in stunned silence—until they started booing. And it was not the good booing, either. It was the ‘we don’t want you doing this’ kind of booing.
“I’m speechless, but Kurt Angle turns to me, assuming—maybe because I’m wearing a suit and tie—that I know what’s going on, and he starts screaming at me. ‘I can’t be a part of this, this is disgraceful, this is awful, I don’t ever want footage of me being here to ever air!’ I look to my left to get help from Paul, and Paul is gone. Paul left me alone with this angry, Olympic gold medallist heavyweight wrestler. I am just getting dressed down by Kurt Angle, nose to nose, right in my face. Paul left, he claimed, to go fix the situation. He damn well also wanted to avoid a screaming Kurt Angle. Then he sends Raven out to apologize for his using his ‘religious iconography’—and those were Raven’s exact words—and Paul, to this day, claims he knew nothing about it, which I don’t believe for a second.”
The Sandman: “That whole thing got blown out of proportion by Kurt f–king Angle. It wasn’t Kurt’s fault because Kurt didn’t know wrestling back then. He was a f–king gold medallist. Everything to him was a shoot, you know what I’m saying? I tell you what, later when Undertaker hung Austin on a thing that was almost exactly like a cross on WWE, I guarantee you (Angle) didn’t go into Vince’s office and complain that night. I was so mad that night when we got back there,” Sandman recalled. “First of all, I don’t give a f–k. I like Kurt; I’ve got a s–tload of respect for him. But back then, I was hot. I told Raven, ‘Do not go out there, do not apologize, you’re f–king crazy if you do.”
Kurt Angle: “Well, I went to the show. What I was told before I event went from Shane Douglas was that this new wrestling promotion was trying to be more like amateur wrestling. And he said he would love for me to come, they would pay a good bit of money for me to go and I would commentate a match that Taz had against Guido. So, I showed up at the show and I did the match and the next match happened to be Raven and Sandman. And I’m watching Raven and he pulls a crucifix out from underneath the ring, puts it up and basically crucifies Sandman and Sandman’s son is behind him with his arms up like the sign of the cross and he’s shaking his head like ‘yes’. Everybody in the crowd was like shocked. Nobody was like…I think there was more people there that were offended and I looked at Paul Heyman and I said, “did you know about this?” He said: “No Kurt, I had no idea that this was going to happen”. Yeah, I didn’t believe him. I said, “Give me my f–king money right now and if you put me on the same show was this then you will hear from my attorney.” “I promise you Kurt, it won’t be on the show.” And I left the building instead of staying till the end of the show. I was offended. I didn’t like it. I know from other stints in the WWF way back with, I believe it was with the Undertaker, where they did something identical but it wasn’t exactly like this. This was really offensive and I couldn’t stay any longer. Made me sick to my stomach. I left and I never looked back again. That was actually after I was approached by Vince McMahon and the WWF.”
Looking back and it’s not hard to still find this way, way ahead of its time. Sure, several years later the WWE did something similar with Stone Cold and the Undertaker but, as Kurt Angle alludes to in the above interview clip, it wasn’t the same. There was no crown of barbed wire and no crucifix, which caused, rightly or wrongly, almost all of the anger at this angle back in the day.
The notion that Paul Heyman didn’t know about this is hard to believe but you can absolutely see why he would deny it in an effort to keep Angle on board. It’s also interesting to wonder what would have happened had Angle stayed around and been a part of ECW. Would it have made a difference to their long-term futures or was the company’s demise inevitable?
Either way, there’s no denying that ECW was innovative and the crucifixion angle was, at the very least, edgy.
You can read all previous ‘Remember When’ pieces here.