Back in the late 1990s, there was a wrestler who rode to the top of the company by generally being a miserable jerk, laying out babyfaces and heels with no regard for what the fans might think. This guy cut promos to make you buy into his gimmick and make you love his no-nonsense ass kicking attitude. Yes, this can also describe Stone Cold Steve Austin but in this case I am talking about Taz, the king of ECW in the late 90s. This is a look at Taz in 1998.
Taz entered the year as the ECW TV champion and was presented as much more of a fighting champion than the perpetually injured ECW champ Shane Douglas. This is reflected in the wide variety of opponents that Taz faced: Super Nova, Big Dick Dudley, and 2 Cold Scorpio, whom he faced at House Party ’98 on January 10 that aired on ECW Hardcore TV. This was a very fun match that started with 2 Cold entering as Flash Funk as part of the “WWF” faction led by Lance Wright and transforming into 2 Cold Scorpio to Wright’s dismay. Post-match, Taz made the save for Scorpio after his now former stable mates attacked him and laid out Brakkus with a T-Bone Tazplex which would set up a February ECW Arena bout with the bodybuilder.
But first there was business with the Triple Threat which was down to Douglas and Chris Candido since Bam Bam Bigelow was estranged after turning on Douglas to win the ECW title in October 1997. Bigelow begged Taz to be his tag partner for a match and the Human Suplex Machine begrudgingly obliged even though he did not care to make alliances with anyone. Taz was already a loner and when Bigelow turned on him to re-join the Triple Threat, he became even more of a misanthropic type leading up the Living Dangerously PPV on March 1, where he would defend the TV title against Bigelow.
The match was your typical ECW-style brawl with a lot of action outside the ring. At one point, Tax suplexed the 350+ lb Bigelow off the ramp into the crowd but hit the guardrail with the back of his own head making it a particularly sick spot. The finish protected Taz in a very creative way. With the Tazzmission locked in, Bigelow was tapping outside the view of the official then fell backward and both guys went through the ring. Bigelow emerged first and dragged Taz out to pin him and win the title.
Taz would not get the title back because he would move onto something different. While “The Franchise” Shane Douglas cut a nonsensical promo at the Wrestlepalooza ’98 saying “Dick Flair sucks Bischoff’s ass” (when they were in fact fighting in real life at the time), Taz interrupted and told Douglas to hand over the belt just as Shawn Michaels did with the WWF IC title to Douglas in 1995. Taz snapped and attacked Douglas before the Triple Threat made the save. Similar to how Austin would find himself in trouble with police, Taz was arrested and taken out of the building as Douglas defended his title successfully against Al Snow.
With the Franchise out long term with an injury, the title would not be stripped from him. Instead, Taz would take an old ECW TV belt and transform it into the FTW Heavyweight title, with FTW meaning “F— the World”. With Douglas on the shelf, this became like the proxy world title as Taz went around destroying everyone. On the weekly TV, Taz would cut promos with the black towel over his head proclaiming that he would suplex and choke out anyone in his path. It was a very cool character to fit the times because while it was similar to Austin in many ways, it incorporated the ECW style and Japanese suplex-happy style as well. A badass character like that will always be effective in pro wrestling.
The feud with Bam Bam was not over. In June they fought to a draw at the ECW Arena and would settle the score at the Heatwave ’98 PPV in Dayton, Ohio on August 2 in a falls count anywhere death match. This was a crazy brawl that was even better than their March PPV bout. Bigelow set up Taz on the ramp for the Greetings from Asbury Park finisher, but Taz reversed into a DDT and both went through the ramp. Many seconds passed before Bam Bam emerged first again, but this time Taz was up behind him to slap on the Tazzmission and score the win.
After a triple threat match with Sabu and Bigelow went to a draw later in August, Taz was off for about six weeks before jumping into battle with the Triple Threat again, this time joining forces in an extremely unlikely alliance with Rob Van Dam and his mortal enemy Sabu. Douglas, Bigelow and Chris Candido had caused Sabu and Van Dam to lose the tag titles to the Dudley Boys in Cleveland leading to the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation.
The November to Remember PPV was headlined by a six man match to settle that score, with Taz’s side coming out on top. The Taz-Sabu war flared up again when Sabu applied the Arabian facebuster to both Taz and Douglas as the latter was trapped in the Tazzmission.
But the dynamic would change and ECW would have to scramble as they be forced to do many times after 1998 when Bam Bam Bigelow suddenly departed for WCW in mid-November. This actually led to Taz tagging with Douglas, who wanted the Human Suplex Machine as protection. Taz still held the FTW belt but would lose it on purpose on December 19 to Sabu, laying down and dragging a choked out Sabu on top to effectively surrender the title and put the Franchise on notice. The next week in Queens, NY, Taz challenged Douglas, who had been abandoned by Bigelow and now Chris Candido. The crowd chanted “Taz is gonna kill you!” years before fans would chant that for Samoa Joe.
It would take until 1999 for Taz to officially become the top dog in ECW. But with Douglas constantly sidelined, he helped carry the company in 1998, maybe the hottest year in pro wrestling history in the United States. He was totally undersized but it was the attitude that made me and others believe in what Taz was selling.