Fearless. Braggadocios. Successful.
A man so good that he has had a nickname for almost every night of the week. Rob Van Dam is like the guy you went to high school who excelled in every sport he tried his hand at, and knew how good he was.
But did that do more harm than good for his career? Much like Mysterio, who we discussed in the last edition, Van Dam has very much rested in his firm rooted laurels for much of the past decade. However, this does not discount that, during his heyday, he was one of the most popular professional wrestlers on the planet. We will discuss this theme later on throughout this entire piece.
Welcome back to the Pro Wrestling Countdown, this time we are paying homage to "The Whole F'N Show" or perhaps, now, "Mr. Pro Wrestling Countdown?"
Today we will look at a man who had matches centered around the theme of pure excitement.
Rob Van Dam has been called "One of a Kind" for his innate drive to steal the show and put on the most memorable performance on any given event he appears on. He wants to be the thing you talk about as you leave the arena and head to the parking garage to go home. He wants to be in the highlight reels and make the fans gasp in excitement.
He is a thriller and someone who takes great pride in his ability to entertain the crowd. However, Van Dam is much more an entertainer than a traditional wrestlers who uses storytelling and ring psychology.
While never the greatest ring psychologist, Van Dam was still one of the most successful cross-over stars into the WWE from the independent wrestling federation, Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Today, we will look at some of his greatest matches from both his time in the original ECW and his time as a household name in the WWE!
Rob Van Dam & Sabu vs. The Eliminators (CyberSlam 1997)
The Eliminators were a very exciting tag team to watch in ECW, but typically their matches were kept short and sweet, but not at CyberSlam 1997.
Saturn and Kronus got to main event the show with the two men who were looking to win the ECW Tag Team Championship from them, Rob Van Dam and Sabu.
The two men were more enemies than friends which made their partnership even more interesting. This match could only be described as a beautiful mess.
Also considered for Rob Van Dam's Pro Wrestling Countdown:
- Rob Van Dam vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (ECW Hardcore TV; April 1998): If you want to understand just how good Bigelow was for how large he was, this is the match I would start with. It pained me to cut this one out as it was the beginning of Van Dam's now historic 24-month long ECW Television Championship reign, but it just barely missed making the top ten. So much fun action, and seeing RVD work with someone much larger than him was very interesting as I'm accustom to seeing him work best with men near his size or smaller.
- Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy (SummerSlam 2001): Only RVD's second WWE Pay-Per-View appearance. This was a very fun Ladder match between two men who were renowned for their ability to have high octane performances and innovative use of weaponry. It was just a fun match for both men to showcase both Hardy and Van Dam's talent for exciting the crowd.
- Rob Van Dam vs. Edge (Vengeance 2006): A often forgotten match from RVD's too-short reign as WWE Champion. While this underrated championship match had to play second fiddle to the return of the Attitude Era's most over used act, D-Generation X. Still, Edge and Van Dam were both on a roll in 2006 and they had a wonderful match that gets no praise nowadays.
10. Rob Van Dam vs. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (No Mercy 2001)
So a brawler, a technician, and a high flyer walk into a ring...
I have always had a keenness for this match if only because of the fact that the WWE put three absolute opposites in their main event. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, a beer-swindling brawler. Kurt Angle, a charismatic-suplexxing Olympic Gold Medal winner. Rob Van Dam, a cocky "cool dude" with all the flashy moves.
These three had no middle ground to stand on, but still they managed to work that to their advantage. All three men played up their archetype while jockeying for the pin fall. The tension between Steve Austin, the WWE Champion, and Rob Van Dam was what really made this match.
Both men were members of The Alliance faction infecting the WWE.
Austin was it's leader and viewed Van Dam as an up-and-coming threat to his reign.Kurt Angle was the man stepping up to the plate to bring the title back to the Vince McMahon's company, but the twist was that Van Dam, an Alliance member, had known secret meetings with McMahon. This sent the paranoid WWE Champion, Stone Cold, into a fit that threatened the entire invasion of the WWE.
Aside from the deeper story dynamic here, the action is the real reason to go back to this contest.
Van Dam came up short, but he had one of the biggest moments in his WWE career up to that point. After this "The Whole F'n Show" went on to be one of the most popular and beloved WWE superstars of 2002 and the next half-decade until his departure in 2007
9. Rob Van Dam vs. Lance Storm (Guilty As Charged 1999)
1999 was probably the best year in Van Dam's entire career when it boils down to his in-ring work.
These two had more than just a few matches under the ECW umbrella.
Most famously, the match from ECW's first ever Pay-Per-View called Barely Legal 1997. This match only came about after Masato Tanaka was unable to make it into the United States to make the Pay-Per-View and challenge Rob Van Dam for his ECW Television Championship.
Van Dam had great chemistry with Storm, and it was a ton of fun watching RVD adapt his style here to one that involved more holds and supplexes. There we not many times Rob Van Dam got to actually wrestle with another world class mat wrestler like Lance Storm.
In contrast, it did Storm a ton of good to face someone who moved as quickly as "Mr. Monday Night." It made for a very exciting performance as both brought two different styles of ECW's wrestling in one ring.
It was one of Van Dam's most technically sound wrestling matches during his time with the extreme promotion, but not his best.
It stood out for being one of his matches that fans could point to if someone said that Van Dam was nothing more than a chair swinging stunt man. Admitted, some of RVD's matches felt like he was only going from spot-to-spot, but when he wrestled the right person things just clicked. Lance Storm was one such person.
Unfortunately, Storm's incomparable mat skills would not translate to success when he entered the WWE after ECW shut it's doors.
8. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit (SummerSlam 2002)
I have been wanting to talk about this match for a long time as it is one I've never heard many talk about online.
Most of us know the story by now, but for the sake of those who might not, in 2001 the WWE acquired many contracts and talents from the wrestling promotions WCW and ECW who both closed.
The result was the creation of what was, bar-none, most talented and complete midcard the WWE has ever had. These two were among the performers who typically populated the midcard of WWE shows during this time, but they could also easily and logically be plugged into main events when needed.
Even though this is a celebration of the man who is "One of a Kind" I won't blindly pretend the performer has no faults. Van Dam has never been very good at pacing his matches. He has one gear and he stays in it no matter what it is.
This means he opponents often lead the match and have to sort of pace the flow of the match around him. Benoit, of course, had no problem doing that during their match of the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
Benoit was someone who took pride in his ring work above all else. Here he spent much of the contest controlling the pace of the match by working on the shoulder of Van Dam and keeping the high flyer from using many of his aerial tricks.
Van Dam would take advantage of any opening in Benoit's honed grappling offense and hit any manner of high impact kick, slam, or flip he could manage. Finally, Van Dam hit the Five Star Frog Splash and win the title and bring it back to Monday Night Raw.
This match was hugely overshadowed by the return of Shawn Michaels after an over four year absence later in the show. It remains an underrated, somewhat flawed, Pay-Per-View match even still. This came from the period of RVD's where he had a ton of exciting matches in the midcard. This was one of his best.
7. Rob Van Dam vs. Sabu (A Matter Of Respect 1996)
One of his favorite opponents and someone Van Dam has had a long and mixed history with. "The Houdini of Hardcore" Sabu.
Before they formed an uneasy alliance as ECW Tag Team Champions in 1997 these two had a feud over respect and, believe it or not, a handshake.
Van Dam had just debuted in ECW in the early months of 1996 and the matches he had with Sabu in his first few months there are often pointed to as the reason the Michigan native caught the eye of fans in ECW.
Despite repeatedly facing Sabu, the cocky newcomer refused to shake the hand of the world-traveled veteran. This obviously did not sit well with the often proud and volatile Sabu.
Rob Van Dam turned heel for the only notable time in his career and enlisted the managerial services of Bill Alfonso. He often cut promos on how he was too talented to be in ECW and only wrestled the way he did to gain attention from big name promoters like WCW and WWE.
All of their matches have been discussed as some of ECW's best mix of extreme and entertainment, but for my taste their match here at A Matter of Respect is the one that sticks out. The would later have a great match at Hardcore Heaven, but a broken really handicapped that match from making the Countdown.
There match at A Matter of Respect was a rematch from Hostile City Showdown which was one of RVD's first major ECW events. He lost to Sabu in a No Time Limit match.
While this rematch could be a bit too much of a spot-fest for some wrestling fans, this shows viewers why Van Dam became such a big deal in ECW in such a short amount of time.
Van Dam would win this match, and per the rules, the two were supposed to shake hands, but the cocky Van Dam refused to shake the hand of the veteran. This would be the beginnings of Van Dams tenure in ECW as a heel.
Sabu really deserves a lot of credit for helping establish Van Dam as huge player as he would go on to become one of ECW's last huge stars and really the only one would find major success on a grander stage.
6. Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho (Unforgiven 2001)
A hidden gem among the rubble that was the bloated WCW and ECW Invasion story arc. It was R-V-D vs. Y-2-J.
No not their vastly overrated match from WWE Monday Night Raw last year, but this match. A match that was to decide the WWE Hardcore Championship of all things. This was honestly probably the best match I've ever seen for this championship in a traditional single-pin-fall match.
"Mr. Pay-Per-View" had only just joined the ranks of the WWE a few months prior, and after having several matches with Jeff Hardy over the title found himself representing The Alliance faction, made up of both Shane and Stephanie McMahon sponsored WCW and ECW talent, against WWE's Chris Jericho.
It's a very long and convoluted story, but that's the gist of it all.
Both of these guys seemed to have the other one scouted which shifted the momentum and story of this match several times over. That constant shift made this match feel very erratic at times. Which is perfect for a match for a championship christened with the name "Hardcore."
This match sort of served as a way for the WWE to continue the hilarious Stephanie McMahon/Chris Jericho feud which produced some of Jericho's most famous one-liners. McMahon came down to the ring and distracted Jericho allowed Van Dam to hit the Van-Terminator followed by that Five Star Frog Splash.
Despite the weak finish both the more grounded Y2J and Van Dam meshed well here and performed a wonderful match with only one or two awkward spots as opposed to their 2013 match on WWE Raw.
Funnily enough, Stephanie McMahon would later briefly become Jericho's manager in early 2002 after he became the first ever WWE Undisputed Champion.
5. Rob Van Dam vs. Christian (WWE Raw, June 2003)
While it doesn't seem to happen as often as it used to, at a time, WWE Raw was semi-often treated to a Ladder match.
This is by far one of the most underrated Ladder matches in Raw's history and, not surprisingly, it was for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
I thought these two really meshed well together in the ring. Christian had spent a majority of his time in WWE in matches that involved multiple weapons and wrestling guys like Matt and Jeff Hardy.
So by this point in his career Christian was well prepared to have a hidden gem of a classic with an athlete like Rob Van Dam.
The only critique I have of this match was that it was a bit on the short side, but it managed to work out as a positive as it meant both "Captain Charisma" and the "Whole F'N Show" wasted no more down time than necessary providing a worthwhile main event for Monday Night Raw.
Roller coaster rides are often far too short also, but I feel that makes the brief experience that more special. Watching a Van Dam or Rey Mysterio match might often feel overly-short, but really you're getting a far more condensed and action-packed experience.
This match got huge bonus points for an incredibly well executed finishing sequence. The timing of it all was just spot-on.
After kicking Christian off the top of a ladder, "Mr. Monday Night" scaled another ladder and performed his Five Star Frog Splash on route to winning his fourth Intercontinental Championship.
4. Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn (Hardcore Heaven 1999)
"The Whole F'N Show" versus "The New F'N Show" for the ECW Television Championship.
By this time, Van Dam and Lynn were more familiar with one another and still young enough to put on one of the definitive best matches of the year across any promotion.
While 1999 saw a shift in ECW towards a more athletic style, moving away from "garbage wrestling," the characters were not connecting with the audience like they once were. It's curious that one of the promotions best matches took place at the cross-roads of its own history.
This match is not as fast paced and crisp as some of their other encounters but it is a very smart match. ECW didn't have very many technically brilliant matches that were also extremely brutal, but this is certainly one of them. It toed the line of being hardcore, but also while telling a very back-and-forth story as the momentum of the contest swayed between both men.
The ECW crowd was such an anomaly in it's own right. They were always hot for the matches and chanted at all the right, and sometimes wrong, times. They made this match feel more big time than it already was.
Jerry Lynn nearly had the Television Champion beat here after numerous times, but came up short and became another notch on Van Dam's belt during his 23-month long reign as the champion. It would take "The Whole F'N Show" two Five Star Frog Splashes to finally silence his challenger.
Van Dam was supposed to move up into the main event scene and begin competing for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, but an ankle injury kept that from happening and RVD had to relinquish his ECW Television Championship.
About two years later Van Dam would return to main event ECW's final ever Pay-Per-View, 2001's Guilty As Charged, despite being owed a huge sum of money, and had one final match with Jerry Lynn in the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
The company would hold only two more events after this. Five years later, "The Whole F'N Show" would return to that very building, but with a new nickname, "Mr. Money in the Bank..."
3. Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena (One Night Stand 2006)
It's really disappointing to me that hardly anything that Van Dam has done since all the way back in 2006 has managed to live up to the amazing contests he put on in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2006, Van Dam was just turning 36. By all accounts he should have only been getting better, but when some stars enter their later years they use their vast knowledge of ring psychology and storytelling to make up for it. Men like Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair understood that, some professional wrestlers just don't have that.
Once Van Dam began to slow done he just didn't have the ability to make fans invest into his character or the story. Still, for over a decade we were lucky enough to see "Mr. Pay-Per-View" thrill like no one else, and this is without a doubt the culmination of everything he worked for.
No matter how it turned out, no matter what people think of him now, Rob Van Dam will forever be linked to the WWE's most sacred championship belt.
Electricity. That is the only word that comes to mind when I think of the atmosphere in the Hammerstein Ballroom as John Cena and Rob Van Dam entered 2006's One Night Stand. The fans gave Van Dam one of the biggest ovations of his career and tossed back John Cena's tee shirt and cap multiple times as the WWE Champion tried to toss them to the crowd.
The tension around this match was huge and it made it even more meaningful and memorable. I do have a problem with this match though. Edge's involvement and spearing of John Cena near the end of the contest was very much unneeded.
Edge could have speared John Cena for storyline purposes after Rob Van Dam finally realized his journey to finally becoming the WWE Champion, but in the words of RVD, "whatever, dude." The champion and the challenger had the crowd eating out of their hand for over 20 minutes and delivered a really dynamic performance that will stand as Rob Van Dam's greatest career accomplishment.
If and/or when, "Mr. Monday Night," enters the WWE Hall of Fame, you can bet this match will make more than a few appearances in his career tribute video. Seeing Van Dam holding the title surrounded by ECW alumni was probably the last moment in ECW's history that did not feel contrived or phony.
2. Rob Van Dam vs. Eddie Guerrero (WWE Raw, May 2002)
Another Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship from a television taping. This match though, was very likely the inspiration for Van Dam's match with Christian on Raw the year after this.
I would like to go on record and say I miss Eddie Guerrero, very much. Very, very much.
I almost want to be mad at the WWE for giving this match away on free television as it is one of the best matches to ever be televised on their flagship program, WWE Monday Night Raw.
In 2002, Rob Van Dam was one of the most popular WWE superstars on the roster. Fewer of the performers on the WWE's roster got a more thunderous reaction that "Mr. Monday Night" during this point in his career. He was extremely over, underexposed, and very well protected.
Guerrero was such a versatile talent in the ring, and this is a great example of that. Fans had seen Guerrero's high flying antics and precise execution of submission holds for years in WCW's cruiserweight division, but not often was "Latino Heat" allowed to take to the skies from a ladder.
The two both wrestled with a great amount of urgency which made sense considering that this match contained no pin-falls. Both men were so crisp and on-point with every maneuver in this match, it looked like it had been rehearsed several times over again.
The champion, Guerrero, controlled much of this Ladder match, surprisingly. However, Van Dan hit the right spots at the right time and managed to incapacitate Guerrero long enough to secure the WWE Intercontinental Championship for a second time.
If only that pesky fan intruder had not thrown Guerrero off the ladder, literally.
1. Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn (Living Dangerously 1999)
This match occurred only one month before their rematch at Hardcore Heaven 1999.
There is a ridiculous amount of division among ECW fans about which Vam Dam/Lynn match is superior. It typically boils down to this match and their match later at Hardcore Heaven. In all honesty either one could have feasibly been called number one, but for me there is something so much more special about this one.
Believe it or not, this was actually the two's first time ever wrestling on live Pay-Per-View, with one another.
Long before becoming a nostalgia act in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling this was one of the greatest match-ups in Extreme Championship Wrestling's history. They both had some very entertaining matches on Hardcore TV, but none of them got this much time to really tell a story or showcase just how well they worked together up until this point.
Few other opponents have ever been able to match the pace of Rob Van Dam.
Jerry Lynn knew how to work with Van Dam. He made himself appear just as quick and dangerous as "Mr. Pay-Per-View", but Lynn also knew when to let Van Dam be the star of the show. The two were just so inventive with the way they both used the environment around them to punish one another.
Whether it was guard rails, steel chairs, or tables.
I mean, some of the sequences and spots in this match are just so mind blowing that I had to rewind them and watch again just to see how they accomplished them. So this match had the wow factor in the entertainment department, but it also told a wonderful story. A story of Jerry Lynn, trying to overcome the ever-dominate ECW Television Champion, Rob Van Dam.
It was a struggle for him and he used anything and everything he could get his hands on to try and defeat the champion. At the end of the 20 minute time-limit, neither man had won. The referee had nearly awarded the belt to Lynn, as he was pinning RVD when the time expired, but the proud challenger wanted more time to get a definitive victory over the long reigning champion.
The fans screamed for "Five More Minutes!" The two are given five more minutes to determine the winner, but it proved to be Lynn's downfall.
A Van Daminator and a Five Star Frog Splash, moments later, was all that the ECW Television Champion needed to retain his title from the man who went on to become his most legendary opponent.