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The Evolution of Rob... Van...
November 26, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com



I guess in reviewing all of those hours upon hours of footage they acquired from ECW and WCW, World Wrestling Entertainment reminded itself what attracted fan to Rob Van Dam in the first place. In February, RVD will be coming to DVD. 

Van Dam is a guy with a pretty impressive history within ECW, but a spotty-at-best record in other promotions. In all fairness, he was very green during his brief stint in WCW in the early 1990s and was completely overlooked (rightfully so... again, he was way too green to push). By the time WWE swallowed up a bunch of the casualties of ECW's 

demise - including Rhino, Justin Credible, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Spike Dudley, and eventually Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer - the company seemd to be reeling from their own success.

WWE had squashed, bought, and paid for their competition so convincingly that they almost appeared to be overwhelmed by their own victory. They brought in scores of WCW and ECW stars, many of them with real potential to become big stars with the right motivation and booking. They were handed the WCW Invasion angle on a silver platter, but blew it in a major way. In the process, the careers of many of WCW's biggest young prospects either stalled out in WWE or completely bombed.

Rob Van Dam was one of the most unique and promising of the newcomers in 2001. He was a huge star to ECW fans, who remembered the trash-talking, wise-cracking, super-cool stoner as a solid interview and an exciting wrestler. His style was unorthodox, but hey... "unorthodox" was what put ECW on the map. His repertoire was heavy on kicks, dives, and high spots that connected maybe 7 percent of the time, and connected a little too stiffly on a regular basis. Again, this wasn't considered a big deal in the "hardcore" territory of ECW, where pain was expected by wrestlers and the fans alike.

Van Dam teased a jump to the WWF in 1997 as a key player in ECW's cooperative angle with the WWF, and competed on Raw a handful of times before the WWF nudged the angle off of their own TV broadcasts and sent Jerry Lawler and Jim Cornette to some ECW shows to continue the angle on the WWF's behalf. By the time 1997 wrapped up, RVD had become a huge star in ECW, on par with the likes of Raven, Taz(z), and Sabu. He was exciting, he was wild, and he could cut a promo. Most of all, he was devoted to ECW, which was huge in light of all the other top-name talent Paul Heyman would lose to the "Big Two" as the Monday Night Wars plodded onward. ECW stars came and went, but RVD never abandoned the small promotion that gave him his first taste of success.

In late 2000, RVD had reached a monetary disagreement with ECW, no doubt one of the many examples of ECW's financial woes that sunk the ship in those final few months. RVD stopped appearing for the company, but he also didn't seek immediate work in WCW or the WWF. He remained on the sidelines, and eventually did return to work one last PPV main event for ECW before the company stalled out for good. To the bitter end, RVD remained an ECW standard bearer.

Through it all, the debate raged on as to whether RVD was capable of ever being a top guy in the WWF or WCW. RVD's fans were adamant that he could, but his detractors made some very valid points that eventually proved true in RVD's WWE run. They said he was too stiff, and on more than one occasion in WWE, that was indeed the case. They said he was too unorthodox, with his kicking and high spot-based offense. That alone may not have doomed RVD to the midcard in WWE, if not for the fact that WWE harped on this "unique athlete" and his "unorthodox style" and his "educated feet" to the point where they almost reinforced in fans' minds that this guy was a sideshow, and not a true player. You know who else were unique and unorthodox? Damien Demento. And Bastion Booger. And Giant Gonzalez. Catch my drift?

A bit harder to swallow was the accusation that the "WWE style" would not translate well to RVD, and that many WWE wrestlers would be lost trying to work against RVD's offense. Consider that taking RVD's offense consists the following activites:

- Lay down and take a splash. - Stand up and break RVD's fall. - Sit down and take a kick. - Stand up and take a kick. - Take a kick and fall down. - Catch RVD's foot and stand still for a second. - Catch this steel chair and hold it to your face. Stand still for a second.

I'd imagine most WWE wrestlers, past and present, are capable of standing still, sitting still, lying still, and falling down. If they're not, they've got problems.

In terms of MATCHING RVD's offense, of course there would be few guys that could answer all of his kicks with a kick, all of his planchas with a plancha, and all of his other moves with more of the same. In that respect, RVD doesn't gel with the WWE style. But why would those wrestlers WANT to deviate from their style to try and work RVD's style? They're not RVD. He is.

Perhaps the biggest knock against RVD was that he doesn't sell well, except for selling his own pain from delivering the five star frog splash. This one's definitely true... you'll rarely see Rob Van Dam sell any move from his opponent with the veracity that he sells his own frog splash, and that's just plain not right. This can hamper his matches, and it has repeatedly. No-selling is one of the most legit reasons that RVD stalled out in WWE's midcard.

Yet, for all of his flaws, fans really want to cheer for RVD. He was tremendously over for a newcomer in 2001, to the point where he found himself in a few main events mixing it up with Stone Cold and company. But then, whatever the factor (the booking, the no-selling, or any combo of those and other things), RVD was relegated to the midcard. Save for a few bright spots in the Intercontinental Title picture, RVD's WWE stay has been a bit of a disappointment. Especially when held in contrast to his ECW work, and what that footage seemed to say about the man's future.

On the Thanksgiving edition of Smackdown, RVD's backstage interview with Rey Mysterio was the funniest Van Dam promo I've seen in months, possibly years. It reminded me just how entertaining RVD can be at his best. It reminded me how great his promos were in ECW. And it made me wonder why they haven't been this good in WWE more often. Are they homogenizing RVD that much? Or is it the opposite, and they took the reigns away from him this week and wrote him something good to say for once? Who knows...

But it certainly does seem like RVD is capable of much more than we've seen from him thus far. The blame probably belongs to several people and issues, with RVD shouldering a lot of it himself. The amazing this is that he's made such a fruitful midcard career for himself DESPITE underdelivering on his potential. Where is the disconnect, and was Thursday night the first step in reconnecting RVD with his own possibilities?

RVD is probably never going to be the next big thing. But at this point? He should be bigger than he is.


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