Simply Awesome: The All Too-Short Life and Career of Mike Awesome
At 6' 7" inches and 290 pounds, Mike Awesome was a sight to behold. He was chiseled to the max and his massive arms and legs made him look like even more of a monster. His wet mulleted hair made him the perfect bully figure. Heck, he was the jock you hated in high school.
Mike Awesome's appearance would have led you to believe that he was a monster with limited skills and ability in the ring. You would have believed wrong.
Everything Mike Awesome did defied normal logic. He soared through the air with the grace and hangtime of a cruiserweight. His raw power and impactful blows were as legit is his mullet. Awesome was a physically gifted man in the ring.
Mike Awesome skyrocketed his career in the early '90s in Japan wrestling as "The Gladiator." And to the Japanese workers and crowds, you can bet he looked like a modern day gladiator. His scowl and his aggressiveness was well received in Japan much to the surprise of those who told him otherwise. The Japanese wrestling fans have a way of respecting those who give their everything in the ring, and Awesome was amongst that crowd.
While in Japan, Awesome began to feud with Masato Tanaka. Tanaka was a scrappy, yet surprisingly similar wrestler to Awesome. Tanaka didn't scare many men with his physical appearance but he had an uncanny ability to take an absolute beating in the ring, which earned him the honors of one of the toughest men to lace up a pair of boots. Awesome and Tanaka wrestled physically grueling matches all over Japan for many years before reigniting their feud years later in ECW.
In 1998, awesome made an appearance in ECW facing Tanaka twice and losing both times. However, the matches were extremely well received as fans began to notice Awesome's uncanny ability to literally do it all in the ring. Awesome sustained a knee injury which would keep him out for a while, but ECW and Paul Heyman had plans to make him the next huge name in professional wrestling.
Awesome returned and shocked the wrestling world by winning the ECW Heavyweight Title from Tazz and Tanaka in a three-way dance in 2000. He wasn't even advertised as being on the card that night.
In what would be the first in a series of must-see matches with Tanaka, the two men tore the house down and had fans of wrestling clamoring for more. The unbelievably physical bumps and shots these two men took and gave out was new to the American fan (other than what they had seen from Mick Foley in a watered down WWE).
After merely a year of top-notch performances for ECW, Awesome jumped ship to WCW citing better pay as the main reason. The end of the real Mike Awesome had occurred, we simply did not realize it yet.
I tell you all of this for the simple reason that Mike Awesome SHOULD HAVE BEEN among the men who reinvented American wrestling as we knew it. He could have single handedly carried WCW as their world champion and perhaps kept them afloat if they only knew the wrestling talent they had.
WCW instead put the title on Kevin Nash and David Arquette in this time frame, showing the absolute inept ability to book a wrestling show. Maybe I am being a bit too quick to say Awesome could have saved WCW, but you have to know that he was loved despite the fact he TRIED to be hated.
Long before TNA fans were chanting "THIS IS AWESOME!" to Samoa Joe, Mike Awesome was garnering those chants from the most hostile of crowds in Philadelphia. Moreover, he was doing so while Main Eventing with Spike Dudley. Yes, ECW fans, the best fans ever were sold on Mike Awesome to the point that he and Spike Dudley wrestling was pure gold to them. That's how "awesome" he truly was.
WCW's first of many brilliant ideas was to turn Awesome into a key cog in the feud between Kidman and Hulk Hogan. You would say this was pretty smart. Awesome and Hogan squaring off puts him right near the top and able to really showcase himself. Instead, they labeled his as "The Fat Chick Thriller" and threw him into a fledgling feud with Kevin Nash.
Next, WCW thought to themselves what any top three promotion would with a talent the likes of Mike Awesome. They put him in a leisure suit and called him "That '70s Guy." Somehow, Awesome continued to amaze fans and create memorable wrestling moments. Who will ever forget The Insane Clown Posse being powerbombed on top of Awesome's 70's Partridge Family style bus? Shaggy would actually slide off and legitimately hurt himself. Awesome was making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Later, Awesome would interject himself into the "Three-Level Cage" that WCW constructed for Arquette to defend the WCW title in (Gosh, it hurts even typing that). Awesome powerbombed Kanyon off the cage and onto the entrance ramp in one of wrestling's most incredible moments.
WCW next thought it a good idea to cut his trademark hair. He lost it in a Hair vs. Hair match to Konnan. In case you were wondering, Konnan was bald. Brilliant!
After a brief stint in WWE which saw him win the Hardcore Title, Awesome retired from wrestling. He described his stay with WWE as horrible and was glad to retire. If the money were right, Awesome would probably have stayed in the business. He did return at One Night Stand in 2005 in what can be argued as the best match on the card with Masato Tanaka.
Sadly, after his wife told him she wanted a divorce, Awesome committed suicide in his home in 2007.
Mike Awesome might not be world renowned, or even known by some fans today. I however will always believe he was among the most underused and underappreciated wrestlers to ever lace up the boots. I still to this day believe that had he been pushed, he could have carried WCW. I know there was way more wrong with WCW than the World Title scene, but a change in the style they wrestled and some new stars reaching the top could have saved the company.
Do yourself a favor and find a way to watch one of his many matches with Masato Tanaka or even Spike Dudley and then form your opinion of him. I guarantee you will enjoy it.
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