Unless you're under a rock at the moment, you probably know Rob Van Dam is returning this Sunday at Money in the Bank. With Money in the Bank being in Philadelphia, the home of ECW and the place where Van Dam became a national name, he's expected to be the most popular wrestler on the show.
While Van Dam has never been the most well-rounded in-ring wrestler, he's always been fun. While I would agree with the argument that RVD was at his most fun in ECW, I wouldn't say it was where he was at his best.
Rob Van Dam is a great athlete who can do some amazing things as a wrestler, but he has some bad habits. Left to his own devices, he had similar traits to his training partner and long-time friend Sabu, : Big moves that take forever to set up, disjointed matches, etc. I sat through way too many ECW matches where RVD and manager Bill Alfonso would take what felt like hours to set up an elaborate move like the Van Terminator.
It took some truly great wrestlers in the right settings to reign Van Dam in, but when they did, the results were something special.
Dan Kroffat was one of the most underrated wrestlers ever, and when he faced off with Van Dam in All Japan Pro Wrestling, it was the greatest match of Van Dam's career. Kroffat had a tremendous wrestling I.Q. with a knack for amazing finishes, and figured out Van Dam better than any other wrestler I've ever seen.
When Kroffat's tag team partner took on Van Dam in ECW, it was another great match for different reasons. Van Dam worked from underneath as a heel. This allowed the powerful Furnas to throw around Van Dam for most of the match. Since his worst tendencies came out when on offense and he had a knack for taking bumps, it was, while at a level or two below the Kroffat match, one of the best matches of his career.
Still, Van Dam didn't get many opportunities like that. In All Japan, he was usually an undercard wrestler, with the Kroffat match being his moment in the spotlight. So he was limited in what he could do. In ECW, the emphasis was usually on his spectacular offense, which, again, brought out his worst habits.
When he arrived in WWE in 2001, in a way, it was the best of both worlds. He got to be a spectacular high flyer, which was the essence of Rob Van Dam. But WWE's strict style reigned him in.
There was a clear difference immediately: It didn't require Steve Austin at the peak of his powers for Van Dam to have a great match, though it certainly helped and they worked well together. His WWE pay-per-view debut, a Hardcore Title match vs Jeff Hardy at Invasion, was not only full of spectacular moves, but was also much more cohesive than similar matches that Van Dam had in ECW.
His first WWE run, which ended in 2007, continued to feature the best matches of his career. Between the house style that wouldn't let him move props around for several minutes at a time and an array of opponents well suited for him, most of the best marches of his career were in WWE. Hardy, Austin, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, John Cena, resurgent former ECW rival Tommy Dreamer, and others all worked brilliantly with him.
While there are some question marks since he's 42 years-old and his TNA run didn't light the world on fire, he wasn't necessarily motivated there. With a part-time schedule to keep him in shape, I'm hopeful that Rob Van Dam will be back in his old WWE form. Well, at least for now.