Ah, the glory days of the original ECW!
A time when we could switch on the Television and be treated to some of the most hardcore, brutal, and bloody wrestling that could possibly be seen in the world.
How the wrestling industry has changed in such a short span of time. The days of blood seem so far away, relegated to memories for many fans who grew up wanting their next fix of violence from the true extremists.
So many of the great performers idolised during the glory years served a tenure in the extreme leagues.
Not many of them had much success beyond that.
When ECW went under, it seemed like many of the competitors where doomed to spend the rest of their lives in the Indies, unable to go mainstream because of their roots in the land of Extreme.
However, out of all the men who leaped at the new doors, only one man landed on his feet and walked into the big leagues.
One man who single-handedly redefined the meaning of being "One of a Kind!"
In the beginning...
Robert Alexander Szatkowski was first introduced to the wrestling world as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 1987, when he was selected to take part in one of Ted DiBiase's sketches.
Given $100 to kiss the feet of the Million Dollar Man on television, Szatkowski performed the "degrading act" to the amusement of the audience.
What the fans in attendance didn't realise was that Szatkowski would eventually become one of the most recognisable performers of the "Attitude Era."
Soon after this came on, he began to train under the watchful eye of The Sheik, who taught him the valuable art of self-discipline and inner peace, two qualities that became almost synonymous with his character over the rest of his career.
He first began to compete professionally in 1990 at the age of 20 for many local promotions, including USWA and SAPW. It was here that he caught the attention of many prominent figures within the wrestling industry.
It was also at this time he was given his now famous ring name: Rob Van Dam.
The first few steps...
In 1992, it looked like Van Dam was going to be pushed into the spotlight when he was signed to a contract with WCW, one of the biggest promotions in North America at the time.
However, this was just a false start in his race to the top.
Renamed Robbie V due to a dislike of his RVD moniker, he was mainly used as a jobber for WCW's more established talent, appearing in less than a handful of matches before he left the company for newer ground.
He began to travel to other continents in an attempt to expand his repertoire, mainly focusing his sights on the Japanese scene.
It was here that he began to adopt his trademark martial arts style, as well as his unique attitude to the sport, highlighted by the inclusion of many Japanese symbols on his ring gear.
It was in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) that he found his feet, rising quickly through the ranks to challenge on multiple occasions for the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Although he never won the title, he gained a reputation of being one of the most agile and gifted wrestlers on the roster.
After a few years in Japan, Van Dam refocused his energies on America, where he was to come face to face with his biggest opportunity to date.
The Birth of an Extremist...
In 1996, Van Dam was signed by Paul Heyman to his newly started promotion, ECW. It was in the Philadelphia-based promotion that he began to make a name for himself as the future of wrestling.
Portrayed as a laid-back stoner, Van Dam became an instant hit with the fans due to his high-flying, unorthodox style of wrestling.
Within two months of his debut, he challenged 2 Cold Scorpio for the ECW Television Championship, losing his chance to hold the belt when the match ended in a draw.
It was soon after this that his career was thrust into the spotlight, when he started his now legendary feud with the "Suicidal, Homicidal, Genocidal" Sabu, in what has been regarded by many as one of the greatest feuds ever to take place within ECW.
Beginning at Hostile City Showdown 1996, Van Dam and Sabu caught the eyes of thousands as they argued over the lack of respect each was showing for the other.
This stemmed from Van Dam refusing to shake Sabu's hand after he lost to him, a sign of disrespect within the wrestling community at the time.
This led to Van Dam aligning himself with his new manager Bill Alfonso, turning heel at the same time.
The feud culminated at The Doctor Is In, where Sabu defeated Van Dam in a stretcher match, putting an end to their rivalry of over three months.
Ironically, after this, the two men would share the ring again, but as tag team partners.
Van Dam's next feud was with Doug Furnas, but soon expanded to include Dan Kroffat as well.
Faced with a two-on-one scenario, Van Dam chose Sabu to be his partner against the team, marking the birth of one of the most successful tag teams in the history of ECW.
Over the next few months, both teams competed against each other for superiority, with Van Dam and Sabu coming out on top every time.
The teams focus then shifted to The Eliminators, who began to launch attacks on the duo after their bouts.
This led Van Dam and Sabu to their first feud over gold, as they regularly competed against the Eliminators in title matches over the course of their rivalry. However, the unique duo were unable to add any gold to their already impressive resumes.
Going up in the world...
It was at Barely Legal that Van Dam was chosen to fill in for an injured Chris Candido in his match against Lance Storm. Despite winning the bout, Van Dam began to moan publicly towards Paul Heyman at being used as a "back-up guy."
This distaste was used a few weeks later when ECW "invaded" Monday Night Raw, causing Jerry Lawler to threaten repercussions towards the promotion.
A few weeks later, when Lawler appeared on the show, Van Dam and Sabu stood by his side as he said how both men were too good for ECW.
This led to Lawler calling Van Dam "Mr. Monday Night" in response to his comment about how he deserved to be on a Monday Night show, whether it be Raw or Nitro.
Despite him being portrayed as a traitor towards ECW, Van Dam was cheered for more than ever as fans began to realise his unending talent.
Soon after his return to ECW, Van Dam engaged in a feud with Tommy Dreamer over promotion loyalty. Over the course of the next few months, Van Dam almost achieved a clean sweep of wins over Dreamer, only losing to him in a couple of tag team matches.
At the beginning of 1998, Van Dam began to set his sights on ECW gold: namely, the Television Championship.
His thirst was quenched in April of that year, when he up-ended Bam Bam Bigelow to earn the title and his first championship within ECW. This was then followed up in the June when he won the Tag Team titles with Sabu, making him a double champion at the time.
Over the next couple of months, they traded the tag team gold twice with The Dudley Boyz, showcasing their dominance within the division.
Starting 1999 as a double champion, Van Dam looked to build upon his success from the previous year. However, the suspension of his partner meant that he had to defend the tag team gold in a singles match against D-Von Dudley, subsequently losing the belts.
After this, he began to focus on his Television Championship, making numerous defences against a diverse range of opponents, the most memorable encounter being against Jerry Lynn at Hardcore Heaven, which was shown again on ECW's debut on TNN.
At the beginning of 2000, Heyman, in an attempt to bring some money into ECW, began advertising a "Champion vs. Champion" match between Van Dam and Rhino.
This never came to fruition though, as Van Dam broke his ankle during a title defence, causing him to vacate the belt and end his 700-day reign as champion.
Van Dam didn't compete again until Hardcore Heaven, when he lost to Jerry Lynn after outside interference. This led to a continuing storyline where Van Dam was constantly screwed out of various titles.
It was soon after this at Guilty as Charged that RVD made his final appearance for ECW, signing with WWF at the start of "The Invasion."
The Extreme Invasion...
Rob Van Dam first appeared as a signed competitor within the WWF during The Invasion in 2001.
As a part of the invading "Alliance," Van Dam was portrayed to be a heel, but that didn't stop him becoming one of the most popular men in WWF at the time.
This popularity was expanded when he began to trade the Hardcore title with Jeff Hardy, showcasing his unique style and charisma to the WWF fans who hadn't previously seen Van Dam in action.
At Survivor Series, Team WWF won the "Winners take all" elimination match, meaning that all Alliance members were to be fired. However, due to Van Dam holding the gold, he was offered a place on the roster.
Due to his popularity with the fans, Van Dam was re-established as a face and entered into the Intercontinental Championship race after losing the Hardcore title to The Undertaker.
This culminated at Wrestlemania X8, when Van Dam won a triple-threat match to gain the Intercontinental title for the first time.
During the Brand Split, Van Dam was drafted to Raw, where he kept hold of his belt until Backlash, when he lost the title to Eddie Guerrero. This led to him unsuccessfully attempting to regain the title on multiple occasions.
After unsuccessfully challenging for the Undisputed Championship, Van Dam regained his Intercontinental title for the second time after beating Eddie Guerrero in a Ladder match on Raw.
After defending the gold against Brock Lesnar, as well as unifying the Intercontinental and European titles in a Ladder match against Jeff Hardy, RVD set his sights firmly on the main event, regularly earning the status of No. 1 contender.
Throughout most of 2002, Van Dam spent most of his time competing in the main event for the WWE championship, including his appearance in the first-ever Elimination Chamber match won by Shawn Michaels.
In late 2002/early 2003, Van Dam went back to his tag team roots by forming an alliance with Kane. This was a fruitful partnership, with the team winning the Tag Team Championship one one occasion before the team dissolved after Kane's heel turn.
For the latter part of 2003, Van Dam spent most of his time competing for the Intercontinental Championship, which he won three, bringing his total tally up to five reigns with the gold.
Soon after this, Van Dam once again held Tag Team gold, this time with Booker T as his partner. The duo was more successful than the partnership between Kane and himself, as they held the titles for two months before losing them to Evolution in March 2004.
After being drafted to Smackdown, Van Dam split his efforts between partnering with Rey Mysterio and pursuing the United States Championship. He once again held Tag Team gold in late 2004, but was forced to drop the titles after tearing his ACL.
This injury put Van Dam out of action until late 2005, when he appeared on the ECW reunion show "One Night Stand," getting attacked by Rhino before Sabu came out to save him.
Once recuperated from his injury, Van Dam began to perform on Raw, where he was drafted during the 2005 brand lottery. He had much success during this tenure, winning both the Intercontinental Championship and the Money in the Bank Ladder match, giving him a title shot within the year.
In May, RVD was hand-picked by Paul Heyman to become one of the first members of the new ECW brand. It was later in the year that he defeated John Cena during the infamous "Hammersmith Ballroom encounter" to win the WWE Championship, his first major title in WWE.
He was then awarded the newly christened ECW Heavyweight championship, making him the only dual WWE/ECW Heavyweight champion in history.
He kept hold of both belts until July, when he was forced to drop both titles in compliance with his suspension for drug possession.
After returning in late August, Van Dam began to work his way back into the main event scene, becoming number one contender for the title once again. However, he was unable to win back the gold.
Soon after this, Van Dam joined the "ECW Originals" faction, who were feuding against the "New Breed" over who actually represented the true face of ECW. This rivalry culminated at Wrestlemania 23, with the Originals coming out on top.
Van Dam then entered his final WWE feud against Randy Orton, who felt disrespected by RVD. This led to a stretcher match between both men. Despite RVD winning, Orton got the last word with a DDT onto the concrete, causing a legitimate concussion to Van Dam.
It was soon after this that he retired from WWE to care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
For the next few years, RVD kept a low profile, spending all his time caring for his wife and training for various weightlifting competitions.
Many fans believed they'd never get a chance to see "Mr. Monday Night" in action again, that their chance to see this unique wonder had slipped through their fingers.
RVD however, thought otherwise, making a surprise appearance in the 2009 Royal Rumble to the excitement of the audience. Despite coming up short, he still proved that he had what it took to compete within the WWE.
Since then, he has started to compete with the WSW, where he is the current Heavyweight champion.
This is an amazing accomplishment for a man who hadn't properly wrestled in nearly three years with very few exceptions.
Does this mean that we will never see him within a WWE ring again?
Only time will tell, but there is no guessing with a guy like Rob Van Dam!
Since the beginning of his career, RVD has re-defined the standards of athleticism within the wrestling world, earning the title of one of the most agile men to step foot in a ring.
From his humble start as an original ECW Extremist, to his flight at the top of the WWE, RVD has managed to amaze and astound the fans with his unique blend of speed, grace, and strength.
He has proven time and time again that it's impossible to rule him out of any competition, often overcoming the odds to stand in the spotlight and taste the glory of holding championship gold.
His instantly recognisable laid-back attitude, as well as his dedication to Martial Arts have made him one of the most unorthodox characters to ever stand between the ropes, and his caring nature has pulled the heartstrings of people all around the world.
Mr Monday Night.
The Whole F'n Show.
The Face of ECW.
Rob Van Dam is all of this and more to almost every wrestling fan around the earth, proving without a shadow of a doubt that he truly is "One of a Kind!"
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