If you’ve been regularly reading our vintage Best and Worst of WWF Raw columns (and if you’re not, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice as a wrestling fan), you’ll know that just a couple of weeks ago, we tackled the beginning of the landmark “ECW invasion” angle that the then-WWF experimented with in early 1997. One of the ECW stars who was notably absent for that episode was “Mr. Monday Night,” Rob Van Dam. RVD would eventually show up on WWF television in May of that year, but the star of 3-Headed Shark Attack recently revealed that WWE wanted him to stick around, and he opted to take a walk instead.
When Van Dam recently appeared on The Steve Austin Show, he recalled the angle and the circumstances surrounding it. Unbeknownst to him, WWE had their eye on him, but his loyalty to ECW trumped the thought of a potentially bigger contract and more exposure.
“I walked out on them in ’97 during that invasion angle because I was there for the betterment of ECW, and that’s what Sabu and I thought. And Vince thought that I was there for a different reason and Paul kept us in the dark about that. He told us the whole time, ‘if there’s anything you don’t like, just say the word – we’ll go, we’ll walk.’ And it came a point, we’re there to put ECW on the map on their TV. Well, he did mean it. He wanted us to get heat with WWE, so he could keep us. That’s the way Paul was. And I told him, ‘dude, they wanted me to put over Armstrong, Brian Armstrong. And what’s that going to do for ECW?’
“So I got to a point where I’m like, ‘Paul, what should we do?’ Instead of give me advice, [Heyman replied] ‘do you want to go? If you want to go, just say the word.’ He put it all on me. And yeah, I can’t can’t come in and do the J-O-B. And they had been doing that, so it forced a meeting with Vince. Myself, Sabu, with Vince, and, I don’t know, Jerry Brisco was there, I think. Prichard and Paul were in the corner talking to each other, not even paying attention to the meeting. And that’s where I learned from Vince that he never would have put me on his TV if he didn’t think I was going to stay with WWE and he was going to put me in an aggressive babyface role. And I was like, ‘what?’ Like, I had no idea this was the plan and apparently, Paul, he did know, so that’s why that blew up. And then, I was there for ECW and it was like, ‘we’ve got to go,’ and, boom, we left.”
How different would the histories of both WWE and ECW have been affected if RVD had jumped ship to WWE (with Paul E.’s blessing, of course)? Probably not very, honestly! Things certainly worked out for Van Dam in the long haul, as he’s a living legend, former ECW and WWE world champion, and almost certainly bound for the Hall of Fame one day.
I can’t imagine he would have moved the needle much more than the 1997 and 1998 twin ascendancies of Steve Austin and The Rock did. And while he was certainly an icon of ECW, he was an upper-midcard workhorse for the company, never their champion or the official face of the company. Still, it’s a fun little what-if to imagine RVD being in WWE all the way back in the very beginning of the Attitude Era. Imagine how much worse his theme song would have been!
(h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription)