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Rob Van Dam's 10 greatest rivalries
Laid back and characteristically easygoing, Rob Van Dam seldom gives off a hostile vibe, but as fans have come to appreciate for nearly two decades, there’s a fire inside Mr. Monday Night that burns brightest when he’s pushed to his limits by a worthy opponent. However, given the Original ECW icon’s aesthetic athletics and awe-inspiring aerial abilities, the list of those who have attempted to match RVD move-for-move is a short one, comprised of some of the most innovative and skilled warriors to set foot inside a wrestling ring.
Just as steel sharpens steel, RVD has been refined by those who have challenged him physically and psychologically. But which of Van Dam’s classic rivalries truly defines his career, proving irrefutably that the Battle Creek, Mich., native is simply “One of a Kind”?
After winning the coveted Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania 22, RVD announced he would “cash in” on Cena at One Night Stand in front of legions of Cena-hating ECW fans. Van Dam also vowed that if he won Cena’s title, he would rename it the ECW World Championship.
Ultimately, Edge interfered in the match, Spearing Cena through a table and leaving the WWE Champion vulnerable to a Five-Star Frog Splash that sealed a victory for The Whole Dam Show. Two nights later on the premiere of WWE’s revived ECW, Paul Heyman presented RVD with the new ECW Championship, but the accomplished martial artist opted to also hold onto Cena’s customized WWE Title as well, but not necessarily because he respected it.
“This is the ECW World Championship and I will wear it proudly,” RVD said, holding both ECW and WWE’s most prestigious titles on his shoulders. “And look at this one … it spins.”
It was against this pairing of Kronus & Perry Saturn that the team of RVD & Sabu truly turned heads, with collisions that would become recognized as the precursors to WWE’s modern-day nightmare known as the Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match.
After a series of brutal matches against Kronus & Saturn, RVD & Sabu eventually became two-time ECW Tag Team Champions with victories over The Dudley Boyz and Lance Storm & Chris Candido. However, not even the combined chaos of Van Dam & Sabu could unseat The Eliminators — and that’s saying something.
With Rhyno going on to twice win the championship that RVD held longer than any other wrestler in ECW’s history, Van Dam vied for retribution against The Man Beast, leading to a memorable ECW Television Championship confrontation at ECW’s Anarchy Rulz pay-per-view on Oct. 1, 2000. When a Singapore cane distraction by Justin Credible resulted in a poorly scouted Van Daminator, Rhyno was able to capitalize and Gore him through a table. Following a sickening piledriver onto a steel chair and a conspicuously quick three-count by the official, it was over.
Although the closure of ECW prevented Van Dam from attaining true retribution against Rhyno, the rivalry would be revisited in 2005, when RVD helped Sabu earn a table-splintering victory over The Man Beast at the first-ever ECW One Night Stand.
The pair would square off one-on-one for the first time at Backlash that year, when Guerrero stole a victory by delivering a neckbreaker onto the Intercontinental Championship itself and finished off a prone RVD with his “original” Frog Splash. RVD finally conquered Guerrero to reclaim the Intercontinental Championship on the May 27 edition of Raw, coming up victorious in what is regarded as one of the most exciting Ladder Matches in the red brand’s history.
After The Game’s Evolution associate, Ric Flair, thwarted Van Dam’s attempt to capture the title at Unforgiven 2002, RVD would get another chance at Survivor Series that year, where he clashed with The King of Kings, Shawn Michaels, Booker T, Kane and Chris Jericho in the first-ever Elimination Chamber Match. The sinister and career-threatening environment seemed to favor The Whole Dam Show, whose years of intense combat inside Philadelphia’s ECW Arena accustomed him to all manner of severe stipulations.
Though it was HBK who left the structure with the prestigious championship that night, RVD attained a consolation prize in the form of retribution against The Cerebral Assassin. Leaping off one of the Elimination Chamber pods, Van Dam crushed Triple H’s throat with a wince-inducing Five-Star Frog Splash.
After failing to help Lesnar capture RVD’s Intercontinental Championship in 2002, Heyman would again target Mr. Monday Night in July 2006, just weeks after presenting RVD with his first-ever ECW World Championship in a show of Philadelphia-honed solidarity. As the battle-weary Van Dam defended his title against Big Show, Heyman charged the ring to officiate in the place of an incapacitated referee as he did when Van Dam won the WWE Championship. However, just as the mad scientist was about to count Big Show’s shoulders to the mat, he hesitated, making clear his allegiance to The World’s Largest Athlete rather than RVD and the Original ECW.
The ponytailed turncoat gleefully cheered as Big Show chokeslammed RVD onto a steel chair, then excitedly counted to three and awarded the title to the giant.
Backstabber, thy name is Heyman.
Arguably the most memorable of these bouts was a hellacious Ladder Match at SummerSlam 2001, where RVD — who had lost the Hardcore Title to Hardy less than a week earlier — attempted to seat himself back atop WWE’s barbed wire-wrapped throne. In a steel-bending encounter that saw both innovators use their entire bodies as weapons, it was RVD who would fearlessly wrest the ragged title from its hook high above the ring.
The crowd-pleasing rivalry would take flight again the following summer on Raw, when Intercontinental Champion RVD faced and defeated European Champion Hardy in a Ladder Match, unifying both titles.
When Jerry Lawler waged a campaign against ECW in 1997, Rob Van Dam was, astoundingly, on the front lines, fighting on the side of WWE against his ECW brothers-in-arms. Proclaiming that he was better than the Philadelphia-based promotion and destined for WWE Superstardom, RVD began going by, “Mr. Monday Night” and regularly competed on Raw against the likes of Jeff Hardy, Flash Funk (2 Cold Scorpio) and The Headbangers.
RVD’s growing tensions with ECW boiled over at November to Remember 1997, where a WWE-affiliated Van Dam battled ECW standard-bearer Tommy Dreamer in a Flag Match, with each combatant representing their respective company. With the help of a pair of WWE “invaders,” Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon, RVD laid out Dreamer and pinned his fallen foe even though no official was present to make the three-count. Despite the questionable circumstances, RVD declared victory over the very company that served as his launch pad.
Though his betrayal of ECW was short-lived, RVD proved that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to accomplish his goals — a characteristic that turned him into an instant fan-favorite when he returned home to the ECW Arena.
It was at that pay-per-view event that Lynn’s obsession with humbling the brash RVD became most apparent, as even after he had won Van Dam’s title when the time limit expired, Lynn ordered the match to be extended five minutes so he could defeat Van Dam with a sense of finality. The request was granted by the official, leading to Lynn’s downfall when RVD finished off his challenger with a thunderous Five-Star Frog Splash.
Even though he’d been defeated, Lynn would continue to mock RVD in pursuit of the ECW World Television Title, narrowly capturing the prize on multiple occasions until RVD was stripped of the championship due to an ankle injury. At Hardcore Heaven the following year, with no title on the line, Lynn finally tasted victory over RVD thanks to an appalling betrayal by Van Dam’s longtime friend, Scotty Anton.
If any single competitor was integral to the professional growth of Rob Van Dam in the Battle Creek, Mich., warrior’s earliest years in ECW, it was the nephew of the original Sheik, Sabu. Trained alongside Sabu by The Sheik, both of these unorthodox competitors ultimately found themselves in ECW, forging a rivalry born out of mutual respect and fearlessness in the name of in-ring glory.
Sabu came out on top in the bulk of these encounters, which saw both competitors defy gravity and their better judgment inside the raucous confines of the ECW Arena. As much as these matches were about proving who the superior athlete was, they were also exercises in innovation as both extreme grapplers concocted new and interesting ways to incorporate tables, chairs and even the ring itself into their arsenals.
Despite the brutality of their bouts, Sabu & RVD developed a bond that would culminate in the formation of a nigh-unbeatable tag team that would twice attain the ECW World Tag Team Championships.