The WWE Tag Team Championship match on SmackDown! this past Thursday -- and echo of fans chanting, "We want Holly!  We want Holly!" -- put the current climate of sports-entertainment in perspective for me.  Like a lot of my peers, I loved ECW, and am excited about the renegade promotion's pay-per-view on June 12.  But the vision of Hardcore Holly -- alongside partner, Charlie Haas -- manhandling Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro Thursday night reminded me that, even in the heyday of ECW, there was one guy in WWE re-defining the term "extreme."

Look -- ECW's place in history is undeniable.  Were it not for the promotion, I'm not sure that Superstars like Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, the Dudleys and, for that matter, Stone Cold Steve Austin, would have received the exposure -- at least in the United States -- that they richly deserved.  But let's not forget that, during the entire period, Holly was earning his "Hardcore" moniker on WWE television week after week.        

And he's still building on that reputation.

The man is intense.  Do you remember Tough Enough?  Not only did Holly train the WWE aspirants, he tortured them as well.  It's not because Holly's a bad guy.  He just does doesn't take anything lightly.  During WWE's visit to Iraq this past Christmas season, I had the opportunity to spend time with him -- and listen to the particulars of his rigorous workout routine.  He described the regimen in such detail that I felt like my body was aching.

And I didn't even get flattened by his Alabama Jam.

I first met Holly in 1994, when he appeared in the Royal Rumble.  For a period, he was called Bob "Spark Plug" Holly and for good reason.  Not only was the man a WWE Superstar, but he was also a professional race car driver.  Growing up in New York, I didn't know a lot about auto racing.  But two years ago, I interviewed a number of NASCAR drivers, as they prepared for the Daytona 500.  These guys are not just sitting behind the wheel like actuaries coming home from work on the San Diego Freeway.  Like bullriders, they're controlling bucking beasts with the capacity to exceed speeds of 200 mph.  I couldn't do it, and neither could you.  You have to be a professional athlete.

The notion that Holly was devoting his efforts to the sport of kings AND auto racing simultaneously is just astonishing.  Clearly, he has a little bit more testosterone than the rest of the male population.

By WrestleMania XV, he had become known simply as Hardcore Holly, proving his moniker by winning the Hardcore Championship in a "Hardcore Triangle" match with Al Snow and Billy Gunn.  Other men shied away from these Hardcore battles -- involving liberal uses of foreign objects and workaday weapons -- but Holly flourished in this environment.  At WrestleMania 2000, he captured the Hardcore Championship again, this time in a 13-man battle royal.

Now, I know that many people believe that, were it not for ECW, the Hardcore match -- so prominent during WWE's "Attitude" era -- would never have been introduced into the organization that had previously boasted champions like Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers, Bruno Sammartino and Bret "Hit Man" Hart.  And they may be right.  But when this type of confrontation did become a WWE staple, Holly immediately dominated the field.

Some would say that it was in the blood -- that red fluid running through Holly's veins, and down his opponents' foreheads.

On Thursday, we saw the image of Holly, covering Mercury for a pinfall, just as time was expiring in the match.  Holly and Haas didn't win the WWE Tag Team Championship.  But, when the bell rung, Hardcore was still the man.

He would have been great in ECW.  Fortunately for fans of WWE, we've always had him here.

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