In September 1999, Paul Heyman was in a sticky situation. As owner of Extreme Championship Wrestling, he had just learned that his ECW Heavyweight Champion, Taz, had signed with the WWF. With a very limited amount of time to drop the strap to a wrestler capable of carrying the company, Heyman decided to take one of the biggest gambles of his life. It didn’t turn out well.
Mike Awesome was a wrestler who had never made an impact in the US. Debuting in WCW as a masked jobber named “The Pro”, Awesome was used as a jobber, despite his imposing size. Gaining almost all of his success overseas, wrestling for Japan’s FMW (Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling), Heyman had brought him into ECW for short runs, losing to a smaller opponent to help elevate them, winning a match when it didn’t really matter.
However, in 1999, that all changed. Heyman looked at Awesome and saw a wrestler that he could showcase on his TV shows. On the “Anarchy Rulez 1999” pay per view, what was billed as a title match between Taz and Masato Tanaka was changed to a threeway elimination match, with Awesome thrown into the mix. Taz was the first to be eliminated, followed by Awesome getting the pin on Tanaka for the title.
Awesome would hold that belt until April 13, 2000, when a surprise opponent would take the strap back. What happened in the weeks leading up to that is actually more interesting than the match itself.
Earlier in April, Awesome made a surprise appearance of WCW’s “Monday Night Nitro” program while wearing the ECW championship. While he was not under contract to ECW at this time, this move was frowned upon by the ECW locker room. Heyman got a judge to issue a federal injunction forbidding the title appear on any rival’s tv show while he tried to figure out what to do. With no true main event talent, Heyman reached out to Vince McMahon for a favor. Would it be possible to borrow Taz for just a few shows, just long enough to be used as a transitional champ? The match that this request spawned layed the groundwork for Awesome’s departure, Tommy Dreamer’s miniscule title run, and ECW’s demise. Enjoy.