Timeline: The History of ECW
1997 – As Told By Sabu
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Nostalgia for the good old times of the good old original ECW is a cyclical thing, and now’s a good time to reconnect with the promotion.
And, of all people to talk about it, why not Sabu?
Well, the obvious retort is that Sabu was about as noncommunicative as anyone in the promotion, and even Taz as “Fred Flintstone” ended up as a talker and commentator. But not Sabu. His role was more a force of destructive nature: Suicidal, Homicidal, Genocidal, to say the least.
Sabu, by reputation, is most widely associated with the hardcore style that was ECW.
Sure, we can say that Shane Douglas was the prime mover of the promotion, that Tommy Dreamer was the longest lasting name associated with the ‘brand’ and that Terry Funk was the man who put the seal of wrestling mainstream acceptance on it all. We can say that Rob Van Dam was the biggest star to come out of the promotion, and Taz(z) was the living embodiment of the promotion after Sabu took a sabbatical, and from the point where the murky nature of the WWE sponsorship began to surface until Taz landed a great role as an announcer with the 800 pound gorilla.
Ok, enough about that.
Coming into the DVD, I was psyched to hear from Sabu.
Sabu is one of the unappreciated greats of the modern era, a man who bridges Old School with his Uncle – need I mention The Sheik! – to the profoundly new school ECW, which is scarily going on a decade since it was a mover and shaker in the industry, unappreciated as well.
Ok, arguments galore. Arguments galore.
But Sabu has always struck me as a guy who mastered selling as an artform. And while he was truly a daredevil – stories on this DVD alone verify that – there has always been a sense that Sabu knew the difference between crazy stunts that just upped the ante, and would ultimately lead to serious consequences, and doing stunts that he sold spectacularly.
The difference between Sabu and <random highspot garbage wrestler> was that Sabu sold. Sabu made it look like he busted his gut, broke a bone or dislocated something when he fell, or crashed or smashed into someone.
And, well, maybe it wasn’t a work.
But the essence of professional wrestling was never lost on Sabu. He’s the rare sort of talent that never lost connection to the traditions and never left the shadow of The Shiek. His gimmick was that he wasn’t going to talk, and he didn’t exactly break that during his career. He was pushed and prodded and likely burned a few bridges because of his stubbornness, but hearing him talk, he regrets nothing.
Nothing but making a few bucks more, but I’ve heard that sentiment from others.
Yet Sabu as well as others aren’t spouting bitterness, just the financial realities of it all. And one of the most intriguing aspects of the Timeline DVD are the stories of how Sabu was dealing with his finances. On one side, he does admit to getting paid a few bucks more than the other headliners of ECW fame. On the other hand, he tells of times where he paid money out of his own pocket to smooth things over, whether it was to keep the deal with FMW alive, even though Onita didn’t quite want the Dudleys again, or to keep The Sandman happy.
Funny, The Sandman took the money and walked to WCW anyway…
Honesty and integrity are words used very infrequently with wrestlers of any age, and even with Sabu’s reputation and admissions of certain indulgences, I’m not hesitant to use those words with him. Someone may tell me that Sabu wasn’t forthcoming, but I can’t see any reason to distrust his words on this DVD: there’s no gimmick here, no pregnant pauses (except for those few instances where he really would cause trouble for another person, or himself, in terms of family matters.)
And so the Timeline for 1997 is set up.
I’ll leave it for the viewer to delve into triviality and nostalgia, into the names, the moments and the angles that made ECW – still in it’s prime – one of the most watchable promotions of all time.
I’ll also leave it up to the viewer to figure out where the real Paul Heyman fits into it all, but Sabu – despite his axes to grind – has about the most complete perspective on that “messianic” figure. Like most who speak of Heyman, there’s that sense that Heyman the businessman isn’t exactly trustworthy with money, but his ability to rally the troops (even if Sabu was utterly jaded by those speeches) are of wrestling lore, and his ability to unleash the creativity of his troops was even more impressive.
But what comes across via Sabu, even without direct commentary, is that ECW was all about the fans, and that was the most admirable aspect of Heyman’s promotional guidance. ECW and Sabu are interlocked because the legacy of ECW was based on tradition – but expanding professional wrestling into a new era, it was based on respect, and it was based on getting the fans involved in the aspects of the promotion, getting them to buy into the movement, getting them to pay for the promotion via internet sales, merchandising and ultimately PPV.
Too bad Sabu and others never got the level of compensation due, but that’s the other side of the story.
As for Timeline, I loved this DVD. With a sense of pride and honesty, Sabu provides his insight into what was going on in 1997 in ECW: from Jerry Lawler to the Terry Funk title reign, from his own title reign to his feud with Taz, from the real life troubles of the Pitbulls to Louie Spicolli to Brian Pillman.
We also get a glimpse at the underlying foundation of Sabu’s medical pioneering in the realm of Superglue as stitches…. Well, it’s basically because he hated waiting in waiting rooms to get stitched up. Go figure.
But while that makes sense for cuts and broken knuckles, it’s another story entirely for a broken jaw, from landing on a table leg. Yet somehow Sabu, supergluing his jaw and using a straw for protein, got through a week before getting the broken jaw properly set.
Stories about Tommy Rich and Rob Van Dam (whom Sabu/The Sheik trained) are priceless, and of course anyone who was anyone at the time is open game. That Sabu got married (twice to the same person) and lived his life in a mobile home with his wife, dog and assortment of crazy wrestlers on the roster the basis alone for two hours of entertaining stories.
Well, that plus the groundbreaking aspect of ECW for a jaded middle aged and crazy fan like myself. For the new fans, this should provide a solid perspective on why wrestling isn’t always made the same, and for older fans than myself, this is likely the last glimmer of professional wrestling done meaningfully and with a passion…. Even if half the stuff they did in the ring was extreme, and less than a quarter of what they did outside the ring is suitable for a PG-13 rating.
Yes, Sabu still has the headdress, and is promoting the Insane Clown Posse on his shirt, but explaining the barbed wire mayhem is the goal of the DVD, and it crashes that target like Sabu landing a moonsault on an innocent table.