Mark For War: (The Original) Orange is the New Black
Sorry the column’s a little late this week, guys. I just got off the road with The Atlas Moth and Between the Buried and Me. I was stoked to meet a lot of great wrestling fans while on the road, several of whom read this column. Outstanding marking out with you guys!
Every night on tour I slept in my bright orange Taz “Path of Rage” shirt from around 1996. Coincidently, I heard today that Taz officially parted ways with TNA wrestling and is now a free agent. I think it’s only a matter of time before Taz makes his way back to WWE and receives some well-deserved accolades for his amazing run from the mid ’90s to early ’00s.
When all is said and done, there will be five true ECW superstars that will grace the WWE Hall of Fame: Paul Heyman, Rob Van Dam, Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley, and Taz (Tommy Dreamer, believe it or not, may sneak in). This is why Taz’s departure from TNA is so pivotal. I really feel that this move will put him in position to be the first ever true ECW alum to make it in to the Hall. And boy, does he deserve it.
Taz was essential to ECW’s success in the late ’90s. With superstars like Steve Austin and Goldberg being the cornerstone champs of their respective federations, Taz’s presence in ECW is what gave legitimacy to their championship belt. Frankly, when the ECW strap was on superstars like the Sandman or Justin Credible, it didn’t hold the same cache. When Taz was the guy, ECW had a legit argument to having the biggest badass in wrestling as their champ. I’d even go as far to argue that as far as the ECW World Title went, there were only two ECW Champions in the history of the federation that felt legit, the first being Taz and the second being Mike Awesome. I know at times Paul E was simply working with what he had, and it was also a liberal time for championship reigns (see WCW), but Taz and Awesome’s reigns were the only ones that felt right to me.
Paul E booked Taz extremely well. He gave him the strap, had him plow through everyone on the card, and gave him a persona that at the time was totally original. Unlike Steve Austin, who was often seen as the essential anti-hero of wrestling during the late ’90s, Taz was an anti-hero that refused to play to the fans. He wasn’t the cool guy. He didn’t have a new t-shirt every week. He didn’t care if you liked him or hated him. He was all business. Years later, we would see a similar character in Brock Lesnar. It’s not a coincidence that Lesnar is also a Paul Heyman guy. I really feel that Lesnar is an extension of Heyman’s vision for Taz once upon a time.
Taz eventually left ECW and went to WWE. The WWE universe welcomed him with open arms, especially in his debut at Madison Square Garden against Kurt Angle in 2000. Nagging injuries and a logjam of great superstars hurt Taz’s chances for a big push. What rules is the fact that Taz was talented enough on the mic to make a transition to a legit WWE commentator after his in-ring career ended. He softened his persona a smidge, began rocking suits instead of leotards, and made sure to keep a trademark pair of orange Oakley’s nearby at all times. I bow down to any superstar that makes a seamless transition into full time commentator for one main reason: any commentator has to be a true fan of wrestling. They need to reference the history of wrestling. They need to care about what’s unfolding in front of their eyes, and recognize that they are the mouthpieces for future pieces of wrestling history. No offense to the legacy of those like Rob Van Dam, but you can tell a mile away that he’s not the wrestling fan that Taz is.
I loved Taz’s commentary presence in TNA. He helped really put over the slew of talent they’ve had over the years. Most notably, I loved his commentary for any TNA match involving Kurt Angle and/or Samoa Joe. Taz obviously saw a lot of himself in said superstars, and called their matches almost as if he was live-calling one of his own matches. Pretty special.
Taz is my favorite ECW alum, and one of my favorite superstars of all time. I can’t wait to see him back in WWE in some shape or form. Survive, if he lets you.
Match of the Week: Taz vs. Tajiri, ECW Title Match, Heatwave 1999, Dayton, Ohio, July 18th, 1999
This is one of my favorite Taz matches of all time. Did Taz have other bouts that were better? Yes. But there are a few things about this match that make it stand out. The first is that it’s relatively short. I think Taz had his best matches in short time frames. It reinforced that his character was ultimately all about the kill and not about the spotlight. Also, Tajiri was one of the best bump-takers in wrestling at the time, and for sure the best bump-taker in ECW. Everything he did was smooth. When Taz suplexes Tajiri, unlike when he suplexed Axl Rotten or pretty much anyone on the midcard down in ECW, it looked brutal, yet beautiful. Also, being the A-hole that Taz was, he obviously took the time to mock Tajiri in a slightly racist fashion during this match. It’s not something I back, but it does showcase Taz as a champ that really didn’t give a fuk.