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Picture this, early July 2006… A pair of WWE and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) stars are pulled over for speeding in Southern Ohio. However, upon review, the Ohio State Highway Patrol found hashish, Vicodin (but prescribed), Testolactone, and other drug paraphemalia in that car. The wrestlers would plead guilty to speeding and possession and appeared to be sentenced to just fines and court costs.
Because this was in July 2006, it was within the new WWE Wellness Policy era… Following Eddie Guerrero‘s death, the WWE implemented a new policy to combat the use of performance enhancing and recreational drugs that were leading to multiple wrestler deaths during the 2000s. These arrests caused 30 day suspensions to happen per the new WWE Wellness Policy.
Who was arrested on that fateful night?
The current WWE Title and recently returning ECW Title holder named Rob Van Dam and the legendary extreme icon and ECW star Sabu. They were pulled over when traveling after a WWE event. Probably because Rob Van Dam was currently the WWE Champion, it really made headlines… National media services took the local newspaper article and pushed it across the country. Suddenly, the WWE Corporation had a Public Relations issue that they felt the need to manage.
And that they did… On the June 3rd, 2006 edition of Monday Night RAW, immediately following the local news article’s posting of RVD and Sabu being pulled over, Van Dam was thrown into a Triple Threat with John Cena and Edge to which Edge scored the win to become the NEW WWE Champion. Then, on the July 4th, 2006 ECW show, Van Dam dropped the ECW Title to the Big Show. Within DAYS of the news report of his pullover, Van Dam lost both titles. After the 30 Day suspension, RVD returned to the ECW brand. He was kept a contender but never held the title again. After the June 2007 One Night Stand Pay Per View, RVD left the WWE for the Independent scene for a few years and then TNA/Impact for a while until making his brief WWE return during 2013-2014. Sabu, on the other hand, would have a similar fate as RVD on the ECW brand and he would be gone by May 2007 and he has never returned to the WWE.
BUT WHAT IF…
What if Rob Van Dam and Sabu were NEVER pulled over on that fateful early July 2006 night in Southern Ohio?
Without that Public Relations “disaster” in the minds of Corporate WWE, how could things have changed for Rob Van Dam, who was just recently announced as a 2021 member of the WWE Hall of Fame?
First of all, let’s go back… Way back. Rob Van Dam was one of ECW’s biggest trademark stars and he was still very young at the time when the promotion was blooming (he was born in 1970, would have put him in his late 20s). When ECW closed during 2001, Van Dam still had lots of mileage left in his body. He joined the WWE officially as part of the ECW Invasion and he was an instant hit. For the many WWE fans who saw him for the first time, they were impressed by his athleticism and how smooth he was with accomplishing high risk moves in the ring. On top of that, he looked and acted differently than other WWE superstars. As the “Great” Brian Last put it on a recent Jim Cornette Experience, RVD is one of the few wrestlers that the WWE couldn’t change. Basically, the RVD that you saw in ECW remained what you saw in WWE.
By the mid-2000s, the WWE was in desperate need of pushing newer guys to the top. By 2003, Steve Austin had retired, Mick Foley flirted with a comeback but he’d be gone by 2004, the Rock left by 2004, and recently acquired Bill Goldberg also left by 2004. The “Ohio Valley Wrestling Class of 2002” were in high gear but Brock Lesnar actually left the WWE following Wrestlemania 20 during 2004. Thus, guys like Bradshaw and Edge were finally pushed after years of hardwork and then someone like Rob Van Dam was given a chance. RVD won the 2nd ever “Money in the Bank” during Wrestlemania 22 and rather than doing a quick cash-in after a match as Edge did during 2005, Rob Van Dam announced the WWE Title opportunity weeks in advance. His challenge to John Cena was to defend the WWE Title at ECW – One Night Stand in front of rabid fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, a famous ECW setting, at at an ECW event. This created the most incredible HOME COURT advantage and it was enough, along with interference from Edge, to help make Rob Van Dam become WWE Champion!
Thanks to this One Night Stand Pay Per View, along with the 2005 version prior to that, the ECW brand had some popularity again. Thus, WWE struck a deal to have an ECW show appear on the Science Fiction Channel or what would become SyFy Channel. ECW was back and would become the WWE’s third brand of this new Brand Split Era. The new ECW show debuted on June 13th and Paul Heyman declared that RVD would become the returning company’s ECW Champion.
Back then, the plans were simple… Rob Van Dam would eventually lose the WWE Title but retain the ECW Title to defend it proudly on the new ECW brand. He was hot and heavy into a feud with Edge and John Cena, as witnessed with RVD wrestling and defeating Edge at Vengeance 2006 Pay Per View which followed Edge’s interference in the Cena vs. RVD Match at One Night Stand 2006. In my opinion, it was inevitable that RVD was going to lose the WWE Title at some point during July or August 2006. There was no RAW branded Pay Per View for July, so it would have to be RAW at some point.
However, if you look at SummerSlam 2006, it is Edge vs. John Cena as that show’s main event. In my opinion, the Triple Threat match that we saw on Monday Night RAW during July 3rd, 2006 where RVD lost the title, that was likely the rushed Main Event from SummerSlam 2006. It’s very likely that we’d see a case where RVD lost the WWE title without getting pinned (Edge pins Cena or Cena pins Edge). That way, he could return to the ECW brand and brag that he was the “real” World Champion and thus that brand has a credible World Title belt.
Thus, in my hypothetical scenario, I believe that RVD was going to lose the WWE anyway by SummerSlam 2006. For all we know, Edge walks out of that event as WWE Champion and WWE’s storylines for the RAW brand continue as you know them today.
However, I believe that Rob Van Dam remains ECW Champion for a short while instead of losing it immediately on July 4th, 2006 to the Big Show. But not for too long…
Regardless if Rob Van Dam was in legal trouble or not during July 2006, there was major friction brewing backstage over the newly established Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) brand. Paul Heyman was brought back from the depths of consulting and being Ohio Valley Wrestling’s emergency booker to oversee the Creative of the ECW brand. However, on DAY ONE, there was friction because the WWE was bending at the knee to NBC/Universal on the content that the ECW show could have. Not only that, but how the ECW show looked. If you’ll recall, the ECW show aired live on the SyFy Channel before the Smackdown tapings and they had a weird side entrance at the large arenas for ECW wrestlers to walk out of for their matches. ECW shows went from being in an smaller building packed with rabid fans to being placed in larger arenas in front of fans who didn’t like the ECW brand.
NBC/Universal were demanding, too, of ECW being on their Science Fiction channel… They wanted Creative say on what characters could appear on ECW shows. Hence, on day one, the Zombie appears to take on the Sandman in a match. Also gone were the trademark theme songs used by wrestlers, such as Sandman’s “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Yeah, the WWE didn’t want pay money for those songs, but the generic music that everyone had in return didn’t help.
Things weren’t going well for this returning ECW brand… Paul Heyman always creates friction when in Creative with Vince and by December 2006, he was GONE. I believe that this outcome is still inevitable for Heyman.
The only difference is how long before Rob Van Dam drops the ECW Title? Big Show won the title and held it from July 2006 through December 2006. Then, Bobby Lashley holds it for most of the first half of 2007 (brief storyline driven Vince McMahon). The key here is the Big Show. He was somehow drafted to the ECW Brand per the 2006 Draft and Vince McMahon had full intent of using him there. Paul Wight was just kind of there in the upper midcard on RAW. However, there was nothing “extreme” with Big Show but it was clear that Vince McMahon wanted ECW to feature Big Show as a top star and rebuild him.
Sadly, what you saw on the ECW brand throughout the rest of 2006 was inevitable. After all, Rob Van Dam was fully available for the rest of 2006 but the focus became building up Big Show vs. Bobby Lashley. In addition to using the ECW brand to re-establish the Big Show, Vince wanted it to focus on Bobby Lashley as a new star. After all, Lashley would be selected to be future President Donald Trump‘s “Battle of the Billionaire” representative at Wrestlemania 22.
In my mind, I don’t see much changing here… Vince McMahon had his own plans for the ECW brand as a way to reinvigorate older talent and introduce new ones that he wanted to specifically push. It’s likely that RVD holds the ECW Title for a few more weeks or even months before Big Show ultimately defeats him to establish Big Show vs. Bobby Lashley. Throughout the rest of 2006, it’s very clear that Paul Heyman’s vision of ECW wasn’t going to be used and past ECW stars would just be fighting for midcard scraps. With NBC/Universal already aggressively keeping their thumb on the ECW show anyway, older ECW stars were doomed on this ECW brand anyway. Featuring ECW stars, at first, were just bait to reel in former ECW fans to watch more WWE content.
And I could see Rob Van Dam leaving the WWE during 2007 anyway… He cited burnout as one of his reasons and I could see it happening then, too.
The beauty about RVD is that he does what he wants, doesn’t compromise, and he’s totally unapologetic about it.
After he was pulled over during July 2006, one would think that maybe he’d consider sobering up from recreational drug use. Far from it… He is one of the country’s biggest proponents of smoking marijuana and he is very open about his lifestyle. After his divorce from his wife, pictures were seen with Van Dam partying with multiple women in hot tubs. There is no “baggage” with Van Dam because he’s 100% honest with who he is and has nothing to hide. When you bring RVD to your roster, the fans know all about him and they are OK with it. Rob Van Dam was on WWE programming from 2001-2007 and this was at the height of WWE being attacked by outside groups over its violent and adult based content. NOT ONCE did any of those groups question why Rob Van Dam is a major advocate for legalizing certain recreational drugs. NOT ONCE.
On top of that, he stood up for himself backstage at WWE events and did not bend to their knee. His in-ring style, how he cuts promos, and his look NEVER changed. You took him or you left him… WWE had to bend the knee to him and by 2006, RVD was proven right when the WWE made him become WWE Champion. That title win is a HUGE accomplishment and RVD didn’t win that title because he changed to the WWE’s liking. And again, they knew then what a major drug advocate that he was. He had shirts that said “RVD 4:20” to mock Austin 3:16, after all, and was featured in High Times magazine during the March 1999 issue. MARCH 1999! He was hired with the WWE during 2001.
RVD did awesome things like refusing to attend the Troops events in the Middle East. It’s not like he had any problems with the military, but he knew the time commitment and wanted time off. WWE kept nagging him and nagging him to attend, but RVD kept saying “no”. He just wanted time off to spend with his family as the WWE road schedule was burning him out.
Rob Van Dam is a square peg that the WWE tries to put in its round holes. WWE tried to mold him into yet another WWE lemming but RVD held his ground and made the WWE work around him. Had this arrest not happened, he could have been WWE or ECW Champion longer.
But the WWE is gonna be WWE… It’s very clear that the WWE wanted Big Show and Bobby Lashley as the top stars of the ECW Brand and wrestlers like Sabu, Rob Van Dam, the Sandman, and others were just bait to convince diehard ECW wrestling fans to watch again.
Rob Van Dam is DEFINITELY a WWE Hall of Famer in my eyes. Because the ECW promotion was acquired by the WWE, it is included in the WWE’s history. RVD did many great things during his 2001-2007 career and was definitely a draw for the WWE and actually stood out during that disaster of an ECW/WCW Invasion angle. That WWE Title victory at ECW One Night Stand 2006 is special and remains the BEST cash-in of the Money in the Bank ever.
It’s a shame that the WWE didn’t see more potential with RVD instead of trying to mold him into what they wanted… There is NOBODY like Rob Van Dam in Pro Wrestling, period… Nobody who looks like that, performs moves and kicks like that, or anyone who is legitimately authentic like that.
Like his WWE theme music used to suggest, Rob Van Dam is truly “One of a Kind”.
Congrats on the WWE Hall of Fame induction, Rob Van Dam. You 100% earned it.
So just chill… Until the next episode!
Comments and feedback are welcome. Follow and Tweet me @titowrestling or login in below to post comments.
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