Rum, Sodomy And the Lash
by Matthew Damascus
Pensacola, FL: June 3
Main Event Time:
The Network, the dominant villain faction in ECW, is holding court in the ring, mouthpiece Steve Corino has got the mic, and he’s berating ECW for holding them back, berating Pensacola for being rubes, etc. He challenges anyone to come out and take them on. Corino, Rhino, Jack Victory, and Scotty “US Male” Anton all ooze confidence, thinking that no one would dare challenge the Network. Scotty gives everyone in attendance “The Clap.” V.D. or exagerrated hand-slapping gestures? You decide.
But wait, what’s that? One at a time, three fan favorites hit the ring. Tommy Dreamer, Tajiri, and Raven are ready to take the Network on in a tag-team battle royale. Hey! That’s four to three, the sides are still uneven. Who’s going to be the fourth man for the ECW side, to defend the honor of both ECW and the good people of Pensacola?
The crowd is almost breathless in their anticipation. The Chant begins, “Sandman! Sandman! Sandman!” As if on cue, Metallica’s “Enter
Sandman” blasts to life over the house speakers.
The crowd explodes.
Flashback: The Sandman is arguably the most popular of all ECW wrestlers. Ever. Total Icon Status. He enters the ring through the crowd to the strains of “Enter Sandman,” all the while chain-smoking and drinking beer after beer, which, when you take into account how long of a song “Enter Sandman” is, the whole affair can take quite some time. But who gives a fuck? The crowd loves it, Sandman’s entrance is communal and celebratory. He’s got spiky bleach-blonde hair, a pierced eyebrow, carries a Singapore Cane and he wears Neal Gaiman’s “The Sandman” shirts when he wrestles. He cuts a spectacular visual image. I used to be quite impressed. End Flashback.
We finally catch sight of Sandman, amidst a blur of hands and arms, standing on a chair, brandishing his Singapore cane like a battle flag. And then, he falls off the chair. He tries to wobble back up. No luck. He seems strangely shaky on his feet. Oh god no…
Flashback: The less charitable (and more realistic) fans rightly sniped Sandman’s sometimes pronounced lack of wrestling skill. Though the question almost begs itself: How well would you wrestle after a case of beer? In the beginning of 1999, this question came back to haunt ECW when out of nowhere, the Sandman jumped to WCW. Surprisingly, the Sandman, now restyled as Hak, made a name for himself in WCW, and made great leaps in tersm of wrestling skill with his twin crutches of beer and cigarettes taken away from him. He slimmed down, developed a decent little senton and jumped into the nascent Hardcore division, alongside Raven, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Fit Finlay. He even had a WCW action figure, for christ sakes. End Flashback.
Okay, so maybe its just taking him a little longer to get to the ring than usual. No, scratch that. A whole lot longer. He tries to balance on the guardrail, but he falls off. Twice. He finally gets into the ring. All of the other participants in tonight’s main event look alternately shocked or extremely pissed. Sandman gets a microphone and encourage everyone to forget about the match and instead go to the bar and get wasted. The crowd of rubes cheer on cue. Both Steve Corino and Tommy Dreamer take the mic away and try to get back in character, insulting one another and trying to build a storyline for the match.
The Sandman won’t have any of it. He lurches around the ring, unsteadily, with a shit-eating grin on his face, randomly hitting his opponents with the Singapore Cane with wild swings. The Network leaves the ring, and Sandman’s team-mates look like they’re mentally composing lists of 100 things they would rather be doing. Tommy Dreamer makes the innocuous threat: “Why don’t you assholes come back to the ring and get your asses kicked and then we’ll all go to the bar and watch the Sandman get NAKED!”
Bad move Tommy. The crowd cheers like their fondest wishes are being fulfilled.
Flashback: Sandman’s/Hak’s working relationship with WCW quickly soured during a bout of contract renegotiations and last autumn he made his dramatic re-entry into ECW. The beer was back, the cigarettes were back, and the wrestling went due south. Admittedly though, it was amazing to see him back. And the notoriously fickle ECW faithful welcomed him back with open arms. End Flashback.
The horror of having second-row ringside seats dons on me as the Sandman strips off his blue jeans and starts bouncing around wearing only purple-bikini briefs and a black Dr. Strange t-shirt. Then the briefs are gone. Sandman staggers around, flush with drunken pride, his alcohol-shrivelled genitals poking out from under his shirt in a truly grotesque moment. The crowd of dogs bays their encouragement. At this point, I’m transfixed like I’m watching a car-wreck. My friends are covering their eyes. I’m too busy watching the “Hardcore Icon” dissolve into a fat drunk right in front of me.
The next thirty minutes are like a cross between the worst of Judy Garland, Sid Vicious, Jack Kerouac’s infamous drunk/right-wing television interview, and that lush from the Andy Griffith Show. Sandman goes in search of more beer. Sandman disrupts any semblance of a match that the other workers valiantly try to put on, barely hitting anyone in his path with a splintered and broken Singapore Cane. Sandman drops his pants again. Sandman tries to get on the mic again, but it is unceremoniously turned off by the soundpeople. Sandman beats on the ring bell. Sandman drunkenly apologizes to Tommy Dreamer. Sandman tries to throw tables into the ring but instead almost hits the audience with them. Sandman busts on Raven for “being clean for 34 days.” Sandman rambles about how all of the ladies in the audience wish they would be with him. Great sentiments for a married man. Most of the crowd (the same ones who only cheer for broken tables and silicon breasts) eat it up, the wrestlers are on edge.
I have to say that he saves the best for last when he brings one last handful of beers to the ring, after Tommy Dreamer ended the fiasco with an extremely irritated DDT on Rhino. Sandman points out about five random fans from the crowd and invites them to live out their dreams and have a beer with the Sandman. Let’s say that four of the five fans enjoyed their brush with wino glory, but one rather under-21-esque young woman seemed to hesitate. The Sandman would have none of it. He grabbed her hair, pulled her head back and poured the beer. Afterwards he fake-kissed her neck and just sort of slimed all over her. Did she ask for that? No. I realize that wrestling at its core does embrace all forms of sexism, but there are limits to everything. At least, I hope there are.
Flashback: The prevailing theory among Internet Wrestling wags is that the Sandman is not getting the push he deserves in ECW because owner Paul Heyman still feels burnt about the way Sandman jumped with no warning to WCW. Its benign revenge. Sandman is being mainly used to put over younger wrestlers like Rhino and Justin Credible, and he’s a novelty attraction. The fans love to sing “Enter Sandman,” they love it when he pours beer on them. These same Internet pundits generally agree that it is madness for Heyman to put title belts on more unproven wrestlers when the fans are almost begging for the Sandman to be returned to his former glory. Until Pensacola, I was in general agreement with them. End Flashback.
Wade Keller reported today that the Sandman is being suspended without pay from the next two weeks of ECW House shows. While I’m glad they’re undertaking some sort of disciplinary measure instead of playing it off as “Extreme,” its not enough. They should fire his pathetic primma donna ass for that bullshit display. It was embarrassing to watch, an insult to me as a wrestling fan (I can watch drunk guys stagger around menacingly for free on any given Friday night), it made ECW look like undisciplined fools, probably didn’t endear them to the event promoters, and I’m sure there was something illegal about the whole display. On a more subjective level, I was crushed seeing an icon of the sport reduced to an incoherent, deteriorated, shambling mess. While the Sandman was in no way a hero of mine, it’s still sad and I’m sure some degree of faith in the whole affair was lost.
I’m just too angry to realize it.