Had the imposing Mike Awesome not found the ultimate rival in a stocky, fearless brawler named Masato Tanaka, there’s a sad chance that the two-time ECW Champion would best be remembered for his goofy turn in WCW as “That ’70s Guy.” Thankfully, the 300-pounder from Tampa, Fla., and his Japanese nemesis became cult icons through a series of matches that were the most physically intense contests seen in North America since Cactus Jack’s war with Vader in WCW.
ECW fans got their first glimpse of Awesome on Feb. 5, 1994, when he nearly snapped the hapless JT Smith in half with a reckless dive. But it wasn’t until five years later at Anarchy Rulz on Sept. 19, 1999, that he took his rightful place atop the ECW pecking order after beating Tazz and Tanaka to win the ECW Title. From there, Awesome leaped over the top rope and drove opponents through tables with a smashmouth style that raised the bar for big men in North America. Awesome’s shocking leap to WCW while still ECW Champion tarnished his Extreme legacy in the eyes of some, but his battles with Tanaka remain an undeniable part of the promotion’s history. — R.M.