Photo via Mr. Jonathan Ice
Professional Wrestling has long been the male soap opera. With its sensationalized characters and over-the-top storylines sprinkled with violent in-ring antics, wrestling won our hearts as we matured from boys to men. Over the years, legends were made inside of the squared circle. You know the names: The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair and a plethora of others. But while those guys are household names, there are a bunch of underground legends who have never received the accolades they deserved for their part in wrestling history. That's where we come in. Every so often, we'll bring you stories on some of pro wrestling's greatest stars who aren't household names.
This week is all about the legend of Mike Awesome.
As Extreme Championship Wrestling entered its twilight years in the late 1990s and both WCW and WWF milked the farm for all of Paul Heyman's notable talent, there was one wrestler that we didn't see enough of before he ended up being ruined. But if you were lucky enough to catch ECW's run on TNN and remained loyal to the wrestling company despite many of its heavy hitters departing, you likely had a chance to see the 6'6", 290-pound athletic freak that slammed people's brains out known as Mike Awesome.
Although saddled with some truly wretched and career-killing gimmicks ("The Fat Chick Thriller" and "That '70's Guy" to name a few), the late Michael Lee Alfonso was an epic ring performer whose career and life was cut short before he ever really got a chance to storm the world. His eyebrow raising bouts with Masato Tanaka have become the stuff of legend, as well as his brief run in the ECW.
Unfortunately, Awesome will be remembered more for his exit from ECW than any of his in-ring accomplishments. Back in 1999, ECW's heavyweight champion, the beloved Taz, decided to seek greener pastures and financial security in the WWE. Paul Heyman, being a wrestling genius, made the move to put the title belt on the relatively unknown Awesome. That move would set off a chain of events that will forever go down in the history of professional wrestling. It wasn't until WWE released the DVD "ECW Unreleased Vol. 1" that the inner workings and Awesome's role in WCW's attempt to destroy ECW were revealed in their entirety by former ECW commentator, Joey Styles.
WCW's Eric Bischoff wanted nothing more than to put ECW out of business. And how do you do it? Well that precedent was set by Eric Bischoff himself. You see, years earlier, World Wrestling Federation Women's champion Alundra Blaze, also known as Medusa, left the World Wrestling Federation with the championship belt and appeared on WCW Monday Nitro only to drop that championship belt in the garbage. Eric Bischoff wanted Mike Awesome to do the same to the ECW World Heavyweight Championship belt and that may have been the end for Extreme Championship Wrestling...
Grimy business by Bishoff, but what do you expect from a guy who used to spoil the taped episodes of "Monday Night Raw" by announcing the results during his live "WCW Monday Nitro" broadcast right before "RAW" aired just to make sure you had no reason to change the channel?
Yeah, he was a dick.
At any rate, Bischoff signed Awesome to a lucrative contract that far exceeded his $100k annual salary from ECW: a $150k signing bonus and $350k annual salary for three years. He would have been a fool to not take the money. Although ECW was in breach of contract by being late with Awesome's pay, verbiage in the contract stated that ECW had 90 days to correct any breach. Not fair, but that's what Awesome signed up for. Joey Styles brings clarity to the contractual dispute.
Due to a legal injunction, a compromise was reached. WCW would pay ECW $75k to let Mike Awesome out of his contract. ECW would also get to name the time, place and opponent that Mike Awesome would lose the ECW championship to.
Now this is where it gets fun.
After Awesome appeared on WCW, ECW worked out a deal with the WWE for Taz to return to his old company and retrieve the title from the new WCW employee and current ECW champion Mike Awesome. In a non-televised event in Indianapolis, a WWE employee and a WCW employee fought at an ECW event for the ECW title. Imagine that? Awesome, with WCW security accompanying him, drove to the arena and lost the title to Taz, who lost the title to ECW's Tommy Dreamer a week later on TV.
Unfortunately,WCW, being the scatterbrained morons that they were, had no idea what to do with Awesome and buried him with perhaps some of the worst booking ever. Put it like this, Awesome went from five-star matches with Tanaka to dating fat chicks, entering the ring in a bus ripped from The Partridge Family, had a corny schtick hijacked from "That '70's Show" and was embroiled in a feud with the Insane Clown Posse.
Yes. Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J.
It got worse for Awesome before it got better as WWE brought him in when they purchased WCW, only to bury him further on lousy B-shows and have him jobbing on the regular. It was an insult to his talent but that's the way good ol' Vince McMahon wanted to play it. He was released on September 27, 2002 and was vocal about how much he hated being in the WWE.
He got a shot at redemption when he was brought in for one more incredible match against Tanaka at WWE's 2005 ECW One Night Stand reunion but retired for good in 2006.
On February 17, 2007, Awesome committed suicide by hanging himself inside of his Tampa home.
Mike Awesome may not have been a huge star like The Rock, but we'll be damned if he wasn't an incredible wrestler who played a major role in the future of WCW, ECW and WWE.