Tazz Chronicles & Comparing Him To Samoa Joe

Mark Madden

Most of my favorite wrestlers have been all-time greats: Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Stone Cold Steve Austin, etc. But I occasionally go off the board.

One of my guilty pleasures was always Tazz.

Tazz is rumored to be joining TNA in some capacity, though I can’t imagine what. TNA will never change its broadcast team and Tazz is too chronically injured to wrestle. Some say he might be Samoa Joe’s on-air mentor, one submission machine advising another. That might restore some needed credibility to Joe’s character as far as Internet geeks are concerned, but the general public simply doesn’t remember Tazz from his ECW days, so any positive generated by that pairing would be minimal.

It’s a shame Tazz can’t wrestle. I really enjoyed him during ECW’s glory days.

He’s listed as 5-9, though I’m sure 5-7 is closer to the truth. But ECW’s roster had only a few big wrestlers, and they were wisely kept away from Tazz. One of Paul Heyman’s biggest creative accomplishments was booking Tazz as a 5-7 Andre the Giant, a killing machine with destructive capabilities far beyond his size. When I first realized what Heyman was trying to do, I never thought it would work. But Paul and Tazz got it over.

Tazz didn’t merely make foes submit; he made them “tap out,” a nuance that quickly spread throughout wrestling. Using his name to rechristen maneuvers (tazzplex, tazzmission) was clichéd and sophomoric, yet it caught on. Tazz had an uncompromising attitude that sold his character as a legit hard case (the towel over the head was a nice touch, as was the FTW title), and it just worked.

Then Tazz – like so many performers of that period – faced a classic Faustian bargain. Tazz signed with WWE in 1999. Tazz had to know it wouldn’t work. WWE has no faith in performers of that size save the odd kiddie hero like Rey Mysterio Jr. But WWE was where the money was and, as a New York native, it was where Tazz’ dream was.

Tazz choked out Kurt Angle in his WWE debut – TNA could get some mileage out of that if anyone remembered, but they don’t, and TNA can’t use the video – but it wasn’t long before he was feuding with an announcer, Jerry Lawler. Tazz was no longer the “real” guy, no longer a badass, he was just another WWE superstar.

Tazz was a very good announcer. You could tell he sometimes got flustered by all the screaming in the headset, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was a reason he quit WWE. But he was focused, he was descriptive and he was energetic. He would have been better as a true heel, but the heel color commentator is dead. Maybe I killed it.

Tazz advising Joe would be ironic. WWE diluted Tazz’ wrestling persona in much the same fashion TNA has ruined Samoa Joe’s wrestling persona. The serious guy has to be serious 24/7. He can’t look stupid. Heyman understood that about Tazz; McMahon didn’t. ROH understood that about Joe; TNA doesn’t.

Tazz was way better than Joe. No comparison. You could feel the respect (and fear) from the fans when Tazz came to the ring. That aura faded from Joe very quickly.

If Tazz does go to TNA, I’ll be glad to see him on TV. He’s a reminder of what a special promotion ECW was in the mid/late ‘90s. It was wrestling for adults: Hardcore, detailed and episodic. Heyman’s vision ultimately failed financially, and the current ECW is embarrassing, but that doesn’t mean the promotion’s glory days weren’t glorious. Same with WCW. It ended bad, yeah. But the nWo invasion was electric.

Tazz is a real good guy. I once slipped and called Scott Steiner a “human suplex machine” during a Nitro broadcast, not thinking it was Tazz’ trademark. We’d met before, so I called to apologize, and Tazz could not have been more gracious.

Heyman once offered me a job with ECW, doing the 900# and so forth. I certainly don’t regret staying with WCW; it got me on TV and paid for my house. But I was backstage at a handful of ECW shows, and I always admired the team spirit and the way Heyman rallied his troops. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be part of a true rebel promotion that had a cult following, that sold “us vs. them.”

But I did the right thing and took the money. Tazz, too. It’s only wrestling, after all.

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