June 11th 2006 felt like a dream. Like many dreams, it started simply then it slowly became surreal. It was a little past 10:15PM on that Sunday. Joey Styles was on commentary. Rob Van Dam was introduced as the challenger to 2,500 fans in the Hammerstein Ballroom. The crowd went wild and chanted ‘RVD! RVD! RVD!’ If you watched ECW between 1996 and it’s demise in 2001, there was nothing jarring about this. Then the champion was introduced. It was WWE’s top guy John Cena. That brings us to this week’s What If…
Rob Van Dam won Money in the Bank 2006. He used his contract to challenge Cena at ECW’s One Night Stand. Seeing RVD in a World Title match was rare, even in his ECW days. As expected, the crowd heavily favored RVD. Favored is a significant understatement, Cena couldn’t toss his shirt into the crowd without it being thrown back into the ring. This was a vintage ECW crowd. After an entertaining match, some interference by Edge and a 3 count by Paul Heyman, RVD was crowned the WWE Champion. When the ECW program was resurrected that Tuesday, RVD also received the ECW World Title. Seeing RVD with both heavyweight titles was remarkable and unfortunately short-lived.
In the early hours of July 3rd, less than one month after the winning both titles, RVD was arrested for drug possession in Ohio while driving to Philadelphia for Raw that night. Following the arrest, the Raw main event was announced: Edge vs Cena vs RVD for the title. Anyone familiar with WWE’s Wellness policy knew this was bad news for RVD. By the end of Raw, Edge held the title high in the air and was the new champ. Less than 24 hours after that, RVD dropped his ECW title to the Big Show in front of a sold out crowd in Philadelphia. He’d never taste WWE or ECW gold again. RVD was released from his WWE contract in June 2007 to care for his wife who was diagnosed with cancer.
The popularity of RVD and ECW’s once a year PPV encouraged Vince to re-open the ECW brand. With an ECW vet holding the WWE and ECW title, things were looking very good for the fans of hardcore. Had RVD stayed out of trouble, he would have opened and/or closed Raw and ECW each week. This bridge would have given younger WWE fans a reason to tune into ECW. Had the ECW brand been considered viable, WWE would have Smackdown, Raw and ECW as breeding grounds for young talent. The importance of that can’t be understated. Look at the current WWE rosters and you’ll see a bunch of wrestlers that you never even see on TV. An extra hour of programming would have given us a place to see more wrestling and superstars.
Besides the ripple effect it would have had on all of WWE, an extended title reign would have made RVD a household name. Imagine the matches he could have had with Edge, Cena, Orton or Angle! One thing’s for sure: RVD would not be in TNA today. TNA offers most former WWE stars a contract because they believe they have a built in fan base. Had RVD, and Kennedy for that matter, been able to see through their pushes in WWE, they would have become indispensable to Vince. Instead, they’re headlining a program on TNA with Sting. Whether you’re a fan of TNA or not, RVD’s presence there might actually be a good thing. While there are some deficiencies with their booking, the superstars have a lot more freedom in the ring; something RVD surely benefits from.
So I ask you, what if RVD remained champ in WWE?