Often, things can fall through the cracks—sometimes even great things. On July 30th, 2001, a wildly overlooked exhibition between RVD and Tajiri took place. In the process, they created unplanned magic!
RVD and Tajiri – A Barnburner in Philly
2001 was a unique year for the then WWF. It was an equally interesting year for The Chairman of the Board, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Coming only a few months after the purchase of World Championship Wrestling, operations ceasing in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), and the hiring of a plethora of talent from both companies, the WWF orchestrated a brand of in-house warfare.
Utilizing its newly-expanded roster, a family divide storyline was devised, pinning Vince McMahon’s WWF against a merging collective effort of both WCW and ECW talent.
Led by the turncoat tandem of Shane and Stephanie McMahon and the maniacal Paul Heyman, “The Alliance” pursued to aggressively overthrow the patriarchal Vince McMahon and his control of the WWF in what later would be appropriately recognized as the “Invasion Era.
Amidst the chaos, carnage, and debauchery, the “Invasion” storyline produced myriad memorable moments and numerous notable matches.
As with the juggling-like nature of disorder, things can and will fall through the cracks — sometimes even great things.
On the July 30th episode of WWF’s flagship show, Raw is War, a particularly underrated, wildly overlooked exhibition took place.
Airing at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the breeding grounds for ECW fans and hardcore aficionados alike, this action-packed episode of Raw booked two former ECW Television Champions to square off.
This, as you can imagine, was much to the delight of a crowd (who were no strangers to the two excitingly dynamic performers).
A relatively newly signed and reigning WWF Hardcore Champion Rob Van Dam versus “The Japanese Buzzsaw” Yoshihiro Tajiri for the WWF Hardcore Championship was a recipe for quality.
Of many examples of “fallen through the cracks” face-offs, this one arguably takes the cake.
The roar of the Philadelphia crowd commenced as RVD made his entrance.
Commentating this night alongside “Good Ol’ J.R.” Jim Ross, an enamored Paul Heyman gleefully applauded atop his chair as the WWF Hardcore Champion proceeded towards the squared circle.
Momentarily after RVD settled inside the ring, his opponent in this title defense, Tajiri, began his intense approach towards the ring.
As Tajiri made his entrance, J.R summarizes the match’s rules which are inherently active with the Hardcore title “up for grabs.”
“No disqualifications and no count-outs involved. Falls count anywhere in this Hardcore Championship match!”
These rules just ingredient details to the extreme nature these matches generally deliver. Always exciting, always violent, always unpredictable.
The bell rings, and we are off to the races.
Both men’s brief stare-off, complete with physical displays of acrobatics and martial arts, set the initial pace.
The chemistry between the two performers is palpable as they engage in their first lock-up of the match.
You can feel the delight of this fueled Philadelphia crowd, who is credited for not being shy when maximizing their fan participation capabilities.
They watch and cheer on, excitably spectating the two former ECW performers, rapidly moving and reversing each-others movements.
A succession of swift and complex offenses results in a brief fencing-like stalemate.
The impressed crowd applauds as the arena’s occupants collectively relieve their held breaths.
An arrogant taunt from the aptly named “Mr. Monday Night” is suddenly met with a biting kick from Tajiri that shocks the crowd and commentator personalities alike.
The stunned Van Dam quickly ejects from the ring.
Tajiri’s next attempt at attack is blocked by a sweeping kick to the legs that crumbles the championship contender onto the outside ring apron.
With Tajiri’s upper body exposed, RVD quickly re-enters the ring and propels a vocally charged, over-the-top-rope leg drop onto his groggy adversary.
A ringside pinfall attempt by Van Dam graces this eager crowd with only a two count, signaling that the Japanese Buzzsaw survives, and this exhilarating exhibition continues.
Forcing his opposition back into the ring, RVD collects a steel chair to hurt.
Paul Heyman follows this sign of certain continuance, exclaiming confidently, “If there is any man on the face of the planet that can match Tajiri, kick-for-kick, it’s RVD- Rob Van Dam.”
Though Paul Heyman’s confident statement was residing firmly in the corner of Rob Van Dam, it is only moments separated from a retaliating Tajiri; who, with a destructive variant of a double legged handspring kick colliding with the chair positioned at RVD’s skull, violently shifts the momentum back into his favor.
The match continues as the Japanese Buzzsaw’s first pinfall attempt on the downed champion results in a two-count outside the ring.
The combatants re-enter the squared circle and migrate from corner to corner via an Irish whip from Tajiri.
A boot to the face quickly disrupts the Japanese wrestling veteran’s stride as Rob Van Dam sets up to respond with a split-legged moonsault.
Tajiri deflects RVD’s aerial attempt by shoving him forward, taking advantage of the precarious offense.
Agony befalls Van Dam as his precarious situation has become even more uncomfortable.
Not yet finished delivering punishment to his opponent, Tajiri sets “Mr. Monday Night” up into a Tree of Woe position.
Equipped with two steel chairs, Tajiri positions them firmly fastened in front of the inverted Hardcore champion’s facial features.
The crowd’s ovation is tremendous as Tajiri rushes the upside-down champion, successfully executing an audibly brutal baseball slide.
The collision is jarring, and the effects are also visible as the depleted Van Dam collapses to the ring mat.
Noticing the opportunity, Tajiri follows up with a lateral press.
Although the result is a two-count, the Japanese Buzzsaw wastes no time pursuing the perseverant RVD with a few chops to the chest.
Van Dam quickly reverses an Irish whip.
Launched towards the ropes, Tajiri attempts one of his signature handspring back elbow strikes only to be caught in a waist lock by the defending Hardcore Champion.
Answering reversal with reversal, Tajiri quickly transitions behind RVD, delivering a bridging german suplex and planting the titleholder firmly into a pinfall attempt.
The frustration builds for the Japanese Buzzsaw as RVD kicks out just short of the three-count.
With a suplex on his mind, Tajiri is quickly reversed by his opposition.
Gambling on a suplex himself, RVD lifts Tajiri into the air, only yet again, it is answered with a rapid reversal.
The technically skilled Tajiri floats over Van Dam, blocks a strike, and transitions it into what Jim Ross would accurately describe as a “very unorthodox submission maneuver.”
Painfully contorting his foe to no avail, Tajiri releases the submission hold.
Upon an Irish Whip reversal from RVD, Tajiri wraps himself around his opponent’s back.
Constricting Van Dam’s arms, Tajiri mistakingly places himself into a potential momentum-shifting position that would come to favor the defending Hardcore Champion.
Using his opposition’s misstep as an opportunity, RVD turns the tides back into his corner.
Maneuvering his opponent’s body onto his shoulders, Van Dam quickly slams the “Master of the Mist” with a rolling fireman’s carry accompanied by a second rope moonsault.
The defending Hardcore Champion rushes for a pin, but its extent is a two-count.
Rob Van Dam has had enough.
He projects a low dropkick to an exhausted Tajiri’s head.
The adrenaline-fueled champion proceeds to the nearest top rope, securing a steel chair to Tajiri’s chest for good measure.
Perched upon the top turnbuckle (destination with which he is passionately familiar), he signals to the crowd that RVD’s “Five Star Frog Splash” will be dispensed momentarily.
Rob Van Dam ascends to the skies with a quick look towards the crowd. The finisher had been dealt with a spectacular crash (with an added chair as the proverbial cherry on top).
The final moments of this volatile spectacle were cemented.
Pushing through the pain, the damaged Van Dam stumbles towards the vanquished Tajiri.
Covering his body for the pin, the referee strikes the ring mat with his count, one… two… three!
Rob Van Dam’s music hits, and a standing ovation rings throughout the arena.
Declared both the victor and the retaining WWF Hardcore Champion, this sensational bout chock full of violence, innovation, and creativity comes to a satisfying close.
The scene fades into commercials as this episode of Raw proceeds forward with its programming.
Was it the impressive ability of the two athletes involved?
Risking everything for this mid-card bout to look as eye-catching as it possibly could within the window of time they were provided?
Or was it the apparent contrasting personalities of the commentator tandem, vocally illustrating this Hardcore Championship match’s inspired ebb and flow?
Perhaps the action yearning Philadelphia crowd is to thank.
Mean, intense, loud, and fun environments are fermentable properties for some of the most entertaining matches within pro wrestling/sports entertainment.
This bout resulted in an undisputed barnburner—a shining endorsement for quality exhibitions lost in time but never forgotten. A match that this writer optimistically hopes can be elevated in perception as a match that refuses to be buried in the shuffle!
Watch the Classic Match Between RVD and Tajiri for the WWF Hardcore Championship on Monday Night Raw in Philly, on July 30th, 2001:
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