In the mid 1990s whenever you heard “Enter Sandman” by Metallica there may have been two thoughts that entered your mind. If you’re a baseball fan, perhaps it is Mariano Rivera coming out in the 9th to seal a victory for the most hated baseball franchise in history. Or, if you’re a professional wrestling fan, perhaps it was the sound of one of the most popular characters in Extreme Championship Wrestling making his way down to the ring through the crowd hitting himself on the forehead with a beer and smoking a cigarette.
I can relate to both instances, but in this case it’s about Jim Fullington better known as the Sandman in ECW. Coming through the crowd with a beer, cigarette and kendo stick in hand marching through the crowd to compete in a surely bloody and brutal match in ECW. The once former surfer was allowed to be more himself and by the time 1998 rolled around, the Sandman was one of the hottest acts in ECW history.
Thus, naturally one of the major two companies came calling to get the services of the Sandman. By the fall of ’98, it was revealed that Sandman was leaving ECW for a guaranteed six figure contract with World Championship Wrestling. It that seems like an odd pairing, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that way.
For his entire career, Sandman was able to be protected by Paul Heyman booking and the edgy hardcore style that ECW provided. Sandman relied heavily on hardcore matches to hide his inability to mat wrestle or properly execute moves on a consistent basis. With both Heyman and that style not in WCW, it would create an interesting partnership between Sandman and WCW.
At the time WCW was trying to find something or someone to help regain their traction in the ratings war with the World Wrestling Federation on Monday nights. Steve Austin was in full force as a beer drinking anti-authority figure against the corporate boss, Vince McMahon. WCW was relying on the New World Order angle that had loss significant amount of steam since the summer of ’98.
Upon his arrival in WCW in early ’99, Sandman was introduced during the angle that revealed that Raven was actually rich and not poor. He was simply named “Jim”, but the angle would soon be dropped and hardly addressed afterward.
“Jim” couldn’t compete in WCW under the Sandman moniker due to trademark issues, so WCW creative renamed him Hardcore Hak. The basis of the name is quite simple as his nickname amongst fellow wrestlers was Hak and he was a hardcore wrestler. Hak would become a prominent fixture in the battles between Raven, Bam-Bam Bigelow and Brian Knobbs over who was the best hardcore wrestler in the company.
Hak had early success in the hardcore division, which in all honestly a poor attempt to capture what ECW made popular during the timeframe. WCW and WWF both tried hardcore division that wouldn’t be all that vital to the Monday Night Wars after the fist year of their existence. Hak would earn a victory in his first WCW pay per view match when he defeated Raven and Bam-Bam Bigelow at WCW UnCensored 1999. The following week on Nitro, he jobbed to Goldberg.
For the next couple of months, Hak would compete against the likes of Kendall Windham, Mikey Whipweck, Bigelow, Raven, Hugh Morrus, Brian Knobbs and The Barbarian on television. Of all the men that Hak would wrestle, the most unique one would have to be a hardcore match he had with Kevin Nash on the April 29th edition of WCW Thunder.
Hak would lose to Bam-Bam Bigelow at Spring Stampede in April but followed that with a victory over Brian Knobbs at the Great American Bash. Prior to the pay per view match with Knobbs, Hak had an in-ring segment with Eric Bischoff on the June 6th Nitro where Bischoff confronted Hak about smoking a cigarette and Hak displayed an anti-authority attitude. Hak blew smoke into both Bischoff and JJ Dillon’s face, but was slapped by Bischoff. There was never any development beyond that.
The final appearance for Hak on WCW television would be Bash at the Beach on July 11th, 1999 where Hak competed in the infamous hardcore junkyard invitational. Hak lasted all of seven months in World Championship Wrestling.
Hak would remain out of the spotlight until he returned to ECW in October 1999 at the ECW Arena. The ovation he got is one of the biggest ovations in ECW history. He would remain with ECW until their last show on January 13th, 2001.
The inability to highlight Hak’s strengths is largely due to where WCW was a promotion. By 1999, WCW was being presented as a family friendly kind of program and Hak’s character isn’t going to fit in that atmosphere along with the restrictions that Standard and Practices was giving the creative team on a weekly basis.
As noted, it didn’t help that Sandman wasn’t a good in-ring worker and WCW couldn’t have him just wrestle in hardcore matches when a division hadn’t been created. You can see him wrestle against the likes Damien and other luchadores and those are train wrecks themselves. In ECW, Sandman would have competed against the likes of Tommy Dreamer, Steve Corino, Lance Storm, Justin Credible, Mike Awesome and Rhino. In WCW, he really only had Raven, Bigelow and Brian Knobbs when it came to guys that fit his style. Which seems more appealing to you?
The Sandman character needed to be able to be presented in a non-restrictive environment and that environment was always going to be Extrema Championship Wrestling.
At least, Sandman got a decent paycheck for seven months.
What are your memories of Sandman/Hak in ECW and WCW?
Thanks for reading.