WWE Icons kicked off with two particularly strong and emotional stories in Yokozuna and Beth Phoenix. In episode three, however, the new series offers a more relaxed yet still engaging look at the life and career of ‘The Whole F’n Show’ Rob Van Dam. Although the ECW legend and WWE Hall of Famer’s career is relatively fresh and his career highlights like ECW One Night Stand 2006 have been well-documented, the episode still provides audiences with a deeper insight into the man, the performer, as well as a realisation into how innovative and game-changing ‘Mr. Monday Night’ was for professional wrestling.
The documentary kicks off in a pretty traditional manner by offering noticeable sound bites from various interviewees, including the main subject, Rob Van Dam. However, what makes the intro a great way to introduce Van Dam’s story is the unique visual of spray paint, which we ultimately see, is spray painting designs on the former WWE Champion’s classic tights. It’s different and symbolic as Van Dam’s story is ultimately about him being a non-conformist, and while he explains his approach to professional wrestling was to be different from the rest, we are treated to the visual of the tights (another way he differentiated himself) being spray painted. It’s a great mesh of narrative and creative visuals.
Van Dam’s early life is then explored briefly, primarily establishing his non-conforming nature, and fans also get to revisit the story of a young Van Dam kissing Ted DiBiase’s foot at a WWE event. However, the most interesting part of the wrestler’s journey to the ring comes when audiences get an insight into his martial arts background as RVD explains how he trained kickboxing so he could use a ring to practise professional wrestling. Accompanied by old, grainy footage of his kickboxing fights and an interview with his instructor Kit Lykins, the story does provide some new insight into Van Dam’s journey. Unfortunately, when it comes to his actual professional wrestling training with the original Sheik and Sabu, very little is said.
The documentary allows for plenty of time to dissect RVD’s time in ECW. From his early gripes with being left off the company’s first PPV Barely Legal to carrying the promotion on his back with his innovative and breathtaking wrestling style during his historic run as the Television Champion. In addition to hitting home how special and unique a wrestler Van Dam was, especially for the time period, the ECW chapter highlights the ‘One of a Kind’ person he truly is. Not only did he carry the company through his incredible performances, but he turned down huge money from the premiere promotions and even allowed Paul Heyman to not pay him when the company was struggling in its final year. It’s yet another example of how unique RVD is and was, particularly at a time when wrestlers were jumping ship for bigger paydays at the drop of a dime.
RVD’s WWE chapter blossoms thanks to interviews from Paul Heyman, who is the MVP in this documentary, former WWE writer Brian Gerwitz, and Vince McMahon. Heyman provides a perspective only a few can, as he essentially gave Van Dam the platform to become a superstar, and he also shines with great stories, such as when Steve Austin told him that RVD is the biggest superstar in the business. Gerwitz offers an interesting view from the creative team that was split on whether Van Dam could be a top star or not, while McMahon’s presence makes Van Dam’s contributions feel extra significant as it’s rare for WWE’s CEO to participate in these documentaries.
ECW’s return in WWE provides a nice dose of nostalgia for the diehard ECW fans, and justifiably, Van Dam is credited with making the two memorable ECW One Night Stands (2005/6) a reality. The unfortunate aftermath of ECW One Night Stand 2006 also brings us back to that year and the crushing disappointment of how his title reign came to an end, but adding to the story, Van Dam owns up to his mistake and explains the mindset that steered him wrong.
The Icons episode does fall short when it skims over RVD’s now part-time in-ring career, but more importantly, his “dark days” are only briefly touched on. There is not enough detail to provide the necessary impact for audiences to truly appreciate his newfound happiness with Katie Forbes. The highs, like winning the WWE Championship, provide great euphoria, but the documentary doesn’t possess the same emotional weight as Yokozuna and Beth Phoenix’s, which hinders the impact of the conclusion.
Also, this episode of Icons fails to acknowledge arguably Van Dam’s most important and iconic series of matches, that being with Jerry Lynn. One may assume that it is because of Lynn’s association with AEW, but regardless of the reason, you cannot help but feel like something is missing.
The documentary does conclude with a great feel-good ending that shows intimate footage of Van Dam and McMahon at the 2021 Hall of Fame, where WWE’s CEO acknowledges how Van Dam changed the business with his in-ring style. Ultimately, that is the big takeaway from this Icons story, it truly allows you to appreciate how much of a trailblazer Van Dam was. From delivering moves such as the innovative Van Terminator to his nonchalant yet charming personality, Rob Van Dam was ‘One of a Kind’, and his story is beautifully encapsulated by his words: “I did everything my way, and I ended up at the very top.”
WWE Icons: Rob Van Dam is now available to watch on the WWE Network.