In his heyday, Rob Van Dam really was “the Whole F’n Show.” Widely considered by many as the most successful and marketable product to come out of ECW, RVD astonished and excited fans with his aerial attacks, athleticism and lust for danger. Fans who watched his matches and noted his charisma and skill knew that he would flourish in either of the “Big Two.” Van Dam had created and was performing the Van Terminator long before Shane McMahon attempted it, flying from one end of the ring to the other to dropkick a chair in his opponent’s face. While the Van Terminator was later deemed too dangerous and was consequently banned from use, crowds were still treated to the Five-Star Frogsplash, watching Van Dam turn his body in midair to land squarely on his opponent. His gimmick of a chilled-out surfer dude matched his real life persona and helped RVD obtain a large fanbase; here was this seemingly relaxed guy who got in the ring and made jaws drop all over the world.
Although the WWE Universe first saw RVD in 1997 when ECW “invaded” Raw, it was not until 2001 during the Invasion storyline when Van Dam became a part of the company. He captured gold almost immediately, defeating Jeff Hardy for the Hardcore Championship in a memorable, high-flying match at the Invasion pay-per-view. It was a fitting first WWE championship run for a man who had made a name for himself in hardcore wrestling. The gold kept coming, and by the end of his WWE run, Van Dam could boast a decorated resume, having held the WWE, ECW, Intercontinental, European, Hardcore, and both sets of Tag Team titles, often multiple times.
After a few years mostly keeping out of the spotlight, rumors began to circle about RVD making a return. He was billed as the biggest “free agent” in recent memory, and there was much speculation as to where he would land. In 2010 on Impact, someone’s music hit as Sting waited in the ring. It wasn’t a theme that anyone recognized, but as soon as the letters “RVD” formed across the screen in bright green letters, the crowd exploded. It was probably one of the loudest reactions to any wrestler in the Impact Zone. Within a month of his debut, Van Dam was the TNA Heavyweight Champion. Though he had naturally lost a step from his youth, his matches were just as compelling. However, after he surrendered his title due to kayfabe injuries, his television time started to steadily decline. RVD was working a shorter schedule, but when he was featured on TV he was thrust into mostly meaningless matches. Someone of his caliber should perpetually be in the title picture; instead, he was sporadically in and out of number one contender matches. His feuds were not personal or memorable.
This then begs the question: is RVD washed up? Does he still have what it takes to carry a title? Or is he merely a victim of bad booking? It is likely that Van Dam realizes that this question might not be answered in TNA. With the amount of TNA talent that has recently left the company, one has to wonder if RVD will be the next to request his release. His style is vastly different from most of the roster, and Van Dam usually excels in fast-paced matches that do not require a lot of ground attacking. As someone who, over the years, has defined his legacy by capturing and holding a crowd's attention, it would be a shame for RVD to finish off his career by fading into the background in TNA.
For someone in his early forties, Van Dam is still in great physical shape. Feuds with men like Gunner, who don't really have much of a fan base, are dragging RVD down. If he is not to be featured in the main event picture, at the very least he needs a legitimate, compelling rivalry. The pull of the WWE may be attractive, particularly with Paul Heyman back in the fray. Certainly an abbreviated contract like Brock Lesnar's can be negotiated if Van Dam doesn't want to be a full-time competitor. Of course Van Dam will do what he believes is best, but TNA ought to sweeten the pot a little by giving him reasons to stay, and not just letting him walk like so many others have. As someone who can still entertain fans and believably carry a title, TNA needs to capitalize on RVD's talent and popularity before a competitor does. A few months back, TNA mentioned that they were looking to regain some of the fans that they had lost. However, continued misuse and the eventual departure of a wrestler of Van Dam's caliber would be moving far backward from this goal. Van Dam has proven thousands of times that in the right settings, he will shine. TNA may not be the right setting, and if they are, they need to prove it.