Back when Paul Heyman and Joey Styles hosted “ECW Exposed” on the WWE Network, the former one-man commentator asked the brainchild behind extreme which current WWE Superstars would’ve fit into the style of the original ECW.
When thinking back to Extreme Championship Wrestling, most fans will immediately think of steel chair shots to the head, barbed wire instead of ring ropes, kendo sticks and bloodshed on a match by match basis. Although it appealed to a niche audience back in the mid-1990s, their reputation of blood and guts also hindered the growth of ECW, as many television networks didn't want to touch the product with a 10-foot pole.
But ECW was much more than hardcore. Heyman introduced luchadors like Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, Super Crazy and Psicosis. He also brought in technical cruiserweight talents like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko. But that’s not all, as Heyman also put an emphasis on tag team wrestling - The FBI and The Eliminators - to complement the violent action as well.
ECW was a revolutionary promotion during wrestling’s boom period. And although sports entertainment is currently in a lull, there are plenty of WWE Superstars who would’ve blended in just fine with ECW. Here are 15 of them.
15 Chris Jericho
Outside of SmackDown Live’s Rhyno, Chris Jericho is the only active superstar on the WWE roster that was actually a part of ECW. While he fit in perfectly with the promotion back in the mid-90s, Jericho’s current persona would be a hit in front of the Philadelphia faithful just as much.
Has Jericho taken a step back inside of the squared circle? Sure, but that comes with age. Would his current gimmick of a goofball be endearing to the ferocious ECW audience? Maybe not.
But it’s the fact that Jericho has no problem whatsoever in putting over young talent when asked. Hell, he lost to Fandango at WrestleMania XXIX. If ECW were around these days, Jericho would act like a modern-day Terry Funk, a living legend who passed his knowledge down to up-and-coming wrestlers. And just because he isn’t as crisp in the ring as he once was, it doesn’t mean Jericho is unable to put on great contests.
There’s no denying that Kalisto has had his ups and downs since making his debut on the main roster. From the Lucha Dragons to his United States championship reigns to his infamous “Lucha Things” promo, Kalisto has been through a lot in his short amount of time in the company.
But if ECW was still in business today, there’s also no denying that he would make a seamless transition onto their roster.
Despite the inclusions of the Cruiserweight Classic onto WWE programming, Kalisto may take the cake as the best lightweight in between the three ropes. ECW, of course, was famous for bringing both the luchador and cruiserweight style onto the United States mainstream wrestling scene, and Kalisto would’ve been the perfect counterpart to Rey Mysterio, Super Crazy and Psicosis, among others.
13 Luke Harper
Luke Harper has been sidelined for nearly a year due to a devastating knee injury, so casual WWE fans may have forgotten about the second-in-command of the Wyatt Family. But the big man has a history of violence on the independent circuit, making him a match with the ECW product.
Wrestling as Brodie Lee, Harper left destruction in all walks of the wrestling circuit, including CHIKARA, which was born in ECW’s own city of Philadelphia.
Due to his large frame but agile style, Harper would’ve been the perfect mix of what Paul Heyman and the ECW audience would’ve loved to see on the product. Imagine a feud between Harper and someone of equal size and athleticism like Mike Awesome? Their program would’ve been an awesome sight to see.
Sheamus may be an odd selection for ECW. His wrestling skills aren’t off the charts, while WWE’s PG programming has turned away most violent acts that fans would’ve seen back during wrestling’s boom period of the 90s. But Sheamus is known for his hard-hitting, stiff and high impact wrestling style. And the realism in his work would’ve been a great match in ECW.
When wrestling on WWE television, you don’t have to necessarily watch Sheamus wrestle; all you have to do is close your eyes and listen, as his chops, punches and kicks echo throughout whatever arena RAW is in. Add on the fact that he’s currently rocking a punk rock look, and he’d slide into the grunge lifestyle when ECW was in business.
Just thinking of a match pitting Sheamus and Masato Tanaka makes me feel like I have a concussion…
While names like Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Paige may be thought of by non-ECW fans, remember: back in those days, almost all wrestling products - including ECW - hardly used women as active wrestlers. Instead, females were brought in to be valets or sex symbols.
And that’s exactly where Lana fits right in.
Currently the manager of the United States champion Rusev, Lana is not-so-arguably the most beautiful woman on WWE television. Add on the fact that she always plays one of the most self-centered and braggadocios characters, and Lana clearly would’ve been a popular figure on ECW TV - whether she was cheered or booed. I can hear Joey Styles screaming “cat fight!” as Lana and Francine roll around the ring.
Like Kalisto, Neville’s high flying ability and top-notch athleticism would have made him a perfect fit for ECW’s cruiserweight division. But Paul Heyman never discriminated because of size - and Neville could’ve gone even further than participating in high-flying matches at the bottom of the card.
Instead, the man formerly known as Pac could’ve been an awesome opponent for top talent like Rob Van Dam and Sabu, as their styles would’ve clashed in an awesome way. The Man That Gravity Forgot could’ve also put on clinics with the likes of Taijiri and Chris Candido, among others, as well.
While there were plenty of wrestlers who could flip like Neville, not many could match his strength and body size that come along with his speed.
One of Cesaro’s biggest problems on WWE’s main roster is his lack of mic skills. While he has a charisma that can’t be matched by many, it is the way he verbalizes things that has kept Cesaro from the top of the food chain.
But as Paul Heyman famously put it, he always wanted to “accentuate the positives while hiding the negatives.” If he was able to get the Swiss Superman a mouthpiece, there’s no denying that he would’ve been at the top of the ECW card.
Because he can wrestle in almost any style, Cesaro could’ve been matched up against plenty of different opponents in the Land of Extreme. You could easily see him competing in contests ranging from CW Anderson to Lance Storm to Tommy Dreamer - and each match could’ve been a five-star classic.
8 Dolph Ziggler
When looking up and down the WWE roster, some wrestlers just have “it.” Something you can’t explain, it’s just, well, it. Despite the way he’s been booked over the years, there is no denying that Dolph Ziggler definitely possesses the 'it' factor bookers want in their talent.
Whether he’s acting like a cocky and arrogant heel or an underdog and fight-at-all-costs babyface, Ziggler knows how to work a crowd, and more importantly, knows how to put in all on the line in the squared circle.
And that’s exactly what the ECW crowd craved back in the day. It didn’t matter how good you were in the ring, it was if you gave it your all while inside of it. Ziggler is the definition of a workhorse, and no matter what character he was playing, he would’ve been beloved. He could’ve easily been a counterpart to Shane Douglas, as both men have an impressive look, physique and intensity.
7 Seth Rollins
At the moment, the WWE has one of the best rosters in the company's history. At the forefront of the crop of talent is Seth Rollins. Not only has the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion improved leaps and bounds on the mic, it’s also hard to argue that he’s not the best in the world as soon as the bell rings.
Like with other wrestlers on this list, his sheer talent alone would catapult him to stardom in ECW. And if he was able to recreate the persona of a cocky heel that he currently has on RAW, he would be one of the most hated heels in the promotion.
Like Neville, a dream matchup would see Rollins take on someone like Rob Van Dam. But the list doesn’t stop there; The Architect would also be a perfect complement to former ECW talents like Lance Storm and Jerry Lynn as well.
6 Samoa Joe
Although Samoa Joe isn’t technically under the WWE banner, he is the star of WWE’s NXT. And seeing as though NXT has drawn plenty of comparisons to the original ECW, it’s only fair to include someone from their roster.
No matter where he’s wrestling, Samoa Joe may be one of the very best on the planet. For a thick man, he moves very well and has an array of maneuvers in his move set that he can break out in the blink of an eye. Due to his knack for both stiff strikes, intimidating suplexes and a rear naked choke, there is only one man who would be the most logical opponent for him.
And that, of course, is Taz. Both talents bring an extra level of intensity inside of the ring, and their similar skill set and body types - although Samoa Joe is significantly taller - would make this pair a main event level program in ECW.
5 Kevin Owens
When looking at his entire body of work, Kevin Owens could’ve very well fit seamlessly into any wrestling promotion that signed him. On the independent level with ROH and PWG, Owens - then known as Kevin Steen - was a compelling bruiser that had a unique skill set for someone his size. While he’s been toned down a bit in the WWE, Owens still displays that great wrestling ability while also being one of the best talkers in the business.
No matter what part of Owens’ gimmick is highlighted, there aren’t many people that would’ve had more success in the original ECW than Owens. He can wrestle in many different styles making matchup possibilities endless. Fans would sign up for a hard-hitting, emotional program between Owens and Tommy Dreamer, one that the faithful crowd could get fully invested in.
4 Bray Wyatt
Ever since his WWE debut back in 2013, Bray Wyatt has drawn comparisons to The Undertaker due to their similar personas. Although the booking surrounding the Eater of Worlds has been questionable at best, it’s hard to ignore his talent both inside of the squared circle and on the microphone.
When ECW was still in business, hardcore wrestling was obviously its selling point. But don’t get it twisted; fans of extreme also loved raw emotion and great storytelling, something Wyatt would’ve been able to do if he was a part of the promotion.
An obvious program could’ve pitted Wyatt against Raven. The two wrestlers both use a dark character and are both more than capable of holding their own against one another in the ring. Seeing a clash between the two very well could’ve been a marquee feud for the original ECW.
3 Dean Ambrose
Sure, WWE fans consider Dean Ambrose as The Lunatic Fringe, someone who can come unglued and go crazy at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately, however, the WWE Universe has only seen Ambrose lash out in an outlandish and cartoonish way - and that’s a stark contrast of what he was on the independent circuit.
Wrestling as Jon Moxley, Ambrose was a full fledged member of two hardcore promotions that tried to carry on the tradition of ECW - Insanity Pro Wrestling and, to a larger extent, CZW. Both promotions used hardcore wrestling as its selling point, and Ambrose was never afraid to shed blood by using glass, chairs, barbed wire and anything else you can think of.
If he was around during the ECW days, Ambrose would’ve fit right in. It’s easy to see him matched up with someone like the late Balls Mahoney or Spike Dudley in a violent hardcore match, or even a longer program with someone like Terry Funk.
2 AJ Styles
AJ Styles may still be in his rookie year with the WWE, but this man has been one of the best talents across the globe when wrestling for various different promotions. Now that he’s on the biggest wrestling stage in the world, many officially consider Styles the best active wrestler on this planet. And it’s well deserved; in his short time with the WWE, he’s put on great matches with everyone he’s stepped in the ring with, and that’s something he’s been doing for multiple years now.
That’s exactly why he would’ve been great for ECW. As stated above, Paul Heyman never discriminated size, and Styles - despite being small in stature - would’ve been at the top of the card. Potential feuds are endless; from Rob Van Dam to Steve Corino, from Lance Storm to The Sandman and from Tommy Dreamer to Too Cold Scorpio, Styles would’ve been a premier player in ECW.
1 Brock Lesnar
How could anyone else top this list? Paul Heyman, the man behind ECW, just so happens to be the advocate for The Beast, Brock Lesnar. No matter what incarnation of Lesnar’s character (during the Ruthless Aggression Era or today), he would’ve been the number one box office attraction, no matter where ECW was holding their shows.
It’s hard to think of a matchup for Lesnar, as quite frankly, there was never anyone like him in the original ECW. Sure, Taz was seen as their world beater at the time, but due to his size, he would be no match against The Beast. Lesnar is larger than life in a million different ways, and he would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb in the land of extreme.
And that’s a great thing. Heyman did nothing better than making his talents stand out. He wouldn’t have had to do that with Lesnar, as he could’ve done that just fine on his own.
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