During its original incarnation, ECW was around during a very important time in the history of pro wrestling. The 1990s shaped forever how the industry would be viewed, and who the future stars would be in many different promotions. In its heyday, ECW was stocked to the brim with both international and domestic talent that excelled within the promotion's alternative style of in-ring, live atmosphere, and promo work. In the proceeding years after the company's demise, some of these performers, such as Rob Van Dam or The Dudley Boyz, became household names in the wrestling world. Others unfortunately never quite made the cut in other major promotions.
For some of the ECW elite, this was to be expected. Guys like The Sandman and Tommy Dreamer were really confined to the hardcore style in order to succeed. They did it well, but they were limited in their appeal. For others, however, it always seemed like they had the mic skills and technical ability to go farther than they did in other mainstream promotions. Usually, their lack of success could be attributed to bad timing, bad booking, or both. Unfortunately, that's just how their hand played out.
Ranked below are 15 ECW wrestlers who should have succeeded in WWE or WCW, but never did.
29 Mike Awesome
In the latter days of ECW, Awesome was one of the company's top burgeoning stars. He won the promotion's Heavyweight Title on two occasions, and also had a stint as tag champ alongside Raven. A true powerhouse of a talent, Awesome seemed poised to take over a sizeable role in WWE after ECW folded in 2001. It wasn't meant to be, and although he took part in the Invasion angle during that time, he never stuck with the company, leaving in 2002 with just one minor run as Hardcore champion, which at that point had been relegated to an insignificant role in the title scene. He was equally limited during his time in WCW, and overall was best suited to the style of ECW, despite possessing the stature and physicality of a mainstream wrestling star. One of the bigger "what if's?" in the history of the industry. Unfortunately, Awesome passed away in 2007.
27 Mikey Whipwreck
A true ECW cult favorite, Whipwreck was always the subject of an underdog story in the world of professional wrestling. He came out of nowhere in the early 1990s, and despite his less-than-typical physical stature, was embraced for his ability to produce great matches. His only stint with a major company came in 1998, when he debuted for WCW. Unfortunately, he was never able to get over, never really possessing the in-ring style or character for a mainstream audience. He would return to ECW to continued success a short time later, and then tour the Indys after the promotion folded. Whipwreck had the raw talent to succeed in the big-time, but other factors ultimately limited his appeal to that audience. In ECW however, he remains an all-timer.
25 2 Cold Scorpio
One of the most athletic and versatile tag wrestlers of all-time, Scorpio spent time in both WCW and WWE, bookending his time in ECW during the mid-1990s. He was never really used properly, despite a hot minute as a WCW tag champion with Marcus Alexander. Surrounded by questionable talent in WCW, and hamstringed by the gimmicky Flash Funk character in WWE, Scorpio was never able to truly break through in the mainstream, despite an exciting in-ring style and a fair amount of charisma. He eventually went over to Japan, finding some tag success in Pro Wrestling NOAH, and is a staple of the American Indy scene. While he only spent several years in ECW, it remains some of his best work, and serves as an indicator that he should have gotten a better deal in WWE and WCW.
23 Tracy Smothers
Smothers was always a somewhat underrated in-ring talent, but again was limited because of the attribution of bad gimmicks. He was a regular in WCW during the early-90s as a member of the Southern Boys along with Brad Armstrong, and later in WWE was given the Freddie Joe Floyd gimmick as a jobber to enhance new talent. His role in ECW, as a member of the F.B.I. stable, wasn't really of any more importance, but he was able to stretch his talent out a little further than he had before. He should have been a reliable mid-carder for either of the major promotions, but came along at the wrong time in both of them to really establish any continuity. In addition, he's appeared heavily on the Indy circuit, which is where he's probably had the most title-based success in his long career.
21 The Public Enemy
Consisting of "Flyboy" Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge, they were fan-favorites for years in ECW, and in their own way, one of the best tag teams of the 1990s. Winning the tag straps four different times during their run, they were one of the hallmark figures of early ECW, and definitely helped in putting the promotion on the map for the rest of the wrestling landscape. They didn't fair quite as well in WCW, despite winning the titles on one occasion, and WWE. It's another example of a skill set being woefully miscast in a mainstream promotion, where the ability to use weapons and more dangerous maneuvers isn't always afforded, if it is at all. Needless to say, they still had a lot of talent, and ended up getting a raw deal in the big-time. As it stands, they are renowned as a part of ECW's history, but receive little recognition for anything else. Sadly, Rock passed away in 2002, and Grunge in 2006.
Despite his (well-deserved) pedigree as a hardcore legend, Sabu also is a complete talent, able to mat-wrestle and showcase technical maneuvers with the best in the world. Considering this, he definitely could have been afforded more opportunity during his run with WCW in 1995. Instead, the promotion tried to use him in a kind of "hardcore-lite" role that neither maximized his strengths, or minimized his weaknesses. In WWE, he was relegated to the ECW-rehash of 2006-07, and by then, it was really too late to make any more of an impact than he already had to a mainstream audience. He's found success in Japan and all over the Indys, but as one of the most underrated in-ring talents ever, he deserved better in the major promotions. Despite this, his cult status remains relevant to this very day.
Rhino always had the makeup of a big-time star, but never could put it all together in WWE. Despite having a muscular, large frame, he was always relegated to the lower and mid-cards, never receiving the accolades he did while in ECW. He's won a single U.S. Title in WWE, and three stints with the Hardcore Title when it was won by just about everybody at the time. Again, with Rhino's lack of reliance on weapons, and a relatively marketable look, it's always been a curious case that he never received a bigger push. He's back with the company now, but it's unlikely that his middling fortunes will change over a decade after his initial run with the company. I'm sure he doesn't mind, but it would have been nice to see Rhino get more recognition in WWE during the early-2000s.
15 Kid Kash
When he debuted for ECW in the late-1990s, Kash looked like the real deal. He had the look, high-quality in-ring talent, and youth all on his side. He participated in some of the best matches in latter-day ECW, and looked to be a burgeoning superstar. With ECW and WCW defunct in 2001, he spent some time in TNA before going to WWE in 2005. He did capture the Cruiserweight Title on one occasion, but only held the title for a month, before leaving the promotion in 2006. It really is unfortunate, because Kash was one of the most natural talents ever to set foot in the ring, but was just never in the right place at the right time. As it stands, he remains a consistent highlight of the early-2000s era of ECW, and an interesting would-be star for a major promotion.
Sure, Raven's seen time in just about every promotion, but he's never excelled to the degree that his talent warrants. A decorated singles and tag team star in ECW, his role was mitigated in WWE, placing him almost strictly in the hardcore division. He found slightly more success in WCW, but it took him years to even be considered for a mid-card push. Of course, he's jumped around from company-to-company so often that it's hard to keep track, but in many respects he should have been given at least a shot at the Heavyweight belt in a major promotion. He's a lot like Jake "The Snake" Roberts in that regard; his mic skills and in-ring talent were never utilized to their potential, especially in WWE. Certainly a renowned figure in the squared circle, his best days came in ECW, while he was always discredited in the bigger promotions.
11 Perry Saturn
Saturn was the real deal in the ring, wrestling with a stiff, physical style that covered a wide range of styles. Though he did have title success in ECW, WCW and WWE alike, there always seemed room for an increased role within each company. He never quite managed to sneak past the upped-mid card status, and during his prime, a main event opportunity was wasted in full. He definitely deserved a chance at premier singles competition, though he always did thrive in the tag ranks with the likes of John Kronus and Raven. After leaving WWE in 2002, his status in the wrestling world was murky, and though he's wrestled some events since then, his prime has passed. Consistently underrated, Saturn should have received a big push for a singles title in either WCW or WWE during the late-1990s or early-2000s.
9 Jerry Lynn
One of the premier light-heavyweight wrestlers of his time, Lynn found his greatest success in ECW, and was patently under-utilized just about everywhere else he went, at least in the mainstream. Of course, in ECW, he was allowed to work to his capacity in the ring, but his prime was ending just around the time that WWE and WCW were beginning to recognize the potential of light-heavyweight wrestlers. Despite his size, Lynn wrestled a high-impact style that went over just fine with the ECW faithful. In the other major promotions, his role was mitigated, and he would find similar success until he went to ROH, seven years after his run in ECW ended. Lynn stands as one of the best in-ring talents of his era, it's just a shame that his skills were recognized enough to become utilized by other promotions.
7 Terry Funk
Of course, Funk has wrestled all over the world, and everyone is aware of the hardcore success he found in ECW, which in large part revitalized his career. However, Funk has been active since the mid-1960s, and for a long time relied on a technique-based, submission style that was a far cry from what he was doing in the later part of his career. He spent time with WWE in the mid-1980s, and despite still being in the prime of his career, never received a real push, competing mostly in tag competition. In WCW in the late 1980s, despite a brief but legendary feud with Ric Flair, his fortunes were much the same. He was never recognized for the legendary talent that he is by either WWE or WCW, leaving his truly best work for ECW, the Indys and Japan. Regardless, Funk is one of the best in-ring talents of all-time.
Perhaps it was unrealistic to assume that Tazz would reach the level of success anywhere else that he did with ECW, but the intensity that he brought to the ring was almost unparalleled in his day. Small in stature, but big on technique, he gained nine title victories in ECW, and just one during his time in WWE; a tag belt with Spike Dudley. All in all, Tazz really was an ECW original, and was destined to have his best days while with the company, with little chance of success anywhere. Still, it would have been nice if he had the opportunity in WWE to really have the kind of match that best showcased his skills. It wasn't to be, and the best of Tazz will always be inside an ECW ring. The "Human Suplex Machine" wasn't for everyone, but those who recognized his talent, saw how great he really could have been if given the chance.
3 Shane Douglas
Recognized as a main event talent in ECW, he received at most upper-mid card success in WWE and WCW. He captured four Heavyweight straps in ECW, but never gained a single one in the other two promotions. While Douglas may be hit-or-miss with some fans, he probably deserved the opportunity for a major push and title run elsewhere, considering that he held those Heavyweight titles in ECW during the peak of the promotion's popularity, and had some well-regarded matches along the way. Instead, "The Franchise" was relegated to the mid-card and tag divisions. Just like most of this list, his most quality work came in ECW because they were willing to allow each wrestler to be their individual self, not clutter up their character in the way of gimmicks. It worked for Douglas, and he was able to achieve main event success there for a long time.
1 Tommy Rich
By all accounts, Rich should have been a national superstar, but came about in the era where regional wrestling was king during the 1970s and early-1980s, and by the time he got to the nationally-based WCW in 1989, he wasn't in the long term plans. During the 70s, "Wildfire" captured several dozen NWA titles in Tennessee and other Southern territories, but his success wasn't recognized on a large scale. He appeared in ECW during the late-1990s, in the lighthearted, but consistent role as the manager of the F.B.I. stable. Many didn't realize that Rich had actually had great success during his prime, and had he debuted five or ten years later, could have been a world-renowned title holder. He had the look, charisma, and in-ring talent necessary to do so, but his career just didn't line up with the shift in the industry's marketing and programming. He had a worthwhile career, and was a fringe highlight of late-1990s ECW, though Rich's career is ultimately an interesting "what if?" in the mind of wrestling fans.