Paul Heyman has often said that the ECW culture was akin to the grunge rock period of the nineties. The way that bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana changed the way music was listened to, ECW also changed the wrestling industry. Even though the company folded 15 years ago now, fans will still chant “E–C–W” when something insane happens. When fans chant NXT or ROH now, it’s because the fans of ECW used to do the same with their beloved promotion.
Taking things to the extreme became paramount in ECW. After all, that’s what the name of the promotion was. The mark they left on the industry was the first step for a strong style birth in America, that the promotion Ring of Honor proudly carries on to this day. By extension, WWE still carries that torch as well, seeing as how so many of the top guys now on the main roster and NXT all came from ROH. Despite being held at a “bingo hall,” ECW changed the industry and brought a sense of heightened realism that simply wasn’t there in the nineties and was the basis for some of Eric Bischoff’s ideas and definitely WWE's Attitude Era.
But the company every so often would take things beyond extreme, scaring themselves, fans, and the industry at large in the process. Good and bad, too far or not, looking back, it all was influential, but here the top 15 times ECW took Extreme too far.
15 Uncalled for Comment
Mike Awesome left the company as its World Champion in 2000 and he was going to take the belt with him to WCW, but Paul Heyman and lawyers intervened and prevented that from happening. It led to one of the strangest situations in wrestling history, where a WCW guy, Awesome, would take on a WWE guy, Tazz, for the ECW Championship. Awesome’s actions did not endear himself to lot of people in ECW and the company’s fans, who once loved Awesome for his devastating move set, no longer cared for the guy on a personal level.
At the first ever One Night Stand, Awesome gained a fragment of respect back when he reignited his war with Masato Tanaka. During the match, Joey Styles made no bones about how he felt about Awesome. He was unprofessional and aired his grievances against Awesome all night, lamenting how Awesome was not successful at taking his own life while performing a suicide dive. It was a vile remark from a generally nice guy and the fact that a few years later, Awesome actually did take his own life makes Styles’ words even harsher in retrospect.
Before The Attitude Era, the WWE was known for their job–based characters like barbers, plumbers, garbage men, accountants, and clowns. WCW had absurd horror characters like The Taskmaster, The Shark, and The Yeti. Of course, they weren’t all that those two promotions had, but when pointing out the weaknesses of those promotions, those characters get cited.
In ECW, their characters were frightening dregs of society that no one in their right minds would cheer for. In the land of Extreme, guys like New Jack, a brutal gangster known for using a staple gun on his opponents, Raven, a grungy cult leader who would deliver drop toe holds onto steel chairs, and The Sandman, a beer guzzling, cigarette smoking madman who would bust himself open with a beer can before even getting in the ring, were the ECW heroes. Men like these three changed the way people looked at wrestling characters. Some may have gone down in infamy, but certainly many of these guys were way too out there for any promotion.
13 Sandman Blinded?
This is one of the only items on this list where taking things too far might have been a good thing for the business at large. Things like backstage vignettes and breaking kayfabe to make things seem more realistic were born during this hot angle. In a match, Tommy Dreamer would blind The Sandman with his own cigarette in one eye and his cane in the other. It was perceived as real, as Dreamer would head to the back and attempt to apologize, but heels and faces together were appalled at his actions and wouldn’t let him near The Sandman; who also stayed home for about a month with his eyes bandaged and played a blind man to the hilt. Even off camera, at home, The Sandman would keep the angle going and his wife would answer the door when people came looking for him.
It was all finally revealed to be a big angle, as The Sandman would pull off the bandages like a villain yanking back a mask before teeing off on Dreamer with his Singapore Cane. But for a brief moment it was thought that things got a little too real for the fans.
12 Shane Douglas Pulls a Madusa
For all the flack Eric Bischoff and Madusa get for tossing the WWE Women’s Championship in the trash, they weren’t the first duo to denounce a title. At least they didn’t denounce the entire company, just a division of it. The entire ECW promotion was born out of denouncing a promotion and its heritage – the NWA to be exact. After winning the NWA Championship, Shane Douglas gave his now (in)famous speech praising the company’s history and its champions before heaving the title to the ground, denouncing the acclaimed promotion and declaring it died almost a decade prior. Douglas then proclaimed himself the first ECW Champion. Yes, it needed to be done to form ECW, but at the expense of a lot of names and one of wrestling’s oldest promotions. It was uncalled for but happened anyway. Thanks to the venom that Paul Heyman had for WCW, which was born from ashes of the NWA, and Douglas' own hatred for some of the NWA legends, ECW was born in an Extreme manner.
11 Extreme Threesome
Wrestling generally isn’t known for angles like this. Hell, even real network TV shows don’t tread into this territory. But in the middle of Tommy Dreamer’s war with Raven, the girl they feuded over since their days at Summer Camp, Beulah McGillicutty ,was cheating on Dreamer. While most people thought it was with Raven, out came Kimona Wanalaya and The Franchise Shane Douglas to declare that she was the one who had Beulah’s heart. Naturally, the ECW faithful went wild for HLA long before Eric Bischoff would coin the term on Raw. Tommy would then declare that he would take them both on because he’s "hardcore." The angle, of course, went over like gangbusters for the ECW fans and their demographic, but now you seldom see threesome relationship on TV and you certainly aren’t going to see one this crass. This Extreme bit caused a lot of controversy for an already controversial wrestling promotion.
10 High Incident
Scaffold matches in wrestling are always a bit extreme, as two or more men wrestling high atop the arena and the only way to win is to heave your opponent off of the scaffold into the ring. The most famous Scaffold match in wrestling history took place at Night of the Skywalkers at NWA Starrcade ’86, between the LOD and The Midnight Express.
As far as ECW was concerned, that event wasn’t big, bad, or extreme enough. So, ECW had Tommy Dreamer fight Brian Lee (Raven’s bodyguard) in their own Scaffold match at High Incident. Instead of just falling to the ring though, the loser would be crashing through table after table on their way to the mat. Besides being known for being “The Underfaker,” this was Brian Lee’s finest hour in the business. Thankfully, this was the only Scaffold match in the company. You know if they escalated this violence someone would’ve wound up going through thumbtack laced, flaming tables. Matches like this would elevate the level of hardcore that still runs rampant to this day in spotfest matches around the world, where sometimes the risk is not as great as the reward.
9 The Danbury Fall
Perhaps the scariest spot in ECW history to not include blood, fire, or some other form of plunder involved New Jack and Vic Grimes at Living Dangerously 2000. The two were engaged in a feud to see who was the "king of the streets." In a badly botched spot, now dubbed The Danbury Fall, New Jack would suffer legit brain damage and permanent blindness in his right eye when he fell 15 feet off a balcony, missing the tables that were to supposed to break the fall. This was followed by New Jack breaking his opponents fall, when Grimes landed on the Gangsta’s skull, causing fluid to leave New Jack’s head. A spot like this was commonplace for ECW, but om this night it just didn’t go as planned. WWE, TNA, and other promotions should consider this accident Extreme enough to maybe not feature tremendous spots that in the long run could cause heavy and unnecessary damage to their employee’s well being.
8 Tommy Dreamer Caned
The whole point of The Sandman was to offend and be extreme. The fact that he carried around a Singapore Cane, in reference to a teen named Michael Fay getting caned as punishment for vandalism in Singapore, should make that obvious. So, of course, ECW had to capitalize on the headline news and have a Singapore Cane match, where the loser would take 10 lashes at the hand of the winner. Dreamer, the sympathetic babyface who at the time had been receiving a Roman Reigns-like disdain from the ECW faithful lost and received his ten lashes. Then he asked for more – “thank you sir, may I have another.” The bit went a bit too far, as the fans were stunned into silence and both superstars were shaking with intensity. Dreamer’s back was a road map of blood, but it succeeded in beginning to get the guy over as the heart and soul of ECW.
7 Funker’s on Fire
Cactus Jack and Terry Funk are both known for having violent, hardcore matches all over the world and often against each other. In those matches, they have made each other bleed on just about every habitable continent on the planet. In Japan, during their death matches, they had a spot where they’d wrap a towel dipped in kerosene around a chair, light it on fire and start swinging. So naturally, this was a spot primed and ready for ECW.
Only in ECW, the towel came loose. during a match between Tommy Dreamer and Cactus Jack where funk interfered, and the flame was higher than expected. It landed on Funk’s back and his shirt caught flames. He rolled out of the ring and a fan who tried to put the flames out burnt his own fingers. That same fan would unsuccessfully sue ECW for injuries while Heyman tried to put out the political flames by apologizing for the incident and promising never to use fire again in the company. A promise which he would break.
6 Fonzie Bleeds Buckets
During the WCW talent raid or acquisition, depending on who you ask, of many ECW guys, rumors were abound that there was a mole in the ECW locker room, with it most likely being company founder, Tod Gordon. Another theory was that it was Bill Alfonso, aka Fonzie. Heyman would fire Gordon and on air wish him well in his future endeavors, but Alfonso’s fate was slightly different.
Since he had a lot of friends in the locker room, instead of just getting fired, Fonzie was sent out to job out to Beulah McGillicutty. What seemed to be booked for comedy, wound up being a scary scenario. Fonzie would bleed and bleed a lot. He was wearing a black shirt and it was visibly saturated, as his face was old crimson mask. The match was only five minutes, but the guy left at least 1/3 of his blood in the ring and there was a thought that he shouldn’t have survived the night.
5 Crucifying The Sandman
One of the best feuds in ECW history was between Raven and The Sandman. What began as a war for the ECW title became a brutal, bitter rivalry that even saw the cult leader Raven cast his net over The Sandman’s wife and son to lure them to his side. At one show, Raven, Stevie Richards, and The Blue Meanie would tie The Sandman up to a cross and place a crown of barbed wire on top his head. We all know what this was supposed to represent.
On the Rise and Fall of ECW doc, Stevie even laments thinking about how messed up this moment as he and Meanie were living it. The usually visceral and highly verbal ECW faithful were stunned into silence and Kurt Angle, who had come to the show that night, demanded the footage of him at the show never be shown. Raven would come back out as Scott Levy and apologize for his actions.
4 “Gimme a Chair!”
God bless the ECW faithful. They were always there for the wrestlers, bringing all kinds of weapons and household items they no longer needed for the wrestlers to use in their matches. Fans would even give ECW wrestlers their own chairs to use and often times Tommy Dreamer would be happy to oblige, as he would have a fan hold up their chair and launch his opponent into it.
One of the most famous and replayed moments in ECW history happened during a match featuring Cactus Jack and Terry Funk against the Public Enemy. Funk had asked the fans for a chair and not one, but seemingly every fan in attendance obliged and launched their chair into the ring, burying Public Enemy and risking severe injury to Cactus or Terry with an errant chair shot. Other than the fans making the ring collapse, this might be the quintessential fan moment, showcasing that they were just as rabid for ECW’s success as the company itself was.
3 Taipei Death Match
Some ideas for matches sound amazing on paper, but then in practice are simply way too violent and way too risky for the competitors that having it once might have been way too much. In 1995, The Bad Breed, Axl and Ian Rotten, who were already too hardcore for mainstream audiences had broken up and saw their bloody war go full tilt when they decided to wrestle in a Taipei Death Match.
Having little to do with Taipei City, a Taipei Death Match involves both men taping up their fists like boxers. However, instead of putting on mitts, they'd dip their fists in glue and then into buckets filled with shards of glass. Clearly this match was going to be a blood bath. While there are many things not on the Network yet, to date, The Bad Breed’s Death Match is probably one of the matches that will not be posted in its entirety on the Network and it's obvious why.
2 Born to be Wired
Terry Funk and Sabu are known, revered, and loved amongst hardcore wrestling fans for their ability to commit unspeakable acts of violence to their opponents and sometimes to themselves just to hurt their opponents even more. When these two finally collided, there could only be one way to showcase the levels of violence that these two loved to reach - replace the ring ropes with barbed wire in a match that would be titled Born to be Wired.
Joey Styles explained on Steve Austin’s podcast that they didn’t trim the actual barbs and it was just gruesome to watch. During the match, Sabu called for duct tape to bandage his bicep which was ripped open. By the end of the match, both men were messes of blood and barbs, and both were entwined in the wire and needed the medics to start getting them out.
1 Mass Transit
There aren’t many events in the history of the entire industry that are as gruesome as the Mass Transit incident. When Axl Rotten couldn’t make the show one night, Eric Kulas would lie about his age and his ability in the ring to get a shot in ECW. He would team with D–Von Dudley against The Gangstas, who were known for utterly destroying opponents.
The poor kid asked New Jack to help him get color, but he bladed too deep and severed a few arteries, passing out and having to be escorted to the hospital. The event would see the company and New Jack sued (both unsuccessfully) and it put the first ever ECW PPV in jeopardy. However, just like the rest of ECW’s success, the fans demanded it and despite the horrible accident, the company rebounded on their way to Barely Legal. Luckily, the accident didn’t crush the company, but the story of Eric Kulas is one of the scariest stores in wrestling history.