The history of ECW still lives on through the fan base captivated by the unique wrestling product. Hardcore wrestling is most associated with the promotion, but it really was just a small portion of what it represented. They had great technical wrestlers like Lance Storm, Jerry Lynn and Chris Candido influencing many fans into giving that form of wrestling a chance. International stars like Super Crazy, Tajiri and Masato Tanaka added new flavors to the overall show. The fans most gravitated towards the extreme matches due to The Sandman, Raven and Tommy Dreamer being the main event stars having great battles with weapons.
All of the stars were hit or miss trying their luck in the WWE. The environment in the big company was completely different with a more volatile political landscape. Vince McMahon ran his ship more tightly than Paul Heyman did in ECW. Instead of getting to showcase more creative freedom to get over on their own, the wrestlers had to follow instructions in hopes of their talent making the noise. There were varying stories of both successes and failures with the extreme talents making the jump over to the worldwide leader in wrestling. We’ll break down each side with eight former ECW stars to thrive in the WWE and eight that failed terribly.
16 Thrived: Steve Austin
The legendary Steve Austin only spent a few months in ECW, but it helped change his career for the better. WCW unceremoniously fired Austin while he was injured and he had no idea what to do next. Paul Heyman contacted Austin with the plans to feature him in backstage promos on ECW TV. Austin showed more personality in the ECW skits than he was ever allowed to in his entire WCW tenure. WWE signed him once he returned to full health and the ECW presence likely added to his stock.
It took a little while to get his footing going with the terrible introduction as The Ringmaster in WWE. Then, Austin received the opportunity to show his true personality with added intensity and it led to the biggest star in wrestling history being born. WWE reached new highs and set many records with the reign of Austin at the top of the company. Austin credits ECW for helping him regain confidence following the terrible ending with WCW.
15 Failed: The Sandman
Many fans link the character of Steve Austin in the WWE to The Sandman in ECW as beer-drinking rebels representing the everyday man. Sandman had minimal athletic abilities but the ECW fans grew attached to him for his persona. The biggest problem was Sandman failed to work impressive matches and relied on weapons saving the day for him. WWE signed him for their project of bringing back the ECW brand as a third show to compliment Raw and SmackDown.
One major issue in WWE’s presentation of Sandman was the lack of credibility with his character, starting with his Metallica tune “Enter Sandman” as his entrance theme not being utilized. His walk to the ring felt wrong without the song associated with him. Sandman’s presentation couldn’t live up to the ECW memories. WWE expected him to deliver the results in the ring and that clearly wasn’t going to happen. The Sandman had a terrible run in the WWE and would get released relatively quickly due to lack of contributions to the show.
14 Thrived: Al Snow
Al Snow's career saw him bounce around WWE on a couple of occasions. Snow wouldn't achieve a great deal of success early on due to his character failing to connect with the audience. With terrible gimmicks like Leif Cassidy and Shinobi, it was impossible for him to succeed. That was until he went to ECW and started experimenting with a new character. Snow talked to a mannequin head and got advice from the inanimate object.
Fans started eating up the presentation of Snow by throwing Styrofoam heads into the ring in unison. His popularity rose and the WWE signed him to a contract. Snow developed popularity this time around as one of the more over midcard talents. The majority of his work came in the hardcore division, but Snow did great work to get over with fans. Snow held a job in the WWE for many more years with a presence in many fields from in-ring work to the developmental training of young wrestlers.
13 Failed: Mike Awesome
Mike Awesome had a tremendous stint in ECW as one of their fastest rising talents. Paul Heyman struck gold once again, finding Awesome through his work i nJapanese wrestling and made him the ECW World Champion. Awesome turned his back on ECW to sign with WCW for a bigger contract despite still being champion. It all went full circle with Awesome heading to the WWE with the rest of WCW and ECW talent when Vince McMahon purchased both companies.
Despite being one of the rare athletic and exciting big men, WWE had no interest in elevating Awesome. Aside from a few lower card matches in the early stages of the Invasion storyline, Awesome’s role was non-existent. His talent could have been used in the midcard with WCW and ECW struggling to look competent against the WWE. For whatever reason, WWE just never invested in Awesome. Maybe they remembered his shady actions in leaving ECW for WCW and held it against him for showing poor business ethics. Or maybe it was his That's 70's gimmick...
12 Thrived: Tajiri
ECW had the misfortune of seeing their top stars constantly signed by the WWE and WCW. Paul Heyman helped develop and make new stars that fans wanted to see, but Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff would then sign them away due to their financial muscle. One of the wrestlers to benefit from this with a bigger push opening up was Tajiri. ECW positioned him into an upper-midcard spot and Tajiri delivered with outstanding work.
Tajiri stuck with ECW until the company went out of business. The unfortunate demise of ECW allowed him to make the jump to the WWE and try his luck in a new environment. Tajiri provided entertainment in backstage segments as the assistant to Commissioner William Regal. Everyone watching ECW knew he could work, but Tajiri showed great character depth in the WWE. Along with the great matches, he played a strong role in quite a few compelling storylines. His WWE run flies under the radar, but the content delivered results.
11 Failed: Justin Credible
The first tenure in the WWE by Justin Credible was an absolute flop, as he portrayed the boring character, Aldo Montoya. One positive to come from it was his connections backstage, as he became friends with The Kliq as an unofficial sixth member. That didn’t help his career financially and things looked bleak until Paul Heyman took a chance on him. With the Justin Credible name, ECW pushed him instantly as the hot new star on the scene ready to make noise.
Credible went on to have a tremendous run in ECW as one of the better all-around wrestlers in the company. WWE signed him once again in 2001, but failed to use him properly for a second time. Credible teamed with old friend X-Pac and Albert in the forgettable faction, X-Factor. He failed to have any memorable moments and he spent the majority of his time as a glorified enhancement talent and a lackey to X-Pac.
10 Thrived: Mick Foley
Mick Foley’s story is very similar to Steve Austin’s. WCW never valued Foley as a special talent and let him go thinking he’d never amount to anything major elsewhere. Paul Heyman’s eye for talent was on display again by booking Foley in the early rise of ECW. As Cactus Jack, Foley cut incredible promos to make wrestling fans view him in a different light. His brutal hardcore matches continued, but he appeared more versatile during his run in ECW.
WWE signed Foley to play the new deranged Mankind character they hoped would catch on enough to feud with The Undertaker. His promos and character work made him an instant star in the WWE and the plans came to fruition with many memorable moments against The Undertaker. Foley would grow as a performer and play many different roles. WWE saw Foley blossom into a legendary all-time great, but his momentum started in ECW.
9 Failed: The Public Enemy
The tag team of The Public Enemy was credited with being the first popular act to help create the culture that made ECW popular. Philadelphia fans adopted Johnny Grunge and Rocko Rock for their colorful characters of being hip hop heads dancing to the ring, but they showed intensity by driving all of their opponents through tables. Public Enemy dominated the ECW tag team scene until they were offered big contracts by WCW and later the WWE.
They struggled to survive in the ocean that is the WWE as opposed to ECW. Grunge and Rocko instantly gained heat in the WWE locker room for apparently having large egos from day one. An infamous moment saw Bradshaw and Ron Simmons get stiff in the ring and decimate Public Enemy in a scripted match that turned into reality. The team quickly found their jobs taken away, as they were fired within three months of their WWE contracts. It went as poorly as anyone could have expected.
8 Thrived: Tazz
Paul Heyman made Taz the top face in the promotion during their most important years. Taz was a no nonsense brawler and had one of the most intimidating presences in wrestling history. WWE naturally signed him with big plans, as he debuted by defeating Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble 2000 event in his hometown of New York City (and adding a 'Z' to his name. Things fell apart shortly after that with Tazz’s career as a wrestler fading into obscurity.
He then underwent a career change from wrestler to broadcaster, which ended up being the best thing for him. WWE opened him up to a new career as the SmackDown color commentator and it set him up for a long career after an injury forced him into retirement. His chemistry with Michael Cole made them one of the better duos and a respectable competition to Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.
Tazz left the WWE to work with TNA and later CBS radio in continuing his broadcasting career. His success with the WWE gave him the ability to continue working many years beyond his in-ring days.
7 Failed: 2 Cold Scorpio
The in-ring work of 2 Cold Scorpio is severely underrated in the history of ECW. Scorpio had incredible matches on a nightly basis for ECW and his work holds up better today than the majority of his peers. Unlike the hardcore wrestlers, Scorpio used his athleticism and aerial displays to wow the fans into getting behind him. WWE poached him as one of the first ECW top names they felt confident in signing to a contract.
With the new name of Flash Funk, WWE saddled him with a ridiculous character that featured him dressing like a pimp and having dancers accompany him to the ring. His talent was lost in the presentation. Scorpio went on to achieve very little in the WWE asides from putting over future stars like Triple H and Steve Austin. Looking back, the misuse of Scorpio is one of the bigger disappointments of the WWE in the late 90s.
6 Thrived: The Dudley Boyz
Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley are the most decorated tag team in wrestling history. They’ve accomplished just about everything a team can do in the wrestling business and it all started in ECW. Their edgy promos and dangerous matches made The Dudleyz among the hottest commodities in the business. Bubba and D-Von made the table their official weapon and fans immediately thought of them when someone brought out the furniture.
WWE signed them to a contract and it ended up being among the best acquisitions at the time. The fans gravitated towards them and ate up the use of tables. Bubba Ray and D-Von revolutionized tag team wrestling with the legendary TLC matches against The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian. Their matches live on in infamy and helped put them all on the map. The Dudleyz ended up being the most successful duo out of ECW, teaming consistently for the majority of the past twenty years.
5 Failed: Raven
The character of Raven added a lot of fan interest into ECW. Following failures in WWE and WCW, Scott Levy started wrestling as Raven and it saved his career. Raven’s heel work was among the best in the industry with his feud against Tommy Dreamer being synonymous with ECW success. WCW signed him and he achieved some mild success there, but Raven ultimately found his way to the WWE in 2000 with hopes of excelling in the true top wrestling promotion.
WWE debuted Raven with lackluster booking as an ally of Tazz. The two former ECW wrestlers tagged for a couple of months in the lower tier of the deep tag division. Raven then went on to work as a singles star, spending the majority of his WWE career in the hardcore division. With 27 Hardcore Championship reigns, Raven became the face of the division. Once it ended, Raven lost his way and the WWE let him go. The entire stint went by with no true purpose, aside from getting hit with weapons.
4 Thrived: Paul Heyman
The man most responsible for the success of ECW is also the person to achieve the most success in the WWE. Paul Heyman earned the reputation of being a wrestling genius by creating amazing characters and storylines to help push the business forward. Most of the wrestlers in ECW were misfits to have failed in other promotions, but Heyman found a way to bring out their talents. Lack of money backing and poor financial decisions caused ECW to go out of business.
Heyman would take his talent to the WWE as a color commentator, replacing Jerry Lawler as Jim Ross’ partner. His commentary work instantly made him an entertaining personality on WWE television. Heyman would work in many fields as an on-air talent and backstage writer over the years for the WWE. His work always delivered the goods.
Currently, Heyman is the valuable manager talking on behalf of Brock Lesnar. Everyone is trying to catch up to the genius of Heyman, as his promos still dominate the industry.
3 Failed: Sabu
Sabu’s innovative style of wrestling made ECW a special outlet to find something no other wrestling promotion could deliver. The unpredictable badass flew around like a daredevil utilizing just about every weapon possible. Sabu didn’t cut many promos or try to exude a loud personality. You just looked at him and knew he was someone you didn't want to get in a fight with. His cool moves and groundbreaking style just opened the eyes of fans to want something new.
WWE never took the chance on Sabu until many years later with the ECW brand being resurrected. The company actually gave him a decent push with matches against the likes of Rey Mysterio, John Cena and Big Show. His positioning against top WWE names was meant to make Sabu credible. Unfortunately, it didn’t work and he struggled to gain relevancy in the WWE environment. Sabu delivered his greatest hits, but it was too late and he failed to find noteworthy success in the WWE.
2 Thrived: Rob Van Dam
The tag team partner and close friend of Sabu finds a spot on the other side of the list. Rob Van Dam completely changed the wrestling landscape in the last couple of years with ECW, having a legendary reign as the TV Champion. His dynamic move set and laid back personality connected with the ECW fans like no one else at his peak. RVD was the face of ECW and stuck with the company until it finally went out of business.
WWE signed Van Dam after ECW went under as a member of the Invasion angle. No one scored as much popularity as RVD out of the WCW and ECW camp. The fans loved him to the point where the WWE put him in a main event match against Steve Austin and Kurt Angle just three months into his WWE debut. Van Dam continued to add fans in becoming one of the most beloved WWE stars of his era. Every former ECW talent had to look on in jealousy as he thrived in the WWE at such a high level.
1 Failed: Shane Douglas
The biggest story of a wrestler dominating in ECW but floundering in the WWE has to be Shane Douglas. ECW gave Douglas the freedom to be his own man by letting him cut promos with no filter. Douglas ranted against everyone that he felt wronged him over the course of his career in the WWE and WCW. The Franchise became the top heel in ECW with a persona that came off like a huge star. In between his ECW runs, Douglas had a horrendous tenure with WWE.
Vince McMahon gave him the gimmick of Dean Douglas, where he played an evil teacher talking down to the other wrestlers and fans. No one viewed him as a credible threat and he came off like a complete joke. Douglas had negative run-ins with Shawn Michaels and The Kliq, adding the political forces of the WWE against him to further his terrible time in the company. Douglas moved back to ECW and continued his reign as one of the best ECW stars to have a failed run in the WWE.