For many years Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was recognized as the undisputed king of the hardcore circuit of wrestling, aided by the brilliance of Paul Heyman. Backed with the voice of the Philly crowd in their own ECW Arena, it became the platform for some of the most hardcore matches in wrestling while at the same time churning out some of the future top stars for Vince McMahon’s WWE. Heyman kept the promotion alive for many years, slyly competing with the big bucks of WWE and WCW with their unique version of wrestling and controversial segments which seemed to reap audiences and disgust some talent.
What made ECW stand out from the other promotions of its time was that it basically had no rules. No rope-breaks, no DQ and anything goes in every single match with death-defying stunts being performed as well as brutal objects being used on a daily basis. But Heyman didn’t seem to have the business sense of running a wrestling promotion and saw his company fall into the hands of the WWE in 2001 along with WCW. Many ECW talent were now the property of Vince McMahon, who started them off with the underwhelming “Invasion” angle and let themselves get over on their own.
Meanwhile, some talent had already left the sinking ship years before to join WWE and were slowly developing themselves to be what it needs to be a top superstar for the company. While others found it difficult to blend into the “rulebook” of the WWE, some other superstars seemed to fit right in to have a successful stint with the company and even achieving the highest of honors in it. Vince’s gamble on buying out ECW seemed to have paid off, as he received the services of some of the most talented, hard-working men in the industry and while some of them thrived under the conditions of the WWE, the others couldn’t fit in with the “rules” of the company.
17 Those Who Succeeded
The Master of the "Gore!” arrived quite late into the scene in ECW but took it by storm by providing some hard-hitting, extreme action for the crowd. Rhyno would win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship before ECW folded up shop to move to the WWE. Here he would be one of the key men for The Alliance, winning the Hardcore Championship thrice during his time in the stable. He would form a team with Chris Benoit but turn heel later on after turning on him, and would continuously go after Benoit who was having the best year of his career. Rhyno would be released by the WWE in 2005 after a scuffle with Matt Hardy. He’d make his last appearance at ECW One Night Stand, before recently returning to WWE NXT. Though he is half the beast he was 10 years ago, Rhyno is still a threat to be dealt with in the WWE as he aims to smash through everyone with his “GORE!”.
Raven shot to fame during his time at ECW where he’d be able to display the complete bizarre aura of his character to create one of the most unique wrestlers of all time. He formed his stable called “Raven’s Nest” which would have the likes of Cactus Jack and Stevie Richards, who would do the dirty work for him in a major story-line feud with Tommy Dreamer as Raven would have some impressive hardcore matches with him. This would lead him to main event status, as he soon went on to win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship and remain on the top of the company before leaving. After a stint at WCW, Raven tried his luck in WWE where he would go onto win the Hardcore Championship 27 times (most of his reigns being very short because of its 24/7 title defense rule). Raven was quite the intimidating mid-carder during his WWE career, being put in some intriguing story-lines and making everyone uncomfortable with his mysterious nature.
14 Rey Mysterio
One of the most exciting masked superstars off all time, Rey Mysterio kick-started his wrestling career in America with ECW, debuting for the promotion in 1995. He had a striking feud with Psicosis during the time, culminating in a two out of three falls and a Mexican Death match. He would hone his skills in the dangerous environment of the promotion, before moving to WCW and then eventually to the WWE. Mysterio would be the face of the WWE’s Cruiserweight Division, becoming the Cruiserweight Champion 3 times in his first 3 years in the company. A compelling, brutal feud with Eddie Guerrero helped him gain the fans' love as he got a push under the most unexpected circumstances, filling the void Eddie had left after his death. Mysterio would give the ultimate underdog story when he won the World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania 22, cementing himself as a top guy in the company. Mysterio would compete for the top prizes in the years to come and win the big titles again years later, as well as maintaining his high-flying style and reaping love from the fans.
13 Chris Benoit
Even though his name is renown nowadays for all the wrong reasons, one cannot deny the fact that Chris Benoit was one of the most talented wrestlers in his hey-days in the wrestling circuit. Benoit rose as this amazing technical grappler during his time at ECW during its Japan Tours, where he was booked as “The Crippler" after accidently breaking Sabu’s neck. He won the ECW Tag Titles with Dean Malenko as they would attempt to recreate “The Four Horseman” as a three-man stable being led by Shane Douglas. Benoit would leave ECW after his visa expired and return to the US where he would have a stint at WCW before joining WWE. After a successful tag reign with Chris Jericho, Benoit would become one of the top dogs in the company and headline SmackDown on a weekly basis. His shining moment arrived when he won the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XX, embracing good friend Eddie Guerrero (who was WWE Champion) to end the show. Benoit would keep remaining on the top card after dropping the title, winning the US Championship later on and also returning in the ECW One Night Stand PPV, before the tragedy struck in 2007.
12 Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero is regarded as one of the most entertaining Hispanic wrestlers off all time, with a charismatic personality of “Latino Heat” and the skills to back it up. Much like Mysterio, Eddie would also see his fame in America rise with his antics in ECW, where he won the ECW Television Championship in his first match. Eddie would continue to feud with Scorpio for it, having some impressive matches to solidify ECW’s midcard. After a successful stint at WCW, Guerrero would join WWE and soon find the love from its fans despite being a conniving heel. This called for his push as a singles competitor after a successful time as part of “Los Guerreros” with cousin Chavo, as he would win the US Title before winning the big one in the WWE Title from Brock Lesnar. He would keep it for quite a while, before dropping it, but remaining at the top of the card. He’d turn heel later on, having feuds with Rey Mysterio and Batista, before suddenly passing away to everyone’s shock as he was at the top of the company before his tragic demise. ECW was the platform through which Eddie showed the wrestling world what he was capable off.
11 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho arrived at ECW after some recommendations from the promotion’s roster, with the likes of Mick Foley and Chris Benoit persuading Heyman to bring him into the promotion. He became one of the most prominent guys in their budding cruiserweight division, wrestling the likes of Tazz, RVD and Cactus Jack during his time at ECW. He caught the eye of WCW who used their financial powers to persuade him, but he left them as soon as he saw their failure. Y2J would flourish in WWE, making a brilliant debut and only growing from that point on. Since then, Jericho has remained a one promotion man and has won an array of championships in the company, including the World Heavyweight Title 3 times, the Intercontinental Title 9 times and becoming the first ever Undisputed Champion in the history of WWE as well. The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla will be indebted to his colleagues for putting in his name, as ECW was what uplifted him into stardom.
10 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Before becoming the “Beer Drinking, Ass Kicking” Rattlesnake to haunt Vince McMahon’s dreams, Stone Cold had to make his way up the wrestling ladder. After some years in WCW as “Stunning Steve Austin”, he came to the ECW and served mainly as an interviewer while recovering from injury where he often mocked Bischoff’s product. Afterwards, Austin would be repackaged as “Superstar Steve Austin” and be quite involved in the main event scene of ECW for sometime, before heading out towards WWE. What followed afterwards is nothing short of phenomenal, as he slowly created his Rattlesnake gimmick and became one of the top selling products in the highly competitive wrestling industry. He virtually won the WWE the Monday Night Wars with his feud with Mr.McMahon, also becoming one of the most celebrated WWE Superstars of all time. Austin started developing traits of his “Stone Cold” gimmick during his stay at ECW who gave him the freedom to tinker with his character and the inspiration to think bigger.
9 Mick Foley
It's only obvious that the Hardcore Legend have a stint at the most extreme wrestling promotion of his time, as Mick Foley joined ECW under his “Cactus Jack” gimmick which was the most brutal amongst “The Three Faces of Foley”. Jack would make his heel gimmick on “renouncing hardcore wrestling” to give more slow, worn out matches to infuriate fans. He joined Raven’s Nest soon after and remained as one of his henchmen before moving onto the WWE. His WWE career is what made him into such an icon, from jumping on top of cells to taking crazy bumps along with his road as an underdog made him into a fan-favorite. Foley would win the WWE Championship as Mankind, but would have to retire soon after because of injury problems. He continued to be involved in WWE segments, becoming the company’s Commissioner and returning many times to put on many excellent, violent matches as the Hardcore Legend got one of his most popular gimmicks in the dungeon of ECW.
8 The Dudley Boyz
One of “THE” ECW Originals, The Dudley Boyz were responsible for the promotion becoming so popular in the US, making a table spot a trademark in their moveset. During the time at ECW, The Dudley’s showed incredible sense of heel-work as well as being a fan favorite for a long time as they won the ECW Tag Team Championship an unprecedented 8 times in their stint in the company. But they couldn’t refuse a persuasive offer from WWE, where they soon became one of the top teams during a very competitive era and kept on dropping bodies through tables and destroying everyone in their path to becoming 8 time WWE Tag Team Champions as well. The Dudley’s continued to provide scintillating matches during their first run in the company, including that unforgettable TLC match agains The Hardy’s and E&C. The recent return to the company hasn’t seemed to provide much fruit for them as they are mostly used as spot-fillers jobbing to emerging teams, as the bad-assery of their ECW Days are long gone and probably never to return because of this PG Era.
7 Rob Van Dam
There’s a reason why Rob Van Dam is nicknamed as “The Whole F'n Show”. It’s because he was “The Whole F’king Show” during his time at ECW where was one of the top guys who helped catapult them into becoming such a success. Even though he never won “The Big One” at ECW, RVD saw himself get more popularity than the man eventers because of his amazing high-flying as well as technical ability on the mat. After a feud with Sabu, he became his partner as the both laid everyone down with their amazing skills and got extremely over with the crowd. This pushed RVD into singles stardom, as he soon went onto win the ECW Television Title but never could manage to win the ECW Heavyweight Championship. He left ECW because of not getting paid for the shows, and went onto join the WWE where he soon became “Mr Monday Night”. RVD would manage to win an array of titles at his time at WWE, including the IC Title, The Tag Titles and the Hardcore Championship before he saw his life complete a full circle as he won the WWE Title in the home of ECW in One Night Stand, giving him the greatest moment of his wrestling career where it all started out for him.
6 Those Who Failed
5 Balls Mahoney
Balls Mahoney was quite an important part of the Original ECW, where he was prominently known for his part in the tag team scene where was pretty successful. Mahoney paired up with various superstars including Axl Rotten, Masato Tanaka and later on with Spike Dudley and even won the ECW Tag Team Championships with Tanaka and twice with Spike. Mahoney kept on performing in the tag team scene for ECW before it winded up, before getting the call from WWE years later. He’d return in the ECW One Night Stand PPV, and would be one of the first wrestlers in WWE’s poorly watered down version of ECW. Mahoney would be a strong mid-carder in this poorly booked brand, but still didn’t seem to be considered for a title or main event scene as his time at WWE was just serving up a little bit of that old “extreme” violence with his anti-christ look(he was a member of the Church of Satan) and for some hardcore spots in matches.
4 The Sandman
Another certified ECW original, The Sandman was the more extreme version of Stone Cold Steve Austin as he’d also love to drink beer and kick ass. Sandman soon became hot property for Heyman after his initial years at the company, winning the ECW World Heavyweight Championship an amazing 5 times and being one of the solid main eventers in the promotion. He would also have memorable feuds with the likes of Raven his “nest” which also resulted in the disgusting crucifixion. The Sandman would spend 9 years at the company before it folded up, and ended up joining the WWE’s ECW Brand in 2005. But his hardcore personality was long gone, amd because of the restrictions in this disappointing ECW, he couldn’t find his flow in the company and was let go off in a matter of years, as being drafted to RAW didn’t find any boon for him as he only got injured and was released soon after.
3 Terry Funk
The King of the Extreme Indy promotions, Terry Funk seemed to find home in ECW and made it his mission on elevating it to something different for the fans. Funk had a big hand in the likes of Cactus Jack, Shane Douglas, Tommy Dreamer becoming so popular in the promotion and elevated the promotion’s success when he headlined its first pay-per-view in “Barely Legal” where he won the ECW World Championship from Raven. Funk would continue to put on some really ferocious hardcore matches, including a barbed wire match against Sabu which was surrounded by wires instead of ropes and both men had to be cut from the wires they were stuck in. Funk would join the hype of the WWE soon as “Chainsaw Charlie” and would find a very limited fame teaming with Cactus Jack and then becoming a glorified jobber. His return in ECW One Night Stand would make for a thrilling match off the old, but Funk himself could never attain the popularity and success he did in ECW or other promotions.
2 Tommy Dreamer
The Protégé of Terry Funk would have a similar career in the WWE, after having a great career as one of the ECW Originals. Dreamer would be part of many of ECW’s top feuds in their history, including with one with Raven and The Sandman and was ECW Tag Champion twice in his career. He’ also win the big prize in the ECW Heavyweight title once, only to lose it 30 minutes within winning it. Dreamer stuck with the promotion till its last breath, before being hired by the WWE. He did win the Hardcore Championship 14 times with its 24x7 rule, but didn’t find any love from creative who would soon have him job to others. Dreamer was one of the main men of the ECW brand of WWE, going onto win the ECW title with an underdog story but never could become a permanent member of the company’s main roster, probably because of his love for the hardcore. Dreamer would open his own “House of Hardcore” in 2012, trying to slowly develop a second ECW and would promote it when he returned to the WWE in 2015.
Sabu was like the mythical creature of the ECW. Like The Undertaker for WWE. Like Sting for WCW. He was one of the star attractions for the promotion, slowly building up the support of the fans with some scintillating stunts which others couldn’t even dream off. Sabu saw his popularity rise when he tagged with Rob van Dam and would take this momentum to catapult into becoming a main eventer for the promotion. Sabu would soon become ECW Television Champion and quickly became ECW Heavyweight Champion and the guy who attracted millions to watch the product. After it folded up, Sabu did get a call from WWE years later debuting in the One Night Stand PPV. He would quickly get a title shot against John Cena which he would lose, and was then shoved to the ECW brand of WWE. Here he would attempt at winning the ECW Championship, before making sporadic appearances in the main roster and wrestling in stipulation matches. But his ECW glory would never be replicated, as he didn’t win a single title in the WWE and his temperamental behavior has seen him get into many controversies ever since, as the ECW Legend has never been the same after the promotion folded up.