Since the inception of the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) promotion in 1992, wrestling has been taken to a new level, but who started this change? Who brought in the fans and who brought many of the best known wrestlers in the world today onto the main stage? ECW deserves much of the credit for this. The company wanted to stand apart from other companies operating around the world at that time and boy, did it do just that.
People will remember ECW for the many crazy moments that ensued at the ECW Arena. The promotion helped revolutionize the wrestling industry and attracted an entirely new fan base – fans baying for blood, guts, violence and brutal fights – true hardcore wrestling fans. ECW was more than happy to oblige. Some truly gruesome events took place in ECW, some staged and some happened by sheer accident, but credit to the wrestlers – many took everything in stride, and it made for some awesome entertainment.
Check out this list of the top 15 most brutal injuries sustained by wrestlers fighting with ECW, and we promise you that you’ll wince as you read and recollect these shocking, crazy moments. They serve as a reminder of the true definition of the word "extreme."
15 The Accidental Neckbreaker
Sabu, portrayed by Terry Michael Brunk, played the gimmick of an Arabian daredevil and certainly had his fair share of horrific injuries when fighting in ECW. Looking back over the years, it must seem as if Sabu broke pretty much every bone in his body, but the most horrific by far was inflicted upon him by Chris Benoit. It took place on November 5th, 1994. It was a routine match until all of a sudden, Benoit tossed Sabu through the air and he landed right on his head. Those who were in the arena recoiled and grimaced at the scene as it was evident from the moment Sabu landed that he had broken his neck.
Medical personnel rushed to his side and even Benoit was horrified at the incident. It was no doubt an accident but Benoit was never able to forget it as Paul Heyman nicknamed him the "Canadian crippler" a tag that Benoit was never able to shake off.
14 Born To Be Wired
Miraculously Sabu recovered from the 1994 incident and lived to fight another day. Sabu was injured again, however. This time, he was truly in the wars at the No-Rope Barbed-Wire match in 1997 at the Born to be Wired event. This event was gruesome to witness – even true hardcore wrestling fans thought so, as did people associated with ECW who said it was way over the top and pushed the boundaries too much.
Sabu’s "Air Sabu" was dodged by Terry Funk, and instead of making contact with flesh, Sabu’s whole body got entangled in the barbed wire and much of it was ripped to shreds. At the end of the fight, there was so much blood that both fighters were unrecognizable – it resembled something out of a horror movie.
How Sabu’s body could take such a beating we’ll never know; the man must be made of steel – although he probably was half metal due to the number of surgical plates and screws he’s had inserted into his body over the years.
13 Stairway To Hell
You’d have thought the ECW would have learned from the events at Born To Be Wired just one year earlier– it was certainly still fresh in everyone’s minds, especially Sabu’s. But the events of that night didn’t deter ECW from using barbed wire again, even if it was just a small section of rolled-up barbed wire. It was enough to cause a significant amount of damage, to Sabu in particular.
This Stairway To Hell match marked the end of the long-running Sandman/Sabu feud – a feud that ended in grisly circumstances. The barbed wire that was above the ring cut both Sabu and Sandman so horrifically, the ring resembled something similar to a murder scene. At the end of it, Sabu and Sandman were left lying in the bloodbath; Sandman looked as if he’d been skinned alive, and as for Sabu, he had his jaw disfigured and smashed to pieces.
12 Mass Transit
Axl Rotten no-showed for a match on November 23, 1996 at an ECW show in Revere, MA, so a last-minute replacement had to be found. Erich Kulas, later nicknamed "Mass Transit," was eager to show what he was made of and desperately begged the bosses to let him take Axl’s place. But at the time, Kulas was only 17 years old, although he did look older than he was at 6-foot-2 and over 350 pounds. He looked older but you’d have thought that someone would have had the sense to check his credentials. Instead, Kulas was given the go-ahead and, eager to impress, he threw himself wholeheartedly into everything that was asked of him.
Kudos for effort, but a bit idiotic at the same time because he hadn’t received training and didn’t know how to cut himself. So when New Jack attempted to make the young Kulas bleed, he had to swipe extra hard and the wound gushed with blood. It bled, bled and bled, severed two arteries and caused Kulas to pass out.
11 Shane Douglas - Pitbull #1
This incident occurred on July 13, 1996 in a 4-way elimination match for the ECW Television title, consisting of Too Cold Scorpio, Chris Jericho, Pitbull #2 and of course, Shane Douglas and Pitbull #1 were all in action, and with professionals such as these guys in the ring together, things got rather hectic.
Douglas was on top when things took a turn for the worse – for Gary Wolfe, aka Pitbull #1, anyway. He attempted to interfere, but without success. Douglas came out of nowhere, sneaking up behind Pitbull #1 and executing a single-arm DDT. Pitbull #1 sunk to the ground and everything appeared to be innocuous, just run-of-the-mill stuff for ECW at the time, except that Wolfe broke his neck with his C1 vertebrate snapping in half.
In the FOREVER HARDCORE documentary, Douglas says that Wolfe didn’t protect himself and landed incorrectly. But Wolfe didn’t mention this and remains seriously bitter about the incident to this day.
10 The Danbury Fall
On March 12th, 2000, Jerome Young, aka New Jack, would sustain injuries that would change his life forever. New Jack, also known as “The Original Gangsta” New Jack, was beloved by the ECW faithful because of his often reckless antics and his willingness to perform crazy feats with a high amount of risk -- all of which made for some incredibly entertaining viewing. But his hardcore wrestling approach and unique daredevil style in the end almost finished him.
At the aptly named Living Dangerously PPV event, New Jack was brawling with Da Baldies when the 400-pound mass monster Vic Grimes climbed onto the ledge, a ledge that was too narrow and obviously too light to take such a load. Needless to say, they both tumbled to the ground, crashing through the tables below. New Jack cracked his head on the concrete, brain fluid was seeping out of his nose and to top it off, he lost his eyesight in one eye.
9 Bill Alfonso vs. Beulah McGillicutty
Bill Alfonso was another wrestler in the 1900s that was prepared to risk his life for being in the ring and being a part of a business he loved. But on September 20th, 1997 in a mixed tag against Beulah, his commitment to the job, specifically to making things look realistic, brought him within inches of his life. The match was entertaining without being spectacular as both wrestlers gave it their all. But during the bout, Bill went to blade himself – he succeeded, but not in the way he or anyone else was expecting or hoping. The cut did not go according to plan and Bill ended up with a cut so deep that by the end of the match, he had lost a third of the blood in his body, according to Paul Heyman anyway, but no one who saw the bloody scenes that night would dispute that claim.
8 ECW Extreme Rules: Hardcore Holly
Hardcore Holly has had a long, expansive and successful career fighting with all the major wrestling promotions. He’s demonstrated numerous times why he’s called "Hardcore," but there’s one instance in particular which shows why this name suits him to the bone. During a match with Rob Van Dam at Extreme Rules, Hardcore Holly toughed it out in the most gruesome of circumstances. RVD was suplexed out of the ring by Holly, who then landed on a metal railing table. Holly was worse off than RVD and suffered a severe laceration on his back, which resulted in blood seeping out into the ring. What made this so remarkable is the fact that this injury was sustained pretty early on in the match up, but Holly fought on and even won, which resulted in the fans giving him a standing ovation and making him a firm fan favorite from that moment on – definitely well-deserved.
When someone breaks his neck, as Sabu did in 1994, it takes a lot of courage – or stupidity depending on how you see it – to get back in the ring and risk doing it again. But that is unfortunately what happened to poor old Sabu – boy he’s been in some wars! He suffered the same fate, this time at the hands of Taz in an ECW match in 1998. Taz used his finisher and that’s exactly what it did. It finished Sabu, for that night anyway, and the Dragon Taz-Plex sent Sabu crashing through the table behind him, snapping his neck in the process. Because of Sabu’s previous injury, he couldn’t rotate his neck and land properly, which meant his head crunched right into the surface and he landed at a horrible angle. The match finished straight away and was called off with Sabu being rushed to hospital.
6 Ian Rotten vs. Axl Rotten
This match was truly hardcore! The Rotten Brother Ian and Axl took part in the first-ever Tapei Death match at Hardcore Heaven on July 1st, 1995. When brothers fight each other, things get personal and these two certainly had their own scores to settle in what would be an ugly massacre.
The name given to this fight should illustrate something about its gory nature. The brothers taped their firsts, dipped them in superglue, then broken glass and then began the match. Things got ugly pretty quickly.
Axl drew first blood, punching Ian and opening up a gash under his eye. Strangely, referee Bill Alfonso then paused the match after this incident because of too much bleeding – what did he expect would happen? The Gangstas and The Public Enemy then joined in and a melee ensued in the aisle, causing the ref to leave the ring to try and sort out the chaos. In the meantime, still in the ring, Axl dug a shard of glass into his brother’s head and the two traded blows back and forth until Axl dropped Ian onto a load of thumbtacks for victory. This was a gory, violent affair and at the end of it, both were bleeding profusely – their t-shirts were saturated with blood and the ring resembled a slaughter house.
5 Dudley Boyz vs. Spike Dudley & Balls Mahoney
This was hardcore TV at its finest. Put these guys in the ring at the same time in a red hot arena in the middle of summer and blood’s going to boil. That’s what happened on this occasion on July 5th, 1999 at the Odeon Theatre. Add weapons into the mix and you can guarantee that there’s going to be carnage.
Balls Mahoney was an expert at using the chair and loved using weapons to inflict damage – it’s safe to say that there are very few people who have graced the ring who can swing a chair with more might than Balls Mahoney. But this time, it was Bubba who inflicted the damage. He had been feuding with his half-brother and decided to take a cheese grater to Spike’s face. His face was shredded to bits as Bubba shouted “Die Spike Die!” Even the commentator at the time, Joey Styles, recoiled in horror.
4 Tommy Dreamer vs. Brian Lee
Tommy Dreamer and Brian Lee are on this list for their part in what’s now imaginatively called the "High Incident" of 1996. Brian Lee suffered some serious damage that night, but it definitely made for an awesome spectacle – one of the best in ECW history.
For the night’s entertainment, ECW called upon the services of the drunken Sandman (God knows why) to build the stage and set the scene for the event. Somehow, what was constructed ended up being mightily impressive. There was a very narrow scaffold made from a thin bit of wood which was hanging over the ring secured by a few ropes and chains. Below, the ring was filled with a plethora of tables.
Tommy Dreamer and Brian Lee began battling it out on the thin piece of wood which, needless to say, wasn’t very stable. But when the inevitable happened and Lee fell from the scaffold and went crashing through the tables, it was a spectacular scene. Not so for Lee, who was was unconscious before his body fell through the tables and hit the canvas. Truly amazing stuff – I’m able to say that because Lee made a full recovery!
3 Sabu vs. Sandman
Sabu’s been in some brutal encounters and is normally the one that ends up on the canvas being rushed to hospital. But this time, the drunken Sandman felt the full force of ECW’s hardcore stance on wrestling at the time.
The year is 1998 and it’s House Party time at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The barbed wire – ECW sure did love using barbed wire – was secured above the ring and the wrestlers had to climb the ladder to get the chance to be the first to use it. With Sabu on the canvas, Sandman began to climb the ladder, but as he reached out to grab the wire, he tumbled off the ladder and was sent sprawling through the air, somersaulting multiple times before smacking into the solid concrete floor 20 feet below. There was a horrifying "splat" sound, which made everyone in the arena grimace that night. You just don’t get this insane stuff happening in WWE!
2 Jerry Lynn vs. Rob Van Dam
This was an extreme match that left Lynn bloodied, battered and bruised. These two wrestlers were at the peak of their careers at Hardcore Heaven, May 16th, 1999, and certainly delivered in terms of entertainment. The match kicked off in style – it was initially a highly technical affair – but as both wrestlers found their mojo, things soon got ugly, and very bloody. RVD executed his Van Daminator to perfection, sending Lynn crashing outside the ring, head first, onto the hard concrete floor. Somehow, Lynn regrouped after that, but RVD showed no mercy.
A bloody and lifeless Lynn was then subjected to an RVD special, the signature guillotine leg drop, before being smacked with a chair and eventually done in by a spectacular Five Star Splash by RVD. This was a brutal 35-minute encounter – Lynn supposedly suffered a broken ankle during the match, which was to keep him out of action for some time, but looking at Lynn after the match, it’s unfathomable to think that a broken ankle was the worst thing he suffered that night.
1 Dudley Boyz vs. Spike Dudley & Balls Mahoney
This ECW Tag Team Championship match features twice in this list because it was extreme to the core – there was plenty of blood, gruesome scenes, and two brutal injuries. We’ve already mentioned how the Dudley Boyz went to war against Spike, but D-Von Dudley didn’t escape the battle without any scars. He got the treatment too while Bubba was shredding his half-brother’s face. Balls Mahoney saw an opportunity to inflict some damage and went for it. It resembled something out of a horror movie – a slasher film that has a blade-wielding maniac stalking new victims.
A fork /stake-type object appeared out of nowhere and Balls sadistically began to carve up D-Von’s forehead. Blood was seeping out of the wound – head wounds are always the worst – and D-Von took this for a while before his brother came to the rescue and the two continued to fight an admirable battle, albeit for a losing cause.