The legacy of Extreme Championship Wrestling will never die. The fans who lived through it still adore the memories and the WWE Network’s library gives new viewers an opportunity to go back in time. ECW created a true alternative to the WWE and WCW products on television. Fans were sick of the same old wrestling program and ECW turned the business upside down. The company fed a growing fan base looking for something new and made them fall in love with wrestling again. ECW was an atmosphere that couldn’t be explained unless you lived through it and it was truly special.
Many new fans would have a hard time enjoying the ECW shows as much as fans did back then. We get to see hardcore matches, great workers and the cruiserweight style on display on a weekly basis now but that was uncommon in the 90s. Paul Heyman showcased these strengths of wrestlers on the free agent market. It may get lost in translation how great these matches and moments were at the time because it’s easy to find in today’s culture. That’s the reasons older fans still chant “ECW” at wrestlers or moments in today’s wrestling world. They are showing appreciation to ECW’s influence.
Unfortunately, ECW could not survive and ended up going out of business in 2001. Vince McMahon purchased the rights to the name and history for WWE's library. The company would have had a short shelf life regardless because the times were changing and ECW would have struggled to adapt. WWE’s Attitude Era stole a lot of ideas and the overall mindset of ECW. This led to the greatest boom period in WWE history and it’s hard to imagine they would have gone this direction if ECW never existed. The company played a huge role in many facets of wrestling but they just couldn’t keep it going. We’re going to look at the fifteen things that played a role in killing ECW.
14 Too Much Shane Douglas
There’s no argument that “The Franchise” Shane Douglas was one of the most valuable wrestlers in the promotion but he was focused on more than he should have been. Douglas was booked like the Ric Flair or Steve Austin of ECW with a consistent main event position. It’s hard to think of a time Douglas wasn’t involved in the world title picture. The matches are less impressive looking back today because Douglas was never a top level performer. His best attribute was the chip on his shoulder that caused him to rage against WWE and WCW in promos, but he just wasn’t an elite “franchise” player.
13 Flaming Tables
ECW pushed the envelope but would often go too far. The purpose of a wrestling company is to create a product that can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Part of that comes down to developing a company that investors and television networks will want to invest in. ECW’s risky moves and controversial decisions were fun for the fans but it led to the company not getting many opportunities in the mainstream despite having lots of momentum. The flaming tables spot was the perfect example. While it was cool for the hardcore fan, the visual of someone getting thrown through a flaming table wasn’t something a television executive would find endearing.
12 Bubba Ray Dudley Promos
The same logic for the flaming tables applies to Bubba Ray Dudley's promos. As one of the most memorable moments from ECW’s history, Bubba would incite the live crowd with offensive promos and get face to face with many of them. The very controversial Dudley would run down specific members of the audience and challenge them to come into the ring for a fight. ECW neared riots many times due to this and it made the brand a scary one for executives to support. How can you sell the mainstream appeal when one of the biggest stars will curse out your wife and kids? Bubba went too far and it hurt ECW’s reach.
11 RVD Never Winning The World Title
Rob Van Dam was the most dynamic performer in ECW history. The company created many stars loved by the ECW diehards but RVD was the most talented and his charisma carried over to a broader fan base. Of all the ECW stars to come to WWE, Van Dam was the most successful because he had that kind of appeal. The other guys in the company couldn’t match that. ECW likely would have put the title on RVD if he didn’t get injured in the final year but he was the most popular star on the roster for a long time before that. Van Dam was a better “face of the company” than Shane Douglas, Taz, Sabu and Mike Awesome but he never got the title reigns they did.
10 The Locker Room Mole
One of the most controversial stories in wrestling history featured a mole in ECW facilitating deals for wrestlers with WCW. The person accused and eventually blamed was founder and on-air authority figure Tod Gordon. This hurt ECW drastically because many of their top names went to WCW and left them without the star power necessary to grow. Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio would have been cornerstones of the ECW brand and could have changed the perception of the company from bloody hardcore wrestling to just good wrestling. Gordon was exiled from the company under the belief he helped Terry Taylor bring over ECW stars to WCW and it hurt them on many levels.
9 Having Tazz Beat Mike Awesome For The ECW Title
Mike Awesome winning the ECW Championship was another brilliant move by Paul Heyman because he was a tremendous talent. The big man could fly around the ring but he decided to sign with WCW while he was still the ECW Champion. Eric Bischoff allegedly wanted Awesome to drop the title in a trash can on Nitro but ECW’s legal team forced Awesome to work one more ECW show and lose the title to another wrestler. The wrestler to defeat Awesome turned out to be WWE’s Tazz. As a former ECW star, WWE allowed Tazz to work the show and give ECW the moment of having a WWE wrestler face a WCW wrestler. The better move would have been someone in the actual company defeating Awesome and leading the ECW brand rather than to remind us Tazz wasn't there anymore.
8 Mass Transit
Among the various controversial moments, one specific occasion harmed the credibility of ECW. An underage kid claimed he was over 18 and Paul Heyman gave him the opportunity to team with D-Von Dudley against New Jack and Mustafa. New Jack brutally beat and bloodied the kid. The boy and his father sued ECW. This incident almost killed the company because of the outrage against them for allowing something like that to happen. All of the criticism was well deserved and it’s absolutely indefensible to allow someone to wrestle without confirming their age. ECW’s lawyers helped the company get past this but it was definitely remembered and the company’s reputation suffered a great deal of damage.
7 Raven Crucifies Sandman
Ever wonder how Kurt Angle would have fared in ECW? Well, one moment in extreme history changed this scenario from playing out. Raven and The Sandman were having a very personal rivalry and the next step was somehow Raven crucifying Sandman. Raven tied Sandman to an actual cross and it offended many fans in attendance. Paul Heyman forced Raven to break character and issue a public apology in the ring. This wasn’t enough for Angle. The Olympic gold medalist threw a tirade backstage screaming at Joey Styles sitting with him because he didn’t want to be associated with such acts. Angle left the company and never returned. Well, unless you count the 2006 revival by WWE.
ECW’s best chance at growing came when the company secured a television deal with TNN. Fans would get ECW on national television every Friday. Many of the stars associated with the promotion were no longer in the company but they still had enough steam for fans to be excited. The television deal turned out to become a huge flop. The network put many restrictions and limitations on the program between the timing and content. Paul Heyman rallied against them by creating a heel character that represented their feelings. The two parties would split and Heyman cited the TNN deal as a nail in the coffin of ECW rather than the savior.
The ECW wrestlers loved wrestling for the company. Many pundits referred to Paul Heyman as serving kool-aid because his talent would do anything for him and enjoyed doing it. The artistic freedom and creativity gave ECW an advantage over other promotions. That was until the money problems. Many wrestlers have shared stories about either being underpaid or not getting paid at all. Heyman was known for sweet-talking wrestlers into postponing payments and eventually giving out checks that would bounce. The lack of money coming in for the hard-working wrestlers was the biggest heartbreaker and it ultimately gave the talent the reason to leave.
The 90s featured women being objectified and used as nothing but eye candy. WWE’s Attitude Era sold sex appeal but ECW took it to another level. The portrayal of the women was a bit more over the top and it played another large role in the company not getting opportunities in the mainstream. All of the women were used in sexualized roles with the work of taking their clothes off or doing worse. Kimona Wanalaya literally stripped at a show because they needed to fill time. The reason WWE got away with this is because they were a bit more transparent and actually created female stars. ECW just sold cheap thrills and networks didn’t want to put that on television in such context.
Before the current era, drugs were sadly one of the first things associated with pro wrestling. ECW may have been the leader for the amount of stories that comes out about the talent using and often abusing drugs. The Sandman, Raven, Sabu and various others have admitted to doing drugs during their time in ECW. It has become common knowledge that wrestlers actually did drugs in the locker room before matches and would go out to the ring under the influence. ECW never having a wrestler seriously injure himself or his opponent due to recklessly working while taking drugs is shocking but it damaged the performers and the company anyway.
ECW made its name by cashing in on the desire of fans to see hardcore wrestling. Weapons, blood and violence were the pillars for what the average ECW fan wanted to see. There were great talents like Tajiri, Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn having good matches that also appealed to the audience but the hardcore matches always were treated like the true essential “ECW match.” The level of violence in ECW caused wrestlers bodies to break down easier, would give the wrestlers more reason to look at WWE or ECW and made it a hard sell for national television. Every ECW show featured at least one person blading. If they just toned it down a little, it would have done a lot to help the future.
2 Paul Heyman
The man who played the biggest role in ECW’s birth was also the man that played the biggest role in its death. Paul Heyman is a creative genius mastermind and he delivered concepts and characters that would turn mediocre wrestlers no one wanted into must-see stars. The motivation and creativity by Heyman is rightfully the most celebrated asset in ECW but he also helped kill it. Heyman refused to make changes that would give the company a better future and more opportunities. Instead of tuning it down and trying a rebranding, Heyman just pushed the ECW world of sex and violence harder. Heyman also manipulated his talent and refused to pay them. If he deserves all the credit, Heyman also deserves much of the blame.
1 WWE and WCW
The thing that ultimately killed ECW more than anything else was the landscape of pro wrestling. There were two sharks in the ocean and ECW tried to survive as a flounder. WWE and WCW would raid ECW’s roster constantly to bring in new stars for their programs. With a lot more money, recognition and a chance at a better future, the wrestlers were forced to move from ECW to a bigger company. The competition and the overall business aspects of pro wrestling made ECW’s rise a very short lived one. WWE and WCW’s power and money stopped ECW from ever growing because their stars would always be on borrowed time. For all the flaws ECW had, the main reason for its death was WWE and WCW having a stranglehold on the pro wrestling climate.
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