The 1990s made for an exciting era for the world of professional wrestling. World Championship Wrestling emerged on the scene as true competition for the WWE, to the point that there was a time when it looked as if WCW was going to put the WWE out of business. Meanwhile, a small upstart promotion out of Philadelphia known as Extreme Championship Wrestling began making news among wrestling fans in the northeast. What was once a cult following of diehard ECW fans grew and grew, the company eventually earned pay-per-view television, and ECW even had a national television deal for a time.
The so-called wrestling “bubble” burst at the start of the 21st century. ECW and WCW both went out of business and the WWE was left standing as the king of the pro wrestling mountain. Former ECW talents were given opportunities to work in the WWE. Rob Van Dam, arguably the biggest star made in ECW, went on to have a successful career in the WWE, winning the company's world championship. Lance Storm never won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but Storm was an incredible in-ring worker who could be the top trainer for the NXT brand today if he was interested in relocating at this point of his life.
Not all of the ex-ECW talent signings made by the WWE worked out all that well for the company. Some performers who got over among the rabid ECW fans were not cut out to work underneath the WWE umbrella and all of the restrictions that were/are still had by the organization. Others, however, were made to look better than they actually were while working for ECW. They were exposed when wrestling on the big stage presented by the WWE, and their runs in the company did not last long before the WWE decided to move on from those acts and ultimately from the ECW brand.
Before you hit out at Taz starting a list of the worst ex-ECW talent signings ever made by WWE, think back to who the wrestler was when he joined the WWE. Taz debuted at the 2000 Royal Rumble as a suplex-machine who was such a force that he defeated the then-undefeated Kurt Angle. All of that was over in less than two years, however, as injuries forced Taz from any potential main event angles and to the commentary table. The duo of Taz and Michael Cole became a stellar announce team in time. That probably was not the plan for the character when he was first signed by the WWE.
Simon Dean. That is really all that needs to be said about this ex-ECW talent signing. Nova/Super Nova/Hollywood Nova was an entertaining performer in ECW as a member of the “Blue World Order” group. The WWE signed Nova following the death of ECW and the company thought it wise to give him the gimmick of a fitness guru who was the star of fake infomercials and who made treks to the ring on a Segway. It is a positive for the man that he received WWE paychecks during his career, but wrestling fans everywhere would have been better off never seeing the Simon Dean character.
13 Mike Awesome
You can blame WCW for Mike Awesome making the list. Awesome was pushed as a top wrestler who could work as a monster heel who dominated opponents, and also as a big man who could leave his feet and perform moves such as his “Awesome Splash.” WCW took Awesome and, after introducing him as a foe for Kevin Nash, that company turned him into the “Fat Chick Thriller.” Everything good about the original Awesome character had been stripped away by the time that he became a wrestler who fought over the WWE Hardcore Championship. Thanks for nothing, WCW.
Raven is a case of “what could have been” as it pertains to his role in the WWE. ECW was the best home for the wrestler and for the Raven character to grow as a top heel. WCW, however, never seemed to go all-in on Raven other than giving him his “Flock” group and the United States Championship. By the time Raven got to the WWE, he had already been watered down. Perhaps things would have gone differently had Raven jumped ship to the WWE and not WCW following his initial run in ECW. At least Raven found success while working in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
11 Balls Mahoney
It sometimes boggles the mind that the WWE has achieved so much success over the decades. The same people who have been responsible for the growth of the WWE came up with this idea: Let's take a guy who was known as a “chair-swinging freak” during his days in ECW and push him on shows despite the fact that we want to limit chair shots to the head. The WWE literally took Mahoney's gimmick from him and that went about as poorly as one would imagine. Mahoney did have a role in that awful December to Dismember show that nobody should ever go back and watch.
10 Brian Pillman
Just as with Taz, wrestling fans have to keep an open mind upon seeing the name of Brian Pillman on this list. Pillman proved himself to be an excellent performer while on the WWE roster. He was physically a shell of his former self at this point of his life, however, after he suffered serious injuries in a car accident that nearly cost Pillman his life. The “Pillman's Got a Gun” angle helped “Stone Cold” Steve Austin get even more over with fans and that should not be forgotten. It is truly unfortunate that Pillman could have been more for the WWE before his tragic passing in October 1997.
9 Nicole Bass
ECW performers who had unique looks and who intrigued the WWE were given chances by the company during the late 1990s. Nicole Bass was one such individual. There was but one problem: Bass was not all that good and her stint in the WWE ended in less than half of a year. The woman who has made multiple appearances on editions of Howard Stern's radio programs claimed that she was a victim of wrongful termination and also sexual harassment. That matter was dismissed when it was taken to court and Bass has never again been a member of the WWE roster.
Part of the allure of the original ECW was that fans never knew what valets such as Francine were going to say or do during shows. Neither Francine nor any other performer, female or male, was going to be given such freedom while working in the WWE. This practice turned certain ex-ECW talent into performers who were not all that different from others on the WWE roster. Francine more than held her own while working in ECW. She never had much of a chance when the WWE signed her, though, and her run in the company was over seemingly as quickly as it began.
7 Tony Mamaluke
The WWE had a great idea by providing fans with an ECW reunion show known as One Night Stand in 2005. Tony Mamaluke was welcomed to take part in that show, an event that resulted in the company attempting to restart ECW as a separate brand a year later. Mamaluke was added to that roster more so because the company wanted names from the past and warm bodies than for anything that Mamaluke was going to do during matches. His role, truth be told, could have been taken up by any generic wrestler if the idea involved did not include former ECW performers.
6 Justin Credible
ECW really was the home of some of the “misfit toys” of professional wrestling during its glory days. Justin Credible is but one example. Paul Heyman was able to turn Credible into a hated heel who could have a run atop cards as a world champion. In the WWE, though, Credible was always going to be just a guy on the roster who would maybe carry a midcard or a tag team championship. The WWE giving this ex-ECW talent a shot was not a total loss for fans. Credible was part of the “X-Factor” group that gifted us with one of the best wrestling theme songs of that era.
5 Jim Neidhart
Let's be honest about Jim Neidhart. The WWE parted ways with Neidhart on multiple occasions and it is not a wild notion to suggest that Neidhart would not have made his returns to the company had Bret “Hitman” Hart never showed that he was worthy of carrying the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Neidhart made for another body in the Hart Foundation, and he served his purpose while Hart made the transition from adored babyface to hated heel. Looking back, however, Neidhart really would not have been all that missed had the WWE passed on him after he had a brief stint in ECW.
4 Tommy Dreamer
The WWE could not insult fans by staging any ECW “invasion” or restart without including Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer was viewed as one of the ultimate underdogs and maybe the most classic babyfaces to ever work in ECW and the gimmick for years was that Dreamer was unable to win the big one in the company. WWE was never going to view Dreamer as a star who was equal to the likes of Rob Van Dam or Edge, and that was made clear in the way that Dreamer was handled in storylines during his run in the WWE.
3 Blue Meanie
While one may not think so upon looking at the individual, there could have been a real spot on the WWE roster for a performer such as the Blue Meanie. Meanie was never going to put on five-star matches in the WWE. He was, however, a wrestler who did well to get himself over among fans and who was able to entertain crowds in his own way. Meanie never got a real chance to be much of anything in the WWE. Whether or not that had anything to do with an infamous incident involving Meanie and John Bradshaw Layfield could be a matter of opinion.
There are some times when you do not have to be an expert to know that a signing is just not going to work out. Sabu was one of the top stars ever presented at the top of ECW cards and he electrified crowds with his aerial moves and willingness to repeatedly sacrifice his body all for the entertainment of audiences. WWE was always going to force Sabu to slow his work down several notches, particularly in the 2000s. If that was not enough to sink his run in the WWE, the company also chose to book Sabu poorly and underneath others on the re-branded ECW roster.
Sandman was absolutely beloved by the ECW faithful. His “Enter Sandman” entrance always generated massive pops from crowds inside of arenas. Fans cheered on with glee whenever Sandman would hit opponents with cane shots. As a worker, however, Sandman left much to be desired and a spotlight was placed on that fact once he worked in the more controlled environment of the WWE. The WWE gave Sandman a shot during the reboot of the ECW brand. It was not all that big of a surprise that this experiment did not work out for all involved. Sandman's run in the WWE is but a footnote.