The late 90s were the most exciting time in the history of the wrestling business. WWE and WCW were in a heated battle to be the top promotion in the industry, while ECW was the underground rising promotion feeding a fan base growing tiresome of the top two companies. While WWE and WCW were setting ratings records, ECW was creating change in the landscape. The characters were more authentic, the wrestlers were faster and the violence was hardcore. ECW amplified every aspect of what was getting hot in society and created a fan base.
As ECW started to gain steam, WWE would implement similar things into their television product that was found in the smaller promotion. Many argue to this day that the “Attitude Era” in WWE was created by following what ECW was doing at the time. WWE would never look back at any competition once the Attitude Era was born but ECW started to struggle. The two big companies would frequently sign talent from ECW causing the promotion to lose star power. Money became a big problem and wrestlers were late on getting checks. Things were getting ugly and the company went out of business in 2001 before Vince McMahon purchased the rights to the library.
Quite a few ECW stars would try their luck in the WWE but only a small percentage of them would reach success. Paul Heyman was the mind behind ECW and has a reputation for getting the best out of talent. Good wrestlers become great if Heyman is giving them direction. Once in the land of WWE, things change and most don’t make it. The few stories of the ECW stars to become success stories in WWE deserve to be told. We’re looking at the 15 wrestling stars to succeed in both WWE and ECW.
15 Stevie Richards
Most known for his time in ECW, Stevie Richards had successful roles in Raven’s Flock and as the leader of the Blue World Order. Richards left ECW during its bigger years but he still left many positive memories on the fans that remember him fondly today. In WWE, Richards would hold a roster spot for almost a decade with the reputation of being a good hand in the ring to constantly give a good performance. Richards’ most successful time in the WWE came from leading the Right to Censor, a heel faction that was set to clean the WWE of the edgy content featured on television during the Attitude Era.
14 Dawn Marie
Dawn Marie was an excellent valet in ECW. She managed The Impact Players, Justin Credible and Lance Storm, to a very memorable run as one of the best tag teams in the company’s history. The act would not have excelled as much as it did if Dawn wasn’t a great valet perfectly playing into her character. A few years later, she was hired by WWE and would last three years on television – a feat impressive for female performers in the company. Dawn would have storylines with Torrie Wilson and Vince McMahon that played important roles on the show and was spotlighted in the eye candy segments.
One of the final stars Paul Heyman created in ECW was the man beast Rhyno. With an intense style featuring brutal violence, Rhyno was the final ECW World Champion and TV Champion before the company went out of business. WWE wasted no time signing Rhyno and positioned him with Edge and Christian. With many years and matches in his WWE tenure, he was most known for his tremendous “Gore” finishing maneuver. Rhyno recently signed back with WWE in a veteran role to help bring more seasoning to the NXT roster, as he faces the developmental stars hoping to be the future of the company.
12 Joey Styles
A bold decision by ECW was to have Joey Styles spend the majority of time in the company as the only commentator on the show. Styles would mostly work without a partner and did a hell of a job calling the action while helping us buy into the characters and storylines. WWE would hire Styles to replace Jim Ross in 2005 as the lead play-by-play commentator of Raw. Styles had ups and downs as a commentator in WWE because Vince McMahon reportedly felt he spent more time calling the moves than telling the story. Despite being removed from television, Styles has been working in a digital media position and running the WWE website for years.
11 Lance Storm
Lance Storm was arguably the best technical wrestler on the ECW roster for many years. Storm would put out great performances and have success as both a singles and tag team wrestler. Due to a better contract offer by WCW, Storm would spend some time there before WWE purchased the company and absorbed Storm’s contact. The invasion storyline saw Storm featured in some of the better matches against talent like Edge, Christian and The Hardys. Storm also saw success in WWE as a member of the Un-Americans, a heel faction of Canadians with an anti-American agenda. To this day, Storm is respected by fans and peers for his stellar in-ring work.
10 Tommy Dreamer
No one exemplified the ECW brand more than Tommy Dreamer. Staying in the company until its dying day, Dreamer would put his body on the line every night and always wanted to give the fans their money’s worth. Dreamer had more memorable feuds than anyone else in ECW with a rotating door of names from Raven to Justin Credible to C.W. Anderson. After WWE purchased ECW, Dreamer was brought to the company and spent most of his time wrestling in the hardcore division. Dreamer wrestled for WWE for many years but his biggest success was holding an office job and helping find new talent to sign. Many current stars have humorous stories about how they were discovered and hired by Dreamer.
The Japanese import came to ECW and became one of the bright spots on the show. Tajiri was extremely popular around the time ECW had their deal to air on TNN television and had standout matches with talent such as Little Guido, Super Crazy, Rhyno and Steve Corino. WWE signed Tajiri and he was instantly entertaining as GM William Regal’s assistant. Once that faded and WWE tried to develop a credible Cruiserweight division, Tajiri was one of the cornerstones. With many great matches vs. Rey Mysterio, Tajiri showed his range as a serious heel after playing a hilarious face. Tajiri was arguably the most successful Japanese star in WWE.
8 Al Snow
Originally joining ECW because of multiple failed stints in the WWE, Al Snow became a fan favorite thanks to a mannequin’s head. Snow portrayed a character of a schizophrenic person getting instructions from the head. The gimmick caught on and fans would throw mannequin heads into the ring to celebrate him, creating a cool atmosphere. Finally, Snow would succeed in WWE when taking the act over to the big time. The head gimmick was over and Snow was one of the most popular wrestlers in the hardcore division. As a worker, WWE trusted and respected Snow enough to make him the head trainer of the original Tough Enough program – a show of hopeful wrestlers training to become professionals.
One of the best booking jobs by Paul Heyman was building Taz as an unstoppable badass anti-hero. Taz would destroy anyone he faced with his explosive suplexes and terrifying submission moves. ECW fans idolized him and many thought he would be a huge star when making the jump to WWE. With another Z added to his name, Tazz debuted in WWE and had a tremendous first night as he defeated Kurt Angle in his hometown of New York City. That was the last night of success for Tazz as a wrestler as he wallowed in obscurity after that until transitioning into a color commentator. Tazz would become more successful in his new role and was the voice of SmackDown for many years.
6 Eddie Guerrero
Why did Eddie Guerrero make the list but guys like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio are snubbed? All of these men spent very little time in ECW but Guerrero made a legacy for himself there during the short time period. Guerrero had classic bouts with Dean Malenko that are still remembered today, as they’re usually on the top of any list breaking down the promotion’s greatest matches. Of course, Eddie would become a tremendous star for WWE when he joined the company many years later. Between his elite in-ring work and his inherent charisma, Guerrero became a WWE World Champion and a main event performer.
5 Mick Foley
After his time in WCW ended, Mick Foley rejuvenated his career in ECW. Foley cut incredible and captivating promos showcasing a side of himself he was unable to before that point. WWE signed Foley, perhaps due to his ECW work, and turned into one of the company’s greatest signings. Foley was up there with Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker as the biggest stars during the Attitude Era. Known for his crazy bumps in brutal matches and being one of the best talkers in the industry, Foley has a legacy very few can match. The peak of Foley’s career was in WWE but the momentum started in ECW.
4 Steve Austin
Steve Austin was viewed as a good worker in WCW but was never given an opportunity to move up the card. Eric Bischoff would fire Austin while he was recovering from an injury, so Paul Heyman saw an opportunity to showcase another talent he believed in and gave Austin television time on ECW to cut promos. His microphone work was very impressive and, similar to Fole, it helped get Austin a job in WWE. Did Austin ever do anything impressive in WWE? Oh yeah, he became the hottest act in the industry and led pro wrestling to its most successful time period. Austin is arguably the greatest WWE superstar of all time and it happened after he found his voice in ECW.
3 The Dudley Boyz
The most decorated tag team of all time was formed in ECW. Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley were the most unlikely of teams but became the most successful in ECW’s history. As heat magnets, The Dudleys would incite the crowd during their heel promos to the point where fans would near the point of rioting. Going to WWE in 1999, no one could have predicted they would be able to match their success moving from the small pond to the big lake. Along with The Hardys and Edge and Christian, The Dudleys helped tag team wrestling reach its highest point in WWE. Between their time in ECW and WWE, the Dudleys would hold 18 different tag team title reigns.
2 Rob Van Dam
No one in ECW was as popular or as cool as Rob Van Dam. As the company grew, RVD’s popularity would become the most must-see act on every ECW show. Van Dam held the ECW TV Championship for a legendary reign where his match would feel like the main event despite usually being featured in the middle of the card. When coming to the WWE in 2001 during the Invasion, RVD became an instant hit with the WWE crowd. Most of the WCW and ECW talent struggled in the new surroundings but RVD was the exception and turned out to be one of the most popular stars in WWE for the next six years.
1 Paul Heyman
While he’s not a wrestler, no one has achieved as much success in both WWE and ECW as Paul Heyman. As the brain child behind ECW’s rise, Heyman’s vision and intelligence created a new atmosphere in the wrestling industry that caught on. He knew what the fans of the time wanted and gave the wrestling world something special. Once the company ended, Heyman achieved plenty of success as an on-air performer in WWE. Everything Heyman has done in WWE turns into success. Playing the roles of a manager, advocate, writer, commentator and authority figure at different times, Heyman always hits home runs. Heyman is cementing his legacy today with Brock Lesnar as one of the most entertaining acts the WWE has ever seen.
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