When it comes down to it, professional wrestling, like any other sport, is a business. Back when there were choices in who superstars wanted to work for, money was the primary focus. With the changing of companies, that company would have rights to a character’s specific name. A prime example of this was when Kevin Nash and Scott Hall quickly hopped to WCW. The characters Diesel and Razor Ramon would still air on WWE, but played by other people. The point here is that money is what drives professional wrestlers to different locations. In today’s day and age, there is only the WWE if superstars truly want to get paid.
Because of the issues with money and contract negotiations, plenty of successful wrestlers would see time in the different major professional wrestling promotions. Quite a few would actually go all the way to Japan to compete in New Japan Pro Wrestling. It was worth the time due to the money and the exposure overseas. However, the three main competitors in the United States during the 1990s were World Championship Wrestling, the WWE, and Extreme Championship Wrestling. There were a fair amount of wrestlers who dipped their toes into all three. Money talks when you have mouths to feed at home.
This list takes a look at the top 15 wrestlers who competed in WCW, WWE, and ECW. Some of these guys might have only have joined ECW for a minute. Others were successful in one promotion, but ultimately failed in the others. Some might have revitalized their career, or just earned a paycheck due to being in-between contract negotiations. ECW would be a place for talent to develop and veterans to make a quick payday, while WCW offered favoritism and guaranteed contracts that would result in a lack of a push. All of this while the WWE was re-inventing itself on non-guaranteed contracts. This all adds up to these guys moving around.
15 Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart
14 The Steiner Brothers
13 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
12 Arn Anderson
11 Shane Douglas
10 Bam Bam Bigelow
9 Dean Malenko
8 Chris Benoit
Benoit actually premiered in WCW in tag team competition prior to joining ECW. During his ECW tenure is where he began to get noticed. He worked for ECW between his tours for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Benoit would be known as the Crippler in Japan, and backed up that name by accidentally breaking Sabu’s neck in the opening seconds of a match. Heyman wanted Benoit to be the face of the company as a heel. However, Benoit’s VISA expired and he had to leave ECW. He would go back to Japan until WCW called and it got renewed. Benoit would get his national notoriety in WCW as he impressed higher-ups with his work ethic. Benoit would jump to the WWE with The Radicalz where he would get the eventual push to a World Championship. Benoit would actually close out in WWE’s version of ECW.
7 Terry Funk
6 Rob Van Dam
Before becoming “The Whole Damn Show”, Van Dam was dubbed as Robbie V in WCW as Bill Watts did not like the RVD name. He literally did nothing in WCW, however was signed with the company. When joining ECW, his persona and different style of wrestling made him a fan favorite as he was pushed to the top. Van Dam would would end up feuding and eventually teaming with Sabu as he eventually became the face of the company at the turn of the century. Once ECW went under, he debuted in WWE and would contend for the Intercontinental Championship. He would eventually win the WWE Championship by beating John Cena at One Night Stand in 2006.
5 Chris Jericho
4 Eddie Guerrero
3 Mick Foley
2 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Mick Foley might have laid his body on the line, but nobody fought adversity like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin had all the talent in the world, and he did everything he could to expose that. However, he was held back a ton early in his career. Thanks to Paul Heyman, he had the right man to help where it was needed. Austin joined WCW in 1991 and won his first belt in only a few weeks. He later joined Paul E. Dangerously’s Dangerous Alliance and was the face of that faction. He would also team with the late Brian Pillman as The Hollywood Blondes. Austin would eventually be fired due to an injury and was told by Eric Bischoff that he was not marketable. Thankfully, Paul Heyman had created his own promotion in ECW and brought Austin over to cut promos talking trash about Bischoff and WCW. After injury, Austin had a few matches as Heyman wanted to put the belt on him. However, Austin refused.
1 Paul Heyman
Now I understand Heyman was not a wrestler, but he has been the one person to have the biggest impact across WCW, ECW, and WWE. His persona back in WCW was Paul E. Dangerously, which was an extension of his actual personality. His management skills helped pushed Bam Bam Bigelow, “Mean” Mark Callous (The Undertaker), and the Original Midnight Express. He ended up becoming an announcer alongside Jim Ross. He returned to managing the heel faction Dangerous Alliance with Rick Rude, Steve Austin, Arn Anderson, and Bobby Eaton. Heyman would be terminated once Bill Watts got involved in WCW, but already left his mark on the company.
Heyman wanted to change wrestling as he thought it was getting dull. Attempting to partner up with Jim Crockett, Jr. for a new promotion in Texas, their visions collided. Heyman would go on to be head of creative in NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling out of Philadelphia. After being handed the keys to creative, he conspired with Shane Douglas and Tod Gordon to have Douglas publicly trash the NWA Championship. From that moment, Extreme Championship Wrestling was born. Say what you will about WWE’s Attitude Era, but it all stemmed from what Paul E. created in ECW. The talent would be taken from him by the bigger two companies as he was unable to match pay or even pay at all. The guys worked for him because they wanted to work for Paul.
As much as you see Heyman on television promoting Brock Lesnar, his involvement in the WWE has only grown since ECW went under. He actually was a commentator replacing Jerry Lawler in 2001. He also was the lead writer for the split Smackdown! Promotion in 2002 and 2003, arguably the best period for that show. Heyman also previously managed Brock Lesnar in his first stint in WWE. As for today, Heyman is heavily involved backstage in helping talent again almost as an advisor. His contribution across all three brands over the past 20 years is unrivaled.
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