During the Monday Night Wars, while WCW and WWE were jockeying for position, Extreme Championship Wrestling was a pivotal part of the war as well. Vince McMahon would sponsor the brand, occasional sending some of his guys down there to train a little more and only pilfering a few guys. Conversely, Eric Bischoff was going on full-on talent raids/talent acquisitions. ECW was a proving ground for so many talents during the Monday Night War.
Everyone had to start their wrestling career somewhere. In the mid to late nineties, there was still a WCW and an ECW to go to in order to hone your craft, and as Paul Heyman would grow his fledgling cult promotion, he would fill his roster with legends, well known grapplers, journeymen, and guys who just needed someone to give them a shot.
The alumni of ECW are a lot deeper than one might think. Besides stalwarts like Tommy Dreamer, The Dudley Boyz, and Rob Van Dam, the Land of Extreme would be a proving ground for all kinds of competitors. It’s a tradition that briefly also was carried into the WWE's version of ECW as well, thanks to its developmental feel. Take a look at the below roster of men and women who got their start in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
14 Fake Razor Ramon (Big Titan)
In the early days, when ECW was stroll trying to gain a foothold, they gave more and more chances to just about anyone. Case in point, one Rick Bognar, who now lives in infamy as the Fake Razor Ramon. However, in 1996, he was just like any other youngster trying to find his way in professional wrestling. After a stint in the Japanese promotion WAR (Wrestling and Romance), Bognar would arrive in ECW to take on Judge Dreadd at the Big Ass Extreme Bash. ECW was where the Fake Razor started as well, as Bognar would do an impression over the loud speaker as a rib on Douglas, who actually was incensed Heyman had hired “Scott Hall.”
13 Tye Dillinger (Gavin Spears)
Hopefully, the Perfect 10 Tye Dillinger has found his place in the business with his new smarmy gimmick. But when he was a part of FCW, Dillinger was Gavin Spears and was called up to the big time as part of Theodore Long's Superstar Initiative. Unfortunately for Dillinger, it didn't work out so well. He would split his time between FCW and ECW, and after jobbing out a few times to Ricky Ortiz ('memba' him?) and Fit Finlay, he would get Future Endeavored. His hard work and perseverance paid off and Dillinger eventually made his back to the WWE, as part of NXT.
12 Rodney Mack (Redd Dogg)
At this point in his career, Rodney Mack will seemingly go down as the answer to two trivia questions – 1. Who is Jazz’s husband? and 2. Who used to be a bodyguard for John Cena? Rodney Mack came to the WWE as a blue chip prospect and besides covering Cena’s back for a brief moment, became a part of Theodore Long’s Thugging and Bugging group, which was a poor man’s Nation of Domination, complete with their own token white guy – Chris Nowinski.
However, even before that, he was a member of Da Baldies in ECW. Da Baldies was a stable of bald guys who acted like they were loan sharks from the Bronx, so you can see why that didn't really work.
11 Luchadores (Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, Juventud Guerrera)
Before becoming a staple on Monday Nitro and an integral part of the Monday Night War, much like many other Bischoff “ideas,” Paul Heyman gave American wrestling fans their first taste of Lucha Libre in the form of three now–legendary Luchadores, Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, and Juventud Guerrera. The three, along with several other cruiserweights like Konnan and La Parka, would provide memorable heart–stopping moments in two out of three falls matches and Mexican Death Matches before being whisked away to WCW. These guys and later Super Crazy showcase just how ahead of the curve Paul Heymen is.
10 Dean Malenko
The Man of 1000 Holds also made his bones in Extreme Championship Wrestling. While guys like Sabu, Cactus Jack, and Terry Funk were bringing the blood and guts, guys like Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero were showcasing just how great wrestling could be when allowed to let loose in ECW. Along with Benoit and Shane Douglas, Malenko was part of the original Triple Threat and The Iceman was a two–time ECW TV champion and tag team champion. Malenko might have been more known for his time in WCW, but it was his time in ECW, along with Eddie Guerrero, that provided some of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
9 Rosey (Mack Daddy Kane in Samoan Gangsta Party)
Samoans and Paul Heyman have a long shared history. First Paul E. Dangerously managed the Wild Samoans. Then in ECW, he brought in a new generation of the Anoai family in the form of the Samoan Gangsta Party. While several members of the Anoai dynasty were part of ECW, only one–Rosey got his start in ECW. The SGP was comprised of Rosey and Samu and the team was involved in a raucous 4–Way Dance at ECW the Doctor Is In, between them, the Eliminators, the Bruise Brothers and the Gangstas.
8 Taka Michinoku
Stevie Richards, the Blue Meanie, and Nova used to parody all sorts of characters from pop–culture and, in the mid–nineties, there was nothing more pop than the nWo, hence the birth of the Blue World Order. So when the nWo started bringing in guys from Japan, the bWo did the same thing and brought in Taka, Terry Boy, and Dick Togo, who all took part in arguably the biggest night ever for the bWo. At Barely Legal, the very first ECW PPV, Stevie Richards was part of the three–way dance to determine who would face Raven for the title. Meanwhile, on the undercard was the debut of bWo Japan, as the threesome would face Masato Yakushiji, Gran Hamada, and the Great Sasuke.
7 Joey Mercury (Joey Matthews)
Despite being signed by WCW, Joey Matthews would never see WCW TV. Instead, he would team up with Christian York and head to the land of extreme to feud with teams like Doring and Roadkill and Simon and Swinger. The tag team debuted towards the end of the original ECW, so their time there was brief. Then, Matthews would get a chance to shine in ECW once again, this time under the WWE banner, as a member of MNM against The Hardy Boyz in the only good match at December to Dismember.
6 The Pope D'Angelo Dinero (Elijah Burke)
If there is one wrestler who bookers totally dropped the ball with, it's has to be The Pope, D'Angelo Dinero. Perpetually on the cusp of true greatness, TNA just doesn't know, nor have they ever known, what to do with the best pure athlete n their roster, but they're not singularly at fault. The WWE version of ECW didn't know what to do with him either. First they put him as the mouthpiece and occasional tag partner of Sylvester Terkay. However, when Terkai was released pretty quickly, Burke joined The New Breed stable. While he should have probably been tearing up Monday Night Raw, Burke would find himself on the outskirts until TNA came calling.
5 Crowbar (Devon Storm)
Before he became one of WCW's most over hardcore wrestlers as Crowbar, a younger Devon Storm waltzed into the ECW arena and began to hone the insane act he would carry with David Flair and Daffney in WCW. Storm wouldn't work there much, but he did work mostly as a jobber to ECW legends - Taz at Hostile City Showdown, 2 Cold Scorpio at November to Remember, and Balls Mahoney at Holiday Hell. His time in the Madhouse of Extreme prepared him for being one of the marquee players in WCW's strange hardcore division and one of the best Indy brawlers ever.
4 Crash Holly (Erin O'Grady)
Guys like Crash Holly were exactly what ECW was all about. People who had the desire to be in the business regardless of their size or skill set. In the nineties, Crash was known as Erin O' Grady, a decent worker wrestling for All Pro Wrestling. Taz would see tapes of O'Grady and offer him a job in ECW, where he worked several dark matches, most notably at 1997's November to Remember. He'd wrestle a tryout match for the a WWE shortly after and go on to become a third of the Holly Cousins.
3 Brooke Tessmacher (Brooke Adams)
The WWE version of ECW was a big wash. It should have been everything that NXT is now, but that wasn't the case. One of the sadder stories was the brands poor use ofDdivas like Brooke. Considering how good she became in TNA, she could have been used far better than the eye candy she was portrayed as. She would move onto Impact and pair up with Tara (Victoria) and learn how to be one of the best workers for that brand. Perhaps one day we'll see her return to where she started to join the Divas Revolution.
2 Chris Jericho
No, Chris Jericho didn’t get his start in ECW, but like several other famed grapplers, America caught wind of the Lionheart through his time in ECW. After trying to get a hold of Paul Heyman for a year, the mad scientist finally gave Jericho a shot and, clearly, he did not disappoint. Once he got to South Philly, Jericho won the TV title from Pitbull # 2 and he'd go on to have some classic matches against Taz, Sabu, RVD, and Cactus Jack. Like so many other guys Heyman gave a shot to, Eric Bischoff would acquire or steal him away, depending on whose story you believe.
2. Al Snow
During the Attitude Era, one of the most over acts was the deranged Al Snow and his mannequin head. However, the former Leif Cassidy would hone that act in the Land of Extreme, where it was actually crazier than in the WWE. The ECW faithful would be given, or bring their own mannequin, heads to the ring and it would be a big ol' decapitated head party when Snow came out, as the fans would heave them into the ring. His in ring skills were better appreciated in ECW too, as he got a title shot at The Franchise, Shane Douglas.
1 Lita (Angelica / Miss Congeniality)
Before she became a household name in the WWE, Lita spent some time in the Madhouse of Extreme as a valet for the cult favorite tag team of Danny Doring and Roadkill. As Miss Congeniality and later Angelica, Lita was the girlfriend of Doring,who even proposed to her at Heat Wave 1999. Her time spent in ECW was brief, but it was enough to earn some "street cred" with the die-hards when she debuted with Essa Rios, before she went on to becoming one of the greatest Divas of all time.