After reading enough Marvel and DC comics, a person spends a lot of time wondering what could be possible in alternate versions of the world as we know it. "What if John McCain became president instead of Barack Obama?" you might ask yourself. "What if the Japanese never bombed Pearl Harbor?" What if the American Revolution failed and the U.S. remained part of the U.K.?" "What if Twin Peaks had never been canceled?" "What if Miley Cyrus had pursued a career in molecular biology instead of music?" "What if Jesus had appeared among men, not as one of their fellow humans, but as a sexy dinosaur lady?" The list of possibilities could go on indefinitely.
The year 2001 was without question one of the most significant in the history of pro wrestling. World Championship Wrestling - WWE's longtime primary competitor - shut its doors. About a month later, the edgy upstart cult favorite Extreme Championship Wrestling also collapsed under the weight of its own ongoing financial woes. WWE officially became the only show in town, as far as wrestling on cable TV was concerned.
But what if the handful of events that led to ECW's demise never took place? For instance, what if years earlier, owner Paul Heyman hired an expert financial planner to oversee the money aspect of his company, allowing Heyman to focus entirely on the creative side? What if TNN was 100 percent behind ECW and allocated ample promotional time and resources to letting people know where and when they could watch it? What if Taz and the Dudleyz hadn't left for greener pastures in WWE? What if ECW was financially thriving in 2015 and had replaced WCW as the biggest threat to WWE's dominance?
Really, no one has the foggiest idea, but it's always fun to speculate. What follows, in no particular order, are 20 things we think might have been different in the years following the death of ECW, or conditions of the wrestling world in 2015 that might not be what we're accustomed to.
20. WWE, NXT, Ring of Honor, TNA Wouldn’t Look the Same
As far as wrestling organizations go these days, WWE is the only place wrestlers can go to quit their day jobs. Were that not the case, in a universe where ECW offered workers an alternate career path - talent would have more options for plying their wares. Obviously, ECW remaining in business would’ve prevented events like WWE’s One Night Stand from occurring, and probably would've stopped some ECW stars showing up in TNA. But numerous big names who ended up on the McMahon payroll might’ve found their way under Paul Heyman’s extreme umbrella instead. Same goes for RoH and TNA/Impact. Perhaps, somewhere in the multiverse, fans are enjoying a barbed wire tables match at the ECW arena, pitting "The Anti-Angel" Christopher Daniels against "The Original Thug" John Cena.
14 "The Invasion" Either Never Would’ve Happened Or There Would’ve Been Two
When the forces of ECW and WCW banded together to overthrow the WWE, the story pissed everyone off. It was booked to make WWE look swell and their rival companies look feeble. It’s possible that without ECW’s half of "The Alliance," WWE simply would’ve run a WCW invasion scenario that only pooped on the former Turner employees, leaving ECW comparatively unpooped on.
It’s equally possible that WWE and ECW would’ve both indulged in equally abusive treatment of wayward former WCW stars. Perhaps we would’ve seen The Undertaker humiliating Booker T on Monday Night Raw and Taz easily choking out a helpless Diamond Dallas Page later that week on ECW. And that would've been fine. In a world where the scrappy low-budget ECW prospered while the Turner-funded WCW went broke, the latter company would've looked twice as inept.
18. TLC Never Would’ve Happened
As aforementioned, we're wondering what might've happened if The Dudley Boyz never went to WWE, and continued as ECW’s alpha heels. Here, in 2015, it's possible but unlikely that they'd still be the most decorated tag team of all time. They couldn’t win the WWE titles without working for the company, obviously, and the WCW titles would have ceased to exist before Bubba Ray and D-Von could have come anywhere near them.
Meanwhile, the Dudleys' absence from WWE would severely impact the careers of Edge, Christian, and Matt and Jeff Hardy. E 'n C and The Hardys had already worked a bunch of ladder matches against each other before their infamous Tables Ladders and Chairs series three-way tags. Adding the brawling brothers from Dudleyville to the mix substantially elevated all three teams. Without that stepping stone to a brighter spotlight, would the era of the Rated-R Superstar ever come to fruition? Would Jeff Hardy ever become a world champion? Maybe! But maybe not.
13 Taz Never Would’ve Become a Bad Comedian
Depending on your age, you either remember Taz as an invincible shooter world champion you once believed was a legitimately short-tempered rageaholic who liked to injure people (because you were a mark like the rest of us), or as Michael Cole’s goofball sidekick on SmackDown. In an alternate universe where Taz never left ECW, his character never would’ve evolved into the bumbling idiot it became behind WWE's announce table. Such would not have been good for the credibility of the ECW title.
His in-ring career would not have lasted longer in ECW than it did WWE. If anything, he would’ve been injured into retirement sooner in ECW. However, his legacy as the Human Suplex Machine would never have been watered down by the subsequent buffoonery that occurred in this reality.
16. Rob Van Dam Would Be A Household Name
To compete with WWE and/or UFC, ECW would need a potential crossover star - somebody charismatic who could represent the brand in mainstream media, preferably who could diminish the public’s perception of “hardcore” wrestlers as non-athlete crash test dummies who occasionally wore human costumes. So in a world where ECW strives to usurp WWE as the most profitable wrestling organization on the planet, fans would see a lot more of Rob Van Dam and a little less of The Sandman and New Jack.
What if Rob Van Dam was a bigger celebrity than John Cena? A scenario in which the most famous professional wrestler on the planet happens to be a staunchly outspoken advocate of marijuana legalization, and who is allowed to discuss his views without fear of getting fired, might actually be good for the industry's credibility. Headlines like “Wrestler Has Opinions About Real World Issues, Is On The Right Side Of History,” reflect on wrestling better than “Famous Wrestler Dies” or “Famous Wrestler Says the N-Word.”
15. Mike Awesome Would Have Gotten Pushed To The Moon
This one doesn’t quite jibe with the version of alternate history I presented earlier, but we’ll mention it here anyway because it was Tommy Dreamer’s idea first.
After winning the ECW World Title, Mike Awesome appeared on WCW Monday Nitro. Originally, there was a plan for him to throw down the belt and the police were called in to collect and return ECW's property before that could happen. Mike Awesome was soon disposed of by Taz (Or, "Tazz," at that point), and history was made: a WCW wrestler lost the ECW title to a WWE wrestler.
What if after all that, Mike Awesome came back to ECW when WCW closed? Here, we would’ve had more than an ordinary heel who fans think is just playing a character. We would’ve had a heel who the internet fans thought was a legitimate jerk who sold out to the enemy and disrespected their favorite promotion’s world title. The Dudleys had to talk about violating fans' mothers to drive them into a riotous frenzy. Mike Awesome would’ve just had to show up at ECW Arena. His heel heat would've been staggering.
12 Justin Credible Might Never Have Won The ECW Title (And Been Way Better Off)
Due to its most successful denizens frequently making the trek to greener pastures, ECW’s main event often found itself occupied by wrestlers who weren’t quuuuiiiite ready to be there. Arguably, Justin Credible’s career suffered the most in the long run by winning the world title partly because a handful of people in line ahead of him hopped out of his way.
Consider this: when former ECW World Champion Taz came to WWE, he defeated the hitherto undefeated Kurt Angle in his debut. When former ECW World Champion Justin Credible did likewise, he premiered as as X-Pac’s flunky, meaning pretty much a flunky's flunky. This tells us something about which was taken more seriously.
Without being forced into a spotlight he might not have been prepared for, Credible would’ve had time to experiment in the midcard. He could’ve developed his character into something more nuanced than “arrogant jerk” and could’ve figured out how to deliver a promo that wasn't just yelling his catchphrase. Today Justin Credible would be remembered as more than just an “ECW Original.”
11 Paul Heyman Never Would’ve Booked SmackDown
Following the disintegration of ECW, Paul Heyman masterminded what’s considered a high watermark for SmackDown in the early ‘00s. His tenure is credited with establishing or reinforcing the upper-echelon statuses of Brock Lesnar, and the so-called “SmackDown Six”: Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Kurt Angle, The Tainted One, and Rey Mysterio Jr., pretty much by letting them all have very, very splendid matches. Most of the six who hadn’t already won a world title would do so in later years and two of the “SmackDown Six” wound up in the Hall of Fame. So, here we have six crucial WWE fixtures of the last two decades, plus the less important but still pretty great Chavo, and all of their careers would’ve taken a different trajectory had Heyman still been occupied running ECW.
10 The Resurrection of Cactus Jack
Mick Foley has been on on-again-off-again terms with WWE pretty much since 2003. Given the litany of independent promotions he's worked for during the past 12 years, as well as his tenure in TNA, a return to ECW would've been a no-brainer had such an option been available.
His days of falling off cages and setting himself on fire with any regularity had already come and gone by the early '00s - "the bulb that burns twice as bright...." as the saying goes. But a star of his caliber, not to mention one of ECW's all-time best talkers, rejoining the fold would've added even more credibility to ECW's reputation as a legitimate threat to WWE. Post-Hell In A Cell Mick Foley in ECW could've drawn money as a time keeper.
9 New Jack = ECW World Heavyweight Champion?
Say what you will about New Jack. Maybe he was never a gifted technical wrestler. Maybe his violent tendencies overrode his better judgement now and again. But one thing that can’t be disputed is he jumped off many, many balconies. Strictly in terms of the degree to which he sacrificed his own physical well-being for the sake of entertaining fans, New Jack is right up there with the likes of Mick Foley, Sabu and Terry Funk. So at some point, if ECW had stayed around longer, he was clearly owed a token world title run. Probably not a long one, and it probably wouldn’t have happened until he was on the cusp of retirement, but it would’ve happened.
8 CM Punk vs. The Sandman: Battle of the Lifestyle Choices
Legend has it that upper-management types wanted CM Punk let go from OVW during the fetal phase of his WWE career and it was Paul Heyman who made sure Phil Brooks stayed on the company’s payroll. So it stands to reason that if the original ECW had existed at the time, CM Punk would’ve wound up working for Philadelphia instead of Connecticut.
That means the infamous “pipe-bomb” promo never would’ve happened, or happened with Punk denouncing Paul Heyman and a completely different set of injustices from the backstage of ECW. The lauded Punk vs. Cena feud would be erased from the annals of wrestling history, but we might’ve gotten some equally interesting rivalries out the deal. For instance, not to diminish CM Punk and Raven’s excellent feud in RoH, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting if the Straight Edge Savior’s opponent had been The Sandman, an unrepentant alcoholic/drug addict, instead of Raven, a recovering one?
7 Angle: Extreme Wrestling Machine?
As the story goes, Kurt Angle was getting ready for a program with ECW and had even made his first appearance...until he learned that he had signed up to be on the same program as Raven’s infamous crucifixion of The Sandman. Angle ran screaming.
In a curious coda to the story, Angle has since said the crucifixion “didn’t bother him” and Raven adopted Angle's ankle lock into his repertoire of moves. Perhaps the Olympian was more worried about how the angle would harm his squeaky clean image than he was personally offended.
Point being, there was precedent for Angle in ECW long before his quick tenure in the WWE-ized version of ECW - making him yet another athlete who could have trekked to Heymanville instead of TNA after his falling out with WWE.
6 Hardy: Extreme Enigma?
The second half of the ‘00s were a series of highs and lows for Jeff Hardy. One year he was getting fired for being high and late all the time, then getting booed out of the building at Ring of Honor. A few years later, he was WWE champion and arguably the biggest wrestling star in the world. However, seeing as how he and his brother ripped their style and a handful of their spots off from Rob Van Dam and Sabu anyway, ECW’s hard knocks sensibility would’ve suited him like a glove during his absences from WWE.
ECW also would’ve been a great environment to cultivate Hardy's still mostly untapped potential as a heel. If he thought RoH crowds were tricky to win over, ECW would’ve eaten him alive.
7. The Extreme Beast Incarnate?
If we consider that A: Paul Heyman was basically Brock Lesnar’s advocate before that became Heyman's on-screen character and B: Heyman was intending to incorporate more elements of mixed martial arts into ECW before it closed, we can take it as a given that Brock Lesnar would have been a presence in ECW, had there been there been an ECW for him to go work for. So think about the big picture - this means if ECW had never gone out of business in 2001, The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak might still remain intact in 2015. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
5 ECW Women’s Division?
ECW gets credited for “revolutionizing” wrestling, but it certainly wasn’t “progressive” in many respects. The overwhelmingly male audience at the time was - to sugarcoat the bejesus out of the issue - less than respectful toward ECW’s female performers more often than not. On the other hand, Beulah McGillicutty vs. Bill Alfonso is remembered as one of the best matches in the company’s history - so it’s not as if ECW was so overtly sexist the possibility of a legitimate women’s division didn’t exist.
Furthermore, if there’s one thing ECW fans enjoyed more than objectifying women, it was great wrestling matches. I imagine an ECW arena crowd would’ve chanted “Show Your T***” during the first three minutes of a Sasha Banks vs. Bayley match, and switched to “This is Awesome!” during the final 10 or so. And given the aforementioned mixed martial arts leanings Heyman had in mind for a future that never occurred, ultimately, we would’ve been more likely to see Ronda Rousey in ECW than WWE.
4 Raven Returns (Again)
Like a lot of former ECW (and, for that matter, WCW) talent, Raven was at best underused and at worst buried during his three years in the WWE. History as we know it sees Raven move on to TNA and the indies after his WWE release, but in a world where ECW was alive and kicking, it seems pretty likely he’d return to the company where Scotty Flamingo/Johnny Polo/Scotty The Body morphed into “Raven” in the first place.
Although he hit his zenith of success as the top pure heel in WCW (half the audience cheered the nWo - they didn’t count as pure heels), Raven never quite shook the stigma of being an “ECW guy." His second run in ECW wasn’t as successful as his first and his third might’ve been yet another step down, but at least he wouldn’t have to lose a world title to Jeff Jarrett, the lamest wrestler ever, at an untelevised house show because of a TV deal TNA wound up losing a few years later anyway. TNA always sucked.
3 The Franchise Returns Also (Again)
Like Raven, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas was a top-tier performer in ECW who never quite cracked mid-card status in WCW or WWE, and landed in TNA for a while. Presumably after the fall of WCW, he would’ve been welcomed back to the house he helped build in Philadelphia. Unlike Raven, Douglas came across as comfortable during his sojourns behind the announce table - which would’ve made him a logical person to tap if/when someone decided Joey Styles needed a color commentator. Would a hypothetical Douglas/Styles announce team end up just as universally recognized at the Ross/Lawyer tandem from this version of history?
2 ECW Sells Out
Just like numerous punk rock bands who held artistic integrity above all until they realized how much money they were leaving on the table, ECW would’ve eventually become part of the establishment it once sought to rebel against. We’d be seeing Sabu peddle 5 Hour Energy in commercials. “It’s the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal pick up me up that won’t crash and leave you feeling like a botched spot!” Sabu would chirp to the camera, before draining the contents of a tiny plastic bottle into his mouth, moonsaulting through a table, and shooting us a missing-toothed grin.
We’d be able to purchase huggable Bubba Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudleyplushies at Toys R Us, after they had turned into a group of lovable, non-threatening, politically correct, comedy babyfaces who absolutely never claim to have violated anyone’s father in prison. When kiddies squeeze the Budda buddy doll, he stutters, "Mah name is B-Buh-Buh-Buh-Buh."
Unable to successfully lock down his attempted guest appearance on WWE, Justin Bieber would instead guest referee an ECW World Title match and might actually make it to the ring and back without the long since mellowed ECW diehards ripping off his arms and legs and eating him as if they were extras on The Walking Dead.
2. WWE Never Goes PG
On the other side of the coin, what if WWE found itself in a situation where it couldn’t afford to go PG and instantly lose the 18 - 35 male demographic to ECW, regardless of how it impacted Linda McMahon’s political ambitions?
John Cena would still knock off his opponents with the “FU” or the “STFU.” Seth Rollins could talk about that time his wiener ended up on the internet on camera! The Wyatt Family could get waaaay darker. Everybody could use swear words whenever they felt like! And there'd be blood everywhere!
So really, aside from some superficial differences, WWE would be basically the same. Except the IWC wouldn’t be able to blame PG restrictions when they didn’t like a given episode of Raw or a PPV, or what have you.
1 WWE Would Be A Better Show
Let’s face it - these days, WWE has no competition. It's a monopoly. There are plenty of excellent independent promotions out there, but none of them have the financial resources to touch WWE's visibility. As much as internet fans complain about the product, the fact that the WWE isn’t collectively half-assing it way, way more often and way, way harder than they do demonstrates that at the end of the day, more people at the company care about not sucking than we give them credit for.
However, with ECW biting at their heels, just as WCW once did, WWE wouldn’t be able to get away with half-assing it at all, ever.
If only someone would try to revive the original ECW, outside of McMahon’s or Dixie Carter's self-serving clutches, and present the magic of extreme, to a whole new generation.