As one of the biggest wrestling promotions of the 1990s, Extreme Championship Wrestling continues to stand the test of time as among the more original wrestling companies ever produced.
A promotion with a well-developed cult following of fans, ECW was a very different organization upon its foundation in 1992. Compared to the more mainstream companies like WCW and WWE, ECW was run almost underground, overseeing some of the most violent and brutal matches of its time.
While it never achieved the same reputation or name recognition as its main competitors, fans’ love and appreciation for ECW’s product allowed it to live on in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans over the next few decades. The promotion’s success even led to it playing a critical role in WWE’s 2001 Invasion storyline, with WWE going so far as to relaunch the company from 2006 to 2010.
As with any wrestling promotion, ECW’s talented wrestlers helped establish the company as an entertaining alternative to WCW and WWE. From hardcore high-fliers to out-and-out brawlers, here are some of the best wrestlers to ever compete in ECW.
15. New Jack
Even compared to his fellow competitors at the height of ECW’s popularity, New Jack had managed to secure a largely controversial reputation among the wrestling world in the late ’90s. Nowadays, that reputation has bordered onto full-on notoriety — with many considering New Jack one of the most genuinely dangerous pro wrestlers ever to compete.
Still, like many wrestlers on this list, you can’t deny New Jack brought a deal of believability and unpredictability whenever he made his way to the ring. And what’s more, he genuinely came across as someone who could physically dominate his opponents if he wanted to — which, more often than not, was precisely the case.
14. Mike Awesome
Like Brock Lesnar today, Mike Awesome was a man of great agility and speed, capable of some fantastic athletic feats despite his imposing size. Diving through the ropes, over guard rails, and from the top rope, never before had someone so large managed to move so quickly and easily through the ring.
Awesome never had the outright charisma to make him a standalone star of the same magnitude as RVD or Shane Douglas. He simply lacked the panache or gimmick to coincide with his impressive in-ring work ethic (perhaps explaining his lack of success when he tried transitioning to WCW and, later, WWE).
However, from a purely performance standpoint, he was one of the best and most athletic talents ever to step foot in ECW — his bouts with his arch-rival, Masato Tanaka, being clear evidence of this fact.
13. Mikey Whipwreck
ECW’s roster was bursting with wrestlers who seemed like they had just walked out of the crowd, hopped in the ring, and decided to wrestle a match. Classic examples of this include Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman, but the one wrestler who was perhaps the most compelling was the young up-and-comer Mikey Whipwreck.
Bold and frequently decked out in worn-in athletic gear, Whipwreck quickly established himself as a skilled rookie who demonstrated a fierce never-say-die attitude, refusing to yield to his larger, frequently older competitors. It was this demeanor of Whipwreck’s that ultimately earned him such widespread admiration from fans, everyone cheering young Mikey on whenever he went up against veterans like Sandman or Raven.
12. Jerry Lynn
Sadly, Jerry Lynn has never enjoyed the same exposure as his principal rival, RVD. With his critical backstage roles at AEW today, his influence on the world of wrestling has slowly earned him more recognition — and evaluating his time in ECW, you realize there’s no wrestler more deserving of praise than Lynn.
What separates Lynn from most other wrestlers is his seamless ability to adapt to any style match his opponent favored. All at once, he could be hitting high-flying moves against RVD, wrestling a more technical mat-based grappling match against Lance Storm, or using tables and chairs to his advantage against someone like Steve Corino.
Wholly underappreciated at the time, he could’ve gone on to have memorable feuds against Rhyno, Taz, or Sabu — but no matter what, at least we have his standout matches with RVD to revisit.
11. Bam Bam Bigelow
One of the most accomplished wrestlers to compete in ECW, by the time Bam Bam Bigelow arrived at Paul Heyman’s company in 1996, he was already an established star worldwide. Wrestling in NJPW, WWF, and WCW, Bigelow had successfully honed his skills in the decade before signing with ECW, having garnered a reputation as both a physically imposing yet incredibly agile 400-pound behemoth.
A vastly underrated worker throughout his career, it was in ECW that Bigelow finally achieved the solo success and championship victories that had eluded him in every other company he had competed in previously. Like Terry Funk’s participation in the company, Bigelow’s presence in the fledgling organization brought a good deal of legitimacy to ECW, providing ECW with some of its most shocking moments and all-time great matches.
As with so many wrestlers on this list, Rhyno never managed to secure lasting success when he ventured to other wrestling promotions like WWE or TNA after ECW shuttered its doors. But within ECW, the Man-Beast made an immediate impact upon his 1999 debut. One of the better wrestlers to appear in the company’s final years, Rhyno’s clear in-ring abilities led to him almost immediately receiving a title push, feuding against main event stars like Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman.
A brutal enforcer type with in-your-face intensity, Rhyno truly embraced his animalistic moniker, showing opponents and viewers alike why he was the War Machine. If he had arrived to ECW earlier, he might’ve been considered one of the best — just imagine what a match between Rhyno and Shane Douglas, Jerry Lynn, or Bam Bam Bigelow would’ve been like.
As it is, he was still one of the most impressive main event players in ECW before the company barred its doors.
9. Terry Funk
No other wrestler who signed with ECW had the career longevity or worldwide recognition as Terry Funk. A veteran wrestler who competed for NWA, All Japan, WWF, WCW, and IWA, Funk was considered one of the best wrestlers of the 1980s.
That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that Funk signing onto Paul Heyman’s then-burgeoning promotion was instantly a big deal. Unsurprisingly, too, Funk’s hardcore style of wrestling that he’d pioneered in the years prior fit in perfectly with the more violent, street fight-style matches of ECW.
By the late ’90s, Funk’s best years were certainly behind him. But his matches in ECW showed he still had just enough left in the gas for some memorable bouts against some of ECW’s most famous faces — including Sabu, Cactus Jack, and Shane Douglas.
8. The Sandman
No single wrestler encapsulated ECW’s unique hardcore style of wrestling than The Sandman. ECW’s equivalent of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the beer-guzzling Sandman looked and acted like a berserk fan who had a few too many and decided to hop the guard rail — fittingly describing his exact entrance to the ring.
Between his nondescript street clothing and penchant for literally smashing beer cans into his own head, he looked and acted like the new breed of wrestlers ECW were creating — bold, brash, and as tough as they come. Like New Jack or Tommy Dreamer, he looked like someone who could genuinely hurt his opponents, adding an element of realism to ECW that helped it stand apart from more traditional wrestling outlets like WWE and WCW.
7. The Dudley Boyz
ECW had a plethora of memorable tag teams since its inception in 1992. As great as certain duos like The Public Enemy were, though, no team has had as varied and eventful a career as those table-smashing maniacs, The Dudley Boyz.
Of course, The Dudley Boyz were one of the few ECW wrestlers who would go on to achieve immediate success in WWE (thanks almost entirely to their era-defining feud with The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian). However, their original ECW incarnation was nothing to scoff at either, existing as a more unrestrained version of their later, tuned-down WWE selves.
Perhaps the greatest villain ECW ever had, Raven was a wrestling personality that was far ahead of his time. Utilizing a ’90s grunge persona, Raven was like ECW’s punk rock version of Jake ‘the snake’ Roberts. One of the most skilled wrestlers to cut a promo of his day, Raven’s impeccable mic skills and gimmick work have only grown more respected with time.
Far from just being a talking mouth and relying on a sharp gimmick, though, Raven also had the wrestling style to back up all his strange euphemisms and disturbing phrases he enacted on the mic. His rivalries against Sandman and Tommy Dreamer are without a doubt some of the best feuds to ever come out of ECW, with Raven himself the biggest personality to ever grace ECW’s stage.
Before Samoa Joe, there was the Human Suplex Machine, Taz. ECW’s resident technical wrestler, Taz was a drastically different kind of wrestler in Paul Heyman’s startup. He didn’t have the high-flying moveset as RVD or Sabu, nor did he have the everyman quality of Tommy Dreamer or Mikey Whipwreck.
Instead, he looked and acted like a more traditional wrestler — although one whose style of wrestling blended extraordinarily well with ECW’s content. Standing in the ring with his arms crossed and a permanent scowl on his face ahead of his matches, you just knew you were going to see a hard-fought wrestling bout every time Taz was involved.
4. Shane Douglas
Having made a name for himself in WCW and, to a lesser extent, WWE, Shane Douglas was the ideal candidate to headline ECW in the mid ’90s — just around the same time the company really started to take off.
Dubbing himself “The Franchise,” Douglas was the kind of sports entertainer fans had long associated with WWE and WCW. Seeing the purity of his in-ring performance in the middle of an ECW ring was like seeing a more traditional ’80s wrestler (think Ric Flair) invade the company, viewing himself superior to his competitors and looking down his nose at the spectators at ringside.
Fans hated him, and for good reason — he was just that fun to hate. But no matter what, he showed everyone that he truly was ECW’s franchise player, the best villain the organization ever had.
3. Tommy Dreamer
Under the tutelage of his mentor, Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer quickly rose to prominence as one of the main stars of ECW’s roster. Battling some of ECW’s most famous wrestlers, Dreamer’s uniquely violent matches against Raven and Sandman have became the stuff of legend in hardcore wrestling, with everyone from Jon Moxley to Eddie Kingston owing him a debt of gratitude.
Having been around the company during its earliest days, Dreamer demonstrated a loyalty to ECW’s product that few wrestlers exemplify today. (It’s no accident that Dreamer’s often called “the Heart and Soul of ECW.”) His in-ring work was fantastic, his mic work worthy of praise.
If ECW had kept its doors open a bit longer, it would’ve been almost certain that Dreamer became as world-renowned a performer in ECW as Sting was in WCW.
When you look at the landscape of hardcore wrestling, no one — and I mean, no one — came close to encapsulating the word “hardcore” than the “Homicidal, Suicidal, Death-Defying Maniac,” Sabu. Trained by his uncle, The Original Sheik (who also happened to be one of the original practitioners of hardcore wrestling), Sabu was virtually destined to become a star in ECW, fitting into the company about as well as Steve Austin fit in with the Attitude Era.
Like his regular rival, RVD, Sabu was a high-flying act who was willing to sacrifice his own body time and time again in his matches, embodying a “victory or death” mentality that made him one of the toughest competitors in ECW.
The injuries he sustained in the ring are enough to make Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger grow queasy, proving that — even by ECW’s standards — few were as demented and sadistic as Sabu.
1. Rob Van Dam
One of the best wrestlers of all time, there is no other wrestler quite like Rob Van Dam. Relying on his natural flexibility, agility, speed, and martial arts background, Van Dam effectively combined high-flying and hardcore style into a singularly marvelous combination.
A gifted speaker in his promos and a vastly superior talent in the ring, Van Dam set a high bar for virtually every wrestler to pass through ECW — a bar set so high, few even attempted to surpass it. His years with the promotion gave way to an extremely decorated career, with Mr. Monday Night holding practically every championship the company offered at some point or another.
At his peak in 1997, it wouldn’t even be an exaggeration to call him the greatest wrestler in the world — standing tall with other renowned talents like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).
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