Long before the era of PG wrestling that the WWE currently uses, pro wrestling was something that couldn’t exactly be described as family friendly. Not only did the Attitude Era of the (then) WWF push the boundaries of sex and violence when it came to what was acceptable television, but Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was actually pioneering the same concepts in bingo halls and dimly lit arenas years prior.
ECW was Paul Heyman’s creation, and he wanted a wrestling promotion that felt real. The violence and language were cranked up to 11, and bloodthirsty fans ate it up. Although ECW would never achieve the mainstream success that the WWF and WCW both obtained, it still carved out a small but fiercely loyal fanbase. When it eventually folded (and even before that), many ECW wrestlers made the jump to the Big Two. But while guys like Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam, and The Dudley Boyz all had successful runs in the WWE, there are a number of other ECW legends that failed to ever make a mark outside the ECW Arena.
12. Tommy Dreamer
If anyone in ECW could be described as a “company man,” it has to be Tommy Dreamer. He spent eight years with the company between 1993 and 2001, winning their World and Tag Team titles. He feuded with almost every one of ECW’s biggest stars and is considered by many wrestling fans to be the “heart and soul” of the ECW spirit.
When ECW eventually closed down and was purchased by the WWE, Dreamer came along to represent ECW in the WWE’s brand split, which included Raw, SmackDown, and ECW. After a brief stupid gimmick change that had him be “just a regular guy,” he brought back the “Innovator of Violence” persona and won the WWE Hardcore title a massive 14 times. Unfortunately, no one really considers that a real title (it was created as a gag gift for Mankind, after all). He was never considered a main eventer and never won a “real” championship in the WWE. He’s now (mostly) retired and continues to work backstage for the WWE.
Rhino only appeared briefly in ECW, but his tough-as-nails persona and his Gore finishing move were both instantly over with fans. After an early run as Television Champion, Rhino embarked on a lengthy feud with the Sandman, getting over huge with heel tactics such as giving Rhino Driver (piledriver) to the Lori, the Sandman’s wife and valet. The two would battle for the ECW World title on multiple occasions, when their rivalry was cut short due to the company folding. Fun fact: Rhino is actually company’s last World and Television champion, if you don’t count when the WWE revived the brand after purchasing ECW’s assets.
Rhino signed with the WWE after the demise of ECW and swapped the “i” in his wrestling name out for a “y” instead. We’ll admit that Rhyno had some moderate success in the WWE (which is why he’s so low on this list), winning the United States championship and the SmackDown Tag Team championship once apiece. He would even eventually go on to win the NWA World Championship in TNA Wrestling after leaving the WWE. But he never quite recovered his position as a monster heel like he was in ECW.
10. Steve Corino
Steve Corino actually made his debut in ECW as a manager, one that would condemn the company’s hardcore style as dangerous and barbaric. His lectures about “ultra violence” and “immoral conduct” would cause the audience to rain down boos (and other more vulgar insults). He would eventually win the ECW World Heavyweight title in a Double Jeoprady match against Justin Credible, Jerry Lynn, and the Sandman.
After leaving ECW, he signed a contract with WCW. Which may have worked out, but he never actually appeared for the company, since they were taken over by WWE just weeks later. Since then, he has mostly worked for smaller independent promotions (although he did make brief appearances in TNA and Ring of Honor). He currently works for the WWE as a trainer at the Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. Fun fact: I once saw Steve Corino wrestle in front of 25 people in a crappy old banquet hall in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. It was a blast.
9. Mike Awesome
It’s almost a surprise that Mike Awesome was never given a serious push in the WWE. After all, at 6’6″ and almost 300-pounds, he fit the profile that Vince McMahon seems to love. And in ECW, the monstrous Mike Awesome was a force to be reckoned with. His most memorable feud was with Masato Tanaka, one that carried over into the United States from their time together in Japan’s Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. In ECW, Awesome and Tanaka had a series of amazingly brutal and violent matches. Later, Awesome would win the ECW World Heavyweight title from Taz.
In April 2010, Mike Awesome made a surprise appearance on WCW Nitro — an interesting turn of events considering he was still ECW champion at the time. A few weeks later, in one wrestling’s strangest title changes, Awesome was convinced to come back to ECW and drop the belt to Taz (who was now a WWE employee). His time in WCW was a complete failure, as he was handed numerous terrible gimmicks, including the infamous “Fat Chick Thrilla” shtick and “That 70’s Guy.” He would return to the WWE as part of their Invasion angle in 2001, but fizzled out shortly after that. Sadly, Awesome took his own life in 2007 at just 42-years-old.
8. Jerry Lynn
Jerry Lynn is another former ECW champion that failed to catch on in any of the bigger promotions. Without question, the highlight of his entire wrestling career was a lengthy feud with Rob Van Dam for the ECW World Television title. His gimmick as the “The New F’N Show” was the perfect counter to RVD’s “Whole F’N Show” routine. He would also win the ECW World title from Justin Credible in 2000, although he only held it for about a month.
Lynn had four different stints with the WWE, and never amounted to anything more than a Light Heavyweight championship victory on Sunday Night Heat. That belt (and that show) was a short-lived disaster for the WWE. He bounced around from TNA to RoH, and various indies in between. He never again captured that ECW spark though, despite winning the RoH World Championship and the NWA Tag Team and TNA X Division titles.
7. Spike Dudley
This one may be a little bit of a stretch, since Spike Dudley can only be called an ECW superstar if we’re being really generous with the term. Nevertheless, Spike debuted in ECW as a member of the Dudley family, all 5’8″ and 160-pounds of him. He was quickly booked as the “Giant Killer,” taking on much bigger opponents. In a now-famous moment, Bam Bam Bigelow literally throw poor little Spike into the crowd, who proceeded to body surf him around the ECW Arena. He had a memorable ECW World Heavyweight title match against Mike Awesome in 2000, which featured great build up. Too bad the match was mostly just Awesome rag-dolling the much smaller Dudley for 15 minutes.
When ECW folded, Spike Dudley came aboard with the WWE. He initially joined Bubba and D-Von as the third member of the Dudleyz, but eventually they turned on him (again) and he was partnered with numerous different wrestlers in an attempt to get him over as part of a tag team. He even managed to win the tag titles once (with Tazz), but was otherwise relegated to lower- or mid-card status, winning the European Championship once, but mostly just competing for the WWE Hardcore championship.
Sabu is one of the true ECW legends. The homicidal, suicidal, genocidal.. death-defying maniac first broke into the ECW scene in 1993 as an uncontrollable madman. We would be wheeled to the ring strapped to a gurney while wearing a Hannibal Lector-style mask on his face. His in-ring style was just an wild, and he became synonymous with breaking tables and performing dangerous aerial maneuvers. Sabu captured the ECW World Heavyweight, World Television, and World Tag Team titles during his time with the company.
Sabu had a brief stint in WCW in 1995, but returned to ECW for the next five years. He would eventually get a chance in the WWE, as they attempted to resurrect the ECW brand for their One Night Stand pay-per-view. He had a match against Rey Mysterio at that event and a botched table spot finish resulted in no-contest and a nasty concussion for Mysterio. Sabu mostly appeared on forgotten shows like ECW on Sci Fi and Saturday Night Main Event. We never won a single title in either WCW or WWE and was last seen roaming the independent circuit.
5. The Sandman
It really shouldn’t be a surprise that The Sandman never got over anywhere else but ECW. After all, the beer-swigging, kendo stick-swinging, ultra violent idiot of a character embodied literally everything about ECW that fans loved — he was truly “one of us.” His epic ring entrances, where the entire ECW Arena would belt out Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” while the Sandman would pound beers and crash the cans on his forehead, always meant that he was bleeding badly before the match even started. He became a cult hero and a five-time ECW World Heavyweight champion (which is still a record).
The Sandman would briefly appear in WCW, although under a different name (for legal reasons). Unfortunately, WCW watered down his character so much that fans quickly lost interest. Later, he was brought in to the WWE as part of the One Night Stand PPV and ECW on Sci Fi brand revivial. He hung around the WWE for a couple of years, never winning a title and never achieving the popularity of his ECW heyday. After all, the WWE had crafted their own beer drinking, take no prisoners, don’t trust anyone hero in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Who needed the Sandman after that?
4. New Jack
New Jack never won the ECW World Heavyweight title like most of the other wrestlers on this list (although he was a three-time Tag Team champ). Despite the lack of championship gold, he was probably the most violent character in the entire ECW locker room. His “matches” generally consisted of him attacking his opponent with a variety of weapons (which he brought to the ring in a shopping cart) while his theme song “Natural Born Killas” played on loop until the match was over.
New Jack was a legitimate bad dude, though. He often went out of his way to purposely hurt and injure his opponent, including the infamous “Mass Transit Incident” and the time he threw Vic Grimes off a scaffold that was 40-feet above the ring. It’s no surprise that neither WCW or WWE wanted anything to do with New Jack, and he quickly faded from the scene after ECW folded (other than the occasional appearance in TNA Wrestling).
3. Mikey Whipwreck
On appearances alone, Mikey Whipwreck should have never been a star of any wrestling organization. He didn’t look like a wrestling star and really only got his start in the business by offering to be a part of ECW’s ring crew and work for free. Eventually, Mick Foley took him under his wing and began to train him. Although he started as nothing more than an ECW jobber, he eventually worked his way up to win multiple ECW titles, including a memorable World Heavyweight title win against the Sandman in a ladder match. It’s also interesting to note that he is generally considered the innovator of the Whipper Snapper, a finishing move you might know better as the Stone Cold Stunner (Steve Austin was in ECW at the same time as Whipwreck).
Whipwreck would make a surprise appearance in WCW in 1999, but left after less than a year of wasting away in the cruiserweight or hardcore divisions. A return to ECW would see him rise to popularity as one-half of a tag team with Tajiri, the Japanese Buzzsaw (who also probably deserves an honorable mention nod on this list). When ECW folded, the WWE did not offer Whipwreck a job. He worked the independent scene for a while and then retired in 2015.
2. Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas has been around the wrestling business since the late 80s, and has worked for almost all of the major players, including WCW, WWF, ECW, and TNA. He got his start in WCW as one-half of the Dynamic Dudes tag team, a pair of skateboarding cool dudes with Johnny Ace. That gimmick tanked quickly, and Douglas moved over to the WWF, where he was mostly a jobber for a year or so. A brief return to WCW (that earned him a Tag Team championship with Ricky Steamboat, of all people) followed before he signed on with ECW.
Douglas arrived when ECW was still known as “Eastern Championship Wrestling,” although it would be changed to “Extreme” shortly afterwards. He gave himself the nickname “The Franchise” and quickly became their World Heavyweight champion. In 1995, he again signed with the WWE and was given the awful gimmick of Dean Douglas, a college headmaster character. He would lecture fans and “grade” the performance of his rivals, issuing report cards. It was terrible.
Douglas would go back to ECW in 1996 and would win further gold. Despite (yet another) stint in WCW and appearances in smaller promotions like XPW and TNA, Douglas is still best remembered by most fans as “The Franchise” of early ECW.
Out of all the wrestlers on this list, Taz’s rapid drop in relevance after his time in ECW was over makes us the saddest. Despite his short stature (he was just 5’9″), Taz was a legitimate wrestling machine. He had tremendous upper body strength and was taking people to Suplex City when Brock Lesnar was still in elementary school. He had the perfect look as the no-nonsense tough guy, and he won everything there was to win in ECW – a two-time World Television champion, a three-time World Tag Team champion, a two-time World Heavyweight champion, and a two-time FTW Heavyweight champion. He was the fourth (and final) ECW Triple Crown winner.
His debut in the WWF was met with huge excitement, at first. He arrived at the 2000 Royal Rumble and beat down the then-undefeated Kurt Angle in the middle of Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, that first day on the job was also the highlight of his WWE career. Although he would claim the Tag Team titles once (with Spike Dudley as his partner), the monster that was Taz became a weak mid-carder known as Tazz. After numerous injuries ended his career earlier than expected, he became a decent color commentator for the WWE. Later, he would work for TNA as a manager. Currently, Taz maintains a successful podcast called The Taz Show.