Before his client, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, faces Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 34, Paul Heyman looks back at The Conqueror's victory over Goldberg from WrestleMania 33.04/05/2018 - 13:00
Top 30 ECW stars
In the early 1990s, the landscape of sports-entertainment had become littered with cartoonish characters and stale programming. Longtime fans were clamoring for a change. Something more intense. Something more innovative. Something more extreme.
Enter Paul Heyman. In 1993, Tod Gordon handed operations of his small, northeastern promotion to the brash New Yorker with a brilliant mind. Rebranding Eastern Championship Wresting as Extreme Championship Wrestling, Heyman sought to redefine professional wrestling in the same way Nirvana changed rock music. The mad scientist molded the organization into his vision for what sports-entertainment needed to become, and a hardcore revolution was born.
Still, for all of Heyman’s genius, it was ECW’s hardened competitors that drew fans to dingy bingo halls and armories. A dozen years since ECW closed its doors, WWE.com set out to rank the Top 30 ECW Stars in history with these criteria:
- Eligibility began on Aug. 27, 1994, the date that Shane Douglas threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and declared the company was to be known as Extreme Championship Wrestling. The early reigns of Jimmy Snuka and Johnny Hotbody were not taken into account.
- Competitors were rated only on their accomplishments while in ECW, so the achievements of Bodydonna Skip in WWE or Hardcore Hak in WCW had no bearing on the placements of Chris Candido and The Sandman.
- Rankings were based on everything from championship successes to cultural impact. Unfortunately, with all due respect to Francine, Bill Alfonso, Joel Gertner and the many other personalities who played integral parts in ECW’s success, managers and valets didn’t make the cut.
Now, here are the 30 greatest Superstars in ECW history as written by a team of editors, an “Innovator of Violence,” a WWE Hall of Famer and ”The Extreme Announcer” who saw it all.
On Feb. 25, 1992, Philadelphia native Stevie Richards competed in the first-ever ECW match and never looked back. The master of the jaw-jacking Stevie Kick went on to capture two ECW World Tag Team Titles with Raven and, perhaps more importantly, won the calloused hearts of ECW fans with a wildly popular parody of The nWo, The Blue World Order. Alongside Da Blue Guy and Hollywood Nova, Big Stevie Cool brought some much needed fun to the stern world of ECW.
Clad in denim cut-offs and a half shirt, Richards didn’t resemble the typical ECW antihero, but the Philly fans were squarely behind Stevie when he competed against hardcore icons Terry Funk and The Sandman in a Three Way Dance for an ECW Title opportunity at 1997’s Barely Legal. Richards ultimately lost the bout and suffered a debilitating neck injury soon after, but he fought back to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a WWE Superstar. — JOEY STYLES
Billed from Nutley, N.J., Balls Mahoney wasn’t a traditional mat grappler, but few competitors entertained ECW fans as much as the toothless 310-pounder who would lead crowds in AC/DC sing-alongs. Each time Balls landed a punch on an opponent, fans would chant his name with glee. Clad in torn denim shorts and a sleeveless tee, Balls was never seen without his trusty steel chair in hand, ready to crush the skulls of opponents at any moment.
As popular as Balls was on his own, he found true success alongside a myriad of unique tag partners, including Spike Dudley, Masato Tanaka and New Jack. His most well-known pairing was with Axl Rotten, however. Although they never won the ECW Tag Team Titles, The Hardcore Chair Swingin’ Freaks were as extreme as any, and satiated the rabid fanbase’s appetite for mindless destruction. — ZACH LINDER
Driven to the brink of insanity by his time in WWE as Leif Cassidy, Al Snow found comfort in the form of a disembodied mannequin head. Simply named Head, the inanimate object supposedly spoke to Snow and inconceivably helped him become one of the most popular stars in ECW’s history.
The ECW faithful were firmly behind the unstable competitor as he pursued the ECW World Championship. They flocked to arenas with white Styrofoam heads in hand, shaking them in time to Snow’s thumping entrance music. When the mad grappler entered the ring, the fans tossed their heads at the squared circle, creating a “Snow” storm of Styrofoam before the bell rang.
Although Snow was unsuccessful against ECW Champion Shane Douglas at WrestlePalooza 1998, he now had a passionate group of fans that followed him when he rejoined WWE that summer. — BOBBY MELOK
Steve Corino entered ECW as an anti-hardcore crusader. Dubbing himself “The King of Old School,” Corino led a one-man rally against extreme warfare in favor of a more traditional, mat-based style of wrestling. His campaign put him on a collision course with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. “The King of Old School” bravely took on Rhodes at his own game, a vicious Bullrope Match at Living Dangerously 2000, earning the respect of the WWE Hall of Famer and the ECW faithful in the process.
Later that year, Corino surprisingly reached the top of the extreme mountain, emerging from a Double Jeopardy Match as the new ECW Champion. Corino held the title until ECW’s final pay-per-view, Guilty as Charged 2001, when he lost it to The Sandman. Still, the hardworking grappler’s evolution from pure wrestling enthusiast to expert brawler remains one of the highlights of ECW’s dying days. — B.M.
After his tenure in WWE as Bodydonna Skip, Chris Candido entered ECW trying to decide who he should be in the hostile Philly environment. He didn’t take too long to figure that out. The bleach blond, tanned and ripped grappler declared himself “No Gimmicks Needed” and competed in simple black trunks and boots.
His plain ring gear was the antithesis of his brash personality, which made him a perfect fit in the Triple Threat alongside Shane Douglas and Bam Bam Bigelow. Candido’s confidence rubbed many the wrong way, including his tag team partner, Lance Storm. Although Candido attempted to groom the serious Canadian to become the newest Triple Threat member, their conflicting personalities became too much to overcome. The duo won the ECW Tag Team Titles, but they often ended up wrestling each other after their title defenses. — B.M.
At the same time Mr. McMahon and Eric Bischoff were signing multi-million dollar checks to grab sports-entertainment’s top talent during The Monday Night War, Paul Heyman was overseeing a veritable “Island of Misfit Toys” in the ECW locker room. Among those competitors who had either burned every bridge in professional wrestling or never had the opportunity to cross one stood Justin Credible.
The smug kid who flopped in WWE as “The Portuguese Man O’ War” was reborn in Philly as an unapologetic iconoclast who traded in his yellow tights for the unofficial ECW uniform of a sleeveless T-shirt and jean shorts. Flanked by an oddball posse of female bodybuilder Nicole Bass and “The Sexiest Man Alive” Jason, Credible won two ECW Tag Team Titles alongside Lance Storm and dispatched Extreme icons like The Sandman and Sabu all while thumbing his nose at the audience. Credible’s mere presence was enough to incite a near riot in the ECW Arena, but the self-righteous jerk truly enraged the ECW faithful when he beat Tommy Dreamer for the ECW Championship only minutes after Tommy’s emotional victory. — RYAN MURPHY
The runt of the Dudley litter, Spike never backed down from a fight, often to his detriment. Bubba Ray, D-Von and the rest of the Dudley clan beat their pint-sized brother around, but it didn’t stop Spike from going after the biggest, meanest competitors ECW had to offer. In one of ECW’s signature moments, Spike stepped up to Bam Bam Bigelow, but The Beast from the East threw Spike into the crowd, which promptly body-surfed him around the arena.
When his brothers left ECW, Spike stayed behind, finding his own way. He won the ECW Tag Team Titles on two occasions before resuming his role as the company’s giant slayer. Spike valiantly challenged ECW Champion Mike Awesome for his crown at Guilty as Charged 2000, though he came up short. Still, the Extreme faithful looked up to Spike for his unabashed bravery. — B.M.
Canadian grappler Lance Storm honed his craft in Canada, Japan and regional promotions across the United States. It wasn’t until he made his way to Philadelphia, though, that he really captured the attentions of fans across the world. When Storm joined ECW, his no-nonsense demeanor and flawless technical abilities made him standout among the chair-swinging freaks in the locker room.
Although he became an ECW Tag Team Champion with Chris Candido, Storm truly left his mark on the organization when he joined forces with his protégé Justin Credible to become The Impact Players. Accompanied by Dawn Marie and Jason, Storm and Credible won the ECW Tag Team Titles on two occasions and were regarded as one of the most dominant duos in the organization’s history. Storm never held a singles championship, but his ECW experience helped him flourish as a singles star in WCW. — KEVIN POWERS
ECW often brought in stars from abroad to showcase their unique styles to the hardcore faithful. But few adapted to the extreme technique like Masato Tanaka. A veteran of FMW, a hardcore promotion in Japan, Tanaka left the Land of the Rising Sun for ECW in 1999 and made an immediate impact. Showing that he could deal out chair shots just as hard as Balls Mahoney, the tenacious competitor teamed with the hardcore, chair-swinging freak to capture the ECW Tag Team Titles.
Tanaka then rekindled his biggest feud from Japan, standing up to monstrous ECW World Champion Mike Awesome. On the Christmas Eve 1999 edition of ECW on TNN, he was given a title opportunity against his rival. Tanaka leveled the giant with his trademark Roaring Elbow to become the first foreign-born ECW Champion. — B.M.
For as much as its detractors tried to portray ECW as the land of barbaric blood-and-guts fighting and nothing more, nobody could deny some the world’s best technical wrestling took place in the ECW Arena — thanks, in large part, to Eddie Guerrero. Alongside Dean Malenko and 2 Cold Scorpio, the WWE Hall of Famer helped establish the ECW Television Championship as the prize of choice for wrestling purists in the mid-1990s.
Amid the broken tables and dented chairs, Latino Heat — who had already found championship success in Japan and Mexico by the time he arrived in ECW — Frog Splashed his way to two separate TV Title reigns, as well as prominence in the United States for the first time. Guerrero’s series of matches with Malenko, particularly their 2-out-of-3 falls send-off in August 1995, set the standard for a hybrid mat wrestling/high-flying style of action that inspired an entire generation of future Superstars. — JOHN CLAPP
These days, Mick Foley is best known for pulling a sock out of his sweatpants. But in ECW, The Hardcore Legend earned his nickname through blood, sweat and tears, all while wearing a pair of leopard-skin boots.
Cactus Jack first arrived in ECW as one-half of the WCW Tag Team Champions during a brief talent exchange with the Ted Turned–owned organization. His brutal encounters with Sabu, viewed by fans as “dream matches” at the time, led to the soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer joining ECW on a more permanent basis.
In a bizarre twist, the man from Truth or Consequences, N.M., denounced his former hardcore ways. Philly crowds turned their back on the future WWE Champion in response, inspiring the sadistic Cactus to deliver some of the most emotional interviews in the history of wrestling. On the microphone or with a barbed wire bat, Cactus was hardcore whether he liked it or not. — Z.L.
Yoshihiro Tajiri earned his reputation as “The Japanese Buzzsaw” long before he became a WWE Tag Team Champion. Honing his craft in both the lucha libre and Japanese style of competition, Tajiri first made an impact in ECW with an innovative moveset and manic mannerisms that drew comparisons to his legendary role model, The Great Muta.
Although he wowed against opponents like Jerry Lynn and Little Guido, Tajiri’s most memorable rivalry was against Super Crazy. The hyper luchador and The Japanese Buzzsaw blew audiences away with an inventive series of rapid-paced matches that stole shows throughout 1999. Tajiri’s abilities earned him an opportunity to capture the ECW World Title, first against Tazz and later Justin Credible. He never captured the championship, but the Japanese standout did win the ECW Television Championship in 2000. — K.P.
Few Superstars in history have been as technically gifted as Dean Malenko. Although he achieved a great deal of national success in WCW, Malenko established his formidable reputation in ECW beginning in 1994. A two-time Television Champion and one-time ECW Tag Team Champion, Malenko battled the likes of 2 Cold Scorpio, Sabu and Tazz and displayed steely tactical prowess and technical abilities that earned him the nickname “The Shooter.”
In 1995, Malenko’s rivalry with Eddie Guerrero in the ECW Arena became an international phenomenon. Their epic clashes over the ECW TV Title raised the standard for technical wrestling in America and became the stuff of sports-entertainment legend. In their final battle in ECW before moving to WCW, Guerrero and Malenko battled in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match that was, perhaps, the greatest bout in ECW history. Although the harsh ECW fans had jeered the exiting competitors at the start of the match, the night ended with the Philly crowd chanting, “Please don’t go!” — K.P.
Named after Roman and Greek gods, Boston badasses Saturn and Kronus went from dominating the streets of Beantown’s “Combat Zone” to learning the ropes at WWE Hall of Famer Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school. It wasn’t long before The Eliminators caught the eye of Paul Heyman and began dominating ECW’s tag team division from the very start.
Mixing aerial ability with martial arts mastery, Saturn & Kronus spent their time in ECW racking up victories against top teams like Rob Van Dam & Sabu, The Steiner Brothers and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams & Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy. Utilizing a decapitating double-team finishing maneuver dubbed Total Elimination, the tandem may be best remembered for competing in the opening contest of ECW’s first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, winning the ECW World Tag Team Titles from The Dudley Boyz in what looked like a highlight reel. — J.S.
Had the imposing Mike Awesome not found the ultimate rival in a stocky, fearless brawler named Masato Tanaka, there’s a sad chance that the two-time ECW Champion would best be remembered for his goofy turn in WCW as “That ’70s Guy.” Thankfully, the 300-pounder from Tampa, Fla., and his Japanese nemesis became cult icons through a series of matches that were the most physically intense contests seen in North America since Cactus Jack’s war with Vader in WCW.
ECW fans got their first glimpse of Awesome on Feb. 5, 1994, when he nearly snapped the hapless JT Smith in half with a reckless dive. But it wasn’t until five years later at Anarchy Rulz on Sept. 19, 1999, that he took his rightful place atop the ECW pecking order after beating Tazz and Tanaka to win the ECW Title. From there, Awesome leaped over the top rope and drove opponents through tables with a smashmouth style that raised the bar for big men in North America. Awesome’s shocking jump to WCW while still ECW Champion tarnished his Extreme legacy in the eyes of some, but his battles with Tanaka remain an undeniable part of the promotion’s history. — R.M.
Underappreciated and hidden under a mask as Mr. J.L. in WCW, Jerry Lynn was given his first opportunity to shine in ECW. Lynn spent four years mesmerizing live crowds and TV audiences with his ability to adapt to any wrestling style. Moving seamlessly between mat wrestling, high-flying and even tables, ladders and chairs contests, Lynn routinely stole shows against ECW standouts like Justin Credible, Mikey Whipwreck and Lance Storm.
It wasn’t until he tied up with Rob Van Dam, however, that the world found out just how great Jerry Lynn was. At that time, nobody had matched RVD’s speed, agility and athleticism, but Lynn pushed Van Dam to the limit every time they tangled. Before his ECW tenure was over, the dynamic competitor won the ECW World Heavyweight Championship in front of family and friends in The Twin Cities — a well-deserved honor for one of pro wrestling’s best. — J.S.
The fact that New Jack, an unapologetic ex-con who impaled opponents with a rusty staple gun, was a favorite of the ECW crowd tells you everything you need to know about the renegade promotion. Still, it’s hard to deny the down and dirty charm of the thug who brought a garbage can full of plunder to the ring while Ice Cube’s blistering “Natural Born Killaz” blared over arena loudspeakers.
Competing in matches that looked more like televised muggings than professional wrestling bouts, The Original Gangsta waffled rivals like Da Baldies, The Public Enemy and The Dudley Boyz with crutches, toaster ovens and even bowling balls. Although New Jack debuted alongside Mustafa as one-half of The Gangstas, the three-time ECW Tag Team Champion was always the center of the attention. After all, who could take their eyes off a man who was willing to throw his body off a 20-foot balcony just to punish the opponent below? — R.M.
In the early days of ECW, Mikey Whipwreck was spotted running the ropes while setting up the ring, which resulted in a tryout match that night. Undersized and overpowered, the scruffy youngster lost his early bouts without mustering any offense at all. Months later, however, Whipwreck defeated Pitbull #1 for the ECW World Television Championship. Just two weeks after losing the title, Mikey substituted for Terry Funk as Cactus Jack’s partner against The Public Enemy and shocked the ECW Arena by pinning Rocco Rock to win the ECW Tag Team Titles.
Whipwreck returned to singles competition and had more unexpected success. On Oct. 28, 1995, the underdog scored the second-greatest victory of his career by defeating The Sandman in a Ladder Match for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. In his very first title defense, Mikey scored the greatest victory of his career by pinning Steve Austin. And no, that’s not a typo. — J.S.
“GORE! GORE! GORE!” The Man Beast from The Motor City bulldozed his way into ECW and the national spotlight in 1999. Immediately matched up against main eventers, Rhyno struggled initially. But as veteran members of the ECW locker room jumped to WWE or WCW, ECW replenished its ranks with younger talent and Rhyno lead the charge — literally.
The Man Beast destroyed Extreme icons like Raven, Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman. At ECW’s final show Guilty as Charged 2001, Rhyno made history by becoming the only competitor to hold the ECW World Heavyweight and ECW World Television Championships simultaneously. The Man Beast then parlayed his ECW success into an impactful four-year career as a WWE Superstar, winning both the Hardcore and the United States Championship. — J.S.
Bam Bam Bigelow
For all the CM Punks and Brock Lesnars of the world, no competitor has been more of a “Paul Heyman Guy” than the near-400-pound monster from Asbury Park, N.J., known as Bam Bam Bigelow. Heyman discovered the former bounty hunter at a wrestling school and, as he revealed to WWE.com, knew that Bigelow “either had to find employment quickly or spend the rest of his adult life in jail.”
Heyman put Bam Bam to work, scheduling his wrestling debut at New York’s famed Studio 54 nightclub in 1985. In the following 10 years, The Beast from the East gained a reputation as one of the ring’s most gifted big men, built like an imposing bruiser but agile as a cruiserweight.
After main-eventing WrestleMania XI against Lawrence Taylor, Bam Bam finally reunited with Heyman in ECW in ’95, where he won both the ECW World Championship and the Television Championship. The tattooed competitor is responsible for creating some of the most iconic moments in the history of the organization, including hurling Spike Dudley from the ring to the crowd and crashing through the canvas with Tazz on his back. — Z.L.
If you could describe Terry Funk in one word, it’s “giving.” He’s given so much to the wrestling business. In ECW, he was the main veteran who was really trying to lend credibility to a bunch of unknowns. As a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, he had that legendary, iconic status where you could say his name and an arena would explode.
He’s been around wrestling his entire life and he saw that ECW was different. He was an amazing in-ring competitor and adapted with the times. In his 50s, he was doing moonsaults into the crowd. Terry never went out there said he was Superman. He admitted he was an old man among kids, but had a lot of fight left in him.
Terry Funk has done a lot for this business and he doesn’t get enough credit. But in ECW, we gave him all the credit in the world. — TOMMY DREAMER, as told to Z.L.
The Public Enemy
One of the first homegrown creations of the new-look “extreme” ECW in 1993, The Public Enemy duo of “Flyboy” Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge was emblematic of what set the Philly-based independent apart from the competition. Unglamorous almost to a fault, Rock & Grunge were gritty and contemporary, and in many ways they represented the bleak and aggressive outlook of inner-city America.
The team was never celebrated for its technical brilliance, but for whatever Rock & Grunge lacked in scientific skill, they more than made up for with tough-as-nails brawling ability. Wearing oversized sports jerseys and baggy athletic shorts, the four-time ECW Tag Team Champions brought table-breaking into the sports-entertainment vernacular. By the time they departed ECW in late 1995, P.E. had solidly won over the ECW faithful thanks to their freewheeling fights with The Gangstas, Dory & Terry Funk and Cactus Jack & Mikey Whipwreck. — J.C.
Raven was a perfect fit for the era of grunge in the ’90s. He was disenfranchised as a manager in WWE and wanted to reinvent himself. Paul [Heyman] thought he was going to jump right back to WWE, but Raven’s interviews and persona really connected huge. It was a perfect fit. He hit his stride in ECW and Raven took off.
Raven’s in-ring performance, his mind, his psychology at that time was great. In Raven’s first run in ECW, he was in his prime. He became Paul Heyman’s favorite persona. He had so many dimensions and his interviews were always right on the money. There was a three-year period when Raven did not have a bad match. He did nothing wrong in the ring. And in a rarity in the wrestling business, he remained a bad guy. He had a chip on his shoulder and liked to be the bad guy. You ask him how great he is, trust me, he’ll tell you. He had something to prove. And he did one hell of a job. — T.D., as told to Z.L.
After WCW failed to use him to his full potential, Shane Douglas arrived in the NWA’s Eastern Championship Wrestling as the fledgling promotion’s “Franchise.” As the ECW Champion, Douglas shocked the wrestling world when he won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in August 1994 and threw down the once prestigious title in the center of the ring. Douglas then hoisted his ECW Title in the air, proclaiming himself the ECW World Heavyweight Champion! That same night, history was made again as ECW was renamed Extreme Championship Wrestling.
“The Franchise” continued to use the microphone as a flame thrower, directing vitriolic tirades against sports-entertainment institutions like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. With the gorgeous Francine by his side and Bam Bam Bigelow and Chris Candido watching his back, Douglas ruled as ECW’s most dominant figure for almost five years until losing the ECW Title to Tazz in January 1999. — J.S.
The Dudley Boyz
During the glory days of ECW, the most despised villain wasn’t in pay-per-view main events competing for a singles championship against the organization’s top hero. The personalities who earned the fans’ most intense ire were a tag team: those damn Dudleys.
Bubba Ray and D-Von emerged as the standouts from a family of several other Dudley half-brothers. Together, the duo’s venom was unmatched as they incited riots by erupting a volcano of hostility toward their foes and fans alike. For all of the verbal punishment the Dudleys administered, they backed it up in the ring. Bubba and D-Von were crowned ECW Tag Team Champions on a record eight occasions, and opponents unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a Dudley Death Drop — through a flaming table or not — were never the same.
ECW afforded The Dudley Boyz the platform to hone their craft en route to becoming the most decorated tag team in wrestling history. But that doesn’t mean we have to like them. — Z.L.
If there is any one individual who exemplified the heart and soul of ECW, it was Tommy Dreamer. The Yonkers, N.Y., native began carving his legacy in Eastern Championship Wrestling as a grinning pretty boy in neon suspenders. But over the course of nine years in Philly, Dreamer revealed an unbreakable spirit as he stood strong in the face of adversity against The Sandman, Raven and The Dudley Boyz.
Known as The Innovator of Violence for his ingenious applications of tables, ladders and chairs, Dreamer had a quality unlike any other competitor in the organization — resilience. That trait, combined with his never-say-die attitude when in competition, endeared him to the passionate ECW fan base like no other man in the locker room could. A key member of the Extreme organization both in the ring and behind the scenes, Tommy remained with ECW until the day the company closed — proof that no competitor was ever more loyal. — HOWARD FINKEL
In the years since ECW’s demise, Tommy Dreamer has been recognized as the heart and soul of the defunct brand. During ECW’s glory days, though, there was one Superstar who personified the renegade spirit of the promotion: The Sandman.
With Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” pulsating through the arena, the hardcore brawler would make his way through the raucous crowd with Kendo stick in hand, guzzling adult beverages both for himself and for nearby fans. The manic scene of The Sandman’s entrance helped define ECW as an unorthodox alternative to WCW and WWE and his matches were every bit as chaotic. Yet there was a method to the madness — not only was The Sandman the second ECW Champion following the group’s transition to “Extreme,” but he also held the title a record five times. — K.P.
In July 1995, a 5-foot-9 man with a thick New York accent entered a Florida emergency room complaining of pain after a wrestling match. The hospital staff couldn’t believe he had walked into the building. The competitor known as Tazz had a broken neck.
Upon his return to active competition, the Red Hook, Brooklyn, native shed the tattered garb of The Tazmaniac and became known simply as Tazz (the second “Z” is silent). With ease, The Human Suplex Machine executed innovative “Tazzplexes” to foes twice his size. But it was the Katahajime judo choke that became Tazz’s meal ticket. The hold was so effective at incapacitating opponents that it popularized “tapping out” in a wrestling ring, long before MMA reached national prominence.
The entire ECW locker room knew Tazz meant it when he said: “Beat me if you can. Survive if I let you.” Even longtime rivals Bam Bam Bigelow and Sabu became “just another victim” as Tazz earned his spot as the most dominant ECW World Champion in history. — Z.L.
An Arabian savage from the deserts of the Middle East, Sabu became wrestling’s version of Evel Knievel when he crashed into ECW in 1993. With scars littering his upper torso, Sabu performed revolutionary and spectacular maneuvers on a regular basis, often injuring himself as much as his opponents.
Sabu never spoke, but he didn’t have to. The long-haired maniac forced the Philadelphia faithful to wait a full year before agreeing to face off with Tazz in a highly anticipated encounter at ECW’s first pay-per-view, Barely Legal. Later that year, the madman won the ECW World Championship from Terry Funk in a gruesome contest where the ring ropes were replaced with barbed wire. Sabu shredded his bicep and taped it up mid-match, prompting Paul Heyman to admit he should have reconsidered allowing the match to take place.
Sabu was brutal. Sabu was awe-inspiring. But most of all, Sabu was revolutionary. — Z.L.
Rob Van Dam
Dubbed “Mr. Pay-Per-View” for his routinely stellar matches on Sunday nights, RVD’s unorthodox style, laidback attitude and martial arts abilities were a perfect fit for the outlaw Philly institution. Van Dam’s jaw-dropping Five-Star Frog Splash decimated opponents from above and his innovative battles with rivals like Sabu and Jerry Lynn took him from a bingo hall to the world stage.
A two-time ECW Tag Team Champion, RVD made his reputation as ECW’s greatest Television Champion with a tenure that lasted 700 days — by far the longest in the title’s history. In the late ’90s, RVD claimed that he was better than everyone in ECW and believed he deserved to perform on either WCW Monday Nitro or WWE Monday Night Raw. Van Dam’s arrogant attitude led Jerry “The King” Lawler to name him “Mr. Monday Night” — a moniker RVD fulfilled years later when he became WWE Champion. — K.P.